New report from Irish Wildlife Trust highlights government failure in protecting our seas
The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) is urging the government to get on with the task of establishing a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) – something which it is required to deliver by 2020 but where little progress has been made to date. Under the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the state has signed up to delivering MPAs as well as ensuring that marine biodiversity is in ‘good status’ in only a year and a half. Despite signing up to the directive in 2008 scant progress has been made in achieving the aim which is essential for restoring lost fish populations and safeguarding delicate marine habitats. Under the international Aichi Agreement made in 2010 (under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity) Ireland has committed to the aim of establishing 10% of our marine area as MPAs which have nature conservation as their number one aim. To-date only 2.3% of our seas fall into this category, with no areas where extractive activities such as fishing or fossil fuel extraction are prohibited. A recent feature in the journal Nature found that “at least 30% of the global ocean, distributed evenly between ocean ecosystems, should be cordoned off to avoid a mass extinction of marine life” 
The findings come in a new report released by the IWT for World Ocean’s Day entitled ‘Marine Protected Areas – a tool for restoring Ireland’s ocean wildlife’ and available now on our website here
. The main findings include:
- Under EU and global agreements Ireland has committed to establishing 10% of our waters as MPAs by 2020 – to-date the actual level is only 2.3%.
- MPAs are proven to be essential for restoring marine biodiversity, including commercial fish populations. In Irish waters only two fish species are assessed by the Marine Institute as being fished within sustainable limits (Hake and Albacore Tuna) while the IWT has previously highlighted how 48 marine species (from sharks to seaweeds) are threatened with extinction or are found in only small, isolated populations.
- MPAs can allow some extractive activities (principally fishing) or they can be ‘no-take zones’ where no fishing or other harmful activities are permitted. Research shows that no-take zones provide the best results in terms of protecting biodiversity.
- MPAs can benefit small-scale fishing communities by restoring populations of commercially important species, from lobsters and scallops to larger fish. In a fully protected MPA fish are allowed to grow big and old, where they produce more offspring and spill over into areas where fishing is permitted. This provides a truly sustainable blueprint for the protection of both marine life and coastal communities.
- MPAs can help in the fight against climate change – seagrass and kelp in particular are proved to absorb large quantities of CO2from the atmosphere.
IWT Campaigns Officer, Pádraic Fogarty says: “Our seas are in big trouble after decades of abuse and mismanagement. We urgently need MPAs as the lynchpin for wider protection of marine ecosystems – something which will include legal protection for marine wildlife, pollution control and a ban on new fossil fuel exploration. The government has no excuse for not acting swiftly in meeting our obligations in this regard.”
 ‘Protecting Our Ocean Wealth – a proposal for legal protection of threatened marine species’. 2018.