An Ecologically Coherent Network (ECN) of well-managed marine protected areas (MPAs) is a proven tool for the protection and restoration of the marine environment. MPAs increase biodiversity and resilience, can enhance commercial fish and shellfish stocks inside and outside their boundaries, and even have a role to play in carbon sequestration. A “coherent network of representative MPAs” is a requirement under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) (read more here).
At present, Ireland protects just over 2% of our marine territory; this is far off the 2020 target of protecting 10% of our ocean (which Ireland committed to in 2010 through the Convention on Biological Diversity) and the 2030 target of 30% protection referred to in the 2020 Programme for Government and championed by environmental groups across the globe as essential for the protection of biodiversity and nature.
In 2019, an MPA expert advisory group was formed to advise the Government on the expansion of Ireland’s network of MPAs. SWAN was a member of this expert group. In early 2021 the Group’s report ‘Expanding Ireland’s Marine Protected Area Network’ was published. The report sets out key messages and recommendations for expanding our network of MPAs under various sections such as legislation, governance and management, and stakeholder engagement. The report is a crucial step in increasing the levels of protection afforded to our iconic marine species and habitats. A public consultation on the report was launched in February 2021.
In its submission to the public consultation SWAN raised numerous points including: that the whole site approach be enshrined in legislation (whereby all features that occur within the site are protected in order to better preserve or restore the site’s integrity); that the designation criteria should be set based on achieving an ecologically coherent network (ECN); and set out examples of the features that require legal protection. The full SWAN response can be read here.
At present, SWAN understands that heads of Bill for the MPA legislation will be drafted by the end of 2022 and that legislation will be enacted some time in 2023. SWAN is urging the Government to expedite this process given that even after legislation is enacted it will still take many years to have an ecologically coherent and well managed network of MPAs.