Minister Noonan announces ‘Seas off Wexford’ – Ireland’s largest Special Protection Area for seabirds

Date Released: Thursday, January 11, 2024

  • New SPA covers over 305,000 hectares of marine waters off the coast of Wexford to improve protection for twenty species of birds.
  • Seas off Wexford increases the percentage of protected marine waters around Ireland to almost 10%, in line with European commitments. 
  • Announcement marks the largest SPA in the history of the State.

Minister of State for Nature, Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD has announced another significant addition to Ireland’s Natura 2000 network. The new Seas off Wexford Special Protection Area (SPA), which is to be designated under the EU Birds Directive, will cover more than 305,000 hectares of important marine waters for a range of bird species throughout the year.

Surpassing the Northwest Irish Sea SPA that was designated as the largest site for marine seabirds just last year, the Seas off Wexford SPA, at more than 3,000 square kilometres, becomes the largest Special Protection Area in Ireland. The designation increases the percentage of Ireland’s protected marine waters to just under the 10% for Natura designations promised by the Minister under the EU Biodiversity Strategy, and makes that 10% milestone realistically achievable within the current year. 

The new SPA adjoins eight existing SPAs already designated in this area, four of which are designated for breeding seabirds, and the publication of detailed information and maps for the site brings certainty and clarity to a long-mooted proposal for protections for marine birds in this area.

Speaking today, Minister Noonan said: 

“At 305,000 hectares, the Seas off Wexford SPA is bigger than County Wexford itself and the largest ever area to be protected for birds in the history of the State. I’m delighted to be able to announce this significant step forward for nature, and particularly for marine seabirds. This Government is working hard to ensure robust biodiversity protections, just as we are working hard to deliver on our offshore renewable energy objectives. Biodiversity action and climate action must go hand in hand, and we must continue to work together to protect nature while delivering a swift transition to more sustainable and renewable forms of energy.”

Director General of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Niall Ó Donnchú, said: 

“This designation of the Seas off Wexford is another determined step by Ireland to protect our marine birdlife. The 20 species protected at this site are some of our rarest and most threatened birds, and these waters are a valuable feeding resource for the seabirds that return every spring to Wexford’s coastal and island colonies to breed. Outside of the summer months, these relatively shallow coastal waters provide safe feeding and roosting opportunities for a range of marine birds overwintering here or on passage.

These protections are vital in a time when the pressures on our nature and biodiversity have never been greater, and the challenges of the climate emergency have never been more pressing.”