Concern for ‘fragile’ Skellig Michael as visitor numbers rise

Footfall on popular tourist site far exceeds 2008 management plan, says An Taisce

 

The Unesco world heritage site of Skellig Michael off the coast of Co Kerry is attracting record numbers of visitors and An Taisce says it is concerned.

Figures released by the Office of Public Works (OPW) show that by last week, nearly 7,000 people landed on the site since mid-May.

Last year the unique site, one of only three world heritage sites in Ireland, saw 16,755 visitors undertake take the 45 minute sea journey and 2.5 hour visit.

In 2016 the number was just under 14,700 visitors, and in 2015 some 12,560 landed there.

The island’s location for Star Wars scenes, fine weather as well as marketing under The Wild Atlantic Way are held responsible for the increase, along with an increase in boat permits in 2017.

However, An Taisce, the national trust, have expressed concern about “a continuous rise in numbers of people on what is a fragile and unique site”. The numbers are far in excess of the management plan presented to Unesco in 2008, An Taisce spokesman Charles Stanley-Smith, said.

“We have been concerned about the continuous rise in visitor numbers because of the fragility of the site,” Mr Stanley-Smith said.

The 2008-2018 Skellig Michael Wold Heritage Site plan drawn up under then minister for environment and heritage John Gormley and endorsed by the Unesco World Heritage Committee expresses concern about visitor numbers and sets under a permit system agreed with local boatmen.

“The average number of visitors per season in the period since 1995 is [approximately] 11,100, a figure that, having been monitored over a over a period of thirteen seasons, is deemed sustainable in terms of protection of the national monument,” the plan says.

The OPW has said the number of visitors this year, 6,789, compares with a similar number of 6,674. It says the visits are “facilitated” by the spell of exceptionally fine weather.

The OPW is defending the current visitor numbers and insists the 2017 number “falls within the range of what is recognised as an acceptable and sustainable number”.

“Due to its status as a Unesco world heritage site, Skellig Michael is constantly being monitored by OPW maintenance staff for any adverse effect caused by inclement weather, visitor numbers etc and reports are submitted to Unesco on a regular basis.

“The increased visitor number to Skellig Michael in 2017 was mainly due to the fact a full compliment of 15 boat permits issued last year, an increase from 13 permits issued in 2016.”

Boat trips landing visitors on the island, at a cost between €85 and €100 euro are fully booked and an online waiting list is operating. Some operators are charging 5 euro to get on the waiting list, which is capped at 100 people.

Skellig boat operator Seanie Murphy said the Wild Atlantic Way and Star Wars filming there have led to the increase in demand.