The conservation of seals in Irish waters: How research informs policy
Ireland's waters represent a valuable resource encompassing productive fishing grounds and important oil and gas reserves. As a species rich marine environment, Ireland's waters are also an important habitat for many species of marine mammal. Specifically, grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) and harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) are widespread in Irish coastal waters and at least 24 species of cetacean have been reported at sea. The coastal zone represents critical habitat for many of these species, in particular seals that use both terrestrial and aquatic coastal habitat and are vulnerable to habitat degradation. Increasing exploitation of marine resources has increased their exposure to a range of anthropogenic effects including pollution and habitat loss. As top predators seals interact with commercial fisheries both directly and indirectly for resources and conflicts arise. The relatively recent move towards 'greener' resource exploitation such as marine renewable energy does not come without negative consequences for marine mammals including seals, which are afforded protection under national and international conservation legislation, highlighting the difficulties faced by resource managers. The sustainable exploitation of resources whilst conserving biodiversity is a challenging task and effective management implementation depends on appropriate policy informed by reliable scientific data. This paper outlines the conservation needs of seals in Irish waters, reviews our current knowledge of these species in Irish water, provides a critical analysis of the existing legislative framework and describes how research outputs can inform present and future policy decisions.
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