Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

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 9% of our marine territory; this is far off 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 reportExpanding 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. 

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, the heads of a Bill that will establish and manage Marine Protected Areas has been drafted but there has been a lack of progress in getting it published. 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.

SWAN is delighted to be a partner in the Fair Seas Campaign, which is a coalition of Ireland’s leading environmental non-governmental organisations (eNGOs) and environmental networks calling on the Government to designate a minimum of 30% of Irish waters as Marine Protected Areas by 2030 with at least 10% strictly protected.

Fair Seas is calling for 10 Key Asks for the MPA Bill and published a white paper on the legislation.  It is essential that the new legislation addresses Fair Seas asks so there is proper monitoring and management in MPAs, which will be fundamental to the much needed protection and restoration of marine habitats, species, and ecosystems in Irish waters for decades to come.

Fair Seas estimates that €55 million will be needed to adequately fund MPA designation and ongoing management until 2030, with approximately €7 million would be required over the next 12 months to reach the target of fully protecting 10% of Ireland’s ocean and seas.

The coalition also produced a ‘Revitalising Our Seas’ Report that identifies16 ‘Areas of Interest’ for MPA designation in Irish waters including eight coastal areas stretching along the coast of the Republic of Ireland. The report shows how it would be possible to protect 36% of Ireland’s ocean territory enabling the country to meet its 2030 European targets.

Fair Seas has also completed a series of videos called Real Voices with conversations with people who make a living from the sea and their views on MPAs.

Find out the latest on Fair Seas work on the Fair Seas website.