In June 2022 Fair Seas published a report ‘Revitalising Our Seas’, which provides information on where to best conserve and restore marine species and habitats in Ireland. We looked at over 50 different species, all important for Ireland’s marine biodiversity, including whales, dolphins, sharks, fish, coral, seabirds and many more. Based on our analysis of the best available data, we identified 16 Areas of Interest for potential Marine Protected Area (MPA) designation. 

The Irish Government has committed to protecting 30% of its waters through MPAs by 2030.  Unfortunately, it has already failed to reach the less ambitious 2020 target of 10% coverage. Currently, there is only 2.1% of the Irish Maritime Area designated as MPAs. This means a 15-fold increase is needed in under eight years.

It is our hope that Revitalising Our Seas accelerates Government action on MPAs, and jump-starts the public conversation on ‘what are MPAs’, and ‘why we need MPAs’. We want our work to build on the already huge support for safeguarding our marine environment from people across the Island. 

A new series of blogs, one on each of our Areas of Interest. 

In this series, we will cover each Area of Interest (AOI) and discuss all the wonderful marine wildlife that led to its selection in our report. For more information on Revitalising Our Seas, you can find the full report here which details all the methods used and data analysed. 

We are also currently travelling along our coast meeting with members of Ireland’s fishing and coastal communities as part of our video series, Real Voices. In this series, we are discussing the potential of MPAs in local areas and what they might mean for those living alongside them. 

How did we select our Areas of Interest (AOIs)? 

So to put it simply, we looked at the available data on five species groups in Irish waters:

  1. Cetaceans (whales, dolphins & porpoises))
  2. Seabirds
  3. Elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays and chimaeras)
  4. Commercially exploited species (e.g. fish)
  5. Seabed features (like corals and seapens)

First, we looked at where species from these different groups occurred. Then we put the analysis of all the different groups together to identify areas where lots of the species groups occurred together, this is what you could call a ‘marine biodiversity hotspot’. 

For cetaceans, seabirds and elasmobranchs survey data was used to identify areas with high population density and species richness. 

Populations Density: the number of individual animals of the same species living in an area.

Species Richness: the number of different species living in the same area. 

So, we looked for the number of animals from one species that were found in an area and also the number of different species that lived in the same area together. 

Tope Shark by Andy Murch. A shark swims underwater, the watch is dark and the shark uses its left eye to get a look at the camera.
Tope Shark by Andy Murch

For seabed features, we looked at where particularly sensitive organisms and habitats occurred. Seabed features included cold-water coral reefs that are found on the continental shelf, seapens that are found on the muddy bottom in some parts of our seas or seagrass meadows. 

Commercially exploited species and existing locations of spawning grounds were considered as evidence that an area is of high importance for the species in question. For example, there are cod, herring and haddock spawning grounds in places along Ireland’s South and East coasts. The largest herring spawning grounds in Ireland are located north of Donegal, whiting also spawns in this area. 

When looking at seabird data, a scoring system was developed to identify potential hotspots, taking account of the species’ conservation status and the age of the recorded sighting.

Dublin Pay Prawn pokes its head and large claws out of its burrow on the muddy sea floor.
Dublin Bay Prawn by Paul Naylor

Full details on all the areas, species and methods used can be found in the full report PDF here. 

Keep an eye out on social media for the blog about your closest AOI and please share them with anyone you think might be interested. 

Keep up to date with Fairseas and MPA news and developments, by subscribing up to our newsletter here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

We also welcome you to join us in Cork on 8th June, where we are hosting our inaugural World Ocean Day conference. We are bringing ocean advocates, government, industry and key stakeholders together to map out the next steps for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Irish waters.




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