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Preservation of oceans, rivers and lakes can become Northern Ireland's lasting legacy

Today marks the end of Save Our Seas week, the Belfast Telegraph’s in-depth look at how our seas and waterways are being devastated by the pressures we are putting on them.

But it’s only the beginning.

Today is also the launch of what will be an ongoing campaign to highlight the threat facing our environment and what needs to be done to protect its precious resources for future generations.

On the back of our week-long series of stories highlighting the damage being done, we will continue to put pressure on our political representatives to make sure everything is done to keep our seas, rivers and lakes in good condition so they can keep serving us, as they have done for millennia.

Earlier this week marine expert Professor Callum Roberts revealed how we face a future of dead zones, oceans dominated by jellyfish and underwater deserts of sand and mud if we don’t take steps to clean up our act.

It’s hoped a Marine Bill — currently being drafted at Stormont to set out a system of marine planning — will go some way to help when it comes into being. In the meantime, here are seven things the authorities should consider acting on to help save our seas:

1 First on the agenda is our call for Northern Ireland to establish ‘No Take Zones’ (where human activity is severely curtailed) as part of the forthcoming Marine Bill.

There is evidence from across the globe — including the Isle of Man — that these zones can lead to rapid increases within five years in fish and shellfish numbers and density. As the animals in the zone become bigger, better breeders, this can result in ‘spill-over’, in which fish and shellfish eggs and adults move to outlying areas, replenishing the seas. The Northern Ireland Marine Task Force estimates that if fish stocks could be restored, it could generate €3.2bn across Europe, supplying 100,000 more jobs.

2 We’re also calling for the Marine Bill to include the option to set up a single marine management organisation that would unify the plethora of Government bodies whose activities impact on the sea. We have the Department of the Environment overseeing environmental enforcement, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Develop

ment looking after fisheries, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure managing migratory species such as salmon, and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment developing marine renewables. It’s estimated that in all, some 30 bodies have an impact on our seas and it cannot lead to anything but confusion. Setting up a single authority would be a logical and cost-effective way to regulate our seas as new industries and opportunities come online.

3 It’s also vital that Marine Spatial Planning (a mapping system to create a fuller picture of a marine area) is carried out in step with the designation of the Marine Bill’s protected areas — it will lead to wasted time and opportunity if an area is set aside for industrial use, only to later discover that a unique species makes its home there.

4 We are also calling for the Executive to provide the much-needed funding for the Department of the Environment to carry out the improvements to freshwater bodies that are needed if we are to avoid massive EU fines in the future. Currently, less than a third of our rivers and lakes are in good condition, but proper investment is needed if we are to meet our commitment of increasing that figure to 59% by 2016.

5 We also need the proper resources and manpower for effective enforcement of the existing laws that are supposed to prevent our waterways from becoming polluted.

6 We are calling for the establishment of an independent Environmental Agency. It’s encouraging to see that Environment Minister Alex Attwood has already put this issue back on the agenda.

7 More could be done to enforce laws set down to protect the environment. Chairman of the Stormont environment committee Anna Lo (left) thinks there’s a lack of enforcement.

“I see all these Press releases about how one farmer was fined £250 for polluting or another fined £500 — it’s a pittance,” she said. “We need to do more.”

Speaking about the campaign, Ms Lo backed our call for better management of our seas. “It’s appalling how we have treated our seas and rivers,” she said.

She also pointed out that DoE officials had no shortage of ideas to improve our freshwater rivers and lakes, but their monitoring round bid to the Executive for £8.9m was refused.

and what you can do to lend a hand ...

There are lots of things — both big and small — that you can do to help protect our seas from the threat of further damage.

You can help by:

  • Lobbying your political representatives on all of these issues and let them know that they matter to you;
  • Showing your support for many of the groups — such as Tidy NI and Ballinderry River Enhancement Association, among many others — whose hard-working teams of volunteers are giving so much;
  • When it comes to what should be going on your plate, visit the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide ( www.goodfishguide.co.uk) — find out where your seafood is coming from and consult their advice to the best choices when buying seafood.
  • Instead of going for the ‘big five’ (cod, haddock, tuna, salmon and prawns), choose alternative species that haven’t been overfished, such as pollack or gurnard.
  • Pick fish that are caught with lower impact methods, such as line-caught tuna or dolphin-friendly fish and look for the Marine Stewardship Council logo, which certifies fish that come from sustainably managed stocks.

Belfast Telegraph