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All Ireland Coastwatch survey results show erosion as the number one threat to the coast

Press Release

Tuesday 24 Mar 2015

Speaking at the launch Nessa Childers said that ‘While the EU does not have an erosion management policy, climate change related issues – including adaptation to the increased risk of erosion and spatial planning in the coastal zone are on the EU agenda.

Ms Childers also noted that climate change proofing of other policies including waste management was needed and welcomed the Coastwatch volunteer citizen science approach.

Karin Dubsky, Coastwatch International Coordinator said: ‘We have surveyed and reported since 1987 in Ireland and 1989 across Europe.  Some time series which will be presented show improvements over time, while others have got significantly worse.

On the positive side there is virtually no oil or tar on our shores, raw sewage indicators which were widespread are now a local problem and numbers of plastic bags plummeted when the bag tax was introduced.  ‘But we can see how drinks container litter is still highest around urban areas, despite of the increase in clean ups’ – said Angel Duarte who created the GIS maps showing litter counts on the shore. ‘ We have also seen increase in coastal development making us more vulnerable to expensive infrastructure damage in storm surges, through erosion and flooding, added Karin ‘ and there are old sins like the Bray dump  eroding away’.

Ashley Shak, visiting Coastwatch intern who has worked on sea turtles said: ‘As the temptation to use gas balloons in launches appears to be growing, this Coastwatch event looks at the consequences. The minute a gas balloon is let go it turns into litter! We were surprised at the number of balloons swept up on the shore.  These are a direct risk to sea turtles and other marine life which feed on jellyfish’ she explained.

The results launch and workshop held in the EP offices on Fri 20th March included presentations and problem solving breakout sessions. One on coastal planning and resource protection, with case studies from Wexford, Kerry, Donegal and X-border Carlingford and Lough Foyle.  A second group discussed waste issues – from coastal landfill sites falling into the sea, over ‘designed in hell’ pontoons filled with polystyrene beads, to measures to address aquaculture and fishing gear litter.

Select Coastwatch Result High and Low lights

Erosion: Surveyors saw erosion as serious threat in 27% of the 511 survey sites in the RoI. This was accompanied by accounts of coastal road and bridge loss, people walking across neighbour’s land to reach home as in Kilpatrick dunes Co Wexford,  breaches of dune sand spits as in Fenit Co Kerry and bizarrely rebuilding of houses in highest risk areas. While impacts of the 2014 storms were severe, erosion is consistently the top threat reported in the Republic of Ireland and among the highest in Northern Ireland which has a little less soft coast.  ‘We urgently need coastal zone management with an erosion policy, which also addresses planning issues in the coastal zone and dove tails with flood management. The Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill which is due to be published this spring term, should provide the legal frame. said Karin Dubsky Coastwatch coordinator. ‘Spring tides, storms and low pressure systems are when erosion and flooding risk are highest. The chances of these occurring together are increasing with climate change.  

‘While the link of erosion and climate change is obvious, there are many other issues raised by changing weather patterns’ noted Dr Trish Murphy, herpetologist and Coastwatch regional coordinator who performed the necropsy on the rare Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle found by Aoife Flynn in Donegal. As currents, water temperature, rainfall and wind patterns change, nature is affected.  We need a huge number of eyes on the shore to notice and react in time, whether to save rare species, find and remove new invasive alien species or register the move of nature trying to adapt to change. This needs to be taken into account when designating marine protected areas and managing them.

Water Quality: Surveyors reported on 575 inflows most of which would be too small to be covered by official monitoring. The results reveal dramatic difference in small inflow nitrate pollution levels around our coast. Eighty percent of East and South coast waters flowing into the sea were enriched with nutrients, while in the west and NW the inverse was the case – over 80% of inflow  tests were clear (unpolluted), Tests on 111 Northern Irish inflows returned 48% clear. Results also indicated that 9% of inflows were in breach of the Nitrates Directive and WFD legal limit values of 50mg/l NO3.  Some like the Rush/Sherries horticulture area well exceeded these limit values in previous years.

With predictions of more bouts of heavy rain, but also longer dry spells, we urgently need to  plan for restoring and constructing coastal wetlands which can take  spate run off, hold silt and nutrients, rather than having them shoot out to sea on top of aquaculture or bathing waters – said Patrick Veal of the Coastwatch team.

For the first time a suit of summer pre-tests of  fresh water entering the sea was carried out. Of 100 East coast, especially Dublin region summer inflow samples 20% breached the 50mg/l NO3 limits. Coastwatchers are looking for a focussed summer 2015 sweep of pollution sources as this is the critical time for stream life. Coastal caravan parks, summer homes and golf links were all active during the August 2014 survey period, noted Isaac Varela who led the August nitrate testing.  In Dublin Bay the season made no difference in resorts it did.  Isaac who comes from Spain also commented: It is wonderful to see so many small streams in Ireland. They add to the interest of a shore and are so important for biodiversity’ But, he noted – ‘there isn’t just the issue of overfeeding streams and drains  with fertiliser, most of the inflows into bathing beaches were marked by pollution warning signs. So the place where children would naturally play and learn, is out of bounds.

The April Coastwatch event will home in on these water results and addressing them.

We need to form local river basin management groups to find and clean up pollution sources and watch over them – much like Tidy Towns watch over land, said Karin Dubsky.  Up in Donegal and NI they are starting to do just that.

Sea Water transparency and colour. Coastwatch is partner in an EU project (www.Citclops.eu) which seeks to raise citizen awareness of the sea and use of an app to record sea water colour and a secchi disc for gauging water transparency.  In Ireland there is an added cooperation with the Marine Institute to complement the citizen observations by sampling and plankton analyses.  The April Wexford meeting will report on this.

Acknowledgements: This citizen science project is based on volunteer work from surveyors, over regional and national coordinators, with some specialised tasks, travel, printing, test kits co-funded by the Department of the Environment.