This weekend Cork hosted 'Seafest 2015’, a national maritime festival and annual showcase of the progress being delivered through the Harnessing our Ocean Wealth strategy, positioning Ireland as a world leader on Ocean Governance.
The seas are a new frontier. New technologies such as underwater robotics and DNA sequencing mean that marine resources have become ever more accessible. Today, perhaps more than ever before, the seas offer new opportunities and new types of jobs.
The seas can deliver food. The UN reckons that aquaculture is one of the fastest growing food-producing sectors.
The seas can deliver medicine. Scientists wondered why certain marine sponges caused a decline in nearby species – and found a substance that inhibits breast cancer.
The seas can deliver energy. 13% of new wind turbine capacity was installed offshore in 2014. And this is creating new jobs: since 2008, employment in offshore wind has grown at an astonishing 30% a year.
The seas are the destination of choice for our holidays. 45% of all nights spent by tourists in paid accommodation are in coastal areas. The turnover of the European cruise industry has grown at 3% a year since 2008. Surfing schools and yachting marinas are thriving.
As islanders, the Irish people understand the importance of the sea, adept at making the most of the opportunities that it provides, from aquaculture and marine biotechnology to coastal tourism. Taking the risks that go with a drive for innovation, for instance in ocean energy, is part of the makeup.
But as a people who are so closely linked to the sea, the Irish also understand the importance of preserving this shared resource for the future.
Our seas are a huge economic asset. Europe’s maritime economy employs around 5 million people and contributes with around 550 billion euros to our wealth. And it is dynamic. The Irish maritime economy is growing nearly twice as fast as the overall economy: by 9% between 2010 and 2012 and by over 8% for 2012 to 2014.
But there is also the 'invisible side' of our oceans' wealth. Our oceans regulate the climate, their wetlands and dunes protect our coasts. If we are to preserve these benefits it is crucial that we preserve our natural assets. If our oceans are not healthy, our economy will be sick.
It is our deep conviction that Europe must make better use of the extraordinary potential of our seas and coasts for economic development, for the improvement of our environment and for the well-being of our European citizens.
Yet we also believe that this is not enough. Yes, we in Europe should take the lead in making our maritime economies more sustainable. But it is not just up to us. Ensuring healthy oceans for our future is a shared responsibility. Our oceans are a global resource. And global challenges need global answers.
Many tell me that the current international ocean governance framework is not effective enough. Rules exist, but we need to work better with our international partners to ensure our seas remain healthy. I am therefore convinced that we need a true global ocean governance project.
That is why last month the European Commission launched a public consultation to find out what the EU can do to shape international governance of oceans. And that is also why today's event in Cork on 'Harnessing our Ocean Wealth' is so important.
This is an opportunity for Ireland to export some of the good practices in marine resource management further afield. If you are involved in the ocean economy, be it as a local tourism business, fisherman, fish-farmer, NGO, researcher or even a private citizen, please respond to the Commission consultation and make your voice heard. Ireland has transformed its focus on the marine and is on course to make the most of the many wonderful opportunities our seas offer. Now please help us in Europe ensure that we can continue to reap those benefits for many years to come.
For more information on Seafest 2015 go to www.ouroceanwealth.ie