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Irish blue economy is ‘greatest opportunity on the planet’

Wednesday, 5th June, 2019 4:49pm

Ireland’s largest free festival is to set sail on the first of a three-year run on Leeside this weekend, with a host of fun-filled family activities in store.

SeaFest takes place at the Port of Cork from 7-9 June, with over 100 free events, exhibitions, screenings, talks and family-friendly events taking place to promote Ireland’s maritime (‘blue’) economy and the importance of oceans to everyday life.

Following the festival will be the Our Ocean Wealth (OOW) Summit in City Hall on 10 June, where more than 30 representatives from island nations around the world will meet to discuss the shared challenges and opportunities for island nations in response to climate change.

Among the speakers at the summit are former US Secretary of State John Kerry and Dr Peter Heffernan, who has served as CEO of the Marine Institute since it was established in 1991. Under Dr Heffernan, the Marine Institute has presided over increasing activity in Ireland’s growing maritime economy through funding, research and other support services to marine organisations.

Speaking to the Cork Independent before SeaFest kicks off this weekend, Dr Heffernan says both SeaFest and OOW Summit are crucial in creating awareness of how important oceans are “to every human being, no matter how far away they live away from the sea”.

“Every time you breathe, half the oxygen you get has come from microscopic plants in the ocean, and the ocean greatly lessens the burdens we currently experience in terms of climate change impacts, but it is paying a price for that itself,” he says.

“This is the first of an exciting three-year run in Cork, where we hope to set new attendance records at the summit and at the SeaFest itself, where with the current public engagement in climate issues we hope to push beyond 100,000 attendees.”

Among the action-packed programme of events at SeaFest are talks by renowned photographer Doug Allan and Met Éireann’s Evelyn Cusack, an exhibition of the Marine Institute’s ‘Wild Atlantic: What Lies Beneath’, as well as a chance to climb aboard the RV Celtic Explorer research vessel. Family-friendly events will allow kids and adults see exhibits of ocean life from the seashore to the deep, experience what it’s like to control a remotely operate submarine and explore Ireland’s underwater mountains via seabed mapping.

With the recent wave of support for climate issues, propelled by school students engaging in public protests across Ireland and Europe in recent months, perhaps SeaFest means more this year than ever?

“As a parent myself with kids in their 20s and 30s, I’m fully aware that younger generations really get the climate issue,” Dr Heffernan admits.

“It’s great to see the vocalism coming from even younger age groups. I think Ireland, through investing in ocean renewable energy developments, will be able to make a very large contribution to alternative means of non-carbon burning power generations, and I welcome the strength of voice of the youth urging that to happen more and more.”

In recent years the Irish Government has solidified its focus on maritime growth; a report at last year’s OOW Summit in Galway by NUI Galway’s Socio-Economic Marine Research Unit (SEMRU) noted a 21 per cent growth in Ireland’s blue economy since 2015, and a 2018 value of €1.97 billion.

“Marine businesses are very diverse, ranging from shipping-related services to seafood production, from fisheries and aquaculture, right down to the Wild Atlantic Way and the tremendous benefit tourists and people at home get from activities on or beside the sea,” Dr Heffernan says.

“Additionally, start-ups in sensor technologies, big data and prototyping ocean energy devices have been rapidly growing, and in general the blue economy has consistently outstripped that of the general economy over the last six or seven years.”

Dr Heffernan says other island nations will have a huge interest in Ireland’s digital open-access seabed mapping, and that Ireland is “gifted with the greatest opportunity on the planet in terms of offshore, wind, wave and tidal energy opportunities”.

“Ireland’s deep ocean also has great potential for biotechnology developments in in the anti-cancer and medical device areas. Equally, the natural materials can be applied to sensor technologies for use inside the human body.”

“In the decade to 2020, national targets of doubling the size of the marine economy were set to take it from €3.2 billion to €6.4 billion. We’re making great progress to achieve that, and those latest statistics will be announced on the Monday of the summit by the Government.”

Marine Institute CEO Dr Peter Heffernan will be speaking at the Our Ocean Wealth Summit in City Hall on Monday 10 June.

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