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Research into nature-based solutions for water quality and ecology and “digital twins” for coastal areas are among topics the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is funding under a 14.3 million euro round.

The funding of 33 new research projects covers research into climate change, the natural environment, the green and circular economy, and environment and human health.

Reflecting the need for cross-sectoral research, the EPA says it is working in partnership with Met Éireann and Geological Survey Ireland to co-fund some of the studies.

It says the funding will support more than 200 research staff across 13 organisations.

University College Cork (UCC) received the highest number of successful research awards for the 2023 round, and Prof John Cryan, UCC Vice President for Research and Innovation, said he would like to thank the EPA for “continuing to award talented researchers”.

In the marine and freshwater environment areas, South-East Technological University received a grant of 590,558 euro for work on combining digital twin technology with landscape biography for environmental analysis of a coastal region.

University College, Dublin, received 599,214 euro for a project entitled “Enhancing Blue Carbon and Ecological Services through Nature-Based Solutions: Integrated Restoration in Irish Coastal Waters”.

Ryan Hanley Consulting Engineers received 98,680 euro for a comparative assessment of source protection to improve water quality and drinking water treatment.

The complete list of awards for the 2023 EPA research call is here

The EPA Research Call 2024 will open for applications in April 2024, and details will be made available on the EPA website.

Published in Marine Science
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Coastal communities can apply for climate action grants from a €27 million “funding pot” announced by Minister for Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan.

Speaking in Co Cavan, Ryan said it was one of the largest of its kind, earmarked for local organisations working to build low-carbon communities.

It comprises a national Climate Action Fund allocation of €24 million and an allocation of €3 million, which is being provided by the Government’s Shared Island Fund to support cross-border and all-island community climate action initiatives.

The programme, which local authorities will administer, can provide amounts of up to €100,000 to larger local projects over an 18-month period.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all for local projects so the fund will be flexible enough to provide lesser amounts as needed to smaller and medium-sized local action programmes, Ryan said.

“With climate action, place is everything. What works and what’s needed for a coastal community will be different to what works and what’s needed for a midlands community, for example," he said.

Projects selected for funding under the programmes will have to contribute to national climate and energy targets across the following five themes:

  • community energy;
  • travel;
  • food and waste;
  • shopping and recycling; and
  • local climate and environmental action.

All local authorities now have a dedicated community climate action officer (CCAO) who will assist interested groups with their applications and provide guidance on the programme, helping to match local action with suitable funding, Ryan said.

Groups interested in applying should contact their local authority and ask to speak to the CCAO about the programme before applications close in early March.

Published in Coastal Notes

An environmental network has been given additional funding of €1.1 million by Minister for Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan to “build capacity” in relation to planning for offshore wind.

The extra funding of €1.1 million has been approved by the minister for the Irish Environmental Network (IEN), a network of environmental non-government organisations (NGOs)

The money is in addition to annual funding the IEN receives from the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications.

Ryan’s department said the funding “will enable environmental NGOs actively involved in the marine environment sector, including Birdwatch Ireland, Coastwatch Ireland, Bat Conservation Ireland and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, to build their capacity and secure additional expertise in areas critical to the delivery of Ireland’s offshore wind ambitions”.

“These areas include marine science and research, the offshore wind planning system, and public engagement,” it said.

It said that “increasing the resources of environmental NGOs will make an important contribution towards achieving effective future maritime spatial planning within Ireland’s seas and oceans, and the establishment of a new ‘plan-led’ regime for offshore wind development”.

Under this plan-led approach, future offshore wind developments will be located in Designated Maritime Area Plans, or DMAPs, which have been established by the State, in cooperation with key stakeholders, including local communities, those involved in the fishing industry, and environmental NGOs.

This will include the establishment of Ireland’s first offshore renewable energy DMAP, which will identify marine areas for future offshore wind projects off the south coast of Ireland.

The funds “will ensure that environmental NGOs can contribute towards the establishment of future DMAPs, through participation in periods of public consultation”. T

A second period of public consultation for the South Coast DMAP is scheduled for early 2024.

“An appropriately resourced environmental NGO sector is central to our ongoing work to accelerate the delivery of offshore renewable energy,” Ryan said.

 Karen Ciesielski, CEO of the Irish Environmental Network Karen Ciesielski, CEO of the Irish Environmental Network 

“ In particular, the work of environmental NGOs in the areas of conservation, public awareness and education, will make an important contribution towards the establishment of future offshore DMAPs,”he said.

“This funding will help to ensure that development for offshore wind takes place in a manner that is sustainable and consistent with environmental protection, including protection of biodiversity, and the conservation objectives of protected sites, species or habitats,”he said.

IEN chief executive officer Karen Ciesielski welcomed the announcement.

“This funding will enable our members to build additional capabilities and know-how to ensure that Ireland’s offshore renewable energy demands are met in an environmentally sustainable manner that benefits coastal communities and us all,”she said.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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The Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA) has initiated a study with the Marine Institute on whether certain marine environmental surveys require a licence.

The study will focus on marine environmental surveys “for the purposes of scientific discovery and research”, and marine environmental surveys “for the purposes of site investigation or in support of an application for planning for major developments”.

The new State regulatory authority for marine planning, says that “the output of this study, expected Q1 2024, will inform MARA if changes in the licence regime are warranted”.

“If so, MARA will engage with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to prioritise drafting legislative amendments to exempt some ‘low risk’ activities that are marine licensable,” it says.

The Marine Institute said it “is engaging with internal and external marine experts to help identify and propose activities that may be suitable for exemption”.

“This will be carried out by assessing marine data collection processes, publicly available data and survey techniques used in other mature markets”, it says.

“A comprehensive catalogue of the types of activities will be reviewed. The approaches adopted in other jurisdictions will also inform the process,” it says.

MARA chief executive officer Laura Brien said “the range of activities which require a marine licence is wide ranging from large complex works to smaller, low-risk works”.

“This is an important project which could result in an innovative approach to our licensing regime and ensure applications are treated in a proportionate way,” she said.

“The outcome of this work will be of interest to a number of our stakeholders, including industry, in particular those dealing with Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) and other maritime developments,” she said.

More information is available from Mara’s marine licensing team at email address [email protected]

Published in Marine Planning

A European Court of Auditors report on offshore renewable energy says targets set by the EU in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may be difficult to reach, and the impact on the marine environment hasn’t been sufficiently “identified, analysed or addressed”.

As The Sunday Independent reports, the auditors’ report also expresses “particular” concern about “the unresolved conflict with fisheries in some countries”.

Four EU member states were analysed for the report, but the report’s recommendations apply to all member states, including Ireland.

The report studied progress in Germany and The Netherlands (both of whom have advanced offshore sectors), plus those of France and Spain.

EU member state targets may be delayed by planning and the effect of inflation, it says, but it says this pace may accelerate under changes to the renewable energy directive, requiring member states to designate “renewable go-to areas” on land or at sea for “overriding public interest”.

However, the audit report says the European Commission did not assess the environmental impact and impact on the fishing industry of these increased targets.

Installations of energy infrastructure at sea “may result in a progressive reduction of access to fishing areas, which could lower revenue from fishing and increase competition between fishermen,” it says.

While this may benefit some fish stocks, it claims “an improved fish population on a larger scale is uncertain”.

The report also says the scale of the planned offshore renewable energy roll-out, from a current 16GW of installed capacity to a planned 61GW in 2030 “and beyond”, may result in a “significant” environmental footprint on marine life, which “has not been taken sufficiently into account”.

The EU has argued this will require less than 3pc of the European maritime area and is “compatible with the EU’s biodiversity strategy” — but the report says deploying offshore renewable energy “might influence a much larger proportion of certain habitat types and their biodiversity”.

The Department of Environment, Climate and Communications says it is scrutinising the report, and said it underlined the importance of “plan-led” approach by Ireland to phase two projects.

The first designated maritime area plan for future offshore energy development for the south coast is out for public consultation.

Read The Sunday Independent here

Published in Fishing

Two renewable energy industry associations and several environmental NGOs have called for a “step-change in Government investment in environmental capacity” at both state and civil society level to address the biodiversity and climate crises.

A joint pre-Budget statement from Wind Energy Ireland and the Irish Solar Energy Association, along with environmental NGOs, calls for a range of targeted measures to support an environmentally sound transition to a zero-carbon power system.

The NGOs are An Taisce, Birdwatch Ireland, Friends of the Earth, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, and the Irish Wildlife Trust.

“lack of environmental capacity in state agencies”

“Substantially increased resources are needed at all levels of Government and in environmental NGOs to accelerate the energy transition while protecting nature,” they say.

They criticise a “lack of environmental capacity in state agencies”, which they claim to be undermining renewables objectives and compliance with environmental law.

A lack of resources among NGOs means they are often prevented from substantially engaging in the planning and development process, they state.

The joint statement calls for, among other actions:

*An increase in funding for relevant departments and agencies and a fast-track recruitment process for key state bodies that are critical for delivering a zero-carbon electricity system and protecting and restoring nature, to ensure that they have enough ecologists, for example, to progress their work in a timely fashion.

*The establishment of a dedicated Climate and Nature Restoration Fund from windfall corporation taxes to finance climate and nature infrastructural and capital investments, including nature-based solutions.

*The introduction of a dedicated new funding stream to support training and upskilling of existing staff in public bodies involved in carrying out an environmental impact assessment.

*The allocation of at least €7 million in 2024 to help reach the target of fully protecting 10% of Ireland’s ocean and seas and at least €55 million to support longer-term designation of Marine Protected Areas and ongoing management until 2030.

*The establishment of a new funding stream for science and research-focused conservation organisations to enable them to fund staff posts so that they can meaningfully engage in ecological research, active conservation, infrastructure consultation and planning processes.

*An increase in annual funding to the Irish Environmental Network by €1 million to improve the ability of environmental NGOs to engage in environmental planning and policy.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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“Nature-based” solutions to the impact of climate breakdown on the marine and terrestrial environments could qualify for funding from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of a new research call.

The EPA says up to €16 million in funding is available for new research projects, representing a significant increase over previous years.

It is inviting proposals from the research community for “innovative research projects to support the development and implementation of environmental policies in Ireland”.

“Scientific research and innovation are playing an increasingly important role in informing how governments and society can respond to the challenges posed by climate change and environmental degradation,” Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment says.

Areas of research include exploring how nature-based solutions can benefit the environment and society, advancing climate science in an Irish context, and identifying effective options to adapt to climate change.

Cross-cutting areas are also highlighted, such as how data and digitalisation can be utilised for environmental protection and how society can be enabled in its transition to a sustainable future, the EPA says.

The EPA research programme is funded by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

Under this year’s call, the EPA says it will be partnering with the Geological Survey Ireland, National Parks and Wildlife Service and Met Éireann to co-fund projects in areas of mutual interest.

Further details are available on the EPA website and queries can be emailed to [email protected]

Published in Marine Science
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Ireland is to develop nature-based solutions in coastal areas to protect biodiversity, improve resilience to climate change and reduce the impact of pollution under a new programme of measures for the marine environment

Ireland’s plan to maintain or achieve “good environmental status” of marine waters over the next six years has been published by Government.

The “programme of actions” commits Ireland to:

  • develop and expand Ireland’s marine protected areas (MPAs) to cover 30% of its marine area by 2030, including enacting the Marine Protected Areas Bill in 2023;
  • develop nature-based solutions in coastal and marine systems to protect biodiversity, improve resilience to climate change and reduce the impact of pollution;
  • provide environmental guidance for offshore renewable energy;
  • develop an all-Ireland management strategy for non-indigenous species and invasive species in coastal and marine areas;
  • update guidance on reducing underwater noise pollution to protect marine mammals;
  • and fully implement the Single Use Plastics Directive and Circular Economy Act, among a wide range of other actions aimed at reducing litter and plastics in our seas. This will allow Ireland to reach the EU beach litter threshold value of 20 litter items per 100m.

Minister for Housing and Local Government Darragh O’BrienMinister for Housing and Local Government Darragh O’Brien

The “Programme of Measures” incorporating Ireland’s environmental targets for seas and oceans to 2028 has already been submitted to the European Commission.

 It has now been published by Minister for Housing and Local Government Darragh O’Brien and Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan.

The programme was drawn up by a steering committee of State bodies, and several non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Fishing industry organisations, port bodies and representatives of marine leisure are not part of the steering committee.

The members of the steering committee include: Department of Housing Planning and Local Government, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transport, Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, Inland Fisheries Ireland, Food Safety Authority of Ireland, environmental NGO representatives Coastwatch and SWAN, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

Published in Marine Planning
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European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly is seeking the public’s view on how transparent EU decision-making is in relation to the environment.

The public consultation, which closes in just over a month’s time, relates to decisions involving both the marine and terrestrial environment.

The consultation’s aim is to evaluate whether citizens have access to the up-to-date information they need to exercise “democratic scrutiny” when it comes to EU rules for protecting the environment and combatting climate change.

“Past Ombudsman inquiries have found instances in which environmental information was made public either too late or not at all, effectively removing people’s right to participate in decision-making related to the environment,”the European Ombudsman’s office says.

“The Ombudsman has decided to prioritise scrutiny of this area as the EU - in the face of unprecedented environmental challenges - has agreed a series of laws aimed at protecting the environment and combatting climate change,” it says.

“The laws and proposals range from binding emission targets, to funding programmes for sustainable technologies, to biodiversity strategies and reduction in the use of chemical pesticides,”it says.

The EU Aarhus regulation obliges EU institutions to set up public databases for “ proactive and systemic” dissemination of certain environmental information.

As one of a series of questions drawn up as part of the consultation, participants are asked to identify what EU institutions should do to make these databases as comprehensive and user-friendly as possible?

The 11 questions relating to transparency and participation seek to “find out how easy it is for the public to obtain documents or information related to the environment”.

They are also designed to determine “how citizens could be more involved in the preparation and implementation of green policies”.

The public consultation is available in all 24 EU languages, and runs until December 15th. More details are here

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Northern Ireland’s first boat-based environmental charity, Citizen Sea, will be presenting several events about the marine environment in Northern Ireland in Belfast from the 24th of February-10th March.

Citizen Sea is a grassroots charity, empowering people to engage with and learn about their local marine environment, using science and experiences to help protect our seas.

Citizen Sea’s vessel has its home in Bangor Marina. It aims is to inspire people through experiences at sea to love, protect and appreciate the marine environment and they engage with people through citizen science, practical action, and education.

On 24th February Marine Biologist Amy Mundye will present Talk and Print at the Belfast Print Workshop in Cotton Court in the city’s Cathedral Quarter. It will feature her published research on microplastics, and hermit crabs and artist Linda Barbour will present a screen printing taster session.

Marine Biologist Amy MundyeMarine Biologist Amy Mundye

The event titled the Power of the Sea on 27 February in the Belfast Barge at Lanyon Quay will include contributions from three people whose lives are intrinsically linked to the sea. There will be a talk by Bangor legend Brian Meharg MBE, about his life on the water and with Bangor RNLI. He’s well known as the Bangor Boat Man and has been part of the boating community in North Down for many years. Brian will be telling some amazing stories from his time with the lifeboat, and life on the open seas. Jessica McWilliams will share what the sea means to her personally and why she's hooked on sea swimming! Aileen McClenaghan, who has been employed by a mental health charity for the past 18 years and is currently tutoring Environment and Art classes to adults with learning disabilities, often uses her spare-time at the coast beachcombing and litter-picking. Aileen will be talking about some of her frequent and more unusual finds and how important it is for us all to connect with the sea. This series of events will raise some much-needed funds for activities such as science clubs and training for volunteers, as well as awareness around the marine environment and plastic pollution.

Photographer Phil WilkinsonPhotographer Phil Wilkinson

On 3rd March at St Joseph’s Church in Sailortown, photographer Phil Wilkinson who is a recreational SCUBA diver with Seasearch Northern Ireland, will be showing some incredible underwater photos that he has recently taken locally showing the diverse life under the sea. Volunteers like Phil are passionate about recording marine life and helping with conservation issues. And at the same venue on 10th March Sally Chamberlain, Regional Manager Seafish, will talk about her work with the local Seafood industry.

Also present in the Barge will be artist, Grainne Laverty, who will be showcasing some of her work, with a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of paintings donated to Citizen Sea. Grainne says “My current series of work is based on the seas’ ever changing surfaces with an emphasis on the damage done to our seas and the acknowledgement of a sense of ignorance towards it. As well as creating my art to be viewed and enjoyed, I want to raise awareness and connect with a local charity like Citizen Sea”.

Citizen Sea Operations and Admin, Karina Robinson commented; “After a few difficult years in the charity and events sectors, we’re delighted to be hosting this series of talks and workshops. We’ve a brilliant line up of local speakers and experts who are immersed in life in and on the sea. Our country has historically been shrouded by myths and legends, with the sea being at the centre of many of these tales. We hope that through these talks we can inspire people to reconnect with the sea and the coastal communities who strive to protect it. We’re incredibly excited to be included in the NI Science Festival 2022 programme, encouraging local people to get involved in science”.

Tickets are available here

Published in Belfast Lough
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