On the night of the “Love Your Coast” Photography Awards, Minister Eoghan Murphy announced Professor Tasman Crowe, Director of the UCD Earth Institute and Associate Dean of Science in UCD, as the chair of a new advisory group for the expansion of Ireland’s existing network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). A target of the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 is the expansion of the MPA network. Through the EU, Ireland has also committed to the UN Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) to meet the internationally agreed target of having a minimum of 10% protection of marine areas.
The ‘Our Ocean Wealth’ Integrated Marine Plan states that: “[Our Coastline] has a network of protected sites, designated under European and national legislation for the species and/or habitats (e.g. estuaries, Saltmarshes, inlets, and bays) that occur within them” and that Our Ocean Wealth includes “130 sites designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the EU Habitats Directive for marine or coastal habitats and species”. However, this figure includes many SACs for which purely terrestrial, albeit coastal, habitats are the areas of interest. SACs are also designated for both seal species and several cetaceans commonly found in Irish waters.
Minister Murphy stated that he intends to bring forth primary legislation to designate Marine Protected Areas in 2020. He mentioned, “This will be an important focus of my Department’s work in the coming months and years and is central to our implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the OSPAR Convention, our commitments under the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity”.
Professor Crowe’s research focuses on the effects of natural and anthropogenic processes on marine biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and ecosystem services. Recently, Professor Crowe has created a global atlas of the environmental risk of marinas on water quality by applying the Marina Environmental Risk Assessment (MERA) procedure. Moreover, the Irish Research Council (IRC) has funded his proposal for an eco-engineering approach to maximizing macroalgal diversity and ecosystem function on coastal infrastructure.
The new expert group will work on reviewing existing protection measures and advising the minister on the process of creating MPAs. This group will also consider the gaps in existing legislation to underpin such a network. It is expected that the work will take some six months and culminate in an expert report with recommendations feeding into the development of new legislation. The expansion of our MPAs will play a role in reducing the effects of climate change and this will ensure that the marine ecosystems remain healthy and resilient.
Soundharya Kumaresan – Science Writer