LETTER: Mechanical harvesting of kelp in Bantry Bay

June 3rd, 2017 5:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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SIR – We went to a packed meeting on May 28th in the Maritime Hotel in Bantry to find out about the proposed mechanical harvesting of kelp in Bantry Bay. 

SIR – We went to a packed meeting on May 28th in the Maritime Hotel in Bantry to find out about the proposed mechanical harvesting of kelp in Bantry Bay. We were shocked at a number of aspects, both of the intended cutting and also the issue of the licence to do it.

The licence was issued by Simon Coveney in 2014 and, as far as can be discovered, received only one advertisement, in The Southern Star.  No evidence can be be found of any notice in Bantry Garda Station, nor any advertisement in a national paper, as required by the relevant regulations.  

The form of the advert seemed to be calculated to suggest that nothing unusual was being proposed, beyond traditional manual gathering from the shore. In fact the operation is the largest ever undertaken in Britain or Ireland and is to be done indiscriminately and mechanically.  

The licence is for 10 years, with a review after three and five years. No environmental impact study was carried out before the licence issued, no consultations were held with the people obviously impinged on by such an operation – fishermen, sailing, diving and other tourist businesses dependent on the bay, and despite reason to believe that there may be archaeological sites in the area, no survey in that respect either.

The cutting – this operation, in a bay of renown beauty and with a proven complex ecosystem, is likely to start within weeks. Totally blind!  The intention is to slash the kelp off at 25 centimetres (10 inches) from the seabed and hoover it up in a dredge.  

The equipment has been brought from France, where it was operated on a relatively flat seabed, and is waiting in Castletownbere to be moved into a completely different irregular context, where it will be unable to maintain even the damagingly short cut proposed. 

The so-called reviews are a joke, as there is nothing to compare the state of the cut area with after the three- and five-year periods.

The kelp is essential for the health of the bay and the proposed removal of 1,900 acres is irresponsible. It is a natural barrier against coastal erosion, reducing wave action and material removal; it oxygenates the seawater; it provides shelter and food for a number of species of fish and crustacea and so supports the predator fish species, otters, seabirds, dolphins and other sea mammals that live in and visit the bay.  

The livelihoods of around 50 fishermen in Bantry Bay depend on it; the fish raised and nurtured in the bay’s kelp are not bound by our concept of geography and will leave there to replenish those outside in the Atlantic. 

The existing and proposed fish farms in Bantry Bay have been licensed on the assumption of the present area, density and health of the kelp forest, which provides oxygen and takes out nitrogen and other excess nutrients. 

If this project is to go ahead, their licences should be reviewed. 

 There were at least 200 gathered at Sunday’s meeting to hear the shocking news. Amongst them were residents of the Beara and Mizen peninsulas, owners of tourist businesses, marine biologists, archaeologists, commercial inshore fishermen and members of the diving and sea-angling communities.  

The incredulity and outrage grew as the speakers outlined the intentions of the company, Bioatlantis Aquamarine, and the behaviour of Minister Coveney in issuing the licence.  We heard that the County Council had not even been shown the courtesy of being informed of the project, that Michael Colins TD (Ind) had tabled a Dail question, but received short shrift and that the FF TD for the area had spoken to the Minister, but to no avail. However, the conditions of the licence allow its withdrawal at three months’ notice.  

Stories were plentiful of the benefits the bay provided and its practical and emotional importance, to West Cork and to the country. 

When it was suggested that a clear message be sent to the company and to the Minister – Bioatlantis had been invited, but were not present – by a show of hands on a resolution that ‘not one frond of kelp will be mechanically cut till the people of Bantry are satisfied it won’t damage the bay.’  A spontaneous flock of hands took flight in agreement, before the platform requested calm.

We don’t know if Simon Coveney is a reader of The Southern Star, but we would like to inform him and those like ourselves in West Cork, who until very recently were unaware of this threat to an ecological, archaeological and eco-social gem, that we – for two – and a lot more judging by the meeting, don’t intend to see Bantry Bay despoiled for the short-term profit of a company which seems to have the favour of the Minister. 

A short-term profit often leads to a long-term loss and this seems a typical case of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

With hope and resolution,

Lee Snodgrass 

and Ed Harper,

Mizen Peninsula 

and Cape Clear.

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