Saving the abundant wildlife that inhabits the Irish Sea


The Irish Sea system is a marine protected area — but more in theory than in name, as only 0.01% of it is fully protected. A new joint effort, the Irish Sea Network, is seeking to remedy this situation.

Six conservation organizations have joined forces to create the Irish Sea Network in hopes of helping its nature and wildlife to thrive with a simpler, unified approach, in the face of climate change and potentially damaging activities such as as fishing, shipping and pollution.

The Manx Wildlife Trust, North Wales Wildlife Trust, North West Wildlife Trusts, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Sustainable Water Network (Ireland), Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and Ulster Wildlife published a review last week spouse of the “degraded” zone. Findings include that 36% of the Irish Sea is a Marine Protected Area (MPA), but only around 5% has management in place and less than 0.01% is fully protected. “Wildlife doesn’t adhere to lines drawn on maps,” says Georgia de Jong Cleyndert, marine manager at the North West Wildlife Trusts. “That’s why we’re calling on politicians and business leaders to work with us.”

Some 15 million people live around the Irish Sea and tourism and recreation are fundamental, but there must be a balance with marine environmental priorities. On the Isle of Man in 2018 alone, 308,263 visitors spent £132.8m; in 2019, there were 2.31 million domestic overnight trips to coastal areas of Scotland, generating an outlay of £448 million. In addition, “the Irish Sea is about to get much busier”, warns Sinéad O’Brien of Sustainable Water Network, with “a huge expansion of offshore renewable energy projects”.

“The seagrass beds, salt marshes, sediments, shell beds and reefs, intertidal mudflats and brittlestar beds” of the Irish Sea are vital stores of blue carbon, adds Ms de Jong Cleyndert. However, “when marine habitats are damaged, they cannot hold as much carbon.” “Current trajectories of greenhouse gas emissions lead to a warming of 2.6 to 4.5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100… with impacts on plankton, fish, birds and mammals,” the report said.

“We often describe the Irish Sea as the Forgotten Sea because it attracts less attention than other parts of the British and Irish coast, and because despite millions of people living and holidaying along its shores, very few of us get to see and experience either the wealth of life that lives there or the damage done to this particular wildlife by inappropriate and unregulated activities,” adds Tom Burditt, CEO of Lancashire Wildlife Trust.

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