Basking shark. Photo: JP Trenque
The Irish Sea is home to a vast array of marine life from giant whales and basking sharks, to delicate brittlestars and sea pens, and microscopic plankton. However, the Irish Sea is also very busy sea, under increasing pressure from development, overfishing, pollution and climate change. The Wildlife Trusts from across the Irish Sea are all working to ensure we save a space for our marine life.
The Irish Sea
The Irish Sea covers 103,600km2 and is 300m deep at its deepest point. Six million people live within 10km of the Irish Sea and the ecomomic value of this relatively small sea is over £6 billion per year.
At least thirty species of shark pass through the Irish Sea, including the basking shark, the world's second largest fish. Others species include thresher, blue, mako and porbeagle sharks.About a dozen species of whale, dolphin and porpoise have been recorded in the Irish Sea. The most commonly seen are harbour porpoises, bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins and minke whales. Leatherback turtles visit the Irish Sea each summer as they pursue swarms of jellyfish, the turtles' staple diet.
Beneath the surface of the Irish Sea there are many diverse habitats including seagrass beds, rocky reefs, mud flats and honeycomb worm reefs.
Over 42,000 tonnes of fish was landed from the Irish Sea in 2013, with a total value of £44.7 million. Over 85% of this was shellfish, accounting for around 25% of the UK's shellfish landings.
Ports and harbours
The Port of Liverpool is one of the busiest in the UK, handling over 33 million tones of cargo a year, sitting on both banks of the River Mersey. The port serves over a hundred destinations from the US to China, India, Africa, Australia and the Middle East. It’s also the home to Liverpool2, a new £300 million deep-water container terminal. Due for completion in 2015, it will double the port’s existing container capacity.
Strong winds and shallow waters make the Irish Sea an excellent location for offshore wind farms. There are 12 wind farms in the Irish Sea with a total capacity of about 2.9GW (1GW will power about 664,000 homes per year). Of these 12, one is currently under construction (Gwynt y Mor) and two more are extensions to existing wind farms (Walney and Burbo Bank) that have received consent but construction has not yet commenced.
Oil and gas fields in the Irish Sea are of significant economic importance. In addition, alternative energy generation options, such as tidal lagoons, are now being investigated.