Last updated on November 25, 2023
Ireland is still an insider tip among divers. Only very few people have an idea of how colorful the maritime life on the Irish Atlantic coast really is!
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The warm foothills of the Gulf Stream ensure that water temperatures are always mild – measured by latitude, of course. Without the Gulf Stream, it would be much colder this far north.
This Atlantic “hot water bottle” is very beneficial to life on the island because it regulates temperatures and has a balancing effect. Winters are cool to cold, but frost is rare and usually not persistent. And there are warm but not hot summers here. Much fewer temperature extremes than on the continent, in other words.
Palm trees thrive here all year round, cows and sheep stay outside almost the whole year and even in January you have to mow the lawn here – I never had to in Germany.
By the way, we have our second home in Ireland, where I run a motorcycle rental business in the summer (www.easycruiser.tours). We also have nice guest rooms for travelers of all kinds (www.the-view-accommodation.ie).
But I’m also a PADI AOWD diver, so back to the underwater world:
Marine life also benefits from the Gulf Stream, which washes plankton and small creatures onto Irish shores year-round. These feed shellfish and crustaceans, jellyfish and anemones, and many species of fish from mackerel to basking sharks.
So much fish does not please the gastronomy on land , but also seals, dolphins, orcas and several species of sharks that are native here.
But let’s take a closer look at the maritime biodiversity off Ireland’s coasts. To get you in the mood, I have a nice Youtube clip of an Irish club diver for you: Scuba-Diving in Ireland? anything to see? by Mike Orth.
These cute goblins of the water can be seen everywhere: In the harbor basin, on the sandbanks off the coast and sometimes dozing on the beach. There are two main types of seals in Ireland, the Grey Seals and the Harbour Seals.
Do you meet seals also when diving under water? Yes, you can! Have a look at this Youtube movie: Diving with a seal in Ireland by Miriam van der Sanden.
Whales and dolphins
If you’re lucky, you’ll see dolphins as soon as you arrive: They like to race the ferries. There are whale watching tours at several places on the south and west coast and if you are on a fishing boat, tour boat or dive boat, you can see dolphins every now and then.
The most common are the Common Dolphin and the Bottlenose Dolphin. Then there are also the big Risso`s Dolphin, the Striped Dolphins and White-Beaked Dolphins in Ireland, as well as the small Harbour Porpoise, which can be found around the island.
In addition, there are about 20 species of whales off Ireland, including humpback whales, minke whales, orcas, fin whales and still other whale species.
At Arte there was a fantastic documentary about the Atlantic Ocean off Ireland with impressive shots of sprats and mackerels, tunas, basking sharks and many dolphins, minke whales and humpback whales. The documentary can also be found on Youtube. Be sure to check it out: Ireland’s Wild Atlantic: Whales, Sharks and the Deep Sea Doc (2019).
Sharks and rays
Are there sharks off Ireland? Yes! There have been 36 species sighted and identified here so far. The most common ones you will see while diving are the small dog sharks and cat sharks. They live in shallower water on sandy bottoms.
In the more open water, gray sharks, mako sharks, blue sharks and several other species are found.
Basking sharks are the second largest sharks after whale sharks. Like them, they feed on krill. In Ireland they are called basket sharks and are sighted every year on the coasts.
A well-known spot where basking sharks are repeatedly sighted is at Keem Bay on Achill Island. See this random shot taken by vacationers: Basking shark in Keem Bay, Achill Island (11 May 2019).
There are also about 40 different species of rays in Irish waters. If you add up all the sharks and their relatives, which is what rays are, you get over 70 species. That means there are half of all European species in Ireland alone!
Even more fish
In addition to sprat and herring, mackerel, bass and conger, you can also admire halibut and plaice in Ireland, as well as hundreds of smaller fish species that make their home in the kelp forests and cliffs of the west coast.
Shellfish, crustaceans and invertebrates.
Do you know about the Galway Oyster Festival? It’s one of the largest and best-known food festivals in Ireland. There, and at the smaller seafood festivals, you’ll get to see the finest oysters from Irish waters, as well as many other shellfish.
Want to not only eat the delicacies, but also see them in their natural habitat? Go ahead – just go diving!
Ireland has great besides lobsters, and smaller crabs also impressive crabs, lobsters and spider crabs. If you dive in the kelp you have a good chance to see some of them live, but you should also shine a light into the rocky outcrops of the cliffs.
You will also find plenty of starfish and sea urchins.
You can find some nice shots of the underwater life in this movie on Youtube: Diving In Ireland, Kinsale, Oceanaddicts, Duiken in Ierland by Dirk van den Bergh.
Algae and kelp
I have already mentioned the kelp several times. It is an indescribable feeling to dive halfway up the waving green leaves! Here you also have good chances to see seals, because they hunt their dinner here.
Besides kelp, there are many other species of seaweed here. You will find them in the gourmet cuisine on the coast – in the form of salads and delicatessen!
In earlier times, seaweed was harvested by farmers and dumped on the barren fields – providing fertilizer that helped produce at least some yield in the rocky regions of the West.
Sea anemones and corals
Yes, I agree that tropical coral reefs are super beautiful! But have you ever seen sea anemones on Irish cliffs? In all colors and shapes they enrich the reef and the dive immensely! Like a flower meadow – dreamlike.
By the way, there are also corals in Ireland – cold water corals. But they are found in greater depths.
You can find some nice shots with sea anemones in this video together with very nice music: Achill Island, Ireland – Scuba Diving by RealtaMusic.
A few seals lounge in the harbor as you load your gear onto the dive boat. On the short trip through the bay, dolphins play around the boat.
Seagulls circle above you and colorful beaked puffins perch on the cliffs of the offshore island. That’s what the puffins are called here.
A short splash, then the green-blue sea surrounds you. A short orientation and then you drop down to the sandy bottom. Follow a small dogfish into the kelp, and then a few small fish through the green forest of the kelp to the reef.
Sea anemones grow there. In all colors and shapes they stretch their filigree feelers into the water and swing in the rhythm of the waves.
Behind the reef edge it gets deeper and darker. The lamp shows a lobster in the crevice. A little further, a fat lobster – there, a shadow in the corner of the eye – a shark? No, just a curious seal.
Another shadow, this time bigger: Your buddy gestures energetically for you to surface with him. You must have lost track of time again! Well, that can happen in Ireland…
Your dive could look like this or something similar – so let’s go to Ireland!
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Photo credits cover photo: photo by NOAA on Unsplash