Threats to seals are mainly from human activity. Here we explore some of those threats, with links to further reading for each one.
Water Pollution and Habitat Destruction
Ireland’s long history of human inhabitation has had a devastating effect on the landscape with native woodland coverage plummeting from 80% to less than 2%.
This change in land use has significantly impacted our precious waterways, estuaries and coastal ecosystems. Unfortunately, agriculture accounts for 53% of all water pollution incidents, according to AgriLand Ireland. Excessive nutrients and the absence of riparian buffers (vegetated riverbanks) result in agricultural runoff containing valuable top soil, fertilisers, pesticides and other pollutants entering waterways unabated, destroying precious ecosystems. These pressures combined with Urban Runoff, Forestry Clear-felling, Wastewater Management and countless ‘missed’ sewerage connections are heavily impacting the health of the ecosystems that wildlife like seals rely on for survival. Our year-long research study into the Nitrate concentrations of our local River has shown that the Ounavarra River is heavily impacted by chronic nutrient toxicity. SRI works with local farmers to protect our waterways, sequester carbon and restore habitat throughout the Habitat Restoration Project.
Although banning single-use plastics is a step in the right direction, The Ocean Cleanup reported that 44% of marine debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch came exclusively from the fisheries industry. Aptly named, non-biodegradable ‘Ghost Nets’ continue to catch and kill marine species for hundreds of years.
Sadly it is not just waste nets that cause harm to marine species. It is estimated that globally bycatch represents 40.4 percent of global marine catches. Bycatch refers to non-target species such as Tristan and many other seals rescued by Seal Rescue Ireland.