Confined to bed in a New York hospital some decades ago, a west of Irelandman busied himself with matching names to marine life on his home shore. His doctor allowed him to write a few of them down. Just three to four pages a day.
“As well as that, I would often be talking in my sleep,” Séamas Mac an Iomaire recalled. “I’d be back in Connemara, hauling pots or long-lines or nets or maybe even cursing the dogfish or the starfish . . . I would awaken suddenly . . . the noise and bustle of the city reminding me where I was.
“I would get so immersed in desirable memories that I would forget altogether that I was in a foreign country, lying on my back with TB . . .”
As a paean to the richness of coastal environments, it is hard to beat Mac an Iomaire’s Cladaigh Chonamara or The Shores of Connemara, published in 1938. Written long before its least-appreciated fringe – seaweed – became a superfood and source of a multibillion euro global industry, the text bears all the enthusiasm of a David Attenborough documentary, and the fun of aFinding Nemo script, as it weaves in language and local knowledge with a facility that so many scientific tracts lack.
Ecologist Cillian Roden noted in his introduction to Pádraic de Bhaldraithe’s translation that Mac an Iomaire dispels the “myth that the people of Ireland were a race of thalassophobes, incapable of observing their natural surroundings”.
Mac an Iomaire’s generation was one that might lose more sleep over changing weather than a changing climate, but he would surely have appreciated the idea that feeding a small amount of dried seaweed to dairy cattle could reduce their methane emissions by as much as 99 per cent.
“I’m someone who spent the beginning of my life living on an island . . . listening to the perpetual lonely murmuring of the sea arriving continuously in big waves from the strange abyss in the west, breaking fiercely and bluntly against shore and beach,” Mac an Iomaire wrote.
“But even if the sea is like that, it’s from her that most of the people of Connemara make their living, and not by fishing alone but by making kelp. This is hard, bothersome work,” he acknowledged, as he gave character to the various types: mayweed, oarweed, sea rod, furbelows and more.
John Bhaba Jeaic Ó Conghaile knows only too well about that “hard, bothersome work” as he holds up a croisín, a long piece of wood with a knife attached which was once a regular implement on his part of the coastline near Leitir Mealláin. Ó Conghaile is from that area of south Connemara known as the “islands”, where hand-harvesting of seaweed is still a lucrative winter activity.
“We could cut the kelp here up until the 1960s, and we had all kinds of methods, including a smaller type of fork which would hook on to it and turn it . . . a bit like working spaghetti,” he says.
Ó Conghaile has an original copy of Mac an Iomaire’s work among his collection of several thousand books, and it records how kelp was burned in many areas for ash, used in soap-making, dyeing, paper, glass-making and bleaching linen. From 1820, the ash was also a source of iodine for medicinal and photographic use.
Ó Conghaile, who left school early to go fishing, grew up in the “alginate phase” when “an feamainn bhuí” (Ascophyllum nodosum), caught the eye of industry. It is one of some 600 seaweeds growing along the 7,800km Irish coastline, and its value is in its gelling agent, used in everything from ice-cream to the “heads” on beer to textile printing.
It became a source of raw material for State company Arramara Teo, founded in 1947. In the 1960s, the company built two factories, in Cill Chiaráin in Connemara and in Dungloe, Co Donegal, to handle dried weed. It was then shipped to Alginate Industries inScotland, which held a 49 per cent share, while the government held 51 per cent.
Employment grew through the 1970s to a seasonal high of 700, including harvesters, but development of a synthetic alginate put paid to much of this business. The Scottish shareholder reduced its involvement, and its stake was then bought by the State – which then transferred responsibility for Arramara from the Department of the Gaeltacht to Údarás na Gaeltachta in 2006.
This should have been a good move, given the experience gained by Údarás na Gaeltachta in aquaculture, and its remit to provide employment in peripheral Irish-speaking areas.
However, in 2007, a Canadian leader in the seaweed field, Acadian Seaplants, says it was “approached” by Údarás na Gaeltachta to purchase Arramara.
Founded over 30 years ago by Louis Deveau, Acadian Seaplants employs more than 300 people in eight countries and exports to more than 80 countries. Now run by Deveau’s son Jean-Paul, it supplies seaweed-based products to the food, biochemical, agricultural and agri-chemical sectors, and cultivates crop for the Asian and global food markets.
The sale was agreed and given ministerial approval, with minister of State for Gaeltacht affairs Dinny McGinley confirming it in 2014. Acadian promised an initial investment of €2 million, and a promise of more in research and development. The actual price paid is the subject of 10-year confidentiality clause. It came as a shock to hand-harvesters, and to a growing domestic industry depending on Arramara as a source of raw material.
Freedom of Information documents subsequently showed Enterprise Irelandhad expressed concern. Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the State’s sea fisheries board, wasn’t consulted at all , but says its remit in seaweed relates to “farming”, rather than wild harvesting.
Kerryman John T O’Sullivan was also concerned. O’Sullivan is managing director of BioAtlantis, a Tralee-based company which patented extraction of two key bioactive ingredients from kelp for use in antibiotic treatment of animals. In 2008, his company applied for a foreshore licence to harvest kelp, initially in Kenmare Bay. It was advised that this was a sensitive habitat, and so it reapplied for Bantry Bay.
O’Sullivan expressed his disappointment over the handling of the State sale of Arramara to an Oireachtas committee on environment, culture and the Gaeltacht in July 2014. He described how his company only latterly became aware of the opportunity, and was given just 12 days to prepare a bid of €5.7 million. He claimed that two foreign companies – Acadian Seaplants and French company Setalg – had been given more than a year to prepare their bids, and both were far less than his. The lack of transparency was “frightening” in relation to the final sale, he said.
Acadian hired two former Údarás executives associated with Arramara – Dónall Mac Giolla Bhríde, who was running Arramara’s Cill Chiaráin plant before the sale, and Jim Keogh, formerly Údarás enterprise and employment manager who was part of a senior executive team that was involved in managing the sale to Acadian. Keogh told The Irish Times last year that he saw no conflict and passionately believed in the potential of seaweed and aquaculture for coastal communities.
The local response, initially muted, became more heated when word went around that Arramara had departed from the established practice of relying on the harvesters for the raw material. Instead it had lodged a direct application with the Department of Environment – now Housing and Local Government – to hold licences along some 20 per cent of the coastline between Clare and north Mayo.
Coincidentally, the department confirmed in 2014 that a review of seaweed-harvesting licensing was in train in the context of amending and updating the 1933 Foreshore Act.
Acadian’s chief executive Jean-Paul Deveau confirmed he had met government officials as far back as 2007 in relation to “licensing, the regulatory framework, and the process by which one could apply for a licence”. However, he denied that purchase was dependent on securing harvesting rights.
BioAtlantis described Acadian/Arramara’s move as a “resource grab”. John Bhaba Jeaic Ó Conghaile and a group known as Cearta Feamainne Chonamara (the Connemara seashore and seaweed rights committee), expressed fears about potential “privatisation” of access to the material, and the impact on communities like his.
“If they get the licenses for this large stretch of coastline, they don’t need us hand-harvesters, and they will want to mechanise harvesting,” Ó Conghaile explained. Mechanisation, using boats, would allow the company to take advantage of the tide – hand-harvesting requires low tides – but with possible adverse environmental impacts.
As harvester Johnaí “Dubh” Clochartaigh from Maínis explains, the “feamainn bhuí” requires careful handling with his knife. That knife must not cut the holdfast or root on the rock, as this allows the weed to grow back in the saltwater and sunlight. It takes about five years to return to full harvestable length.
“We mark our patches with rocks as we work in low tide,”he says. “If you have a boat in here harvesting, it needs the tide, it won’t see the patches, and it will cause awful conflict.”
The big dilemma, as he observes, is the fact that a younger generation doesn’t want to engage in the sort of back-straining toil he loves.
Sure enough, last autumn, several craft appeared, and at least one was sighted working on seaweed near Roundstone. The Department of Housing and Local Government had not been informed. It has since confirmed that it was advised that some trial harvesting using the boat and rake method was being carried out.
“Upon making enquires, the department was advised that the harvesting, carried out by a couple of local men, had ceased,” it says.
Arramara’s license applications for the Clare to Mayo coast are effectively “on hold” until legal advice is received from the Attorney General, the department says. It describes it as a “very complex legal issue around the implications of the interaction between existing seaweed harvesting rights and the applications for licences”.
Down south, however, there are further stirrings – this time involving John T O’Sullivan himself. In 2014, his company, BioAtlantis, received its long-awaited foreshore licence for kelp. The permit approves use of a 21-metre boat for “mechanical” harvesting on a trial basis over 10 years.
A petition with 7,000 signatures has been submitted to Minister for Local Government Eoghan Murphy, objecting to the lack of public consultation, while Independent TD for Cork South-West Michael Collins has called on Murphy to revoke the license. Green Party senator Grace O’Sullivan has urged a “pause” which would allow the minister and BioAtlantis to agree to a voluntary environmental impact assessment.
“This licence is for 1,860 acres, which is a massive amount of sea, and it will have adverse impacts on the habitat for sea life within the kelp forests,” Collins contends.
The “Bantry Bay – Protect Our Native Kelp Forest” group, which collected the petition, fears that the mechanical harvesting may cause “irreversible damage to the ecosystem and businesses of the Bantry Bay area”, and will have a very negative impact on the “50-plus inshore fishermen who rely on Bantry Bay to make a living”.
The group is very concerned about the manner in which public consultation was conducted – just one advertisement in the Southern Star, it says – and lack of an environmental impact assessment. It believes this could be in breach of a number of EU directives, and against the spirit of the Aarhus Convention on access to environmental information which Ireland is party to.
Kelp forests are a nursery for juvenile fish and crustaceans, such as crab and lobster, the group’s spokeswoman Deirdre Fitzgerald points out. They provide spawning grounds for many species of fish, and form the “base of the food web in Bantry Bay”. They “slow wave action”, limiting coastal erosion, and are “an important carbon store”, she says.
She points to research undertaken for the group,which says there is evidence of at least 17 shipwrecks within or close to the areas licensed to BioAtlantis for mechanical harvesting – only three of which are recorded on the Shipwreck Inventory of Ireland.
“Our argument is not with BioAtlantis, but with the State for the manner in which this was carried out,” Fitzgerald says.
BioAtlantis points out that kelp has been mechanically harvested in Franceand Norway since the early 1970s, and the system it is adopting “differs fundamentally . . . we don’t touch the seabed.” O’Sullivan says the company will not be using the French scoubidou method or the Norwegian kelp dredge, but will use a mower suspended from the boat which “will not cut below 25cm or 12 inches”.
“ This will allow us to cut the older weed, allowing younger plants to flourish as they will have more access to sunlight,” he says. “Every peer-reviewed scientific study shows that kelp recovers within three to six years after harvesting.”
BioAtlantis says it consulted eight public bodies, including the Underwater Archaeology Unit and National Parks and Wildlife Service, as part of its foreshore licence application. The Marine Institute is in favour of an indigenous seaweed sector, once it takes place in a “safe and controlled manner”.
BioAtlantis commissioned a baseline study from University College Dublinand MERC Environmental Consultants in September 2016, which is awaiting departmental approval. Once signed off, it will be published and work can begin, the company says.
Ironically, Bantry Bay was the focus of a pilot project to allow for a more inclusive approach to managing the State’s foreshore. “Information and transparency” and “public participation” were key tenets of the Bantry Bay Charter, pioneered by Cork County Council and partners, including University College Cork, and published in 2000 as an EU LIFE project for coastal zone management.
Fitzgerald’s opposition group acknowledges that BioAtlantis was only following the letter of the law. A new “streamlined” Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill has been on the “A” list of priority legislation for several years. It gives new powers to An Bord Pleanála and coastal local authorities, and also gives Ministers power to exempt certain developments. Driven by the EU’s “blue growth” strategy, it does incorporate environmental impact assessments, but not in all circumstances.
Coastwatch Europe co-ordinator Karin Dubsky says the Bill has “potential” to incorporate the best elements of coastal zone management, marine spatial planning and harvesting from the wild, including seaweed, but it “must be transparent”. It is all the more urgent, given that Brexit poses shared marine management problems in Carlingford and Foyle loughs, she says.
“Seaweed as a product has really taken off, prices have jumped, but there is no policy and no fair legal system,”she says. “Scotland is really ahead of us on this, and has published a well-balanced policy. That could be a model for us.”
Seaweed harvesting licences: State’s system requires urgent reform
Marine Scotland, the government body charged with managing Scotand’s seas, says that artisanal hand cutting or picking wild seaweed has far less environmental impact than mechanised harvesting.
A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) published by late last year noted that there is always a risk that the “small” green and red seaweeds could be cleared from an area by small-scale harvesting, but it says that mechanised harvesting of kelps and wracks could have “significant adverse effects”.
“Seaweeds and seagrasses play a key role in marine and coastal ecosystems,”its SEA notes, and some species modify their environment and support high levels of marine and coastal biodiversity as “ecosystem engineers”.
“As primary producers, they are also critical for supporting food webs which in turn contribute to fish and shellfish productivity,”the report says.
If rising demand for seaweed is best met here, then, by a combination of closely monitored harvesting and seaweed farming, the State’s licensing system will require urgent reform.
There are currently six licensed aquaculture “grow-out” sites, including Cork’s Bantry and Roaringwater Bay, Ventry in Co Kerry and Clew Bay, Co Mayo, and 23 applications for more seaweed cultivation sites.
NUI Galway’s Martin Ryan Institute and Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) have both highlighted more potential. BIM’s new Environmental Sustainability Atlas is reporting success with culture techniques for several species, including Atlantic wakame (Alaria esculenta) and Kombu (Saccharina latissimi), while but says the “red” varieties, Dulse (Palmaria palmata) and Nori (Porphyra) “more technically challenging”.
However, developers face the same challenges as fish farmers caught in a system beset by severe bureaucratic delays which can transcend environmental concerns.
Minister for Marine Michael Creed has recently received an Independent Aquaculture Licensing Review group report which is scathing of the current system, including the fact that up to 17 different agencies are involved, and his response is awaited with much baited Atlantic breath…
Hi everyone, this is a little update on what’s been happening over the past week with the campaign to save our precious kelp forest in Bantry Bay. The pressure is building and there is a massive community effort happening on many fronts. Here’s a quick summary and apologies if important information is missing
The petition signed by nearly 7,000 people was delivered at Cork County Council’s recent monthly meeting and a commitment to set up a meeting between West Cork Councillors and the Campaign group secured. We need to keep growing the petition so please share
A meeting with Jim Daly TD and Junior Minister last Thursday was very productive. He has agreed to ask Minister Eoghan Murphy to meet with a delegation of people involved in the campaign.
A fundraiser for the campaign will take place on the 14th July in Ballydehob - More details here
The Direct Action Group are getting out and about on the streets of Bantry handing out leaflets and generally building public awareness and support.
Hundreds of people have emailed and called Eoghan Murphy. If you haven’t yet sent your email here’s the link
The Legal Group are continuing to develop a legal challenge - there will be more news on this soon
Save The Date: On the 23/24th July there will be a weekend of activity and gatherings at the Westlodge. Watch out on the Facebook for more details.
The next few weeks are crucial so its all hands on deck. Keep spreading the word about the campaign. Together we are more powerful!
LETTER: Mechanical harvesting of kelp in Bantry Bay
Saturday, 3rd June, 2017 5:00pm
Send your letters to email@example.com
SIR – We went to a packed meeting on May 28th in the Maritime Hotel in Bantry to find out about the proposed mechanical harvesting of kelp in Bantry Bay. We were shocked at a number of aspects, both of the intended cutting and also the issue of the licence to do it.
The licence was issued by Simon Coveney in 2014 and, as far as can be discovered, received only one advertisement, in The Southern Star. No evidence can be be found of any notice in Bantry Garda Station, nor any advertisement in a national paper, as required by the relevant regulations.
The form of the advert seemed to be calculated to suggest that nothing unusual was being proposed, beyond traditional manual gathering from the shore. In fact the operation is the largest ever undertaken in Britain or Ireland and is to be done indiscriminately and mechanically.
The licence is for 10 years, with a review after three and five years. No environmental impact study was carried out before the licence issued, no consultations were held with the people obviously impinged on by such an operation – fishermen, sailing, diving and other tourist businesses dependent on the bay, and despite reason to believe that there may be archaeological sites in the area, no survey in that respect either.
The cutting – this operation, in a bay of renown beauty and with a proven complex ecosystem, is likely to start within weeks. Totally blind! The intention is to slash the kelp off at 25 centimetres (10 inches) from the seabed and hoover it up in a dredge.
The equipment has been brought from France, where it was operated on a relatively flat seabed, and is waiting in Castletownbere to be moved into a completely different irregular context, where it will be unable to maintain even the damagingly short cut proposed.
The so-called reviews are a joke, as there is nothing to compare the state of the cut area with after the three- and five-year periods.
The kelp is essential for the health of the bay and the proposed removal of 1,900 acres is irresponsible. It is a natural barrier against coastal erosion, reducing wave action and material removal; it oxygenates the seawater; it provides shelter and food for a number of species of fish and crustacea and so supports the predator fish species, otters, seabirds, dolphins and other sea mammals that live in and visit the bay.
The livelihoods of around 50 fishermen in Bantry Bay depend on it; the fish raised and nurtured in the bay’s kelp are not bound by our concept of geography and will leave there to replenish those outside in the Atlantic.
The existing and proposed fish farms in Bantry Bay have been licensed on the assumption of the present area, density and health of the kelp forest, which provides oxygen and takes out nitrogen and other excess nutrients.
If this project is to go ahead, their licences should be reviewed.
There were at least 200 gathered at Sunday’s meeting to hear the shocking news. Amongst them were residents of the Beara and Mizen peninsulas, owners of tourist businesses, marine biologists, archaeologists, commercial inshore fishermen and members of the diving and sea-angling communities.
The incredulity and outrage grew as the speakers outlined the intentions of the company, Bioatlantis Aquamarine, and the behaviour of Minister Coveney in issuing the licence. We heard that the County Council had not even been shown the courtesy of being informed of the project, that Michael Colins TD (Ind) had tabled a Dail question, but received short shrift and that the FF TD for the area had spoken to the Minister, but to no avail. However, the conditions of the licence allow its withdrawal at three months’ notice.
Stories were plentiful of the benefits the bay provided and its practical and emotional importance, to West Cork and to the country.
When it was suggested that a clear message be sent to the company and to the Minister – Bioatlantis had been invited, but were not present – by a show of hands on a resolution that ‘not one frond of kelp will be mechanically cut till the people of Bantry are satisfied it won’t damage the bay.’ A spontaneous flock of hands took flight in agreement, before the platform requested calm.
We don’t know if Simon Coveney is a reader of The Southern Star, but we would like to inform him and those like ourselves in West Cork, who until very recently were unaware of this threat to an ecological, archaeological and eco-social gem, that we – for two – and a lot more judging by the meeting, don’t intend to see Bantry Bay despoiled for the short-term profit of a company which seems to have the favour of the Minister.
A short-term profit often leads to a long-term loss and this seems a typical case of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.
With hope and resolution,
Lee Snodgrass and Ed Harper,
and Cape Clear.
Protestors intensify campaign against Bantry kelp farm
Sunday, 4th June, 2017 11:55am
The large attendance at the meeting in Bantry . (Photo: John O’Connor)
BY BRIAN MOORE
OVER 200 residents of the Bantry area gathered at the Maritime Hotel last Sunday to voice their concerns at a plan, which is about to get underway, to mechanically harvest kelp seaweed in Bantry Bay.
The public meeting was organised by the Bantry Bay Protect Our Native Kelp Forest group, and brought together marine biologists, archaeologists, commercial inshore fishermen, members of the diving and sea-angling communities, environmentalists, tourisms business owners and other community groups and organisations.
They are hoping to persuade Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Simon Coveney, to suspend the licence granted to BioAtlantis Ltd, which allows the company to mechanically harvest over 1,800 acres of kelp forest in Bantry Bay.
BioAtlantis Ltd applied for a foreshore licence for the mechanical harvesting of seaweed in 2009, following a planning ad placed in The Southern Star in December. The licence was granted on Friday, March 21st 2014. The licence to harvest the kelp is on an industrial scale not seen before in Irish or UK waters, and it is the first time a mechanical harvester has been used in Irish waters.
‘Kelp and other seaweeds have been harvested for generations in Bantry Bay,’ seaweed farmer Paul Cobb told the meeting. ‘Harvesting can be done sustainably and this can create jobs, but a mechanical harvesting boat is not the way to go about this. Especially when we don’t really know what damage it will cause,’ he said.
The benefits to the bay provided by the untouched kelp forests are of vital importance, not only to the marine life in the bay, but to the shoreline and to the many people who depend on the shellfish, such as lobster, crab and shrimp, to provide an income for their families, many speakers told the meeting.
‘Bantry Bay is vital to the sustainability of fishing, tourism, the economy and ecology of the area,’ Cork South West TD Margaret Murphy O’Mahony (FF) said. ‘I believe that the licence should be revoked in circumstances where the advertisement was not sufficient, there was no public hearing in line with the Aarhus Convention, Cork County Council was not notified, and there was no consultation with the Bantry Bay Coastal Zone Charter Group.’
While FG deputy Jim Daly did not attend the meeting, he said later that he was aware of the debate. ‘I am aware, from colleagues on the Municipal District, that they are holding a series of engagements with both sides, as well as some environmental experts to ensure a fair hearing and make a recommendation. I will await an outcome to this process and will assist the members with any further actions deemed appropriate,’ he told The Southern Star.
Deputy Michael Collins (Ind) advised the meeting’s organisers to immediately seek a court injunction, forcing BioAtlantis to stop before the harvesting begins.
‘This is almost a foregone conclusion at this stage,’ Deputy Collins said. ‘I feel that there is no other choice here but to seek an injunction so that time can be given to a proper public consultation and the publication of a comprehensive environmental impact statement, so that if harvesting is to go ahead, everybody has had their concerns voiced and heard.’
Cllr Paul Hayes (SF) said that a meeting had been organised between the elected members of Cork County Council and John P O’Sullivan of BioAtlantis.
It is believed that this meeting may take place on Thursday, June 15th.
‘I am very disappointed that there was no government representative or the owners of BioAtlantis in attendance,’ Cllr Danny Collins said after Sunday’s meeting. ‘I think this just shows the respect they have for the people of the area. The crowd represented the tourism, fishing and environment sectors, and they all voiced their concerns on the mechanical harvesting of the kelp. The licence must be revoked until proper public consultation takes place.’
‘We have to protect our bay,’ meeting organiser Deirdre Fitzgerald told The Southern Star. ‘Our petition to have the harvesting stopped now has over 4,000 names. We were delighted with the response from the public and great to see the interest and we are intensifying the campaign further.’
From the Southern Star May 22, 2017...
Collins raises Bantry Bay seaweed licence in Dáil
Monday, 22nd May, 2017 6:03pm
By Emma Connolly
IT’S preposterous to assume that the harvesting of nearly 2,000 acres of kelp seaweed in Bantry Bay won’t negatively impact tourism and wildlife, according to a local TD.
Independent Deputy Michael Collins said last week that the granting of a 10-year licence – the first of its kind in Ireland and the UK – to Tralee-based BioAtlantis to harvest 1,860 acres of native kelp forest in Bantry Bay could be detrimental.
Speaking in the Dail, the Goleen deputy said: ‘The licence that allows BioAtlantis to harvest mechanically vast amounts of kelp in Bantry Bay is experimental. It is the first licence in Ireland or Great Britain to allow the mechanical harvesting of seaweed and the effects could be detrimental to wildlife, tourism and employment in Bantry,’ he said.
Deputy Collins said there was much anger and unrest in the area as a result of this licence being issued by the Department.
‘Bantry Bay is a crucial resource in terms of the environment, tourism and local jobs. This licence, which has been granted without essential input from key stakeholders, is seen as a serious imposition on the people of Bantry,’ he said, adding: ‘They feel that the granting of the licence was grossly unfair and see no benefit accruing to the area.
‘There was a complete lack of adequate communication between your department and the people of the Bantry area,’ Deputy Collins told Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal, Damien English TD.
‘Until proper public consultation is carried out, an environmental impact statement is published and a public oral hearing in to the proposed harvesting takes place, this licence, granted to BioAtlantis, must be revoked,’ Deputy Collins said.
However, Minister English said he did not propose to accede to the request to revoke the licence.
He said the licence was a trial one for 10 years from 2014 and insisted that normal public consultation procedures were followed. He added: ‘We cannot forget it is supporting quality employment and will help recovery of these areas.’
Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Western Committee of Cork County Council in Clonakilty on Monday, Cllr Danny Collins (Ind) – Deputy Michael Collins’ brother – tabled a motion calling on Minister Simon Coveney to suspend the licence.
Cllr Collins said the licence was granted without any acknowledgement of the fact that the kelp was to be mechanically, rather than manually, harvested. Cllr Collins said a petition – seeking to protect the kelp forest – has been signed by almost 4,300 people to date.
April 21, 2017 Irish Examiner...
Report: Will mechanical harvesting of seaweed lead to ecological disaster?
Friday, April 21, 2017
With licences being secured and sought to mechanically harvest seaweed in Bantry Bay and parts of the west coast residents fear the damage may be irreparable, writes Louise Roseingrave.
Irish coastal dwellers have been harvesting seaweed by hand for hundreds of years but that’s about to change in Bantry Bay.
Following a five-year application process, the first licence for the mechanical harvesting of seaweed in Ireland and Britain has been secured by a Kerry-based bioengineering company, BioAtlantis Ltd. CEO John T O’Sullivan hopes to begin harvesting the bay’s underwater kelp forests on a five-year rotation basis later this year.
He faces growing opposition, however, as locals are only now becoming aware of the plan. Residents along Bantry Bay describe the lack of public consultation as alarming and fear the seaweed won’t grow back. One of the conditions of the foreshore licence, issued by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government (DECLG), is that the project will be subject to an environmental study and monitoring paid for by BioAtlantis. As such, the harvesting at Bantry Bay will act as a test case to ascertain whether or not mechanical seaweed harvesting is sustainable.
“We applied for a licence in 2009. We went through every loop that was there,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
The public consultation process required the posting of a notice in Bantry garda station and the publication of an advertisement in a local and national newspaper. The notice was posted at Bantry garda station for 21 days in December 2009 and an advertisement was published in the Southern Star newspaper on Dec 12, 2009. The department states that a notification was placed in a national newspaper but no record of this has been found. A department press officer confirmed that ‘normal public consultation procedures were followed in this case.’ No submissions were received.
Asked if he spoke to any local people about mechanical harvesting in Bantry Bay, Mr O’Sullivan said ‘everything was done by the book’.
As part of the foreshore licence process, the application was circulated to various bodies and submissions were received from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Underwater Archeology Unit, the Marine Survey Office, Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, Eastern Regional Fisheries Board, Central Fisheries Board and the Marine Institute.
A qualified accountant by profession, Mr O’Sullivan plans to use the harvested seaweed to develop alternatives to the use of antibiotics in pig feed. He insists he ‘jumped through hoops’ to secure the licence, a process he says has cost him in the region of €5million to date.
An eight-year monitoring process is a requirement of the licence, four years pre-harvest and another four post-harvest, monitoring fish, invertebrate fauna, fauna attached to kelp and kelp holdfasts as well as on rocks in the understory of the kelp area and marine flora at harvested and non-harvested sites. BioAtlantis is required to provide an annual report on harvesting activities to include the areas and quantities harvested and measured regeneration.
“There is 20% of the standing stock of Laminaria (kelp) washed ashore every year. So one storm on one bad day will do more damage than we can ever do,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
One of the criteria for the granting of the licence is that it’s in the public interest. The Marine Institute sees kelp as a significant natural resource that, if sustainably exploited, ‘could lead to the development of novel products which would, in turn, stimulate economic development.’
“We want to see an indigenous Irish seaweed sector and it is our responsibility to ensure that it takes place in a safe and controlled manner,” the Institute said in its statement on the mechanical harvesting of kelp in Bantry Bay.
Jobs will be created in the harvesting and processing of the kelp, according to Mr O’Sullivan.
“We have 58 people employed, working in the seaweed industry. We have a patented product, we are extracting and purifying compounds from seaweed that can help in pig health. There is a huge issue across Europe in terms of overuse of antibiotics. One or two of the compounds in the seaweed helps to mitigate that issue.”
“I’m trying to build an industry, not a company. It’s never been done before. Above in Norway, they can put down a dredge and just pull it off the seabed. I’m trying to develop technology where you don’t touch the seabed at all. It’s seriously complicated because you have to take account of the undulating seabed and the waves of the sea,” he said.
Concerned Bantry resident Deirdre Fitzgerald has been investigating the licensing procedure and sharing information on social media. She is alarmed by various aspects of the process.
“This only come to light earlier this year, when an episode of Eco Eye discussed the planned harvest of 1860 acres of kelp forest in Bantry Bay. There were no public meetings to inform people,” she said.
“We have White Tailed Eagles resident in the bay, whales, dolphins, seals, otters, and so many bird species that rely on this bay for food. What will be the impact on juvenile fish as a food source for all these species once this kelp is removed from the bay?”
Ms Fitzgerald set up a Change.org petition to Minister Simon Coveney against the mechanical harvesting of kelp in Bantry Bay which has gathered more than 3,300 supporters.
In response to an Irish Examiner query, the Department of Housing and Planning confirmed that approval in principle was made in 2011 with final determination of the application in 2014. “The Minister took into consideration the valuable scientific information that would be provided through the monitoring programme, feeding into policy development in the area of sustainable development of seaweed, the fact that there were no objections from members of the public and the Marine Licence Vetting Committee had recommended that harvesting trials be carried out,” spokesman John Whelan said.
Coastwatch Europe co-founder Dr Karin Dubsky says the planned method of cutting kelp 25cm from the root will effectively kill the plant. Kelp provides a natural canopy for a whole ecosystem of marine life.
“It’s like clear felling a forest. The result would be barren ground and other species will come in. But what other species?” she said.
The licence allows for the mechanical harvesting of more than 80% of kelp stocks in Bantry Bay, according to Ms Dubsky. She believes the licence area of 753 acres is an excessive test area in an already vulnerable bay.
“We already have a problem in Bantry Bay, which is the invasive alien Japanese seaweed Sargassum muticum. When you do something to the environment like a clear felling, you leave it wide open to an invasive species and in this case the invasive species is already in the bay, nibbling at the edges,” she said.
The effect of a proposed salmon farm of approximately one million fish, now the subject of a suspended hearing by the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board, is an additional environmental concern.
“We don’t think the cumulative effects are being taken into account adequately,” she said.
John O’ Sullivan agreed that mechanical harvesting might have a negative impact but only in the short term.
“Of course there is going to be adverse effects initially but is it significant in the longer term? Probably not. We are not affecting crustaceans, so the only question is will there be re-growth in the areas we harvest,” he said.
His methods will be watched closely by coastal communities further north, where the largest seaweed processor in Ireland, Arramara Teo, is seeking harvesting licences along 20%of the coastline stretching from north Clare to north Mayo.
The company, bought by a Canadian marine biotechnology company in 2014, has purchased seaweed from hand-harvesters in Connemara and Mayo for the past 60 years.
John Connolly from Lettermullen in Co Galway has been cutting seaweed by hand in the traditional methods all his life. He’s seen a sharp rise in seaweed harvesting by hand on the shoreline in recent years. “It’s not a worry as long as it’s not pulled off the rocks.”
“But we don’t want mechanical harvesting here in Galway Bay. It will damage the seashore and the environment and we won’t see that happening here, we have our own methods to do it,” he said.
One of the many problems with mechanical harvesting of seaweed in Bantry Bay is that there is no base-line data (evidence of similar stuff that has been done before). In these circumstances, most sensible people use a "Precautionary approach', meaning, they make small changes, monitor and assess before making any more small changes. The Mechanical Harvesting in Bantry Bay is not this. Given that the sea floor and rocky outcrops are so uneven, how exactly do you think the boats are going to be able to ensure that each plant is cut to 25cm? (which, by the way, is not enough for the plant to survive and regenerate according to many specialists).
Business and industry has started to use the term 'sustainable' to justify its actions, even when they quite clearly cause imbalance in the natural environment. The global loss of habitat and species lets us all know that we have been doing so far is not sustainable. There is no measure of whether any action is sustainable or not as it is a projection into the future that cannot take into consideration unknown variables. Who could have known that the Great Barrier Reef would have been so badly damaged? Who was even thinking about it in their sustainability calculations?
WE NEED RE-GENERATION FOR THE NEXT GENERATION...
We have to take action. Even then we have to consider the impact of our actions. Intentions are not enough. Evidence to support our actions is important. We are looking at historical, cultural and international approaches to seaweed management to ensure that we do the very best in our own local environment in a way that suits the culture and temperament and lifestyles of the people of our local community. We have a plan to regenerate ecosystems and economies to create the best opportunity for people. A precautionary approach towards the management of Irish seaweed that tries to regenerate the ecosystems and communities we have already damaged might just ensure there is something left for our future generations to feed their families with.
Please read the articles and join the conversation. People are passionate about this issue and we want to encourage awareness and debate about it. Please comment or record your views on video and tag them with @WildSeagarden or #SeaweedViews and we will look out for them and share them on social media. We need to get people talking about seaweed. This is a prime example of - 'before we know it, it will be too late...'
Another Life: A towering lorryload of wrack at the Leenane cross-roads the other morning was a reminder of one of Connemara's traditional occupations once the summer visitors have gone.
Like the sheltered maze of inlets along Galway Bay, the inner reaches of Killary Harbour are thick with Ascophyllum nodosum, the knotted wrack of rocky shores (the Killary sheep go down to graze it, adding a special quality to their meat) and its harvesting contributes to an industry worth €1 million a year to the economy.
On the outer Atlantic coast, a quite different family of seaweeds - the tough, long-bladed kelps - are part of a declining harvest, as hand-gathering of "sea rods", washed in by storms, is virtually at an end.
But kelp's value to the alginate industry is as great as ever, and harvesting by machine, both of kelp and wrack, is among the more pressing proposals for marine development.
In Norway, for example, the offshore kelp forest is harvested by 15 specially designed seaweed trawlers, using dredges to haul up each year some 180,000 tonnes of Laminaria hyperborea, the broad-fingered kelp of deeper water. French harvesters use machines called "scoubidous" to twist around and pull up the shallower Laminaria digitata - 10kg at a time in 30 seconds.
The Marine Institute sees harvesting in Ireland as worth €30 million by 2020, but only if such machines are brought into play. It will work on a regulatory framework and management plan for "sustainable, scientifically-based harvesting" - this in agreement with other agencies, among them the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).
Among the Special Areas of Conservation, designated by the NPWS for Europe's Natura network, are 36 marine ones with reef habitats, such as those at Achill Head and the Aran Islands, and many more where the offshore kelp forest is important to ecosystems of bays or estuaries. It commissioned five experts to review kelp's significance to ocean life.
Their sources ranged from Chile to California, Tasmania to South Africa, eastern Canada to Norway. But Irish conditions are distinctive, with a warmer Atlantic coast and a more diverse marine life than in more northern countries. We need our own research - a lot of it - before we start licensing mechanical harvesting.
The experts' report, edited by NPWS marine ecologist Dr Eamonn Kelly, already concludes that even well-managed harvesting puts too much pressure on natural kelp beds to be permitted in Natura sites. In other areas, it says, "Well-managed and controlled kelp harvesting could be envisaged, but experience to date in the Irish inshore zone gives no grounds for optimism that 'owned in common' resources can be managed rather than over exploited and then abandoned." The shelter, nursery nooks and protection from predators that kelp forests offer marine flora and fauna are well-known. But some of the most interesting research explores kelp's "primary production". This, rather like the rain-forests ashore, is among the highest known in aquatic ecosystems and far more intense even than the explosive abundance of phytoplankton. A review for the Marine Institute also stresses the "high ecological significance" of kelp forests and urges that their management for machine harvesting should "pursue a precautionary approach".
Every year, using photosynthesis, the kelp plant grows a whole new blade, while its "stipe" or stem gets bigger. But very little of this growth is grazed directly. It nourishes the food chain mainly as detritus - particles worn from the blade tip, or broken down in annual decay, or when the plant is uprooted by storms. Up to 60 per cent of the carbon in coastal invertebrates - molluscs, worms, etc - can be traced to kelp photosynthesis.
Even the mucus that keeps kelp slippery (to reduce the damage from wave action) enriches the inshore food chain, through its reproductive spores (6 billion a year from Laminaria digitata) and its dissolved carbon. And this enrichment doesn't stop at lobsters, fish or even dolphins. Kelp helps seabirds, marine ducks and divers by offering shelter for underwater foraging. Drifting ashore, its detritus nourishes the organisms of sandy shores, otherwise often bare and low in nutrients, and so provides food for flocks of wading birds. Winter's drifts of washed-in kelp, with their little crabs, sandhoppers and kelp-fly larvae, offer more rich foraging to species such as turnstones and oystercatchers.
The Role of Kelp in the MarineEnvironment is available at www.npws.ie/ PublicationsLiterature/IrishWildlifeManuals/ For a closer look at seaweeds of all kinds go towww.seaweed.ie
We need to think before we act
And we need to act before it's too late
"I can only compare these great aquatic forests of the southern hemisphere with the terrestrial ones in the inter-tropical regions. Yet if in any country a forest was destroyed, I do not believe nearly so many species of animals would perish as would here, from the destruction of the kelp
Amidst the leaves of this plant numerous species of fish live, which nowhere else could find food or shelter; with their destruction the many cormorants and other fishing birds, the otters, seals, and porpoises, would soon perish"
~ Charles Darwin
Public consultation and advertising required
NO mention of 'MECHANICAL HARVEST' ¦ NO mention of 'NATIVE KELP FOREST' ¦ NO mention of '1860 ACRES OF BANTRY BAY'
Dept of Housing stated that a notice was placed in a national newspaper - no record can be found by the Dept. of the advertisement published
No public meetings
No consultation with Bantry Bay Coastal Zone Charter Groups (formal framework for public consultation for developments in Bantry Bay).
No information on development given to Cork County Council
Notice placed in Bantry Bay Garda Station for 21 days - no access to copy of record on Dept. of Housing website
Advertisement placed by BioAtlantis in Southern Star Newspaper on 12th December 2009 states 'Occupy an area of foreshore for the purpose of harvesting specific seaweed at Bantry Bay'