The Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action Report on Biodiversity recommends increasing the number of MPAs in Ireland urgently

The SFPA encourages the public to support efforts to map Ireland’s marine life such as flapper skate (above) as part of Science Week

The Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action has launched its Report on Biodiversity, which makes 75 recommendations across five key themes identified during engagements with stakeholders and through submissions to the Committee.

One of the recommendations is for Ireland to increase the number of marine protected areas urgently, while another recommendation by the Committee says, “that instances of bottom trawling and dredging should be significantly reduced and entirely prohibited within special areas of conservation or marine protected areas”.

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Another idea put forward by the Committee recommends that, “further exploration of the potential measures for marine biodiversity restoration in wind farm locations that become no-fish zones”.

Areas around floating wind farms are no fish zones due to the dangers of snagging on anchors and on interconnecting submarine electric cables, and although Irish fishermen have been promised by offshore wind farm developers that they will be able to fish between turbines, in other countries this is not allowed due to the same issues of snagging of wind turbine foundations and on interconnecting submarine electric cables.

Green Party TD and Committee Cathaoirleach Deputy Brian Leddin said: “This report points the way towards how we restore biodiversity in nature and how to best reap the co-benefits associated with diverse ecosystems in order to mitigate climate change.”

The Committee held a series of engagements with stakeholders throughout 2021 and earlier this year in which they identified key issues and themes which Members believe highlighted the poor state of biodiversity on a global level as well as the issues that are specific to Ireland.

In relation to Marine biodiversity the Report found:

  1. The Committee recommends the designation and management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) without delay. The management and monitoring of MPAs should be robustly underpinned by legislation to support the implementation of management plans and ensure that the future of renewable energy in Ireland does not result in further depletion of marine habitats and species. The Committee further recommends that MPAs include highly protected marine areas, HPMAs, as part of that designation. In addition, the Committee recommends that coastal zone management is integrated into the MPAs.
  2. The Committee recommends the immediate development and implementation of management plans for all current Marine Protected Area sites and the designation of new Marine Protected Areas as a matter of urgency. This is necessary not only for restoring marine biodiversity but also for preventing further damage from the expansion of offshore renewable energy.
  3. The Committee notes that due to the extent of our marine environment, Ireland might be expected to lead on the designation of Marine Protected Areas and recommends urgent action to meet or exceed the 2030 target.
  4. The Committee recommends prioritising the designation of new Marine Protected Areas and that where there is construction and implementation of new offshore infrastructure, that “sensitivity mapping” be completed while awaiting MPA designation.
  5. The Committee recommends interim measures are implemented and monitored to protect and restore the marine environment whilst the MPA designation process is underway.
  6. The Committee recommends urgent action is taken to address Ireland’s failure to meet the UN’s biological diversity target of protecting 10% of our marine area by 2020.
  7. The Committee notes that recent INFOMAR research has highlighted a range of vulnerable habitats which have not yet been integrated into Ireland’s Natura 2000 or Marine Protection framework, including endangered shark nurseries and deep-water corals and recommends that interim measures be put in place to provide protection for such habitats pending the provision of longer-term protection.
  8. Additionally, the Committee recommends that instances of bottom trawling and dredging should be significantly reduced and entirely prohibited within special areas of conservation or marine protected areas.
  9. The Committee recommends legislating for the protection of endangered sharks and other marine fish and invertebrates.
  10. The Committee acknowledges the benefits to be gained from offshore renewable energy in Ireland. Members agreed, however, that appropriate planning and consideration of sites must be implemented. The Committee is, therefore, of the view that best practice guidelines are needed for the offshore renewables industry and recommends that a review of examples from other jurisdictions should be conducted to inform the future infrastructure of renewable energy projects.
  11. The Committee recommends the updating and further development of guidelines on undersea noise, to reflect findings from the Automated Cetacean Acoustics Project (ACAP) and Marine Institute study on humpback whales.
  12. The Committee recommends that better engagement be undertaken with the fishing industry in relation to the designation of MPAs and marine environment conservation. Such engagement should be inclusive and informative and provide assurance with regard to changes that may impact the industry.
  13. The Committee recommends further exploration of the potential measures for marine biodiversity restoration in wind farm locations that become no-fish zones.
  14. The Committee recommends that increased resources be provided for the monitoring and research of marine environments to inform future policy development.
  15. Greater resources should be allocated to public data collection and research.
  16. The Committee recommends a more integrated approach to monitoring and restoration of biodiversity and that consideration should be given to establishing a separate department for the marine to better address the challenges of climate change in relation to the marine environment.
  17. Noting the negative impacts of high levels of nitrates on young fish, stunted growth and decreased oxygen levels in water, the Committee recommends further exploration into alternative fertilisers as an effort to protect marine species harmed by nitrates pollution.

Sustainable Water Network calls for bottom trawling ban

It was made abundantly clear that marine biodiversity, much like that on land, has been and is experiencing severe degradation. The Committee noted that around two thirds of the marine environment has been altered by human action. Overfishing has played a major role in the decline of species within the marine environment, including iconic seabirds such as puffins. Members acknowledged the sheer size of the marine environment and noted that 13% of the seabed which is disturbed by bottom fishing activity is almost equivalent in size to the island of Ireland. Outlining that bottom trawling is prohibited in only 3 out of 90 marine special areas of conservation (SACs),

Ellen McMahon Policy Officer with Sustainable Water Network stated that:

“Bottom trawling is one of the most damaging activities in our marine environment. It involved dragging heavy weighted nets across the sea floor in an effort to catch fish and churns up seabed sediments which are the planet’s largest carbon stores. Bottom trawling is a major emitter of carbon with some studies showing that it emits as much carbon as the entire aviation industry.”

Call to consult fishing industry on placement of MPAs and Offshore Wind Farms

In order to implement a more integrated approach to MPAs, stakeholders also
highlighted the need for better engagement with the fishing industry. Dr Berrow
stated that currently the fishing industry is fearful of the future with marine
protected areas and offshore wind farms as the industry is not consulted and
therefore do not know what the industry will look like in the future. The
Committee agreed that greater consultation with the fishing industry must be
facilitated in order to provide better planning around MPAs and wind farms.

Biodiversity Report recommends increasing MPAs urgently

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