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The IMCORE project ran from 2008 to 2011 and was funded under the EU Interreg IVB programme.

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The main climate change drivers which are likely to affect Lough Swilly were found to be sea level rise and increases in sea temperature. However, increased storminess may also have detrimental affects.

To learn more about Lough Swilly, the drivers and impacts of climate change and the institutional context of climate change and ICZM click on read more.

Study area context

The Donegal case study area is Lough Swilly, it presently covers about 150km2. It is 40 kilometres long and 7 kilometres wide at the mouth. The head of an estuary is generally regarded to be at the limit of marine influences which in the case of the Swilly occurs roughly at Letterkenny. The lough is ~30 40 metres deep at the very deepest regions at the mouth of the lough, but much of it is less than 15 metres deep. The tidal range in Lough Swilly varies between 1 and 4 metres, making it a mesotidal system. The dominant wind direction is south or south-westerly or westerly. The wind-driven waves within the lough come from this direction. The modern coastline of Lough Swilly reflects differences in the physical landscape and contains a diverse range of environments. Extensive parts of the Lough are designated as a SAC, SPA and NHA. The main residential and commercial centre, Letterkenny, has developed on the low-lying land around the Swilly River at the head of the estuary. Other towns around the Lough are rural settlements along the coastline.

Figure 2._Lough_Swilly_towns_by_population

Figure 2. Map of Lough Swilly

The Lough provides economic growth for the area through agriculture on reclaimed land, aquaculture, fisheries and tourism. There is a close relationship between the Lough and local industries. Tourism and recreation activities can put pressure on the natural resource in terms of traffic congestion, litter and access to beaches (often across dune systems) when the weather is good. The low-lying position of the main commercial centre means that there is an increasing awareness of coastal change. The town is at risk of flooding as are the agricultural areas located on reclaimed land around the Lough. Quite extensive rock armour has been put in place along the coast (some authorized and some not) to protect vulnerable roads, properties and agricultural land.

Drivers of climate change

The main climate change drivers which are likely to affect Lough Swilly were found to be sea level rise and increases in sea temperature. However, increased storminess may also have detrimental affects.

Studies done by Queens University Belfast show that at the moment sea level rise is slower than the rate of land rise but this is expected to accelerate, eventually cancelling out the effect of the land rise. When sea level rise is greater then the 1.5mm rise of the land, the sea will start to invade the land. Sea level rates of change by end of century are predicted to be as much as 5-15 mm a year (Orford, 2008). Work is being carried out by Aberdeen University to model the impacts of a rise in sea level in the upper reaches of the estuary using 3D computational models and available LIDAR data. Any increase in sea level in the Lough could have damaging consequences for the local economy as the most vulnerable area is the main commercial centre and the main access routes in and out of the region. Some vital amenities may be inaccessible and the water treatment plant may be ineffective.

Information from the Met Office in Belfast suggested that by 2080 if business as usual conditions continue average summer temperatures in Belfast my reach 32 degrees. This trend would also be anticipated for the Lough Swilly area although perhaps not to the same extent. Increases in sea temperature could potentially affect the fishing and aquaculture industry and initial observations have already found some changes in species in the area.

Impacts of climate change in the case study area

The main commercial town, Letterkenny, is the area in which sea level rise and increased storminess will have the most significant impact in Lough Swilly. Its low-lying location means that it is at risk of flooding. Agricultural areas located on reclaimed land around the Lough, such as Inch Levels, are also at risk of flooding as a result of higher sea levels and increased storminess.


Figure 3: Low lying agrriculture


Higher sea levels may also impact on the social structure of the wider Lough Swilly area as erosion and/or flooding of coastal infrastructure may persist. Management of the coastal infrastructure will require financial input from a service which is already facing cutbacks due to the recession. If low-lying regions are not allowed to erode coastal squeeze is a possibility resulting in the loss of coastal habitats. The commercial centre of Letterkenny and the infrastructure associated with it are at risk in the short term and this is a priority issue in terms of climate change impacts.

The aquaculture industry, which concentrates mainly on mussel and oyster farming in Lough Swilly, and the fishing industry are at risk from increasing sea temperatures with the possibility of an increase in non-native warm water species and lower growth rates of commercially viable species.



Figure 4: Mussell Cultivation west shore



Figure 5: Oyster Cultivation east shore



Figure 6: Salmon Farms


Observations have already been made which suggest that non-native species are increasing in the area with the gigas oyster becoming much more common. It is possible that the fishing and aquaculture industry could adapt to new species if the market was available for them. This possibility would need to be considered over the short to long term to try and adapt to the future.

Tourism is an important economic catalyst in Lough Swilly, with increased temperature it is possible that tourism will increase as other popular holiday destinations in the rest of Europe become too hot. Increased tourism will require careful management and planning so sensitive coastlines can be protected and increased litter and traffic managed.

The main factors limiting adaptation to climate change in Lough Swilly are lack of: statutory responsibility, policy funding, and awareness.

Public Perception on Climate Change

Local elected representatives involved in the IMCORE process in Donegal stated that the public had not approached them about climate change issues specifically, however some coastal changes discussed could possibly be attributed to climate change. Very few responses were received from the public directly, despite extensive distribution of information via community e-zines and newsletters.

There is an acknowledgement that coastal change is happening, always has and always will, however the causes are debatable. This view was mirrored by staff in some of the agencies and organizations we worked with, but there was a consensus that regardless of what was causing coastal change, there was a need to adapt the way we work together to deal with the impacts of that change.

ICZM and institutional context

As is the case with all marine areas in Ireland, Lough Swilly is under the governance of several agencies, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Food and the Office of Public Works. Donegal County Council's functional area reaches to the 12 mile nautical limit. Functions include, planning regulation and enforcement, beach management and coastal defence/protection, management and maintenance of piers, roads and harbours, marine leisure development. There is currently no National ICZM strategy for Ireland, the outgoing government was unsuccessful in passing the framework for Climate Change Bill, which suggested that local authorities would have a significant role in the preparation and implementation of adaptation and mitigation strategies. The new Government has not addressed the issue of Climate Change as yet. Therefore there are significant institutional barriers which need to be addressed at a national level:

o Donegal County Council (DCC), like all county councils in Ireland, currently has no statutory remit for ICZM or adaptation to climate change.

o There is no drive to assess or prioritise climate change

o Funds are limited and there is a lack of communication between sectors and no pooling of funding to address problems.

o The current process is siloed and lacks continuity.

o Funding sources are non specific and short-term and staff are generally externally funded.

This learning portal brings together the results and lessons learned from the IMCORE project. This project was funded under the Interreg IVB programme from 2008 to 2011.

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