From the dramatic Atlantic swell to sheltered lakeshores and steep mountain rivers, Ireland’s lakes, rivers and coast boast stunning scenery. Visitors and locals alike can delight in heart-racing watersports or invigorating swims and walks along scenic water bodies. In fact, Ireland’s aquatic resources are a huge draw for tourists eager to explore destinations like the Lakes of Killarney, Glendalough, and the mighty River Shannon, which are all world-renowned for their history and beauty. Similarly, so is ‘Aileen’s perfect wave’ off the coast of Clare – famed among surfers and scientists alike for its height and status. For more on Ireland’s iconic rivers and lakes, SWAN has suggested some activities here.

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Ensuring integrated river basin management of all our waters is imperative, not only for their own sake but also for the maintenance of the very beauty and ‘wildness’ that attracts visitors, and so these destinations can be safely enjoyed by all outdoor enthusiasts.

A Failte Ireland review of water-based tourism found that, each year, around half of all Irish adults take part in a water-based activity, with visits to the beach, sea swimming, angling and boating or canoeing as the most popular. The review also identified waters with the most significant tourism value, in order to advocate their protection from harmful and potentially polluting activity. Such activity might include over-development, or development of an inappropriate nature. Finally, the review identified characteristics that contribute to the tourism value of a given waterbody, in order to better enable the protection of these features. This approach by our national tourism body is progressive and should be applauded.

Tourism, when well-managed and properly located, should be a positive industry with the potential to benefit host communities, local environments and visitors. Sustainable tourism requires a balance to be struck between the needs of the visitor, the environment and the host community.

Some activities are intrinsically less damaging to the water environment than others, and Ireland’s former President Mary McAleese captured perfectly the importance of ‘treading softly’ during her historic visit to Fermoy Rowing Club in June of this year:

“Rowing is one of those wonderful sports that is very gentle on the water, it leaves no marks. Most people who use the inland waterways know how important this environment is but we must remember that we are only guests in the environment so we have to ensure that whatever we do, we must make sure it is done with a sense of care and a view to our children’s future.”

The same could be said for swimming, surfing, windsurfing, kayaking and canoeing, once care is taken with regard to litter access points and the spread of invasive alien species. All other water-based activities involve at least some potential to impact the environment, and so steps must be taken to mitigate these. SWAN has recommended some simple steps for anglers and boaters here.

Activities such as jet-skiing and power-boating have the potential to interfere with sensitive habitats and are furthermore not in keeping with the tranquil setting of many of our waterways.  These activities should be regulated carefully and only allowed in designated, suitable sites.

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