Pupils help shape marine life laws
School pupils from across Northern Ireland have been praised for their role in lobbying Stormont on legislation aimed at protecting marine life.
Students are due to meet the Assembly's Environment Committee as part of its research into a proposed Marine Bill. Organisers of the initiative said it was the first time teenagers had taken an active part in shaping a primary piece of legislation in Northern Ireland.
The students are involved in the Northern Ireland Marine Bill Advocacy Group and were invited to give evidence to the committee after making a written submission to MLAs on the protection of marine heritage.
Matthew Ferguson, of Down High School in Downpatrick, said: "We see the Environment Committee as stewards with the duty and responsibility to ensure the effective management today of our marine inheritance.
"The writing is on the wall for our marine environment; to continue with business as usual would devastate our seas, crippling an invaluable resource and denying future generations the sea to work, play and live on. This would stop me from seeing spectacular species that my dad knew as common to these waters. The future of our seas, today, tomorrow and forever, lies in your hands."
The sixth form students involved in the project were supported by Queen's University Belfast zoology student Carol Moorehead, the RSPB and the Northern Ireland Marine Task Force through the NIEA-sponsored Marine Education Programme.
Ms Moorehead said: "We have put considerable effort into gathering, reflecting on and representing the opinions of local people in our coastal communities including divers, fishermen, sea anglers and marine biologists.
"There emerged a consensus that the present system of managing our seas is just not working. We believe an independent organisation which centralises and monitors the implementation of the Bill will be vital."
A key requirement of the campaigners is the creation of an independent Marine Management Organisation to co-ordinate all marine activity in Northern Ireland. They are also asking for an amendment within the Bill for a clause on Marine Conservation Areas to include Highly Protected Areas (marine reserves), where no exploitative activity takes place.
Chair of the Environment Committee Anna Lo praised the young people who took part in the process. "We are very impressed to see young people getting involved in politics at this level," she said.