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Government ministers have announced Ireland’s first marine national park involving some 70,000 acres of Kerry’s land and sea.

The new park, Páírc Náisiúnta na Mara, Ciarraí, is centred around Corca Dhuibhne in Co Kerry and includes the Conor Pass, the Owenmore River catchment, lands at Mount Brandon and the sand dune system at Inch Peninsula.

Sites already under State ownership, such as the limestone reefs of Kerry Head shoals and the waters around the Blasket islands, are also included.

Two ministers – housing minister Darragh O’Brien and education minister Norma Foley -along with two junior ministers, Malcolm Noonan and Kieran O’Donnell, made the announcement in Kerry on Monday.

They said that the Páirc’s heritage legacy would be further enhanced by the inclusion of lands on the Great Blasket Island, the globally significant UNESCO World Heritage property of Sceilg Mhichíl, and Derrynane House, Historic Park and Beach, which are managed by the Office of Public Works.

Further collaborations with BirdWatch Ireland, which manages Little Skellig and Puffin Island, and with the Commissioners of Irish Lights, which manages An Tiaracht Nature Reserve, ensure that these internationally important sites for seabirds are also an integral part of the Páirc, they said.

They said that lhe landscapes, islands and seas of this region are of enormous significance for biodiversity.

“ Starting in the majestic uplands of Mount Brandon and Conor Pass, we find active blanket bogs and heaths, with famed alpine flora, providing valuable habitats for the Peregrine Falcon, Otter and Marsh Fritillary butterfly,” they said.

“Nestled among them is the pristine Owenmore river, one of the last remaining refuges of the Freshwater Pearl Mussel. Down at the coast, we can see some of the finest sand dune systems in Europe, which are home to the Natterjack Toad, before heading out to sea to encounter the shallow bays, which are important breeding sites for sharks and rays, and an extensive and biologically rich marine limestone reef system,”they said.

“The islands speak for themselves, with entire populations of rare and endangered seabirds such as Puffin, Storm Petrel, Gannet and Razorbill, as well as unique communities of lichen and other flora,” they said.

“Equally, the area’s cultural and archaeological value cannot be overstated. The UNESCO World Heritage property of Sceilig Mhicíl, an island of global importance, is at the heart of the Páirc’s cultural heritage,” they said.

“The seas that surround it, meanwhile, were the routeways of the past and the last resting place of many historic wrecks. They include the Spanish Armada vessel of Santa Maria de la Rosa, which was lost off Blasket Sound in 1588,” they continued.

“ On the mainland, the landscapes of the Páirc document the history of settlement in the region, with archaeological monuments and traces of people over the millennia, including those who etched ogham script on the ancient standing stone at Araghglen on Mount Brandon, a national monument,” they said.

The list of sites includes:

Mainland:

  • Conor Pass
  • Owenmore River Catchment
  • Mount Brandon
  • Inch Peninsula
  • Derrynane House, Historic Park and Beach (managed by OPW)

Islands:

  • Sceilig Michíl (Managed by OPW)
  • Little Skellig (Managed by BirdWatch Ireland)
  • Puffin Island (Managed by BirdWatch Ireland)
  • Land on Great Blasket Island (Managed by the OPW)
  • An Tiaracht Nature Reserve (Managed by the Commissioners of Irish Lights)
  • Valentia Tetrapod Trackway

Seas:

  • Waters around the Blasket Islands
  • Kerry Head Shoals

The announcement has been welcomed by the Fair Seas coalition and by Irish Lights.

As Afloat reported earlier, Yvonne Shields O’ Connor,Irish Lights chief executive officer said, “the lighthouses and electronic aids to navigation provided by Irish Lights fulfils Ireland’s legal commitments under the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention”.

“Each lighthouse gives a visual reference for mariners when within sight of land, and further offshore for radar and radio transmissions. As Irish Lights goes about its work ensuring safe navigation around the coast, we are cognisant of the amazing marine locations that we operate in and of the need to work with relevant state bodies and coastal communities to continue to protect our maritime heritage,” she said.

“ We are delighted to be associated with Páirc Náisiúnta na Mara and to support the work of NPWS and OPW protecting our maritime history, built heritage and natural landscapes, and the invaluable ecosystems they support.”

Published in Marine Wildlife

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) anticipates that puffins will benefit from the closure last month of the industrial fishery for sand eels in the North Sea and Scottish waters.

The closure of the fishery from March 26th is coming into place in time for the breeding season for puffins, the RSPB says.

“Sandeels, a main source of food for puffins and their chicks, are a vital link in the food chain for seabirds, as well as some fish species and sea mammals, yet their numbers have been rapidly declining due to climate change and overfishing,” it says.

“The charismatic birds have already been delighting visitors in recent weeks as they arrive back at Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland, RSPB South Stack, North Wales, RSPB Sumburgh Head in Shetland, and at RSPB Bempton Cliffs, Britain’s largest mainland seabird colony,” it says.

Dave O’Hara, senior site manager at RSPB Bempton Cliffs, said it is “home to one of the UK's top wildlife spectacles”.

“But these populations of seabirds are at the forefront of the climate emergency, and they are in significant decline. Puffins’ resilience is being pushed to the limit, which is why we can breathe a sigh of relief that industrial sandeel fishing in UK waters has now been ended,”he said.”

The most recent *seabird census, Seabirds Count, published in November 2023, suggests that around one in four puffins have been lost across Britain since 2000.

“It's predicted that the UK's puffin population could plunge 90% by 2050 if global warming is unchecked. Facing threats to both their nesting sites and their food supply, the climate crisis is sadly only making things worse for these clowns of the sea,”it says.

Puffins will continue arriving throughout April, staying to raise their pufflings (one egg is laid per puffin), and then leaving at the end of July.

The tiny birds winter out at sea, and are widely dispersed out in the North Sea and wider Atlantic Ocean.

Published in Marine Wildlife

Extinction threatens 48 species living in the Irish marine environment, including fish, crustaceans, shellfish and invertebrates, according to the new National Biodiversity Action Plan.

“It is imperative that we arrest these declines and start the process of regeneration,” the authors of the action plan state.

The fourth national biodiversity action plan was published yesterday by Minister for Heritage Malcolm Noonan.

The new plan has been placed on a statutory footing for the first time, and it also commits to enacting and implementing comprehensive legislation on marine protected areas.

The plan notes that in Ireland, almost a third of EU-protected species and 85% of EU-protected habitats are in unfavourable status.

It says that over half of native Irish plant species have declined in the last 20 years, and 30% of semi-natural grasslands have been lost in the past 10 years.

Over 20% of breeding and 52% of key wintering bird species are reported to have short-term declining trends, it says.

Many of the issues it identifies were addressed in the report by the Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss.

The new biodiversity action plan seeks to address a number of its key recommendations.

Its 194 actions across sea and land include commitments to deliver on obligations to conserve the most precious habitats and species, and “strategically target” efforts on invasive species.

The Fair Seas coalition of environmental groups welcomed its publication, but warned that it will only work if “every single measure is acted upon promptly”.

Published in Marine Wildlife

The seas off Wexford have been designated as a proposed new special protection area (SPA) for birds by Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan.

The new SPA adjoins eight existing SPAs designated for this area and will cover over 305,000 hectares of marine waters for a range of bird species throughout the year.

The area under the EU Birds Directive surpasses the north-west Irish Sea SPA designated for seabirds last year, Noonan said.

The Wexford designation increases the percentage of Ireland’s protected marine waters to just under the 10% for Natura designations promised by the minister under the EU Biodiversity Strategy.

Gannetts on the Saltee Islands Photo: Vincent BradleyGannetts on the Saltee Islands Photo: Vincent Bradley

It also makes that 10% milestone “realistically achievable within the current year”, he says.

“At 305,000 hectares, the seas off Wexford SPA is bigger than Co Wexford itself and the largest ever area to be protected for birds in the history of the State,” Noonan said.

“ I’m delighted to be able to announce this significant step forward for nature, and particularly for marine seabirds. This Government is working hard to ensure robust biodiversity protections, just as we are working hard to deliver on our offshore renewable energy objectives,” he said.

“ Biodiversity action and climate action must go hand in hand, and we must continue to work together to protect nature while delivering a swift transition to more sustainable and renewable forms of energy,” he said.

National Parks and Wildlife Service director general Niall Ó Donnchú said the designation represented “another determined step by Ireland to protect our marine birdlife”.

“The 20 species protected at this site are some of our rarest and most threatened birds, and these waters are a valuable feeding resource for the seabirds that return every spring to Wexford’s coastal and island colonies to breed,” he said.

“ Outside of the summer months, these relatively shallow coastal waters provide safe feeding and roosting opportunities for a range of marine birds overwintering here or on passage,” he said.

The marine waters off the coast of Co Wexford mark the boundary between the Irish and Celtic Seas, and the new SPA extends offshore along most of the county’s coast.

More detailed information about the site, including a map, a species list and a list of the activities requiring consent (ARCs) for the site, is available at www.npws.ie/protectedsites.

Objections or observations, which may only be based on scientific or ornithological grounds, can be submitted to the email address [email protected].

Bird species covered by the proposed SPA designation are: the Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver, Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Shag, Cormorant, Kittiwake, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Little Tern, Roseate Tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Sandwich Tern, Mediterranean Gull, Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot.

Razorbills on the Saltee Islands Wexford Photo: Vincent BradleyRazorbills on the Saltee Islands Wexford Photo: Vincent Bradley

Four of the existing SPAs in this area are designated for breeding seabirds, namely Lady’s Island Lake SPA, Wexford Harbour and Slobs SPA, Keeragh Islands SPA and Saltee Islands SPA.

The Fair Seas coalition of environmental organisations said the proposed SPA should be a cause for celebration, but said that” a lack of proper community engagement, no coinciding management plans and no sign of the promised Marine Protected Area (MPA) bill is risking public trust in the process”.

Fair Seas said that “although the news is welcome, proper consultation with local fishers, industry, communities and other stakeholders is vital to ensure its success”.

The group is campaigning for “strong and ambitious MPA legislation to be introduced as a matter of priority”.

Published in Marine Wildlife

Over three-quarters of seabird species breeding in Ireland have increased, with only two species declining, according to a census just published.

The “Seabirds Count” census shows that Ireland is particularly important for species such as Roseate Tern and European Storm-petrel as 94% and 73% of the total populations breed here.

Roseate Tern, European Storm-petrel and Razorbill are some of the 17 species which have increased over the last 20 years, it says while the Kittiwake and Puffin are in decline.

It says that increasing populations of some seabird species are linked to effective conservation management measures, such as tern-wardening projects.

Seabirds Count, which has been released as a book by wildlife publishers Lynx Edicions, is said to be the most comprehensive seabird census produced to date.

It provides population estimates for the 25 regularly breeding species of Britain, Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

The survey took place between 2015 and 2021 and was led by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (UK) with over 20 steering group partners.

BirdWatch Ireland and the National Parks and Wildlife Service were the key partners in Ireland.

It has found that seabirds are “doing well in Ireland with 17 species increasing and only two declining”.

“A similar pattern prevails in Northern Ireland, with four species declining and nine increasing,”it says.

“ This is in contrast to census results across the entire UK and Ireland, which show that 11 of the 21 seabird species, where there is confidence in their trends, have declined since the last census in 1998-2002,” it says.

It notes that results differ significantly by region or country, with “ encouraging trends” in Ireland for species such as the Black-headed Gull and the Arctic Tern.

At the overall census level, the Arctic Tern breeding population is in decline (35%), but the population is considered stable across the island of Ireland.

The Black-headed Gull, which breeds on inland wetlands as well as the coast, has suffered an overall decline of 26%, but this is in contrast with an analysis of Irish data, which shows increases (Ireland 84%; NI 23%, all-island 40%), it says.

Overall, Black-legged Kittiwake has declined by 42% since the last census, but the population in Northern Ireland “bucks this trend” and shows an increase of 33%, it says.

“Further south in Ireland, the population of Kittiwake is in decline (36%),” it says.

“Little appears to have changed in the colonies where they breed, so these declines are driven by changes in the marine ecosystem upon which they depend,” it suggests.

“Other main drivers for declining populations vary between species and even location, however, there are some prevalent themes,” it says.

These include predation by American mink, which may have been released onto or swum to seabird colony islands, and brown rats, which may have stowed away on boats.

“Climate change is another important factor. Adverse weather conditions are causing nest sites to be swept away and making foraging conditions more difficult,”it says.

“ Increased water temperatures reduce the availability of important food such as small fish, for example, sand eels and sprats, which leads to seabird parents not finding enough food,” it notes.

“This could be exacerbated by fish stock depletion by commercial fisheries, meaning that there is not enough food to go around during the important breeding season,” it says.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Tagged under

BirdWatch Ireland has welcomed the announcement of a new scheme for the protection and conservation of breeding waders.

€30 million has been set aside for the Breeding Wader EIP (European Innovation Partnership), according to the Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan.

A sum of €22.5 million is to be invested by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, with the remaining €7.5 million coming from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

"Waders are amongst the most threatened of all breeding birds in Ireland"

Waders are amongst the most threatened of all breeding birds in Ireland, with six of the eight regularly occurring species on the Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland, Birdwatch Ireland says.

The six species are the curlew, lapwing, dunlin, golden plover, redshank and snipe.

Five of these species have declined by at least 50% in the last 40 years.

Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm NoonanMinister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan

Curlew and lapwing have each declined by over 90% in the last 20 years and are considered to be approaching globally threatened status by BirdLife International, it says.

“Loss of breeding habitat through agricultural intensification, draining of peatlands and afforestation have all contributed to these declines, but widespread predation of nests and chicks by generalist predators such as foxes and crows have also severely impacted remaining populations in recent years,” Birdwatch Ireland says.

The organisation says it had previously recognised that a scheme underpinned by at least €30 million was required to support farmers to undertake measures to save Ireland’s breeding waders from extinction.

“ We are pleased that the Irish government has taken heed,” it said.

“The Government has been implementing measures aimed at protecting and restoring populations, for example, through the Acres Co-operation scheme and the Curlew Conservation Programmes. However, more ambitious plans are required if these iconic birds are to be saved from extinction,” it says.

“The new measures which have just been announced could make a significant difference to saving breeding waders, but must be targeted and implemented correctly,” Birdwatch Ireland chief executive officer Linda Lennon said.

“ Farmers have long wanted to act for nature but have lacked the funding to enable them to do so. This new funding stream must enable farmers to put in place habitat management measures to protect breeding waders on their land.”

“Predator control measures, including the installation of specialised fencing to exclude predators, must also be part of the solution. The effectiveness of such fencing has already been proven beyond doubt by projects implemented by BirdWatch Ireland and others and is crucial to efforts to save our breeding waders,” she said.

Published in Marine Wildlife

Over 70 per cent of marine mammals in US waters face “major threats” from climate change, a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has found.

As The Irish Examiner and Press Association report, loss of dissolved oxygen and changes to ocean chemistry will have a significant impact. The study involved more than 100 stocks of marine mammal species in US waters.

Warming ocean temperatures, shrinking polar ice, and a rise in sea levels pose severe risks, with loss of habitat and food. The study has found that large whales, including humpback and North Atlantic right whales, along with dolphins, are among the most vulnerable.

Marine mammals living in the western North Atlantic ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea were the focus of the study, and the findings are published in the journal the journal PLOS One.

Read more in The Irish Examiner here

Published in Marine Wildlife
Tagged under

Birdwatch Ireland is seeking volunteers to participate in its Irish Wetland Bird Survey, which informs waterbird conservation and management in Ireland.

Individuals with a telescope and good bird identification skills are encouraged to volunteer, as there are a number of vacant sites.

There are currently over 500 Irish Wetland Bird Survey volunteers who have contributed to a substantial gathering of data since it was established in 1994.

Many of the vacant sites are small and close together, meaning one person could easily fill several of these gaps in a few short hours, it says.

Some areas which have teams of counters often need an extra pair of experienced eyes.

The 2023/24 season will be the 30th year of the Irish Wetland Bird Survey.

Survey leaders are also keen to know if waterbirds are using a location in an area that is not currently part of its monitoring network so they can add it as a new subsite.

Anyone interested in joining a count team or helping out at other sites is asked to email Niamh at [email protected].

Published in Marine Wildlife

Sensitive habitats such as the Kish Bank off the coast of Dublin and Wicklow have no protection in spite of promised legislation, the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) has said.

The NGO has welcomed the announcement by Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan that a large new special protection area (SPA) for birds is to be designated in the north-west Irish Sea.

“SPAs are designated under existing legislation for the protection of birds and are a form of marine protected area (MPA),” the IWT said in a statement.

“ The announcement brings the coverage of our marine environment falling within designated areas for nature to nearly 10%,” the IWT said.

“The new designation, along with other recent announcements, are vitally important in ensuring that future developments do not result in harm to these sensitive places,” it said.

“ However, in nearly all instances, harmful activities, particularly from fishing, are already underway. If MPAs are to be effective, they must control the fishing,” it said.

The IWT said it was calling on Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue, to “accelerate the process of carrying out fisheries assessments in existing MPAs in line with goals to protect and restore biodiversity”.

“creating new MPAs is a critical step in the protection of our seas”

“In particular, this means removing particularly harmful activities such as dredging, bottom trawling or mid-water trawling from these areas,” it said.

“Earlier this year, the European Commission called for the removal of bottom-towed fishing gear from all MPAs and asked that member states, including Ireland, produce a plan for the ending of these practices in existing MPAs by next March,” it said.

IWT campaign officer Pádraic Fogarty said that “creating new MPAs is a critical step in the protection of our seas”.

“They are the foundations for long-term management, but without the management and especially the removal of particularly harmful fishing practices, the designations are meaningless,”he said.

The Government has set a target of protecting 30% of Irish seas by 2030.

Published in Marine Planning
Tagged under

An area in the northwest Irish Sea is to be designated as Ireland’s largest ever protected zone for birds.

The proposed new special protection area (SPA) will cover over 230,000 hectares and will increase Ireland’s percentage of marine waters protected under the EU Birds and Habitats directive to over 9 per cent.

That’s according to Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan and National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) director general Niall Ó Donnchú.

Mr Ó Donnchú declared the designation as a “milestone” for the “protection of Ireland’s marine biodiversity”.

The new SPA adjoins twelve existing SPAs already designated along the coast in this area, he says.

The publication of detailed information and maps for the site brings “certainty and clarity to a long-mooted proposal for protections for marine birds in this area”, they state.

“This site, at more than 230,000 hectares, is the largest SPA designation for birds in Ireland’s history,” Mr Noonan said.

“We are working hard as a Government to ensure we have robust protections in place for nature as we work to deliver on our offshore renewable energy objectives. Biodiversity action and climate action must go hand in hand, “he said.

The new north-west Irish Sea SPA extends offshore along the coasts of counties Louth, Meath and Dublin.

It will be of “conservation interest” for these seabirds: Common Scoter; Red-throated Diver; Great Northern Diver; Fulmar; Manx Shearwater; Shag; Cormorant; Little Gull; Kittiwake; Black-headed Gull; Common Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Little Tern, Roseate Tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot

It will adjoin these existing protected areas: Lambay Island SPA; Skerries Island SPA; Ireland's Eye SPA; Howth Head SPA; Rockabill SPA; South Dublin Bay and River Tolka Estuary SPA; Boyne Estuary SPA; River Nanny Estuary and Shore SPA; Rogerstown Estuary SPA; Malahide Estuary SPA; Baldoyle Bay SPA and North Bull Island SPA.

More detailed information about the site, including a map, a species list and a list of the Activities Requiring Consent (ARCs) for the site is available on www.npws.ie/protectedsites.

The NPWS says that in keeping with the Birds and Habitats Regulations 2011, any person with an interest in the proposed site may submit an objection or observation at the following email address: [email protected].

“Objections or observations may only be based on scientific, ornithological grounds,” it says.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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