IWDG welcomes new dolphin and porpoise SACs4th Dec 2012
The IWDG welcomes the announcement by Jimmy Deenihan TD, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, of his intention to designate two new marine sites as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for bottlenose dolphin and harbour porpoise.
This is a very important announcement and one the IWDG have been lobbying for a number of years. An IWDG survey of harbour porpoise in Dublin Bay and North County Dublin in 2008 on behalf of the National Parks and Wildlife Service showed very high densities occurred at these sites. The survey recommended inclusion of both these sites as one large SAC for this species. Passive acoustic monitoring in 2008 recorded the highest acoustic detections rates for harbour porpoises ever recorded in Ireland. Harbour porpoise are distributed throughout Irish coastal waters including the Irish Sea and the IWDG have long considered protection of this species in Ireland required an SAC off the east coast to compliment the two already designated off the southwest. The IWDG first recommended these areas as potential SAC in the SAC Shadow List prepared by the Irish Wildlife Trust on behalf of Irish NGOs in 2002. The government committed to designating this site in March 2009 and despite the slow progress the IWDG are delighted it has at last been announced.
Bottlenose dolphin SAC in West Connacht
The inclusion of bottlenose dolphins in a new West Connacht Coast site was unexpected but is a very welcome announcement. The NPWS were not required by the EU to designate a second SAC for bottlenose dolphins but given the importance of Irish waters for this species and recent genetic evidence of three discrete populations including the Shannon, a coastal population and a putative offshore population, an SAC for the inshore population is very important. Bottlenose dolphins can be highly mobile in Ireland but this site off Conamara is undoubtedly the most important site for this species outside of the Shannon Estuary cSAC. The IWDG have shown that the bottlenose dolphins that use the waters at the proposed West Connacht site are also found off all Irish coasts from Dublin to Donegal and from Cork to Antrim and have even been recorded off the Scottish coast, however this site is very important for them, which is used regularly and for extended periods and SAC designation is important to protect this habitat for dolphins.
We are very fortunate in Ireland to have such diversity of species living amongst us. Cetaceans from the smallest porpoise to the mighty humpback whales currently off the south coast are indications that our marine waters are in good condition. These species have the ability to inspire and enhance our lives and we need to ensure we protect both them and their habitats.
The IWDG congratulates the Minister and the National Parks and Wildlife Service on their work and are confident that these two protected sites will make a big contribution to protecting important habitats for bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoise in Irish waters.