Member of the European Union’s Mission Board for Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters, former CEO of the Marine Institute

Peter Heffernan, recently retired as Chief Executive of the Marine Institute, Ireland’s national agency for marine research and development, which he lead led the from Nov. 1993 to October 2019.  He has spearheaded the organisation’s expansion from a staff of 1 to over 200 with a budget over €62 million.   He has overseen the delivery of two custom built multi-purpose research vessels, the Celtic Voyager and the Celtic Explorer and the design and construction of the Marine Institute’s world class headquarters at Rinville, Oranmore, County Galway and the major modernisation of its research facility in Newport County Mayo.  

The Marine Institute spans a number of service areas for government and acts as research performer, science advisor, a national funder as well as a catalyst for innovation and development.  This breadth of service provision across fisheries, environmental, food safety, blue economy and oceanographic arenas affords the Marine Institute a unique integrated appreciation for the potential of the marine resource for sustainable development.  

The Integrated Mapping for the Sustainable Development of Ireland’s Marine Resource programme (INFOMAR) is a joint venture between the Marine Institute and the Geological Survey of Ireland.  Peter has played an key leadership role in obtaining Government support for the programme and in providing strategic direction through his role on the INFOMAR Board which will see Ireland as possibly the first nation on earth to have completed a comprehensive open access digital map of its entire seafloor territories.

In 2013 Peter acted as an inspiration and Irish EU Presidency ambassador for the creation of the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance (AORA) with the signing of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation at the Marine Institute headquarters in May, between Canada, the European Union and the United States of America.

Peter continues to play a strategic role in the implementation of the Galway Statement through his role as Coordinator of the EU Horizon 2020 funded AORA coordination & support action (CSA) aimed at supporting the tri-lateral governance mechanism established by the EU, Canada & USA to manage activities under the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance. It is estimated that by 2019 approx. €200M will have been invested from the EU’s Horizon2020 programme on the Galway implementation process supporting 500 research groups around the Atlantic on priority areas identified by AORA. The initiative is seen as an exemplar of International Science Diplomacy.

Peter was instrumental in the establishment (and is a member) of the Irish Government’s Marine Coordination Group (a senior level cross departmental policy development mechanism) which produced the 1st  integrated marine plan for Ireland called Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth (2012). This plan is being implemented with encouraging results which saw the growth in Ireland’s ocean economy significantly outstrip that of the general economy in recent years (marine turnover up from €3.2B in 2010 to €5.7B in 2016 and well on the way to exceeding the 2020 target of €6.4B).

An important part of Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth is the Marine Institute’s coordination of the annual Our Ocean Wealth Summit with ca 500 delegates and Seafest the National Maritime Festival which has grown from 10,000 visitors in its inaugural year in Cork (2015) to over 100,000 in Galway in 2017.

In 2017 the Irish Government approved the National Marine Research and Innovation Strategy for Ireland 2017-2021 produced by the Marine Institute. 2018 has seen the completion of the Marine Institute’s own ambitious strategic plan 2018-2022 Building Ocean Knowledge Delivering Ocean Services and the announcement in February by Government that a new replacement for the research vessel Celtic Voyager is included in the National Development Plan with expected delivery in 2021.

 He obtained his PhD in Marine Science at the National University of Ireland, Galway and then went on to become Associate Professor/Research Scientist at the University of Georgia (USA) before returning to Ireland to become Manager in the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway.  Peter is a Member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA); served on the EU Research, Innovation and Science Policy Experts (Advisory Body to EU Commissioner for Research & Innovation) and as an Adjunct Professor Marine Science NUI Galway.  He was also awarded the Royal National Lifeboat Institution Maritime Person of the Year Award (2003), the National University of Ireland, Galway Alumni Foundation Award for Natural Sciences (2008) and Portugal’s Mare Excellens Award in 2018. Peter was appointed in 2019 as a member of the EU Horizon Europe Mission Board for Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal & Inland Waters. He acts as a Special Advisor of the Board of the Oceano Azul Foundation, Portugal and is on the Strategic Advisory Board, Field Earth & Environment, Helmholtz Association, Germany.

He was appointed by the President of Ireland as the Chairman of the Council of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in 2020.