BY BRIAN MOORE
COASTWATCH Ireland have expressed alarm at the plans for a major kelp seaweed farm in Bantry Bay.
Karin Dubsky of Coastwatch, who first highlighted the kelp harvesting issue on an episode of Eco Eye on RTÉ, has called for the mechanical harvesting to be stopped until more information on the effects this will have on the eco-system in the area is collected.
More than 1800 acres of kelp forest, stretching from the waters off Adrigole harbour along the east side of Bere Island and across to the Sheep’s Head peninsula, have been identified and licensed to Kerry-based company BioAtlantis to begin harvesting the seaweed.
‘Bantry Bay is the largest inlet on the south west coast and a piece of heaven where huge kelp forests are still relatively safe from climate change, due to deep water which prevents it heating up,’ said Karin Dubsky.
‘To believe that cutting kelp stripes off as low as 25cm from the holdfast and not affecting sea-life sets alarm bells ringing. It is like saying you could cut a mature oak forest 2m above the ground and not damage the forest ecosystem, as you have left those trunks sticking up,’ she added.
Coastwatch Ireland would like to see this section of Bantry Bay designated a Marine Protected Area (MPA) under EU Marine law. ‘This kelp forest would be an excellent candidate for designation as an MPA as so many fishermen, shrimp men, anglers, and the tourist industry would all benefit,’ she added.
Ms Dubsky said an MPA status would protect the fish nursery, and feeding areas would protect the otter which feeds on the sea urchins and the fish. The kelp would calm waves and reduce erosion in the coastal zone.
‘The kelp tips could still be hand-harvested as a top-value sea vegetable and the kelp cast up on the shores could still be used as fertiliser in fields and horticulture. It would add a unique quality to the local produce without endangering the MPA ecosystem,’ she added.
The licence for BioAtlantis to harvest the kelp is on an industrial scale not seen before in Irish or UK waters. Local opposition to the planned mechanical harvesting of the kelp continues to grow, with a petition of more than 3,000 signatures already collected, calling on the government to protect the forests.
In the Dáil, Deputy Michael Collins TD (Ind) has demanded that Minister for Local Government, Simon Coveney, immediately revoke the licence awarded to BioAtlantis to allow for a full investigation into the proposed method of removing the seaweed and an environmental impact evaluation to be carried out.
‘There is huge anger and unrest in West Cork as a result of this licence being issued, and there is enormous concern for our local ecology and economy,’ Deputy Collins said. ‘Bantry Bay is a tremendous resource from an environmental aspect, for tourism and local jobs. We cannot allow this harvesting to go ahead until we know exactly what this machine will do to Bantry Bay.’
And this weekend, conservationist Éanna Ní Lamhna said a thorough Environmental Impact Assessment (EIS) needed to be carried out to establish the effect of harvesting the kelp in this area.
On a visit to West Cork, the wildlife expert and RTÉ broadcaster said it was possible to harvest kelp sustainably, but a proper EIS would indicate what levels of harvesting would allow for the kelp to grow back.
‘We have to not be greedy, we don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg,’ she told The Southern Star.
‘There are a lot of nutrients in kelp, but it also offers protection to a lot of species.’