An Taisce has questioned the sustainability of increased visitor numbers permitted on Skellig Michael.
The heritage body raised concerns over the potential for a 50% rise in visitors to the famous island off the Kerry coast in recent years to cause damage to its fragile landscape.
The 2008 Skellig Michael Management Plan recommended the total number of visitors per season should not exceed 11,100 — with a daily cap of 180 — to ensure the protection of one of Ireland’s best known national monuments.
An Taisce claims the figure has risen to more than 16,700 in each of the last two years following the promotion of Skellig Michael as a location in the Star Wars series, generating “expectations that cannot be met”.
It criticised State authorities for allowing “the effective rebranding of the island” and called for a review of the impact of increased visitor numbers on all issues affecting the island.
In a submission to the Department of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, An Taisce said any tourism potential of Skellig Michael has to be a secondary consideration compared to preservation of the site.
“This is a globally iconic place which needs to be respected, cherished and held in trust for the future over any considerations of commercialisation,” it said.
While the tourism promotion of the island is of major benefit to the local economy, this is subsidiary to the protection of the intrinsic identity and priceless, fragile nature of the island itself, and is something which should never be allowed to dominate.
It pointed out that Skellig Michael, along with Brú na Bóinne, the Boyne Valley passage tomb complex which includes Newgrange, are the Republic’s only two Unesco World Heritage sites.
An Taisce welcomed the decision of Culture and Heritage Minister Josepha Madigan to hold a consultation in advance of formulating a new draft management plans for Skellig Michael for the next decade. However, it criticised the failure of the department to provide any information on the outcome of the previous 2008 plan which it wants reviewed.
An Taisce said data on climate, bird population, and visitor impact is important for any decision on future management of the site.
Heritage officer Ian Lumley said climate change is making the steep slopes of the island vulnerable to soil erosion through increased frequency and severity of Atlantic storms.
Four serious rock falls between 2016 and 2017 caused damage to the 19th century lighthouse road which resulted in the closure of the island to visitors.
An Taisce also expressed concern about lack of regulation of the increased level of helicopter tours and boats circling the island as well as the use of drones and their potential to have a negative impact on bird and marine populations on and around Skellig Michael.
It has recommended the introduction of an exclusion zone around the island to protect its peace and character as well as a moratorium on any further commercial filming.
Launching the consultation, Ms Madigan said her department and the Office of Public Works have a remit to preserve, conserve, and manage the site not only for the people of Ireland but for the whole world.
The department said it had received 22 submissions in response to its initial call for public consultation in relation to the Skellig Michael management plan.