From the North to the South of the PSSA, and within the transition between the
bio-geographical moderate heat and boreal areas, there is a rich variety of ecosystems.
The coast of North West Scotland, the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands and the
Hebrides are environmentally significant, including areas with high concentrations of vulnerable
sea birds and with a medium to low level of offshore fishing activity.
The coastline of Western and Southern Ireland is a heavily indented one, screened in parts
by outlying islands, rocks and skerries. These coasts (from Donegal in the north-west to
Waterford in south-west) measure 5,140 km in length. The west coast in particular has a very
high species diversity of both macro-fauna and flora. Offshore waters contain some of the richest
fishing grounds in Europe. Prevailing currents (oceanographic and meteorological) are
The water column to the west and south of Ireland lies above continental shelf in the main
and is consequently relatively shallow. The body of water is a biologically diverse and highly
productive marine environment. These are 10 million pairs of seabirds of 28 species regularly
breeding on the Irish coasts of the PSSA. The open water areas support important populations of
marine birds, both offshore species such as petrels, gulls, auks and gannets, and inshore species
of ducks, divers, cormorants and terns.
Many of these species spend most of their time feeding at sea and are vulnerable to
surface pollutants such as oil.
Off the south and west coasts of Ireland there is a very large grey seal population. The
west coast of Ireland also supports a wide variety of cetaceans. In particular, the Shannon estuary
supports a resident population of Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). These waters also
support 200 species of fish.
The importance of these areas on the coasts of Ireland has been recognized internationally
through the creation of marine nature reserves, RAMSAR sites and Special Protected Areas
(SPAs). Also particularly noteworthy is the continental shelf break, where upwellings and a front
system create high productivity with rich plankton communities and a diverse benthos.
A number of the RAMSAR sites designated in Ireland are along the bays and inlets of the
south and west coast and contain a unique and important diversity of marine flora and fauna.
In Belgium, the area is recognized as particularly important for flatfish and brown shrimp
fisheries. The coastal zone is an essential spawning and nursery area for these species. It is
characterised by the presence of sandbanks, which are slightly covered by seawater all the time, a
natural habitat type of community interest under the European Habitat Directive. In 1984, part of
these sandbanks were designated as wetlands of international importance under the RAMSAR
convention, and in 1996 Belgium designated a Special Area of Conservation in that environment
under the Habitat Directive. The Belgium government is now in the process of establishing three
Special Protection Areas for seabirds in the area to provide the large seabird populations that
concentrate in the winter with better protection. The entire coastline has a high amenity value and
is one of the major European tourist resorts.
In France, the area enjoys great bio-diversity and biological wealth, due to the contrast
between the moderate tidal range of Bay of Biscay and the very high tidal range in the English
Channel, together with the influence of three large rivers (the Seine, the Loire and the Gironde),
which are separated by vast areas of their fluvial deposits. These three large estuaries where the
land, fresh water and salt water meet, are areas of particular significance for bio-diversity.
Another characteristic of this shore is the presence of about fifteen islands between the
Côttes d’Armor and the Charente-Maritime. Although their surface is low compared to the total
surface of the shoreline, they are nevertheless of very great interest from the ecological point of
This great ecological interest can be highlighted by the presence of emblematic species
such as the marine mammals (seals, dolphins, whales), sea birds (puffins, skuas, terns, gulls,
etc.), and fish.
The northeast Atlantic and the Bay of Biscay coasts, because of their rich fauna and flora,
beautiful landscapes and interesting geological aspects, have a remarkable cultural, scientific and
touristic value to Spain.
It is important to emphasize that in this area the Atlantic Islands National Park is located,
which area includes:
a) Cies Islands
Area limited by Norte Punta de Monteagudo, Sur Bajosde Carrumeiros, Sur Castros de
Agoeiros and Islote de Biduidos, comprising Monte Faro, Monteagudo and San Martiño
islands and adjoining islets.
This group of islands is placed near the Ria de Vigo (Vigo), and includes about 2,658 seahectares
or 433 land-hectares.
b) Ons and Onza Islands
Area limited by Punta Centolo, Bajos los Camoucos, Balo Laxiña de Galera, Bajo
Menguella, Bajo Cabeza del Rico and Bajos de Bastián de Val.
Comprising Ons and Onza islands adjoining islets, this group of islands is placed near the
Ria de Pontevedra (Bueu) and includes about 2,171 sea-hectares and 470 land-hectares.
c) Sávora and adjoining islands
Area limited by Islas Sagres, Este del seijo de Vionta and S Punta de Besugueiros.
Comprising Sávora and adjoining islets, this group of islands is placed in the west part of
Ria de Arousa (Ribeira), and includes about 2,309 sea-hectares and 248 land-hectares.
d) Cortegada, Milveires and adjoining islands
Area limited by high tide maximum equinoctial line and Cortegada, Malveira Grande,
Malveira Chica, Briás and Illote de Com.
This group of islands is placed in the Ria de Arousa (Villagarcia de Arousa) and includes
43.8 land-hectares. In this area, regional authorities have established additional forms of
environmental protection: natural reserves, natural parks, protected landscapes, natural
Other international protected areas created in the Atlantic Spanish coast are as follows:
- RAMSAR areas;
- Special areas for the protection of birds and areas of common European interest,
included within Red Natura 2000, under European Directives on birds (74/409/CEE)
and habitats (92/43/CEE);
- Biosphere reserve (Urdaibai) under the UNESCO program on man and biosphere.
Portugal has a mainland coastline of ca. 1,000 Km and an Exclusive Economic Zone of
17,000 Km², the largest in the European Union. More than 50% of the Portuguese population
lives near the coastline.
In Portugal, around 50% of mainland coast is classified into one of the following
categories: Protected Areas, Special Areas of Conservation, or Natura 2000 sites. They include
ecosystems as diverse as marine areas, estuaries, coastal lagoons, sand dunes and rocky cliffs,
involving nature’s treasures of great importance, where one can find species of fauna and flora
with a high degree of endemicity, as well as particularly sensitive habitats in need of protection.
The uniqueness, significance and diversity of several areas along Portuguese coastline are
highly vulnerable to pollution damage. Extended biological productivity of coastal waters allows
traditional fishing activities with great economical significance from the north to southeast end of
2.2 Detailed description of significance2.2.1
Detailed descriptions of the ecological, socio-economic and cultural, scientific and
educational criteria are contained in document MEPC 49/8/1.