January 30, 2023
Image: Hope Spot Champions Lucy Hunt (right), Founder of SeaSynergy and Aoife O Mahony, Campaign Manager for Fair Seas Photo by Alan Landers
(THE SKELLIGS, IRELAND) –
In the southwestern waters off Ireland is Sceilg Mhichíl or The Skelligs, one of the most spectacular early medieval monastic sites in the world. The island stands out in the Atlantic, towering above waters with creatures like bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops), the elusive flapper skate (Dipturus batis) and stingrays (Dasyatis pastinaca). The Greater Skellig Coast stretches from Kenmare Bay in Co Kerry to Loop Head in Co Clare and covers an area of roughly 7,000 km2 of Irish coastal waters.
In the modern day, residents have connected with their blue backyard through a dolphin named Fungi, who for 38 years delighted locals with frequent sightings. Fungi led to the development of the first major marine ecotourism industry in Ireland, which attracted renowned scientists from across the globe, and in turn, ignited a movement to inspire people both near and far to protect 30% of Ireland’s EEZ by 2030.
International marine conservation nonprofit Mission Blue recognizes the Greater Skellig Coast as a Hope Spot – the first in Ireland – and Aoife O’ Mahony, Campaign Manager, Fair Seas and Lucy Hunt, Founder, SeaSynergy as the Hope Spot Champions.
Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue says, “This Hope Spot is being announced at a crucial time for Ireland because in 2023, new national marine protected area (MPA) legislation will be introduced for the first time. 81% of Irish people believe that we need to protect, conserve and restore the ocean. This legislation will help achieve this very desirable protection.”
O’ Mahony says, “It is incredible to see a small part of Ireland’s seas being recognized as critically important to global ocean health by Mission Blue, and joining the likes of the Galapágos Islands and other world-famous marine locations.” She continues, “The waters off the coast of Kerry and Clare are rich with fascinating creatures and marine life, but there has been an alarming decline in the numbers of iconic species like angel sharks in recent years. We want to halt that decline and give species every chance to thrive. 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.”
The Fair Seas campaign is calling for 30% of Ireland’s ocean to be fully protected by 2030. Fair Seas’ aim is to see Ireland, with a renewed appreciation of the ocean, become a world leader in marine protection, giving the species, habitats, and coastal communities the opportunity to thrive. Sea Synergy, is a marine awareness and activity center based in Kerry. Fair Seas has been campaigning for the Government to designate a minimum of 30% of Irish waters as Marine Protected Areas (MPA) by 2030. The Greater Skellig Coast is one of 16 ‘Areas of Interest’ identified for possible MPA designation by the organization.
Lucy Hunt says, “We have so much to be proud of when it comes to our coast and the Wild Atlantic way, from the wildlife to the views. It’s important we do everything we can to preserve and where needed restore it. We’re lucky that we can see dolphins, seals and huge bird colonies from the shore as well as experience a whole other amazing world beneath the surface from kelp forests to jeweled sea walls.”
Hunt founded Sea Synergy in 2014 to help raise awareness of the importance of the ocean and encourage others to fall in love with and to help protect it.
She elaborates, “The Hope Spot designation confirms what we already knew in Co Kerry and Co Clare, that the ocean is critically important. It’s my wish that this designation will help inspire people to take a closer look at what the ocean offers and that we will see more Hope Spots and action to live in harmony with Ireland’s ocean.”
The Hope Spot boundary contains the Skellig Islands and the area between Loop Head in County Clare and Kenmare Bay, County Kerry. There are several unique coastal water bodies in this region, including the Shannon Estuary, Tralee and Brandon Bays, Dingle Bay, Portmagee Channel, and part of Kenmare Bay. The Greater Skellig Coast is home to critically endangered sharks, globally important seabird colonies, and animals threatened with extinction that rely on the area for breeding and feeding.
The Tralee, Brandon and Dingle bays are important areas for threatened elasmobranch species. Tralee bay is one of the last remaining “hot spot” for the critically endangered angel shark (Squatina squatina) and white skate (Rostroraja alba), both of which also breed in Tralee Bay. Also found in the Tralee, Brandon and Dingle Bays are the critically endangered blue skate (Dipturus batis) and flapper skate, the endangered stingray and undulate ray (Raja undulata) and the tope shark (Galeorhinus galeus), cuckoo ray (Leucoraja naevus) and spurdog (Squalus acanthias) which are classed as vulnerable in an Irish Red List assessment.
Dr. Steve Newton of BirdWatch Ireland expresses his support. “The Mission Blue Hope Spot will highlight this area globally and help to put additional pressure on all stakeholders to protect these vital species-rich areas of our ocean as a result.”
There is cause for hope. The Irish Government is currently preparing the first national Marine Protected Area legislation due to come into law in 2023. The Irish government has committed to protecting 30% of the Irish EEZ by 2030 in its program for the government.
O’ Mahony concludes, “This Hope Spot recognition is even more critical now as we finalize 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.”
About Fair Seas
The Fair Seas campaign is led by a coalition of Ireland’s leading environmental non-governmental organizations and networks including Irish Wildlife Trust, BirdWatch Ireland, Sustainable Water Network, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Coomhola Salmon Trust, Irish Environmental Network, and Coastwatch. It is funded by Oceans 5, Blue Nature Alliance, BFCT, and The Wyss Foundation.
About Sea Synergy
Sea Synergy is a Marine Awareness, Research, and Activity Centre that offers a variety of meaningful activities, workshops, and adventures that empower all ages. Sea Synergy’s immersive experiences in the Skellig Coast’s rich local heritage and environment allow our clients to fully experience what Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way has to offer. Sea Synergy was founded in 2014 by marine biologist Lucy Hunt, in her hometown, the beautiful coastal village of Waterville, located on the picturesque Ring of Kerry in SW Ireland. Sea Synergy also works on conservation projects and marine research in coastal environments such as beach cleans and biodiversity projects. Internships are offered to students to help build their experience in outreach, education and research.