Strangford Lough Marine Nature Reserve
Strangford Lough, United Kingdom
MARINE PROTECTED AREA
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Strangford Lough (from Old Norse: Strangr-fjorðr meaning "strong fjord" – describing the fast-flowing narrows; in Irish called Loch Cuan meaning "calm lough" – describing the still shallow waters of the mud flats) is a lough in County Down, Northern Ireland, separated from the Irish Sea by the Ards Peninsula. The fretum Brene (called in some of the other Vitaey fretum Brenasse) was the ancient name applied to the narrow entrance to Loch Cuan, now Strangford Lough.
It is a popular tourist attraction noted for its fishing and the picturesque villages and townships which border its waters. These include Portaferry on the Ards Peninsula, which is connected to Strangford across the lough by a car ferry.
The island studded sea lough is the largest inlet in the British Isles, covering 150 km². Almost totally landlocked, the lough is approached from the Irish Sea through the eight kilometre long fast-running tidal narrows, which open out into more gentle waters where there are 70 islands. Countless tidal rocky outcrops called pladdies litter the lough and mudflats, along with marshes, rocks, bays and headlands. The lough is a conservation area and its abundant wildlife recognised internationally for its importance.
A brown seaweed named Sargassum muticum, originally from the Pacific (Japan) was discovered on the 15th March 1995 in Strangford Lough at Paddy's Point. The plants were well established on mesh bags containing oysters. The bags had been put out in 1987 containing Pacific oysters (Crassostrea gigas) imported from Guernsey. This Sargassum is known to be a highly invasive species.
Maerl is a calcareous deposit, in the main, of two species, of calcareous algae Phymatolithon calcareum and Lithothamnion glaciale which form free-living beds of unattached, branched corallines, living or dead, in Strangford Lough.
The rocky and boulder shores toward the south of the lough are dominated by the seaweed knotted wrack Ascophyllum nodosum. The usual zonation of weeds on these shore is, at the top channel wrack, followed by spiral wrack, then knotted wrack with some admixture of bladder wrack and then serrated wrack before coming to the low water kelps.
Strangford Lough is an important winter migration destination for many wading and sea birds. Animals commonly found in the lough include common seals, basking sharks and Brent Geese. Three quarters of the world population of Pale Bellied Brent Geese winter in the lough.
In 2007 Strangford Lough became home to the world's first commercial tidal stream power station, SeaGen (although not the first commercial tidal power station of any type). The 1.2 megawatt underwater tidal electricity generator, part of Northern Ireland's Environment and Renewable Energy Fund scheme, takes advantage of the fast tidal flow in the lough which can be up to 4 m/s. Although the generator is powerful enough to power up to a thousand homes, the turbine has a minimal environmental impact, as it is almost entirely submerged, and the rotors turn slowly enough that they pose no danger to wildlife.
Since June 2008 a tidal energy device called Evopod has been tested in Strangford Lough near the Portaferry Ferry landing. The device is a 1/10th scale prototype and is being monitored by Queens University Belfast. The device is a semi submerged floating tidal turbine and is moored to the seabed via a buoy mounted swivel so that it always maintains optimum heading into the direction of the tidal flow. The scale device is not grid connected and dissipates the small amount of power it generates as heat into the sea.
Strangford Lough is a place of natural beauty that the locals put to great use. From using it as a national highway (Portaferry-Strangford ferry) to using it for activities of leisure - sailing, kayaking, bird watching, diving and much more. There are a number of companies based in the local area encouraging visitors to explore the area including: Exploris Aquarium - where you can learn more about the lough and its wildlife; Clearsky Adventure Centre - kayaking, canoeing etc and DV diving. There are also canoe trails in place and a 'Strangford Lough Activity Map' has been launched as a part of a series of maps produced by the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.
There has been a ferry service between Portaferry and Strangford, without a break, for almost four centuries. The alternative road journey is 75 kilometres and takes about an hour and a half, while the ferry crosses the 0.6 nautical miles in 8 minutes. A new £2.7 million vessel, MV Portaferry II, built by McTay Marine of Merseyside, came into service on 18 December 2001, relegating the earlier vessel, MV Strangford to a support role. MV Strangford was built by the Verlome Shipyard in Cork and launched on 6 September 1969. The earlier MV Portaferry was bought from a company in Wales and modified by Harland and Wolff of Belfast. She was sold in May 2002.
Strangford Lough has a substantial archaeological heritage. Intertidal archaeological surveys in recent years have brought hundreds of sites to light, including fish traps, tidal mills, kelp walls and harbours and landing places.
Coordinates: 54°28′59″N 5°34′59″W / 54.483°N 5.583°W / 54.483; -5.583
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