‘Mission “Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030”: an Atlantic-Arctic Lighthouse’ event hosted in Cork by the European Commission with the support of Ireland

The hybrid high-level conference ‘Mission “Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030”: an Atlantic-Arctic lighthouse’ and its side event ‘Community Action for the Mission: Building the lighthouse from the bottom up’ organised by the European Commission took place on the 24-25th November 2022 at the National Maritime College in Cork.

The event was an opportunity to mobilise a wide range of stakeholders to focus on the political commitments to implement the EU Mission “Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030”. One of the five EU European Missions proposed as novel ways to enable solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing our world, and to agree on concrete measures and actions in the Atlantic-Arctic basin.

Inspired by the shape of the starfish, the Mission “Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030” has five overarching objectives:

  1. Filling the knowledge and emotional gap
  2. Regenerating marine and freshwater ecosystems
  3. Zero pollution
  4. De-carbonising our ocean, and waters
  5. Revamping governance

This Mission’s strategic objective therefore is to restore the health of our ocean and waters by 2030. Restoring the hydrosphere requires a new systemic approach addressing the system as whole.

This Mission will contribute to this approach with three specific objectives that are interlinked and mutually supportive:

i) protect and restore marine and freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity

ii) prevent and eliminate pollution of our ocean, seas and waters

iii) make the sustainable blue economy carbon-neutral and circular

To support all three objectives, this Mission will put in place two enablers, i. e. a digital ocean and water knowledge system, with monitoring services to better observe, understand, and forecast the health of the hydrosphere that will build on and scale up existing and planned European infrastructures and services, and a participatory governance based on public mobilisation and engagement, empowering citizens to take action and drive the transitions through deliberative democracy, social innovation, citizen science and awareness campaigns.

As a first step, the Mission will roll out ‘lighthouses’ as sites piloting, demonstrating and deploying the Mission activities across EU sea and river basins. These lighthouses will cover all seas bordering the EU as well as major river basins, i.e. the Atlantic and Arctic coast, Baltic and North Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Danube River basin.

To gain initial traction and deliver results quickly, the different lighthouses will pilot and lead on one of the Mission specific objectives, in particular the Danube river basin and the Atlantic and Arctic coast lighthouses will have leadership on the ‘protect and restore ecosystems and biodiversity (freshwater and marine respectively)’ objective, the Mediterranean Sea lighthouse on the ‘prevent and eliminate pollution’ objective, and finally the Baltic and North Sea lighthouse on the ‘make the blue economy carbon-neutral’ objective.

The lighthouses will thus provide access to the solutions, services and advice developed not only in their basin, but also to all interested actors from other basins and areas, so that the developed solutions can eventually be scaled up and replicated across the Union.

The side event ‘Community Action for the Mission: Building the lighthouse from the bottom up’ held on the afternoon of 24th November, enabled a concrete engagement with community and sectoral stakeholders in the Atlantic and Arctic regions. The goal of the session was to present the Mission “Restore Our Ocean and Waters by 2030”, and to mobilise stakeholders to sign up to the Mission Charter by contributing with their policies, programmes, initiatives in line with the Mission’s objectives.

A number of case studies were presented during the session which showcased successful community engagement stories from across the EU. Four of these stories were from Ireland:

  • Aoife O’ Mahony, Manager of the ‘Fair Seas’ campaign described how a coalition of Ireland’s leading environmental non-governmental organisations (eNGOs) and environmental networks are calling for 30% of Ireland’s ocean territory to be fully protected by 2030. Fair Seas’ aim is to see Ireland, with a renewed appreciation of the ocean, become a world leader in marine protection, giving our species, habitats and coastal communities the opportunity to thrive, and in this view Aoife O’ Mahony has signed the Mission Charter. Also, during her contribution, she announced that Fair Seas will host its inaugural conference in Cork next June on World Ocean Day – 8th June 2023. Aim of the conference will be to bring ocean advocates, government, industry and key stakeholders together to map out the next steps for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Irish waters, with sessions on the designation and management of Marine Protected Areas and learning from best practices across the world.
  • Patrick Murphy talked about the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, of which is CEO. Established in 1995 to represent fishermen in the South and West coast of Ireland, the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation has membership of primarily whitefish vessels ranging from 12m to 30m and its Board consists of 11 Directors who represent the members from the different areas of operation. As all the other Fish Producers Organisation (POs), the Irish South and West one encourages implementation of market stability mechanisms with the EU and its overall purpose is to improve and guarantee where possible a fair income to producers, regulate the market in order to adjust supply to market requirement, and promote the application of common marketing standards.
  • Stephanie Bennett described the ‘Aran Island Energy Community Cooperative’, a community owned energy cooperative on the Aran Islands in Galway Bay promoted by the residents of the three islands who are working towards becoming self-sufficient in locally generated renewable energy and free of dependence on oil, coal and gas. The Cooperative have identified five key goals for the next 10 years, i.e. i) to stabilise and sustainably increase the population on the three islands, ii) to maintain the language, the culture, and the heritage of the three islands, iii) to be sensitive to the beauty and richness of the natural environment in which they live, iv) to increase the comfort, energy efficiency, and sustainability of our homes and transport, and v) to promote the three Aran Islands as lighthouse communities, offering inspiration, support, and examples of best practice, to other communities in Ireland and throughout the world.
  • Diarmuid Kelly presented the work carried out by Cuan Beo, a community-based organisation established with a mission of improving the quality of life, environment, economy and heritage around Galway Bay. In particular, Diarmuid Kelly focused on the ‘Galway Bay Native Oyster Restoration Project’ that aims to restore the native oyster populations that once existed in huge quantities in Galway Bay. The goals of this initiative are to restore native oyster habitats through strategic cultch deployment to promote larval settlement, to identify distribution of critical habitat for native oyster including modelling of temperature and salinity, develop spatial management of fisheries that will include closed areas for oyster reef development, to gain a more in-depth knowledge of native oyster habitat restoration through practical research, to monitor prevalence of oyster parasites and to improve coastal water quality in Galway Bay by fostering a community understanding that land based activities have an immediate impact on coastal water quality.

The recordings of the side event (24 November) and the conference (25 November) can be watched here.

To stay up to date with the next steps of the EU Mission follow @eumissionocean on Twitter. The Irish Ocean Literacy Network is involved in the EU Horizon project PREP4BLUE which will function as the first building block to the Mission “Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030”. More information about the PREP4BLUE project and the role played by the IOLN in it can be found here.

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