President and Sabina host a Garden Party celebrating Sustaining and Conserving our Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources

Thu 27th Jun, 2024 | 14:00
location: Áras an Uachtaráin

Speech at a Garden Party Sustaining and Conserving our Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources – UN Sustainable Development Goal 14

Áras an Uachtaráin, 27th June, 2024

A cháirde,

Tá áthas orm féin agus mo bhean chéile Saidhbhín fháiltiú a fhearadh rómhaibh uilig chuig Áras an Uachtaráin, áit chónaithe Uachtaráin na hÉireann ó 1938.

Sabina and I are most happy to welcome you all to Áras an Uachtaráin, the home of all Irish Presidents since 1938.

Summer is a special time of the year here in the Áras, a time where Sabina and I host a number of garden parties with an emphasis on different themes.

Today’s garden party is dedicated to a theme that resonates deeply with our commitment to a sustainable and thriving planet  – UN Sustainable Development Goal 14, based on sustaining and conserving our oceans, seas and marine resources. 

Today, we also honour the RNLI, a remarkable institution who this year are celebrating their 200th anniversary.

May I take this opportunity to welcome all the members of the RNLI who join us today, including Senior Volunteers Fiona Fells, Paddy McLoughlin, John Killeen, Liz Mullen, Peter Crowley, Media Director Jayne George, and Head of Region Anna Classon.

Mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, may I express my deepest gratitude to the RNLI for your dedication, your vital service to coastal communities across Ireland, saving countless lives at sea and demonstrating an unwavering commitment to safety and community.

Working for an emergency service is not easy. It involves witnessing many traumatic events, making split-second decisions that have far-reaching consequences, remaining calm and reassuring in very difficult circumstances and, of course, putting oneself at risk while working to save the lives of others. Yours is a remarkable legacy of courage, bravery and service which is an inspiration to us all.

Today we are celebrating the spirit of active participation that is the beating heart of a true community; and that strength of character, that courage, that commitment to society and that deep concern for others that marks out the true heroes and role models in life; the people who do not stand back and wait for others to act but who believe in an active and fully engaged citizenship.

May I also say how delighted I am to have this opportunity to welcome so many individuals and groups who are dedicating themselves and committing to fostering a sustainable future for our citizens in Ireland and beyond, one that places ecology and the environment centre stage in recognition of the multiple challenges we face as we seek to ensure an inhabitable, flourishing planet for all those who dwell on it.

May I take the opportunity to welcome all of the organisations represented here, organisations doing such important work across the country, including members from Clean Coasts, Seal Rescue Ireland, Water Safety Ireland,    Fair Seas, and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

May I also welcome Peter Connolly, Joe Joyce, Stephen Mulkerrins – who has travelled here from the USA – and the members from the group Bádóirí an Chladaigh who are doing such great work in the revival, rebirth and re-imagining of the Galway Hooker tradition in Galway City and Bay.

In their revival they have handed on to a new generation the skills of creating and sailing these magnificent craft so that the red sails will always be seen in the sunsets and sunrises of Galway Bay and Claddagh.

We are delighted to acknowledge and celebrate your work as we invite you to enjoy for a while the house and the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin.

Today’s gathering is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to safeguarding, conserving and sustainably protecting the oceans, seas and the vast and vital marine resources that they provide.

The oceans are the lifeblood of our planet. They cover more than 70 percent of the Earth's surface, hold about 97 percent of all of the water of Earth, regulating our climate, providing food and livelihoods for billions of people, and hosting an enormous diversity of life, home to millions of different species.

Here in Ireland, we are proud of our rich maritime heritage and our deep connection to the sea. Our coastal communities have long understood the importance of protecting our marine environments.

Stretching from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica, the Atlantic Ocean accounts for one fifth of the Earth’s surface. In Ireland, the Atlantic is our largest natural resource and is intrinsically linked to our history and our ancient heritage, from the pre-Christian period when the sailor first poet of Ireland Aimhirgin arrived on our shores. Placing his foot on the shore and evoking his ancient poem, The Song of Aimhirgin, telling of the mythic power of the ocean.

‘Am gaeth i m-muir, Am tond trethan, Am fuaim mara’. ‘Am wind on sea, Am wave-swelling, Am ocean’s voice’.

The health of the oceans is intrinsically linked to the health of the planet and all its lifeforms. It is incumbent upon us, therefore, as global citizens of our shared, precious, vulnerable planet, to recognize our moral responsibility to safeguard the oceans for future generations.

We are not succeeding. Our actions have placed these precious ecosystems in peril.

Recent research highlights the dire state of our oceans. The health of the oceans is spiralling downwards far more rapidly than we had thought. Marine species are disappearing at an alarming rate. What a shocking statistic it is that the total amount of vertebrate sea life, including fish, has reduced by more than a third since 1970  – with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reporting that around 34 percent of global fish stocks are overfished, a threefold increase since 1974.

Equally shocking too is the fact that 100 million marine animals die each year from plastic waste alone.  The Ellen MacArthur Foundation predicts that by 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight if current trends continue. Every year, an estimated 5 to 12 million tonnes of plastic enters the ocean. About 89 percent of plastic litter found on the ocean floor is single-use items like plastic bags.

According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, with 400 million tonnes of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities being dumped annually into the world’s waters.

Healthy oceans are vital for the well-being of many of the world’s most vulnerable communities, with the ocean’s resources sustaining the livelihoods of over a third of the globe’s population, about 3 billion people worldwide, the vast majority of whom live in what is often referred to as ‘developing countries’.

In areas such as Southeast Asia, and the coasts of Africa and Latin America, communities rely on the ocean for their food, their income, their very way of life. Marine fisheries provide 57 million jobs globally and provide the primary source of protein to over 50 percent of the population in least developed countries.

Overfishing and climate change are depleting fish stocks, making it harder for these communities to sustain themselves. Seventy percent of world fish populations are now unsustainably exploited. With more than 1 billion people dependent on fish as their main source of protein and a growing world population heading towards 10 billion people, this is a very grave concern.

In the Pacific Islands, rising sea levels are eroding shorelines and contaminating freshwater supplies with saltwater. Entire communities are being displaced, forced to leave their ancestral lands and seek refuge elsewhere.

Many of these communities that depend on the oceans for their survival are the least contributors to our climate crisis, with some of the smallest carbon footprints in the world measured on either a per-capita or percentage-of-GDP basis. Yet, these communities are on the frontlines of climate change, bearing the brunt of environmental degradation caused by the actions of others. What a profound injustice this constitutes.

It is so vital that as a global community we lose no more time in our responses and that, guided by the international frameworks that are designed to protect our oceans, including the Paris Agreement that recognizes the importance of oceans in regulating the global climate, we come together, and with urgency, to collectively tackle the challenges of rapidly declining biodiversity, overfishing, acidification, commercial whaling and shark-finning, plastic waste, pollution, and habitat destruction, including coral reef damage.

Governments and their citizens must now commit to action, give authenticity to, and build on the momentum created by, the long awaited international agreements, not least the United Nations 2030 Agenda, and take the practical steps needed to protect and sustain our oceans.

Time is of the essence if the ‘30x30 pledge’ made by countries at the UN biodiversity conference in December 2022 to protect a third of the sea by 2030 can be achieved – a target that must be considered a bare minimum.

The agreement that was reached in New York last year on the United Nations High Seas Treaty is particularly timely, the first ever treaty to protect the world's oceans that lie outside national boundaries, and the first international agreement on ocean protection since the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was signed in 1982.

Agreement on this Treaty to protect our oceans, and the vital life both within and which depends on them, is long overdue with only 1.2 percent of the high seas currently protected.

In Ireland we only have just over 9 percent of our ocean protected. I join with calls from Fair Seas, a coalition group of NGOs and networks, who are working to see this increased to at least 30 percent by 2030.

At a time when we are receiving the direst warnings as a result of the accelerated melting of the ice caps, as the custodians of our shared, vulnerable planet for future generations, we are called by our conscience to act morally with empathy, compassion, and responsibility, in a commitment to future generations, to ensure that they inherit a world where the oceans are healthy, resilient, and thriving.

Everybody has a role to play. There are initiatives we can take at every level, including regionally. Swift and coordinated global action is imperative. This entails increasing funding for ocean science, intensifying conservation efforts, advancing nature- and ecosystem-based solutions, addressing the interconnections and impacts of human-induced pressures, and urgently turning the tide on climate change to safeguard the planet’s largest ecosystem.

At a local level, I am heartened to see that communities across Ireland are taking action to protect our marine environment. From beach clean-ups to citizen science projects, individuals and organizations are making a difference.

Actions like reducing plastic use, supporting sustainable seafood choices, and advocating for stronger environmental policies can make a difference as we strive toward a more equal, cohesive, and sustainable future, one that will protect and preserve the diversity of life on Earth.

Our actions today will determine the legacy we leave behind.

As I look around this afternoon, I welcome the fact that citizens are actively engaged in promoting a sustainable existence, who embody our best hope for survival in a world characterized by harmony, peace, and coexistence with nature, nurturing a diverse ecosystem and a thriving planet.

We must at every level reaffirm our commitment to protecting the life below water, carrying with us a renewed sense of purpose and dedication, and pledge to uphold our moral duty to protect the oceans in our actions and policies, to work together, across borders and sectors, to ensure that our oceans remain vibrant and resilient, supporting the needs of present and future generations, to ensure that Sustainable Development Goal 14 is achieved as a matter of the utmost urgency.

I have no doubt that everyone here will play a crucial role in realizing this urgently needed sustainable paradigm of existence. Together, we can turn the tide and create a sustainable future for our oceans and all life on Earth.

May I thank today’s MC Éanna Ni Lamhna for doing such an excellent job chairing proceedings. My heartfelt thanks, too, to the musicians and entertainers – Harpist Mary Kelly,   Mary Coughlan, Aongus MacAmhlaigh, TBL8 Brass Band, members from Fleadh Cheoil, Liam Winnett, The Bratz Band, Sophie Coyle and Connor McKeown – all of whom have lifted our spirits.

Thanks also to the staff here at the Áras for their hard work and culinary skills, and to our friends in St John of God’s, the Gardaí and our Civil Defence colleagues, the tour guides and all who have worked so hard to make today an occasion of friendship and joy. 

Inniu, tá súil agam go cruthóidh sibh cuimhní geala anseo agus tugaim mo bhuíochas libh ar fad as abheith in éineacht liomsa agus Saidhbhín ag an gCoisir Ghairdín seo.

I hope that today will form part of your memories of a wonderful Summer, and I thank you all for being present with Sabina and myself at this garden party.

Beir beannacht.