As you make your passage west through Belfast Harbour to the Marina you probably don’t realise that on your port side near the cruise liner terminal is gem of a wildlife sanctuary just a hundred metres away writes Betty Armstrong.
And it’s walkable from the Marina via Airport Road.
It’s called Belfast’s Window on Wildlife (Wow), run by the conservation charity RSPB (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), and from a huge window in the refurbished visitor centre overlooking a freshwater lagoon, you can see a huge variety of birds and ducks. There are also several Polish Konik ponies which graze the area around the lagoon, creating ideal conditions for ground-nesting birds.
"Over 200 different species have been recorded"
Over 200 different species have been recorded long with lots of butterflies, mammals, fish and plants. Binoculars are available though the birds and ducks are so close they’re hardly needed.
This time of year brings mostly ducks from the Arctic regions and Eastern Europe - wigeons, teals, shovelers and shelducks. And WOW will also sometimes even get shorebirds visiting from Siberia and North America.
From the Belfast Harbour Marina in Titanic Quarter it’s about a 45-minute walk but it’s also safe to cycle. Bikes can be hired just across the River Lagan by the footbridge.
The EU has permitted the Irish government to introduce legislation restricting use of plastic microbeads to protect marine wildlife and the environment writes Lorna Siggins.
Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy confirmed the European Commission’s clearance last night (Wed), and said he hoped the new legislation would be in place as soon as possible.
“While several states legislated to prohibit personal care products containing plastic microbeads Ireland will be the first EU member state to extend such prohibition to detergents, abrasive scouring agents and other cleaning products," he said.
Mr Murphy also announced initiation of an expert group to advise on expanding Ireland’s marine protected areas (MPAs).
He was speaking at An Taisce’s annual Clean Coasts “Love Your Coast” photography awards in The Morrison Hotel, Dublin.
Mr Murphy acknowledged that plastic microbeads “represent only one element of the microplastics in our oceans”.
“However, it is estimated that many billions are being washed down the drain and into the world’s rivers, lakes and seas each year. Once in our rivers and seas, they can last for centuries without breaking down. Aquatic animals may ingest them and they cannot be removed once they are in the marine environment,”he said.
The Microbeads (Prohibition) Bill 2019, which is at committee stage in the Dáil, required EU approval, due to its proposed restriction on the free movement of goods in the European single market.
The legislation will provide for a prohibition of the “manufacture, import, export or sale of products containing intentionally added plastic microbeads, to include “rinse-off” personal care products, detergents, and domestic and industrial abrasive cleaning products and scouring agents”.
Mr Murphy submitted a derogation notification for the Bill to the European Commission on 19th July 2019, along with detailed technical documentation supporting the justification for the restriction on environmental grounds.
The notification carried with it a three month standstill period during which time the legislation could not be enacted in compliance with EU legislation, and that standstill period concluded on October 21st.
The legislation provides that the Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for implementation, Mr Murphy said.
It proposes that a person convicted would receive a Class A fine and/or a prison sentence of up to six months on summary conviction, or a fine of up to €3,000,000 and or a prison sentence of up to five years on indictment.
“While this is an important step, it is only one of many measures we will have to introduce over the coming years to reduce the level of litter and plastic pollution entering our seas and oceans,” Mr Murphy said.
In addition to introducing national legislation, the Government has been “actively supporting the development of measures at EU-level to tackle plastic waste including through the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy adopted in January 2018”, he said.
Mr Murphy also said he intended to bring forward primary legislation to designate marine protected areas (MPAs) next year, and plans to “significantly expand” Ireland’s network of such protected zones to meet current internationally agreed target of ten per cent.
He said it was central to Ireland’s implementation of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the OSPAR Convention, and commitments under the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity”.
He said that he had invited Professor Tasman Crowe, director of the Earth Institute and associate dean of science at University College, Dublin to chair an expert advisory group.
“The other members of the advisory group will be selected from across a range of sectors and will consist of members with appropriate national and international expertise,” Mr Murphy said, and its composition would be “announced shortly”.
“Their work will include reviewing existing protection measures and advising me on the processes required for the creation of MPAs,” Mr Murphy said.
The group “will also consider the gaps in existing legislation to underpin such a network” he said, and he expected the work would take place over a period of six months. The report with recommendations would “feed into the development of this important new legislation”, he said.
MPAs can take a variety of forms ranging from exclusive marine reserves to areas allowing sustainable use and restricting specific activities, Mr Murphy’s department said.
“Ireland's future network may include the incorporation of existing marine Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the Birds or Habitats Directives. It may also incorporate protection measures established under the Common Fisheries Programme (CFP) and other conservation and protection measures,”it said.
“MPAs can also play a role in mitigating the effects of climate change and ocean acidification by ensuring that the marine ecosystems are healthy and resilient and by safeguarding the marine environment’s current role as a natural storage of carbon,” it said.
Ireland, through the EU, is a party to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
It has agreed that “by 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape”.
Ken O’Sullivan spent the summers of his youth in what he describes as a ‘Huckleberry Finn-type existence’ on Fenit Island, Co Kerry, his father’s home place and that of his family since 1750. Getting the fishing bug at aged 10, his days were passed pulling nets out of freezing pre-dawn waters, and picking periwinkles and carrageen he’d sell in Tralee. Hard work, but it brought a great sense of purpose, of harvest and subsistence and self-dependence.
Little did he know, these were experiences and lessons that would stand to him when he chose a difficult but rewarding career route as a film-maker producing documentaries about the sea. This resulted in three ocean wildlife TV series including the critically acclaimed RTÉ TV series, ‘Ireland’s Deep Atlantic’, broadcast in 2018 and now a part to the Junior Cert curriculum.
Stories from the Deep is Ken’s lyrical potted memoir of a life-sustaining connection with the sea. Emigrating from recession Ireland to New York in the 1980s, O’Sullivan drove a truck, moved furniture and swept streets whilst trying to ‘make it’ in a rock band, before moving to London to work in computing on financial trading floors – but every sweltering summer Sunday was always spent craving for the sea at Lahinch, near his home place in Clare.
Surrounded by pin-striped suits, money and egos, he felt suffocated, longing for the wide-open spaces of home, but he persevered, believing doing something you loved for a living wasn’t realistic. Until one-day his heart suddenly over-ruled his head. He just couldn’t work anymore and packed it in. So began his journey back home to Ireland and the sea.
Making peace with his home-place, he swam every day and explored the undersea world around Ireland, discovering breathtakingly beautiful habitats and creatures. Teaching himself underwater photography, Ken dedicated himself to making documentaries about the sea and ocean conservation, he was reminded of the summers of his youth spent fishing, and of his ancestors who made a living that way before him - for life as a film-maker was often one of subsistence and self-dependence, but it was also one of great meaning and adventure, all of which is documented in Ken’s new book, Stories from the Deep.
From childhood summers spent on Fenit Island, to the years in New York and London longing for the ocean, and stories of chasing giant whales, waves and running from storms off Ireland’s west coast and around the world, Stories from the Deep is a captivating memoir that eloquently encapsulates a magical connection with the sea.
The book is available directly from Afloat here at €16.99 plus P&P
Coastwatch is appealing for volunteers over the Spring tide period to participate in its annual coastal survey which has been extended to October 21st writes Lorna Siggins
Recent stormy weather and heavy rain have curtailed this year’s effort, and Coastwatch coordinator Karin Dubsky said volunteers would be very welcome over the next week.
The island-wide Coastwatch shore survey is in its 32nd year, having been initiated by Ms Dubsky and former Irish Times environment editor Frank McDonald.
A cross-county border training and survey event takes place this Sunday on the Galway-Clare coast when 40-minute training will be followed by group surveying of three or more sites at the causeway to Aughinish island.
Soup is promised after the event from 11.30 am to 1 pm, and it will be led by Ms Dubsky, Dr Cillian Roden and Sabine Springer.
Ms Dubsky said it was hoped to identify traditional seaweed harvesting site, seagrass and small maerl beds, and unique marine limestone sculptures made by the sea.
She has recently described the decline of seagrass as “especially worrying”, especially in Dublin Bay, as it constitutes “the most important carbon sink in our marine areas”.
Participants in the Galway event on Sunday should bring boots and wind/shower proof clothes and a pen or biro and a camera and should register with regional co-ordinator Sabine Springer on tel 086 819 53 24 or mail [email protected]
A new clean-up initiative which involves volunteers kayaking down the river Liffey to pick up rubbish has been launched.
GreenKayak, a Danish non-governmental organisation founded in 2017 by Tobias Weber-Andersen, reports The Irish Times, operates a free service where volunteers sign up to kayak along the river in exchange for picking up litter.
The initiative launched its first Irish venture, in partnership with Dublin’s City Kayaking, on Tuesday. It aims to collect plastic from the river Liffey before it reaches the Irish Sea.
Each kayak is fitted with a bin and tools for grabbing plastic bobbing on the water’s surface. Each bin is weighed after docking, and the waste is recycled.
Volunteers must then share their experience on social media to promote the initiative, see related link.
Click here to read more on the background of this initiative
A group of Ireland’s environmental NGOs are teaming up this spring for a rather unique education project lead by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group. The exciting Floating Classroom initiative is combining ocean exploration with an educational schools programme which aims to raise awareness of Ireland’s marine biodiversity. Taking to the seas in the IWDG’s research vessel Celtic Mist, the team of marine biologists and ocean literacy experts will be making their way down Ireland’s south-east coast from Arklow to Cork, calling into coastal communities providing engaging workshops to schools along the way.
After an extensive refit during the winter in Grand Canal Docks, Dublin, the 56-foot ketch yacht will also be open to the public when docked at local marinas and harbours, giving the public an opportunity to see the workings of a dedicated whale and dolphin research vessel and how researchers live and work at sea.
Apart from raising awareness for Ireland’s rich marine wildlife, the team will be emphasising the importance of taking care of our seas and oceans. With challenges such as plastics pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss now frequently in the news, there is a pressing need for communities to work together to tackle environmental issues.
While pupils will be introduced to the wealth of marine and coastal wildlife on their doorstep, each school will be asked to come up with three ways in which they feel they can make a difference for their local blue environment.
The team of biologists will also be proposing ways in which the public can get involved, including citizen science projects that encourage people to report their sightings of whales, dolphins, seabirds and even shark eggs! Schools will be encouraged to get involved in other community-based initiatives too, such as beach cleans being run by organisations in their area.
Environmental NGOs involved in the Floating Classroom include the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Marine Dimensions, the Irish Wildlife Trust and the Irish Ocean Literacy Network. Funding for the Floating Classroom has been kindly received by the Irish Environmental Network through their Capacity Building Grant.
I remember when I first saw the Puffin seabirds.
It was my first time sailing along the Kerry coastline and it was off Portmagee, on the appropriately named Puffin Island.
We had closed the small Island south of Valentia which is a wild bird conservancy for a look and it was, for me, a magical moment that I always remember.
Crowded along the cliff face, some in the water, I saw Puffins about which I’d heard so much, up close for the first time. My immediate image association was with clowns I had seen as a youngster at circus performances. The facial expressions, seen close-up through binoculars, their colour from blue to yellow and red striped beaks, the webbed orange-red feet, the waddling gait, and the way they bobbed around on the water.
"As sailors, we should be interested in the welfare of seabirds which can tell us so much about the marine environment"
I’ve seen them since, from a distance around the Skelligs, Horn Head in Donegal, on the Cliffs of Moher and the Great Saltee and why I’m telling you about them is because their hormones are driving them back to Ireland. As their European population has suffered a decline, the shores of our island nation are an important location for them to breed. I’ve been told by BirdWatch Ireland, the national voluntary organisation which protects Ireland's birds and habitats, that this is part of a huge seabird migration underway to Ireland that is hidden from the eyes and ears of most, but sailors may see it and can help. A special website has been set up for the purpose here.
As sailors, we should be interested in the welfare of seabirds which can tell us so much about the marine environment.
For me, the mention of Puffins, so synonymous with the sea, brought back memories of earlier sailing days. There are many other species on the way to our shores. You can hear more about all of this on my Podcast with Niall Hatch of BirdWatch.
• Listen to the Podcast below
#dublinbay - As part of the Bullock Harbour Bicentenary lecture series to mark and celebrate the construction of the small scenic south Dublin Bay harbour in Dalkey, a panel discussion will focus on the Bay itself.
The Bullock Harbour Preservation Association (BHPA) in conjunction with the Dublin Port Company have been organising the series which began in November last year.
Likewise of previous lectures this penulitmate event will be held in the Dalkey Castle & Heritage Centre on Tuesday, 9 April at 8pm. All are welcome to the Panel Discussion which is free and there is no need to book in advance.
The panel discussion will focus on the environment of the bay, present and future, covering biodiversity and the conservation of the marine and bird life.
Ann Murray, DLRCC Biodiversity Officer and Dublin Bay Biosphere Partnership
Richard Nairn, Ecologist and author of 'Dublin Bay: Nature and History'
Hannah Keogh, Irish Whale & Dolphin Group
Professor John Brannigan, UCD, on Cultural Aspects of Coastal Environments
For further information in general about the harbour visit the BHPA website here.
#irishports - Independent.ie writes Birdwatch Ireland is "alarmed" at emergency orders that could be utilised by the Government to override planning procedures for a no-deal Brexit scenario at Dublin and Rosslare ports.
The group is concerned for the safety of birds who make their habitats within Ireland, including a colony of terns in a special protection zone at Dublin Bay.
The Government is set to rely on emergency planning orders in the wake of any no-deal Brexit on March 29.
Oonagh Duggan, assistant head of policy and advocacy at Birdwatch Ireland, said: "We are living in an ecological emergency, with 68pc of regularly occurring birds in Ireland on the red and amber lists of the Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland. Any shortcuts on environmental assessment could have devastating consequences on wildlife."
#coastalnotes - As part of the RDS Library Speaker Series will be a presentation ‘Snapshots and Science - The Shallow Seas of Ireland’ which is to be held next Wednesday March 13 between 18:30-20:00.
The presentation by leading underwater photographer Paul Kay will feature an exploration of Ireland’s rich underwater world, one which is hidden from most of us and one which is still being explored.
It will showcase some extraordinarily beautiful species and locations and will also illustrate just how little we know and understand about the seas and how we utilise them. In an information rich era it will no doubt surprise many to see what lies below the waves.
The event held in the RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, is free of charge and open to all, but online booking is required. To book click here.