Cross-border collaborations on managing and monitoring Marine Protected Area better protect marine habitats and species

Today two major environmental research projects presented their findings that improve the management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) designated to protect and conserve marine life around the coastlines of NI, Republic of Ireland, and Scotland.

The COMPASS and MarPAMM projects received a total of €12.7million in cross-border funding from the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the SEUPB. The projects were co-funded by the Dept of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (NI), the Dept of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Ireland) and the Scottish Government.

Led by the Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and involving a team of 150 scientists and specialists from the regions’ key institutes, these cross-border research projects filled significant knowledge gaps surrounding our marine environment.
The projects delivered regional scale environmental models and evidence- and stakeholder informed recommendations for the management of MPAs across the regional sea.

Central to the COMPASS project has been the delivery of a network of monitoring buoys which integrate with existing European oceanographic monitoring stations. The investment has helped to build essential infrastructure for baseline oceanographic and ambient noise monitoring that allows us to understand how changes in climate and human use of the sea may affect protected species and habitats in the future. Moorings within the network are equipped with the latest acoustic recorders and advanced fish tracking technologies. This network is important for improve our knowledge and protect highly mobile species such as marine mammals and salmonid fish.

The MarPAMM project has developed new methods to study, map, model and monitor protected marine species and habitats including seabirds, marine mammals, fish and seafloor species. MarPAMM combined scientific evidence, community engagement, stakeholder knowledge and regulatory advice to generate stakeholder-led, integrated management plans that can enhance the management of our MPAs.

From the detection of rare species such as humpback whales, to previously undocumented behavioural patterns of migratory fish and seabirds, collectively the research will support the ongoing management and monitoring of our marine environment across the regions.
Noting the significance of the research Pieter-Jan Schön, Director of Environment and Marine Science at AFBI said:
“The funding of the COMPASS and MarPAMM projects should be viewed as an investment in the future of our environment. While further research is needed to address the significant environment and climate change challenges, this highly collaborative approach means we are better placed to plan for and manage the sustainable use and conservation of our seas.”

Minister Darragh O’Brien TD, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage said:
“I am pleased that my Department co-funded these important cross-border marine environmental projects. The collaborative approach used in both the COMPASS and MarPAMM projects is very welcome and the work undertaken will have a long lasting benefit in protecting our shared water environment and habitats.”

Richard Lochhead MSP, Minister for Just Transition Employment and Fair Work added:
“The Scottish Government congratulates MarPAMM and COMPASS on the successes delivered from their projects. Organisations in Scotland have provided valuable expertise to these projects and, as we eagerly anticipate the forthcoming PEACE+ programme, we look forward to capitalising on the excellent relationships established.”

Gina McIntyre, CEO of the Special EU Programmes Body said:
“The protection of important habitats, safeguarding their biodiversity and supporting the sustainability of our oceans and sea life will be helped significantly by the good stewardship of Marine Protected Areas.”

“Working together on a cross-border basis, COMPASS and MarPAMM’s co-ordinated research programmes are helping champion how we look after our marine environments, particularly in the face of climate change – whether that is rising sea levels, ocean warming or the increasing frequency of coastal storms.”

“Their work, which covers the coastlines of Northern Ireland, Ireland and Scotland will undoubtedly pay dividends for these environments in the future.”

“The EU INTERREG VA programme was designed to specifically support this kind of collaboration. What we’ve seen here is not just significant partnership across borders but also between agencies and the projects themselves.”