Decades of pollution and exploitation have put wildlife in the Irish Sea at risk.
This is according to a representative of one of the 13 conservation organizations that have joined forces to form a group that calls for action to solve the problem.
The group, which includes the Manx Wildlife Trust, known collectively as the Irish Sea Network, is appealing to planners from all six nations that border the Irish Sea – namely England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Isle of Man – to collaborate and cooperate, for the good of nature.
In its new report published this week, the network calls on planners to work together to ensure wildlife is protected as they review how the Irish Sea is used.
According to conservation groups, the Irish Sea is under significant and increasing pressure from harmful activities such as industrial fishing, aquaculture, offshore renewable energy development, shipping, military activity, recreational activity and the pollution.
All of these activities harm marine species, which are already threatened by the impacts of climate change, says the network,
The Irish Sea Network reports that although more than a third of the Irish Sea has been designated as Marine Protected Areas, only five percent is actually managed for nature and less than 0.01 percent is fully protected from harmful activities. .
This leaves Irish Sea wildlife and the habitats it depends on at serious risk, with little chance of nature recovering. In addition to their intrinsic value, people depend on healthy seas because they produce oxygen, sequester carbon in the seabed, provide food security and livelihoods for local fishing and coastal communities, enable low-impact ecotourism opportunities, and contribute for our well-being and culture.
Marine wildlife doesn’t respect borders – but each Irish Sea nation is producing separate marine planning documents. Each plan will cover a wide range of uses of the Irish Sea, from rules on fishing and renewable energy to shipping and tourism.
The Irish Sea Network states that all planners and decision-makers must collaborate and cooperate better and urgently, to consider the Irish Sea as a whole and ensure that natural and climate crises are at the forefront during this process.
Flock of shearwaters (Puffinus puffinus) taking flight. July 2011. (Chris Gomersall/VISION 2020)
Joan Edwards, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at The Wildlife Trusts, says: “The Irish Sea is a special place, but decades of overexploitation and pollution have left the wildlife here degraded and at risk.
“As our seas become increasingly industrialized, it is vital that nations work together to prioritize nature and achieving zero carbon.
“We need spatially explicit marine plans that aim to restore nature, ensure the sustainability of all activities and enable a just transition for sea users and communities around our coasts.”
Head of Marine at the North West Wildlife Trusts, Georgia de Jong Cleyndert said: “The Irish Sea is in a degraded state and under huge and increasing pressure from climate change and increasing levels of human activities.
“More than 15 million people live around the Irish Sea and many more visit it on holiday, but not everyone realizes the diversity of wildlife that lives there and its importance for biodiversity and the environment.
‘It is home to a wealth of incredible wildlife – giant basking sharks, leatherback turtles, beautiful starfish and jellyfish, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sharks, and is an important seabird species international, such as shearwaters and guillemots.
“Without adequate protection and management, much of this wildlife faces an uncertain future – pollution, development and habitat destruction could lead to a serious decline in biodiversity. But for protection to be effective, it must be done jointly.’
Georgia added: “Marine species don’t respect borders or stick to lines drawn on maps – they show how connected our Irish Sea is.
“For example, basking sharks migrate throughout the Irish Sea, while cockles from all corners of the Irish Sea are genetically linked.
“Tracking data reveals that Manx shearwaters from each breeding colony around the Irish Sea will travel long distances to a shared central feeding site.
“Species are so interconnected that we firmly believe that the Irish Sea must be considered as a whole and that urgent action to protect nature must be taken at a transnational level.”
All six Irish Sea nations have committed to protecting and restoring at least 30% of our seas by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050.
However, the bodies warn that all the large-scale developments and numerous activities in the Irish Sea still put marine wildlife and their habitats at risk.
Manx Wildlife Trusts and its partners are now calling on planners to ensure that environmental projects such as wind farms are placed in the right locations and are not located in marine protected areas where submarine cables could damage fragile habitats and ecosystems. at the bottom of the sea.
Georgia said: “It is fantastic that all Irish Sea nations have committed to protecting 30% of their seas by 2030, but right now this commitment is not a reality.
“We need better governance to ensure that our already fragile underwater ecosystems are not further threatened. Planners need to work together to be more strategic.
“For example, using cable corridors, so that different cables from various wind farm developers can merge their cabling in one location, thus greatly reducing damage to the seabed.
“Other key areas for collaboration include shifting fishing in Highly Protected Marine Areas to other less fragile areas, and replacing trawling methods with less harmful forms of fishing, such as the use of pits, as well as exploring the benefits of nature tourism.
“Local communities, as well as the economies of all six Irish Sea nations, will benefit from more strategic and joint planning for our seas, as well as benefiting from urgent natural and climate crises.”
Leigh Morris, CEO of the Manx Wildlife Trust, said: “85% of the Isle of Man’s territory is in the Irish Sea and our island is positioned in the center of it. “There are important issues for the Manx Wildlife Trust regarding how our territorial waters are used and sustained, and how important species and habitats within them are conserved and, in some cases, restored.
A basking shark (Ceterhinus maximus) feeding on plankton (visible as white dots) concentrated on the surface of the Isle of Coll, Inner Hebrides, Scotland. British Isles. Northeast Atlantic Ocean. Photographed in June. (Alexander Mostarda/VISION 2020)
“With discussions now gathering pace over the potential for a large offshore wind farm in our territorial sea, the importance of joint thinking with the other five nations around the Irish Sea is paramount, and we see this collaboration as a significant step advance the creation of a Marine Spatial Plan for the entire Irish Sea.
A spokesperson for the Irish Wildlife Trust said a joint approach from all nations with an interest in the Irish Sea was vital if marine habitats were to be protected.
A statement from the Irish Wildlife Trust states: “As we all know, nature recognizes no borders and so it is imperative that we adopt a transboundary approach when designating areas for protection, fishing and industry in this biodiversity area.
“With the new Irish MPA Bill due to be launched early this year, the knowledge sharing and collaboration under this report will make it an important tool in advocating for a nature and ecosystem-focused OEM in the Sea of Ireland”.
According to experts, the waters around the Isle of Man are home to a variety of stunning marine life.
These include basking sharks and humpback whales that roam the “gap” between the Isle of Man and North Wales.
According to the network, there is some evidence that basking sharks spend the entire year in the Irish Sea, feeding and reproducing.
Also native to the waters of the Irish Sea is the Manx shearwater, a seabird known for its frightening song and which was once mistaken for witches by pirates off the coast of Wales.
They travel thousands of miles every year to nest in their hobbit-like holes and raise a super cute chick.
According to experts, baby shearwaters get so big that they can’t leave the nest – and instead must go on a crash diet in preparation for their big winter trip to South America.
The Irish Sea Network was established in September 2020 through funding provided by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the John Ellerman Foundation
Steve Trotter, CEO of Cumbria Wildlife Trust said “The Irish Sea Network is a vital partnership bringing together representatives from all six nations around the Irish Sea.
Irish Sea Map (–)
“This report reflects an urgent need to protect and strategically manage this incredibly important but busy regional sea.
“Our marine environment plays an important role in mitigating climate change, but it can only do so if it is healthy and if action is taken to reduce and reverse biodiversity loss and protect ecologically important areas.”
Tom Burditt, CEO of Lancashire Wildlife Trust (2022), said: ‘We often describe the Irish Sea as the forgotten sea, because it receives less attention than other parts of the British and Irish coastline, and because despite millions of people living and vacationing along its beaches, very few of us get to see and experience the richness of the life that lives there, or the damage caused to that special wildlife by inappropriate and unregulated activities. “We need new ways of working to better manage the Irish Sea and work in partnership with the communities and businesses that live and work in and alongside this fabulous marine ecosystem.”
Jennifer Fulton, CEO of Ulster Wildlife, said: “To overcome the impacts of biodiversity loss and climate change in the already busy Irish Sea, we urgently need a comprehensive transboundary strategy that has nature recovery at its heart.
«Safeguarding and restoring marine ecosystems must be a priority for Marine Spatial Plans, which must be strategic, spatially prioritized and fit for purpose.
“Together, with a resilient and well-managed network of Marine Protected Areas, we can safeguard marine wildlife and the livelihoods of the many people who depend on the Irish Sea, now and in the future.”