BioAtlantis and its boss, John O’Sullivan, really did everything according to the book, it would appear
WEST Cork’s top tier politico, Michael Collins, is troubled – no, not that Michael Collins, we’re referring to the dry stock farmer from Lowerton, three miles outside Schull. Proudly following in the illustrious footsteps of Joe Walsh, PJ Sheehan and Jim O’Keefe, the community man and Independent fears that not only are 50 jobs in lobster and shrimp fishing under threat from the proposed industrial harvesting of seaweed in Bantry Bay, but the damage to the bay could be irreparable.
Driving the get-rich-quick harvesting incentive is laminaria digitata – in layman’s terms, kelp or common brown seaweed that can be found in abundance in the low water shore area along the West Cork coast and which is widely sought after by the pharmaceutical, medical and food industries. Its uses range from slimming aids, indigestion remedies, the manufacture of paper, textiles, waterproofing and fireproofing fabrics, burns and dressings to thickening, emulsifying and stabilising foods, such as drinks, ice cream, toothpaste and jellies.
Of course, it’s a fact that coastal inhabitants have been gathering seaweed by hand for centuries. They recognised its benefits as a fertiliser and, oddly enough, its utility in the treatment of the medical condition, goitre. But these days harvesting Irish seaweed has become a lucrative business and annually worth a whopping €18m in sales on the global market.
Michael Collins’ main concern, however, is the project in Bantry Bay, including the shorelines of the Beara and Sheep’s Head peninsulas, and for which Simon Coveney’s Housing and Planning Department granted a 10-year kelp cutting licence. A Kerry-based company, BioAtlantis, is the recipient of the licence.
CALL TO SUSPEND LICENCE
The politician also is uneasy at the scale of the enterprise and at the omission of an environmental impact statement (it wasn’t required), although he accepts that BioAtlantis met all legal requirements – which, nonetheless, didn’t deter him from criticising Coveney for not passing on details of the development to Cork County Council so that a process of public consultation could be inaugurated.
Of course, as with most politicos who commit themselves to ‘causes’, Mr Collins’ concerns may well be neither fish nor fowl and have yet to be tested electorally. In the meantime an environmental organisation, the Bantry Bay Protect Our Native Kelp Forest movement, is swiftly growing apace and already has got close on 4,000 people seeking Coveney’s suspension of the licence.
But the issue is not clear-cut or free from uncertainty. BioAtlantis and its boss, John O’Sullivan, did everything according to the book, having given notice of the development and the consultation process to Bantry garda station where the announcement was displayed for 21 days in December 2009.
The notice was published also in this newspaper on December 12, 2009. According to Minister Coveney, ‘normal public consultation procedures were followed and no objections from members of the public were received’.
BANTRY KEPT IN DARK
Consequently no consultation process with the general public took place. In other words, our ecological lads missed the boat; which raises a question that is not intended to be malicious or impish. Do West Cork environmentalists read The Southern Star, whose treatment of environmental controversies over the years has been second to none? And if not, why not?
Our local Independent representative, Deputy Collins, complains that the advertisement did not indicate the scale of the mechanical operation (BioAtlantis will harvest 1,860 acres of seaweed, using robot machinery to cut the kelp) and in that he makes a valid point. Because, he suggests, it was not apparent that a major player in Ireland’s seaweed and biotechnology sector was involved. From the tone of the notice the TD implies all that was envisaged was nothing more than granting a licence to someone with a creel on his back and handpicking a few auld clumps of carrageen moss.
Interesting, too, that although environmentalists in West Cork slipped up and didn’t see what was going on, submissions to the application were received from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Underwater Archaeology Unit, the Marine Survey Office, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, the Eastern Regional Fisheries Board (Eastern?), the Central Fisheries Board and the Marine Institute. And, amazingly, ne’er a word leaked out to the plain people of Bantry!
Was this deliberate? Was it the most closely-guarded environmental secret of recent times? Certainly, in light of a report in De Paper that quotes Dr Karin Dubsky of ‘Coastwatch Europe’, cutting kelp 25cm from the root, and mechanically harvesting more than 80% of stocks have the makings of a major environmental disaster that could damage the entire ecosystem of marine life in Bantry Bay.
NO PUBLIC MEETINGS
For its part, the Marine Institute sees kelp as a significant natural resource that properly exploited could stimulate economic development in West Cork. ‘We want to see an indigenous Irish seaweed sector. And it is our responsibility to ensure that it takes place in a safe and controlled manner’, the Institute stated.
Yet, as revealed in a 2013 report, the Institute admitted there was ‘no reliable methodology to accurately quantify kelp biomass and therefore a full and accurate assessment of the kelp resource available for harvesting has not yet been achieved’.
And that’s alarming enough but even worse, as Deirdre Fitzgerald, an environmental activist who helped organise the petition to Coveney, told the media: ‘there were no public meetings to inform people’ of what was intended. And that’s the skeleton in the cupboard!
Indeed, considering that seaweed is a very profitabe business with the potential to bring prosperity to coastal communities around Bantry Bay, it seems sad (if not typical) that even before the industry got off the ground it should have been mired in controversy, with no consultative process at which advice and views could have been exchanged with the people of Bantry.
Was it possible that the seven forlorn TDs representing the once great Irish Labour Party were collectively bounced on their noddles before Brendan Howlin made his bizarre and pathetic offer of a post-election coalition to Sinn Fein? Because only the total loss of memory and a blackout of enormous proportions could explain Labour’s detachment and its indifference to the contempt in which the smoked salmon (tinned and fetid) socialists are still held in the public mind.
With Labour in the role of mudguard for Fine Gael, who can ever forget the intense loathing and scorn that spilled out whenever the words Burton, Howlin, Kathleen Lynch, Kelly, Quinn etc were mentioned at the Monster Anti-Water Charges protests in Dublin?
Talking of sardines, here’s an old joke. Enda Kenny and his missus, Fionnuala, are at a restaurant. The waiter tells them the night’s special is steak au poivre and fresh fish.
‘The steak sounds good. I’ll have that,’ says Fionnuala.
The waiter nods. ‘And the vegetable?’ he asks.
‘Oh, he’ll have the fish,’ she replies.