A mere 2% of Ireland's coast which is designated as marine protected area must increase 18-fold in order to restore and enhance endangered species such as sharks, puffins, and even blue whales.
That is according to a new report from a range of environmental bodies, which have jointly called on the Government to label at least 30% of Irish waters as marine protected areas.
Marine protected areas are those in which human activities are managed, or even forbidden, in order to protect biodiversity, which is going through an unprecedented crisis according to global experts.
The Fair Seas report says that it is actually possible to increase the level to 36%, and that doing so would not only help restore biodiversity, but also act as vast carbon stores in the climate change crisis.
Fair Seas, which includes groups such as the Irish Wildlife Trust, Birdwatch Ireland, Coastwatch, and Friends of the Irish Environment, identified areas around the coast based on the geographic distributions of 15 species of whales and dolphins; 38 species of seabirds; and 16 species of sharks, skates, and rays.
It also examined seven commercially exploited species, and 11 habitat indicator species – plants or animals that reflect the environment around them.
The report, which is published as the first of the two-day National Biodiversity Conference takes place in Dublin Castle, identified potential areas of protection such as the Northern coast; Donegal to Sligo; Galway Bay and Islands; Kenmare to Loophead; the southwest coast; the eastern seaboard; and the Celtic Sea off Cork to the west coast of England.
Just 2.1% of Ireland's waters are designated as marine protected, compared to 10% of the entire EU, or around 625,000 sq km.
According to data from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), some two-thirds of habitats along Irish coasts are in unfavourable condition, with up to 90% decline in species such as porbeagle and angel sharks.
Fair Seas said the areas identified in its report are home to critically endangered sharks, seabird colonies, and animals threatened with extinction such as Atlantic puffins and blue whales who rely on them for feeding and breeding.
Oonagh Duggan of Birdwatch Ireland said: "Ireland’s sea territory is huge, it’s high time to protect and restore large areas for these and other marine life."