Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Coast no more on welfare of our seas

The revelations published in this week's Save Our Seas series in this newspaper are extremely disturbing.

They show that our waters are now so environmentally threatened that our once-rich stock of fish has been replaced by large barren areas of sand and mud.

It is tragic our beautiful coastlines have hidden the degree of damage that has been taking place for a long time beneath the surface of our waters.

Many factors are involved, from climate change, pollution and over-fishing to underwater noise and litter. Our seas which were once abundant with fish of many kinds are now restricted in what they have to offer, and there is a danger that the future will be reduced to a combination of fewer fish and more sand, mud and jellyfish.

One of the main reasons for this maritime mess is that we have failed to give sufficient government priority to these crucial environmental issues. Because much of the damage has been perpetuated below the surface, this has been a classic example of out of sight and out of mind.

The welfare of the environment in general on land and in the seas is a massive responsibility for any government department. Alex Attwood has been impressive during his relatively short time as environment minister, but he and his officials are fully stretched, and they can achieve only so much.

The time has come for serious consideration to establish an independent and more powerful environmental agency to care for our landscape and waterways. These are worth billions, but they are not given the same priority and prominence as our more powerful departments of business and agriculture. The welfare of our environment, including our seas, can no longer be treated with less priority than the other major factors which shape the lives of the people in Northern Ireland.

We have an urgent duty to try to clear up the mess in our seas, to prevent more damage, and to hand on a better legacy to future generations.

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