In the midst of the twin climate and biodiversity crises, where the current state of many habitats and wildlife are at risk or already in decline, it is easy to be overwhelmed with the pressures facing our natural environment. 

Unsustainable activities, pollution and the ever-increasing negative repercussions of climate change, paint a bleak picture of the future of our coasts and seas. Yet, despite all this, there is cause for hope – what some refer to as Ocean Optimism.  

On this #WorldOceanDay, here are some of the reasons why the Northern Ireland Marine Task Force (NIMTF) has cause to be Ocean Optimistic: 

Management due for Marine Protected Area (MPA) network 

On paper, the extent of the current MPA network in Northern Ireland is large. Covering more than 2410km2, it represents an area equivalent to all three Belfast, Derry City and Strabane, and the Mid and East Antrim local council areas combined.  However, a failure to introduce suitable management risks sites becoming ‘paper parks’ where protection exists in name only. Fortunately, policy proposals to manage fishing activity in nine NI MPAs will be published later this year and implemented from early 2022 onwards. This swathe of new protection represents a positive and significant step forward for some of our most vulnerable and important marine species.  

Undulate ray (Raja undulata) (c)Peter Vorhoog

Northern Ireland Blue Carbon can help tackle climate change  

A recent report by Ulster Wildlife, National Oceanography Centre and University of Hull, highlighted the importance of Northern Ireland’s coastal and marine habitats in helping to tackle the climate and nature crises. Local blue carbon habitats, such as kelp forests, saltmarsh, seagrass meadows and shellfish reefs, can remove and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – but also greatly help biodiversity by providing places for other marine wildlife to live, shelter and find food. Extraordinarily, the team of researchers also found there is the potential to triple the estimated blue carbon sequestration rate of the inshore MPA network through active management, habitat restoration and creation. 

Fishing industry calls for measures to preserve NI scallop stocks 

The Northern Ireland Scallop Association, in conjunction with Seafish, commissioned a scallop larval dispersal study with a view to identifying potential sites for closure and reseeding. With the future and sustainability of the fishery in mind, the NI Scallop Association subsequently called on DAERA to introduce regulations to prohibit bottom dredging within the four key sites. These proposals were consulted upon alongside the fishing management measures for MPAs, and should also be drafted into policy in the next 12 months. 

Minerstown, Dundrum Bay (c)Donal Griffin

Programme of measures imminent for Good Environmental Status 

At first, it can be difficult to see where the Ocean Optimism can be found when it comes to the overarching goal of the Marine Strategy UK. Eleven out of the 15 indicators used, failed to achieve ‘Good Environmental Status’ (GES). However, in collaboration with DAERA, the UK Government will soon consult on the programme of measures tasked with turning the fate of our seas and coasts around. If successful, these policies, programmes and projects will ensure by the next reporting round, GES is achieved across the board. The NIMTF will again be responding to the consultation ensuring it is ambitious enough, fit for purpose and will drive the real change needed for habitats and wildlife.  

NIMTF’s renewed vision for NI seas 

It is more important than ever, especially today on #WorldOceanDay, to create many more reasons for Ocean Optimism by valuing and protecting nature. This is why later this summer, NIMTF will publish our renewed vision for NI seas, and double our efforts to help drive the recovery of marine habitats and wildlife in Northern Ireland. 

Watch this space for NIMTF’s new report coming soon. 

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By Donal Griffin, Northern Ireland Marine Task Force officer