Bloomsday Regatta 2005, Dalkey Sound. Photo Gillian Mills/Inshore Ireland

Beatrick Kelly, Heritage Council

Ireland’s maritime heritage is a critical element of this nation’s well-being. In addition to its intrinsic value, our seas and coasts generate important economic activities such as ports and harbours, fishing, aquaculture, as well as providing space for recreation and tourism. The coastline is home for much of the population and is shared with by many plant and animal species, reports Beatrice Kelly, Heritage Council.

Over the past year and a half, the marine and coastal committee of the Heritage Council has been drafting policies for Ireland’s maritime heritage, so as to ensure that all elements – natural, cultural and built – can be maintained and enhanced for future generations.


Much of our maritime heritage (land and sea-based) is under ever-increasing pressure from human activity. Protection of our heritage must be a key part of sustainable development, whereby policies to encourage social and economic growth are equalled by policies to protect the environment and heritage.

The primary recommendation is a cohesive strategy for the sustainable use and development of marine and coastal areas. It also identifies important heritage features and provides for their long-term protection.

The strategy should include a management framework for environmental protection and management, and a comprehensive review of relevant policies and measures currently in place and their efficacy to date. Importantly, a campaign to raise awareness and improve education regarding maritime heritage should also be part of the strategy.

 Areas of maritime heritage
The second half of the document is devoted to specific aspects of maritime heritage. These include: coastal landscapes; water quality; biodiversity; fisheries; off-shore resources; cultural heritage; boats; islands, and activities that impact on these such as climate change, recreation and tourism.

Recommendations in these areas include:

  1. when assessing coastal development proposals under planning legislation, it is vital that the relevant agencies take into account visual impact, especially the location, density and design of proposed buildings, and facilities
  2. develop and implement the concept of offshore biodiversity protection plans, taking into account the likely effects of climate change.
  3. develop integrated policies for our seas based on the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) of which Ireland is a signatory
  4. carry out a Strategic Environmental Assessment of the impact of Ireland’s renewable energy policy on the marine environment, including the cumulative effects of multiple licences
  5. prohibit development and extraction in designated areas and habitats and at other biologically diverse underwater sites (e.g. cold-water reefs)
  6. desist from adapting international scientific advice on fishery management purely for the sake of political expediency
  7. encourage the use of selective fishing gear to reduce the catch of juveniles and by-catch of cetaceans, and to avoid damage to benthic communities
  8. eliminate discarding of unwanted fish at sea
  9. enforce closed areas and seasons to allow nursery grounds and juvenile stocks to mature
  10. encourage aquaculture in a manner that is sustainable of its surrounding,s and set up projects to restore scare naturally occurring oyster and scallop beds
  11. encourage sustainable aquaculture as a means of support for coastal communities, and to set up projects  to restore  scarce naturally occurring shellfish beds e.g.,  oysters and scallops.
  12. expand research into aquaculture techniques, including techniques for assessing carrying capacity under various hydrographic and environmental conditions
  13. improve the visual impact of aquaculture operations
  14. prepare an inventory of maritime heritage buildings and structures associated with coastal life
  15. encourage and facilitate collections of folklore and stories associated with maritime vernacular structures and artefacts at both county and regional levels
  16. promote and facilitate work to update the underwater archaeological inventory
  17. record  surviving traditional/heritage boats; preserve examples of heritage boat types afloat and in use, and identify others that may need to be conserved
  18. record the recollections and anecdotes of traditional boat builders and users to place the boats in their proper cultural and social contexts
  19. assess the impacts on maritime heritage of recreational and tourism activities, both in specific areas and nationwide

These recommendations will shortly be sent to Dick Roche T.D., Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Many of the actions proposed, however, will require the co-operation and agreement of other government departments and agencies.