The decline of marine biological diversity worldwide, including in Ireland, due to human induced pressures, has led to calls for more legally protected areas. Under international and European law, Ireland had previously committed to protecting 10% of its waters by 2020. Today however, governments targets for an expanded network of Marine Protected Areas are set to 30% of Ireland’s Maritime Area by 2030 (30×30) under the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.
The European Union (EU) Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 has already incorporated the new 30×30 targets, of which 10% should be ‘strictly protected’, and requires the integration of ecological corridors into Marine Protected Area (MPA) networks. Member States have until the end of 2023 to demonstrate progress in legally designating new protected areas and integrating ecological corridors.
Ireland currently lags far behind its international commitments with only 2% of its waters under protection, and only a tiny fraction of these protected areas could be described as ‘strictly’ or ‘fully’ protected, delivering the full range of potential benefits to nature and society.
However, fortunately the Irish Government has acknowledged current limitations and is presently drafting new MPA legislation which will allow it to unilaterally designate and manage new national MPAs. Ensuring this new legislation is effective, ambitious, and robust is a core objective of the Fair Seas campaign.
In order to provide ocean advocates, policy advisors, eNGOs and civil society with the background information and current status on existing legislation useful for informing policy making decisions in the future, Fair Seas has released the updated legal guide ‘Expanding Ireland’s Marine Protected Areas – A Legal Handbook’ which includes a comprehensive overview of the current legal status of MPAs in Ireland, predominantly derived from international and European law, and a summary of the gaps and weaknesses identified during the analysis of Irish law. The report concludes with a series of recommendations for the expansion of the Irish MPA network based on international best practice and insights from a comparative analysis of neighbouring jurisdictions with whom we share seas, i.e. the United Kingdom (UK) and France.
In light of the unprecedented gravity of the ocean, climate and biodiversity crises and the significant MPA expansion that will need to occur in Irish waters over a relatively short space of time, it is critical that legislation be enacted as a matter of urgency and equally important that sufficient resources be allocated for the design and implementation of Ireland’s MPA network.
For this reason, Fair Seas has also released a White Paper which summarises the campaign’s key asks and recommendations which the forthcoming new national legislation on MPAs should include to actually deliver on restoring our native species and habitats while providing essential benefits to society. The White Paper also includes a timeline of the process the MPA legislation will go through from Bill to Act (see below).
10 recommendations for new MPA legislation
The White Paper includes ten main recommendations:
- Clearly identify the relevant authorities responsible for designating new MPAs and how they will work with each other and with stakeholders.
- Clearly state the geographical jurisdiction of the new MPA legislation.
- Provide a definition of Ireland’s new MPAs, and the premise of their conservation objectives.
- Provide a definition of Ireland’s MPA network, and the premise of its conservation objective
- State the grounds for which MPAs and conservation features are identified and designated.
- State how MPAs will be effectively implemented and managed.
- Include a definition of the Whole Site Approach to management, and how it must be adopted.
- Include the legally binding nature of national MPA targets, and the criteria for contribution towards those targets.
- State that the MPA designation and implementation process must be based on the best available evidence, and on the precautionary principle.
- Explain how MPAs must be treated in Ireland’s new Marine Spatial Planning process.
When passed, Ireland’s new MPA law will change and renew the focus of marine conservation efforts and policy in Ireland. Its effectiveness and success will be fundamental to the proper protection and restoration of marine habitats, species, and ecosystems in Irish waters for decades to come. It is important we get this right!
Want to be stay up to date or get involved with Ireland’s MPA journey? Here’s a few options for you:
Come to the Fair Seas World Ocean Day conference on June to meet face to face with international experts on MPAs, national policy makers and ocean advocates from home and abroad.
When: June 8th 2023
Where: Cork City Hall
Register here: www.tinyurl.com/FairSeasConference
Make sure to sign up for monthly updates on Ireland’s MPA journey by joining the Fair Seas newsletter: www.tinyurl.com/FairSeasNewsletter
(Source: Fair Seas)