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Monday, 25 March, 2002, 19:43 GMT
Northern Ireland 'being washed away'
Last month sea broke defences at Tyrella in County Down
A recent storm damaged defences in County Down
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By Mike McKimm
BBC Northern Ireland environment correspondent
line

The coast of Ireland is vulnerable and poorly managed, scientists are warning.

An international coastal symposium being held near Belfast has been told that the coast of Northern Ireland is under increasing threat from climate change and current protection plans fall far short of recent EU recommendations.

Speaking to 160 experts from around the world, Dr Andrew Cooper, head of the University of Ulster's coastal research group, told the conference that up to 300 hectares of the island disappeared into the sea each year and management of the problem was poor.

"Management of the Irish coast, north and south, is conducted in a piecemeal fashion.

Andrew Cooper:
Andrew Cooper: "Coastal management is piecemeal"

"Much closer co-operation between planning, conservation, social and development interests is required.

"The growing demands on the coasts mean that urgent action is needed," says Dr Cooper.

He added that many new homes and businesses were still being built in places that would be directly affected by coastal erosion.

Unlike the UK and Europe, Ireland has been rising out of the sea since the last ice age.

While parts of the south of England are actually sinking, Northern Ireland has been holding its own against rising sea levels.

But scientists think the island has stopped rising and the sea level will become a bigger threat in the future.

Many coastlines are under threat from erosion
Many coastlines are under threat from erosion
The real threat will be climate change.

More violent weather is expected to hit Ireland during this century with violent storms pushing huge seas ahead of them.

An increase in sea level and high tides will produce a new threat to the coastline and with it fears for buildings and infrastructure along the shore.

A few weeks ago a severe storm and a high tide caused more damage in a few minutes along the south Down coast of Northern Ireland than had taken place in the last two decades.

Scientists are now warning that there is more and worse to come.

Northern Ireland will not face the massive coastal flooding or devastating erosion that threaten other parts of the world.

Sea levels are expected to rise in the future
Sea levels are expected to rise in the future

However, the island is almost unprepared for any serious erosion and has no strategy for the future.

Should it try to protect its shores of allow some of them to slip back into the sea?

While this week's conference is exploring the problem world-wide, it is already making local politicians appreciate the scale of what is ahead.

Direct Rule from Westminster meant that for almost 30 years such problems were of little concern to local government as there was little that could be achieved.

Now the decisions will have to be taken locally and the money found to deal with any crisis.

Researchers have identified the north coast and the south east coasts of Northern Ireland as the two areas most likely to suffer from the effects of climate change.

The south east coast, beside the Mourne Mountains is especially vulnerable as much of it is soft sand or low lying agricultural land and dunes.

"The Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea" says the old song.

The fear of some is that they could end up being swept out to sea sometime in the future.

See also:

05 Apr 00 | Scotland
Cash boosts coastal erosion fight
08 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
Coastal defences 'harming wildlife'
06 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Coastal erosion: The first UK map
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