There is so much our coast and seas offer us. We should get out there and explore them and strive to protect them.
Although I live among the rolling drumlins of County Down, fortunately I’m not too far from the sea. When I was asked to write this blog, it made me think about the coast and seas that surround us and shape our lives on this island.
I know that the tiny plankton in our seas produce roughly half of all the oxygen in the atmosphere. I know that the harvests of the sea feeds us and supports many livelihoods. I know that as well as food and raw materials, we’ve imported but mostly exported people from these shores for years. I know roughly half of our biodiversity lives in the sea and that we need to do a much better job of protecting and managing it. I know that Strangford Lough is one of our most designated protected areas, that it is home to over 2,000 species and that we can watch around 80% of the world’s population of Brent geese flock to its shores every winter to feed. I know that despite its importance and all those designations, key features of this special place have been knowingly damaged.
I know the Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland’s only World Heritage Site and its most popular tourist attraction with over one million visitors in 2018. I know that the exciting opportunities to generate huge amounts of renewable energy from the wind and waves will write some of the next chapters of our rich history.
When I think of our coast I think of the excitement uncovering crabs and sea anemones in rockpools brings to explorers big and small, of the thrill of seeing gannets drop from the sky and pierce the sea like black-tailed white arrows as they dive for fish just below the waves and of how the sights and sounds of the curlew and oystercatcher are so familiar and evocative. There is so much our coast and seas offer us. We should get out there and explore them and strive to protect them.
I look forward to walking the expansive, sandy beach at Murlough outside Newcastle in the sunshine, while cooled by a gentle breeze as I meander in and out of the sea, heading towards where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea. I may go in the other direction to see if I can spot some of the seals that often laze around on the beach at Ballykinler, just like people might do. When I walk though the impressive dunes, on my way to and from the beach, I probably will think about why Ireland’s first nature reserve is also an Area of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation; about how it supports over 620 species of butterfly and moths including the delicate, endangered marsh fritillary butterfly; about how this 6,000 year old dune system is threatened by the rising seas and extreme weather of a warming world and about how we need to do more to protect our coast and seas from the damage we are causing. I probably will look for some of the butterflies, flowers and birds that make this place so special as I wander through it but above all, when I step off the narrow boardwalk that stretches to touch the beach framed by the seemingly endless sea and sky, I’ll just savour the experience.
Malachy Campbell – Senior Policy Officer – Northern Ireland Environment Link