Ireland has been given its first ever 'Hope Spot' — an area marked to be of critical importance to marine conservation — off the south-west coast.
The greater Skellig coast stretches from Kenmare Bay in Kerry right up to Loop Head in Clare, covering about 7,000 sq m of coastal waters.
It is home to critically endangered sharks, globally important seabird colonies, and animals threatened with extinction which rely on these areas for breeding and feeding.
As such, marine conservation campaigners Mission Blue has named it one of its 'Hope Spots', with the group aiming to inspire public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas.
Existing spots include the Galápagos Islands, the Great Barrier Reef, the Northwest Passage and parts of Antarctica.
Founder of Mission Blue Dr Sylvia Earle said: "This Hope Spot is being announced at a crucial time for Ireland because in 2023, new national Marine Protected Area legislation will be introduced for the first time.
"This legislation will help achieve this very desirable protection.”
Tourism Minister Catherine Martin added: "I welcome the news that a large area of ocean off the south west coast of Ireland has been added to a list of ‘Hope Spots’ by the global marine conservation movement, Mission Blue, which is led by legendary oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle.
"This all contributes to the richness and attractiveness of Ireland as a destination for tourists and all of which needs to be preserved and protected. Announcements like this are also timely as we are currently developing a new national tourism policy.
"This new policy will seek to support sustainable economic development in communities throughout the country, whilst protecting our environment and natural resources."
The area has been championed by Fair Seas, a coalition of Ireland’s leading environmental non-governmental organisations and networks, with the support of Sea Synergy, a marine awareness and activity centre based in Kerry.
Aoife O’Mahony from Fair Seas and Lucy Hunt, founder of SeaSynergy, have been named as champions of the Greater Skellig Coast Hope Spot by Mission Blue.