Environment News

Ireland Approves International Agreement to Establish 600,000km² Marine Protected Area in High Seas

The Government of Ireland has joined 14 other countries and the European Union in making a legally binding decision to establish the North Atlantic Current and Evlanov Sea basin Marine Protected Area (NACES MPA). The MPA covers 595,196 km² (over eight times the size of Ireland’s land area) and comprises a vitally important area for seabirds in the North Atlantic.

OSPAR Commission members also approved a new North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy to 2030. The OSPAR Commission for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, an international organisation, has been chaired by Ireland since 2018.

Ireland’s commitment to the NACES MPA and the Strategy was announced by Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD, at the OSPAR Ministerial meeting in Cascais, Portugal, this afternoon.

The designation of the new MPA takes place amidst a worrying decline in seabird numbers. Located in the High Seas, in the west of the OSPAR maritime area, the designated area is home to up to five million seabirds across 22 different species, including five – such as the Atlantic Puffin – that are globally threatened. Other threatened species, like the wide-ranging Basking Shark and Leatherback Turtle, also use this area.

The North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy contains 12 strategic objectives and over 50 practical, operational objectives to tackle the triple challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution (including marine litter) facing the oceans. Its implementation will be part of OSPAR’s contribution to the achievement of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals.

The cooperation of the OSPAR contracting parties will act as a cost-effective and efficient multilateral driver to tackle transboundary issues facing the ocean. Among the outcomes announced by the Ministers and high-level representatives from all contracting parties today at the Ministerial meeting were:

• A legally binding OSPAR Decision to establish the North Atlantic Current and Evlanov Sea basin Marine Protected Area (NACES MPA).

• An agreement to expand OSPAR’s protection listing to kelp forests, habitats created by tube-dwelling Haploops crustaceans, to the Azorean barnacle which is endemic to Macaronesia, and to the rare Houting – a coastal fish species. Protecting wide-ranging habitats such as kelp forests will help to ensure that the ocean’s capacity to naturally sequester and store carbon remains intact. Protecting rare species that only occur in the North-East Atlantic will help to ensure that the global biodiversity crisis is halted and populations of threatened species have the chance to recover.

• A commitment to “minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels”.

• Approval of a Recommendation to reduce the loss of plastic pellets into the marine environment. This will be done through the timely development and implementation of effective and consistent pellet loss prevention standards and certification schemes. This Recommendation will make a significant contribution to marine environmental protection by tackling pellet loss across the plastics supply chain in collaboration with industry.

• Agreement that the OSPAR Commission will join the High Ambition Alliance on chemicals and waste. Inspired by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, its objective is to enhance awareness, ensure commitments and to promote ambitious, sound management of chemicals, and to take action on waste at all levels. Its membership comprises committed national ministries, as well as senior representatives from intergovernmental organisations, industry and civil society.

Speaking in Cascais this afternoon after signing the Ministerial Declaration, and signalling Ireland’s support of the new MPA and 2030 Strategy, Minister Noonan said, “the designation today of the North Atlantic Current and Evlanov Sea basin Marine Protected Area, covering an area over eight times the size of Ireland, is a really positive development in the future protection of seabirds and biodiversity. Ireland will play a lead role in protecting this area, at the same time as we work towards creating a network of Marine Protected Areas to 30% of our maritime area by 2030.”

“The decisions made here today are crucial in dealing with the global challenges of protecting our climate, our biodiversity and our marine environment. Today, the actions we need to take are clear. Taking action together in an equitable and just way is our shared challenge. In taking action, and in safeguarding our societies and our environment for generations to come, we need to bring people with us. OSPAR, as the global leader for regional ocean protection, allows us to work with each other and with other organisations to design new, innovative solutions that will work for people.”

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien TD, also welcomed today’s agreement on a North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy 2030, saying, “today’s agreement supports the ambition Ireland is showing domestically to have clean, healthy, biologically diverse and sustainably used seas and oceans. Our recent publication of the National Marine Planning Framework and the Marine Area Planning Bill shows the steps we are taking to implement integrated marine spatial planning in a way that will facilitate the Sustainable Blue Economy, support new and existing sectoral activities, while also protecting our precious marine environment.”

Ministers O’Brien and Noonan also paid tribute to Richard Cronin, Principal Adviser of the Marine Environment Section in the Department of Housing, Local Government for his work as Chair of the OSPAR Commission and in brokering today’s agreement.

“I am very proud that through this very important multilateral organisation Ireland has again shown its ability to act as an honest broker. In this case Richard Cronin, an official in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, has demonstrated great dedication to progressing OSPAR’s objectives and delivering international agreement at OSPAR’s annual meetings. I am very pleased that Richard has been unanimously re-elected as Commission Chair. I have no doubt he will continue to help Ireland play a pivotal role in our global work to protect our oceans and seas.”

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