Coastal News

Report Highlights Urgent Need for More Surveys of Ireland’s Ocean

A new report from Fair Seas and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has raised fresh concerns about the lack of monitoring of Ireland’s inshore waters by the state. The Celtic Mist 2023 Scientific Report details the findings of five months of research surveys along more than 3,200 kilometers along the coastlines of counties Cork, Kerry and Clare.

The focus of researchers from the IWDG, with the support of Fair Seas, was on two large Areas of Interest (AOI), which both showed low numbers of harbor porpoise sightings. In the Southwest Coast AOI, researchers say sightings were ‘significantly lower than expected’, especially within the Roaring Water Bay and Islands Special Area of Conservation (SAC), which aims to conserve harbor porpoise under EU law. In the Loop Head to Kenmare AOI, no harbor porpoises were observed at all within the Blasket Islands SAC, which is also designated to protect harbor porpoises.

Irish Whale and Dolphin Group Science Officer and Fair Seas Partner Rebecca Dudley says theirs is the latest piece of research that points to the issue: “Harbor porpoise numbers have been shown to be in decline off many parts of Ireland in recent years. We need more research to explore the drivers behind the decline, but it is undoubtedly a cause for concern, given the importance of this species to our Special Areas of Conservation. It is disappointing to see that still no management plans for these supposedly ‘protected areas’ have been developed by the Government.

“It’s vitally important that additional state resources are allocated to this kind of research. We are lucky to have a group of dedicated volunteers working with us, but effective monitoring of what’s going on in the water off our coastline is a mammoth task and beyond the scope of groups like our own.

“If the Irish Government is to meet its target of protecting 30% of Irish waters with Marine Protected Areas by 2030, then monitoring must drastically increase along with robust management plans for all designated areas. The message is all the more timely given this Saturday, [June 8th], marks World Ocean Day 2024, which has ‘Catalyzing Action for Our Ocean & Climate’ as its action theme.”

The report highlights how no humpback whales were observed in the survey areas in the southwest at all, which tallies with reports from the IWDG’s Sighting Scheme of sightings being recorded further north, off the Sligo and Mayo coasts. The number of large baleen whales recorded were low in both areas surveyed, while eight sightings of fin whales occurred within the Loop Head to Kenmare section.

A total of 462 sightings of large marine animals or megafauna were recorded during nine surveys conducted between April and September last year. Some of the results include:

  • 48% of those seen were common dolphins
  • 22% were grey seals
  • 12% were minke whales
  • 25 sightings of bottlenose dolphins
  • 1 blue shark was spotted

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