THE large-scale mechanical harvesting of seaweed may soon proceed in Bantry Bay, following a decision of the High Court last week.
Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy declined to grant an injunction sought by a West Cork man, which would have blocked the extraction of the seaweed.
Tralee-based BioAtlantis was granted a licence to extract the kelp from over 1,860 acres of the bay in 2014.
John Casey from Allihies, a member of local campaign group ‘Bantry Bay - Protect our Native Kelp Forests’, had sought the injunction.
The barrister for Mr Casey had argued that the extraction would constitute a material change of use under the terms of the Planning and Development Act 2000, and should not have proceeded without planning permission.
The High Court rejected that argument, stating the planning acts regulate human activity, whereas the wild flora and fauna of the sea are regulated by ministerial licence.
The case took 10 days to be heard. The licence is also subject to a judicial review which is due to begin on June 25th and may take up to three days.
A spokesperson for BioAtlantis said this week that the Tralee-based company, which employs 60 people, has ‘invested considerably in its bid to reduce its carbon footprint, expand, create jobs and secure the supply of raw material. As part of this process, BioAtlantis secured a licence to harvest wild kelp from Bantry Bay. The company also expanded its factory and purchased a bespoke vessel to harvest kelp in a sustainable manner with negligible impact on the marine environment, ensuring no physical contact with the seafloor.’
It added that less than 0.3% of the total marine area of the bay will be subject to sustainable harvesting annually.
‘Older kelp that is otherwise susceptible to storm damage, will be harvested. The remaining younger plants will then grow more vigorously with increased exposure to sunlight, a key limiting factor to kelp growth. Spores, which are the seeding body of the kelp, from the unharvested areas will also settle on and colonise the harvested area, ensuring regeneration of the kelp,’ the spokesperson added.
The company also pointed out that in 2011, Minister for the Environment, John Gormley, as part of the Fianna Fáil/Green Party coalition, granted approval in principle for BioAtlantis to be licenced to harvest kelp in Bantry Bay. And that in 2014 Environment Minister Alan Kelly granted the licence to harvest in Bantry Bay.
‘However, just as harvesting was to commence an unrelated third party started High Court proceedings seeking an order that the harvesting operation should come under the Planning and Development Act 2000. Following a lengthy and costly High Court hearing over ten days, Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy dismissed the appeal on all grounds and found in favour of BioAtlantis and the Minister,’ the company said this week.
The judgment last week also suggested that, were the applicant’s submissions correct, all trawling, prawn fishing and activities of that nature would all, equally, require planning.
The court also found that, following Storm Darwin in 2014, which devastated the kelp beds in Bantry Bay, a 2017 study showed the kelp had returned, abundant as ever, said BioAtlantis.
BioAtlantis’ chief executive John T O’Sullivan said the appellants had many avenues and opportunities available to them to object to the licence but chose a ‘last minute dash’ to the High Court.
‘This cost BioAtlantis a considerable amount in resources and money to respond to. They spent eight days outlining their objections; it took us just a day-and-a-half to refute every single one,’ Mr O’Sullivan added. BioAtlantis now says it has ambitious growth plans and has invested over €12m developing a new factory in Tralee where it extracts bioactives from seaweed for ‘innovative’ products.