A large swathe of ocean off the south west coast of Ireland has been added to a list of ‘Hope Spots’ by a global marine conservation movement. Mission Blue is led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle and now has a network of 148 Hope Spots across the globe. It aims to inspire public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of Marine Protected Areas.

Hope Spots are special places that are scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean. Existing spots include the Galápagos Islands, the Great Barrier Reef, the Northwest Passage and parts of Antarctica. Some locations are already formally protected, while others still need defined protection.

The Greater Skellig Coast stretches from Kenmare Bay in Co Kerry to Loop Head in Co Clare and covers an area of roughly 7,000km2 of Irish coastal waters. It is home to critically endangered sharks, globally important seabird colonies, and animals threatened with extinction which rely on these areas for breeding and feeding.

The area has been championed by Fair Seas, a coalition of Ireland’s leading environmental non-governmental organisations and networks, with the support of Sea Synergy, a marine awareness and activity centre 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 organisation.

Mission Blue was founded by American oceanographer, explorer and author Dr Sylvia Earle. She has been National Geographic’s Explorer in Residence since 1998 and was named the first Hero for the Planet by Time Magazine.

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.”

Lucy Hunt (right), Founder of SeaSynergy and Aoife Oí Mahony, Campaign Manager for Fair Seas launching Irelandís first (Mission Blue) Hope Spot. Photo Alan Lander

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 by Mission Blue, and joining the likes of the Galapágos Islands and other world-famous marine locations. 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. 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.”

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’ by the global marine conservation movement, Mission Blue, which is led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle. 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.”

Aoife O’Mahony from Fair Seas and Lucy Hunt have been named as champions of the Greater Skellig Coast Hope Spot by Mission Blue.

Lucy Hunt said, “I founded Sea Synergy in 2014 to help raise awareness of the importance of the ocean and encourage others to fall in love with the ocean and to help protect it. 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 jewelled sea walls. 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.”

Dr. Steve Newton of BirdWatch Ireland said “The Greater Skellig Coast includes many of Ireland’s most important seabird colonies, the Blaskets, the Skelligs and Puffin Island collectively support most of our internationally important breeding populations of Northern Gannet, Manx Shearwater, European Storm-petrel and Atlantic Puffin. It also has the most famous ‘sea-watching’ site in Europe, the “Bridges of Ross” on the Loop Head Peninsula, which is passed by tens of thousands of seabirds on their late summer-autumn migrations through the east Atlantic flyway. Twenty-three of Ireland’s twenty four breeding seabird species are Red or Amber Listed Birds of Conservation Concern. 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.”

“The waters between Loop Head, Co. Clare and Kenmare Bay, Co. Kerry, are highly diverse with unique estuaries, bays and islands; its adjoining waters of the eastern Atlantic Ocean provide rich feeding grounds for many species of whales, dolphins and porpoise. The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group are proud this area has been recognised as an international Mission Blue Hope Spot. This designation will provide hope not only for our magnificent marine mammals but also for us island dwellers too.” Sibéal Regan, IWDG Education and outreach officer IWDG

“The Irish Wildlife Trust is delighted to welcome the designation of the first Irish Hope Spot. Getting recognition on an international level will help in the mission to create a network of ecologically coherent MPA’s in Irish waters. The waters around Ireland are rich in biodiversity and need to be protected to preserve the vulnerable species and habitats within them, as well as allowing important ecosystem services to take place. Having the Greater Skellig Coast recognised as a Hope Spot and a vital area for the health of the oceans, will help bring attention to this important region and the great need for robust marine protection. It will also highlight the marine conservation work being done across Ireland, and all the work that still needs to be done.” Kieran Flood, Coordinator, Irish Wildlife Trust.

About Mission Blue

Led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is uniting a global coalition to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas – Hope Spots. Under Dr. Earle’s leadership, the Mission Blue team implements communications campaigns that elevate Hope Spots to the world stage through documentaries, social media, traditional media and innovative tools like Google Earth. Mission Blue embarks on regular oceanic expeditions that shed light on these vital ecosystems and build support for their protection. Mission Blue also supports the work of conservation NGOs around the world that share the mission of building public support for ocean protection.

About Fair Seas

The Fair Seas campaign is led by a coalition of  Ireland’s leading environmental non-governmental organisations 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



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