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.