Greater Skellig Coast deemed critical to the health of the ocean by global organisation
A large swathe of ocean off the south west coast of Ireland has been added to a list of ‘Hope Spots’ by a global marine conservation movement. Mission Blue is led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle and now has a network of 148 Hope Spots across the globe. It aims to inspire public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of Marine Protected Areas.
Hope Spots are special places that are scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean. Existing spots include the Galápagos Islands, the Great Barrier Reef, the Northwest Passage and parts of Antarctica. Some locations are already formally protected, while others still need defined protection.
The Greater Skellig Coast stretches from Kenmare Bay in Co Kerry to Loop Head in Co Clare and covers an area of roughly 7,000km2 of Irish coastal waters. It is home to critically endangered sharks, globally important seabird colonies, and animals threatened with extinction which rely on these areas for breeding and feeding.
Image: Gannet colony on the Skelligs
The area has been championed by Fair Seas, a coalition of Ireland’s leading environmental non-governmental organisations and networks, with the support of Sea Synergy, a marine awareness and activity centre based in Kerry. Fair Seas has been campaigning for the Government to designate a minimum of 30% of Irish waters as Marine Protected Areas (MPA) by 2030. The Greater Skellig Coast is one of 16 ‘Areas of Interest’ identified for possible MPA designation by the organisation.
Mission Blue was founded by American oceanographer, explorer and author Dr Sylvia Earle. She has been National Geographic’s Explorer in Residence since 1998 and was named the first Hero for the Planet by Time Magazine.
Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue says, “This Hope Spot is being announced at a crucial time for Ireland because in 2023, new national Marine Protected Area (MPA) legislation will be introduced for the first time. 81% of Irish people believe that we need to protect, conserve and restore the ocean. This legislation will help achieve this very desirable protection.”
Aoife O’ Mahony, Campaign Manager for Fair Seas said, “It is incredible to see a small part of Ireland’s seas being recognised as critically important to global ocean health by Mission Blue, and joining the likes of the Galapágos Islands and other world-famous marine locations. The waters off the coast of Kerry and Clare are rich with fascinating creatures and marine life but there has been an alarming decline in the numbers of iconic species like angel sharks in recent years. We want to halt that decline and give species every chance to thrive. The Hope Spot will help us to raise awareness and bring the public closer to the ocean as we work to safeguard the water and the marine life within. This global recognition is even more critical now as we finalise our own national MPA legislation in Ireland. We have one chance to do this right and we owe it to the next generation to do this well.”
Minister for Tourism, Catherine Martin added, “I welcome the news that a large area of ocean off the south west coast of Ireland has been added to a list of ‘Hope Spots’ by the global marine conservation movement, Mission Blue, which is led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle. Our small island of Ireland is not only draped in a wealth of natural beauty but it is also surrounded by an ocean filled with an assortment of marine life and a coastline, which houses numerous colonies of birds and wildlife. This all contributes to the richness and attractiveness of Ireland as a destination for tourists and all of which needs to be preserved and protected. Announcements like this are also timely as we are currently developing a new national tourism policy. This new policy will seek to support sustainable economic development in communities throughout the country, whilst protecting our environment and natural resources.”
Image: Puffin with bill full of sand eels on Skellig Michael. (James West).
Aoife O’Mahony from Fair Seas and Lucy Hunt have been named as champions of the Greater Skellig Coast Hope Spot by Mission Blue.
Lucy Hunt said, “I founded Sea Synergy in 2014 to help raise awareness of the importance of the ocean and encourage others to fall in love with the ocean and to help protect it. We have so much to be proud of when it comes to our coast and the Wild Atlantic way, from the wildlife to the views. It’s important we do everything we can to preserve and where needed restore it. We’re lucky that we can see dolphins, seals and huge bird colonies from the shore as well as experience a whole other amazing world beneath the surface from kelp forests to jewelled sea walls. The Hope Spot designation confirms what we already knew in Co Kerry and Co Clare, that the ocean is critically important. It’s my wish that this designation will help inspire people to take a closer look at what the ocean offers and that we will see more Hope Spots and action to live in harmony with Ireland’s ocean.”