Our coastline is simply stunning
and an extraordinary place for wildlife
from colonies of sea birds to whales, dolphins and shoals of fish.
Our marine ecosystems are as varied as our coastline.
For a closer encounter, I travelled to the Southwest
where they have a long maritime tradition
and lots of water based activities.
The stunning scenery of this part of Ireland
has attracted eco-minded people since the 60’s
and is now a haven for organic food,
local produce and eco-friendly places.
It’s also a great place to see the largest of marine mammals,
so I joined marine biologist Nick Slocum
on a whale watching trip.
We’re leaving from Castletownshend
although Castlehaven is the name of the bay here
and this little village over here is Castletownshend
and we are going to head out and then we’re going to head west
up towards Roaring Water Bay and Cape Clear and Sherkin Island.
How many species would you see here?
Well we can see up to 20 species off the Irish coast
but down here off West Cork
we’re really talking about 4 or 5 main species
What are the main ones?
The main ones are Humpback Whale, Fin Whale, Minke Whale;
we see Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin and Harbour Porpoise.
And how far do you have to go out to get all of this?
Usually not very far.
And the water quality out here now, is it good here in this region?
It is good, compared with other parts of the world it’s extremely good
but the problem that we face here is local pollution
which clogs up the breeding grounds for some of the estuarine fish
on which a lot of these mammals and birds live.
Nick is passionate about marine issues
and on this tour whale watchers hear about conservation issues
as well as learning about wildlife.
The ocean is a big place
and there’s always the chance the whales will not show up
but when at last they do show it’s a magic moment.
The Fin Whales are giants of the sea
growing to an incredible 27 metres, that’s 90 feet,
and twice as long as this boat.
When you look at the ocean it looks quiet
but below it’s a very different story.
To really experience it, you need to take a dive.
Jerry and Rianne Smith run a scuba diving centre in Baltimore.
You do a lot of scuba diving and snorkelling down here,
tell us about it.
Well the coastline here, we get a huge variety of marine life.
We have a lot of anemones and anemones are in a way a flower,
they grow in different sizes, very bright colours,
very bright yellows, orange, green.
There is a lot of fish life and marine life there as well.
It’s a great opportunity for people to learn more,
about the diversity we have here.
You don’t have to go on a foreign holiday it’s all down here
Not far from Skibbereen you’ll find Lough Hyne,
a small saltwater lake connected to the sea
and a marine biologist’s paradise.
The warm seawater allows an enormous amount of plants and animals to thrive
many not found anywhere else in Ireland.
There are all manner of creatures down there.
An extraordinary display of the fantastic marine life in our waters.
The heritage centre in Skibbereen
is a good place to find out what lives below the surface.
Now you have a lot about Lough Hyne, haven’t you here?
We have indeed; we have panels, information, audio visuals,
underwater audio visuals on Lough Hyne.
We have 2 small saltwater aquaria;
one where we usually keep some sort of shellfish,
generally a lobster but we can do crabs as well
and then the larger tank we have most common species down there in the lake;
gobies, shannies, blennies, starfish.
Kids love to see them and have them explained.
“There’s lots of little gobies in Lough Hyne
there’s one of them that’s very very rare
the common ones would be painted goby, rock goby, sand goby.
If you visit Lough Hyne without coming here you’d say,
“It’s a pretty lake”, but you have no idea of its significance
and what’s under the water.
One person who regularly explores Lough Hyne
is champion kayaker Jim Kennedy.
For the past 14 years he has organised kayak excursions in the area.
So you bring a lot of people out kayaking down here?
We do, we bring a lot of people to the area.
And what sort of places would you bring them?
We’d start off often in Baltimore or in Union Hall, Castletownshend.
Go along the coast to the rocks, is it?
We follow the coast out along the rocks
into the caves when the weather is permitting,
might go inland a little bit.
And of course you can get very close to wildlife can’t you?
We get the seals sometimes climbing up onto the back of the kayaks.
It’s probably the best way to, in fact, enjoy marine life isn't it?
There’s no real impact on the environment
and the other great thing about it is the animals trust you.
Jim also brings people out at night; moonlight kayaking on Lough Hyne,
an unusual idea that got my interest.
We start about an hour before darkness,
so by the time it gets dark, they’re actually confident in the kayak.
In Ireland, especially down here,
we’re blessed that there are no boats out in the water so we can go out at night
and not use lights to protect us from the bigger boats.
So your night vision then will take over
and you’ll blend completely in with the nocturnal animals.
One of the most incredible things about night-time paddling
is the sound; there is no sound.
You hear lots of owls out at night-time,
the bats come down and skim across your face,
otters come right up to us at night-time.
Well guys we are going down the rapids, the rapids here -
at the moment the sea is lower than the lake,
so the water is flowing out into the sea,
the drop here now is about 5 or 6 feet, so it's quite interesting.
You might get a bit of splash in your face
but you know it’s like doing a rollercoaster in the dark.
Hold on to each other.
That was an amazing experience but there’s one treat left.
Of all marine mammals we seem to be most taken with dolphins.
I am in Ballybunion on the North Kerry Coast
to watch Bottlenose Dolphins from land.
High up in the cliffs of Doon there’s a coastal walk
where you can overlook the Ballybunion bank
an important feeding area for Bottlenose Dolphins.
In Carrigaholt I joined a Dolphin Watch trip to get closer.
I asked Simon Berrow if we were likely to see them today.
When the sea is calm and flat you have a very good chance of seeing them
because what you are looking for is when the animal breaks the surface to breathe.
So if there’s lots of waves you can’t see them breathe
but when it’s calm you have a very good chance.
A pod, a group of about 140 Bottlenose Dolphins,
have made the Shannon Estuary their home
and they are the only known group of resident
Bottlenose Dolphins in the country.
And if you remember that these animals are acoustic animals,
highly developed for a world of sound and not sight
but if you start dipping into the underwater world
you hear all the amazing sounds they make, the clicks and whistles.
It’s phenomenal, it’s like an orchestra down there.
We have some of the most spectacular marine wildlife
right at our doorstep and there are many ways to get closer to it
with minimal impact, so get out there and explore it.
I promise you it will be well worth it and you’ll enjoy it.
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