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Ireland is one of two EU member states selected for a Europe-wide citizen survey on the health of the marine and freshwater environment.

The EU’s mission for healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters is seeking citizens’ priorities in Ireland and Romania on the health of ocean and inland waters.

Former Marine Institute director Dr Peter Heffernan, Ireland’s ambassador on the EU mission board, said the initiative represents the “largest transformation ever in our relationship with the ocean”.

The survey will inform policies on the “right type” of blue economy, and proposals to create a new European ocean agency.

This may be modelled on the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the scientific agency focusing conditions of the oceans, major waterways, and the atmosphere, he noted.

The EU mission aims to “know, restore and protect our ocean and waters by 2030, by reducing human pressures on marine and freshwater environments, restoring degraded ecosystems and sustainably harnessing the essential goods and services they provide”.

The mission says it is “inspired by the shape of the starfish” in pursuing five interdependent objectives – knowledge, regeneration, de-pollution, decarbonisation and governance.

“Protecting and restoring the health of our ocean is one of the defining endeavours of our time, and citizens are crucial to accomplishing this mission,” Dr Heffernan said, noting that oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters cover around 75 per cent of the earth’s surface.

Marine and freshwater environments provide drinking water, half of the oxygen we breathe and around one-sixth of the animal protein consumed, and have a major influence on weather and climate – also storing more than 25% of carbon dioxide emitted by humans, he noted.

“Knowing, restoring and protecting our ocean and waters is a shared responsibility and will only be possible with the full support of science and people,” Marine Institute chief executive Dr Paul Connolly said, supporting the survey.

“ The people of Ireland have the opportunity to share how the ocean is important to their everyday lives and to outline their priorities for achieving a healthy ocean,” he said.

The survey which runs till the end of August is here

Published in Environment
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US astronaut and oceanographer Dr Kathryn Sullivan has compared the current global situation to being in the midst of a severe storm on a sailing boat in mid-ocean.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Dr Sullivan, who has Irish roots, said that although she was an optimist, it was “the most uncertain time I have witnessed in my lifetime”.

“You couldn’t even think of putting a sail back up, let alone trimming it, or trying to steer..only to ride it out as best one can...” she said.

“ It’s a bit like watching the circus performer twirling plates on the end of a stick, relying on gyroscopic forces – but if the twirling slows down any, the plates start to wobble like crazy,” she said

A global pandemic can focus attention on the potential of the ocean environment as a vital source of protein and new medical treatments, she notes.

However, she cautions that the oceans are under considerable pressure, thanks to “we two-footed critters” allowing rubbish to reach the very bottom of the remote Mariana Trench and microplastics to poison the deepest ocean creatures.

“So there is no part of this planet that is disconnected,” she says.

Dr Sullivan, who developed close links with the Marine Institute here during her term as US Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association Administrator (NOAA), has been invited by the institute to give a public “virtual” interview.

Read more of The Sunday Times interview here.

Published in Marine Science

Combined impacts of sea-level rise, intensification of maritime transport, depletion of coastal ecosystems and deep-sea mining are the theme of a new exhibition planned for the Italian city of Venice which aims to change the conversation about the ocean environment writes Lorna Siggins.

A projected image of Venice in the year 2050 if the global community lives up to the 2016 Paris Agreement forms part of the exhibition, opening in the Spring.

There are predictions that combined sea-level rise and land subsidence will flood the city built on 118 small islands entirely by the year 2100.

Effects of overfishing, bottom trawling, oil exploration and extraction, migration, changing ocean circulations, militarisation and melting ice are also traced by the research project, Territorial Agency, which is hosting the exhibition.

Bathymetry and fishing data from the “black Atlantic”, as in mid-Atlantic, the impact of shipping activity and oil licensing, and a multibeam sonar sounding of Reykjanes Ridge in the Atlantic are among images commissioned for the project.

It also draws on multi-beam sonar data for a view of the Pacific ocean floor, off the coast of Hawaii.

Other images include scenarios of sea-level rise overlaid on the rapid depletion of the coastal ecosystems of the Mississippi delta in the USA, the impact of rapid urbanisation in China on the Yangtze River plume near Shanghai, and fishing and trans-shipment data near the Nazca-Desventuradas marine park off of the coast of Chile.

Territorial Agency was founded by Ann-Sofi Rönnskog and John Palmesino as an independent organisation. It states that it combines “architecture, spatial analysis, advocacy and action” to influence change in the inhabited environment.

The project was informed and “catalysed” by sea-level rise, as the most visible sign of climate change, but investigates the changes in world oceans during the current geological era known as the Anthropocene.

It assesses latest scientific knowledge, based on a consensus that less than 20 per cent of ocean floors have been mapped, to emphasise the critical role of oceans in the planet’s survival.

“The oceans are changing very fast, yet knowledge of them is moving slowly and is enveloped in long-established forms of cultural separation and distinction between human activities at land and at sea,” they state, arguing that “this division needs to be rethought to address the urgent and vast transformations that the seas are undergoing”.

Oceans in Transformation, as the large scale multi-media exhibition is called,“rearranges the maritime space as a stage for human violence, empire and colonial history”.

The organisers will host parallel discussions with key players in environmental conversations and research, including scientists, artists, governmental and society groups, policymakers and conservationists.

The research project is Oceans in Transformation,  is led by the architecture team "Territorial Agency’" The exhibition will take place at Ocean Space, Venice, from March 2020, and it is organised and commissioned by TBA21-Academy. 

Published in Environment
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According to the Government, as directed by the Dáil, Ireland is now in a climate emergency…added to which are biodiversity and marine eco problems…

That crisis was declared within the parliamentary portals to which 158 TDs are elected to represent the will of the people…. But only six were present when this crisis was officially declared as being in existence…. Not an impressive number and … how much trust can be placed in political announcements when so many of them have not been followed by action?

Bold statements are grand, but action is harder to take to enforce them…… a point made to me when I asked an outspoken commentator on the marine environment to assess the value of the Dáil statement on the climate emergency…. Dr. Simon Berrow is Chief Executive of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and always direct in his opinions…. “What do we want…” is a popular cry at public demonstrations.

So what is wanted in the marine environment?

“We need to try and stop using marine and coastal waters as a sink for all our waste products, from sewage to dry wipes, from persistent pollutants to plastics,” says Dr.Berrow. “When they end up in the sea, they are an order of magnitude harder to remove, so let’s prevent them getting there.”

Yes, let’s do that – because everyone should – but everyone doesn’t and, regrettably, that does include some boat users … It is hard now not to know what is needed to protect the marine environment…. If people value it, they will protect it – without political announcements…..

More on the podcast below

Published in Marine Wildlife
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#ports&shipping -  The International Maritime Organization (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 74) is to commence this week in London, a discussion on an EU proposal on exhaust gas cleaning systems (scrubbers).

The proposal, which has been submitted by the EU 28 Member States and the European Commission, aims to start the discussion at international level on the discharges from scrubbers into the water, especially in sensitive areas such as ports.

To protect the water quality and to respect the EU standards imposed by the Water Framework Directive, some EU Member States have taken initiatives to limit liquid discharges from scrubbers in port areas.

“Water quality is a great priority for European ports being continuously in the annual Top 10 of European ports’ environmental priorities. The scrubber discharges into the water is currently triggering different approaches and measures in the EU Member States. It is important to start the discussion at international level on the possible impact of these discharges as soon as possible in an open and transparent way, using the evidence available. This must lead to a more coordinated global approach to the issue, if possible. With the upcoming IMO 2020 sulphur cap, the issue is becoming a priority,” says European Sea Ports Organisation Secretary General, Isabelle Ryckbost.

Published in Ports & Shipping

Current research estimates approximately 8 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans each year, with the Ellen McArthur Foundation citing there is likely to be more plastic than fish in our seas by 2050. The issue of marine plastics is particularly pertinent to Ireland, as an island nation we have a marine area that is ten times the size of its land area above the sea, with the majority of our population living within 50km of the ocean! Marine plastics and more specifically the scourge of lost and discarded fishing gear was the focus of Macroom based project “Circular Ocean”, who were recently awarded the 2018 Pakman Award for achievements in Environmental Education & Awareness.

The Pakman Awards are national awards that recognise excellence in waste management and recycling among businesses, organisations, community groups and initiatives in Ireland.
The awards ceremony took place at the InterContinental Dublin Hotel on Thursday, October 25th and under the watchful eye of MC Caitriona Perry of RTE, saw 400 representatives from leading businesses, organisations and community groups come together to celebrate their positive impacts on our environment. The Circular Ocean team accepted their award from Minister for State for Rural Affairs & National Resources, Seán Canney TD.

Ted O’Leary, Environment Directorate, Cork County Council expressed delight that the great work of the Circular Ocean project team has been recognised with this Pakman Award. “The council very much endorses and supports the aims of the Circular Ocean project. The promotion of a sustainable circular economy in relation to marine waste is an objective very much in keeping with emerging international, EU and national waste management policy. Controlling marine waste is of necessity a priority for Cork which with a coastline of 1,100km is the largest coastal county in the country. Maintaining a pristine marine environment is essential, not just to the economy of Cork, but to the well being of current and future generations. We will look to ensure that the lessons and recommendations of the project are now supported across the many functions of the council.”

Funded under the ERDF Interreg VB Northern Periphery and Arctic (NPA) Programme, the focus of the Circular Ocean project is to seek opportunities for recovery and reuse of waste Fishing Nets & Rope, with a view to benefiting local economies. The initial concept emerged from Macroom E Enterprise Centre in Cork through SMILE Resource Exchange where members highlighted the significant problem posed by waste fishing nets in Ireland and internationally. Macroom E, a wholly owned subsidiary of Cork County Council, is the sole Irish partner and had responsibility for the Communications activities surrounding the project. Circular Ocean’s communications strategy centred around enlightening coastal communities, industry and policymakers of the potentially detrimental environmental impacts of end of life fishing nets and rope, while inspiring the diversion of waste fishing gear materials from our oceans and landfills for reuse, recycling and new product development. Partners have also investigated the potential applications of end of life fishing nets in areas such as 3D printing and as a replacement for new plastic products the construction sector, as well as providing expert guidance to SME’s on new business opportunities. Learn more at www.circularocean.eu

Published in Marine Science
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I’m wondering why Government officials, the civil servants, don’t listen to advice from people who know more than they do about the maritime sphere…..

Two issues which cause concern are the contradictory attitude of the Department of the Marine which, on the one hand proclaims the importance of the blue economy and pushes the Ocean Wealth Plan as evidence of its maritime commitment, but on the other hand – denies that fish in Irish waters are a natural resource which Ireland owns … Hard to believe perhaps, but that is what the Department has said and a leading maritime lawyer challenges it, as you’ll hear on the Podcast.

The second issue is maintaining the communities on our offshore islands where there is a belief that the Government is not helping sufficiently … President Higgins agrees with them and in the Podcast you’ll hear the Islands’ Federation point to the success of WIORA held on the Aran Islands and a shipping achievement for Bere Island as evidence of what the islands can do.

Listen to the Podcast here

Published in Island Nation

#PollockHoles - Kilkee personality Manuel Di Lucia takes The Irish Times's Lorna Siggins on a tour below the depths to see the renowned Pollock Holes, a unique marine environment on the Irish coastline that he believes deserves special protection.

The collection of tidal ponds in the reef off Kilkee in Co Clare have been described as a "rich ecological resource" and by local diving enthusiast and restaurateur Di Luca as 'the eighth wonder of the world'.

But while the National Parks and Wildlife Service confirms that the pools are within the Special Area of Conservation designated for Kilkee's reefs, De Lucia says there is nothing to stop anyone poaching shellfish for commercial purposes.

The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.

Published in Coastal Notes

#Marine - Local primary school teachers in Galway have just finished a week-long training course (1-5 July) on how to incorporate marine studies into their schools through fun activities and projects.

Sea for Society (EU FP7 project) research last year across a number of EU countries found that ‘ignorance’ and ‘lack of understanding’ are key barriers to the development of a sustainable marine ecosystem.

The Marine Institute and Galway Atlantaquaria tackled this barrier by introducing teachers to their local seashore, using it as a unique teaching resource.

“Through the Explorers Education Programme and teachers' training course, we provide an opportunity for teachers to learn about their local seashore as well develop an understanding about the importance of Ireland’s marine resource and ocean wealth,” said the Marine Institute's Cushla Dromgool-Regan.

Offering a wide range of cross-curricular activities involving science, mathematics, English, geography, history and art, the programme is intended to help teachers feel more confident and enabled to innovate and inspire students in learning about the marine.

”The Explorers' annual teacher’s training course has been run through the Galway Education centre for nearly eight years and continues to be popular with teachers, booking up early each year," Dromgool-Regan added.

One of the teachers on the most recent course, Bróna Smyth of Scoil Mhuire in Maree, said it was "invaluable in offering practical concepts that can be used on the seashore and in class by interlinking the subjects.

"The hands-on approach, learning about species and seaweeds, making seashore keys, collecting marine litter data for graphs, completing water experiments to creating seashore poetry and stories are all key to embedding the understanding of how important the ocean is and how it impacts our daily lives.”

Primary school teaching materials relating to the seashore and marine are available through the Explorers Education Programme at www.explorers.ie.

Published in Marine Science

#AlgalBloom - The Marine Institute says it is currently monitoring an algal bloom on beaches on the east coast of Ireland as a part of its Phytoplankton Monitoring programme. 

The bloom was detected two weeks ago using satellite images and information provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Wexford County Council.

The Marine Institute has analysed a number of samples from the algal bloom and has identified the species as Phaeocystis pouchetii, a common species that has caused blooms along the east coast several times in previous years. The species causes discolouration of the water, and foaming on the beach in windy conditions.  

Joe Silke of marine environment and food safety services at the Marine Institute emphasised that the species is not directly harmful to humans either through swimming or from consuming fish that have been exposed to the bloom. 

Beaches remain safe despite any discolouration of water, though the production of foam, and in some extreme cases anoxia, can result in marine organism mortalities. 

However, unlike last summer's destructive algal bloom on the west and north coasts that was responsible for significant fish and shellfish kills from Galway to Donegal, fish mortalities caused by this particular species in previous Irish blooms have not been observed, as wild fish tend to avoid the bloom. This may explain the low catches reported by sea anglers on the east coast in recent weeks. 

Several fishermen have also reported clogging of nets in recent weeks, which may be caused by the decaying bloom sinking to the seafloor.  

Algal blooms are commonly detected over the summer months in coastal areas. It is likely that this particular bloom will dissipate in in the next week or so and will be replaced with the normal succession of microalgae that form the bottom of the food chain in the sea.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Ireland's Commercial Fishing 

The Irish Commercial Fishing Industry employs around 11,000 people in fishing, processing and ancillary services such as sales and marketing. The industry is worth about €1.22 billion annually to the Irish economy. Irish fisheries products are exported all over the world as far as Africa, Japan and China.

FAQs

Over 16,000 people are employed directly or indirectly around the coast, working on over 2,000 registered fishing vessels, in over 160 seafood processing businesses and in 278 aquaculture production units, according to the State's sea fisheries development body Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

All activities that are concerned with growing, catching, processing or transporting fish are part of the commercial fishing industry, the development of which is overseen by BIM. Recreational fishing, as in angling at sea or inland, is the responsibility of Inland Fisheries Ireland.

The Irish fishing industry is valued at 1.22 billion euro in gross domestic product (GDP), according to 2019 figures issued by BIM. Only 179 of Ireland's 2,000 vessels are over 18 metres in length. Where does Irish commercially caught fish come from? Irish fish and shellfish is caught or cultivated within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but Irish fishing grounds are part of the common EU "blue" pond. Commercial fishing is regulated under the terms of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), initiated in 1983 and with ten-yearly reviews.

The total value of seafood landed into Irish ports was 424 million euro in 2019, according to BIM. High value landings identified in 2019 were haddock, hake, monkfish and megrim. Irish vessels also land into foreign ports, while non-Irish vessels land into Irish ports, principally Castletownbere, Co Cork, and Killybegs, Co Donegal.

There are a number of different methods for catching fish, with technological advances meaning skippers have detailed real time information at their disposal. Fisheries are classified as inshore, midwater, pelagic or deep water. Inshore targets species close to shore and in depths of up to 200 metres, and may include trawling and gillnetting and long-lining. Trawling is regarded as "active", while "passive" or less environmentally harmful fishing methods include use of gill nets, long lines, traps and pots. Pelagic fisheries focus on species which swim close to the surface and up to depths of 200 metres, including migratory mackerel, and tuna, and methods for catching include pair trawling, purse seining, trolling and longlining. Midwater fisheries target species at depths of around 200 metres, using trawling, longlining and jigging. Deepwater fisheries mainly use trawling for species which are found at depths of over 600 metres.

There are several segments for different catching methods in the registered Irish fleet – the largest segment being polyvalent or multi-purpose vessels using several types of gear which may be active and passive. The polyvalent segment ranges from small inshore vessels engaged in netting and potting to medium and larger vessels targeting whitefish, pelagic (herring, mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting) species and bivalve molluscs. The refrigerated seawater (RSW) pelagic segment is engaged mainly in fishing for herring, mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting only. The beam trawling segment focuses on flatfish such as sole and plaice. The aquaculture segment is exclusively for managing, developing and servicing fish farming areas and can collect spat from wild mussel stocks.

The top 20 species landed by value in 2019 were mackerel (78 million euro); Dublin Bay prawn (59 million euro); horse mackerel (17 million euro); monkfish (17 million euro); brown crab (16 million euro); hake (11 million euro); blue whiting (10 million euro); megrim (10 million euro); haddock (9 million euro); tuna (7 million euro); scallop (6 million euro); whelk (5 million euro); whiting (4 million euro); sprat (3 million euro); herring (3 million euro); lobster (2 million euro); turbot (2 million euro); cod (2 million euro); boarfish (2 million euro).

Ireland has approximately 220 million acres of marine territory, rich in marine biodiversity. A marine biodiversity scheme under Ireland's operational programme, which is co-funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and the Government, aims to reduce the impact of fisheries and aquaculture on the marine environment, including avoidance and reduction of unwanted catch.

EU fisheries ministers hold an annual pre-Christmas council in Brussels to decide on total allowable catches and quotas for the following year. This is based on advice from scientific bodies such as the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. In Ireland's case, the State's Marine Institute publishes an annual "stock book" which provides the most up to date stock status and scientific advice on over 60 fish stocks exploited by the Irish fleet. Total allowable catches are supplemented by various technical measures to control effort, such as the size of net mesh for various species.

The west Cork harbour of Castletownbere is Ireland's biggest whitefish port. Killybegs, Co Donegal is the most important port for pelagic (herring, mackerel, blue whiting) landings. Fish are also landed into Dingle, Co Kerry, Rossaveal, Co Galway, Howth, Co Dublin and Dunmore East, Co Waterford, Union Hall, Co Cork, Greencastle, Co Donegal, and Clogherhead, Co Louth. The busiest Northern Irish ports are Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel, Co Down.

Yes, EU quotas are allocated to other fleets within the Irish EEZ, and Ireland has long been a transhipment point for fish caught by the Spanish whitefish fleet in particular. Dingle, Co Kerry has seen an increase in foreign landings, as has Castletownbere. The west Cork port recorded foreign landings of 36 million euro or 48 per cent in 2019, and has long been nicknamed the "peseta" port, due to the presence of Spanish-owned transhipment plant, Eiranova, on Dinish island.

Most fish and shellfish caught or cultivated in Irish waters is for the export market, and this was hit hard from the early stages of this year's Covid-19 pandemic. The EU, Asia and Britain are the main export markets, while the middle Eastern market is also developing and the African market has seen a fall in value and volume, according to figures for 2019 issued by BIM.

Fish was once a penitential food, eaten for religious reasons every Friday. BIM has worked hard over several decades to develop its appeal. Ireland is not like Spain – our land is too good to transform us into a nation of fish eaters, but the obvious health benefits are seeing a growth in demand. Seafood retail sales rose by one per cent in 2019 to 300 million euro. Salmon and cod remain the most popular species, while BIM reports an increase in sales of haddock, trout and the pangasius or freshwater catfish which is cultivated primarily in Vietnam and Cambodia and imported by supermarkets here.

The EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), initiated in 1983, pooled marine resources – with Ireland having some of the richest grounds and one of the largest sea areas at the time, but only receiving four per cent of allocated catch by a quota system. A system known as the "Hague Preferences" did recognise the need to safeguard the particular needs of regions where local populations are especially dependent on fisheries and related activities. The State's Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, based in Clonakilty, Co Cork, works with the Naval Service on administering the EU CFP. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine and Department of Transport regulate licensing and training requirements, while the Marine Survey Office is responsible for the implementation of all national and international legislation in relation to safety of shipping and the prevention of pollution.

Yes, a range of certificates of competency are required for skippers and crew. Training is the remit of BIM, which runs two national fisheries colleges at Greencastle, Co Donegal and Castletownbere, Co Cork. There have been calls for the colleges to be incorporated into the third-level structure of education, with qualifications recognised as such.

Safety is always an issue, in spite of technological improvements, as fishing is a hazardous occupation and climate change is having its impact on the severity of storms at sea. Fishing skippers and crews are required to hold a number of certificates of competency, including safety and navigation, and wearing of personal flotation devices is a legal requirement. Accidents come under the remit of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, and the Health and Safety Authority. The MCIB does not find fault or blame, but will make recommendations to the Minister for Transport to avoid a recurrence of incidents.

Fish are part of a marine ecosystem and an integral part of the marine food web. Changing climate is having a negative impact on the health of the oceans, and there have been more frequent reports of warmer water species being caught further and further north in Irish waters.

Brexit, Covid 19, EU policies and safety – Britain is a key market for Irish seafood, and 38 per cent of the Irish catch is taken from the waters around its coast. Ireland's top two species – mackerel and prawns - are 60 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, dependent on British waters. Also, there are serious fears within the Irish industry about the impact of EU vessels, should they be expelled from British waters, opting to focus even more efforts on Ireland's rich marine resource. Covid-19 has forced closure of international seafood markets, with high value fish sold to restaurants taking a large hit. A temporary tie-up support scheme for whitefish vessels introduced for the summer of 2020 was condemned by industry organisations as "designed to fail".

Sources: Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Marine Institute, Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, Department of Transport © Afloat 2020

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