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Solution to Europe's "Broken" Rivers Identified in Research Involving UCC

17th December 2020
An EU project involving University College Cork (UCC) team of researchers has identified thousands of large dams and a myriad of weirs, culverts, fords, sluices and ramps An EU project involving University College Cork (UCC) team of researchers has identified thousands of large dams and a myriad of weirs, culverts, fords, sluices and ramps Credit: Amber International

Europe has some of the "most fragmented" rivers in the world with at least 1.2 million instream barriers, according to a newly published study.

An EU project involving University College Cork (UCC) team of researchers has identified thousands of large dams and a myriad of weirs, culverts, fords, sluices and ramps as the "main culprit of fragmentation".

It calculates that there are at least 0.74 barriers per kilometre of stream in Europe, and has recorded same in what it describes as the "first comprehensive pan- European barrier inventory".

The Amber Barrier Atlas shows the extent of this fragmentation is "much higher than anyone had anticipated", according to river geomorphologist Barbara Belletti who is now based at the CNRS, the French National Centre for Scientific Research.

Amber co-ordinator Carlos de Garcia de Leaniz said that many of the barriers are obsolete, and removing them "provides unprecedented opportunities for restoration".

The project results will feed into the EU's new biodiversity strategy and will help to reconnect at least 25,000km of Europe's rivers by 2030, he said.

UCC research professor Prof Philip McGinnity said that the project involved attempting to identify those areas of a river where Atlantic salmon are "stressed, in distress or excluded".

UCC Environmental Research Institute director Prof Sarah Culloty said the impact of the river barriers identified would be exacerbated by global warming.

The data would be critical to managing future risk, prioritising action and co-ordinated responses, she said.

UCC's head of the school of biological, earth and environmental sciences Prof Andy Wheeler said he was very concerned that recent Environmental Protection Agency reports showed that the ecological quality of Ireland's surface waters continued to decline, with nearly half of the water bodies in Ireland failing to meet objectives set in the EU Water Framework Directive.

Restoring connectivity by removing obsolete barriers would make an "important contribution in helping to improve conditions", he said.

The Amber project, funded under the EU's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, has developed tools and simulations to help water companies and river managers make the most of barriers and minimise ecological impacts.

It has improved fish migration at the Poutes dam in France using "adaptive management strategies" as one of a number of initiatives. A citizen science app to recover river barriers in Europe has also been developed, known as the Barrier Tracker.

More here

Published in Marine Science
Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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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.
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  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
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  • 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!
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  • 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
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  • 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
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  • 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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