The Celtic Seas include the English Channel, the Irish Sea, the Celtic Sea and the waters west of the UK and Ireland.
This very windy stretch of water has long been a busy shipping area, with most merchant ships travelling east-west. The north-south routes connect the English, Irish and French coasts. Fishing activity is very intense in the Celtic Seas – with small-scale fishing in the south and deep-sea fishing in the north. Over the past 20 years, aquaculture (fish and sea-food farms) has taken off more strongly and diversified more than in other areas. In coastal areas, there is an active and varied tourist industry.
The region has no large metropolitan areas on its shores, although the influence of London and Paris is felt on the English Channel while Manchester influences the coastal area of North-West England. Glasgow and Dublin are the biggest coastal cities, each with under two million inhabitants.
Exploitation of resources
Fishing is still an important activity, with total catches of 1.8 million tonnes (2007).
Blue whiting makes up nearly half of all catches. Other important species are mackerel, jacks and herring. Deep-sea trawling dominates in the north, from the ports of Ullapool (Scotland) and Kyllybegs (Ireland), and small-scale fishing is more frequent in the south. Aquaculture has shown strong development, with salmon farming in Scotland and Ireland, mussel farming in Munster (Ireland), Brittany and Normandy (France) and oyster farming in Brittany and Normandy.
Transport of goods
There are no major commercial ports in the region, apart from Le Havre, the European Union's fifth largest port.
Table: Major Northern Atlantic European commercial ports
(1) Million tonnes - Data for 2007 – Source: Eurostat (France for Le Havre), Department of Transport (UK), Central Statistic Office (Ireland)
(2) Million TEU (twenty-foot-equivalent units) – Data for 2007, rounded off to ten thousand - Source: Eurostat
The English Channel, however, is one of the world's major maritime routes between North Sea ports and the rest of the globe. Two main axes, one to and from North America, and the other to and from the Mediterranean, Africa and South America, merge in the Pas-de-Calais. The composition of this dense traffic is shown in the following table.
Maritime traffic in the west-east/east-west axis of the English Channel in 2007
Sources: Regional Operational Surveillance and Rescue Centres (CROSS) – Maritime Affairs
(1) Data identifying types of vessels.
(2) Only for the upward west-east direction; 90 000 including the downward direction registered in Dover
(3) At Cap Gris-Nez, oil and chemical tankers are grouped into a single "tankers" category
The Scotland-Irish Sea-Celtic Sea axis is also the site of dense east-west traffic between Ireland and Great Britain.
|In the English Channel, traffic between the continent and Great Britain is very dense on the Dover-Calais and Dover-Dunkirk routes (14.2 million passengers in 2007), whereas other routes account for 2.5 million passengers (2007).|
|For traffic to and from Ireland, the United Kingdom-Ireland routes total 3.2 million passengers (2007) and France-Ireland routes amount to 285 000 passengers (2007). Links with the islands carry some 500 000 passengers a year.|
Tourism takes a number of forms in the coastal areas of this maritime region. Visits to islands (Man, Aran, Scilly, islands of Brittany, Channel Islands) are popular throughout the region.
|The shores of Ireland, Wales, West Scotland and South-West England are frequented by hikers in large numbers. Cruises are a growing activity, notably with departures from Southampton (715 000 passengers in 2007) and Dover (175 000 passengers in 2007). Seaside and nautical tourism has long existed on both shores of the English Channel, totalling around 30 million tourists a year.|
|Maritime safety and security are important issues on the entire shoreline but are particularly crucial in the English Channel.|
|Dense traffic, complicated by the crossings of car ferries as well as fishing and yachting activities, demand close attention by surveillance and monitoring centres on both the north and south shores.|
|The region is home to numerous strategic naval bases in the Clyde estuary, in Plymouth and Portsmouth (United Kingdom) and in Brest and Cherbourg (France).|
|The British, French and Irish navies contribute to the monitoring of fishing activities and the fight against pollution and drug trafficking, going beyond the regional framework.|
|Maritime traffic creates a risk for the environment, particularly as a result of accidental pollution and deliberate discharges.|
|Anti-pollution schemes exist at strategic points, particularly Milford-Haven, Falmouth, Southampton, Brest, Cherbourg, Calais and Cork-Cobh. Water degradation problems are less severe here than in the North and Baltic Seas. Some areas, however, particularly in the English Channel, are plagued by industrial pollution and eutrophication caused by agricultural and urban discharges. This is the case of Brittany for example. Protected marine areas exist along the United Kingdom's coasts, notably in Wales. At the tip of Brittany, the Iroise marine park is the first such structure in France.|
The region has numerous multipurpose marine research centres (Brest, Southampton, Galway and Belfast) as well as centres specialised in marine biology (Plymouth, Bangor and Roscoff), currents (Liverpool) and nautical tourism (Glasgow and Southampton).
|This region basically corresponds to the exclusive economic zones of the United Kingdom, Ireland and France.|
The European Union manages fisheries in the European waters within the framework of the Common Fisheries Policy and consults the North Western Waters Regional Advisory Council. The international waters come under the competence of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas for large pelagic species.
The region is governed by two marine environment agreements:
• The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR).
• The Bonn Agreement on marine pollution, for the English Channel.The English Channel rim countries have set up the Arc Manche Conference, a forum for meetings, interaction and promotion of this maritime area.
The Celtic seas are temperate, ice-free and do not have extreme temperatures.
They are characterised by a high tidal range and harsh winter storms. Salinity is variable: 37.5°/°° in the Atlantic and 35°/°° in the English Channel and Irish Sea. The main rivers are the Seine, Severn and Shannon. Seabeds generally feature a gentle slope and are relatively shallow (less than 200 m) up to the continental slope, beyond which great depths are found, for example the Rockall deep and the Porcupine deep-sea plain, at more than 2 000 m.
|This region has served as a transport route between Great Britain, Ireland, Brittany and Normandy since very early times.|
Its waters facilitated the Roman conquest of (Great) Britain (55 B.C.), the Scotti invasions of Scotland (4th century), the immigration of Britons into Armorica (5th century), the Viking raids (Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, 911), the Norman invasion of England (Battle of Hastings, 1066), the conquest of Ireland by England (1169) and different confrontations between France, Spain and England (14th to 19th centuries). All these conflicts did not disrupt the intensity of legal or illegal maritime trade across its shores, however. From the 17th century, the boom in Atlantic trade encouraged the development of ports in the region, with the emergence of large sailing ship ports, such as Brest, Saint-Malo, Le Havre, Cherbourg, Plymouth, Bristol, Portsmouth, Liverpool, Southampton and Cobh-Cork.
Ports have declined in contemporary times. Fishing has become the dominant economic activity, together with seaside tourism that first appeared in the region from the mid-19th century thanks to the development of railways. The English Channel, effectively protected by the mining of the Pas de Calais, was preserved during the First World War. On the other hand, it became a crucial strategic stake during the Second World War (Atlantic Wall, Normandy landings).
- G. AMERINI, Short Sea Shipping of goods 2000-2006 inStatistics in focus, 02/2008, Eurostat.
- D. ORTOLLAND & J.-P. PIRAT (Ed.), Atlas géopolitique des espaces maritimes: frontière, énergie, pêche et environnement, Editions Technip, Paris, 2008.
- J.-R. VANNEY, Introduction à la géographie de l’Océan, Institut Océanographique, Editions Océanis, Paris, 1991.