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Government Extends Funding to Protect Ireland’s Vital Marine Ecosystem With New Aerial Survey

19th June 2021
Aircraft used in a previous ObSERVE Aerial survey
Aircraft used in a previous ObSERVE Aerial survey Credit: Mark Jessopp

An Irish-led international consortium will this month begin extensive aerial surveys of almost half a million square kilometres of Ireland’s maritime area.

The ObSERVE Aerial 2 survey aims to help build a greater understanding of Ireland’s marine wildlife and the habitats they need to survive and to thrive.

Extensive aerial surveys under the ObSERVE Programme are due to start this month, sampling a large portion of Ireland’s maritime area of almost 490,000 sq km in a project led by University College Cork.

Our natural marine environment and its renewable energy resources can also help the State meet its climate goals, and the Government says it is committed to understanding and protecting our marine life when developing plans for the offshore.

Speaking at the launch of the ObSERVE Aerial 2 project, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan said: “Developing our offshore wind resources gives Ireland a wonderful opportunity to break away from fossil fuels and meet our ambitious climate targets. In doing so we are determined to protect our marine environment and the wonderful biodiversity it contains.

“The scientific knowledge from the ObSERVE project will play a critical role in developing our resources in a sustainable way. The collaboration of my department, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland in supporting the project emphasises the importance the State places on protecting our marine environment and our shared ambitions in combating climate change and biodiversity loss.”

Minister of State for Heritage, Malcolm Noonan added: “The conservation of marine biodiversity is one of my key priorities as Minister for Heritage and this important research programme will support that endeavour.

“Ireland’s maritime area is one of the largest in Europe — we have a responsibility to look after it and the diverse array of wildlife that depends on it, especially as we develop our offshore renewable energy resource as part of Ireland’s ambitious climate action agenda.

“The Observe 2 project represents an important step forward as we continue to develop our scientific understanding of the marine ecosystem and work collaboratively with all stakeholders to ensure its long-term protection.”

Data collected as part of the first phase of the programme in recent years has already filled major information gaps and has assisted in more informed and sustainable management of offshore activities, and in the development of suitable conservation strategies that will sustain our marine environment into the future.

The UCC team responsible for he project is led by Dr Mark Jessopp and Prof Emer Rogan from the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, with partners from Action Air, France, Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands and Duke University in the US.

“The survey programme includes summer and winter flights over the next two years, but we are looking forward to the challenge,” Dr Jessopp said.

Professor Rogan added: “The results from the ObSERVE II programme will provide us with a unique timeseries to look at trends in seabird and cetacean abundance and distribution, informing management and conservation.”

The ObSERVE Programme is jointly funded by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland (SEAI). Team

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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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