BY BRIAN MOORE
OVER 200 residents of the Bantry area gathered at the Maritime Hotel last Sunday to voice their concerns at a plan, which is about to get underway, to mechanically harvest kelp seaweed in Bantry Bay.
The public meeting was organised by the Bantry Bay Protect Our Native Kelp Forest group, and brought together marine biologists, archaeologists, commercial inshore fishermen, members of the diving and sea-angling communities, environmentalists, tourisms business owners and other community groups and organisations.
They are hoping to persuade Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Simon Coveney, to suspend the licence granted to BioAtlantis Ltd, which allows the company to mechanically harvest over 1,800 acres of kelp forest in Bantry Bay.
BioAtlantis Ltd applied for a foreshore licence for the mechanical harvesting of seaweed in 2009, following a planning ad placed in The Southern Star in December. The licence was granted on Friday, March 21st 2014. The licence to harvest the kelp is on an industrial scale not seen before in Irish or UK waters, and it is the first time a mechanical harvester has been used in Irish waters.
‘Kelp and other seaweeds have been harvested for generations in Bantry Bay,’ seaweed farmer Paul Cobb told the meeting. ‘Harvesting can be done sustainably and this can create jobs, but a mechanical harvesting boat is not the way to go about this. Especially when we don’t really know what damage it will cause,’ he said.
The benefits to the bay provided by the untouched kelp forests are of vital importance, not only to the marine life in the bay, but to the shoreline and to the many people who depend on the shellfish, such as lobster, crab and shrimp, to provide an income for their families, many speakers told the meeting.
‘Bantry Bay is vital to the sustainability of fishing, tourism, the economy and ecology of the area,’ Cork South West TD Margaret Murphy O’Mahony (FF) said. ‘I believe that the licence should be revoked in circumstances where the advertisement was not sufficient, there was no public hearing in line with the Aarhus Convention, Cork County Council was not notified, and there was no consultation with the Bantry Bay Coastal Zone Charter Group.’
While FG deputy Jim Daly did not attend the meeting, he said later that he was aware of the debate. ‘I am aware, from colleagues on the Municipal District, that they are holding a series of engagements with both sides, as well as some environmental experts to ensure a fair hearing and make a recommendation. I will await an outcome to this process and will assist the members with any further actions deemed appropriate,’ he told The Southern Star.
Deputy Michael Collins (Ind) advised the meeting’s organisers to immediately seek a court injunction, forcing BioAtlantis to stop before the harvesting begins.
‘This is almost a foregone conclusion at this stage,’ Deputy Collins said. ‘I feel that there is no other choice here but to seek an injunction so that time can be given to a proper public consultation and the publication of a comprehensive environmental impact statement, so that if harvesting is to go ahead, everybody has had their concerns voiced and heard.’
Cllr Paul Hayes (SF) said that a meeting had been organised between the elected members of Cork County Council and John P O’Sullivan of BioAtlantis.
It is believed that this meeting may take place on Thursday, June 15th.
‘I am very disappointed that there was no government representative or the owners of BioAtlantis in attendance,’ Cllr Danny Collins said after Sunday’s meeting. ‘I think this just shows the respect they have for the people of the area. The crowd represented the tourism, fishing and environment sectors, and they all voiced their concerns on the mechanical harvesting of the kelp. The licence must be revoked until proper public consultation takes place.’
‘We have to protect our bay,’ meeting organiser Deirdre Fitzgerald told The Southern Star. ‘Our petition to have the harvesting stopped now has over 4,000 names. We were delighted with the response from the public and great to see the interest and we are intensifying the campaign further.’