Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's seas a 'mixed picture'

Beach strewn with rubbish
Image caption Marine litter remains a problem and climate change is having an effect on the coast

The most comprehensive assessment of the state of the seas off Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK has produced a mixed picture.

The work was done by UK scientists, including those from Stormont's environment ministry.

There were positive findings on contaminants in sea water and in seafood.

But most seabird populations, including kittiwakes, puffins and herring gulls, remain at risk.

More information is needed to properly assess the status of species like whales and dolphins.

Image caption Fifty per cent of biodiversity in Northern Ireland is below the sea

Marine litter remains a problem and climate change and other human impacts are having an effect.

Scientific officer Helen Hanratty, who helped compile the report, said the information now available was the most comprehensive gathered to date.

It measures improvements and declines in species and habitats against a 2012 baseline.

Image caption The information collected will be used to set measures to improve marine protection

"Fifty per cent of biodiversity in Northern Ireland is actually below the sea," she said.

The report was welcomed by the head of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, David Small.

"It gives us a much better understanding of the state of our seas and what's in them," he said.

"It also provides more analysis on the existing and emerging pressures and what more needs to be done to protect our marine environment, prevent its deterioration and restore it, while allowing sustainable use of marine resources."

Image caption Most seabird populations, including puffins and herring gulls, remain at risk

The Northern Ireland Marine Taskforce, an umbrella organisation for conservation groups, said the report provided "further evidence of the struggles our seas are facing".

Spokeswoman Ellen MacMahon said it was crucial that binding ambitious targets for improvements were set.

"Northern Ireland's marine environment is important for a range of species and habitats, such as harbour porpoise, common skate and seagrass beds, to name a few. Decisive action must be taken to protect and enhance our marine environment."

Mr Small said the information collected would be used to set "robust and targeted measures" to improve marine protection.

The public have been invited to submit ideas through Northern Ireland's recently launched environment strategy consultation.

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