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Science Students Study Cold Water Coral Ecosystems In Irish Waters

15th September 2014
Science Students Study Cold Water Coral Ecosystems In Irish Waters

#MarineScience - The national research vessel RV Celtic Explorer has become a ‘floating university’ for 14 postgraduate students from seven countries – including Ireland – who have a unique chance to study cold water coral systems in their living environment in Irish waters.

The Atlantic Summer School, which runs till 17 September, involves a multidisciplinary investigation of cold water coral ecosystems of the Belgica Mound Province, which is a special area of conservation (SAC) some 150km south-west of Ireland.

As previously reported on, the initiative is a collaboration between the Strategic Marine Alliance for Research and Training (SMART) in Ireland and the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Germany.

“Cold water corals live at ocean depths of around 1,000m and build reefs which over millennia can reach up to 300m high," explained Dr Pauhla McGrane, national co-ordinator of SMART Ireland. "These giant coral mounds act as biological “hot-spots” and provide habitats for a variety of marine life.

“The Atlantic Summer School will enable postgraduate students to survey these mounds and collect data that will ultimately increase our understanding of these unique environments," she added.

“It’s not everyday that students get a chance to explore the ocean’s seabed gaining vital skills for exciting careers”, said Prof Andy Wheeler, Head of Geology at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences in University College Cork. “Whenever we get a chance to get out there, we always find something new which changes our perspective on how this planet functions.”

The Atlantic Summer School includes a one-day sea survival training course for marine science students at the National Maritime College of Ireland in Cork, as well as distance learning and pre- and post-survey workshops at UCC and NUI Galway.

“This pooled infrastructure and expertise from Ireland and Germany’s higher education institutes provides an incredible chance for postgraduates to get the necessary practical experience and develop networking opportunities they need early in their careers,” said Prof Karen Wiltshire, vice-president of AWI.

“We are all delighted to be part of this strategic collaboration, which will ultimately develop career pathways and mobility for students between the island of Ireland and Germany and increase multidisciplinary research capacity in Atlantic nations.”

Marine Institute chief executive Dr Peter Heffernan congratulated all involved in the initiative, saying: “It’s essential to learn more about the ocean as it the life support system for our planet. We’re proud to be part of this and to support this unique training opportunity for our future ocean explorers.”

The 2015 Atlantic Summer School will take place onboard the RV Polarstern on an Atlantic meridional transect from Bremerhaven, Germany to Cape Town, South Africa and will provide eight Irish marine science students with the opportunity to conduct research.

For further information visit the SMART website or contact [email protected].

Published in Marine Science
MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy is a contributor covering all things on the water, from boating and wildlife to science and business

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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.


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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