Fair Seas research finds half of Irish waters are more resilient to effects of global warming

A new report has been published by Fair Seas highlighting key Irish marine areas that can promote  biodiversity in the face of the impact of worsening climate change. The coalition of leading environmental NGOs and networks has commissioned research to identify the areas of Ireland’s marine environment that have the best opportunity to preserve ocean species and habitats for decades to come.

The research predicts that all Irish inshore waters will be under pressure from climate change by the end of the century. It is hoped that the climate report will help inform the site selection process for Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in Ireland. The long-awaited legislation is at an advanced stage of drafting and is due to be published in the coming weeks.

Ecologists, researchers and data scientists from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) found that more than half of Irish waters host climate change sanctuaries – areas that are more resilient to the effects of climate change. The majority of these areas are located in offshore regions and overlap with sites previously identified as ‘Areas of interest’ for MPA designation by Fair Seas.

Much of the excess heat created from greenhouse gas emissions is absorbed by the ocean. Record levels of heat were absorbed during 2023, with sea temperatures rising year on year for the past decade. This ocean warming can impact animal behaviour and movement, as well destabilising and disrupting the vital ecosystems we rely on for food and coastal protection.

Fair Seas coordinator Dr Donal Griffin said, “The marine heatwaves that struck Ireland and across the world last summer are a stark reminder of the effects of climate change. Rising sea temperatures may cause fish and other species typically found in Irish waters to move out of our marine area to cooler northern latitudes. Marine Protected Areas provide a huge opportunity for us to preserve our biodiversity for future generations and we need to be smart about where they are located. The team at Plymouth Marine Laboratory used state-of-the-art climate modelling and analysis to identify the areas of Ireland’s ocean that are most resilient to climate change. This report will help Ireland choose the areas that will benefit biodiversity the most in the face of ever worsening impacts of climate change.”

Professor Ana Queiros, Principal Investigator at Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) and lead author of the study said: “Climate-driven changes to habitat conditions are already leading to an unprecedented re-distribution pace for marine species in our coasts and seas. Marine Protected Areas that are put in place in recognition of those changes present an invaluable time-buying strategy to protect our marine wildlife until such a time when we have slowed down the pace of climate change. The data made available in this chapter builds on our work in Ireland and in other areas of the world, as part of a wider global effort to help policymakers design MPA networks that harness areas which are biologically meaningful as well as less sensitive to climate change. Understanding that variation in sensitivity is key to delivering effective marine conservation at a time of global change.”

Grace Carr, Marine Advocacy Officer for The Irish Wildlife Trust said, “Warming seas due to climate change threaten marine biodiversity and the livelihoods of Ireland’s coastal communities. Therefore, it is vital that measures are put in place to carefully manage and monitor the areas showing the greatest resilience to these adverse effects. Marine Protected Areas offer our coastal communities and biodiversity this key solution to ensuring a safe and viable future in Irish waters. While it is vital that global emissions are also simultaneously reduced, MPAs store and lock away carbon, once managed correctly, helping us in the fight against climate change.”

A Climate-resilient Path for Ireland’s Marine Protected Areas is an addendum chapter to ‘Revitalising Our Seas report: Identifying Areas of Interest for Marine Protected Area Designation in Irish Watersthat was published by Fair Seas in June 2022. The new chapter was authored by Ana M. Queirós, Elizabeth Talbot, Susan Kay, Sevrine Sailley and Jose A Fernandes.

Full report available to read here.

This work was supported by a Call for Knowledge, as part of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme Climate Change and Future Marine Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity (FutureMARES). It was further supported by NERC/ESRC through the project Marine Spatial Planning Addressing Climate Effects.

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