Marine Protected Areas
In autumn 2019, the Department initiated a process aimed at expanding Ireland’s network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the coming years. In general terms, MPAs can be considered to be geographically defined maritime areas that provide levels of protection to achieve conservation objectives.
MPAs can support economic activity associated with the sea; for example, by conserving areas of particular importance to marine ecosystems and ensuring that human activity is kept at a level that will sustain biological diversity, natural productivity, human health and well-being. MPAs can also help reduce the effects of climate change and ocean acidification by ensuring that marine ecosystems are healthy and resilient, and that the marine environment can act as a natural carbon storage system.
Expert group report advises on processes for expanding MPA network
The first step in the current process was to convene an advisory group to provide independent expert advice and recommendations on the processes required and the challenges to be addressed in expanding Ireland’s MPA network. This group, chaired by Professor Tasman Crowe, Director of UCD’s Earth Institute, had its first meeting on 18 December 2019. It subsequently met on a monthly basis, including remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The group worked intensively during this period in order to formulate and complete its final report. On 22 October 2020 (during EU Green Week 2020), the group submitted its report to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, TD, and the Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, TD.
Online engagements held with stakeholders
As an important part of its active research and deliberations, the advisory group gathered and facilitated the sharing of knowledge and perspectives on MPAs from more than 100 key societal, community, business and sectoral stakeholders. The process involved two consultative approaches: an online questionnaire and online focus groups.
Firstly, the group circulated an online questionnaire in August 2020. This provided respondents with an opportunity to share their views on MPAs, the future expansion of Ireland’s MPA network, and the preferred approach to selecting, designating and managing MPAs in the short and longer term.
Secondly, a series of online focus group meetings took place in September 2020. These occurred in parallel with the online questionnaire process. Over 40 stakeholders, from various representative bodies, sectors, authorities and interest groups, participated in these focus group meetings.
The information gathered by the advisory group through both consultative approaches informed its considerations, analysis and final report.
Public Consultation and Next Steps
The Minister and the Department are now considering the final report of the MPA Advisory Group in detail. The Minister also intends to publish the report as part of an extensive public consultation. The public consultation will begin in the coming months (late 2020, early 2021) and will encourage the wider public to submit their views on the best way forward for our natural marine environment and our people and how Ireland’s network of MPAs should be expanded. The Department also intends to begin developing legislation on the identification, designation and management of MPAs in 2021.
Check this webpage regularly to find out the latest news on the public consultation. Alternatively if you would like to be notified when the public consultation begins, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org