03/12/2012 Designation of New Marine Special Areas of Conservation

Designation of New Marine Special Areas of Conservation

Monday, December 3th – Jimmy Deenihan TD, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, has today proposed six new marine sites for designation as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to protect marine habitats and species listed on the 1992 EU Habitats Directive.

The sites are the following:

Site Habitat / Species Protected
Blackwater Bank Sandbank
West Connacht Coast Bottlenose Dolphin
Hempton’s Turbot Bank Sandbank
Rockabill to Dalkey Island Reefs and Harbour Porpoise
Porcupine Bank Canyon Reefs
South-East Rockall Bank Reefs

At the EU Commission’s Marine Atlantic Biogeographic Seminar in 2009, certain habitats and species were identified as insufficiently represented in the list of Irish SACs. Ireland agreed a series of further actions with the Commission concerning the designation of additional areas to protect more of these habitats and species. The designation of marine SACs is scheduled for completion in Europe in 2012; this list of six additional Special Areas of Conservation will constitute Ireland’s contribution to that process.

Notification of these proposals have been issued to c 3,000 marine licence holders and other stakeholders along with information on their rights of appeal to the inclusion of an area. An extensive advertising campaign is also commencing to notify the public of these proposed designations.


Note to Editors:

Much of Ireland’s richest biodiversity is in the marine environment. As well as a great range of invertebrate communities, we have high numbers of whale and dolphin species, cold water coral communities in the deep seas and many species at the northern or southern limit of their distributional range.

These six SAC sites will protect a range of habitats and species including sandbanks, deep sea coral reefs, dolphins off the Atlantic coast and harbour porpoises found in Dublin Bay. These sites are part of a European network of nature conservation sites known as Natura 2000 which was established with the aim of preserving our rich natural heritage for future generations.

Ireland currently has four offshore candidate SACs to protect biogenic reef (reefs formed by living organisms, in this case deep-sea coral). Three new reef SACs are now proposed for designation in the inshore and offshore area.

The Porcupine Bank Canyon and the South East Rockall Bank contain excellent examples of offshore fauna associated with geogenic reef (i.e. reef made of rock). Considering the extent of Ireland’s offshore maritime area alongside the value and vulnerability of deep sea biodiversity therein, these two sites represent a modest but highly significant contribution to the Irish SAC network. The inshore site, Rockabill to Dalkey Island, is also being proposed for geogenic reef to address a gap in the SAC network for this habitat type in the northern part of the Irish Sea.

Rockabill to Dalkey Island is primarily being proposed for the Harbour Porpoise.  Average porpoise densities previously recorded from this area exceed densities recorded elsewhere in the Irish Sea and around the Irish coast, including the only existing sites designated for this species in Ireland, namely the Blasket Islands SAC and Roaringwater Bay and Islands SAC.

Two new inshore areas are being proposed in the west of Ireland to protect Bottlenose Dolphin.  The West Connacht Coast site incorporates these two areas and along with adjacent existing SACs encompass an area used regularly by a community of animals considered to be 2-3 times greater than the numbers occurring in the Lower River Shannon SAC.  Previous surveys conducted for the Department indicate dolphins and their juveniles utilise a network of areas hugging the coastline in this region; the department is currently co-funding a multiannual research programme to further understand the ecology of this species at this location.

Two new sandbank sites are being proposed for designation. The Blackwater Bank off the coast of Wexford and Hempton’s Turbot Bank off the coast of Donegal. These two sandbank sites represents Ireland’s eastern sandbanks and most northerly sandbank system and will encompass the full geographic range of this habitat type around Ireland.

Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, 23 Kildare Street, Dublin , D02 TD30. Tel: 01 631 3800 / LoCall: 1890 383 000

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