Saving the teeming wildlife that calls the Irish Sea home

The Irish Sea Network is a Marine Protected Area — but more in theory than in name, since only 0.01% of it is under full protection. A new joint effort, the Irish Sea Network, is seeking to put that right.

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

Manx Wildlife Trust, North Wales Wildlife Trust, the North West Wildlife Trusts, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Sustainable Water Network (Ireland), The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and Ulster Wildlife published a joint review of the ‘degraded’ area last week. Findings include the fact that 36% of the Irish Sea is a Marine Protected Area (MPA), yet only about 5% has management in place and less than 0.01% is fully protected. ‘Wildlife does not adhere to lines drawn on maps,’ explains Georgia de Jong Cleyndert, head of marine at the North West Wildlife Trusts. ‘That’s why we are calling on politicians and business leaders to work with us.’

Some 15 million people live around the Irish Sea and tourism and recreational activities are fundamental, but there needs to be balance with marine environment priorities. On the Isle of Man, during 2018 alone, 308,263 visitors spent £132.8 million; during 2019, there were 2.31 million domestic overnight trips to Scotland’s coastal locations, generating a spend of £448 million. What’s more, ‘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 Irish Sea’s ‘seagrass, saltmarsh, sediment, shellfish beds and reefs, intertidal sand and mud flats and brittlestar beds’ are vital stores for blue carbon, adds Ms de Jong Cleyndert. However, ‘when marine habitats are damaged, they can’t retain as much carbon’. ‘Current trajectories of greenhouse gas emissions lead to warming of 2.6–4.5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100… with impacts on plankton, fish, birds and mammals,’ states the report.

‘We often describe the Irish Sea as the Forgotten Sea, because it gets less attention than other parts of the British and Irish coastline, 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 living in it, or the damage being done to that special wildlife by inappropriate and unregulated activities,’ adds Tom Burditt, CEO of Lancashire Wildlife Trust.

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