#MarineWildlife - Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan announced on Wednesday the proposal of six new marine sites for designation as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to protect marine habitats and species listed on the 1992 EU Habitats Directive.
The six sites around the Irish coast represent habitats (sandbanks and reefs) and/or marine wildlife (specifically dolphins and porpoises) identified as insufficiently represented in the list of Irish SACs at the EU Commission's Marine Atlantic Biogeographic Seminar in 2009. These sites are:
- Blackwater Bank, Co Wexford (Sandbank)
- West Connacht Coast (Bottlenose dolphin)
- Hempton’s Turbot Bank, Co Donegal (Sandbank)
- Rockabill to Dalkey Island, Co Dublin (Reefs and harbour porpoise)
- Porcupine Bank Canyon, off Kerry (Reefs)
- South-East Rockall Bank (Reefs)
The designation of marine SACs is scheduled for completion in Europe in 2012, and according to the minister, this list of six additional SACs will constitute Ireland’s contribution to that process.
In a statement, the department said: "These six SAC sites will protect a range of habitats and species including sandbanks, deep sea coral reefs, dolphins off the Atlantic coast and harbour porpoises found in Dublin Bay.
"These sites are part of a European network of nature conservation sites known as Natura 2000 which was established with the aim of preserving our rich natural heritage for future generations."
Among the new designations are two offshore sites at the Porcupine Bank Canyon and the South East Rockall Bank "contain excellent examples of offshore fauna associated with geogenic reef (ie reef made of rock). Considering the extent of Ireland’s offshore maritime area alongside the value and vulnerability of deep sea biodiversity therein, these two sites represent a modest but highly significant contribution to the Irish SAC network."
Two new inshore areas are being proposed in the west of Ireland to protect the bottlenose dolphin. The department is currently co-funding a multi-annual research programme to further understand the ecology of this species in this coastal region.
Meanwhile, the inshore site off Dublin from Rockabill to Dalkey Island is also being proposed both for the harbour porpoise, and for geogenic reef to address a gap in the SAC network for this habitat type in the northern part of the Irish Sea.
As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the oil exploration company behind the Dalkey Island Prospect has spoken out over the Rockabill to Dalkey Island designation, claiming it had not been given advance information of the decision.
Providence Resources says maps provided by the department appear to show and overlap between the location for a seismic survey and the new SAC area, which would make any development for resource extraction "extremely problematic".
Last week the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) expressed concern over the potential impact of the 2D seismic survey at Dalkey Island on harbour porpoises in Dublin Bay.