In the summer of 2021, the Irish Government asked for public comment from experts about their new plan: Expanding Ireland’s Marine Protected Area Network. As a network of international scientists and conservationists dedicated to basking sharks in Ireland, we felt obligated to respond. In July, we submitted this document.
Basking sharks (Liamhán Gréine) are historically and culturally significant to Ireland, but as of 2019 have been considered endangered. As recent footage from Simon Berrow demonstrates, Ireland provides vital habitat for basking shark feeding and social behavior. However, despite Ireland being host to incredible and complex social behavior for basking sharks (which may be related to courtship or mating), basking sharks are legally unprotected in Ireland. Our recent petition, which asks the Irish Government to protect basking sharks under the Wildlife Act, has garnered over 12,000 signatures and counting, and we have passed it onto to the Minister Noonan with positive response (thanks, in no small part, to the number of people who signed and shared!).
However, providing legal protections for basking sharks is only the first step. We have argued that we also must protect basking shark habitat. Ship strike, harassment from humans, and bycatch are the top threats to basking sharks. Protection can come in many forms, including something as simple as limited boat speeds when there are sharks around or in locations known to be shark hotspots (or gathering areas).
While protecting basking sharks is an important goal, we also firmly believe that adequate protection for the marine environment can only be achieved through a transparent process of stakeholder involvement. We have advocated for the inclusion of diverse voices via public forums and encouraged the Irish government to include representative samples of the general public, in order to ensure all voices are heard.
Marine protected areas are one method of conservation success, and we believe can be an effective and important tool for basking shark conservation.