It is increasingly accepted that humanity's unsustainable use of the marine environment is causing the degradation of the very marine ecosystems it relies upon. This awareness had led to the generation of a significant number of international agreements and conventions aimed at improving marine management and conserving marine ecosystems. In the European Union, this has resulted in the evolution of an extensive array of environmental legislation and policy. In addition, the United Kingdom and its devolved regions have been developing their own policies and legislative tools to advance marine conservation and management. Party to all of these tiers of governance, Northern Ireland has made numerous international, regional and national commitments to protecting and restoring marine ecosystems. Here those commitments are explored in terms of the local political, administrative and governance reality in Northern Ireland. A complex governance structure and lack of interdepartmental co-operation is shown to severely hinder Northern Ireland's ability to meet stated commitments. Underfunding and lack of political will also seriously hamper conservation efforts. Findings indicate that the integration of all marine management functions into a single marine management organisation would greatly facilitate Northern Ireland's progress and that the development of an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas would go a long way towards fulfilling its conservation commitments. This case study demonstrates some of the hurdles small nations face in meeting their responsibilities under regional and international agreements and highlights the gap between a nations conservation commitments and its successful implementation of policy to fulfil them.
- Marine protected areas