Ireland’s rivers, lakes and coast offer stunning scenery; from the dramatic Atlantic swell to sheltered lakeshores and steep mountain rivers. All offer their own superb opportunities for watery activities – an adventure playground for local clubs and overseas visitors, or somewhere more tranquil to take a walk or have a leisurely swim. They are an intrinsic part of what attracts tourists to Ireland – The Lakes of Killarney, Glendalough, and the mighty river Shannon are all world renowned for their beauty and heritage; the infamous ‘Aileen’s’ off the coast of Clare for its height and status as ‘the perfect wave’. Some of our iconic rivers and lakes and suggestions for activities on them are suggested by SWAN here
Ensuring integrated river basin management of all our waters is imperative, not only for their own sake but so they maintain the very beauty and ‘wildness’ that attracts visitors and so that they can be safely enjoyed by all outdoor enthusiasts.
A Failte Ireland review of water based tourism found that around half of all Irish adults take part in a water based activity each year, with visiting the beach, sea swimming, angling and boating / canoeing the most popular. It also identified waters with a the most significant tourism value in order to advocate their protection from harmful and potentially polluting activity, including over – development or development of an inappropriate nature and identify characteristics that contribute to the tourism value of a waterbody and enable the protection of these features. This approach by our national tourism body is progressive and must be applauded.
Tourism, when it is well managed and properly located, should be a positive activity which has potential to benefit the host community, the local environment and the visitor. 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 the 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 spread of invasive alien species. All other water-based activities involve greater and lesser potential for impacting on the environment and so steps must be taken to mitigate these. SWAN has recommended some simple step for anglers and boaters here.
Activities such as jet-ski-ing 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.