What better way to celebrate World Oceans Day than by diving into stories about the wonders of Northern Ireland’s waters, as told by the people who work to protect them.

Common dolphins by Dr Donal Griffin

Photo credit: Common dolphins by Dr Donal Griffin, Northern Ireland Marine Task Force Office 

United Nations World Oceans Day recognises the vital role the oceans play in our everyday lives. Covering over 70% of the Earth’s surface, they supply 50% of our oxygen, capture over 25% of the world’s carbon to help regulate our global climate and provide a home to more biodiversity than anywhere else on the planet. It’s not an understatement to say that healthy oceans are essential for all life on Earth.

That’s why everyone who works at RSPB NI is so passionate about protecting the waters around Northern Ireland and the amazing marine life that lives there. Whether it’s dolphin spotting on the ferry to Rathlin, seeing (or smelling!) a seabird colony in full swing or the thrill of rock pool finds, these personal stories of favourite marine memories are also a poignant reminder of what everyone is working so hard to protect.

Susan Kula, Policy and Advocacy Administrator

"On a trip to Murlough Bay, Co.Down, my friends and I went for a dip in the sea when we noticed a seal only about ten or fifteen metres away, staring at us. We kept our distance as we didn’t want to cause it any alarm, but it was clear the seal was just curious and inquisitive. The interaction lasted about five to ten minutes, with the seal poking its head up every now and then to say "hello”. It was a special moment where we felt we were connecting to nature and a wild animal. In fact, we were so enchanted that we failed to notice our belongings on the beach getting swallowed by the incoming tide! We had to make our way home very in very wet clothes. Good times.”

Photo credit: Common seal by James Duncan (rspb-images.com)

Photo credit: Common seal by James Duncan (rspb-images.com)

Dr Donal Griffin, Northern Ireland Marine Task Force Officer

“While working on a fisheries survey with scientists from around the UK, I woke one morning to a strange sound. Unusual noises are not uncommon on a ship, but when I peered through the cabin port hole, I was greeted by the sight of common dolphins swimming and jumping right out of the water beside me. Their high-pitched clicks and whistles had woken me up! I felt privileged to be so close and have such an intimate encounter with these amazing wild animals.”

Curious common dolphins swim alongside the ship as crew look on © Donal Griffin

Photo credit: Curious common dolphins swim alongside the ship as crew look on by Dr Donal Griffin, Northern Ireland Marine Task Force Officer

Jane Clarke, Nature Protection Policy Officer

“I have been lucky enough to study marine life across the globe, but nothing quite compares to the shores and seas around Northern Ireland. During my undergraduate studies at Queen University Belfast, I would spend hours clambering among rock pools in search of everything from baked bean sea squirts (yes, that is their real name), to mermaid’s purses, the piercing red eyes of the velvet swimming crab, and the delicate limbs of brittle stars. High above me brent geese called out, while gulls dove for their lunch. Thinking back to this time always reminds me of the natural beauty we are so lucky to have on our doorsteps and it also motivates me to work harder to protect it.”

Jane Clarke, rock-pooling

Photo credit: Rock-pooling by Jane Clarke, Nature Protection Policy Officer

Dr Kenneth Bodles, Senior Marine Policy Officer

“For me, the draw of the ocean is its unique ability to surprise you. When I was hiking with friends along Rathlin's eastern shore on a calm summer evening, we were stopped in our tracks by the sound of splashes from some bottlenose dolphins working their way up the coast from Rue Point. We sat down on the rocks to watch, expecting them to continue up the coast as we had seen them do so many times before. But they must have spotted us this time because they came right up to the rocks for a closer look. They appeared to be in a playful mood and frolicked in front of us for several minutes, often coming right up to our feet. It was one of those rare wildlife encounters when you weren't quite sure who was watching who!”

Bottlenose dolphin

Bottlenose dolphin image designed on Canva

Claire Barnett, Area Manager East

“The wonders of our coastline and marine life never cease to amaze me. Several years ago, on a trip to the West Light Seabird Centre on Rathlin Island, I was lucky enough to see a pair of chough feeding on the kelp right at the water’s edge - their vivid red curved beaks and red legs really stood out. As some of our rarest birds, the memory of hearing their unmistakable call still gives me goose bumps. Later that same day, I went for walk around the Knockans Cliffs where I spotted them feeding on the coastal grasslands. I could have watched them for hours, but I had a boat to catch!”

Red billed chough by John Lancaster (rspb-images.com)

Photo credit: Red billed chough by John Lancaster (rspb-images.com)

Claire Barnett on Puffin Bus to West Light Seabird Centre

Photo credit: On Puffin Bus to West Light Seabird Centre by Claire Barnett, Area Manager East

And we couldn’t resist sharing this final tale about the world’s second largest fish, spotted off the Irish coastline.

Kevin Quinn, Head of Business Support

“I was walking with a group of friends on the westerly cliffs of Gola Island, Donegal, when my friend started gesturing wildly at the water below shouting, ‘Shark! Shark!’. We looked down to witness a fully grown basking shark feeding at the ocean’s surface. The colour of the shark’s mouth against the blue water was the first thing we noticed, and we stayed for ages watching this prehistoric giant feed at the bottom of the sea cliffs. Later, while waiting for the ferry, we saw another basking shark feeding nearby, and then travelling back on the boat, the second shark swam under us, allowing us to fully appreciate the unbelievable size of the creature as it glided silently past. It was an amazing and unforgettable experience, and a fantastic reminder of the diversity of sea life off our own coasts.”

Basking shark

Basking shark image designed on Canva

From the weird to the wonderful, the waters around Northern Ireland provide a home for an amazing array of marine life, a livelihood for many communities and give all of us a place for connection, inspiration and respite. But worryingly, our seas and ocean are under increasing pressure from pollution, overfishing and climate change – risking the health of our waters for future generations.

That’s what makes this World Oceans Day so important to us at RSPB NI, as we are campaigning for the right laws and funding to turn things around. Later this year, world leaders will unite at two global conferences to agree how to recover our declining nature and reduce the impact of climate change before it’s too late. The decisions they make will have an impact on all of our lives and all areas of the world, including our oceans. RSPB NI, with your help, is urging the Government to set the bar for the rest of the world by taking radical action and making legal commitments to save nature and #ReviveOurWorld. If you want to join our call, please sign our petition today.

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