Biodiversity & Conservation: Protected Areas


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In a biological conservation context, protected areas can be divided into 3 categories:

  • Special Protected Areas
  • Special Areas of Conservation
  • Marine Protected Areas

Although the names appear similar there are certain differences that set these categories apart. These differences consist mainly of what is protected in each category and what legislative body has defined them as such.

Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)

SACs cover the protection of several species within the area and are defined by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) under the EU Habitats Directive (European Commission, 1997). These areas are defined as “important on a European as well as Irish level” by NPWS. Each SAC has a specific management plan identifying features of conservation interest. These features include both marine life and geographical structures. Within South-West Cork, 12 different SACs have been defined as of April 2016:


12 SACs within South-West Cork (WWW1)

Taking Roaringwater Bay as an example, there are three Annex II species protected here: the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus), the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), and the otter (Lutra lutra). Seabird species such as Fulmars, Shags and Guillemots are also under legislative protection in these areas, as well as smaller organisms like feather stars (Antedon bifila), bivalve species, and polychaete worms. The geographical features of interest in Roaringwater Bay have been listed as: large, shallow, inlets and bays, subtidal reefs, vegetated sea cliffs, dry heaths, and sea caves.


Special Areas of Conservation in West Cork (WWW2)

Special Protected Area (SPA)

SPAs apply to the birdlife of Ireland. Mainly based around marine islands and cliffs, these areas provide nesting sites for the 500,000+ individual seabirds from 24 species. Almost 600,000 hectares of Ireland have been designated as SPAs by the NPWS under the Birds Directive (EC, 2009). The coastal areas include productive intertidal zones of bays and estuaries that provide vital food resources for several wintering wader species including Dunlin (Calidris alpina) and Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica).


Dunlin (Calidris alpina) (WWW3)

Marine waters close to the breeding colonies and other important areas for sea ducks, divers and grebes are also included with SPAs. The majority of the wintering and breeding seabirds and are considered to be regularly occurring migrants. Over 60% of 25 Annex I species that are found in Ireland regularly belong to these two groups. This has been a major factor of the situation that more than 80% of Ireland’s SPAs are designated for these two bird groups. Of the 154 SPAs around Ireland, three coastal areas of South-West Cork have been designated as Special Protected Areas: Clonakilty Bay, Gallyhead to Duneen Point, and Sheep’s Head to Toe Head.



Marine Protected Areas/ Marine Reserves (MPA)

Like the name suggests, these areas are specifically marine and function exactly like SACs. Currently, Ireland’s only statutory marine reserve is found at Lough Hyne. Established in 1981, this highly biodiverse sea lough can be found roughly 6km south of Skibbereen. It is unusual in that it has a relatively high number of species for such a small area, at just over 400ha. Lough Hyne’s rare sheltered reefs provide a home for many species rarely found in Ireland if at all.


The declining purple urchin (Paracentrotus lividus), the soft coral (Paraerythropodium coralloides), and two rare species of goby: Couche’s goby (Gobius couchi) and the red-mouthed goby (G. cruenatatus) all call Lough Hyne their home (DAHG, 2013). In all of Ireland, southern cup coral (Caryophillia inornatus) is only found in Lough Hyne. These are just a few examples of the variety of organisms found in the marine reserve. The lough was assigned protective status after over 100 years of scientific research carried out at the site (Kearney, 2013). It is through scientific research and investigation like this, that conservation and protective legislation can be properly informed and implemented.



Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht (2013) Site Name : Lough Hyne Nature Reserve and Environs SAC.

Duffy, J. E. (2003) Biodiversity loss, trophic skew and ecosystem functioning. Ecology Letters, 6(8), 680–687.

European Commission (1997) The Habitats Directive.

European Commission (2009) Birds Directive

Kearney, T. (2013) Lough Hyne – from Prehistory to the Present. Macalla Publishing. Ireland.

WWW1 – 12 SACs Within South-West Cork

WWW2- Special Areas of Conservation in West Cork

WWW3 – Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

WWW4 – Special Protected Areas Sheep’s Head to Toe Head 

For further information on Protected Areas see:

An Easter Blog by David O Sullivan

In this short blog post, David O Sullivan (INFOMAR) recalls his time at Lough Hyne as a Marine Biology student at University College Cork, and the importance of early scientific investigations to current biological and ecological research at the site. Our dear friend, and keystone species, the Purple Sea Urchin (Paracentrotus lividus) also makes an appearance!


Happy Easter to all our readers!

Biodiversity & Conservation: Food Webs & Ecosystem Levels

The concept of food chains and webs is widely discussed, but can be frequently poorly understood. Complex interactions between marine organisms and their environment are what produce the resources utilised by coastal communities around Ireland, and the rest of the world. The basis of any food web, including the marine, is that of a primary producer. These organisms are the lowest level of the chain and provide all other levels with the energy required for survival. Photosynthesising phytoplankton (e.g. Diatoms, Coccolithophores, Dinoflagellates, and Cyanobacteria) utilise the sun’s energy to grow and reproduce and act as a vital food source for the next level of the web.

algae_foodweb (1)

Simplified marine food web (WWW2)

Other primary producers include larger algae and marine plant life. The next level is made up of the smallest floating animals: zooplankton. These organisms can be single celled or multicellular, such as amoeboids and cillates, and are eaten by larger zooplankton, like copepods and larval forms of mussels and jellyfish, small fish, and marine invertebrates.

Various types of Zooplankton (WWW3)

Larger fish (e.g. herring [Clupea harengus]), jellyfish, squid, krill, and larger plankton feeders like baleen whales make up the third level of the web, which in turn are fed upon by the top predators. These top predators include, seabirds, marine mammals, and large predatory fish (e.g. Albacore tuna [Thunnus alalunga]). Finally, come human beings. Humans, as previously discussed, are what are posing the biggest threat to marine biodiversity. As human activity in coastal areas has increased, globally there have been dramatic reductions in marine biodiversity (Duffy, 2003). Reducing the populations of lower level organisms have knock on reductions to the higher levels, through depravation of food sources. Conversely, reducing the number of predators will cause an increase in numbers of the lower levels which will result in a “boom” of production in the lower levels. On a long term basis, this rapid proliferation eventually creates a depletion of resources leading to competition and population decline of the lower levels until the web itself collapses and ceases to exist.  On a commercial level, the proliforation of smaller species due to lack of predation, may result in fisheries increasing total catches of smaller fishes, which in turn can can lead to overfishing. This process is known as ‘fishing-down-the-web’ and was first demonstrated by Daniel Pauly (Pauly et. al 1998).


Fishing Down the Web (WWW4)

Bottom trawling and dredging pose a most serious threat to the marine environment. Resuspended particulate matter prevents photosynthesis from occurring by blocking light. Without primary production the food web cannot continue to function. Even detritivores cannot survive once other organisms are removed. This delicate balance is further tipped by several traits of the creatures within the web. Small population size, small geographic range, slow growth and reproduction rates, and specialised ecological habitats are all natural limiting factors, which are placed under further strain by human activity (Pimm et al., 1988; Lawton, 1995; Didham et al., 1998; Purvis et al., 2000). It is for these reasons that certain areas and species come under legislative protection through the establishments of Special Protected Areas (SPAs), Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Reserves.

  Seán & Orla-Peach


Duffy, J. E. (2003). Biodiversity Loss, Trophic Skew and Ecosystem Functioning. Ecology Letters, 6(8), 680–687.

Didham, R.K., Lawton, J.H., Hammond, P.M. & Eggleton, P. (1998). Trophic structure stability and extinction dynamics of beetles (Coleoptera) in tropical forest fragments. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences, 353, 437–451.

Lawton, J.H. (1995). Population dynamic principles. In: Extinction Rates (Eds Lawton, J.H. & May, R.M.). Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 147–163.

Pauly, D., Christensen, J., Dalsgaard, J., Froese, R. and Torres Jr., F. (1998) Fishing Down Marine Food Webs

Pimm, S. L., Jones, H. L., & Diamond, J. (1988) On the Risk of Extinction. Published by : The University of Chicago Press for The American Society of Naturalists. The American Naturalist, 132(6), 757–785.

Purvis, A., Gittleman, J.L., Cowlishaw, G. & Mace, G.M. (2000). Predicting extinction risk in declining species. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences, 267, 1947–1952.

WWW1 – Header Image

WWW2 – Simplified marine food web

WWW3 – Various Types of Zooplankton 

WWW4- Fishing down the web.

Biodiversity & Conservation Series


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The diversity of marine life is key to the functioning of the coastal environment. A rich level of biodiversity has positive influence on the services the seas provide to humans, such as food, tourism, and general health (Duffy, 2003). It is therefore, important to understand how the differing levels of the ecosystem contribute to the whole. With this understanding it is possible to identify areas that require particular attention and protection. Through scientific research, areas of concern can be highlighted and proper measures taken to ensure the continued success of the ecosystem, through proper funding and enforcement of environmental policy and legislation.

This series will cover areas including:

  1. Food Webs and Ecosystem Levels
  2. Protected Areas
  • Special Protected Areas (SPA’s)
  • Special Areas of Conservation (SAC’s)
  • Marine Protected Areas / Marine Reserves (MPA’s)
  1. Scientific research
  2. Ecotourism
  3. Awareness and Costs

These will cover a range of further more specific topics of importance to Ireland’s coastline. The information contained in this blog series was researched and compiled by Seán MacGabhann  as part of a broader literature review looking at West Cork’s coastline, and has been edited and contributed to by Orla-Peach Power unless otherwise stated.

Invasive Species


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Climate change has indirectly influenced the presence of non-native, invasive species in Irish coastal waters. Of the 377 currently known invasive species in Ireland, 12% are marine based (O’Flynn et al., 2014), many of which place further pressures on the environment and the communities that rely upon it. Rising sea temperatures allow organisms to survive in areas where it would previously have been impossible. For the most part, many invasive species are relatively harmless, the danger appears when they begin to displace native species. This displacement can be caused by competition for resources, hybridisation, predation, and the alteration of food webs and community structures. Economically they can be damaging through diminishing of fisheries, biofouling of hulls and aquaculture equipment, clogging of outflow pipes, and the spread of disease (Ruiz et al., 1997). Even a small number of invasive species can have dramatic effects, and once established can be almost impossible to remove (Mack et al., 2000; Thresher and Kuris, 2004). Currently the best method is prevention rather than eradication. While the survival of many invasives is linked to climate change, increases in transport and aquaculture have created new pathways and vectors for these species to enter Irish waters. Ireland, as an island nation, is at particular risk to invasives. The ecosystem here is in a more delicate balance, with a reduced number of native species compared to mainland Europe (Drake and Mooney, 1989; Stokes et al., 2006).


In 2002 a National Biodiversity Action Plan was put into place by the Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, with particular focus on invasive species. Three of the major invasive species identified as threatening to the coastal marine environment are:

  • Japanese wireweed (Sargassum muticum),
  • Freshwater zebra mussel (Dreisenna polymorpha)
  •  Escapee Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)

Bonamiosis, a foreign parasitic disease, has also been observed in native flat oysters (Ostrea edulis).

Japanese wireweed

Wireweed originated in Japan and was first observed in Strangford Lough, Co. Antrim in 1995. This fast growing marine plant is thought to have been introduced with the import of Japanese oysters before becoming widespread across Ireland (Thomas, 2002). Its main threats consist of biofouling and out competing other marine algae for light and nutrients.

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Japanese wireweed (WWW1)

Freshwater zebra mussel (Dreisenna polymorpha)

Zebra mussels were first introduced via ballast water in the Shannon estuary in the 1990s, and have colonised many estuarine and river systems. Originating the Black and Caspian seas, these mussels are known to be competing with other sessile organisms for food and space, as well as the clogging of outflow pipes and biofouling of lines. Although they have yet to be reported in Co. Cork, careful monitoring is needed to prevent the spread.


Zebra Mussel (WWW2)

*Escapee Salmon

Imported salmon, although the species itself is native, can cause major genetic disruptions through hybridisation if released into wild populations, as well as competing with native fish for space and food. Large scale escape incidents, due to bad weather and damage to fish cages can be especially detrimental. In February of 2014 between 60,000 and 80,000 imported salmon escaped from an aquaculture facility in Gerahies due to severe storm damage, creating a serious threat to the wild salmon of the Bantry area.


Bonamia ostrea and Pacific oysters (Crassostrea gigas)

However, it is not just the individual species that are creating additional pressures on the coastal environments. Microscopic organisms, like Bonamia ostrea, can cause serious invasive diseases in native species. First introduced to Ireland in 1987 through imported Pacific oysters (Crassostrea gigas), this disease spread rapidly in Rossmore native oysters (McArdle et al., 1991). The disease itself attacks the tissues of the oysters and has caused up to 90% mortality in some cases (Culloty and Mulcahy, 2007). Originally thought only to effect mature individuals, more recent studies have shown that even oyster larvae are susceptible to infection (Lynch et al., 2005).


Pacific Oysters (WWW3)

Only with time, funding, and rigorous controls can the threat posed by invasive species be reduced, and the coastal environment protected.  These are just some of the known detrimental effect that changing climates are having on the planet today. It is quite possible that with continued research and investigation, an entirely new side of this phenomenon will be revealed. What is known, and has been proven, is that the human race is responsible for the vast majority of these rapid changes. Added pressures of temperature changes, shifting weather patterns, changes to oceanic chemistry, and introduction of non-native species to new areas, are creating even more difficulties for the marine environment. Earth’s ecosystems cannot withstand these pressures indefinitely. Eventually something has got to give. Something as simple as reducing carbon emissions, could have untold benefits in terms of slowing these changes to the planet’s environment. Although most of these problems cannot be eliminated immediately, they can be reduced in scale, giving the marine environment, with all its biodiversity, time to recover to a sustainable level.


*  Escapee Salmon – To learn more about Escapee salmon, please refer to our previous blog series on Fisheries and Aquaculture.


Culloty, S. C., & Mulcahy, M. F. (2007). Bonamia ostreae in the native oyster Ostrea edulis: A Review. Marine Environment and Health Series, 29(1649), 1–40.

Drake, J.A. & Mooney, H.A. (1989) Biological Invasions: a global perspective. John Wiley & Sons. Chichester.

Lynch, S., Abollo, E., Ramilo, A. & Vilalba, A. (2005) Observations raise the question if the Pacific oyster, Crassostrea gigas, can act as either a carrier or a reservoir for Bonamia ostreae or Bonamia exitiosa

Mack, R. N., Simberloff, D., Lonsdale, W. M., Evans, H., Clout, M., & Bazzaz, F. A. (2005). Biotic Invasions: causes, epidemiology, global consequences, and control. Ecological Applications, 86(4), 249–250.

McArdle, J.F., McKiernan, H. Foley, J., & Jones, D.H. (1991). The current status of Bonamia disease in Ireland. Aquaculture 93, 273-278.

O’Flynn, C., Kelly, J. and Lysaght, L. (2014). Ireland’s invasive and non-native species – trends in introductions. National Biodiversity Data Centre Series, (2), Ireland.

Ruiz, G. M., Carlton, J. T., Grosholz, E. D., & Hines, A. H. (2015). Global Invasions of Marine and Estuarine Habitats by Non-Indigenous Species : Mechanisms, Extent, and Consequences. American Zoologist, 37(6), 621–632.

Stokes, K., O Neill, K., & Mcdonald, R. (2006). Invasive Species in Ireland. Report to Environment & Heritage Service and National Parks and Wildlife Service by Quercus, Queens University.

Thomas, D.N. (2002) Seaweeds. Natural History Museum of London, Life Series. Natural History Museum (London)

WWW1 – Wikipedia

WWW2 – Freshwater zebra mussel (Dreisenna polymorpha)

WWW3 – Pacific oysters (Crassostrea gigas)

Ocean Acidification


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The world’s oceans absorb almost half of all carbon emissions, and can hold up to 50 times more CO2 than the atmosphere (Sabine et al., 2004). Increasing greenhouse gases have caused the oceans to become saturated in CO2, and so are losing the capability to act as carbon sinks. It is also having an adverse effect on oceanic pH as it is becoming more acidic, while also reducing levels of carbonate ions (CO32-). By 2100, marine CO2 levels could reach 880ppm (parts per million), which would lead to unprecedented impacts on the marine environment (EC, 2013). This would cause a drop in pH from the current 8.2 to 7.9, increasing ocean acidity by 150% since preindustrial times (Raven et al., 2005; McNeil and Matear, 2006; Feely et al., 2009). This increased acidity is thought to be to blame for major coral bleaching* events observed in the Great Barrier Reef, where losses of 25% are expected within the next 40 years if current trends continue (Wild et al., 2011).


Ocean Acidification Chart (WWW1)

Cold water corals, found off the Irish coast are also in danger from these pH alterations. Lower levels of carbonate ions create immediate dangers for many marine organisms, such as zooplankton, molluscs, and corals, and indirect threats to fish, seabirds, marine mammals, and humans. The immediate danger stems from the need for carbonate ions in the formation of shells like those of mussels and marine snails (Header Image – WWW3). Without appropriate levels these organisms become easily damaged and mortality rates increase. Not only does this reduce the biodiversity of the coastal environment, but shell and finfish aquaculture industries can be hit with serious economic losses. The fisheries industry can also suffer, as a major food source for many of their stocks could suddenly decrease, resulting in lower populations and lower quality individuals for commercial sale.

To learn more about the effects of rising oceanic temperatures see this month’s blog post on ‘Temperature and Sea Level Change

  Seán & Orla-Peach

*Coral Bleaching – may also occur due to increases in oceanic temperature levels. Coral organisms maintain a symbiotic relationship with microscopic algae known as zooxanthellae which also contribute to their vibrant colours. Rising temperatures can lead this algae to photosynthesize too quickly forcing the coral to expel them in order to protect its own tissue. If temperatures remain high for prolonged periods of time (NAOO, 2016), corals are unable to recover. In 2014 alone, a team of researches conducting expeditions in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef identified a 40% reduction in coral calcification rates when compared with those recorded in the 1970.

coral infographic

Coral Bleaching Infographic – WWW2References –


Feely, R. A., Doney, S. C., & Cooley, S. R. (2013). Ocean acidification: UK Ocean Acidification Programme. Oceanography, 22(4), 36–47.

McNeil, B. I., & Matear, R. J. (2006). Projected climate change impact on oceanic acidification. Carbon Balance and Management, 1(1), 2.

NAOO (2016)  El Nino Prolongs Longest Global Coral Bleaching Event.

Raven, J., Caldeira, K., Elderfield, H., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Liss, P., Riebesell, U., Watson, A. (2005). Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Policy Document, 5(12), 60.

Sabine, C. L., Feely, R. A., Gruber, N., Key, R. M., Lee, K., Bullister, J. L., Rios, A. F. (2004). The Oceanic Sink for Anthropogenic CO2. Science, 305(5682), 367–371.

Wild, C., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Naumann, M. S., Colombo-Pallotta, M. F., Ateweberhan, M., Fitt, W. K., & van Woesik, R. (2011). Climate change impedes reef ecosystem engineers. Marine and Freshwater Research, 62, 205–215.

WWW1 – Ocean Acidification Chart

WWW2 –  Coral Bleaching 

WWW3 – Ocean Acidification Effects

Weather and Coastal Erosion


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Shifting weather patterns along the Irish coastline have been adding to the coastal retreat, linked with rising sea levels, through coastal erosion. Although storm frequency has decreased in the last few decades, the intensity of winter storms has been rapidly increasing (Sweeney et al., 2003; Dunne et al., 2008). These storms not only erode the coastline, but cost millions in structural damage, flooding, and loss of fishing vessels and equipment, to name but a few. Erosion of the Irish coastline, particularly the South West, is further aggravated by positive trends in the North Atlantic Oscillation which has led to an increase in wave height of 0.8m every ten years (Woolf et al., 2002). Of the 7,800km coastline 1,500km are deemed to be “at risk” from coastal erosion, with a further 490km being in “immediate danger” (DELG, 2001).


Areas such as Bantry Bay and Dunamanus Bay have been noted to be areas of particular concern (Devoy, 2008). Current estimates state that the rate of erosion for the Irish coast is between 0.2m and 1.6m per annum (DELG, 2001), with sand dunes and soft cliffs being the worst affected. Soil type, as well as storm intensity and wave height, play a huge part in the level of erosion, as does the presence of lose rock and stone within the water (Summerfield, 1999). Through attrition and wave action, sandy areas like Castlefreke or Long Strand can lose up to 10m of dune in a single storm event. However, sandy areas are usually only damaged in the short-term, as accretion can allow for soft sediments to be replenished; rocky, hard soil areas are where the long term effects of coastal erosion can be seen more obviously (Thom and Hall, 1991).


Damage cause to Lahinch Promenade after storms in 2014 (WWW1)

With the realisation of the threat coastal erosion is posing to the Irish people and the economy, several preventative measures have been put into place. These measures can be divided into two categories: hard and soft. An example of a hard measure is the construction of sea walls and/or groins, such as those found in Rosscarbery. Sea walls act as a physically resistant barrier to wave and storm action, and can greatly reduce the threat to coastal areas. Currently, no less than 350km of Irish coastline are protected by artificial sea walls (Devoy, 2003). The draw backs of sea walls, is that they are expensive to build and are usually only put in places where the cost of construction is less than that of any potential property damage or losses. Sea walls can also cause more long-term issues, such as the reduction of accretion in other coastal areas by depriving them of sediments that would previously have been products of erosion. Soft measures include methods like “beach replenishment”, where sand and sediments are transported from off shore and added to beaches posterosion events. Although highly uncommon in Ireland, it has had increasing emphasis placed upon it as a way of restoring lost beaches (RIKZ et al., 2004). The Irish government have invested €44million to address the growing issue of coastal erosion as part of the National Development Plan 2000-2006. With this funding, erosion can be dealt with in a manner that is beneficial to humans as well as the environment.


Devoy, R. J. N. (2008). Coastal Vulnerability and the Implications of Sea-Level Rise for Ireland. Journal of Coastal Research, 242(2), 325–341.

Devoy, R., (2003). Coastal Erosion, from The Encyclopaedia of Ireland, pp215-216, Brian Lawlor (editor), Gill and McMillan Ltd, Dublin.

 (DELG) (2001) Department of the Environment and Local Government ,Coastal Zone Management, Spatial Planning Unit, Dublin.

Summerfield, M.A., (1991) Global Geomorphology. 537 pp. Longman, Singapore.

Sweeney, J., Brereton, T., Byrne, C., Charlton, R., Emblow, C., Fealy, R., Holden, N., Jones, M., Donnelly, A., Moore, S., Purser, P., Byrne, K., Farrell, E., Mayes, E., Minchin, D., Wilson, J. & Wilson, J. (2003) Climate Change: Scenarios and Impacts for Ireland. Environmental Protection Agency, Johnstown Castle, Wexford, 229pp.

Thom, B.G. & Hall, W. (1991). Behaviour of beach profiles during accretion and erosion dominated periods. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 16, 113127.

Woolf, D. K., Challenor, P. G., & Cotton, P. D. (2002). Variability and predictability of the North Atlantic wave climate. Journal of Geophysical Research, 107(C10), 3145.

WWW1 – Storm Damage Lahinch Promenade

Further Reading

Baker, N (2014) How the Floods Changed Ireland

Murphy, J. (2014) Coastal Erosion Around Ireland and Engineering Solutions


Temperature and Sea Level Change


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On a global level, there has been a general increase in average temperature of 0.1°C since 1961 (Nolan et al., 2009). Highest rates in Ireland were observed between 1993 and 2003 with an average increase of 0.6°C. Known to be a result of heightened levels of greenhouse gases, atmospheric temperature increase is having detrimental effects on the entire planet.


Diagram indicating sources and effects of greenhouse gases (WWW1)

A study by Cannaby and Hüsrevoglu, (2009) has listed many of the resulting effects of “global warming” including rising sea temperatures and altered salinities. Increased temperatures have caused serious decreases in the thickness of the polar ice caps which, not only is devastating for the plants and animals found in polar regions but, has created a higher influx if freshwater, particularly in subpolar regions.

Although no specific trend has been observed in Irish waters, in terms of reduced salinity (Nolan et al., 2009), there has been a noted increase in salinity within the North Atlantic Subpolar Gyre since 1995. Increased temperature has also been observed within this cold current which interacts with the warmer Gulf Stream to create the weather patterns observed along much of the west coast of Ireland. Increased rainfall associated with the warming of these two currents combined with rising sea levels is contributing to the annual retreat of 0.5-1m of Atlantic coastlines (Cooper and Pilkey, 2004).


10 indicators of global warming (WWW2)

Melting ice caps are not only adding more freshwater to the oceans, but causing them to rise. Sea level are rising at roughly 2mm each year, with European waters exhibiting 50% higher rates than other areas (Woodworth et al., 2005). By 2100, sea levels are estimated to be up to 1.2m higher than they are currently. For coastal areas this causes serious concern. Residential property, agricultural lands and, local businesses could all be under water in less than 100 years, representing billions in lost income for the people of South West Cork. Not only that but, beaches and wetlands are being constantly altered and destroyed by rapidly changing weather patterns.

Seán MacGabhann


Cannaby, H. and Hüsrevoglu, Y. S. (2009) Low frequency variability and long-term trends in Irish SST records. ICES Journal of Marine Science, In Press.

Cooper, J. A. G., & Pilkey, O. H. (2004). Sea-level rise and shoreline retreat: Time to abandon the Bruun Rule. Global and Planetary Change, 43(3-4), 157–171.

Nolan, G., Gillooly, M., & Whelan, K. (2010). Irish Ocean Climate and Ecosystem Status Report 2009. Ocean Science.

Woodworth, P. L., Gregory, J. M. and Nicholls, R. J. (2005). Long term sea level changes and their impacts. The global coastal ocean: multiscale interdisciplinary processes, Robinson A. R. and Brink K. H., (Eds.), Cambridge, Massachusetts, 715-753.

WWW1 – Greenhouse Effect Diagram

WWW2 – 10 Indicators of Global Warming

Climate Change Blog Series


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Coastal areas and the marine ecosystem have already been placed under a wide range of direct *anthropogenic pressures, but there are indirect pressures stemming from human activity that are having a more serious effect on the global climate. Global warming now known as climate change is a key topic of discussion around the world, with most people having at least a general understanding of what is occurring today. What is not as generally realised is that climate change, although it does occur naturally, has been aggravated and expedited by the influence of humans. Increased CO2 emissions in the last 100 years are having profound effects on atmospheric and sea surface temperature, and sea levels around the world. These changes are having further knock on effects on weather patterns and ocean currents, which further increase levels of coastal erosion and ocean acidification. Another major issue arising from changing climates is the number of non-native or invasive species being discovered outside of their usual habitats, which can pose major threats to native flora and fauna. Although the concept of climate change in coastal environments seems relatively simple, it is far more complex when looked at from a wider perspective. Join Deep Maps for this month’s blogs series as we address the complexity of climate change and take a closer look at some of the issues impacting on marine coastal environments today including:

Temperature and Sea Level Change

Weather and Coastal Erosion

Ocean Acidification

Invasive Species

  1. Japanese wireweed (Sargassum muticum),
  2. Freshwater zebra mussel (Dreisenna polymorpha)
  3. Escapee Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) imported for aquaculture

The information contained in this blog series was researched and compiled by Seán MacGabhann  as part of a broader literature review looking at West Cork’s coastline, and has been edited and contributed to by Orla-Peach Power unless otherwise stated.