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, have today announced a programme of measures designed to target the pressures on Ireland’s marine environment.

The programme consists of a broad range of actions with commitments across Government Departments to ensure the sustainable use of our seas, and restore degraded ecosystems and species.

The Programme of Measures may be accessed here.

Commenting Minister O’Brien said:

This Programme is key to meeting Ireland’s ambition for a clean, healthy, biologically diverse marine environment. Through these concrete actions, we can tackle pressures on the marine environment and protect the many benefits we get from the sea.

These measures are solid and well thought through –  built on extensive cooperation across many government Departments and marine stakeholders.

The Programme of Measures is a central element of Ireland’s commitment to ensuring Europe’s marine waters are clean and healthy. As well as national measures the programme includes co-operative measures with other EU Member States and the UK to tackle pollution, including marine litter, entering our seas and to protect our valuable ecosystems.

Welcoming the publication of the Programme of Measures, Minister of State Malcolm Noonan stated:

We have significantly to undertake to protect and restore biodiversity in our seas over the coming years.

Since I have taken on the Ministerial role for biodiversity protection, we have increased our effective marine protected area coverage from 2.3% to 8.3 % with the proposed additional new Special Areas of Conservation in the Southern Canyons and Porcupine Shelf and we are on track to reach 10% in the coming months.

The implementation of this programme – with even more marine protected areas, will s – help us meet our ambitious goals for nature, conservation and biodiversity, including the achievement of 30% protection by 2030.

Among the actions set out in the Programme are actions to:

  • develop and expand Ireland’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to cover 30% of our marine area by 2030, including enacting of the Marine Protected Areas Bill in 2023;
  • develop Nature-Based Solutions in coastal and marine systems, to protect biodiversity, improve resilience to climate change and reduce the impact of pollution;
  • provide environmental guidance for offshore renewable energy;
  • develop an all-Ireland management strategy for non-indigenous species and invasive species in coastal and marine areas;
  • update guidance on reducing underwater noise pollution to protect marine mammals; and
  • fully implement the Single Use Plastics Directive and Circular Economy Act among a wide range of other actions aimed at reducing litter and plastics in our seas.  This will allow us to reach our EU beach litter threshold value of 20 litter items per 100m.

The Programme incorporates specific measures aimed at improving the state of marine biodiversity.

This include ongoing measures to reduce the impacts of incidental bycatch; revision of both the Wildlife Acts and wildlife watching codes of practice; and increased spatial protection measures.

The suite of actions developed under the programme were developed following a 2020 assessment of the health of our seas.

This assessment, which used the latest scientific evidence, identified key areas where environmental targets for Ireland’s marine environment were both being reached and not reached.

Targets to achieve good environmental status were identified in relation to biodiversity, seafloor systems and pressures due to commercial fisheries.

As part of Ireland’s commitments under the national Climate Action plan, the Programme includes actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

These include specific measures such as the development of Nature-Based Solutions and the expansion of Marine Protected Areas to consider both carbon storage and the resilience of ecosystems to the effects of climate change and ocean acidification.

National marine climate indicators and a pilot national monitoring and assessment programme are being developed to assess the effects of climate change and ensure Ireland contributes to EU and North-East Atlantic goals.

Welcoming the news, Minister Rabbitte said:

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