Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Questions (33)

Mick Wallace

Question:

33. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her plans to increase vegetated coastal habitats such as mangroves, salt marsh and seagrass beds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24282/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Culture)

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is always kind. The peat bogs that Bord na Móna devastated are not being restored. Trees that were planted have all been ripped out of the ground and cut up. About half of them have been burnt and the carbon released back into the atmosphere. It is vital, therefore, that we do something else to sequester carbon quickly and in a permanent way. About 170 km of our coastline is protected by salt marshes. What is the Minister's Department doing to preserve those salt marshes and are there any plans to expand the existing areas?

I congratulate Deputy Wallace on his election to the European Parliament. He will be missed in the Dáil but I wish him all the very best.

My Department is the lead Department responsible for implementing EU nature legislation in Ireland, including the habitats directive. Under Articles 11 and 17, Ireland is required to carry out scientific monitoring of habitats and species and report on their status to the EU. My Department recently completed a draft report for 2013-2018. A decline in seagrass beds in several bays was recorded. The cause for such declines in some cases appears to be related to water quality, which in turn may be due to run-off from municipal or agricultural sources. Further research is needed, however. The scientific advice from my Department, based on experience elsewhere in Europe, is that replanting of seagrass is rarely successful and that dealing with water quality is likely to be the best option for restoration.

The Article 17 report assessed salt marshes and reported that nationally they are in an "inadequate" state but are relatively stable. Small losses were noted due to infilling and other activities. The main threat to salt marshes is sea level rise due to climate change. That could cause so-called coastal squeeze, whereby hard coastal defences would obstruct the natural shift of salt marsh habitat as the sea level rises. This is a matter to consider in the context of climate change adaptation planning. My Department’s biodiversity sectoral climate change adaptation plan recommends the development of an integrated coastal management strategy. That strategy should include ecosystem-based adaptation actions to manage climate risk and to build resilience to climate change.

The habitats directive also requires Ireland to develop a prioritised action framework for 2021 to 2027 for protected species and habitats, including salt marshes, seagrass beds and other coastal habitats. As well as reviewing the results of the scientific monitoring programme, my Department will be examining all of these other issues. Finally, mangrove forests generally occur in tropical and subtropical habitats worldwide and do not occur naturally in Ireland.

We do not have any time. We have had a bad day at the office and dealt with very few questions. I call Deputy Wallace.

I thank the Minister. We have to accept that salt marshes are very impressive at sequestering and storing carbon. Some studies have estimated that, per hectare, a salt marsh can sequester carbon at 40 times the speed of a tropical rainforest.

Vegetated coastal ecosystems such as our salt marshes currently store huge quantities of carbon and need to be protected and expanded. The Government is not doing enough in this respect. For instance, in a connected area, ecosystems such as Bantry Bay, which support much flora and fauna and biological communities and work as a carbon sink, the precautionary principal should be used. Unfortunately, however, in Bantry Bay, the profit principle is king. The Government has given permission for an industrial project in the bay, which is upsetting people who have an interest in protecting the ecosystem no end. I plead with the Minister to examine this again.

I thank the Deputy for bringing this to our attention. Salt marshes are widely distributed across Ireland, and are concentrated in the larger estuaries such as Bantry Bay, which the Deputy mentioned, as well as Dundalk Bay, the Shannon Estuary, inner Galway Bay and as far north as Inishowen in County Donegal. There are several smaller salt marsh areas in Wexford harbour too. Perhaps, when the Deputy is in the EU, he can bring it to the attention of the European Parliament also.

Before we move to Leaders' Questions, I advise Members that there was a carry-over list of 12 Deputies from yesterday who wished to raise questions, and I have another five. The Ceann Comhairle will take these when he comes in but I advise Members not to wait in anticipation that they might be called. I will put down the names anyway.