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Ministers launch consultation on process aimed at protecting marine biodiversity, sustainable economic activity and climate action

  • Ministers launch consultation on process aimed at protecting marine biodiversity, sustainable economic activity and climate action
  • Total Marine Protected Area (MPA) coverage to be twice the size of Ireland’s landmass

The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, and the Minister for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, today launched a public consultation on the process of expanding Ireland’s network of marine protected areas (MPAs). MPAs are geographically defined maritime areas with certain protections for conservation purposes. The Government aims to expand Ireland’s MPA network from 2.13% to 30% of Ireland’s maritime area by 2030.

Creating an MPA regime will constitute a major change in marine environmental protection in Ireland. At present, there is no definition of an MPA in Irish law. Environmental protections under the Wildlife Acts only apply to the foreshore. Protection in marine areas beyond 12 nautical miles is limited, both in terms of space and species.

Ministers O’Brien and Noonan are asking the public, stakeholders, industries and others for their views on the final report of the MPA Advisory Group, which was chaired by Professor Tasman Crowe of UCD’s Earth Institute. In addition to conserving marine species and habitats, MPAs can support maritime economic activity and reduce the effects of climate change and ocean acidification. The report quotes economic data showing Ireland’s ocean economy has a turnover of €6.2 billion and provides stable, sustainable work for 34,132 full-time equivalent employees.

Launching the consultation, Minister O’Brien said: “Ireland, along with the rest of the world, faces the twin crises of climate change and accelerating biodiversity loss on land and at sea. The Government has a vision of clean, healthy, diverse and productive oceans and seas around Ireland. This report is a solid basis for a national dialogue on how we progress that vision. I urge all with an interest in our seas – whether you live in a coastal area, earn your livelihood from the sea, want to protect our marine life or simply value our seas – to have your say by the end of July. Once again I’d like to thank Professor Crowe and the expert group for this excellent report.”

Minister Noonan added: “By expanding Ireland’s Marine Protected Area network, we will give vital protection to vulnerable marine species and habitats, and also support the functioning of these ecosystems to provide us with a whole host of benefits including climate change mitigation and enhanced resilience for fisheries into the future. By realising this vision to expand our MPA network, Ireland will play an exemplary role in global efforts to protect marine ecosystems, the extraordinary species and habitats they hold, and the benefits they provide to people.”

In parallel with plans to increase Ireland’s MPA network, the Government will soon publish Ireland’s first Marine Spatial Plan – the National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF) – and the Marine Planning and Development Management Bill 2021. The NMPF is the national plan for Ireland’s maritime area setting out how we want to use, protect and enjoy our seas. It will outline the national approach to managing Ireland’s marine activities and ensuring the sustainable use of marine resources to 2040. The Marine Planning and Development Management Bill will serve as the cornerstone of the marine planning system in Ireland and it brings together and creates the legal foundation for forward planning and streamlined development management and enforcement. Both the new forward planning model envisaged by the Bill, and a future MPA regime, will secure the objectives of the NMPF.

The public consultation on the MPA process launched today by Ministers O’Brien and Noonan will inform development of new legislation on the identification, designation and management of MPAs, to begin later this year.

Note to editors

Consultation and MPA Advisory Group report

  • Details on the public consultation process for expanding the network of Ireland’s MPAs, can be found at The consultation will be open for over 5 months, closing at 5pm on Fri 30 July 2021.
  • This public consultation includes an online survey. People can also provide submissions by email ( or by post to:

MPA Public Consultation 2021, c/o Marine Environment,

Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

Newtown, Wexford, Y35 AP90.

  • People are encouraged to promote the consultation through social media using the hashtag #LoveYourSea. The consultation campaign video is available on the Department’s Twitter account @DeptHousingIRL.
  • The MPA Advisory Group, chaired by Professor Tasman Crowe of UCD’s Earth Institute, comprised experts in the areas of (1) life and ocean sciences (2) economic, social and cultural perspectives (3) governance and legislation. It began its work in December 2019 and submitted its final report to Ministers O’Brien and Noonan on 22 October 2020. This report is available in Irish and English language versions at and, respectively.
  • As part of its research, deliberations and discussions the advisory group conducted a series of online stakeholder engagements in order to facilitate the sharing of views and perspectives on MPAs from more than 100 key societal, community and sectoral interests. They included members of coastal and island communities, and representatives of sectors including fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, recreation, energy, shipping and biotechnology. The group was also informed by NGOs, Government departments and agencies with an interest in the marine environment.
  • The report summarises relevant information and current thinking about MPAs in an Irish context and makes recommendations for the expansion of Ireland’s network of MPAs. It provides: a proposed definition and recommended key principles; the case for expanding Ireland’s network of MPAs; a summary of the likely costs and benefits for the economy, society and culture of expanding the MPA network; guidelines for stakeholder participation processes; and recommendations on how to expand the network of MPAs.
  • The report states that at present, there is no definition of an MPA in Irish law and environmental protections under the Wildlife Acts only apply to the foreshore. Protection in marine areas beyond 12 nautical miles are also limited. It states: “In effect, habitats and species that are not listed in the EU Directives, but which may be locally, nationally or internationally important, cannot currently be afforded the necessary protection.”
  • The MPA Advisory Group report further states: “If well planned, resourced and managed, an expanded MPA network would make an invaluable contribution to the stewardship of Ireland’s wealth of marine life, culture and heritage, helping to underpin the long-term conservation and sustainable management of thriving marine ecosystems to the benefit of this and future generations.”
  • Once the public consultation process is completed, the Government intends to develop comprehensive enabling legislation to provide for a formal designation process for MPAs, including: the identification of conservation objectives and identifying criteria; consultation processes; monitoring; review and management measures.

Marine Strategy Framework Directive and MPAs

  • The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requires that a coherent and representative network of spatial protection measures, including MPAs, be created, where appropriate. These measures are to form part of Ireland’s programme of measures to achieve or maintain the Good Environmental Status of our national and shared maritime area (Article 13.4).
  • MPAs can take a variety of forms ranging from exclusive marine reserves to areas allowing sustainable use or restricting specific activities. Ireland's future network of MPAs may include the incorporation of existing Special Protection Areas and/or Special Areas of Conservation under the Birds and Habitats Directives. It may also incorporate protection measures established under the EU Common Fisheries Policy for example, and other area-based conservation and protection measures.
  • Ireland currently has a marine protected area network of 10,420 km², encompassing 2.13% of its total maritime area of 488,762 km². Ireland’s maritime area is seven times the size of its landmass. When the seabed is included, Ireland is one of the largest EU countries.
  • Ireland, through the EU, is a party to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which has agreed that: "By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape."
  • Ireland is committed in its National Biodiversity Action Plan (2017-2021) to extend the network of MPAs to meet the internationally agreed target of having a minimum of 10% of its marine area protected. This target for MPAs is also reflected in UN Sustainable Development (SDG) Goal 14 – Life Below Water.
  • The Programme for Government commits to Ireland meeting its target of 10% MPA coverage under the MSFD as soon as is practical and to aim for 30% of marine protected areas by 2030.

OSPAR Regional Sea Convention for the Protection of the Environment of the North-East Atlantic

  • The OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, of which Ireland is one of 16 Contracting Parties, requires Parties individually and jointly to take measures to protect and conserve its ecosystems and biological diversity. Ireland currently holds the Chair of the OSPAR Commission. By 1 October 2018 the OSPAR Network of MPAs comprised 496 MPAs, including seven MPAs collectively designated in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction. These sites have a total surface area of 864,337 km², thereby covering 6.4 % of the OSPAR Maritime Area. To date, the majority of designated OSPAR MPAs are located in territorial waters, with an overall coverage of 19.6 %.
  • OSPAR Region II, the Greater North Sea has an MPA coverage of 18.6 %. The Celtic Seas (Region III) and the Wider Atlantic (Region V), both of which contain parts of Ireland’s maritime area, have 15.3 % and 8.3 % of their area designated as OSPAR MPAs, respectively. While coverage of the Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast (Region IV) is at 5.9 %, the Arctic Waters (Region I) shows the lowest coverage with 1.9% of the region designated as OSPAR MPAs.