Marine industry: Making most of our blue economy

Over 10 times the landmass of our nation, the seabed around Ireland is the source of untold wealth and potential, if it is used effectively and responsibly

Marine industry: Making most of our blue economy

PROVING the enormous potential of Ireland’s maritime industry, the nation’s ‘blue economy’ outperformed the general economy throughout one of the biggest financial recessions in history.

According to the most recent report on Ireland’s Ocean Economy, published Socio-Economic Marine Research Unit at NUI Galway, Ireland’s maritime economy grew by 9% in the period 2010 to 2012, while growth in Irish GDP during the same period was only 4.75%. In the period 2012 to 2014, the blue economy has continued to outperform the national economy with growth rates of 8%, and employment increasing from 17,425 to 18,480.

“It is only by examining the ocean-dependent economy separately from the national economy that we will be able to understand the magnitude of what might be affected by future changes in the oceans and along our coasts,“ said Dr Stephen Hynes, Director of SEMRU.

“With the recognition of the potential impact of ‘Blue Growth’ on employment and output, at both a national and EU level, there has never been a greater need for reliable statistics on marine sector activity.”

In association with Teagasc, SEMRU are also carrying out research on the indirect impact of Ireland’s ocean economy on the broader economy. “We are finally able to assess the direct and indirect impacts of national strategies such as Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth and Food Harvest 2020 targets on employment and output in both the wider economy and in upstream and downstream industries,” said Prof Cathal O’Donoghue of Teagasc.

This very positive picture of Ireland’s ocean economy is reinforced by a recent study by DJEI Expert Group on Future Skills Needs which indicates that an additional 10,000 full-time jobs could be created in the period to 2020, in line with the targets set out in Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth.

A key finding in the study is the lack of awareness about possible careers in this vibrant and emerging Marine Economy.

“Ireland’s blue growth shows the enormous potential of our incredible marine resources, and the opportunity, highlighted in the government’s Integrated Marine Plan ‘Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth’, to enable this sector to be a key driver in our economic recovery, providing social and cultural benefits as well as economic return for Ireland”, said Minister for Agriculture, Food, the Marine and Defence Simon Coveney.

“Ireland is now firmly on what I believe is an unstoppable journey of marine expansion. We are experiencing a significant period of ‘blue growth’ with a 9% increase in growth in Ireland’s marine sector over the last five years and the ocean economy now valued at 1.3% of GDP.”

The impact on the economy is significant:

  • The ocean economy had a turnover of €4.2 billion in 2012, rising to an estimated €4.5bn in 2014.
  • It provided full-time employment for 17,425 in 2012, with an estimated increase to 18,480 in 2014.
  • Over the period 2010-2012 a 33% increase in turnover is reported, a further increase of 7% is estimated for the period up to 2014. Employment has also steadily risen, with increase of 5%-6%.
  • More than 6,000 people are employed in the marine tourism and leisure sector.
  • The seafood and bioresources sectors (fisheries, aquaculture, seafood processing, biotech/seaweed) employs 5,600 people.
  • More than 4,100 people work in the shipping and maritime transport sectors (including international shipping services)

Ireland’s seas are a national asset supporting a diverse marine economy with vast potential to tap into a global marine market for seafood, tourism, oil and gas, renewable ocean energy and new applications for health, medicine and technology. These marine resources also deliver many non-commercial benefits, including amenity, biodiversity and our mild climate.

When we take our seabed area into account, Ireland is one of the largest EU States, with a seabed territory of approximately 880,000km2, 10 times our landmass.

Our coastline of 7,500km is longer than that of many European countries:

  • Some of the largest and most valuable fisheries resource in Europe.
  • It is the western gateway for shipping to Europe’s busiest seaports.
  • Is an ideal location for finfish, shellfish and seaweed aquaculture.
  • Is amongst the richest and most accessible renewable energy (wind, wave and tidal) resources in the world.
  • Significant oil and gas resource potential as evidenced by recent discoveries and ongoing research.
  • Offers spectacular tourism and leisure opportunities and a rich maritime culture and heritage.
  • Supports a rich and diverse range of ecosystems, habitats and species and unique land and seascapes. The Socio-Economic Marine Research Unit, in conjunction with the Teagasc Rural Economy Development Programme, have developed the Bio-Economy Input-Output Model, studying the relationship between Ireland’s Marine and Agriculture sectors and the rest of the economy.

Data shows that in addition to the people directly employed in Ireland’s marine industries, a further 13,000 are employed indirectly across the wider economy providing an additional €3.3bn in turnover to the economy.

THE results of the model suggest that for every €100 in turnover from Ireland’s Ocean Economy, a further €78 is generated indirectly in other sectors of the economy.

Additionally, for every 100 marine jobs created, a further 75 jobs are created in other parts of the economy. The Government’s Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland, Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth, outlines a number of specific targets which seek to expand the Irish Marine Sector to a total of €6.4bn in 2020, an increase of €3.2bn on 2010. It is estimated that the achievement of these targets will also have additional knock-on economic impacts, with additional growth of €2.7bn anticipated in the wider economy.

It is estimated that 29,300 new jobs could be created if the Ocean Wealth targets are achieved, with 16,100 of these coming directly from within the Marine sector itself. An additional 13,200 jobs are estimated to be created indirectly through increases in demand for products and services required by the marine sector.

“With our exclusive rights to a sea area more than ten times our land size, Ireland’s ocean is a national asset providing incredible opportunities for tourism, energy, food and new applications for therapeutics and technology,” says Dr Peter Heffernan, CEO Marine Institute.

“We’re building marine research infrastructure that will support and promote the development of the technology we need to harness that energy. We’re in an ideal position to become a leader in the development of ocean energy technology.” The Marine Institute is the State agency responsible for marine research, technology, development and innovation in Ireland. The institute provides scientific and technical advice to Government to help inform policy and to support the sustainable development of Ireland’s marine resource.

Ireland’s marine researchers won €5.5m in the last round of EU Horizon 2020 funding in the areas of Blue Growth and Sustainable Food and Security, representing 4.7% of total EU budget awards and 5% of Blue Growth, a much higher success rate than the normal ratio for Ireland in competitive European funding calls.

“The ocean is the life support system of the planet, covering over 70% of the surface of the earth and producing half of the oxygen we breathe. 50% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by microscopic plankton in the ocean, so it’s essential that we understand the workings of the ocean and that we put in place management systems that recognise its importance and society’s reliance on the ocean.”

Added to their importance in delivering every second breath taken by humans, the oceans’ value as a food source is underlined by their production of over 10% of protein consumed globally.

“It has a major role in influencing our climate, and it covers over 70 % of our planet,” says Dr Heffernan. “Here in Ireland, our marine territory alone covers an area 10 times greater than our land area, affecting multi-sectoral industries that include shipping, seafood, energy, tourism and manufacturing.” The Marine Institute is leading an EU Horizon 2020 funded project - Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance Coordination and Support Action - to coordinate and support the European Commission in the implementation of the Galway Statement.

“Our role is really to help bring together the key players in Europe, Canada and the US and to build on the gathering momentum to get things done.”

One of the first projects to take place under the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance was the recent Atlantic Ocean Mapping survey which took place on the Irish national research vessel, the RV Celtic Explorer, with an Irish lead team of experts from Newfoundland, Canada, the US, and Portugal.

The team mapped previously uncharted features on the Atlantic seabed, including mountains and ridges higher than Carrauntoohil.

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