Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Sole marine body can help turn tide

Areport into the health of the seas around the province has produced some worrying information.

Strangford Lough and waters around Rathlin Island, designated as protected areas, are being damaged by invasive alien species carried here on vessels and by pressures like tourism, fishing and commercial activity. Other findings reveal stocks of cod and whiting are at historically low levels. On the positive side inner Belfast Lough has got a new lease of life thanks to cleaner discharges into the sea.

But perhaps the most astonishing part of the report is that which suggests that the current arrangements for managing our rich marine environment should continue. At the moment nine government departments have some say in what goes on in the seas around our coasts.

Anyone with even a slight appreciation of the workings of government will realise that this is not an effective way to manage anything.

Joined-up government - especially between potentially conflicting departments such as industry and environment - is an unlikely concept at the best of times.

The report even provides evidence of the lack of a cohesive approach. New marine reserves are being created well in advance of drafting of an overall plan for the marine environment. Just how the two proposals will work when implemented is anyone's guess.

It seems strange that the report turns its face against the idea of a single marine authority which could co-ordinate activities which affect this important environment. Maybe it is recognition that even a sole body would be powerless to protect the marine life fully given the huge range of pressures on it. However, it would have the ability monitor the impact of such pressures and make suggestions to alleviate them. The report makes it clear action must be taken in some areas and that should be the base point for a new drive to protect and improve the marine environment.

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