The Fair Seas Revitalising Our Seas report identifies 16 areas of interest (AOI) for MPA designation in Irish waters. The area of coast spanning Donegal to Sligo is one of these areas. It may be the smallest AOI identified in the Fair Seas Revitalising Our Seas report, covering just 0.29% of Ireland’s maritime area, but it is nonetheless a hugely important area for seabirds and fish species. The area supports several seabird colonies of national importance and incorporates many existing Natura2000 sites, including Donegal Bay SPA.
A hive of seabird activity
Lying around 6km northwest of Streedagh Point, the rocky north-eastern shore of Inishmurray hosts several breeding seabirds. Further inland, the stonework of the island’s monastic site is used by small petrels for burrows and nests. Uninhabited by humans since 1948, the island is bustling with seabird activity. An important breeding and wintering area, Inishmurray accounts for 8%, 5% and 3.5% of Ireland’s breeding population of Shag, Lesser Black Backed Gull, and Greater Black Backed Gull respectively. This is no small feat, and there are also 4 EU Birds Directive Annex I species (barnacle goose, European storm-petrel, Arctic tern and Common tern) regularly occurring on the island.
Meanwhile, south of Inishmurray, Ardboline and Horse Island hosts 4% of Ireland’s breeding population of Cormorant, along with approximately 500 breeding pairs of Kittiwakes, 90 pairs of razorbills, and 280 pairs of the European Storm Petrel.
A closer look at the breeding seabird populations
Streedagh Point Dunes is the most important foraging area for Herring Gulls, with Cummeen Strand, lower Lough Erne and Killybegs Harbour also used for foraging purposes.  Research conducted over a 3-year study period showed that Herring Gulls nesting at Inishmurray are consistent in their foraging range, habitat range and distribution, attending the same areas.
European Storm Petrel
The smallest seabird in Europe, the European Storm Petrel nests near both deep and shallower ocean waters. The European Storm Petrel has a diverse prey preference ranging from zooplankton and small fish. 
Despite their reputation as the most oceanic of all gull species, Kittiwakes tend to stay near to the colony throughout the breeding season and rely on areas close to their nest to forage. Unlike other seabirds who can find prey in deeper water, Kittiwakes do not possess the same foraging range and are therefore more impacted by local changes in prey abundance or availability. 
Razorbills feed their chicks on lesser sandeels, sprats and herring. As diving seabirds, they can pursue prey up to depths of more than 120m, therefore avoiding constraints faced by surface feeders such as Kittiwakes. 
Most often spotted along the southern and western coasts, the Sooty Shearwater is a frequent visitor to this AOI. Sooty Shearwaters breed on subantarctic islands during autumn and early winter.
Whiting, herring, sandeels and sprat are collectively known as ‘forage fish’. Forage fish provide an important link in the marine ecosystem and are important prey for seabirds. Whiting and herring spawning grounds are found in this AOI, and Donegal Bay was one of the main catch locations for sprat between 2016 and 2020. A food source for seabirds and cetaceans, it is of huge concern that there is currently no fishing quota on sprat in Irish waters because our marine species need a reliable prey source that is protected from overexploitation.  Establishing Marine Protected Areas that fail to provide effective protection for foraging areas will therefore fail to sustain a vibrant marine environment with healthy and thriving seabird populations.
If you want to find out more about how the MPA designation of the Donegal and Sligo coastal area would benefit marine wildlife, habitats, and coastal communities, come along to our Donegal premiere of the short film. Our film gives viewers a flavour of the ecosystem services that the ocean provides along the northwest coast, from carbon sequestration to food provision, while creating a vision for change to ensure that the ocean remains healthy and resilient for decades to come. Dates to be announced soon.
We also ask you to sign our petition to ensure that strong Marine Protected Area legislation is enacted without delay.
 Foras na Mara Marine Institute, The Stock Book: Annual Review of Fisheries Stocks in 2022 with Management Advice for 2023.
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