There has been a surge in visitor numbers to Skellig Michael, according 2016 figures released by the Office of Public Works (OPW).
The fragile monastic site, which hit global headlines with the filming of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, saw almost 14,700 people land on the island — well above the figure considered sustainable in the current Unesco approved management plan for the island.
The OPW said the 2016 figure was “exceptional” and due to good weather during the mid-May to October visitor season.
However, if the rise continues, there would be concern about the Skellig’s ability to absorb such numbers.
The current OPW management plan, 2008-2018, said that, since 1995, the average number of visitors was around 11,100 per season.
This figure was considered sustainable “in terms of protection of the national monument”, the plan said.
In 2015, the number of visitors was 12,560; in 2016 it reached 14,678 according to the OPW.
Locally, it is accepted that the Star Wars effect, combined with a vigorous Tourism Ireland campaign, is leading to huge pressure for access.
Demand for boat trips is spectacular, according to local boatmen, who want the season extended.
Recently, Valentia Island native Fionán Murphy, who operates one of only 12 passenger boats permitted to serve the Skellig, said the “pull” of Star Wars is obvious, with huge demand by Amercian visitors.
The OPW said the 2016 figure was “exceptional” and was due to weather. It said the 11,100 figure was not “ an absolute limit”.
It has, however, promised to monitor the numbers.
“If if the numbers were to increase significantly and remain there consistently for the medium and longer term, there would be a heightened concern about the ability of the site to continue to absorb this pressure,” the OPW said.
Earlier this year, a major rock fall, for the second year in succession, led to fears the opening of the island would have to be put back.
The OPW insists the two biggest rock falls in 40 years were due to weather, rabbits, and probably birds burrowing into the dry rock, and not filming or visitor numbers.
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