On Ireland's continental shelf, as well as within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), there are significant biodiversity hotspots including those associated with Cold Water Corals (CWC). Some of these "ecosystems enjoy little or no actual protection and are subject to the effects of open access. Sectorally driven initiatives, a recalcitrant attitude to environmental law and inadequate governance, have added to the conditions that have facilitated years of damage by fishers and other actors from many States. A review of the current governance regime, influenced primarily by the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), is presented. Failings of this regime are highlighted by the destruction of some biodiversity hotspots associated with vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs), an externality primarily arising from the effects of deepwater fishing. While exploring some of the principles relating to the institution of property rights, this paper makes a link between property rights, the public trust doctrine and sovereign rights. The paper suggests that such biodiversity systems are the property of citizens of the individual States in whose area of jurisdiction they occur. The paper argues for an Irish State property rights regime as part of an ecosystem approach within a nested institutional architecture. This has important implications for the governance of biodiversity such as that associated with CWC and for the development of an Irish National Oceans Policy. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.