IWT urges political parties to recognise the carbon storage capacity of our seas and agree to protect and restore vulnerable marine habitats to help avert the climate and biodiversity crises.
Several international commitments aim for marine protected areas (MPAs) to cover at least 10% of the oceans by 2020 while calls for a new target of 30% protection by 2030 are becoming louder . Meanwhile, Ireland has protected a miniscule 2.4% of their waters (compared to 25% in the UK) . As government talks commence, we urge all parties to agree ona spatial target of MPA coverage in line with current international recommendations of designating 30% of Irish waters (i.e. our exclusive economic zone) as highly protected marine areas by 2030, of which half should be no-take zones.
Regina Classen, IWT Project Officer say, “Large-scale restoration efforts in a well-managed network of MPAs that includes no-take zones must become the mainstream method to improve the health of marine ecosystems in order to increase biodiversity and the carbon storage capacity of our seas”
In addition, the parties need to agree to significantly increase the budget for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, provide funding for active marine habitat restoration projects and research, end overfishing and commit to significantly reduce pollution through proper implementation of the Water Framework Directive. Fianna Fáil has already committed to achieving ambitious 2030 targets in their campaign manifesto and the Green Party promised to protect 50% of Irish territorial waters while Fine Gael mentioned the possibility of an offshore national park.
The main issue with existing MPAs in Ireland is that there is no coherent strategy to manage these sites and as a result most do not offer any meaningful wildlife protection. This is important, because as the health of marine habitats around Ireland declines, these ecosystems are less able to deliver essential services such as carbon storage.
The ability of healthy ecosystems to store carbon is now well understood – Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are proposing to plant millions of trees for that exact purpose! The framework document between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to ‘facilitate negotiations with other parties on a plan to recover, rebuild and renew Ireland after the COVID-19 Emergency’ is vague and offers little detail on how their goals will be achieved. In the document, the two parties lay out their ideas for a New Green Deal which entails the commitment to “take immediate action in response to the biodiversity crisis and protect ecosystems on land and at sea”.
The IWT believes that with a marine territory five times the size of the Irish landmass, protecting and, crucially, restoring marine ecosystems can make a much bigger impact in terms of carbon storage than the planting of trees. To truly combat climate change, ecosystem restoration must be done everywhere, land and sea. Habitats formed by seagrass, saltmarsh and kelp may not cover a large surface area, but they make up for it in efficiency. Kelp, for example, can sequester up to 20 times more carbon per acre than terrestrial forests. Accounting for this immense storage capacity and increasing it by protecting and restoring marine habitats can make a huge difference in our race to become carbon neutral. “There should be no mechanical harvesting of carbon-rich kelp if we are serious about climate action.”says Regina Classen, IWT project officer.
There needs to be a joint ambitious marine protected area designation target between all government parties in order to reverse biodiversity loss and improve essential ecosystem services.