We need to look to the sea
Ireland is surrounded by water but we look to the land to provide most of our food and energy. World Oceans' Day encourages us to consider the importance of the sea to all of us
TOMORROW marks World Oceans' Day which is a United Nations designated global event aimed at honouring our seas.
The UN first officially recognised June 8 as a day dedicated to the celebration of the oceans in 2008, with global participation increasing with each ensuing year.
Last year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked the day by stating: "From trade to food to climate regulation, the oceans are integral to all of humanity. This is particularly so for coastal dwellers whose income and culture are irrevocably bound to the sea. If we are to fully benefit from the oceans, we must reverse the degradation of the marine environment due to pollution, overexploitation and acidification.''
For some reason, we Irish often forget that we are islanders, surrounded by water, estuaries, bays, sea cliffs and coastal land. In fact, Ireland's ocean environment counts for 90 per cent of the island's territory, because we have rights to more than 220 million acres of designated Irish Continental Shelf - that's 10 times the size of our dry land.
Despite the fact that we have 7,500km of coastline, we tend to rely on the land, rather than the sea for the vast majority of our food and fuel.
Two years ago, the government in the Republic published an integrated marine plan, entitled Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth, which pointed out that the state needed to tap into "a E 1,200 trillion global marine market for seafood, tourism, oil and gas, marine renewable energy, and new applications for health, medicine and technology".
There are more than 500,000 pairs of seabirds around Ireland while our waters support around 60 resident and migrating wildfowl.
Our seas are home to more than 400 species of fish and cephalopod, including octopus and squId, while providing spawning and nursery grounds for commercial fish species including cod, whiting and haddock.
There are also 24 species of whales and dolphins that are resident or visit the waters around our shores.
We are even reliant on the
Atlantic Ocean for our relatively mild climate. The North Atlantic Current, which emanates from the Gulf Stream, warms the winds that are carried across the ocean to Ireland.
As communities voice their opposition to wind turbines on their doorsteps, offshore renewable energy projects are increasingly considered viable options for meeting CO2 emission targets.
This year it was announced that the Europe's first wave energy farm would be built in the waters near Doonbeg in Co Clare, with the operating start date set for 2018.
The ESB has said that the West Wave project, which will cost up to E 50m, will involve using devices to try out new technology and produce power.
And the National Offshore Wind Energy Association of Ireland has said its members have the potential to supply 40 per cent of our electricity needs.
On a more basic level, many of us simply enjoy the sea as an amenity.
Ulster Wildlife and Lecale Conservation will mark World Oceans' Day with a rockpool rummage at Rossglass in Co Down tomorrow between 1.30pm and 3.30pm. "As well as being lots of fun, we hope it will help people understand the importance of
the sea to our lives and why we need to protect this precious resource for the future,'' Jade Berman, living seas manager with Ulster Wildlife, said. Booking is essential on 028 4483 0282 or ulsterwildlife. org/whats-on.
Meanwhile, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful has launched Coast Care, a joint initiative with Coca-Cola HBC Northern Ireland, aimed at supporting volunteers who clean up beaches, rivers and loughs across the north.
The body's chief executive Ian Humphreys said there remained some people who still "treat everywhere they go as a giant litter bin, particularly on our beaches where litter entering our seas kills marine life and seabirds in their thousands''.
This year's Clean Coast Week will take place between June 28 and July 6, with activities ranging from sand sculpting events to clean-up.
More information is available at keepnorthernireland beautiful.org If you would like to make a difference, whether it be coastal or an inland waterway, then you can get involved by getting in touch with Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful by ringing 028 9073 6920 or emailing nicola.murray@ keepnorthernirelandbeautiful. org.