WHEN Charlie Haughey declared Irish waters a whale and dolphin sanctuary in 1991 the initiative was, as it should have been, welcomed.
It recognised that animal populations are, in one way at least, no more than a metric of habitat quality — without a secure, food-rich place to live no species can survive, much less thrive. Since then Irish waters have been a refuge for these magnificent animals and, much more than that, their presence has helped form a new awareness of the natural world around us. The sight of these spectacular creatures off our shores has helped move public opinion on environmental matters. Flipper became a political force in a way that Mr Haughey could not have imagined.
The establishment of that sanctuary was, in its time, radical but in today’s terms, it was a prize taken from the low-hanging-fruit list of options. No commercial interests were challenged, no livelihoods threatened, no sacrifices had to be endured. It was symbolic and easy.
This weekend the anniversary of that decision was celebrated, so maybe it’s time for a greater challenge. The options are many, the choices difficult, because protecting wildlife today usually means limiting human activity, usually at a cost. That cost was seen in the sharpest terms when golden eagles, reintroduced to Ireland after decades of absence, were poisoned by a minority of farmers. It is time to put flesh on the idea that this is indeed a green and pleasant land.
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