Wexford waters become Special Protection Area for seabirds

11 Jan 2024

An Arctic Tern, one of the seabirds that uses the Special Protection Area. Image: © Petr Šimon/Stock.adobe.com

The new SPA is larger than Wexford itself and increases the percentage of Ireland’s protected marine waters to just under 10pc.

A new Special Protection Area (SPA) has been designated in marine waters off the coast of Wexford to protect 20 species of seabirds throughout the year.

This new location will be designated as an SPA under the EU Birds Directive to protect a large section of the Irish Sea that is important for these various seabirds. The locations are deemed important for rare and vulnerable species and regularly occurring migratory species. Particular attention is also paid to wetland regions – especially those of international importance.

This new SPA will cover more than 305,000 hectares, being larger than Wexford itself and becoming the largest SPA in Ireland.

The new designation increases the percentage of Ireland’s protected marine waters to just under 10pc. This new SPA – called Seas off Wexford –  adjoins eight existing SPAs that are already designated in the area. Four of these are designated for breeding seabirds.

A map of Ireland with various locations highlighted in pink to show special protection areas.

A map showing various SPAs across Ireland. Image: Ireland’s National Parks and Wildlife Service

The designation was announced today (11 January) by Minister of State for Nature, Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan, TD, who said the move is a “significant step forward” for both nature and marine seabirds.

“This Government is working hard to ensure robust biodiversity protections, just as we are working hard to deliver on our offshore renewable energy objectives,” Noonan said. “Biodiversity action and climate action must go hand in hand, and we must continue to work together to protect nature while delivering a swift transition to more sustainable and renewable forms of energy.”

Every summer, 24 species of seabird – numbering more than half a million individuals – seek out suitable breeding habitats in Ireland, according to the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Niall Ó Donnchú, the director of this service, said the 20 species protected at this new site are “some of our rarest and most threatened birds”.

“These waters are a valuable feeding resource for the seabirds that return every spring to Wexford’s coastal and island colonies to breed,” Ó Donnchú said. “Outside of the summer months, these relatively shallow coastal waters provide safe feeding and roosting opportunities for a range of marine birds overwintering here or on passage.”

The species of seabird that will be protected in the new SPA include the common scoter, the red-throated diver, the Manx shearwater, the Arctic tern, the Mediterranean gull, the puffin and the razorbill. Ireland’s various SPAs can be seen on a map provided by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Last year, the UN signed a deal to protect 30pc of the world’s oceans, by creating large-scale marine protected areas to tackle environmental degradation and prevent biodiversity loss across the world’s high seas (areas of ocean outside of national boundaries).

Earlier this month, a study used a combination of AI and satellite imagery to observe the growing footprint humanity is making in the sea. This study claimed that various hidden fishing vessels were found inside marine protected areas.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic