Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Save our seas: Protection of vulnerable seal colony is hindered by red tape

Common Seal

Quad bikes, pony racing and jet skis are devastating wildlife at one of Co Down’s most beautiful beaches — some four years after Down District Council began drawing up measures to protect it.

Red tape is holding up the introduction of the ground-breaking new laws which were intended to curb disturbances at the picturesque Minerstown Beach, which has a nearby seal colony.

Down District Council drew up new bye-laws after all the ground-nesting birds at the beach were wiped out by people running quad bikes over their nest sites.

Independent councillor Cadogan Enright called for the measures after revealing horrific photographs of seals that had been killed by 4x4s and jet skis.

But the issue has become stuck at the Department of the Environment (DoE) — which must rubber-stamp a bye-law before it can come into force.

And Mr Enright said that the issue is causing Environment Minister Alex Attwood “great embarrassment”.

“Bye-laws should take about six weeks to process, not five years,” he said. South Down MLA Jim Wells said he fears the seal colony at Minerstown may not remain there much longer unless something is done. “Until we get these bye-laws, no-one has any powers to enforce any form of control over Minerstown Beach,” he said.

The DoE said bye-laws made by a district council do not take effect until confirmed by the department concerned.

A spokesman said: “The department will continue to work closely with the council to reach a draft agreeable to all parties and within the council’s powers to make. When all outstanding issues are resolved... the council will be able to issue the bye-laws for consultation before submitting them to (us) for confirmation.”

Factfile

Common seal

Latin name: Phoca vitulina.

History: The common seal is found all around the coastline of Northern Ireland. In 1988 the European population was decimated by a viral disease — it is estimated that around 18,000 seals died, about 50% of the population. Eventually the population recovered but an outbreak of the disease in 2002-2003 killed a further 22,500 seals.

Status: Declining and scarce with NI being the Irish stronghold. Strangford Lough holds the largest numbers in Ireland.

Divers scour the depths off Islandmagee to clear seabed of rubbish

Patricia Magee, national coastal officer Tidy NI, and James Thompson, Coca-Cola, helped the divers from Dive NI lift rubbish onto the beach

By Linda Stewart

Scuba divers have carried out a clean-up of the seabed at Islandmagee — emerging from the water with all sorts of rubbish.

The scenic area of Portmuck Bay is popular with tourists and wildlife enthusiasts as it is frequented by seals, porpoises and dolphins.

Divers from Dive NI took to the waters last weekend in search of rubbish in the bay, finding discarded fishing nets, a broken lobster pot, fishing line and hooks plus sweet wrappers, paint pots and milk cartons.

The operation was carried out as part of the Coca-Cola Clean Coast Week with Tidy Northern Ireland.

Due to calm weather the water visibility was crystal clear, making it easier for the divers to identify rubbish collecting on the seabed. They were able to pass out the unwanted items to their support staff on the shore.

Portmuck harbour master Terence Stitt said: “The issues we would have probably would be people leaving litter that blows into the sea around the back shore owned by the National Trust. I do a litter-pick most days, but it builds up and blows into the sea.”

Larne Borough Council arranged waste collection.

The annual Coca-Cola Clean Coast Week runs until Sunday. To check events or to create your own, register on www.tidynorthernireland.org/clean-coast-programme.

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