Policy & Legislation: The OSPAR Convention

The initial Oslo and Paris Conventions covered European Union waters and stemmed from the Bonn Agreement in 1969, which came into place to grant protection to the 31 marine environment from oil-based pollution. In 1974, the Oslo Agreement was brought into place to give protection from dumping at sea by aircraft and ships, followed by the Paris Agreement in 1978, preventing the pollution of the marine environment from land-based sources (WWW2). On the 22nd of September, 1992, at the Ministerial Meeting of the Oslo and Paris Commissions, what is currently known as the OSPAR Convention was opened for signatories. This new convention for protection of the marine environment was signed by the EU as well as 15 individual countries: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, UK, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. This new convention included all previous decisions, amendments and recommendations of the previous three agreements, but added new conditions divided into five annexes. These annexes are as follows:

  • Annex I: Prevention and Elimination of pollution from land-based sources
  • Annex II: Prevention and Elimination of pollution by dumping and incineration
  • Annex III: Prevention and Elimination of pollution from offshore sources
  • Annex IV: Mandatory Assessments by each signatory state of the quality of the marine environment
  • Annex V: The protection and conservation of the ecosystems and biological diversity of the maritime area.

The OSPAR Convention came into force from the 25th of March, 1998, strengthening and driving improvements to several pre-existing conservation driven directives and policies, such as that of the Common Fisheries Policy.

All information pertaining to the OSPAR convention is contained in this document.




WWW2 – OSPAR History

Deep Maps Blog Series: Policy & Legislation


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With mounting anthropogenic and ecological pressures on the coastal marine environment, global governments are realising the importance of the services provided to coastal communities by the marine ecosystem. On both a national and international level, several vital pieces of legislation and policy guidelines have been put into force over the last number of years. European initiatives like the Oslo Paris Convention (OSPAR) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), are further supported by the Birds and Habitats Directives, along with the Water Frameworks Directive (WFD) and Marine Strategy Frameworks Directive (MSFD), the Nitrates Directive, adding further levels of protection to the marine environment on an international level. The Irish government has also decided that further knowledge and conservation is needed, and so have come up with a National Biodiversity Plan. All of the above policies and legislations cannot be effectively enforced by the European Union and national governments alone, which is where the National Parks and Wildlife Service play a most crucial role.

Through this blog series Deep Maps hopes to provide a better understanding of some of the policies and legislation that governs our waters and provides frameworks for management of our marine resources. In this series we will cover:

  1. The OSPAR Convention
  2. The Common Fisheries Policy
  3. The Birds Directive
  4. The Habitats Directive
  5. The Water Frameworks Directive
  6. The Marine Strategy Frameworks Directive
  7. The Nitrates Directive
  8. The Irish National Biodiversity Action Plan
  9. The National Parks and Wildlife Service

These will cover a range of further more specific topics of importance to Ireland’s coastline. The information contained in this blog series was researched and compiled by Seán MacGabhann  as part of a broader literature review looking at West Cork’s coastline, and has been edited and contributed to by Orla-Peach Power unless otherwise stated.

Oceans Past VI Conference, Portugal

Our Principal Investigators Dr. Claire Connolly and Dr. Rob McAllen will be presenting on our Deep Maps: West Cork Coastal Cultures project at this year’s ‘Oceans Past VI International Conference’ which runs from the 15th – 19th May. The sixth Conference in the Oceans Past series, will be held by CHAM-FCSH, NOVA/UAc with the support of Sesimbra Municipality (Portugal) under the main theme ‘Historical Perspectives on the Elements and Dynamics of the Socio-Ecological System’.

Our Deep Maps presentation will commence  with an introduction to some of the environmental priorities that relate to the West Cork coastal region. Next, the presentation will consider how these priorities have emerged over time, analysing their portrayal in cultural data including folklore, historical writing, literature and visual arts. This will frame a final discussion on some of the ways in which we have been working with local communities to understand the significance of this coastal region to them, in terms of what they value most about it, and their environmental concerns. The Deep Maps project findings consist of multiple stories, and we are developing new ways of presenting them, including timelines and maps, and it is these that will be the focus of the last section of the presentation.

To learn more about the conference proceedings and participants see:

Biodiversity & Conservation: Awareness & Costs

Public awareness of the importance of marine conservation is growing. Through research, ecotourism, and the media, more and more people are starting to understand the importance of services provided by the coastal marine environment.


Inchydoney Island Kayaking (WWW1)

Irish people have identified the marine environment as most important for its scenery, recreation and tourism, a source of food, employment, and, to a lesser extent, part of national culture and identity (Hynes et al., 2014). With this growing awareness comes the pressures upon the Irish government and industries to instate more eco-friendly policies and measures. For example, in 2016 the Irish government allocated €2 million towards climate change research and mitigation as part of the International Green Climate Fund. With these new policies and initiatives, though, come costs; both public and private research contractors all require funding, rangers and other staff members need to be paid, and the erection of protective structures does not always affordable. Limited funds creates a particular difficulty in the enforcement of environmental policy. For example, the National Parks and Wildlife Service is the main enforcer of the protected status of SPAs, SACs and MPAs (see Protected Areas blog post for further details), but, due to lack of proper funding, only a single ranger has been employed to oversee South West Cork and South West Kerry (DAHG, 2013). Insufficient manpower as a result of poorly allocated funds makes it difficult to ensure the conservation of the coastal marine environment. Only through higher levels of funding and public involvement can these conservation methods be implemented fully.


Food Web Structures (WWW2)

Once the complexities of food web structures are more generally understood, through the important scientific research being carried out by professionals and the public, the key role biodiversity plays in the maintenance of the coastal marine environment will become of greater public concern than it already is. Through proper protective measures, with correct and appropriate levels of funding, the coastal marine environment will continue to provide all of the valuable services, not only to coastal areas, but to the whole of Ireland.



Department of Arts, Heritage, and the G. (2013). Site Name : Lough Hyne Nature Reserve and Environs SAC

Hynes, S., Norton, D., & Corless, R. (2014) Investigating societal attitudes towards the marine environment of Ireland. Marine Policy, 47, 57–65.

WWW1 – Inchydoney Island Kayaking

WWW2 – Food Web Structures

Biodiversity & Conservation: Ecotourism

It is not just those residents in coastal areas and scientists that are utilising the marine environment in Ireland. Tourism has always been associated with sun, sea, and sand, and this continues to be the case today. 63% of all tourists make use of the coastal regions (Davenport and Davenport 2006), and with decreasing costs of airfare and travel, this figure is expected to rise. By 2020, it is estimated that over 350 million tourists will annually utilise the coasts of the Mediterranean alone (World Tourism Organization 2004). With increased desires of tourists to explore the natural world while holidaying, the ecotourism industry has been growing rapidly in recent years. Hillwalking, SCUBA, kayaking, and whale watching are just some examples of how the coastal marine environment has been utilised as a valuable form of tourism driven economics. Although deemed as low environmental impact activities, there have been noted detrimental effects on the ecosystem as both direct and indirect results of the ecotourism industry.


Walking tour along the Beara Way (WWW2)

The greatest of these threats comes from the expansion of infrastructure, such as the construction of hotels, improvement of roadways, and increased footfall and traffic (Davenport and Davenport, 2006). Habitat destruction, pollution, litter, and direct disturbance of wildlife, are all widely occurring during infrastructure expansion. Personal watercraft and poorly trained SCUBA divers have also had noted effects on the marine environment through disturbing of marine animals, damage to corals and algae, and the resuspension of sediments (Cubero-Pardo and Bastidas, 2008).


Water Pollution of the Sea from Untreated Ballast Water Discharge (WWW3)

Anchor damage and ballast discharge have also been mentioned as two leading causes of decline in coastal marine biodiversity, both in Ireland and the world in general (Lewis, 1985). Beach walkers can accidentally trample plant life, which plays a major role in the maintenance of sand dune structure and stability. Uninformed whale watching tour operators can unintentionally traumatise and frighten whale and dolphin species by being in too close a proximity to the animals. Kayakers can potentially damage marine life attached to piers, jetties and, slipways. There is potential pressure brought in with each activity that can only be reduced through ecological awareness and correct practice.


Floating Walkway Barleycove (WWW4)

By in large, Irish ecotourism operators, particularly in South West Cork, are in good practice and well informed on environmental issues, and how to best reduce the impacts while still maintaining a viable business. Most SCUBA training agencies incorporate the importance of correct technique and control to avoid damage and disturbance to marine life. Sand dune walkways, such as those found at Barleycove (also a designated pSAC and pNHA), help keep walkers away from sensitive areas, thus preserving the natural dune structure. Whale watchers are well informed and educated enforcing strict time and distance restrictions, many of which vary by the species in question. It is for reasons like these that the threat posed by ecotourism in Ireland is being minimised, allowing it to continue to draw thousands of tourists to the coast each year.



Davenport, J., & Davenport, J. L. (2006) The impact of tourism and personal leisure transport on coastal environments: A review. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 67(1-2), 280–292.

Duffy, J. E. (2003) Biodiversity loss, trophic skew and ecosystem functioning. Ecology Letters, 6(8), 680–687.

World Tourism Organization (2004) Indicators of Sustainable Development for Tourism Destinations: A Guidebook.

WWW1 – Header Image

WWW2 – Walking tour on the Beara Way

WWW3 – Water Pollution of the Sea from Untreated Ballast Water Discharges

WWW4 – Floating Walkway Barleycove

Biodiversity & Conservation: Scientific Research


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The role of scientific investigation into marine coastal environments is essential as it not only identifies key changes and pressures, but also allows researchers to develop conservation agendas and policies to address these changes. Most research involving conservation and biodiversity in Ireland is carried out by public and private institutions working with and for government bodies. Organisations like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Irish Marine Institute, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, as well as universities, are all key players in the understanding of what is occurring in the marine environment today and how trends have changed over time. A recent study has shown that the general public believe that scientists are the best suited group to manage the marine environment, with over twice that of local and national governments (Hynes et al., 2014). What the public may not realise is that they too can play a key role in scientific research.


Aerial view of Lough Hyne (WWW1)

Increasingly, scientists have realised how valuable non-scientists are as a resource, both in terms of data collection and information processing. “Citizen science” has been identified to be highly useful, particularly in the ecological field. Projects revolving around topics such as climate change, invasive species, conservation biology, ecological restoration, water quality, population ecology, and a variety of monitoring aspects, have all gleaned valuable information from the involvement of citizen scientists (Silvertown, 2009). Especially when field work is required, members of the public can provide an effective method of collecting large amounts of data very quickly. One organisation in particular that benefits from citizen science participation is the National Biodiversity Data Centre.


The National Biodiversity Data Centre supports a number of recording initiatives within local communities and provides easy and accessible tutorials for identifying species of flora and fauna. Sightings are often posted by the public to Twitter, through their standardised recording sheets available via their website, and also through their Biodiversity Data Capture App developed by Compass Informatics. Once verified all of this data is uploaded and presented on their Biodiversity Maps. Advancements in technology such as good quality smartphone cameras are continuing to help involve members of the public in scientific research (Dickinson et al., 2012). TO catch up with some of the work being undertaken by members of the public, visit the following Twitter campaigns:


Bumblebee covered in pollen (WWW2)

Closer to home, the School of Bioloigcal, Earth and Environmental Sciences at University College Cork is heavily involved in research projects and initiatives that focus on pressing environmental issues both within a coastal and inland context. You can learn more about the diverse projects being undertaken within this school by visiting their Research page.

Through the Freedom of Information Act and the Aarhus Convention (UNEC 1998), members of the public are not only encouraged to be involved in environmental management, but actually have the right to access information and voice their opinions. However, in Ireland, this appears to not be generally known, and so is less frequently occurring. It is through creating a dialogue between trained scientists and citizen scientists, that the most effective methods of environmental monitoring and management can be put in place.

Seán & Orla-Peach


Dickinson, J. L., Shirk, J., Bonter, D., Bonney, R., Crain, R. L., Martin, J., Purcell, K. (2012). The current state of citizen science as a tool for ecological research and public engagement. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 10(6), 291–297.

Duffy, J. E. (2003). Biodiversity loss, trophic skew and ecosystem functioning. Ecology Letters, 6(8), 680–687.

Hynes, S., Norton, D., & Corless, R. (2014). Investigating societal attitudes towards the marine environment of Ireland. Marine Policy, 47, 57–65.

Silvertown, J. (2009). A new dawn for citizen science. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 24(9), 467–71.

WWW1 – Aerial View of Lough Hyne

WWW2 – Bumblebee covered in Pollen

Biodiversity & Conservation: Protected Areas


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In a biological conservation context, protected areas can be divided into 3 categories:

  • Special Protected Areas
  • Special Areas of Conservation
  • Marine Protected Areas

Although the names appear similar there are certain differences that set these categories apart. These differences consist mainly of what is protected in each category and what legislative body has defined them as such.

Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)

SACs cover the protection of several species within the area and are defined by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) under the EU Habitats Directive (European Commission, 1997). These areas are defined as “important on a European as well as Irish level” by NPWS. Each SAC has a specific management plan identifying features of conservation interest. These features include both marine life and geographical structures. Within South-West Cork, 12 different SACs have been defined as of April 2016:


12 SACs within South-West Cork (WWW1)

Taking Roaringwater Bay as an example, there are three Annex II species protected here: the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus), the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), and the otter (Lutra lutra). Seabird species such as Fulmars, Shags and Guillemots are also under legislative protection in these areas, as well as smaller organisms like feather stars (Antedon bifila), bivalve species, and polychaete worms. The geographical features of interest in Roaringwater Bay have been listed as: large, shallow, inlets and bays, subtidal reefs, vegetated sea cliffs, dry heaths, and sea caves.


Special Areas of Conservation in West Cork (WWW2)

Special Protected Area (SPA)

SPAs apply to the birdlife of Ireland. Mainly based around marine islands and cliffs, these areas provide nesting sites for the 500,000+ individual seabirds from 24 species. Almost 600,000 hectares of Ireland have been designated as SPAs by the NPWS under the Birds Directive (EC, 2009). The coastal areas include productive intertidal zones of bays and estuaries that provide vital food resources for several wintering wader species including Dunlin (Calidris alpina) and Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica).


Dunlin (Calidris alpina) (WWW3)

Marine waters close to the breeding colonies and other important areas for sea ducks, divers and grebes are also included with SPAs. The majority of the wintering and breeding seabirds and are considered to be regularly occurring migrants. Over 60% of 25 Annex I species that are found in Ireland regularly belong to these two groups. This has been a major factor of the situation that more than 80% of Ireland’s SPAs are designated for these two bird groups. Of the 154 SPAs around Ireland, three coastal areas of South-West Cork have been designated as Special Protected Areas: Clonakilty Bay, Gallyhead to Duneen Point, and Sheep’s Head to Toe Head.



Marine Protected Areas/ Marine Reserves (MPA)

Like the name suggests, these areas are specifically marine and function exactly like SACs. Currently, Ireland’s only statutory marine reserve is found at Lough Hyne. Established in 1981, this highly biodiverse sea lough can be found roughly 6km south of Skibbereen. It is unusual in that it has a relatively high number of species for such a small area, at just over 400ha. Lough Hyne’s rare sheltered reefs provide a home for many species rarely found in Ireland if at all.


The declining purple urchin (Paracentrotus lividus), the soft coral (Paraerythropodium coralloides), and two rare species of goby: Couche’s goby (Gobius couchi) and the red-mouthed goby (G. cruenatatus) all call Lough Hyne their home (DAHG, 2013). In all of Ireland, southern cup coral (Caryophillia inornatus) is only found in Lough Hyne. These are just a few examples of the variety of organisms found in the marine reserve. The lough was assigned protective status after over 100 years of scientific research carried out at the site (Kearney, 2013). It is through scientific research and investigation like this, that conservation and protective legislation can be properly informed and implemented.



Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht (2013) Site Name : Lough Hyne Nature Reserve and Environs SAC.

Duffy, J. E. (2003) Biodiversity loss, trophic skew and ecosystem functioning. Ecology Letters, 6(8), 680–687.

European Commission (1997) The Habitats Directive.

European Commission (2009) Birds Directive

Kearney, T. (2013) Lough Hyne – from Prehistory to the Present. Macalla Publishing. Ireland.

WWW1 – 12 SACs Within South-West Cork

WWW2- Special Areas of Conservation in West Cork

WWW3 – Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

WWW4 – Special Protected Areas Sheep’s Head to Toe Head 

For further information on Protected Areas see: http://webgis.npws.ie/npwsviewer/

An Easter Blog by David O Sullivan

In this short blog post, David O Sullivan (INFOMAR) recalls his time at Lough Hyne as a Marine Biology student at University College Cork, and the importance of early scientific investigations to current biological and ecological research at the site. Our dear friend, and keystone species, the Purple Sea Urchin (Paracentrotus lividus) also makes an appearance!


Happy Easter to all our readers!

Biodiversity & Conservation: Food Webs & Ecosystem Levels

The concept of food chains and webs is widely discussed, but can be frequently poorly understood. Complex interactions between marine organisms and their environment are what produce the resources utilised by coastal communities around Ireland, and the rest of the world. The basis of any food web, including the marine, is that of a primary producer. These organisms are the lowest level of the chain and provide all other levels with the energy required for survival. Photosynthesising phytoplankton (e.g. Diatoms, Coccolithophores, Dinoflagellates, and Cyanobacteria) utilise the sun’s energy to grow and reproduce and act as a vital food source for the next level of the web.

algae_foodweb (1)

Simplified marine food web (WWW2)

Other primary producers include larger algae and marine plant life. The next level is made up of the smallest floating animals: zooplankton. These organisms can be single celled or multicellular, such as amoeboids and cillates, and are eaten by larger zooplankton, like copepods and larval forms of mussels and jellyfish, small fish, and marine invertebrates.

Various types of Zooplankton (WWW3)

Larger fish (e.g. herring [Clupea harengus]), jellyfish, squid, krill, and larger plankton feeders like baleen whales make up the third level of the web, which in turn are fed upon by the top predators. These top predators include, seabirds, marine mammals, and large predatory fish (e.g. Albacore tuna [Thunnus alalunga]). Finally, come human beings. Humans, as previously discussed, are what are posing the biggest threat to marine biodiversity. As human activity in coastal areas has increased, globally there have been dramatic reductions in marine biodiversity (Duffy, 2003). Reducing the populations of lower level organisms have knock on reductions to the higher levels, through depravation of food sources. Conversely, reducing the number of predators will cause an increase in numbers of the lower levels which will result in a “boom” of production in the lower levels. On a long term basis, this rapid proliferation eventually creates a depletion of resources leading to competition and population decline of the lower levels until the web itself collapses and ceases to exist.  On a commercial level, the proliforation of smaller species due to lack of predation, may result in fisheries increasing total catches of smaller fishes, which in turn can can lead to overfishing. This process is known as ‘fishing-down-the-web’ and was first demonstrated by Daniel Pauly (Pauly et. al 1998).


Fishing Down the Web (WWW4)

Bottom trawling and dredging pose a most serious threat to the marine environment. Resuspended particulate matter prevents photosynthesis from occurring by blocking light. Without primary production the food web cannot continue to function. Even detritivores cannot survive once other organisms are removed. This delicate balance is further tipped by several traits of the creatures within the web. Small population size, small geographic range, slow growth and reproduction rates, and specialised ecological habitats are all natural limiting factors, which are placed under further strain by human activity (Pimm et al., 1988; Lawton, 1995; Didham et al., 1998; Purvis et al., 2000). It is for these reasons that certain areas and species come under legislative protection through the establishments of Special Protected Areas (SPAs), Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Reserves.

  Seán & Orla-Peach


Duffy, J. E. (2003). Biodiversity Loss, Trophic Skew and Ecosystem Functioning. Ecology Letters, 6(8), 680–687.

Didham, R.K., Lawton, J.H., Hammond, P.M. & Eggleton, P. (1998). Trophic structure stability and extinction dynamics of beetles (Coleoptera) in tropical forest fragments. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences, 353, 437–451.

Lawton, J.H. (1995). Population dynamic principles. In: Extinction Rates (Eds Lawton, J.H. & May, R.M.). Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 147–163.

Pauly, D., Christensen, J., Dalsgaard, J., Froese, R. and Torres Jr., F. (1998) Fishing Down Marine Food Webs

Pimm, S. L., Jones, H. L., & Diamond, J. (1988) On the Risk of Extinction. Published by : The University of Chicago Press for The American Society of Naturalists. The American Naturalist, 132(6), 757–785.

Purvis, A., Gittleman, J.L., Cowlishaw, G. & Mace, G.M. (2000). Predicting extinction risk in declining species. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences, 267, 1947–1952.

WWW1 – Header Image

WWW2 – Simplified marine food web

WWW3 – Various Types of Zooplankton 

WWW4- Fishing down the web.

Biodiversity & Conservation Series


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The diversity of marine life is key to the functioning of the coastal environment. A rich level of biodiversity has positive influence on the services the seas provide to humans, such as food, tourism, and general health (Duffy, 2003). It is therefore, important to understand how the differing levels of the ecosystem contribute to the whole. With this understanding it is possible to identify areas that require particular attention and protection. Through scientific research, areas of concern can be highlighted and proper measures taken to ensure the continued success of the ecosystem, through proper funding and enforcement of environmental policy and legislation.

This series will cover areas including:

  1. Food Webs and Ecosystem Levels
  2. Protected Areas
  • Special Protected Areas (SPA’s)
  • Special Areas of Conservation (SAC’s)
  • Marine Protected Areas / Marine Reserves (MPA’s)
  1. Scientific research
  2. Ecotourism
  3. Awareness and Costs

These will cover a range of further more specific topics of importance to Ireland’s coastline. The information contained in this blog series was researched and compiled by Seán MacGabhann  as part of a broader literature review looking at West Cork’s coastline, and has been edited and contributed to by Orla-Peach Power unless otherwise stated.