Menu
Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

In association with ISA Logo Irish Sailing

Ireland is Europe's Island in the "Goldilocks" Zone for Rich Marine Resources

29th July 2020
Commentators have been saying for a long time that Ireland has “almost an embarrassment of riches, and a superb national challenge” Commentators have been saying for a long time that Ireland has “almost an embarrassment of riches, and a superb national challenge” Photo: Bob Bateman

When Dr Kathy Sullivan (68) climbed out of a tiny submersible which had returned from the bottom of the Mariana Trench, none of the subsequent headlines were quite as clever as that “most vertical girl in the world” slogan coined by several of her friends.

It inspired a badge which she now wears -the first female US astronaut to walk in space and to reach the deepest known point of the world’s oceans has a sharp sense of humour. Some might say with her Irish lineage that she’d have to have – she has cousins on beautiful Beara peninsula.

Former Marine Institute chief executive Dr Peter Heffernan wisely developed that link through initiatives like the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance when Dr Sullivan was US Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association Administrator (NOAA).

Dr Sullivan - an oceanographer and geologist - joins that panoply of individuals with Irish connections who have distinguished themselves over many centuries in the marine sphere, be it in fishing or trade, or in foreign navies, in exploration, or in technology and innovation.

Kathy Sullivan is the first person to ever experience travelling to both space and the ocean's floor Kathy Sullivan is the first person to ever experience travelling to both space and the ocean's floor Photo: NASA

The lives of many of these mostly male marine pioneers - from St Brendan to submarine designer John Philip Holland and explorers Sir Ernest Shackleton and Edward Bransfield - have been documented by late maritime historian Dr John de Courcy Ireland among others. He was often asked by colleagues at international conferences to explain why so many Irish mariners of note had to go abroad to make their name.

These academics were curious to know why there was not much more lasting “Viking influence” in Irish socio-economic activity, given that Ireland’s coastal state population was not dissimilar in size to that of Norway. The “real map of Ireland” is at least ten times the land size - as that clever Marine Institute postcard image depicts - and our Continental Shelf position on a northerly latitude is tempered by the influence of the Gulf Stream

The impact of colonisation, including deliberate efforts to suppress the Irish fishing fleet when it became too competitive, were among reasons given by Dr de Courcy Ireland during a debate on this question at a conference on “Ireland the Sea”. It was hosted by the Merriman Summer School and Bord Iascaigh Mhara in Co Clare back in 1983.

I came across the paperback record of that debate, and it was welcome distraction during a brief “Covid-19 lockdown” office tidy. Conference participant and founding Irish Skipper editor Arthur Reynolds pointed to the uneconomic reality of 900 different landing points around the coast. The fertility of this island’s soil always made agriculture a more attractive bet, he said.

Labour Party politician Justin Keating, a vet and RTÉ Head of Agricultural Programmes, posed a more complex answer. During his time as industry and commerce minister almost a decade earlier, he had attempted to set up a “Statoil” model for hydrocarbon development here. He noted that the sea provided this State with “almost an embarrassment of riches, and a superb national challenge”.

“The fact that this potential had not been realised was not due to “genetics” or “laziness”, but due in part to economics and the “horrendously expensive” costs of certain maritime development, Keating said. However, there was also a confidence factor, he argued; we were only beginning to recover from a “profound culture shock” which was “not unique to us”.

The colonial experience had touched “everywhere in the world where people were defeated by newer and superior technology, from South-East Asia to the homelands of the North American Indians,” Keating said. He outlined one First Nation response to this shock - the “ghost dance”, and suggested the Irish version of this was our “fascination with words and music.... based on their use in a magic sense, for altering consciousness and for making reality go away....”.

Magic being illusionary, the only possible “national therapy” was development of our marine potential, in his view. Without mobilisation of capital – which had fled these shores over previous centuries – we would not “mobilise technology”, he said.

That same year, a marine management system which has had devastating results for coastal states like this one was rubberstamped. Just two EU states – Ireland and Denmark - had a surplus of fish at the time of Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) formulation.

The CFP is subject to ten-yearly reviews, which now place much greater emphasis on sustainability. Brexit creates a really serious challenge, as industry organisations have outlined, yet there seems to be a reluctance here to seek a more equitable revision of the policy, based on proximity to a resource.

As the late Castletownbere fishermen and industry leader Donal O’Driscoll pointed out, the initial deal struck in favour of agricultural benefits and structural funds was never intended by our EU masters to be “cast in stone”.

EU directives on the environment have had a more positive influence, though sometimes failing to protect communities from the pressures of the market. A template for democratic planning published by the British Institution of Civil Engineers four years ago cited this State’s handling of the Corrib gas project as an example of “how not to undertake a development”.

The methodology known as Global Risk and Strategic Assessment Planning (GRASP) developed by British chartered surveyor Michael Ocock, organisational psychologist Prof Agi Oldfield and colleagues aims to avoid selective consultation or a domination of debates by “rogue stakeholders” and the “space shuttle syndrome” identified in large scale projects which have taken a wrong turn. Scottish islanders have also taught us that sustainability is not about ticking consultation boxes, but about genuine stakeholder engagement and community return.

Growing of seaweedGrowing of seaweed

Like the tide coming in and out twice a day, the sea still throws up endless opportunities for change – seaweed culture as one example, which the late British scientist Dr Eric Edwards once forecast would be far more lucrative for Ireland than salmon farming. Fascinating work by the Bantry Marine Research Station in west Cork is exploring how a type of red seaweed could also reduce methane emissions in cattle – a valuable case, if realised, of “blue meets green”.

Explorations off the Cork Coast could see Ireland's first floating offshore wind farmExplorations off the Cork Coast could see Ireland's first floating offshore wind farm

That active Atlantic system which could turn Ireland into a “Green gulf” of renewable energy, in the words of one developer, could fuel home energy needs and bulk hydrogen exports. The 30-year strategy drawn up by the Eirwind consortium involving University College, Cork researchers Dr Val Cummins (now gone into private practice) and Dr Jimmy Murphy and industry cites the importance of prioritising the long-awaited marine planning framework and supporting legislation.

The reports by NUI Galway’s Socio-Economic Marine Research Unit which inform the government’s Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth strategy show a positive trend. It recently reported on the opportunities which coastal tourism could offer during this pandemic.

coastal tourism studyTotal expenditure by domestic tourists in coastal areas was estimated to be €698 million in 2018, which represents 35% of the total expenditure by domestic tourists that year, a new study says.

Complementing the research in third-level institutions and the efforts of the Marine Institute and BIM, there are also a plethora of individuals and non-governmental organisations who have helped to raise awareness of our maritime heritage and of our potential on the Atlantic margin.

Like Dr Sullivan, there are many women involved in the forefront of marine research, development, innovation, along with master mariners, harbourmasters, sailors like Olympic medallist Annalise Murphy and offshore yachtswoman Joan Mulloy. Yvonne Shields O’Connor, formerly of the Marine Institute, is chief executive of the Commissioners of Irish Lights, and Ireland’s first female master marine Capt Sinead Reen is in a senior role at the National Maritime College of Ireland.

And Irish people no longer have to leave to have an impact in that big blue field. Marine Institute chief executive Dr Paul Connolly has been at the helm of the prestigious International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), and his predecessor, Dr Heffernan, is one of 15 experts on the European Commission’s Mission Board for Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters. And the unthinkable happened in 2015 when a former Naval Service flag officer, now Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett, became head of the Defence Forces.

Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett, head of the Defence ForcesVice-Admiral Mark Mellett, head of the Defence Forces

A global pandemic can focus attention on the potential of the ocean environment and the rich waters around this island - as a vital source of protein, new medical treatments and a source of renewable energy. However, a pandemic might also distract attention from its fragility, and the fact that man-made rubbish has reached the remote Mariana Trench and microplastics are poisoning the deepest ocean creatures.

Plastic at the bottom of Mariana TrenchPlastic at the bottom of Mariana Trench Source: Sustainability Times

“We have taken for granted the fact that we have been fortunate to live in the Goldilocks zone – that sweet spot in relation to the Sun,” Dr Sullivan told me in a recent interview.

Ireland is in the sweetest “Goldilocks zone” when it comes to marine resources. We must be ready to manage that good fortune sensitively, and for both communities and individuals, when the gold rush comes.

Published in Marine Science
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

Email The Author

Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading Afloat.ie than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open.

Afloat.ie is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.

 

At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

Featured Sailing School

INSS sidebutton

Featured Clubs

dbsc mainbutton
Howth Yacht Club
Kinsale Yacht Club
National Yacht Club
Royal Cork Yacht Club
Royal Irish Yacht club
Royal Saint George Yacht Club

Featured Brokers

leinster sidebutton

Featured Webcams

Featured Car Brands

subaru sidebutton

Featured Associations

ISA sidebutton dob
ICRA
isora sidebutton

Featured Events 2020

Wave button for Afloat new dates

Featured Chandleries

CHMarine Afloat logo
osm sidebutton
viking sidebutton

Featured Sailmakers

northsails sidebutton
uksails sidebutton

quantum sidebutton

Featured Marinas

dlmarina sidebutton

Featured Blogs

W M Nixon - Sailing on Saturday
podcast sidebutton
mansfield sidebutton
BSB sidebutton
sellingboat sidebutton

Please show your support for Afloat by donating