More than Lines on a Map? Towards Regional Governance for Irish Marine Space

Last month, I spoke at the Conference of Irish Geographers about the current developments and future challenges in marine protected area (MPA) management and maritime spatial planning (MSP) in the Irish context. In this commentary, I further develop some of the key arguments and proposals from that presentation.

As an island nation, Ireland is surrounded by the sea and has an extensive maritime territory (Figure 1 below). Nevertheless, the sea has often occupied a peripheral position in the national consciousness and politics. There is a prevailing sense that successive Irish governments have ‘turned their backs on the sea’, neglecting this rich resource (e.g. Tom MacSweeney 2008, Kevin O’ Sullivan 2019). Currently, however, Ireland’s marine territory is subject to significant policy attention, indicating perhaps, the beginning of a new relationship between the land and the sea. Irish marine governance is evolving rapidly with the adoption of a National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF), the preparation of a Marine Planning and Development Management Bill, and ambitious targets for the large-scale expansion of Ireland’s MPA network, in line with international commitments. Yet, blind spots and a sense of disjointed policy-making continues with, for example, the lack of marine biodiversity characterization or sensitivity mapping to support the preparation of NMPF. Indeed, by all accounts (the final NMPF will not be made public until June 17th), the NMPF does not provide a map of spatial strategy or an indication of priority areas for specific uses and activities at sea. In this sense, it is very much a policy framework rather than a spatial plan and barely meets the requirements set out under EU MSP Directive. This apparent lack of willingness to provide strategic policy direction in relation to the spatial distribution of activities and priority areas for ecosystem protection at sea is disappointing. As pressures for the development of marine space increase, there is a real risk of a reactive, development-led regime emerging by default. 

Figure 1: Ireland’s maritime territory (continental shelf). Source: Marine Institute.

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Conference Session: New Geographies of Responsibility? Critical Perspectives on Coastal and Marine Governance

At the forthcoming Conference of Irish Geographers (May 18th-21st, online), I will convene a themed session with Danial Tubridy (UCD Planning) and Liam Carr (NUI Galway Geography) focussed on exploring and developing critical perspectives on coastal and marine governance and their associated geographies.

The final deadline for abstract submissions is 30th April (via the conference website). Read on for further details!

Omey Island, Co. Galway, summer 2019
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Maritime Spatial Planning Webinar, 24th February

I look forward to participating in this webinar on Maritime Spatial Planning on Wednesday 24th February: Maritime Spatial Planning
Striking the balance: development and protection of our seas and oceans.

The discussion will be hosted by MEP for Ireland South, Grace O’Sullivan and will feature a discussion of the study on Best Practice in Maritime Spatial Planning I was commissioned to write.

To register for the event please click here: https://lnkd.in/dKeuR2p
Or watch on Facebook live: https://lnkd.in/dupijii

Best Practices in Maritime Spatial Planning policy report launched

Over the past few months I have worked on the study: ” Best Practice in Maritime Spatial Planning: Towards Mutually Beneficial Outcomes for Fishers, Renewable Energy Production and Marine Conservation” commissioned by Grace O’ Sullivan MEP on behalf of the Greens in the European Parliament. 
The study has been published today (5.2.2021) and is available to download here. See also an opinion piece by Grace O’ Sullivan MEP on the launch of the study. A webinar will take place later this month (24. Feb) where the report will be discussed with industry and NGO representatives (details tbc). 

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Panel Discussion at MSP Nature 2021, 19.01.2021

Image source: conference website

I am pleased to be invited to participate in a panel discussion at the MSP Nature 2021 online conference which will take place next week. The conference hosted by the Leibniz Institute for Ecological and Urban Development (Dresden) together with the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Seas Research Warnemünde and the German federal Agency for Nature Protection (BfN) addresses the question of how to reconcile human activities with ecological functions through marine spatial planning, a question that resonates with much of my recent work.

The panel discussion (19.01, 14:30) will focus on international examples and includes experts from Russia and Israel. My own contribution will reflect on the Dutch approach to ecosystem-based management and ‘building with nature’ at sea. I will draw on previous research work on the Dutch North Sea 2050 Spatial Agenda and protected area management at the Dutch Wadden Sea coast.

The full conference programme is available here.