A quest to improve the health of our oceans

Now is the time to protect Irish waters, so we can pass down the benefits of a healthy ocean to future generations, says Jack O’Donovan Trá, Communications Officer, Fair Seas
A quest to improve the health of our oceans

ENDANGERED: Basking sharks in the South Harbour at Cape Clear

THE health of all life on Earth relies on a healthy ocean.

The ocean covers 70% of our planet and produces more than 50% of the oxygen we breathe. That means that every second breath you draw into your lungs comes from our ocean.

Globally, ocean health is under severe pressure from human activities and climate change. Ocean biodiversity is declining all over the world.

Now, however, there is a movement growing to stop this decline and start to reverse it.

Fair Seas is a new Irish campaign that is building a movement of ocean stewardship across the island of Ireland. Its aim is to see Ireland, with a renewed appreciation of the ocean, become a world leader in marine protection, giving our species, habitats and coastal communities the opportunity to thrive.

A Marine Protected Area (MPA) is a part of the ocean that is protected by laws to conserve species, habitats and ecosystems. MPAs are a vital tool in improving ocean health. They help to limit damaging activities and can allow habits, wildlife and commercially important fish stocks to recover.

Unfortunately, Ireland has only just over 2% of its waters protected through international obligation, but in reality there is no management or monitoring in place to actually protect these areas. In fact, there is currently no definition of MPA in Irish law.

That’s why Fair Seas is urgently asking the Irish government to create robust and ambitious legislation so that our waters can be effectively protected, managed and monitored right out to the edge of the continental shelf.

Fair Seas is calling for at least 30% of Irish waters to be designated as ‘Fully Protected’ by 2030.

Aoife O’Mahony, Campaign Manager at Fair Seas, says: “In January, 2022, Ireland showed its passion for the ocean by speaking out against Russian missile testing.

“Voices from the fishing industry, government, environmental groups and the public were all echoing the need to protect our marine biodiversity and commercially important fish stocks.

“Fair Seas is calling on those same voices to ask the Irish government to follow up and secure a network of effective well-managed Marine Protected Areas.”

Irish waters are home to an incredible array of wildlife. Endangered basking sharks, which are the second-largest fish in the ocean, visit Irish coastal waters every summer to filter feed on plankton. These magnificent creatures can commonly be seen off the West Cork and Kerry coast and are typically five to seven metres in length but they have been recorded to grow up to 12 metres long, that’s the length of a Bus Eireann bus.

Around our coast, there are lots of extremely important habitats like seagrass meadows, kelp forests and even deep-sea coral reefs. 

These habitats are home to countless species and provide shelter and nursery grounds for commercially important fish species such as salmon and cod and crustaceans like crabs and lobsters.

Both seagrass and kelp forests also provide our coasts with defence against the effects of storms and coastal flooding, two things that are more commonly being experienced due to climate change.

Coral reefs occur in the deep waters off the continental shelf to the south and west of Ireland, where they form extremely important deepwater habitats. These cold-water corals are very slow-growing and typically live to be hundreds and even thousands of years old.

This long and slow life cycle makes these coral reefs very vulnerable to disturbances and damage so protecting them is essential for the survival of these ancient ecosystems.

Seagrass meadows absorb and store more CO2 than rainforests on land. Marine plants as a whole are estimated to store more than 20 times the amount of CO2 than forests on land.

Clearly, these habitats play a critical role in Ireland’s efforts to combat climate change and meet our international targets to restore and increase biodiversity. That is why they urgently need to be protected.

MPA’s primary objectives are to conserve biodiversity, but they can also deliver broader cultural and socio-economic benefits. Fair Seas is urging the Irish government to work with all our ocean stakeholders, this includes coastal communities, fishermen and women, NGOs, researchers and anyone in this country who feels they have a connection to our ocean.

Fair Seas believes that the designation and management of MPAs should be based on the best available scientific advice and should also be informed by early and sustained engagement with stakeholders and communities.

On our island nation, communities have been linked to the sea for thousands of years. So it is these communities that must be empowered to become the custodians of our natural and maritime heritage.

Now it is time to protect our waters so we can pass down the benefits of a healthy ocean to the generations to come.

Want to help save the ocean?

Help us spread the word and follow #fairseas on;

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You can read more at www.fairseas.ie

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