Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Is the Taoiseach aware that we are on the verge of one of the biggest experimental marine destruction journeys in Ireland, the UK and Europe? I am referring to the proposed mechanical harvesting of kelp in Bantry Bay, which is supposed to commence on Wednesday next. Last week, the company carrying out this mechanical harvesting issued a letter to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government saying that it is to commence mechanical harvesting of kelp - better known to all as seaweed - on Wednesday next, 4 July. While that date may be Independence Day in the USA, it is seen as doomsday for many who live near Bantry Bay, where 1,860 acres of seaweed will be mechanically harvested.
In the past 12 months, action groups have mobilised peacefully in west Cork to try to find a solution to this major issue. Hundreds have attended public meetings in Bantry. Some 13,000 signatures have been collected for petitions against this happening in Bantry Bay. As other public representatives have aided them in every way humanly possible, we have tried in that 12 months to get a meeting between the action group and the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, but to no avail. This begs the question as to what is going on here. In his reply to questions I raised some months back, the then Minister said that he did not know what impact this would have when completed but that the Government will know whether to grant further licences when the harvesting in Bantry Bay has taken place.
This means that the harvesting of Bantry Bay could well be an experiment that could have devastating consequences for tourism, for the livelihood of 50 inshore fishermen and our environment. It could also have a very negative impact on the habitat for sea life in the waters of the world famous Bantry Bay. This will not just affect Bantry Bay. It will have a knock-on effect on the Beara Peninsula as well as the Sheepshead Peninsula.
An advertisement for a licence was first seen in the local Southern Starand on a note at the local Garda station on 12 December 2009, stating the intention to occupy an area of the foreshore to harvest specific seaweed types. No one really understood what it meant. No information of it being a huge area of 1,860 acres was on the advertisement and there was no offer of meetings or information sessions on such an important issue for the public who live and work at Bantry Bay. There was no explanation either on how this could be mechanically harvested in the existing special protected area of the bay. The little advertising it got then did not raise any concerns in 2009. Now, almost ten years on, west Cork is very aware of what is going on and its potential outcome. The experts have requested the Minister and everyone involved to carry out a risk assessment prior to the commencement of works of the likelihood of kelp ever regrowing having been cut at 25 cm. The impact of climate change and the lack of a full risk assessment may leave Bantry Bay the worst example of experimental marine destruction in the whole of Ireland, the UK and Europe, as the mechanical harvesting of kelp is now banned in Nordic countries because of the devastation caused to the marine ecosystem, the wipe-out of shellfish and white fish stocks and the rapid growth of invasive species. I ask the Taoiseach to intervene immediately and call for all parties to step back until a full environmental impact study takes place.