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Understanding the Sea – OR Lack Thereof?

There is a huge amount of research being done in Irish waters.

Marine scientists are busy on so many tasks that it is at times hard to keep abreast of all of it as it is of the regular conferences where the results are distilled.

At the most recent conference, the European Commission’s launch of its Charter to restore oceans and waters – the Horizon Mission Europe programme – which was an impressive two-day gathering of a highly experienced and specialised audience and speakers, held at the National Maritime College in Ringaskiddy, Cork, I wondered about that. It was a well-organised and impressive gathering.

President Higgins attended. There were Ambassadors and special representatives from several countries, marine agencies, commercial organisations, the fishing industry was there also as were non-governmental environment organisations. An interesting, impressive conference  but, as I listened to the speeches, observed those who were present, the several “side events” as they were called, I wondered

about how much gets from the specialists to the public.

Are marine scientists, for all the extensive and dedicated research they carry out,

getting their maritime message across to the general public?

So, I talked to two men with particular involvement, I felt, in that aspect of research and communication – Dr.Paul Connolly, Chief Executive of the Marine Institute, the State’s research agency and the man who is leading the European Commission’s research on Oceans and the European Green Deal,  Dr.John Bell, its Healthy Planet Director. Interestingly, he come from Dublin and grew up off the South Circular Road:

Paul Connolly was direct and clear about his view – that marine scientists must improve their message: “We have to get into a space where we put the complexity aside and move to simplicity. Explain what we are doing very simply – why are we doing it, here are the outputs and here are the benefits of that output to policy, people and planet.”

You can hear his views in detail and those of John Bell on this month’s MARITIME IRELAND Podcast on the website.

But it is not only marine scientists who should be more conscious of how the relate their work to the public.

At Cop 27, the climate summit in Egypt, Environment and Transport Minister Eamon Ryan pronounced that he would be seeking that shipping and aviation companies would  be forced to pay compensation for their emissions.

“The question I’ll be asking – and pushing – in global aviation and shipping – are there ways in which they can make a contribution towards the loss and damage  fund climate finance fund?”

He said that shipping and aviation were glaring omissions from Ireland’s carbon budget. This allocates ceiling emissions to various sectors – motoring, households, agriculture, industry. Shipping was stated to account for nearly 3% of global emissions..

But I have not heard this Minister express appreciation of the vital role of shipping to this island nation. Nor did he refer to the steps, regulations, changes, being imposed on shipping in regard to climate change by the International Maritime Organisation, the United Nations agency for the seas and oceans.

“Sea blindness” is a condition which has permeated Government for quite a long time. There have been improvements, but not enough. Minister Ryan is not the only governmental failure in this regard.

For all its promises, the Government failed to protect our national fishing fleet from the depredations imposed on it by Brexit. As a result the nation will lose 57 fishing vessels. The Minister for the Marine has, for months, refused to help the industry with the massive increases in fuel costs. So much that there are increasing reports of boats not going to sea because it is uneconomic to catch fish. Processors and exports have warned that multi-million contracts are being lost in Europe to the Irish industry. Aquaculture continues to point out the failures of Government in its sector.

The marine sector, has been dissipated into so many different  Departments of Government that any source of strength it would have in combined format has been denuded.

Can the attitude towards the marine sector which should, in an island nation, have high priority in national matters, be changed?.

Tom MacSweeney

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