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Irish Marine Scientists Investigate Canyon's Biodiversity

13th April 2012
Irish Marine Scientists Investigate Canyon's Biodiversity

#MARINESCIENCE – A team of Scientists led by Dr. Louise Allcock, NUI Galway set sail onboard the RV Celtic Explorer 13th April 2012 to investigate biodiversity on the Whittard Canyon System.

Whittard Canyon is a huge canyon system that spans Irish, UK and French waters along the Atlantic margin. This survey will take place in the Irish territory where the Continental shelf drops down to depths beyond 3000 m. The Marine Institute's  Holland 1  Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) will be deployed to explore the steep canyon walls where biodiversity is greatest because of the fast currents there. Whittard has been explored before, but the system is so vast that some areas are still unsurveyed.

The multidisciplinary team on board will be looking for corals and sponges, which can be found in extensive reefs at some depths.  A feature of species growing attached to the seafloor is the production of chemicals, thought to deter grazing and overgrowth by other animals.  There is significant scientific and commercial interest in the novelty of these chemicals for medical applications. Material previously collected for the Irish Marine Biodiscovery Programme has shown activity against some cancer cell lines, the first step in potentially developing new treatments. Material collected on this cruise will be examined in antibacterial and anti-cancer assays as part of the National Marine Biodiscovery Programme in NUI Galway, UCC and the Marine Institute.

The survey will also carry out detailed surveys of the canyon system in collaboration with onboard taxonomists from across Europe, who are experts in identifying deep sea marine organisms. Biogeochemists from Trinity College Dublin will study the processing of material in the benthic ecosystem, with oceanographers from Galway following the transport of sediment and planktonic production to deeper waters. These studies will improve the understanding of the canyon ecosystem and the links between surface and deep waters.

The scientists will be blogging throughout the survey (13th - 29th April) and you can follow their progress here.

This research survey and the Beaufort Marine Research Award are carried out under the Sea Change strategy with the support of the Marine Institute and the Marine Research Sub-programme of the National Development Plan 2007–2013. The Beaufort award in Marine Biodiscovery is a consortium between NUI Galway, UCC and Queen's University Belfast.

The Ship-Time Programme provides access to the National Research Vessels (Celtic Explorer / Celtic Voyager) for research organisations based in Ireland.

Published in Marine Science
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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.

 

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At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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