The pilot study area for the northern context has a visually striking and varied landscape resultant from the underlying geology, glacial processes and agricultural traditions that have sculpted the area over millennia. The selected transboundary area centres on the scenic Mourne and Carlingford Mountains with the glacial drumlins and the fertile farmland of Counties Down and Louth providing the wider coastal context. The landscape quality of the selected transboundary area has several noteworthy coastal and maritime features which include sea loughs, estuaries, bays and sand dune features. The area provides important sites for wintering waterfowl and supports a wide variety of maritime biodiversity which is reflected by the designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA).
The Irish Sea pilot study area varies in depth between 20 – 100 metres over much of its extent with a deeper channel, exceeding 100 metres, running North South between the Irish coast and the Isle of Man. A complex oceanography driven by the interaction and mixing of variable water masses with distinct characteristics.The temperature of the Irish Sea ranges from 6ºC in the winter to 16ºC in the summer.
The East Coast is a strategically important location as an economic channel between the two main cities of Belfast and Dublin. The area contains a patchwork of large towns and smaller settlements with important cultural and economic links to the maritime environment. The region has a strong coastal and cultural heritage and there is a strong historical and present day relationship between the maritime and the surrounding communities. This inter-relationship is derived from traditional employment, modern recreational activities and the strong sense of history, place and setting which communities attach to this coastal and maritime landscape.The larger settlements of Dundalk, Drogheda and Newry occupy strategic locations between Belfast and Dublin. Dundalk, Drogheda, Warrenpoint and Greenore have port facilities with strategic importance due to the proximity of the motorway network to the key industrial and commercial centres in both ROI and NI.Tourism plays an important role for the settlements of Newcastle, Warrenpoint and Carlingford although the settlements also provide important local services for the surrounding rural area. The pilot study area also supports fishing communities at Kilkeel, Ardglass and Clougherhead with additional employment provided in the associated fleet maintenance and fish processing industries.Within the pilot study area there are several sailing, sea bathing, walking and outdoor pursuit clubs facilitating a social connection to the maritime environment.
There are a wide range of activities in the pilot study area, these activities include ports and shipping, fishing, oil and gas exploration and extraction, offshore renewable energy, tourism and recreation, marine dredging and disposal, undersea telecommunications cabling, aquaculture and environmental interests. All these activities are very important from an economic, social and environmental aspect and therefore will feature strongly as we take forward transboundary MSP in the Irish Sea area.
As an island Ireland is dependent on the sea and its seaports for trade and the sector is a key element in driving wider economic development. Within the pilot study area there are four significant ports and shipping movements are generally high with vessel movements both traversing north-south and east-west. The importance of this sector and its international transient character in combination with its intensity is likely to be a key consideration and influence on the project.The development of renewable energy has the possibility to be one of the most transformational emerging activities in the transboundary pilot study area over the next few decades. The active pursuance of offshore wind energy by both jurisdictions shall provide the opportunity to explore the transboundary influence of this industry and the benefits which transboundary MSP may deliver.The pilot study area also contains important coastal fishing grounds and fishing communities. The value attached to this traditional maritime activity and the economic influence in the coastal communities of both jurisdictions shall most likely feature prominently as the project progresses. The transient nature of the fish resource and its shared exploitation would indicate that this industry will have a keen interest in transboundary MSP.