With only a few weeks left in our program, Ireland is beginning to feel like a second home. While I often try to volunteer - even in small ways - in my local communities at home and at school, I hadn’t really had an opportunity to give back to my temporary home. Our IES Abroad Community Council offered an incredible opportunity: visiting Wicklow for a community beach clean up and seal release.
We met local community members with Clean Coasts Ireland in Kiltennel to help clean the beach in preparation for the seals. Armed with gloves, trash bags, and orange vests, we scoured the beach for trash and entanglement dangers.
Entanglements - especially long pieces of rope or fishing materials - pose one of the largest threats to animals in the wild. They are extremely common on beaches and can be detrimental to seals, turtles, and other marine who become entangled. Along with lots of plastic and styrofoam, our students found crazy pieces like a tire, a gas can, and even a full sink. Altogether, the community cleared twenty-five bags of trash.
Seal Rescue Ireland brought in two of their rescue seals, named Melisandre and Kalabar, to be released back to the ocean. We stood in a roped off area to allow them to explore the beach without interference, although one of our classmates was selected to open one of the cages!
Kalabar flopped himself right into the water almost immediately, while Melisandre took her time to explore the rocks and get a look at everyone watching. We watched them swim down the shore and get comfortable in their new environment. It was incredible to see them explore, knowing that they are finally healthy enough to be back where they belong.
Afterwards, we were invited to the Seal Rescue Ireland Center to learn more about the work they do and meet some of the seals and pups. With changing weather patterns, wild storms, boat traffic, and increased trash and entanglement hazards, more and more seals are becoming sick and injured.
Seal Rescue Ireland takes in sick and injured Common and Grey seal pups for care and rehabilitation. Pups are often dehydrated and underweight when they arrive: volunteers help to care for and feed the youngest ones, and slowly move them into nursery pools with other pups and limit human contact. Once the seals are healthy and strong, they’re placed into an entirely fenced pool and have no contact with humans for a few weeks to prepare them for their release into the wild.
The organization relies on volunteers and donations while the number of sick and injured seals in their care increases every year. The people we met are so passionate about helping the pups and ensuring the best care possible: they work they do, as the only seal rescue center in the Republic, is fantastic.
During my stay in Ireland I have spent so much time near the water and trying to safely photograph wildlife across the country. While it was just one day, it felt good to give back to organizations that are working diligently to keep Ireland’s wildlife safe and healthy. Seeing the joy in the volunteer’s faces when the seals successfully returned to their home was unforgettable.
If you’d like to learn more about Seal Rescue Ireland, you can visit their website at http://www.sealrescueireland.org.