Coastal Biodiversity

Ards Forest Park Coastline

The fact that Ireland is an island has another effect on our biodiversity - it gives us a great wealth of marine life. We have a coastline - over 4,000 kilometres - which is actually longer than the coastline of France. It is also very varied, with sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, stretches of shingle and estuaries with vast mud flats that are exposed at low tide.

As a result, few if any European countries can compete with Ireland for the variety and sheer numbers of seabirds around our coast. This makes Irish seabird nesting colonies internationally important. Nine of these colonies host over 10,000 pairs of birds every year. Six of these are on the west coast - the Skellig Islands, the Blasket Islands and Puffin Island off the Kerry coast, Inishglora and Illaunmaistir in Co. Mayo and Horn Head in Co. Donegal. The three others are Rathlin Island off the Antrim Coast, Lambay Island off Co. Dublin and Great Saltee off Co. Wexford. 

Little Skellig Island holds more than 20,000 gannets during the breeding season, while Great Skellig and Puffin Island provide nesting sites to many Manx shearwaters and puffins, both of which nest in burrows. Species such as guillemots and kittiwakes nest on cliff ledges and there are some important colonies of terns, which are ground-nesting, on beaches and islands in the Irish Sea.

Many of the seabird species that nest here are oceanic birds such as various species of tern, shearwater and petrel. They spend their whole lives roaming the world’s oceans and only set foot on land to lay their eggs and rear their young. Ireland is the only land they know.

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