Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Funding for artificial reef is on rocky ground


The Mayo News
By Áine Ryan
February 12, 2008

IN a bizarre stroke of bureaucratic bungling, the Government has failed to task any agency to deal with the marine leisure industry. This has left the possible funding of an innovative Mayo marine tourism project, an artificial reef in Killala Bay, in limbo.

In another twist, the promoters, members of Granuaile Sub Aqua Club, have also learned that LEADER funding for a feasibility study is not now available.

They now urgently need the financial support of Mayo and Sligo County Councils to drive the project, which could increase tourism revenue in the north Mayo area by €10 million annually.

The Killala Artificial Reef Project will involve the sinking of a small 4,000 ton ex-war ship in the bay. Similar detoxified ships have been sunk at various points around Canada, Mexico, the US, New Zealand and the UK. They have subsequently contributed significantly to tourism. It is projected that within two years the ship would be colonised by fish and could be marketed as an oasis for divers, anglers and school tours. The projected cost of the plan is €3 million.

However, according to Mr Brian Quinn of Fáilte Ireland, this Government has failed to identify a dedicated marine leisure agency, under the remit of any of its departments.

“There doesn’t seem to be any sponsoring department for marine leisure tourism, even though it is a part of the NDP [National Development Plan, 2007-2013] which, for example, has highlighted the development of marinas along the west coast,” said Mr Quinn, Fáilte Ireland West’s Product and Market Development Manager.

“We welcome this project but funding for it is outside our remit. With a plan to designate Ballina the salmon capital of Ireland, the artificial reef would further enhance and promote the attractiveness of north Mayo. It is hoped that pictures from a television camera on the sunken ship could be fed back to a proposed new interpretative centre,” he continued.

Mr Quinn told The Mayo News yesterday (Monday) that Fáilte Ireland had talked to Government officials about the possibility of a civil servant being seconded to the tourism authority to take charge of the marine leisure tourism brief. He also revealed there was confusion around the splintering of marine-related issues among various departments.

When The Mayo News contacted a number of Government departments yesterday, Mr Quinn’s concerns were further vindicated. A spokeswoman for the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources – formerly the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources – said, as far as she was aware ‘marine leisure functions’ had been moved to the Department of Agriculture. However, when the Department of Agriculture was contacted, a spokeswoman said that it only dealt with ‘small pontoons’.

When the Department of Transport and Marine was then contacted, it emerged that it was not under its remit either. Its spokeswoman suggested contacting the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism; however, they had not responded at the time of going to press.

According to promoter, Dr Mick Loftus (Jnr), the project primarily needs the financial support of both county councils to undertake a feasibility study. Last night a motion by Fine Gael’s Cllr Michelle Mulherin calling on the authority to support a range of marine-related industries was debated and supported by Mayo County Council. Sligo County Council and Ballina Town Council have already formally given their support for the initiative.

“Once the wreck is sunk, its running costs will be minimal. It will have a 50-year life span and could possibly be the first of many to be sunk in the area. We hope to eventually have Killala Bay designated as Ireland’s second natural marine sanctuary,” said Dr Loftus.

Meanwhile, Deputy Dara Calleary said it was ‘a superb project’ and he would actively pursue funding for it.

“In my view, monies for this should be eligible under the Tourism Capital Project which, like Ballina’s pedestrian bridge, comes from Fáilte Ireland,” said Deputy Calleary.

Last year members of Granuaile Sub Aqua Club visited a similar project undertaken by the National Aquarium in Plymouth. In March 2004 the HMS Scylla was sunk off Whitestand Bay near Plymouth to become Europe’s first artificial reef. It has already become a popular diving site and research area for marine biologists. More recently, the HMS Cantebury was sunk off the New Zealand coast.

Meanwhile, at yesterday’s meeting of Mayo County Council, there was full support for a motion proposed by Cllr Michelle Mulherin which proposed that the council invite EU Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Joe Borg to Mayo.

A proposal by Cllr Cyril Burke to invite a representative from the Marine Institute to address a meeting of the council was also proposed and seconded.



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