IWDG Respond to Criticism over Corrib Gas

10th Oct 2007 With the recent sighting of a group of bottlenose dolphins in Broadhaven Bay, Co Mayo, the IWDG have been accused of inactivity with respect to the Corrib Gas issue. Some of this criticism was personal and will be ignored as the IWDG will not engage at this level, but we wish to clarify IWDG involvement to date.

The IWDG is a small NGO with a number of part-time independent contractors providing a service to the IWDG so we can deliver our second 5-year plan (2006-2010). In this plan the IWDG keep a watching brief on the Corrib Gas project having made extensive representations at the start of the project in 2001. The IWDG work by ensuring all advice and policy statements are backed up by best available information or best practice. We obtain this by a network of dedicated volunteers and professional biologists who record cetacean sightings and strandings. The IWDG add value to these records by combining with other records from other sources to obtain an accurate picture of which species occur and when.

To date the IWDG have received 21 sightings of around 226 individuals of at least six species (harbour porpoise, bottlenose, common and Risso's dolphin, killer and minke whale) in and adjacent to Broadhaven Bay. Bottlenose dolphins were by far the most frequently recorded species (67% of sightings). The recent sighting (www.indymedia.ie/article/84441&comment_limit=0&condense_comments

=false#comment208457) has not yet been submitted to the IWDG. A pilot whale recently stranded in the area (www.iwdg.ie/iscope/strandings/details.asp?id=3053) and which was buried by Mayo County Council, prompted some local conspiracy theories about its cause of death and the haste Mayo Co. Co. buried the animal to hide the evidence. This was the 20th stranding of this species in Co. Mayo since 1980 and there is no evidence that this was an unusual event or that there was a suspicious cause of death. Post-mortem examination of the whale might have provided useful information but there is no funding for carrying out post-mortem examination of stranded cetaceans presently available in Ireland.

The IWDG made a number of submissions to the Corrib Gas Environmental Impact Assessment Scoping document in 2001. The submission, focused on the areas which RSK (the company conducting the EIA) wished to address, however the published version of the EIA failed completely to address the points which we had raised and indeed failed to acknowledge the IWDG submission entirely. The IWDG then made submissions to the Department of the Marine, Enterprise Oil and National Parks and Wildlife Service (formerly DĂșchas) highlighting the deficiencies of the final EIA document. This was a matter which we pursued through the European Court of Justice, culminating in a judgement against Ireland in January 2007, which has had far reaching implications.

The IWDG have also had assurrance from the NPWS that in future all such developments will require a minimum 12 month baseline survey at the start in order to properly assess the potential impact and mitigation measures. We have also recently worked with PAD and the NPWS to bring in "Mitigating measures for the protection of marine mammals during acoustic seafloor surveys within Irish Waters” which has recently been incorporated into the Rules and Procedures for offshore licencing, including the newly licenced Porcupine Bank as well as the Corrib area.

At present most of the issues the IWDG raised have been addressed and we feel confident that direct impacts on cetaceans in the area will be minimal. Indirect impacts through degradation of water quality, food supply etc are very hard to quantify and assess and will require detailed studies.

There have been a number of detailed studies on marine mammals in Broadhaven Bay, carried out by CMRC at UCC. These studies were funded by Enterprise Energy Ireland Ltd and some are available on the web. One study (http://cmrc.ucc.ie/pages/K_project_page.php?