Ireland’s Blue Economy is pivoting towards better stewardship of its marine or ‘blue’ resources, going beyond viewing the ocean solely as a mechanism for economic exploitation but also as a precious natural asset that needs to be protected.
By highlighting the close linkages between the ocean, climate change, and the wellbeing of the people, building a sustainable Blue Economy is a key priority.
This means better conservation efforts for coastlines and marine habitats, a rise in investments into new technologies and businesses, and commercial and job opportunities across a range of marine sectors.
Ireland’s Blue Economy, with more than 480,000 km2 of maritime coastline, is the country’s largest natural asset. Just to give a sense of the scale of the area: Ireland, inclusive of its marine territory, is one of the largest countries in Europe, bigger than Germany. This extensive marine environment already provides a wide range of ecosystem services in support of fisheries, aquaculture, recreation, and biotechnology.
The current Program for Government is paving the way for a cohesive and inclusive plan that will tackle biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation through the reform of the entire Ireland’s Marine Protected Areas (MPA) network, committing to expand Ireland’s network of MPAs from 2% to 30% by 2030. Increasing the MPA network will also have the benefit to promote the climate-change mitigation potential of Blue Carbon, the carbon stored in the ocean and vegetated habitats.
Other important measures include the support of coastline communities through the Fisheries Local Area Group (FLAG), by providing them with financial support for innovative projects to boost economic growth and job creation. Strategic investments are also planned in upgrading harbour infrastructure, sustainable aquaculture, and other biotechnology innovations. Last but not least, it enforces the implementation of policies on coastal erosion, flooding, waste and pollution.
The successful implementation of the plan could transform Ireland’s marine economy into one’s of the most competitive in Europe, as well as helping the country to achieve its environmental goals. A task force, created through the Marine Institute, is set up to act as a hub to ensure that business projects with a marine focus receive the best support possible. With nearly 30,000 people employed across all marine sectors, this has the potential to become a leading sector for the country.
So, here are some of the most significant changes businesses should pay attention to:
· New policies and trade agreements with both the EU and the UK with protection mechanisms against Brexit for the Irish Fishing Industry and in respect of the European Green Deal.
· Business opportunities driven by start-ups funding and other investments in renewable energy, blue bioeconomy, and ecotourism.
· Strengthening of socio-economic aspects of local marine communities, through corporate social sustainability initiatives and community-led actions.
· Development of new technologies in key growth areas such as marine engineering, renewable energy, and shellfish aquaculture.
· Development of export-oriented products for the pharmaceutical and bio-based industries by scaling trading opportunities with China and other international countries.
Ireland has an enviable marine resource, however, a business-friendly yet robust governance, policy and planning framework will be crucial for its protection and expansion. No doubt, understanding the socio-economic aspects of marine communities is something that will be increasingly important in the future, with conservation organisations calling for nature and society to be put ahead of commercial interests.