Waters off south-west Ireland declared 'Hope Spot'
A stretch of the Atlantic Ocean off south-west Ireland has been declared as the nation's first 'Hope Spot'.
Hope Spots, which are places that are scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean, are typically known for their importance to wildlife. They are designated by the global marine conservation group, Mission Blue and existing spots include the Galápagos Islands, Great Barrier Reef, Northwest Passage and parts of Antarctica.
Stretching from Kenmare Bay in Co Kerry to Loop Head in Co Clare, the Great Skellig Coast covers an area of roughly 7,000 sq km of Irish coastal waters.
Dr Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue, said of the area: "This Hope Spot contains key breeding areas for several threatened species of sharks, rays and skates. It is a hot-spot for cetaceans, with Bottlenose Dolphins, Harbour Porpoises, Humpback, Fin and Minke Whales calling this place home. Puffins, Arctic Terns, Sandwich Terns, Northern Gannets and European Storm Petrels are among the beautiful seabirds here."
The Skellig Islands are focalpoints of the wider Great Skellig Coast, which has been recognised as a Hope Spot (Fair Seas).
Fair Seas, an environmental NGO coalition, has been campaigning for the Irish Government to designate a minimum of 30% of Irish waters as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2030.
The Greater Skellig Coast encompasses one of 16 'Areas of Interest' that Fair Seas has identified for possible MPA designation.
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, joining the likes of the Galapágos Islands and other world-famous marine locations. 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."
Irish 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'.
"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."