Community Perspectives: Biodiversity and Conservation

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Harbour Seal (Image Credit: Martha Gosch)

The coastal environment is valued by most of the people that live there or visit it. As local historian Terry Kearney comments ‘The sea is as much of a resource as the land is.’

Marine Biodiversity

There were concerns among those we spoke to that certain human activities, including aquaculture, might be reducing marine biodiversity. Just under 10 per cent of those we surveyed were concerned about biodiversity loss.

A similar proportion felt informed about biodiversity loss, so it is very likely that many of those we surveyed don’t feel informed enough to comment. While there are local conservation and biodiversity initiatives in the local community, there is probably room for more engagement.

Biodiversity and Conservation Awareness

From our schools visits we learned that pupils of all ages have a strong sense of engagement with the maritime environment. Dr Rob McAllen and Breda Moriarty discussed the marine environment with the children, introducing concepts such as food webs. The pupils responded very positively with conversations, art and poetry.

Tourism expert Paula Ní Ríogáin also finds that children are fascinated with the coast, commenting:

Ireland is so small and you are close to the ocean, and kids are super interested in it.

She is a strong supporter of marine sustainable development being included in the school curriculum for 10-18 year olds, as she thinks it will encourage students to become ‘either interested or qualified in the marine’.

Tourism and Ecotourism

West Cork is an important tourism area, and local businesses derive much of their income from the tourist trade, which has recently seen an upturn according to Neil Clarke who says that

[Tourism in Bantry Bay has] turned around in just two years, which is extraordinary…I think that the Wild Atlantic Way, has a big part to play in it.

Despite the volume of tourists to the area, ecotourism was bottom of the list of the local community’s environmental concerns (Deep Maps Survey, 2016). While there are ecotourism companies in West Cork, such as Nic Slocum’s Whale Watch West Cork, ecotourism is not as widespread as it could be.

There is a sense that locals who have a deep knowledge of the sea could be engaged to share their knowledge more. Paula Ní Ríogáin believes that fishermen, as ‘the people who know the water’ would be well placed to also offer tourism services – however one issue is that currently a fishing boat can’t be used for tourism as well. She explains that ‘you have to take a new boat and license and register it’. This is prohibitively expensive for many.

As people visit West Cork in increasing number, the coast is not only being used more, but in different ways. Historically, people from Skibbereen used to meet at Lough Hyne, especially on Sundays for set dancing, but they wouldn’t swim there. Neil Clarke explains

In my time people didn’t want to go out in the water, funnily enough, most of the people [living by the water] couldn’t swim. Now…most people are learning to swim. 

He explains that kayaking and sailing have become really popular along the West Cork Coast. He is of the view that places like Bantry Bay should be used by everyone:

I’d love to see more people using the bay, get out there and enjoy it.

Lack of Awareness of Biodiversity and Conservation Issues

Our survey showed that scenery was rated the most important aspect of the coastal environment followed by recreation, natural heritage and plants and animals.

However, while some members of the community are conservation and biodiversity pioneers, unseen aspects of the coast such as biodiversity are often not at the top of the majority of people’s minds and there is still much work to do. We can address this through a combination of formal frameworks, such as school curricula, and community-focused activities, led by local conservationists.

We are just the current custodians of the amazing natural resource that is the West Cork coast. We need to preserve it so that future generations can also engage with it, for work and pleasure.

More Information

Find out more in our Biodiversity and Conservation literature review.

Take a look at our storymap, West Cork Tourism, 1700-1920.

Read more West Cork community perspectives on environmental priorities.