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Two Irish environmental coalitions are calling on the Government to ensure the necessary Dáil Committee time is given to debating the new Maritime Area Planning Bill.

The Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) and the Environmental Pillar say that Ireland is “marching itself towards widespread obstacles for renewable energy, longstanding depleted marine habitats and compromised coastal communities if it does not immediately change course”.

The MAP Bill, as it is known, is due to begin the committee stage in the Dáil this week, and over 300 amendments have been tabled, they state.

The long-awaited legislation aims to create a new planning and consent system for marine development.

The overall structure was provided by the National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF) approved earlier this year.

“If the Government railroad this legislation through as is, space for offshore renewables allocation will proceed ahead of the much-needed designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs),” SWAN and the Environmental Pillar state in a joint statement.

“ This means areas that need protection, including our most vulnerable areas, may not be adequately designated, and offshore renewables could be planned for development in environmentally unsuitable areas,” they say.

“ The result being that our vital offshore renewable developments and the health of our essential marine environment will both be put at risk at a time where we cannot afford to do so, “they add.

“Beyond our moral obligations to our marine environment, we are legally obligated to implement a network of MPAs in order to restore our oceans under the EU Maritime Spatial Planning Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive,” the coalitions explain.

“ Failing to comply with these will have serious consequences, including litigation from non-compliance that will hinder the widespread and effective rollout of decarbonising our energy,” they say.

Birdwatch Ireland policy officer Fintan Kelly, who is part of the Environmental Pillar, said that a “huge amount of pressure in advancing the bill has been applied to facilitate the expansion of offshore renewables in order to meet the Government’s renewable energy targets for the end of the decade”.

“While we recognise the need for offshore renewables, we are concerned that without putting in place key safeguards, the Bill threatens to further degrade our marine environment at a time when we need to urgently restore the health and resilience of marine ecosystems,”he said.

“A short-sighted ‘land grab’ will threaten wildlife, but also our fishing communities that depend on healthy fish and shellfish populations to make a living,” he said.

“What's more, if we fail to address our legal obligations to protect and restore our marine environment, it will likely result in litigation that will delay much-needed offshore infrastructure and result in a lose-lose situation for all involved.

SWAN policy officer Ellen MacMahon said the Government “seems to be forgetting that Ireland was officially one of the first countries to recognise our environmental crisis”.

“The Dáil recognised both a climate and a biodiversity emergency in 2019 - that means both warrant the same degree of action and that neither is pursued at the expense of the other,” she said.

“Additionally, by protecting our oceans we are increasing the amount of carbon they can absorb. This ‘blue carbon’ is carbon that is captured and stored by seaweed and seagrass, seafloor sediment, and even by the wildlife that coast through our waters,” McMahon said.

“We are asking the Government to meet the standard of urgency it set two years ago for both of these emergencies and to make sure we lay a solid foundation now to have the best chance we can at a liveable future,” she said.

Published in Environment

Communities who believe they are at risk from wind turbines and other proposed new infrastructure deserve more than just a tightly managed consultation exercise, however, well the consultation is conducted.

That’s the view of chartered surveyor Michael Ocock, who has been following the various public consultations initiated here on future energy needs, including offshore renewable power, Eirgrid’s proposal to lay a 2 billion euro cable around the coast, and designation of marine protected areas.

Speaking to Wavelengths this week, he explained why it makes economic sense for developers to engage with and earn the trust of stakeholders.

Ocock, who is a joint author with Barry Trebes of the recently published guidebook, Making Sense of Challenging Projects: Things to Know, Questions to Ask, has spent most of his career managing, overseeing and advising on projects.

During the past 20 years, he has also been working with psychologists to develop ways of making it easier for infrastructure project teams to better understand and engage with local communities.

“Why, when major infrastructure developments are announced, are we always surprised at the degree of public opposition? For any community facing the prospect of new infrastructure on its doorstep, it’s surely the shock of the “new” that triggers their protests - coupled with a stubborn belief that most of the pain stays local, whilst most of the gain goes elsewhere,” he says.

“To get their voices heard - communities have little option but to object and object furiously. But immediately they do that - they’re accused of being negative and deserving of a label such as NIMBY (not in my back yard) or banana (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone).

“What they’re being forced to oppose has become, for them, a LULU (locally unwanted land use), or with offshore wind turbines, for example, perhaps a LUSU (locally unwanted sea use),” he says.

Michael Ocock, is a joint author with Barry Trebes of the recently published guidebook, Making Sense of Challenging Projects: Things to Know, Questions to AskMichael Ocock, is a joint author with Barry Trebes of the recently published guidebook, Making Sense of Challenging Projects: Things to Know, Questions to Ask

“Local communities, local businesses and even local politicians understandably feel powerless and resentful at being kept at a distance from the secretive decision-making processes that determine the fate of most major infrastructure schemes. When you calculate the forces ranged against them, it’s not surprising they can’t secure a seat at the decision-makers table,” Ocock says.

“What do we mean when we talk about public ‘consultation’? Is the process of consultation simply a selling exercise – “this is what we intend to do and we’re unlikely to make big changes to our plans” – or are we talking about genuine attempts to listen and learn?” he says.

Engagement, rather than consultation, should kick in before options or considered or ideas put to paper, he suggests.

“Too often we’re told ‘This is the scheme we’ve spent months (sometimes it’s years) perfecting – what do you think of it? Please leave your comments on a piece of paper at the back of the room or tick a box on the computer feedback form...’,” he notes.

“We forget that even those who act for local people and organisations with something worthwhile to offer – not just objections and pointless criticisms – still find their representations can count for little,” he says.

“ They’re unlikely to be present when engineers and other technical experts consider their comments, and they most certainly will not be there when any objections they might have (probably buried deep in a report produced by public relations experts) are considered and big decisions about a project are made by its promoters; unless of course, local campaigns have reached the courts,” Ocock continues.

“Communities deserve to be invited to take part in a genuine dialogue with the promoters of projects that affect them – better still, they deserve to take part in negotiations to find ways of creating working relationships between them as local communities and the teams tasked with designing and delivering the projects,” he says.

“A big obstacle to making the consultation process democratic is that some promoters of infrastructure schemes are arrogant enough to think they know what’s best for everyone. They’re convinced they have sufficient power and more than enough influence to override objections to their plans - and they act accordingly,” he says.

“ This is the notorious ‘decide-announce-defend’ or ‘bulldozer’ approach to infrastructure projects. Maybe it’s an approach just about acceptable in an emergency - but otherwise, it can be unwise and any consultation process employed is almost certainly going to be a sham,” he says.

Ocock cites Shell’s Corrib gas project in north Mayo as one such example.

“Shell’s managing director for Ireland at the time admitted the company had underestimated the level of community concern and unrest. Inadequate engagement with the community led to decisions, which he agreed, were too legalistic and Shell had no real understanding of what the community’s concerns were. Careful planning to bring about better community relations might have saved Shell large sums of money,” he says.

“In recent years, promoters of infrastructure projects have had some encouragement from government legislation and public pressure to adopt a softer and outwardly more conciliatory approach; but for the affected communities - has anything really changed?” he asks.

“Misperceptions can easily lead to what promoters of schemes too readily interpret as unwarranted fears, unrealistic aspirations, and irrational actions,” he says.

“There’s no good reason why promoters of infrastructure developments shouldn’t invite their project’s many stakeholders to participate in the selection of the ‘right’ option (what to build and where to build it) and join in the planning for its construction (when to build and how to build it). On the contrary, this would create trust in the community and help ensure the chosen scheme was delivered with fewer risks,” Ocock suggests.

“We need a giant leap forward so that in future promoters are motivated to encourage a majority of their project’s stakeholders - of which there will be many - to not only participate in selecting the ‘right’ option but also to help determine exactly what the problem is the project is meant to fix,” he says.

“This new ‘normal’ would not only see the ‘wisdom of crowds’ used to produce better strategic decisions for projects but also encourage consensus-building around their future construction,” he says.

“Such ideas are not new - research has been done for many years on this sensitive topic - but politicians, bureaucrats and Shell’s managers appear not to read research papers; and in my experience neither are they known for welcoming ideas that could improve their archaic methods of working. Individuals learn lessons from what they do; organisations rarely do,” he says.

“For many years several east coast US states have worked together to adopt a protocol for gaining community agreement on controversial infrastructure facilities such as hazardous waste incinerators, which they call their ‘facility siting credo’,” Ocock says.

“The Poolbeg incinerator is an outstanding example of a facility that might have been approved much sooner if a similar protocol had been in place in Dublin,” he says.

“This facility siting credo advises the promoters of a facility that many in a community will see as a serious threat - to first get the community to agree that something has to change, something has to be built, and the status quo is not an option,” he says.

“ The next step for the promoters is to gain the trust of the community by being honest about the negative aspects of what’s proposed - finally making sure the host community will be left better off,” he says.

European research teams have similarly shown how controversy can be extremely wasteful and how the solution lies in engaging in constructive discourse with all of a project’s primary stakeholders, including the NIMBYs as well as the project’s key decision-makers,” Ocock says.

If project teams do not meet with local communities early in a project, he warns, there will be “people out there who know something vital to the project; something the project’s engineers should know about but don’t”.

“Let’s be realistic though. Taking steps to replace consultation with engagement and improve on the way we do things now - won’t be easy. Adversarial planning inquiries are big business for many professions and professions have influence,” Ocock says.

“Planning and assessing alternative schemes using today’s procedures can generate good business, regardless of whether anything is actually constructed,” he says.

Ironically, he notes, “few, if any, of the parties typically associated with planning and public approvals have any incentive to find quicker ways to get a scheme approved”.

“For management consultants, public relations experts, lawyers, engineers and designers of all kinds - drawing up plans and assessing scheme, after scheme, after scheme, can be much more profitable and far less risky than becoming involved in putting concrete and steel in the ground or turbine towers in the sea,” he says.

“We might have to reluctantly accept that reform will come slowly - if it comes at all,” he says.

Ocock’s advice for planners and developers is to “bring your planning and approval-seeking processes closer together; manage them as a single people-centred project with its own clearly defined aims and methods of working”.

“It may cover only the preliminary phases of the major development, it is hoped, will follow, but it should still be managed as a project in its own right and with its own measures of success - one of which must be gaining the trust of the affected communities,”he says

“Only recently the UK oil and gas industry published a revealing study report into the performance of the industry’s projects,” he says. The study noted there were important lessons to be drawn, one of which was that “more cooperation must take place between the engineering contractors employed and local communities – they too have a stake in the project”.

“Infrastructure projects are more likely to stay on track and be successful when they are directed by wise leaders, benefit from independent oversight, and, when their management engages with the communities affected by the plans to encourage questioning and constructive challenges –from every quarter,” Ocock concludes.

“Conflicting opinions are never in short supply in Ireland. Those who want to bring us new technology and improve our protection of the seas could make better use of them,” he says.

Published in Wavelength Podcast

Belfast Harbour could potentially become one of the leading energy renewable hubs in the UK, when DONG Energy, a leading Danish energy firm, signed a letter of intent yesterday for an agreement to progress on a number of offshore wind farm projects in the Irish Sea.

In addition as part of the project, Belfast Harbour are to invest £40m in the development of a new 450-m long quay. The facility will be adjoined by a 50-acre logistics space on the southern shoreline of the port's docklands estate on Belfast Lough. The construction phase will create 150 jobs and up to 300 full time positions when the facility is completed, where the wind turbines and their foundations will be pre-assembled.

At that stage the large wind farm components will then be loaded onto specialist wind farm installation /construction vessels as depicted on the image by clicking here and to read further information on the overall project.

Attending the announcement which was held in Belfast Harbour Office, were representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive, Peter Gedbjerg, Vice President and UK Country Manager of DONG Energy, and Len O'Hagan, Chairman of Belfast Harbour. The energy hub scheme represents one of the harbour's largest ever capital investment projects.

Published in Ports & Shipping

For all you need on the Marine Environment - covering the latest news and updates on marine science and wildlife, weather and climate, power from the sea and Ireland's coastal regions and communities - the place to be is Afloat.ie.

Coastal Notes

The Coastal Notes category covers a broad range of stories, events and developments that have an impact on Ireland's coastal regions and communities, whose lives and livelihoods are directly linked with the sea and Ireland's coastal waters.

Topics covered in Coastal Notes can be as varied as the rare finding of sea-life creatures, an historic shipwreck with secrets to tell, or even a trawler's net caught hauling much more than just fish.

Other angles focusing the attention of Coastal Notes are Ireland's maritime museums, which are of national importance to maintaining access and knowledge of our nautical heritage, and those who harvest the sea using small boats based in harbours where infrastructure and safety pose an issue, plying their trade along the rugged wild western seaboard.

Coastal Notes tells the stories that are arguably as varied as the environment they come from, and which shape people's interaction with the natural world and our relationship with the sea.

Marine Wildlife

One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with Marine Wildlife. It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. And as boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify, even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat. Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse, it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to our location in the North Atlantic, there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe. From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals, the Marine Wildlife category documents the most interesting accounts around our shores. And we're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and video clips, too!

Also valuable is the unique perspective of all those who go afloat, from coastal sailing to sea angling to inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing, as what they encounter can be of great importance to organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG). Thanks to their work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. But as impressive as the list is, the experts believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves, keep a sharp look out!

Weather

As an island in the North Atlantic, Ireland's fate is decided by Weather more so than many other European countries. When storm-force winds race across the Irish Sea, ferry and shipping services are cut off, disrupting our economy. When swollen waves crash on our shores, communities are flooded and fishermen brace for impact - both to their vessels and to their livelihoods.

Keeping abreast of the weather, therefore, is as important to leisure cruisers and fishing crews alike - for whom a small craft warning can mean the difference between life and death - as it is to the communities lining the coast, where timely weather alerts can help protect homes and lives.

Weather affects us all, and Afloat.ie will keep you informed on the hows and the whys.

Marine Science

Perhaps it's the work of the Irish research vessels RV Celtic Explorer and RV Celtic Voyager out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of Marine Science for the future growth of Ireland's emerging 'blue economy'.

From marine research to development and sustainable management, Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. Whether it's Wavebob ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration, the Marine Science category documents the work of Irish marine scientists and researchers and how they have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.

Power From The Sea

The message from the experts is clear: offshore wind and wave energy is the future. And as Ireland looks towards the potential of the renewable energy sector, generating Power From The Sea will become a greater priority in the State's 'blue growth' strategy.

Developments and activities in existing and planned projects in the pipeline from the wind and wave renewables sector, and those of the energy exploration industry, point to the future of energy requirements for the whole world, not just in Ireland. And that's not to mention the supplementary industries that sea power projects can support in coastal communities.

Irish ports are already in a good position to capitalise on investments in offshore renewable energy services. And Power From The Sea can even be good for marine wildlife if done properly.

Aside from the green sector, our coastal waters also hold a wealth of oil and gas resources that numerous prospectors are hoping to exploit, even if people in coastal and island areas are as yet unsure of the potential benefits or pitfalls for their communities.

Changing Ocean Climate

Our ocean and climate are inextricably linked - the ocean plays a crucial role in the global climate system in a number of ways. These include absorbing excess heat from the atmosphere and absorbing 30 per cent of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity. But our marine ecosystems are coming under increasing pressure due to climate change.

The Marine Institute, with its national and international partners, works to observe and understand how our ocean is changing and analyses, models and projects the impacts of our changing oceans. Advice and forecasting projections of our changing oceans and climate are essential to create effective policies and management decisions to safeguard our ocean.

Dr Paul Connolly, CEO of the Marine Institute, said, “Our ocean is fundamental to life on earth and affects so many facets of our everyday activities. One of the greatest challenges we face as a society is that of our changing climate. The strong international collaborations that the Marine Institute has built up over decades facilitates a shared focusing on our changing ocean climate and developing new and enhanced ways of monitoring it and tracking changes over time.

“Our knowledge and services help us to observe these patterns of change and identify the steps to safeguard our marine ecosystems for future generations.”

The Marine Institute’s annual ocean climate research survey, which has been running since 2004, facilitates long term monitoring of the deep water environment to the west of Ireland. This repeat survey, which takes place on board RV Celtic Explorer, enables scientists to establish baseline oceanic conditions in Irish waters that can be used as a benchmark for future changes.

Scientists collect data on temperature, salinity, water currents, oxygen and carbon dioxide in the Atlantic Ocean. This high quality oceanographic data contributes to the Atlantic Ocean Observing System. Physical oceanographic data from the survey is submitted to the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) and, in addition, the survey contributes to national research such as the VOCAB ocean acidification and biogeochemistry project, the ‘Clean Atlantic’ project on marine litter and the A4 marine climate change project.

Dr Caroline Cusack, who co-ordinates scientific activities on board the RV Celtic Explorer for the annual survey, said, “The generation of long-term series to monitor ocean climate is vital to allow us understand the likely impact of future changes in ocean climate on ecosystems and other marine resources.”

Other activities during the survey in 2019 included the deployment of oceanographic gliders, two Argo floats (Ireland’s contribution to EuroArgo) and four surface drifters (Interreg Atlantic Area Clean Atlantic project). The new Argo floats have the capacity to measure dissolved ocean and biogeochemical parameters from the ocean surface down to a depth of 2,000 metres continuously for up to four years, providing important information as to the health of our oceans.

During the 2019 survey, the RV Celtic Explorer retrieved a string of oceanographic sensors from the deep ocean at an adjacent subsurface moored station and deployed a replacement M6 weather buoy, as part of the Irish Marine Data Buoy Observation Network (IMDBON).

Funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the IMDBON is managed by the Marine Institute in collaboration with Met Éireann and is designed to improve weather forecasts and safety at sea around Ireland. The data buoys have instruments which collect weather and ocean data including wind speed and direction, pressure, air and sea surface temperature and wave statistics. This data provides vital information for weather forecasts, shipping bulletins, gale and swell warnings as well as data for general public information and research.

“It is only in the last 20 years, meteorologists and climatologists have really began to understood the pivotal role the ocean plays in determining our climate and weather,” said Evelyn Cusack, Head of Forecasting at Met Éireann. “The real-time information provided by the Irish data buoy network is particularly important for our mariners and rescue services. The M6 data buoy in the Atlantic provides vital information on swell waves generated by Atlantic storms. Even though the weather and winds may be calm around our shores, there could be some very high swells coming in from Atlantic storms.”

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