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The north Donegal coast has been identified by the Fair Seas coalition as a high biodiversity “Area of Interest” for potential Marine Protected Area (MPA) designation.

Only 2% of Irelands' seas are currently protected. The Fair Seas environmental NGO coalition says it is urging the Government to meet its target of increasing this to at least 30% by 2030, informed by the best scientific data and early and continuous stakeholder engagement.

Fair Seas has identified 16 “Areas of Interest” for MPA designation in Irish waters.

The north coast “Area of Interest” covers 3,744km² and is rich in biodiversity, it notes.

“Basking sharks are seen in large numbers, especially around Malin head, where between 60 to 75 individuals have been seen in a single sighting. Bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises are found along the north coast year-round, with particularly high numbers at the mouth of Lough Swilly,”it says.

“Marine Institute surveys found this area to have one of the highest average catches per haul of tope shark. The tope shark is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN),” it notes.

“ The main threat to this species is overexploitation from commercial fishing as there is still allowable catch even though evidence shows it is declining. Thornback skate are found across this area, and Lough Swilly is a refuge site for the critically endangered flapper skate, the largest skate in the world, reaching up to 2.85 metres in length,” Fair Seas says.

It says that the largest herring spawning grounds in the country are located north of Donegal. Some of these grounds are located within this proposed MPA.

“Whiting spawning grounds also cover this entire area. Historic herring spawning grounds have disappeared from much of the Irish coast; therefore, protection must be given to ensure the last of these areas are not lost forever,”it says.

“The cliffs from Horn Head to Fanad Head are home to important colonies of seabirds of high conservation concern such as kittiwake, razorbill and puffin. Lough Swilly provides sanctuary for breeding terns, black guillemots and black-headed gulls,” it says.

“Tory Island and Inishtrahull are rich in seabird diversity. Bloody Foreland is of major importance to migrating birds with more than 31,000 seabirds and 24 species recorded over a four-year period,” it says.

“MPAs allow species and habitats to recover and thrive while benefiting fishing communities and coastal economies,” Fair Seas points out.

“ The ocean is the largest carbon store on Earth, so MPAs have huge potential to fight climate change,” it says.

“As noted by Professor Mark Costello in the foreword of Revitalising Our Seas, the Fair Seas report: “If properly planned, MPAs can lead to more stable and sustainable coastal fisheries, with added benefits of increased tourism and public enjoyment of marine life.”

“There is no evidence of any MPA anywhere in the world reducing fishery catch. There are many examples of MPAs restoring fished populations and these restored stocks consequently repopulating adjacent areas where they contribute to fisheries,” Prof Costello has said.

Full details on the ‘North Coast Area of Interest’ are available in the Revitalising Our Seas PDF here

Published in Marine Planning

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) says it’s clarified its opinion on recent whale strandings in Donegal, explaining that the evidence does not suggest an “unusual mortality event” or UME.

It has been feared the strandings of two female sperm whales — at Maghery and on Malin Head respectively — were linked to Russian military exercises in the North Atlantic, as Afloat.ie reported last weekend.

But upon reviewing the data of marine wildlife strandings on the Irish coast between 15 and 21 February, including a female Cuvier’s beaked whale and a female long-finned pilot whale, the IWDG says that the incidents do not deviate from the expected annual stranding figures.

“Before any claims can be made calling this a UME or linking these current deaths to the military testing, additional evidence is needed,” IWDG strandings officer Stephanie Levesque said.

“We must wait to see if any further deep diving species wash up over the next few weeks as these numbers themselves currently are not out of the ordinary.”

However, Levesque added: “Two female sperm whales washed up at the same time is unexpected as most stranded sperm whales in Ireland are mature males.”

Meanwhile, it’s believed that “souvenir hunters” may be responsible for removing jaw bones from the two female whales washed ashore in Donegal.

Levesque told Donegal Live that such practice is common but it’s not known why.

“I don't know who does, but it is something that happens with sperm whales when they strand — the lower jaw is the first thing to go,” she said. “I don’t know if people think they are worth something.”

Donegal Live has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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It’s feared that at least one whale stranded in Donegal in recent days may have died as a result of Russian military exercises in the North Atlantic.

According to The Irish Sun, a marine wildlife expert investigating the stranding of a female whale at Maghery on Wednesday (16 February) said it appeared “deflated” and that its internal organs had “liquefied”.

Stephanie Levesque, a strandings officer with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), noted that it is not yet confirmed how recently the animal died but said: “We can’t rule anything out at this point.”

It’s understood that sperm whales, which can dive as much as 800 metres in search of food, can risk their lives by surfacing too fast when disturbed by sonar often employed by military vessels.

But disturbances caused by this week’s double whammy of Storm Dudley and Storm Eunice may have played a significant role.

A second sperm whale found at Malin Head on Thursday (17 February) was also deemed unusual.

Commenting on social media, the Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA) Ireland said: “What stood out was this animals teeth were very worn! Sperm [whales] are the largest toothed predator in the world.”

Before Russia agreed to move its planned military exercises out of Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone, Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan warned that the activity could have “devastating consequences” for marine mammals in the area.

Such concerns prompted the IWDG to back the call from the fishing industry for a moratorium on any and all military exercises within the Irish EEZ.

Published in Marine Wildlife

Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) is seeking submissions in relation to a proposal to restrict the commercial salmon draft net season on the Loughros estuary in Co Donegal in 2022 to fishing between 1 and 21 July.

The proposed changes are to reflect the limited overall salmon quota available for 2022 and the number of commercial draft nets available.

An overall surplus of 340 salmon has been advised for 2022 to be divided between the commercial draft net and recreational angling sectors.

The commercial draft net season for the fishery normally opens on 12 May and closes on 31 July.

A copy of the draft proposed bye-law is available for public inspection at the IFI offices in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal as well as on the IFI website HERE.

Any person wishing to make observations on the proposed regulation may make submissions before 5pm on Friday 18 February, either by email to [email protected] or to the address below:

Loughros estuary Commercial Salmon draft net fishing season 2021 Public Consultation,
Inland Fisheries Ireland,
Station Road, Ballyshannon,
Co Donegal
F94 WV76

Published in Fishing

Works to restore watercourses impacted by a bogslide in the North West last year could take “a number of years” to complete, according to the Loughs Agency.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, anglers in Donegal and Tyrone fear that the peat slippage near a wind farm development at Meenbog has made an important salmon fishery uninhabitable.

Video of the incident, which saw thousands of tonnes of bogland slide into the River Derg system, went viral on social media in early November 2020.

A working group was established in the wake of the incident and this multi-agency, cross-border group continues to meet on an ongoing basis to coordinate the plan of action, the Loughs Agency says.

“Construction works on the windfarm site where the peat slide originated remain suspended, with the exception of the maintenance of measures required to mitigate the threat of further pollution or those required to safeguard health and safety,” it adds.

Following a direction to the windfarm developer from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), an updated assessment by independent consultants of peat stability on the site is currently under way.

In addition, a “phased approach to the restoration of areas impacted by the peat slide” has been adopted, the Loughs Agency says.

The first phase began in the last few weeks, undertaken by the windfarm developer under direction of Donegal County Council and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, and involves restoration of the lower reaches of the Shruhangarve stream and a planting scheme “to mitigate against the deterioration of the peat slide scar”.

The Loughs Agency says it has appointed a fisheries scientist to coordinate further restoration works that may be required for the Mourne Beg and other rivers downstream, and which may require statutory consent.

But it also advises that “given the seasonal restrictions that may apply”, such remediation works “will take a number of years to complete”.

Published in Angling

Visitors to a beach recently named among the 10 best in Ireland were shocked to discover the remains of three whales washed up on the strand, as the Irish Examiner reports.

The three carcasses found on Trá Mór in Donegal at the weekend are understood to be Cuvier’s beaked whales, a deep-ocean marine wildlife species that is rarely spotted in the wild and which was at the centre of a concerning mass stranding event two-and-a-half years ago.

Trá Mór is included, along with Ballymastocker Bay on the nearby Fanad Peninsula, in Lonely Planet’s list of the 10 best beaches in Ireland, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

Published in Marine Wildlife

Anglers in Donegal and Tyrone fear a recent bogslide near Ballybofey has made an important salmon river uninhabitable for fish.

Footage of the peat slippage on Mourne Beg at the Donegal/Tyrone border, which went viral on social media over the weekend, shows some of the thousands of tonnes of bogland that slid into the River Derg system.

And according to BreakingNews.ie, a local angling representative said one dead fish had already been found ahead of more they expect to discover in the coming days.

The Loughs Agency said its staff are “evaluating the environmental effect” of the incident along with Donegal County Council and other agencies.

Published in Angling

Two surfers in west Donegal recently made a remarkable discovery in the form of a time capsule from a Russian polar expedition.

As RTÉ News reports, Conor McClory and Sophie Curran initially believed the metal canister they found on the shoreline at Cnoc Fola might be some kind of explosive device.

But upon translating the text etched on its site, they were relieved to find it was safe to open — and it revealed a treasure trove of details about a voyage on board a Russian icebreaker in the Arctic in 2018.

It also included a prediction written in English that it would be a long time before the capsule was discovered, having been placed in Arctic ice.

But it took just over two years for the canister to reach Ireland’s North West Coast nearly 4,000km away.

RTÉ News has more on the story HERE.

Published in Coastal Notes
Tagged under

A surfer from Northern Ireland got more than he bargained for when he was chased by a pod of killer whales off Donegal last week.

As the News Letter reports, Derry man Ryan Vail was catching waves off Culdaff on the Inishowen Peninsula last Friday (11 September) when he found himself surrounded by the orca pod consisting of two adults and three juveniles.

Orcas are a rare sight in Irish inshore waters, but the marine wildlife are no strangers to Donegal.

A pod resident in western Scotland has been spotted in Lough Swilly before, and more recently in Strangford Lough, but it has not calved in many years — suggesting these visitors may come from elsewhere.

“I’m well used to the water and have seen basking sharks, dolphins and porpoises, so I knew it definitely wasn’t one of them,” Ryan said.

“I knew what I was looking at, so I also knew I shouldn’t be this close! So, there was a wee bit of panic.”

And that panic only grew when one of the smaller orcas — “the size of a Transit van” — made an aggressive dash for Ryan on his board.

The News Letter has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Tagged under

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group has conformed the first validated sighting of a fin whale off Co Donegal.

Liz Morrow captured images of the solo large whale in Donegal Bay off Slieve League earlier this month, estimating it to be around 18 metres in length.

Fin whales are a common occurrence in Ireland’s South West and the Celtic Sea, but have never before been spotted in the inshore waters of the colder North West.

However, with the later sighting of a humpback whale breaching off Malin Beg, it could be a sign that larger marine wildlife are exploring new territory north of Sligo.

“Any large whales that simply look too large to be a minke or humpback and produce a powerful columnar ‘blow’ on surfacing, should be considered as likely candidates,” the IWDG suggests.

“They will often be accompanied by common dolphins who hunt the same sprat and herring shoals and they never lift their tails before diving.”

Suspected fin whales are best approached from the right side and photographed at the head and rostrum “which should reveal the diagnostic lower white right jaw”.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Tagged under
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Ireland's Offshore Renewable Energy

Because of Ireland's location at the Atlantic edge of the EU, it has more offshore energy potential than most other countries in Europe. The conditions are suitable for the development of the full range of current offshore renewable energy technologies.

Offshore Renewable Energy FAQs

Offshore renewable energy draws on the natural energy provided by wind, wave and tide to convert it into electricity for industry and domestic consumption.

Offshore wind is the most advanced technology, using fixed wind turbines in coastal areas, while floating wind is a developing technology more suited to deeper water. In 2018, offshore wind provided a tiny fraction of global electricity supply, but it is set to expand strongly in the coming decades into a USD 1 trillion business, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). It says that turbines are growing in size and in power capacity, which in turn is "delivering major performance and cost improvements for offshore wind farms".

The global offshore wind market grew nearly 30% per year between 2010 and 2018, according to the IEA, due to rapid technology improvements, It calculated that about 150 new offshore wind projects are in active development around the world. Europe in particular has fostered the technology's development, led by Britain, Germany and Denmark, but China added more capacity than any other country in 2018.

A report for the Irish Wind Energy Assocation (IWEA) by the Carbon Trust – a British government-backed limited company established to accelerate Britain's move to a low carbon economy - says there are currently 14 fixed-bottom wind energy projects, four floating wind projects and one project that has yet to choose a technology at some stage of development in Irish waters. Some of these projects are aiming to build before 2030 to contribute to the 5GW target set by the Irish government, and others are expected to build after 2030. These projects have to secure planning permission, obtain a grid connection and also be successful in a competitive auction in the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS).

The electricity generated by each turbine is collected by an offshore electricity substation located within the wind farm. Seabed cables connect the offshore substation to an onshore substation on the coast. These cables transport the electricity to land from where it will be used to power homes, farms and businesses around Ireland. The offshore developer works with EirGrid, which operates the national grid, to identify how best to do this and where exactly on the grid the project should connect.

The new Marine Planning and Development Management Bill will create a new streamlined system for planning permission for activity or infrastructure in Irish waters or on the seabed, including offshore wind farms. It is due to be published before the end of 2020 and enacted in 2021.

There are a number of companies aiming to develop offshore wind energy off the Irish coast and some of the larger ones would be ESB, SSE Renewables, Energia, Statkraft and RWE.

There are a number of companies aiming to develop offshore wind energy off the Irish coast and some of the larger ones would be ESB, SSE Renewables, Energia, Statkraft and RWE. Is there scope for community involvement in offshore wind? The IWEA says that from the early stages of a project, the wind farm developer "should be engaging with the local community to inform them about the project, answer their questions and listen to their concerns". It says this provides the community with "the opportunity to work with the developer to help shape the final layout and design of the project". Listening to fishing industry concerns, and how fishermen may be affected by survey works, construction and eventual operation of a project is "of particular concern to developers", the IWEA says. It says there will also be a community benefit fund put in place for each project. It says the final details of this will be addressed in the design of the RESS (see below) for offshore wind but it has the potential to be "tens of millions of euro over the 15 years of the RESS contract". The Government is also considering the possibility that communities will be enabled to invest in offshore wind farms though there is "no clarity yet on how this would work", the IWEA says.

Based on current plans, it would amount to around 12 GW of offshore wind energy. However, the IWEA points out that is unlikely that all of the projects planned will be completed. The industry says there is even more significant potential for floating offshore wind off Ireland's west coast and the Programme for Government contains a commitment to develop a long-term plan for at least 30 GW of floating offshore wind in our deeper waters.

There are many different models of turbines. The larger a turbine, the more efficient it is in producing electricity at a good price. In choosing a turbine model the developer will be conscious of this ,but also has to be aware the impact of the turbine on the environment, marine life, biodiversity and visual impact. As a broad rule an offshore wind turbine will have a tip-height of between 165m and 215m tall. However, turbine technology is evolving at a rapid rate with larger more efficient turbines anticipated on the market in the coming years.

 

The Renewable Electricity Support Scheme is designed to support the development of renewable energy projects in Ireland. Under the scheme wind farms and solar farms compete against each other in an auction with the projects which offer power at the lowest price awarded contracts. These contracts provide them with a guaranteed price for their power for 15 years. If they obtain a better price for their electricity on the wholesale market they must return the difference to the consumer.

Yes. The first auction for offshore renewable energy projects is expected to take place in late 2021.

Cost is one difference, and technology is another. Floating wind farm technology is relatively new, but allows use of deeper water. Ireland's 50-metre contour line is the limit for traditional bottom-fixed wind farms, and it is also very close to population centres, which makes visibility of large turbines an issue - hence the attraction of floating structures Do offshore wind farms pose a navigational hazard to shipping? Inshore fishermen do have valid concerns. One of the first steps in identifying a site as a potential location for an offshore wind farm is to identify and assess the level of existing marine activity in the area and this particularly includes shipping. The National Marine Planning Framework aims to create, for the first time, a plan to balance the various kinds of offshore activity with the protection of the Irish marine environment. This is expected to be published before the end of 2020, and will set out clearly where is suitable for offshore renewable energy development and where it is not - due, for example, to shipping movements and safe navigation.

YEnvironmental organisations are concerned about the impact of turbines on bird populations, particularly migrating birds. A Danish scientific study published in 2019 found evidence that larger birds were tending to avoid turbine blades, but said it didn't have sufficient evidence for smaller birds – and cautioned that the cumulative effect of farms could still have an impact on bird movements. A full environmental impact assessment has to be carried out before a developer can apply for planning permission to develop an offshore wind farm. This would include desk-based studies as well as extensive surveys of the population and movements of birds and marine mammals, as well as fish and seabed habitats. If a potential environmental impact is identified the developer must, as part of the planning application, show how the project will be designed in such a way as to avoid the impact or to mitigate against it.

A typical 500 MW offshore wind farm would require an operations and maintenance base which would be on the nearby coast. Such a project would generally create between 80-100 fulltime jobs, according to the IWEA. There would also be a substantial increase to in-direct employment and associated socio-economic benefit to the surrounding area where the operation and maintenance hub is located.

The recent Carbon Trust report for the IWEA, entitled Harnessing our potential, identified significant skills shortages for offshore wind in Ireland across the areas of engineering financial services and logistics. The IWEA says that as Ireland is a relatively new entrant to the offshore wind market, there are "opportunities to develop and implement strategies to address the skills shortages for delivering offshore wind and for Ireland to be a net exporter of human capital and skills to the highly competitive global offshore wind supply chain". Offshore wind requires a diverse workforce with jobs in both transferable (for example from the oil and gas sector) and specialist disciplines across apprenticeships and higher education. IWEA have a training network called the Green Tech Skillnet that facilitates training and networking opportunities in the renewable energy sector.

It is expected that developing the 3.5 GW of offshore wind energy identified in the Government's Climate Action Plan would create around 2,500 jobs in construction and development and around 700 permanent operations and maintenance jobs. The Programme for Government published in 2020 has an enhanced target of 5 GW of offshore wind which would create even more employment. The industry says that in the initial stages, the development of offshore wind energy would create employment in conducting environmental surveys, community engagement and development applications for planning. As a site moves to construction, people with backgrounds in various types of engineering, marine construction and marine transport would be recruited. Once the site is up and running , a project requires a team of turbine technicians, engineers and administrators to ensure the wind farm is fully and properly maintained, as well as crew for the crew transfer vessels transporting workers from shore to the turbines.

The IEA says that today's offshore wind market "doesn't even come close to tapping the full potential – with high-quality resources available in most major markets". It estimates that offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 420 000 Terawatt hours per year (TWh/yr) worldwide – as in more than 18 times the current global electricity demand. One Terawatt is 114 megawatts, and to put it in context, Scotland it has a population a little over 5 million and requires 25 TWh/yr of electrical energy.

Not as advanced as wind, with anchoring a big challenge – given that the most effective wave energy has to be in the most energetic locations, such as the Irish west coast. Britain, Ireland and Portugal are regarded as most advanced in developing wave energy technology. The prize is significant, the industry says, as there are forecasts that varying between 4000TWh/yr to 29500TWh/yr. Europe consumes around 3000TWh/year.

The industry has two main umbrella organisations – the Irish Wind Energy Association, which represents both onshore and offshore wind, and the Marine Renewables Industry Association, which focuses on all types of renewable in the marine environment.

©Afloat 2020

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