Climate activists have staged a protest outside the Dáil calling for action to protect Irish seas.
A group including Extinction Rebellion and the Irish Wildlife Trust say only around two per cent of Irish coastal waters and seas are nominally protected, despite a Government commitment to protect 10 per cent of the Irish marine region by 2020.
The Irish Wildlife Trust has warned that Ireland’s marine environment is under “immense pressure”, with many species facing population decline or even extinction.
It has called for an end to “destructive practices” such as bottom trawling, which has been linked to overfishing.
A public consultation on efforts to protect marine protected areas (MPAs) launched in February and is set to conclude at the end of the month.
“Ireland’s marine environment has changed dramatically over the past century.
“Our inshore areas are under immense pressure from fishing, aquaculture and pollution,” a spokesperson for the Irish Wildlife Trust said.
“One-third of shark, ray and skate species are threatened with extinction and another third is near-threatened, many seabird populations are declining, estuaries are becoming more polluted and habitat loss is widespread.”
The group said that since 2011, the Irish Whale and Dolphin group has recorded a steady increase in the number of dolphin strandings along the Irish coastline, with 2021 poised to become the worst year on record.
“Entanglement in fishing gear and acoustic trauma are the two causes of death of most concern,” the spokesperson added.
Protesters marched down Kildare Street carrying fishing nets displaying various types of marine life.
Extinction Rebellion and the Irish Wildlife Trust were joined by other groups including Flossie and the Beach Cleaners, who seek to raise awareness around plastic pollution and its impact on beaches and waters, and Solution, Not Pollution, a pan-European youth group focused on educational solutions to climate change.
An Extinction Rebellion spokesperson said: “In Ireland only around 2% of Irish seas and coastal waters are nominally protected, even though the Government had committed to protecting 10% of the Irish marine region by 2020, yet another deadline we have missed.
“These areas are given protection under the Habitats Directive but many destructive practices such as bottom trawling, pair trawling and tangle nets are allowed to continue in these conservation areas giving them ‘paper park’ status.”
Paper park status is a term given to protected areas that exist on maps and in legislation, but are offered little real protection in the water.
“We need Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to come under separate primary legislation and these MPAs should be strict no-take zones,” the spokesperson added.
Extinction Rebellion has called on the Government to take “urgent” action to address the issue, and bring forward a target of protecting 30 per cent of the marine region by 2030.
“The Irish Government has committed to expanding its network of MPAs to cover at least 30% of its marine region by 2030, in line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy” the spokesperson said.
“However, we want these highly protected MPAs as soon as possible.”
They argue that a ban on fishing in those area would protect diverse marine ecosystems and ultimately boost sustainable fishing.
Minister of State for Heritage and Green Party TD Malcolm Noonan came down to speak with protesters and accepted a submission from them.
The Department of Heritage as been contacted for comment.