Empowering and inspiring European citizens to become citizens of the sea is one of the key goals of the European Commission’s forthcoming Mission for Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters. The Marine Institute and the European Commission are inviting the people of Ireland to complete an online survey on their level of awareness about our oceans and seas, and share what they believe are the top priorities for the health of our ocean.
The Mission for Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters aims to create a community of citizens who value the oceans and waters and want to engage in the Mission’s goals to know, restore and protect our ocean and waters; and to enjoy them and care for them collectively, by 2030. The Mission is guided by a Mission Board, consisting of a broad range of experts from innovation, research and policymaking. Ballina native and long-standing ocean ambassador, Dr Peter Heffernan, is Ireland’s only representative on the Mission Board for Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters.
Dr Heffernan said the health of the oceans is vital to human life, and to all life on this planet. “To ensure a healthy ocean, we all need to be better informed about how the ocean affects us and how what we do affects the oceans. We need to improve our knowledge, and our empathy and understanding of our ocean. Through better ocean knowledge and public awareness, citizens of Europe will be empowered and inspired to engage in Mission Ocean and restore and protect our ocean.”
“Many organisations across Ireland have been raising awareness about the importance of our ocean and the influence on our ocean to our young people. One of the goals of Ireland’s marine plan, Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth, is to increase awareness of the value, opportunities and societal benefits of our ocean, as well as raising engagement with the ocean.
The Marine Institute has worked in partnership with government departments, other agencies and organisations to promote our ocean wealth through initiatives such as Ireland’s national maritime festival SeaFest and other outreach and educational activities. The Marine Institute’s Explorers Education Programme, now running for over 13 years, delivers marine-themed modules to schools around the coast of Ireland, reaching almost 13,000 Primary School students each year. Through the Irish Ocean Literacy Network, over 100 individuals representing industry, education, government and charities are working together to achieve an ‘ocean literate’ society.
Dr Paul Connolly, CEO of the Marine Institute said, “With a marine territory ten times our land mass, we are aware of the potential value and opportunities presented by our coast and oceans. The Marine Institute works closely with government and other agencies and departments to raise awareness about our valuable marine resource, cultivating an interest in our oceans from a young age, as well as equipping young people with the skills to be ocean leaders. Our ocean wealth is an enormous asset and needs to be protected, managed and developed for and by our citizens.”
As well as raising awareness and creating citizens of the sea, the Mission for Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters aims to reduce human pressures on marine and freshwater environments, restore degraded ecosystems and sustainably harness the goods and services they provide.
“A healthy blue planet is crucial for our future,” Dr Heffernan said. “Mission Ocean seeks to increase our ocean knowledge, reduce marine pollution, protect our marine biodiversity and ecosystems, and make the blue economy more sustainable and climate-friendly. To fulfil this Mission, we need the people of Ireland to work with us to shape the future of our ocean, seas, coasts, rivers and lakes to ensure a better, bluer future.”
Prior to his appointment to the Mission Board, Dr Peter Heffernan, served as the Marine Institute’s Chief Executive for 27 years, retiring from the role in October 2019. As Chief Executive, Dr Heffernan oversaw the arrival of Ireland’s two purpose-built marine research vessels, the RV Celtic Voyager and the RV Celtic Explorer.
Dr Heffernan instigated the development of the Inter-Department Marine Coordination Group in 2009, which brought together departments with an involvement in marine and maritime issues to produce Ireland’s first integrated marine plan, Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth.
Dr Heffernan acted as an inspiration and Irish EU Presidency Ambassador for the creation of the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance (AORA ) with the signing of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation between Canada, the European Union and the United States of America. AORA has been recognised as an outstanding success story in the Atlantic area and an exemplar of international science diplomacy.
Citizens in Ireland can access the online survey for Mission Ocean at https://getinvolvedinmissions.eu/conferences/oceans/f/164. The results of the online survey for Irish citizens will be used to inform a major flagship mission to be funded by the European Union under the forthcoming Horizon Europe programme (2021 – 2027 )