Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Environmentalists Urge that Nature is 'Not Squeezed Out' as Irish Sea Comes Under Pressure

10th February 2024
Urgency call for action: The Irish Sea Network is calling for more joined-up marine planning, as the Irish Sea’s wildlife and habitats face an uncertain future. With ambitious targets for net zero and 30 by 30 set by all six nations surrounding the Irish Sea, the extra demand for space in an already busy sea means there will be conflict between industries and uncertainty for sea users.
Urgency call for action: The Irish Sea Network is calling for more joined-up marine planning, as the Irish Sea’s wildlife and habitats face an uncertain future. With ambitious targets for net zero and 30 by 30 set by all six nations surrounding the Irish Sea, the extra demand for space in an already busy sea means there will be conflict between industries and uncertainty for sea users. Credit: Irish Environmental Network (IEN).Fans/facebook

Wildlife conservation bodies numbering 13 groups across all the Irish Sea nations, known collectively as the Irish Sea Network, is urging planners in all six nations bordering the Irish Sea to collaborate and cooperate for the sake of nature.

In a report released this week, the Network calls for planners to work together strategically and ensure that wildlife is protected, as they review how the Irish Sea is used.

The Irish Sea, which is bordered by England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, is coming under significant and increasing pressure from activities such as industrial fishing, aquaculture, offshore renewable energy development, shipping, military activity, recreational activity, and pollution. All of these activities take their toll on marine species that are already endangered by the impacts of climate change.

The Irish Sea Network reports that while over a third of the Irish Sea has been designated as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), as little as five per cent is actually managed for nature, and less than 0.01 per cent is fully protected from damaging activities. Ireland contributes only a tiny part of the designation, as its Marine Protected Areas Bill, which would provide for MPA designation and management, is still to be published.

This leaves the Irish Sea’s wildlife and the habitats on which they depend at serious risk, with little chance for nature to recover. As well as its intrinsic value, people depend on healthy seas because they produce oxygen, sequester carbon on the seabed, provide food security, livelihoods for local fishing and coastal communities, enable low-impact eco-tourism opportunities, and contribute to our wellbeing and culture.

Marine wildlife doesn’t respect borders – yet each Irish Sea nation produces separate marine planning documents. Each plan will cover a huge range of uses of the Irish Sea, from rules about fishing and renewable energy to shipping and tourism. The Irish Sea Network says all planners and decision-makers must collaborate and cooperate better and with urgency, to consider the Irish Sea as a whole, and ensure that the biodiversity and climate crises are at the forefront during this process

Grace Carr, Irish Wildlife Trust Marine Advocacy Officer said “As we all know, nature does not recognise borders and so it’s imperative we take a cross-border approach when designating areas for protection, fishing and industry in this biodiverse area. With the new Irish MPA bill due to be released early this year, the knowledge sharing and collaboration within this report will make it an important tool when advocating for nature and ecosystem-focused Marine Spatial Planning in the Irish Sea.”

Sinéad O' Brien, Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) Co-ordinator said, "This Irish Sea Network report has highlighted how the Irish Sea is getting much busier and, as a result, there is an urgent need for effective planning to safeguard its precious marine wildlife and habitats. A collaborative ecosystem-based approach, that has regard for the environmental sensitivities of what can go where and when, is needed in order to protect and restore the health of the Irish Sea for all.

However, SWAN commissioned research, found Ireland's first spatial plan from 2021, the National Marine Planning Framework, did not meet these criteria. It was created without a coherent network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) or maps of vulnerable ecosystems and, as a result, the plan needs to be fully revised. The key recommendations for marine spatial planning for the Irish Sea in this report must be applied."

Emma Armshaw, Marine and Coastal Policy Officer (SWAN) said, "Legislation for Irish Marine Protected Areas is fundamental for marine spatial planning for the Irish Sea. However, three years after the National Marine Planning Framework, we still don't have this, with continual delays preventing the bill from being published."

She added "What has been drafted so far lacks many of the key criteria highlighted in this report: strength and ambition with adequate strict protection, a robust management framework, and a commitment to principled stake holder engagement. With a strong MPA bill, Ireland can best meet its responsibility of ensuring the Irish Sea, and all of Ireland's marine area, is in good health for all who benefit from it. This will furthermore allow the biodiversity and climate crises to be tackled effectively together. It needs to be a top priority for this Government."

Published in Marine Wildlife
Jehan Ashmore

About The Author

Jehan Ashmore

Email The Author

Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open. is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!