Nestling within a fold of hills 5km away from Baltimore, Lough Hyne (Ine) is a place of peaceful serenity, steeped in local folklore and home to a unique eco system which sustains a huge variety of marine plants & animals. Connected to the sea via a narrow tidal channel, known as the rapids. Anybody interested in marine biology must visit Lough Hyne, Ireland’s only Marine Nature Reserve. It is situated 10 km from Baltimore in West Cork and is a fascinating place. There is an information board at the lakeside describing its origin, geology and unusual wildlife. A 5km loop walk starting at the lake takes you past a prehistoric ringfort, gives spectacular Atlantic Ocean views, descends to Barlogue pier at the sea-entrance to the lake and finally follows the lakeshore back to the starting point. Another, rather longer walk, takes you climbing through the woods to the summit of Knockomagh Hill, will reward with stunning panoramic views not only of Lough Hyne but also panoramas of the West Cork coastline from Galley Head to Fastnet Rock to Mizen Head and beyond. The walker can choose to return to the starting point by descending the hill or can continue walking north over the back of Knockomagh Hill and returning to the lake via a small green road past a couple of ancient holy wells.
Lough Ine Lake is a great place to go for a swim, bird & seal watching or a leisurely wander along the western shore towards Balrogue Creek. Lough Ine Nature Reserve encloses a saline marine lake about 1 km long, less than 0.75 km wide and up to 55 metres deep, divided into north and south basins by Castle Island.
Between Castle Island and the western shore is the Western Trough which is 0.5 km long. At its south-east corner, Lough Ine is connected by The Rapids, which are tidal, to Barlogue Creek, which in turn opens into the Atlantic. The lough itself, the Rapids and Barlogue Creek contain a wide range of wave-exposure, current, depth, light and siltation regimes as well as diverse substrate types ranging from vertical rock faces to fine mud. This range of habitats, together with the lough’s situation on the south-west corner of Ireland in warm, clean Atlantic water, results in a rich and varied fauna and flora including many rare and beautiful species.
Lough Ine was a freshwater lake until approximately 4,000 years ago when the rising sea-level reached the level of the shallowest part of what is now The Rapids. Sea water then started to flow in and out through The Rapids and Lough Ine became a marine lake. The most recent phase in the history of Lough Ine concerns its ‘discovery” by marine biologists (in 1886) and the subsequent construction of field research laboratories. Working from these simple laboratories, scientists from a variety of institutions have carried out important, pioneering research on factors governing the distribution of marine animals and plants, thereby gaining in sight into the “balance of nature” in the marine
environment. Lough Ine became the most thoroughly studied marine site of comparable size in Europe and it is fitting that on June, 1981 it became Ireland’s first statutory marine nature reserve.
The physical contours of Lough Ine Reserve, both above and below the surface, exert dramatic influences on water movements. Outside Barlogue Creek, which is the seaward entrance to the reserve, the coast is subject to wave crash by long Atlantic swells originating thousands of miles offshore.
The Rapids, at the head of Barlogue Creek, is a narrow rocky channel through which the tide pours in and out at speeds approaching ten miles per hour. Although dangerous to swimmers, these strong currents support an extraordinarily rich marine life of
multi-coloured sponges, sea squirts, sea anemones and even corals, all growing beneath a dense canopy of kelp up to 4.5 metes long. At low water in Barlogue Creek the water level inside the Lough may be up to three metres higher than outside, causing a cascade of water to tumble out over the sill into the Creek. This sill, the shallowest part of The Rapids, is only one or two metres deep at low water in the lough and is just above
mid-time level in Barloge Creek, causing the tide to flow in to the lough for only four hours and out for 8.5 hours. The rise and fall of the tide in Lough Hyne is about 1 metre compared with 3½ metres in Barloge Creek.
Moving into Lough me from The Rapids, the seabed drops sharply away to form the south basin (depth 25 metres). Once inside the lough proper, the high surrounding land provides shelter from winds; only during severe gales can waves higher than one foot be formed. Lough Ine is, therefore, an exceptionally sheltered sea-lough. In contrast with other marine sites, it has no significant rivers or other sources of fresh water to dilute its salt water. This factor, combined with the tidal exchange The Rapids, means that the lough contains clean, oxygenated and fully-saline water and can support a diverse marine fauna and flora.
Connecting the south and north basins of Lough Ine proper is the 0.5 km long Western Trough, the deepest part of the Reserve. This trough lies in a north-south direction along the western shore opposite Castle Island, and is over 40 metres deep for most of its length. Such extreme depth, combined with shelter front wave-action and currents, produces an unusual seasonal effect in the deep trough.
Diverse Marine Life:
Lough Ine Nature Reserve therefore contains such varied environments as wave-battered headlands, sea-caves, shallow sheltered channels covered with sea-grass, tidal rapids with powerful currents, unusual tides, deep sheltered water and all intermediate environments. This almost complete range of temperate marine environments is now protected by law, providing a haven from exploitation and pollution for Lough Ine’s diverse marine life.
The Reserve contains several thousand species of marine animals and plants. The fauna and flora of Lough Ine, The Rapids and Barloge Creek constitute a unique assemblage of marine organisms for an area only one square kilometer in extent. Situated on the south-west corner of Ireland, the Reserve’s clean, warm Atlantic water permits survival of Southern (or Lusitanian) species of animals and plants, common in the Mediterranean and surrounding areas, together with species common to the rest of Ireland and Britain. Lough Ine also supports large populations of rare fish as well as both rare and common species of most groups of marine animals and plants.
The richness of Lough Ine’s marine life can be appredated from the high proportion of species found within the square kilometer of the nature reserve, compared with the rest of the Irish coastline. Within the reserve boundary have been found 73 species of sea-slug, three-quarters of the total number of species for the whole of Ireland, over 100 species of sponges, 24 of crabs and 18 of sea-anemones.
As well as visiting Lough Ine, why not explore the many more things to do in West Cork
The Irish Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2011
First sighting of dolphin in Irish lake by PAT FLYNN
THE IRISH Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has confirmed the first sighting of a dolphin in an Irish lake, in Lough Hyne near Baltimore, Co Cork. This is the first time a cetacean has been found in such an environment.
The group’s sightings co-ordinator Pádraig Whooley said: “The IWDG frequently documents cetaceans in bays, occasionally in estuaries, rarely in rivers, but to the best of my knowledge, and I’m open to correction, this is the first validated record of a cetacean using an Irish lake.”
The sighting was made by Skibbereen-based kayaking instructor Jim Kennedy in recent weeks. He observed and filmed the juvenile/ calf over two days. Images sent to the whale and dolphin group have confirmed that it is a young common dolphin.
While the dolphin may have taken up residence in Lough Hyne, there have, however, been no sightings since of the mammal.
Mr Whooley said: “There were no further sightings after the second day, so we would not be overly confident that it made its way out of the lough into Barlogue Creek and back to open sea. But without any stranding reports within the lough, there is always a chance.”
“It also means we can add another habitat type that can potentially be utilised by Irish cetaceans and, of course, those tasked with conserving and studying this unique site can claim that its species diversity now extends to dolphins.”
The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group was founded in 1990 to establish an Irish stranding and sighting scheme and to campaign for the declaration of Irish territorial waters as a whale and dolphin sanctuary.
A year later, in June 1991, the late taoiseach Charles J Haughey declared all Irish waters to be a whale and dolphin sanctuary, the first of its kind in Europe. Two decades later, in April this year, the Haughey family donated the former taoiseach’s yacht Celtic Mist to the whale and dolphin group.
The yacht is undergoing refitting as a maritime research vessel.