Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Single new agency for our coast

Northern Ireland’s embattled coastline is to get a new champion with the creation of a tough new marine protection unit.

The aim of the Marine Division — set up by Environment Minister Alex Attwood — is to promote, protect and sustain our waters while ensuring Northern Ireland also meets international, European and national laws. It is also hoped the body will pave the way for a more cohesive approach to protecting the marine environment which is currently “scattered to the four winds”.

The SDLP minister announced that his department was being restructured to allow for the creation of the Marine Division.

And now he is pressing the Executive to set up a larger Marine Management Organisation that will oversee all functions to do with the sea environment.

His plan is to bring all marine powers currently scattered across various Government departments into the one independent organisation. Such a body is a key measure which has been championed by the Belfast Telegraph as part of our Save Our Seas campaign.

The aim of the campaign is to highlight how our seas and waterways are being devastated by the pressures we put on them.

It is also to highlight what needs to be done to protect its precious resources for future generations.

At the moment, up to 30 separate authorities have input into marine activities.

Mr Attwood used the example of the horse mussel in Strangford Lough to show how Northern Ireland has a fractured approach.

The European Commission has already launched proceedings over Northern Ireland’s failure to protect its unique horse mussel beds from damage by commercial trawling and could impose fines of as much as £7m.

“Previously they were scattered to the four winds but now we will have them under one core team with one central leadership,” said the minister.

Peter Archdale of the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside said: “This is a most welcome development which will support joined-up thinking on marine matters.”

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