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Displaying items by tag: Marine Protected Areas

An Oireachtas committee has said that greater consultation with the fishing industry must be “facilitated” to provide better planning around marine protected areas (MPAs) and offshore wind farms.

In a report on biodiversity loss, the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action says that the expansion of the marine renewables industry in Ireland “must be led in a climate-friendly manner”.

It says “the provision of best practice guidelines supported by legislation would ensure robust and consistent site assessments and risk analyses” in relation to offshore wind development.

It also notes that the lack of cohesive approach to data gathering and monitoring of the marine environment is conflicting with the increased level of interest from wind farm companies.

The points were raised in its report, published on Thursday, highlighting the poor state of biodiversity on a global level, along with issues that are specific to Ireland.

The report’s five key themes include loss of biodiversity in marine environments and future potential for these areas; biodiversity and climate; how degradation of biodiversity occurred in Ireland; agriculture and land use; and how to change the downward trend through monitoring and research, and policy and legislative change.

Committee chair Brian Leddin said the report sets out 75 recommendations which include a call to review the Arterial Drainage Act, and recommendations around the need for prioritising the designation of MPAs.

The recommendations also refer to the “immediate development and implementation of management plans for existing and future designated MPAs to restore biodiversity and prevent further damage”, he said.

The committee took submissions and held consultations with stakeholders last year. Irish Whale and Dolphin Group co-ordinator Dr Simon Berrow said that “currently the fishing industry is fearful of the future with MPAs and offshore wind farms”, due to lack of consultation.

The report says the committee “agreed that greater consultation with the fishing industry must be facilitated in order to provide better planning around MPAs and wind farms”.

The report says the committee also noted the “lack of inclusion of MPAs in the heads of the Maritime Area Planning Bill 2021, and acknowledged stakeholder concerns that the designation of MPAs is currently not on any legislative footing”.

“Stakeholders highlighted that the lack of legislation around MPAs is currently the biggest issue and that the designation of MPAs along with “sensitivity mapping” is essential to ensure that the development of offshore renewable energy is steered away from more sensitive areas of the marine environment”, it said.

“The marine renewable energy industry in Ireland is expanding rapidly, and Dr Berrow highlighted that while coastal areas provide great opportunity for renewable energy, appropriate planning is needed “to mitigate negative impacts on marine species and habitats” and that this could also be an opportunity to restore and enhance biodiversity,” it said.

“The committee agreed that biodiversity should lead future planning and projects, and that projects should be carefully assessed to best avoid any negative environmental impacts such as what occurred following the incorrect placement of wind farms on peatlands in Donegal,”it says

The committee’s report also highlights the lack of cohesive approach to data gathering and monitoring of the marine environment, which is “conflicting with the increased level of interest from wind farm companies”.

“Dr Berrow stated that a strategy that can achieve objectives that would be in the interest of everyone, including the marine environment, would be worth considering and highlighted the illogical nature of the current system used for surveying sites for wind farms,” it says

“One company will go out one day and on the following day, the same team of observers on the same vessel will go and survey the site next door to it. There is significant duplication of effort and significant increase in disturbance,” Dr Berrow told the committee.

“I appreciate that there is commercial competition, so they need all their own data. Where does the State obligation begin and end and where does that of the private companies begin and end? We suggest that if there were some data sets that were common to all and could be shared, one would not need to go and do it again,” he said

The report says the committee agreed that “while the marine renewables sector is an essential aspect of Ireland’s climate measures and future emissions targets, it is important that the correct approach be taken with construction to ensure the least negative impact for marine environments”.

The report is available here

Published in Marine Planning

A new cross-border environmental network has been formed to press for action on marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Irish Sea.

The new network involves Ireland’s Sustainable Water Network (SWAN), the Manx Wildlife Trust, the North Wales Wildlife Trust, the North West Wildlife Trusts, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, and Ulster Wildlife.

The group describes the Irish Sea Network as “an innovative partnership comprising conservation organisations surrounding the sea that have come together to improve our collective impact for nature”.

Funding has been provided by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the John Ellerman Foundation.

“Collaboration across national borders is essential to achieve a well-managed and ecologically coherent network of MPAs and truly sustainable fisheries across the Irish Sea,” it says.

Saltmarshes on Walney Island in Cumbria Photo: Emily BaxterSaltmarshes on Walney Island in Cumbria Photo: Emily Baxter

“The Irish Sea is under significant and increasing pressure from climate change and activities like fishing, aquaculture, development, shipping, aggregates, military activity, recreational activity and pollution,” it says.

“While more than 15 million people live around the Irish Sea and many more visit for holidays, only a small percentage of them realise what wildlife lives there and just how important it is for biodiversity and the environment,” it says.

While 36% of the Irish Sea is designated as a MPA by all the nations of the Irish Sea, only 5% has any management in place, and less than 0.01% is fully protected,” it says.

Thornback Ray Photo: Paul NaylorThornback Ray Photo: Paul Naylor

It says Ireland contributes only about 1.4% of the 36% designation.

The Irish Sea Network says it has produced a review of the Irish Sea, and has laid out a vision and issued “calls to action to protect and maintain the health of the waterway.

It says it has a vision for “a healthy and resilient Irish Sea, enabled by collaborative, cross-national action; where marine wildlife and blue carbon habitats thrive, supporting multiple environmental, social and economic benefits”.

Honeycomb worm reef Photo: Cumbria Wildlife TrustHoneycomb worm reef Photo: Cumbria Wildlife Trust

It believes that “strategic and effective marine planning that takes an ecosystem-based approach with cross-national collaboration, would help to reduce the impact upon sensitive wildlife habitats and carbon stores”.

SWAN policy officer Ellen MacMahon said her group is “delighted to be part of this new collaboration”.

“Wildlife does not adhere to lines drawn on maps, so we need to think at an Irish Sea scale. Whilst there are some protection measures in place, management is weak,” she said.

“Millions of people around the Irish Sea rely on it for food, employment and wellbeing, but many overlook its role in fighting against climate change and its importance for wildlife – few know about the incredibly diverse habitats that support a huge amount of amazing wildlife– giant basking sharks, leatherback turtles, beautiful starfish and jellyfish, dolphins, porpoises, seal and sharks, as well as internationally important seabirds like Manx shearwater and guillemots,” she said.

A basking shark (Ceterhinus maximus) feeds at the surface on plankton. Photographed in June 200 at the Cairns Of Coll, Isle of Coll, the Inner Hebrides, Scotland in the North East Atlantic Ocean Photo: Alex MustardA basking shark (Ceterhinus maximus) feeds at the surface on plankton. Photographed in June 200 at the Cairns Of Coll, Isle of Coll, the Inner Hebrides, Scotland in the North East Atlantic Ocean Photo: Alex Mustard

“Without protection and proper management, much of this wildlife faces an uncertain future. We must ensure that damaging activities like dredging, development and unsustainable fishing methods are managed to ensure that vitally important areas for the environment are protected and we give space for nature’s recovery,” she said.

SWAN co-ordinator Sinéad O’Brien said it is” clear that pressures in the Irish Sea are increasing”.

“We are about to see a huge expansion of offshore renewable energy projects, but if we want to tackle the twin climate and biodiversity emergencies, we need robust marine planning which ensures space for nature through a network of effective marine protected areas covering a minimum of 30% of Ireland’s waters,” she said.

Sandeels Photo: Paul NaylorSandeels Photo: Paul Naylor

SWAN) is an umbrella network of 25 national and local environmental groups working together for the protection and sustainable management of Ireland’s water environment.

SWAN members are: An Taisce, Bat Conservation Ireland, BirdWatch Ireland, Carra/Mask/Corrib Water Protection Group, Cavan Leitrim Environmental Awareness Network, Celebrate Water, Coastal Concern Alliance (Associate), Coastwatch, Coomhola Salmon Trust, Cork Environmental Forum, Cork Nature Network, Dodder Action, ECO-UNESCO, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Irish Environment, Irish Peatland Conservation Council, Irish Seal Sanctuary, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Irish Wildlife Trust, Longford Environmental Alliance, Macroom District Environmental Group, River Shannon Protection Alliance, Save the Swilly, Slaney River Trust, Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment (VOICE).

Published in Marine Planning
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The Government has approved development of a general scheme of a Bill for designation and management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Ireland’s maritime territory.

The approval has been welcomed by Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien, who is responsible for marine planning, and Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan.

“As an island nation, our seas and our ocean are absolutely crucial for Ireland,” Mr O’Brien said.

“They support our economy, inward and outward trade, our energy supply and communications systems, as well as our climate, our environment, our cultural traditions and heritage, our health and well-being,” he said.

“As an island nation, our seas and our ocean are absolutely crucial for Ireland”

“In order to ensure that our seas remain clean, healthy and productive, and our unique habitats and biodiversity are protected, we are committed to designating a network of up to 30% of our maritime area as MPAs by 2030,” he said.

Mr Noonan described the development of the legislation as “an important milestone as we work to progress Ireland’s network of MPAs”.

“ It will provide us with strong powers to help address the twin environmental crises of biodiversity loss and climate change by protecting and conserving the marine ecosystems that underpin the essential and multifaceted services that coastal communities and wider society depend on, such as fishing, tourism, cultural heritage, climate regulation and resilience to environmental change,”Mr Noonan said.

“In the context of energy security and the ramping up of Ireland’s offshore renewable energy ambitions, it’s all the more important that we work at pace to deliver on our commitment to meeting both biodiversity and climate objectives,” he said.

The legislation will provide for the identification, designation, regulation, management, enforcement and review of MPAs, ensuring that they form a coherent, connected, representative and climate-resilient network.

It aims to make key provisions for public and stakeholder participation and engagement in relation to the MPA process.

It will also make provisions for implementation and enforcement structures and will be designed to work in parallel with the Maritime Area Planning Act 2021 and existing legal protection measures under the Wildlife Acts and the EU Birds and Habitats Directives.

The ministers said it is intended that the heads of the Bill will be brought to Government for approval “as soon as possible”, with work on drafting and enacting the primary MPA legislation “expected to follow thereafter”.

Published in Marine Planning
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The north Donegal coast has been identified by the Fair Seas coalition as a high biodiversity “Area of Interest” for potential Marine Protected Area (MPA) designation.

Only 2% of Irelands' seas are currently protected. The Fair Seas environmental NGO coalition says it is urging the Government to meet its target of increasing this to at least 30% by 2030, informed by the best scientific data and early and continuous stakeholder engagement.

Fair Seas has identified 16 “Areas of Interest” for MPA designation in Irish waters.

The north coast “Area of Interest” covers 3,744km² and is rich in biodiversity, it notes.

“Basking sharks are seen in large numbers, especially around Malin head, where between 60 to 75 individuals have been seen in a single sighting. Bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises are found along the north coast year-round, with particularly high numbers at the mouth of Lough Swilly,”it says.

“Marine Institute surveys found this area to have one of the highest average catches per haul of tope shark. The tope shark is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN),” it notes.

“ The main threat to this species is overexploitation from commercial fishing as there is still allowable catch even though evidence shows it is declining. Thornback skate are found across this area, and Lough Swilly is a refuge site for the critically endangered flapper skate, the largest skate in the world, reaching up to 2.85 metres in length,” Fair Seas says.

It says that the largest herring spawning grounds in the country are located north of Donegal. Some of these grounds are located within this proposed MPA.

“Whiting spawning grounds also cover this entire area. Historic herring spawning grounds have disappeared from much of the Irish coast; therefore, protection must be given to ensure the last of these areas are not lost forever,”it says.

“The cliffs from Horn Head to Fanad Head are home to important colonies of seabirds of high conservation concern such as kittiwake, razorbill and puffin. Lough Swilly provides sanctuary for breeding terns, black guillemots and black-headed gulls,” it says.

“Tory Island and Inishtrahull are rich in seabird diversity. Bloody Foreland is of major importance to migrating birds with more than 31,000 seabirds and 24 species recorded over a four-year period,” it says.

“MPAs allow species and habitats to recover and thrive while benefiting fishing communities and coastal economies,” Fair Seas points out.

“ The ocean is the largest carbon store on Earth, so MPAs have huge potential to fight climate change,” it says.

“As noted by Professor Mark Costello in the foreword of Revitalising Our Seas, the Fair Seas report: “If properly planned, MPAs can lead to more stable and sustainable coastal fisheries, with added benefits of increased tourism and public enjoyment of marine life.”

“There is no evidence of any MPA anywhere in the world reducing fishery catch. There are many examples of MPAs restoring fished populations and these restored stocks consequently repopulating adjacent areas where they contribute to fisheries,” Prof Costello has said.

Full details on the ‘North Coast Area of Interest’ are available in the Revitalising Our Seas PDF here

Published in Marine Planning

‘Winds of Change at Sea’ is the title of an open public discussion on the future of our seas in Killiney next week.

Hosted by Fair Seas alongside Killiney Bay Community Council and Dalkey Community Council, the event will hear from the environmental coalition’s Regina Classen who will discuss the scientific background around her work on identifying Fair Seas’ suggested candidates for enhanced marine protections.

The group recommends that Ireland’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) must increase from the current 2.1% of coastal and offshore areas to 36%.

Last month it was reported that draft legislation to increase Ireland’s MPAs was “almost completed”. Heritage Malcolm Noonan said the first drafts of the bill “will set an ambition for Ireland to reach 30% MPAs”.

The event will also discuss whether there is any conflict between these MPA proposals and the growth of offshore wind energy projects that are expected to play a significant role in Ireland’s emission reduction plans.

The open event takes place next Wednesday 20 July at Fitzpatrick’s Castle in Killiney from 7.30pm to 9pm. Attendance is free but booking is essential, via the Eventbrite page HERE.

Published in Marine Planning

The European Commission is proposing to set legally binding nature restoration targets on both sea and land.

The Nature Restoration Law will apply to every EU member state and will complement existing laws and targets.

The proposal has been welcomed by Irish marine environmental network Fair Seas and Birdwatch Ireland – with the latter organisation describing it as “transformative for Ireland’s degraded ecosystems”.

It will also “help us tackle climate breakdown”, according to Birdwatch Ireland, pointing out that degraded habitats are less resilient to the effects of climate change.

As it states, 85% of Ireland’s internationally important habitats are in poor condition and not able to function properly, which means we cannot fully avail of the services they provide such as carbon storage in peatlands and flood attenuation.

Also, 26% of Ireland’s birds regularly occurring bird species are Red Listed birds of conservation concern in Ireland with farmland birds the fastest declining group of birds. One third of Ireland's wild bee species are threatened with extinction, it stays.

Birdwatch Ireland’s marine policy and advocacy officer Sinéad Loughran said that “a healthy, thriving ocean is fundamental for the survival of humankind,but the reality is that our seas have never been in a worse state than they are today”.

“Twenty-three of Ireland’s twenty-four breeding seabirds are red or amber listed birds of conservation concern. Ensuring they have sufficient fish to eat is essential,”she said.

“If given a proper chance, and with a helping hand, our ocean will have the chance to heal, and nature can be restored at sea. With a strong EU Nature Restoration Law, there is the chance to reverse much of the harm caused by humans and fisheries,”Ms Loughran said.

Birdwatch Ireland head of advocacy Oonagh Duggan noted that a the recent National Biodiversity conference, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that "the business case for biodiversity is compelling: the benefits of restoring nature outweigh the costs ten-fold, and the cost of inaction is even higher."

“We now need the Irish government to back the highest ambition possible in this law and to set up a Nature Restoration fund to restore our decimated biodiversity and to provide a safe future for all of us,”Ms Duggan said.

Fair Seas said that highly or fully protected marine protected areas (MPAs) are “known globally as the best way to restore marine environments”.

“By setting up large no-take zones, where no industrial activity is permitted, Ireland can implement this new law to meet its full potential for biodiversity recovery and climate stabilisation,”it said.

“The law states that habitats and ecosystems with the ‘greatest potential for removing and storing carbon and preventing or reducing the impact of natural disasters such as floods will be the top priorities”, it said.

“These criteria put Ireland in a prime position as our marine ecosystems like seagrass meadows and kelp forests offer both storm protection and store large amounts of carbon. The sediments of our continental shelf area have also been identified as areas with enormous carbon storage capacity if undisturbed by industrial activity,” Fair Seas said.

“Only 6.4% of the ocean globally is covered by MPAs and less than 2% are no-take MPAs, where full protection is given to the ecosystem and species at risk,” it said.

“ The new ecosystem restoration bill offers Ireland the opportunity to revitalise our seas. No-take MPAs offer the entire ecosystem the chance to recover, from the seafloor to the shoaling surface waters and the rocky outcrops of nesting seabird colonies,” Fair Seas said.

“Currently, only 2% of Ireland’s seas are protected, however, there is no active monitoring or management in place to ensure they are actually protected,”it said.

Fair Seas is calling for 30% of Ireland’s waters to be placed within MPAs by the year 2030.

“This aligns with our government's previous international commitments and would satisfy our new obligations within the Nature Restoration Law,”it said.

The Fair Seas campaign is led by a coalition of Ireland’s environmental non-governmental organisations and networks, including Irish Wildlife Trust, Birdwatch Ireland, Sustainable Water Network, Friends of the Irish Environment, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, the Coomhola Salmon Trust, Irish Environmental Network and Coastwatch.

Fair Seas is funded by Oceans 5, Blue Nature Alliance, BFCT and The Wyss Foundation.

Published in Marine Planning
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Draft legislation to designate almost a third of Ireland’s waters as marine protected areas (MPAs) is “almost completed”, the Heritage Minister has said.

Minister Malcolm Noonan told the Irish Examiner last week that his department would meet “shortly” with Fair Seas, a coalition of Ireland’s leading environmental NGOs and networks which recommends that MPAs here must increase from the current 2.1% of coastal and offshore areas to 36%.

The minister added that first drafts of the bill to legislate for further protections for marine wildlife and biodiversity “will set an ambition for Ireland to reach 30% MPAs”.

“We know that through our public consultation that there has been overwhelming support for this initiative,” Minister Noonan said. “We’re also saying MPAs don’t exist in isolation — they can exist with fishing communities and with other marine interests.”

The Irish Examiner has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

The Irish Wildlife Trust has welcomed a European Parliament report calling for action on bottom trawling but has questioned why most MEPs did not support a ban on the fishing technique in marine protected areas (MPAs).

A report by Portuguese socialist MEP Isabel Carvalhais entitled “Towards a sustainable blue economy in the EU” was adopted by MEPs this week.

The IWT has queried why the original text of the report calling for a ban on bottom trawling in all MPAs was not adopted, even though it had previously been supported in the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee.

“Instead, the majority of MEPs, including Irish Fine Gael and Sinn Féin representatives, voted to dilute the text and only restrict bottom trawling in so-called “strictly protected” areas, which cover only 1% of EU waters,” the IWT noted.

Another amendment calling for the EU to prohibit all environmentally damaging extractive industrial activities like mining and fossil fuel extraction in MPAs was adopted by all Irish MEPs.

The IWT said it believed bottom trawling “falls within the category of ‘environmentally damaging extractive industrial activities”. It noted that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature defines “industrial fishing” as all fishing using trawling gear that is dragged or towed across the seafloor or through the water column, and fishing using purse seines and large longlines.

Shadow rapporteur for the Greens/EFA group Grace O'Sullivan said the report “marks a serious step forward for the Fisheries Committee, which is a traditionally tough place to get environment protection legislation passed”.

“Our group achieved some key wins in terms of language on bottom-trawling, mapping carbon-rich marine habitats, and a ban on extractive activities in MPAs,” she said.

“However I am dismayed that a majority of MEPs are still unwilling to effectively protect MPAs,” O’Sullivan continued.

“In many MPAs in northern Europe, bottom-trawling is actually more intense than elsewhere. This is a complete contradiction in terms. Together with civil society, our work continues now, as member states must meet commitments under the Biodiversity Strategy and as the Commission prepares its ‘Action Plan to conserve fisheries resources and protect marine ecosystems", she said

The European Parliament also voted to map and restore carbon-rich marine habitats, protecting them from activities that can disturb and release carbon stored in the seabed, like bottom trawling.

IWT marine policy and research officer Regina Classen welcomed this amendment as “particularly welcome and timely as Ireland plans to increase its MPA coverage to 30% by 2030”.

Published in Marine Wildlife

A “vast majority” of respondents in a public consultation on marine protected areas (MPAs) support the Government’s plans for expanding the network, according to an independent review.

Some 93 per cent of respondents also support the inclusion of existing conservation sites into the national MPA network, the review for the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has found.

The Programme for Government aims to increase MPAs from around two per cent to 30 per cent of Irish waters by 2030, and most respondents felt the current level was insufficient.

Some 91% support the “key principles for the ongoing MPA process”, the department said.

It said respondents noted information and data gaps along with deficits in education around marine protection.

The need for “meaningful, early, and timely engagement with stakeholders, particularly the fishing industry, was considered critical to the MPA expansion process”, the department says.

“Respondents stated that the role of stakeholders and the general public was central to successful implementation and management of MPAs, and that coastal and island communities and businesses need to be supported throughout the establishment and implementation of any MPA,” it said.

“Respondents called for urgent action, based on evidence, along with increased research and resourcing, in order to protect our marine life and also the benefits to the economy and society that come from having a diverse and productive marine environment,” it said.

A total of 2,311 responses to the public consultation were received by the department, it says.

The highest percentage of responses to the consultation’s online survey portal came from the environmental sector, followed by education, health and fisheries, it said.

“ A very wide range of representative bodies, organisations and enterprises also made submissions to the consultation,”it noted.

It said it had begun developing “stand-alone legislation” to enable identification, designation and management of MPAs to meet Ireland’s national and international commitments.

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

MPAs are geographically defined maritime areas with certain protections for conservation purposes. In addition to conserving marine species and habitats, MPAs can support maritime economic activity and reduce the effects of climate change and ocean acidification.

“Many valuable views and perspectives, covering all stakeholders and the public in general, have been highlighted through this public consultation,” Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said.

“The strong support for the MPA process, expressed through these submissions, is a positive indication that stakeholders and the wider public are keenly interested in having a clean, healthy, diverse and productive marine environment,” he said.

“I thank all of those who made a submission for their time, their insights and their substantive input. This is an urgent issue and my department is making strides in the protection of our maritime area,” he said.

Mr O'Brien noted that the Maritime Area Planning Bill, which he described as the “biggest reform of marine governance since the foundation of the State”, was enacted in December.

“We are also progressing the establishment of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA) as a matter of urgency,” he said.

Environmentalists have been critical of the priority given to maritime area planning legislation, primarily for offshore renewable, in contrast to the timeline for legislation for MPAs.

The full report on Marine Protected Area (MPA) Public Consultation Submissions can be found here

Published in Marine Planning

Where will marine protected areas and marine conservation zones be located in Irish coastal waters and what effects will they have on sailing, watersports generally, angling, commercial fishing, shipping?

The Marine Environment Section in the Water Division of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage appears to be the ‘lead’ in decision-making about the location of these areas, on which work is underway this month, following the passing of the Marine Areas Planning Bill by the Oireachtas in mid-December. This Department described the passing of that Bill as “the biggest reform of marine governance since the foundation of the State.”

Another State agency, MARA, is being set up which will focus on offshore wind projects, water and wastewater infrastructure, bridges, marinas, coastal protection works, flood relief works and undersea telecommunications cables and power interconnectors. As far as I can determine at present, there 27 offshore wind farms planned for Irish coastal waters. Already there have been threats of legal action from commercial interests against some effects of the new Marine Planning Bill.

Who will decide the Marine Protected Areas?Who will decide the Marine Protected Areas?

On my Podcast this week, I’m focusing on how decisions will be made about the marine protected areas. In an island nation, the Department of the Marine does not have the leading role in making major maritime decisions. The Chief Executive of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, a strong voice about the marine environment, says that “distant civil servants” not be allowed “foist these new designations” upon the maritime community.

Listen to the Podcast here

Published in Tom MacSweeney
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