MIL-OSI Europe: Ireland approves International Agreement to establish 600,000km² Marine Protected Area in High Seas


Source: Government of Ireland

  • International agreement on protecting North-East Atlantic secured under Ireland’s chairmanship of the OSPAR Commission 
  • Ministers take action in critical areas like climate change, biodiversity loss

Friday 01 October 2021


The Government today joined 14 other countries and the European Union in making a legally binding decision to establish the North Atlantic Current and Evlanov Sea basin Marine Protected Area (NACES MPA). The MPA covers 595,196 km² (over eight times the size of Ireland’s land area) and comprises a vitally important area for seabirds in the North Atlantic.

OSPAR Commission members also approved a new North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy to 2030. The OSPAR Commission for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, an international organisation, has been chaired by Ireland since 2018.

Ireland’s commitment to the NACES MPA and the Strategy was announced by Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD, at the OSPAR Ministerial meeting in Cascais, Portugal, this afternoon.

The designation of the new MPA takes place amidst a worrying decline in seabird numbers. Located in the High Seas, in the west of the OSPAR maritime area, the designated area is home to up to five million seabirds across 22 different species, including five – such as the Atlantic Puffin – that are globally threatened. Other threatened species, like the wide-ranging Basking Shark and Leatherback Turtle, also use this area.

The North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy contains 12 strategic objectives and over 50 practical, operational objectives to tackle the triple challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution (including marine litter) facing the oceans. Its implementation will be part of OSPAR’s contribution to the achievement of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals.

The cooperation of the OSPAR contracting parties will act as a cost-effective and efficient multilateral driver to tackle transboundary issues facing the ocean. Among the outcomes announced by the Ministers and high-level representatives from all contracting parties today at the Ministerial meeting were:

  • a legally binding OSPAR Decision to establish the North Atlantic Current and Evlanov Sea basin Marine Protected Area (NACES MPA)
  • an agreement to expand OSPAR’s protection listing to kelp forests, habitats created by tube-dwelling Haploops crustaceans, to the Azorean barnacle which is endemic to Macaronesia, and to the rare Houting – a coastal fish species. Protecting wide-ranging habitats such as kelp forests will help to ensure that the ocean’s capacity to naturally sequester and store carbon remains intact. Protecting rare species that only occur in the North-East Atlantic will help to ensure that the global biodiversity crisis is halted and populations of threatened species have the chance to recover.
  • a commitment to “minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels”.
  • approval of a Recommendation to reduce the loss of plastic pellets into the marine environment. This will be done through the timely development and implementation of effective and consistent pellet loss prevention standards and certification schemes. This Recommendation will make a significant contribution to marine environmental protection by tackling pellet loss across the plastics supply chain in collaboration with industry.
  • agreement that the OSPAR Commission will join the High Ambition Alliance on chemicals and waste. Inspired by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, its objective is to enhance awareness, ensure commitments and to promote ambitious, sound management of chemicals, and to take action on waste at all levels. Its membership comprises committed national ministries, as well as senior representatives from intergovernmental organisations, industry and civil society.

Speaking in Cascais this afternoon after signing the Ministerial Declaration, and signalling Ireland’s support of the new MPA and 2030 Strategy, Minister Noonan said: “The designation today of the North Atlantic Current and Evlanov Sea basin Marine Protected Area, covering an area over eight times the size of Ireland, is a really positive development in the future protection of seabirds and biodiversity. Ireland will play a lead role in protecting this area, at the same time as we work towards creating a network of Marine Protected Areas to 30% of our maritime area by 2030.

“The decisions made here today are crucial in dealing with the global challenges of protecting our climate, our biodiversity and our marine environment. Today, the actions we need to take are clear. Taking action together in an equitable and just way is our shared challenge. In taking action, and in safeguarding our societies and our environment for generations to come, we need to bring people with us. OSPAR, as the global leader for regional ocean protection, allows us to work with each other and with other organisations to design new, innovative solutions that will work for people.”

Minister O’Brien also welcomed today’s agreement on a North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy 2030. “Today’s agreement supports the ambition Ireland is showing domestically to have clean, healthy, biologically diverse and sustainably used seas and oceans. Our recent publication of the National Marine Planning Framework and the Marine Area Planning Bill shows the steps we are taking to implement integrated marine spatial planning in a way that will facilitate the Sustainable Blue Economy, support new and existing sectoral activities, while also protecting our precious marine environment.”

Minister O’Brien also paid tribute to Richard Cronin, Principal Adviser of the Marine Environment Section in the Department of Housing, Local Government for his work as Chair of the OSPAR Commission and in brokering today’s agreement. “I am very proud that through this very important multilateral organisation Ireland has again shown its ability to act as an honest broker. In this case Richard Cronin, an official in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, has demonstrated great dedication to progressing OSPAR’s objectives and delivering international agreement at OSPAR’s annual meetings. I am very pleased that Richard has been unanimously re-elected as Commission Chair. I have no doubt he will continue to help Ireland play a pivotal role in our global work to protect our oceans and seas.”



Note to editors


Photos of Minister Noonan and Irish delegation available upon request to Press Office


The North Atlantic Current and Evlanov Sea basin Marine Protected Area (NACES MPA)

Today, OSPAR Ministers and high-level representatives took a legally binding OSPAR Decision to establish the North Atlantic Current and Evlanov Sea basin Marine Protected Area (NACES MPA), covering 595,196 km² (over eight times the size of Ireland’s land area) and comprising a vitally important area for seabirds in the North Atlantic.

Located in the High Seas, to the west of the OSPAR region, the designated area is home to up to five million seabirds across 21 different species, including five – such as the Atlantic Puffin – that are globally threatened. Other threatened species, like the wide-ranging Basking Shark and Leatherback Turtle, also use this area.

The NACES MPA encompasses an important feeding and foraging area for more than 20 species of seabird, and is used both by birds breeding on the coasts of the North-East Atlantic and by those migrating across the globe or nesting in other parts of the world.

Worrying declines in seabird numbers shown in OSPAR’s 2017 Intermediate Assessment were stark enough for OSPAR to conclude that “seabirds are in trouble”. Declines were detected in many species and vulnerabilities to pressures in their environment were shown in all life stages.

By establishing this Marine Protected Area, OSPAR has achieved the United Nations Convention for Biological Diversity 2020 Aichi target of designating 10% of its maritime area as MPAs.



OSPAR Ministerial Declaration

On key issues contained in the Ministerial Declaration signed by Ministers and the European Commission today:

  • Protection of the North-East Atlantic: members “aim to achieve zero pollution by 2050 and commit to single-use plastic items and maritime-related plastic items on our beaches by 50% by 2025 and 75% by 2030.”
  • Climate change: the Declaration says parties will “take action to make the ocean more resilient to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification and safeguard the marine environment’s role as a natural carbon sink.”

Parties also “recognise that nature-based solutions and effective protection and restoration of marine habitats each play a role in preventing biodiversity loss and supporting adaptation, resilience and mitigation to climate change, while providing benefits to people and livelihoods.”

  • On offshore renewable energies: the Declaration acknowledges that offshore renewable energy will “play a key role in decarbonising our economies in the coming decades but knowledge gaps still exist about its impact on the marine environment.” Parties will “take action to promote and facilitate the sustainable expansion of renewable energy developments while respecting our commitments to a healthy and biologically diverse marine environment.”


North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy

  • For more information on the new strategy and today’s OSPAR Ministerial Declaration visit:


OSPAR Regional Sea Convention for the Protection of the North Eastern Atlantic Environment and Marine Protected Areas

  • The OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, of which Ireland is one of 16 Contracting Parties, requires Parties individually and jointly to take measures to protect and conserve the ecosystems and biological diversity. Ireland currently holds the Chair of the OSPAR Commission.

The contracting parties (members) are Belgium, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

  • Today’s Ministerial Declaration states: “We commit to halting and reversing the decline in biodiversity by 2030. As an immediate step on this journey, today we designate the North Atlantic Current and Evlanov Sea basin marine protected area, covering 595,196 km², to protect seabirds. This designation takes our OSPAR network of MPAs to 1,460,000 km² which equates to 10.8% of our maritime area. Mindful that this MPA has conservation objectives directed towards the protection of seabirds, we affirm that we will also exercise due diligence with regard to any activities pertaining to the seabed below the waters covered by the MPA. Furthermore, we intend to enhance the protection by including additional OSPAR listed features and the seabed, ocean floor and subsoil thereof in the scope of the NACES MPA as supported by an evidence review process. We request the relevant competent international organisations to take note of these actions. We further commit to expand our network of effectively managed, well connected and representative marine protected areas and other effective conservation measures across OSPAR regions to cover at least 30%, which is over 4 million km², of our maritime area by 2030, with a view to achieving a high level of protection over time.” 
  • By 1 October 2018, the OSPAR Network of MPAs comprised 496 MPAs, including seven MPAs collectively designated in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction. Together the sites have a total surface area of 864,337 km² covering 6.4 % of the OSPAR Maritime Area.
  • To date, the majority of designated OSPAR MPAs are located in territorial waters, with an overall coverage of 19.6%. OSPAR Region II, the Greater North Sea has an MPA coverage of 18.6 %. The Celtic Seas (Region III) and the Wider Atlantic (Region V), both of which contain parts of Ireland’s maritime area, have 15.3 % and 8.3 % of their area designated as OSPAR MPAs, respectively. While coverage of the Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast (Region IV) is at 5.9 %, the Arctic Waters (Region I) show the lowest coverage with 1.9% of the region designated as OSPAR MPAs.


On invitation to speak on the Declaration of the Ministers:

Thank you Minister for the opportunity to provide the comments of Ireland regarding this very significant statement – the Cascais Declaration.

Firstly let me say that Ireland warmly welcomes the Declaration and, like other Parties, we strongly endorse it and the commitments it makes, that I’m confident will deliver real results for our shared North-East Atlantic environment.

The crises we face

We recognise in the Declaration the triple crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and marine pollution facing our societies.  And we acknowledge the strong need for immediate action to turn the tide, to change the dynamic, to systematically and cooperatively create the positive reaction and outcomes that these crises demand of us.

Actions not words

In this spirit of action, we are energised to deliver on our shared commitments in the Declaration. We welcome our agreement here today to designate an outstanding Marine Protected Area in the High Seas, to reach our UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 14 – Life Below Water, to implement an impressive and far-reaching Strategy for the North-East Atlantic environment.

The time for talking has passed.  Through OSPAR, through our Convention, real action is happening.

How we work

Ireland is especially glad to be part of this unique, world-leading gathering of Parties, where all have an equal voice, regardless of size or affiliation or culture; where we work proactively together within OSPAR and also with outside organisations, delivering not just for the marine environment but also for our people and our communities.

The Cascais Declaration is also an expression of their voices.

Thank you.

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