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MARA Chair Mark Mellett Questioned On Resources by Dun Laoghaire Senator

7th November 2023
Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA) chair Mark Mellett
Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA) chair Mark Mellett

Independent senator Victor Boyhan is questioning the chair of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA) today on whether the new State agency has enough resources to carry out its work.

The Dun Laoghaire senator says he is seeking clarity on the resources available to the new body to fully function when MARA’s chair Mark Mellett, former Vice-Admiral of the Defence Forces, addresses the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage this afternoon.

Wishing Vice-Admiral Mellett well in his new leadership role, Senator Boyhan says that as a former member of Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company, he “understands the challenges around maritime planning consent”.

“MARA will have a key role to play in the streamlined consenting system for the maritime area, including: assessing Maritime Area Consent (MAC) applications for the maritime area, which are required by developers before development permission can be granted,” Boyhan said.

Boyhan noted the new agency, based in Wexford, is also responsible for granting marine licencing for specified activities; compliance and enforcement of MACs, licences, and offshore development consents; investigations and prosecutions; administration of the existing foreshore consent portfolio; and fostering and promoting co-operation between regulators of the maritime area.

Senator Boyhan says he is seeking “clarity” on resources for the agency “as envisaged in the primary legislation for MARA as approved by the Oireachtas”.

Dun Laoghaire Independent senator Victor BoyhanDun Laoghaire Independent senator Victor Boyhan

In his opening statement to the Oireachtas committee, before taking questions, Mellett said that one of MARA’s first priorities is to work with the board and the executive in the preparation and adoption of MARA’s Strategic Plan 2024-2027, establishing trust with all relevant stakeholders.

“Trust takes two forms in this context: trust in the probity of the organisation with transparency, good corporate governance, effective communication and trust in MARA’s efficiency in service delivery,” he said.

“The preparation of our first strategy is a great opportunity to identify our shared vision for the MARA implementing world-class marine planning while addressing the challenges associated with the Climate Action Plan and its implications for the various dimensions of the maritime area,” he said.

“Working collaboratively with all its partners, MARA will support the pillars of Ireland’s marine planning system by:

(i) bringing its expertise, knowledge and skills to enhance forward planning in the maritime area;

(ii) developing a well-functioning transparent consenting system, consistent with the principles of proper marine spatial planning, for all maritime users and activities; and

(iii) Implementing a rigorous, but proportionate, compliance and monitoring programme to ensure the sustainable use of our maritime area and challenge unauthorised development and non-compliance with maritime planning permission.

(iv) MARA will achieve this by building expertise in its people, its processes and its technology. As a key custodian of the maritime area, MARA will ensure that through good management and transparent decision making we will optimise our maritime resource on behalf of all citizens.

(v) MARA will be a key enabler in respect of Ireland’s ambitions for the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) sector, by facilitating a streamlined consenting process, providing certainty to project promoters and delivering a pathway to realising the necessary investment. MARA, at the centre of the new regulatory regime, will also support delivery of other projects of strategic importance (cabling/telecoms projects, ports development, drainage projects, sewerage schemes etc.), facilitating the State to harness significant benefits from realising a low-carbon economy, ensuring energy security, and presenting new opportunities for economic growth”, he said.

“MARA has a key role working with key stakeholders, in particular, Minister O’Brien, Minister Noonan and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Minister Ryan and the Department of Environment, Climate and

Communications, Minister Coveney and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Local Authorities, An Bórd Pleanala, together with a range of other Government departments and State agencies,” Mellett continued.

Referring to ORE as “the twin challenge and opportunity of our time, in which MARA will pay a central role” to address the climate crisis, Mellett said that Ireland is a “key emerging market in the offshore renewable wind energy space”.

“The scale of our resource is huge - our sea area has the potential to be more than ten times that of our land area,”he said.

“With the richest accessible wind resource on the planet, harnessing our offshore energy resource will make a massive contribution towards achieving regional renewable energy self-sufficiency, putting us on a direct path to zero CO2 emissions while at the same time future-proofing our economy and quality of life. Ireland has extraordinary potential for ORE, initially wind but into the future also wave and tidal,” he said.

“To deliver our climate and offshore wind energy ambitions, the State has moved to a plan-led approach. This will help ensure that development of offshore renewable energy is delivered through a number of overlapping phases in a planned, strategic, economical and sustainable way, which will also guide investment within this sector,” Mellett said.

“This is a challenging time internationally for the market so we need to be sure-footed, with the ambitious vision for the future balanced with a pragmatic eye on enabling the next key steps for Phase1 and 2, while also building towards a future framework,” he said.

“ Working with its partners across Government and in industry while building the required confidence, MARA will be a critical agency to deliver this ambition,” he said.

The Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage has 14 members, nine from the Dáil and five from the Seanad.

The meeting today (Nov 7) from 3 pm in Committee Room 2 of Leinster House, Dublin, can be viewed live on Oireachtas TV.

Committee proceedings can also be viewed on the Houses of the Oireachtas Smartphone App, available for Apple and Android devices.

Published in Marine Planning Team

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Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) - FAQS

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are geographically defined maritime areas where human activities are managed to protect important natural or cultural resources. In addition to conserving marine species and habitats, MPAs can support maritime economic activity and reduce the effects of climate change and ocean acidification.

MPAs can be found across a range of marine habitats, from the open ocean to coastal areas, intertidal zones, bays and estuaries. Marine protected areas are defined areas where human activities are managed to protect important natural or cultural resources.

The world's first MPA is said to have been the Fort Jefferson National Monument in Florida, North America, which covered 18,850 hectares of sea and 35 hectares of coastal land. This location was designated in 1935, but the main drive for MPAs came much later. The current global movement can be traced to the first World Congress on National Parks in 1962, and initiation in 1976 of a process to deliver exclusive rights to sovereign states over waters up to 200 nautical miles out then began to provide new focus

The Rio ‘Earth Summit’ on climate change in 1992 saw a global MPA area target of 10% by the 2010 deadline. When this was not met, an “Aichi target 11” was set requiring 10% coverage by 2020. There has been repeated efforts since then to tighten up MPA requirements.

Marae Moana is a multiple-use marine protected area created on July 13th 2017 by the government of the Cook islands in the south Pacific, north- east of New Zealand. The area extends across over 1.9 million square kilometres. However, In September 2019, Jacqueline Evans, a prominent marine biologist and Goldman environmental award winner who was openly critical of the government's plans for seabed mining, was replaced as director of the park by the Cook Islands prime minister’s office. The move attracted local media criticism, as Evans was responsible for developing the Marae Moana policy and the Marae Moana Act, She had worked on raising funding for the park, expanding policy and regulations and developing a plan that designates permitted areas for industrial activities.

Criteria for identifying and selecting MPAs depends on the overall objective or direction of the programme identified by the coastal state. For example, if the objective is to safeguard ecological habitats, the criteria will emphasise habitat diversity and the unique nature of the particular area.

Permanence of MPAs can vary internationally. Some are established under legislative action or under a different regulatory mechanism to exist permanently into the future. Others are intended to last only a few months or years.

Yes, Ireland has MPA cover in about 2.13 per cent of our waters. Although much of Ireland’s marine environment is regarded as in “generally good condition”, according to an expert group report for Government published in January 2021, it says that biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation are of “wide concern due to increasing pressures such as overexploitation, habitat loss, pollution, and climate change”.

The Government has set a target of 30 per cent MPA coverage by 2030, and moves are already being made in that direction. However, environmentalists are dubious, pointing out that a previous target of ten per cent by 2020 was not met.

Conservation and sustainable management of the marine environment has been mandated by a number of international agreements and legal obligations, as an expert group report to government has pointed out. There are specific requirements for area-based protection in the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), the OSPAR Convention, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

Yes, the Marine Strategy Framework directive (2008/56/EC) required member states to put measures in place to achieve or maintain good environmental status in their waters by 2020. Under the directive a coherent and representative network of MPAs had to be created by 2016.

Ireland was about halfway up the EU table in designating protected areas under existing habitats and bird directives in a comparison published by the European Commission in 2009. However, the Fair Seas campaign, an environmental coalition formed in 2022, points out that Ireland is “lagging behind “ even our closest neighbours, such as Scotland which has 37 per cent. The Fair Seas campaign wants at least 10 per cent of Irish waters to be designated as “fully protected” by 2025, and “at least” 30 per cent by 2030.

Nearly a quarter of Britain’s territorial waters are covered by MPAs, set up to protect vital ecosystems and species. However, a conservation NGO, Oceana, said that analysis of fishing vessel tracking data published in The Guardian in October 2020 found that more than 97% of British MPAs created to safeguard ocean habitats, are being dredged and bottom trawled. 

There’s the rub. Currently, there is no definition of an MPA in Irish law, and environment protections under the Wildlife Acts only apply to the foreshore.

Current protection in marine areas beyond 12 nautical miles is limited to measures taken under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives or the OSPAR Convention. This means that habitats and species that are not listed in the EU Directives, but which may be locally, nationally or internationally important, cannot currently be afforded the necessary protection

Yes. In late March 2022, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said that the Government had begun developing “stand-alone legislation” to enable identification, designation and management of MPAs to meet Ireland’s national and international commitments.

Yes. Environmental groups are not happy, as they have pointed out that legislation on marine planning took precedence over legislation on MPAs, due to the push to develop offshore renewable energy.

No, but some activities may be banned or restricted. Extraction is the main activity affected as in oil and gas activities; mining; dumping; and bottom trawling

The Government’s expert group report noted that MPA designations are likely to have the greatest influence on the “capture fisheries, marine tourism and aquaculture sectors”. It said research suggests that the net impacts on fisheries could ultimately be either positive or negative and will depend on the type of fishery involved and a wide array of other factors.

The same report noted that marine tourism and recreation sector can substantially benefit from MPA designation. However, it said that the “magnitude of the benefits” will depend to a large extent on the location of the MPA sites within the network and the management measures put in place.

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