That Seanad Éireann:
-- that Irish waters are crucial habitats for biodiversity and provide an invaluable source of income for rural areas in tourism, fisheries, research, heritage, energy and more;
-- that our seas and ocean are under unprecedented pressure, generated by the combined impacts of climate change, ocean acidification, shipping, fossil fuel exploration, destructive fishing, pollution and use of waters for economic purposes under the Blue Growth agenda;
-- that numerous EU and international agreements obligate Ireland to ensure at least 10% of coastal and marine areas be protected before 2020 and 30% by 2030;
-- that the Government has yet to deliver promised legislation for the designation and protection of marine protected areas, MPAs, despite Ireland’s obligations to achieve good environmental status in our seas under the EU marine strategy framework directive, MSFD, by 2020;
-- that Ireland has one of the largest marine areas in the EU by proportion to its size, and thus has an enhanced opportunity to protect key areas of ecological importance in the north-east Atlantic;
-- that despite this considerable marine territory, Ireland has only 2.33% of its marine extent covered by MPAs, the second lowest coverage in the EU, and those protections are not sufficient to adequately protect these areas;
-- that these sites are almost exclusively located within coastal habitats and river estuaries, leaving ocean species unprotected;
-- that ecologically coherent networks of high quality MPAs, managed in collaboration with local stakeholders, are the best tool to conserve marine ecosystems;
-- that the importance of our seas to the long-term health of the planet requires a dramatic effort to protect them, along the lines of the Half Earth concept proposed by E. O. Wilson and others;
notes with concern:
-- that the Government has made marine spatial planning a key aspect of Project 2040 without first developing a framework of MPAs;
-- that Ireland has failed in its European and international obligations to protect 10% of its marine waters under Article 13 of the MSFD, the Aichi biodiversity targets, the UN sustainable development goals and OSPAR Convention;
-- that Ireland was declared a whale and dolphin sanctuary in 1991, yet cetacean strandings have increased by 350% in the past ten years;
-- the Irish Wildlife Trust report 2018 shows that 48 species indigenous to Irish waters are facing extinction;
-- that fossil fuel exploration using seismic testing is occurring regularly in Irish waters since 2013, severely impacting on all marine life in the areas it is conducted;
-- that responsibilities for marine management are divided between a number of Government Departments, impacting on the effectiveness of species conservation and fisheries management;
calls on the Government to:
-- introduce an Oceans Act to protect 50% of Ireland’s seas and ocean with an ecologically coherent network of diverse and significant MPAs;
-- ensure such legislation contains the mechanisms to identify and designate high quality MPAs and ensure they are managed with respect for sustainable livelihoods and their ecological coherence, as part of a European network;
-- ensure such legislation contains financial support for expert staff, monitoring, enforcement and management, utilising available EU moneys under the EMFF, LIFE programme and other sources;
-- establish a consultation process within the legislation, involving all key stakeholders from the fisheries, recreational fisheries, tourism, energy, conservation and other relevant sectors to propose and review protections for such protected areas and input into future designations;
-- ensure designation of inshore MPAs be community-led as far as practicable, with a robust public consultation process as required under the Aarhus Convention;
-- ensure the legislation provides for robust scientific information on habitats, species, heritage sites and geological-geomorphological features to assist in the identification of potential MPAs;
-- ensure coherence in marine spatial planning and MPAs by bringing all activities in the marine under the control of one Government Department;
-- ensure the Common Fisheries Policy allows for the incorporation of strong Irish MPAs that would prohibit any especially destructive fisheries practices and prioritise an ecosystems-based approach to marine management that distributes the quota amongst Irish and EU vessels in an equitable and ecologically sustainable manner;
-- establish a moratorium on the granting of any licences for deep sea mining and fossil fuel exploration in protected Irish waters and prohibit seismic testing within any range of protected areas that would have any deleterious effects;
-- implement a ban on microbeads and the mandatory annual monitoring of micro-plastics in Irish waters.
I thank the Minister of State for attending. Before I outline my reasons for tabling the motion, I will thank some of those who helped to make it possible. I am indebted to my colleagues in the Seanad Civil Engagement group for their support and co-signing of the motion. I thank the many ocean and conservation experts who have helped with the scientific and technical aspects of what is a detailed and complex matter. Some of them are in the Visitors Gallery. I thank the many fishermen and anglers who have helped to inform me on how marine protection measures would affect them. The names are too numerous to mention, but they know who they are and I hope they know of my deep appreciation for their work.
I have a personal connection with this issue. As the House knows, I have come to the Seanad not from a background in politics or local government but from a life of activism and engagement on the high seas. My ten years of campaigning on Greenpeace ships, be it fighting nuclear weapon testing in the south Pacific and toxic waste incineration in European waters or protecting the Antarctic, contributed to my deep love and appreciation of and respect for the awesome power and importance of the oceans.
Following my return to Ireland, I studied ecology in UCC and then in WIT a postgraduate diploma in business development based around seaweed. It was from the latter that I gained experience of another kind when applying for a foreshore licence for sustainable seaweed harvesting. I faced complications and difficulties in gaining access to economic opportunities that small-scale operators on the coastline should be able to access if only the relevant legislation did not date from 1933.
My motion is aimed at tackling Ireland's failure to date to adequately protect the oceans and seas around our island nation. These habitats are crucial, not only for all life in Ireland but also all life on Earth. The oceans comprise over 70% of the planet and the life therein provides us with most of the oxygen we breathe. They absorb an immense of amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and serve as a crucial support for terrestrial and marine food chains. We are an almost unique island nation in Europe, surrounded as we are not only by shallow coastal seas but also the wilder, deeper Atlantic Ocean. These waters have defined our culture, decided our history and shaped our society. We are part of Europe, yet also separate in many ways. We have the highest proportion of marine area relative to our land size. We are the very definition of an island nation.
Fishing remains an important aspect of the economy, as Senator Frances Black will outline. The Government's Our Ocean Wealth agenda aims to increase our utilisation of the enormous wealth of our seas. The European Union's Blue Growth and marine spatial planning agendas lay out a vision for more active engagement with the oceans than ever before. The potential for safe renewable energy generation, sustainable fisheries and the expansion of tourism and recreation in the marine environment offers opportunities and threats.
All is not well in our seas. As many citizens heard in Sir David Attenborough's "Blue Planet II" series and, more recently and locally, on film maker Mr. Ken O'Sullivan's "Ireland's Deep Atlantic" on RTÉ, the world's oceans are under threat from a number of pressures. We are learning more about the highly destructive effects of exploration for fossil fuels using the prevalent technique of sonic booming, that is, massive soundwave generating machines to probe the seabed. It has been shown to be dangerous and even lethal to the plankton that makes up the basis of the marine food chain. It has contributed to the significant amount of noise pollution cluttering up the seas around Ireland, leading to a dramatic increase in whale and other cetacean strandings and mortalities. Other sources of pollution threaten to disturb the delicate balance that allows so much life to flourish in the marine environment. Shipping adds air, noise and waste pollution by contributing to climate change and ocean acidification from emissions. We now know about the significant problem that we are facing with plastic and other waste coming from the land and ending up in the seas, something to which I will advert. Increasing global temperatures are mostly being absorbed by the oceans, leading to coral bleaching and other negative effects, as acidification weakens shellfish and other marine flora and fauna.
Added to these pressures, Brexit has thrown up yet another threat to effective marine management, with the United Kingdom set to leave the European Union and its increasingly effective marine protection agreements, bringing Northern Ireland potentially out of alignment with the South. These threats call for a radical solution. Such an approach can be found in the Half Earth vision of the pioneering naturalist Dr. E. O. Wilson who has laid out a vision of half the world being protected for the continuation of life on Earth and the protection of its species which have taken millions, if not billions, of years to evolve. After all, all life on Earth originated in the oceans. A 50% target might seem ambitious, but it is commensurate with the challenges we face.
At the heart of my motion is the belief that, if we can give the seas some space by removing the damaging effects of our economic activity, they can recover. Ocean habitats have flourished for millions of years without human help and they can do so again if we just allow their natural resilience to restore them. Yesterday was international day for biological diversity, an annual event organised by the United Nations to celebrate and promote this most essential aspect of a healthy environment. However, Ireland does not have much to celebrate, considering our poor performance to date in the area of marine protection. The Government's countermotion refers often to our work at EU and OSPAR regional seas convention level.
I support this work and the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive is the best way to support marine areas that are under pressure and ensure the emerging networks of marine protection are ecologically coherent. The amendment seems, on the face of it, to be both progressive and detailed, but, at its heart, it is both an admission of failure by the Government and a commitment to continue with the light-touch and voluntary regime of incomplete marine protection. Our call for a bottom-up, community-led approach to MPA identification, designation and management, and the commitments to put Ireland's fishing communities at the heart of solving the problems of how to sustain our fisheries into the future and to work with our EU partners to ensure the next reform of the CFP corrects the historical wrongs, restores powers to lower impact fishers and reverses the centralisation of fishing permits in Irish permits, are gone. As the EU, G7, UN and leading nations such as France and Canada with young, liberal and optimistic leaders in the vein of our Taoiseach move forward to protect areas with high quality and extensive MPAs, Irish people are left embarrassed by their Government's lack of commitment to solid protections that will help to protect and restore our fisheries and other marine habitats.
Existing areas are almost all designated under the EU birds and habitats directives, meaning they are species instead of habitat-focused, and almost all are based on river estuaries and other areas near our coastline. I welcome the high seas designations, which demonstrate that protection on the high seas is possible, even under the CFP, but we need more, and we need them to be real areas of restoration, not "paper parks". It is not my intention to divide the House, and I hope that the Minister will allow the original motion to proceed unamended. The alterations contained in the amendments take almost every element of strength and innovation from it and we could never support such a fundamental weakening in such a crucial area.