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Ireland’s Marine Research Vessels and Ocean Explorers Celebrated

19th May 2022
The Helga was purchased in 1900 – the same year the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction was established - and used both as a scientific research vessel and as a fisheries protection vessel.
The Helga was purchased in 1900 – the same year the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction was established - and used both as a scientific research vessel and as a fisheries protection vessel

The Marine Institute has today launched this year’s Oceans of Learning series, celebrating Ireland’s Marine Research Vessels and Ocean Explorers – Our Past, Present and Future.

Over a three-week period, Oceans of Learning celebrates our seas and Ireland’s valuable marine resource, marking both European Maritime Day (20th May) and World Oceans Day (8th June). The Oceans of Learning series on offers online interactive activities, videos and downloadable resources all about our ocean. A #SeaToMe social competition will encourage people across Ireland to share what the sea means to them for the chance to win weekly prizes.

The RV Tom Crean will join Ireland’s marine research fleet in 2022The RV Tom Crean will join Ireland’s marine research fleet in 2022

Beginning this week with a look at Irish research vessels used in the waters around Ireland, since as far back as 1865. Oceans of Learning will next feature the national research vessels of the present, the RV Celtic Voyager and RV Celtic Explorer. The final week of the campaign focuses on the future. The RV Tom Crean will join Ireland’s marine research fleet in 2022, marking a major milestone for marine research. The 52.8 metre vessel will provide a year round service for expanded fisheries surveys, seabed mapping, deep water surveys and support increased collaborative research in the Atlantic Ocean.

RV Celtic ExplorerRV Celtic Explorer

Through the Oceans of Learning series, the Marine Institute comes together with Government Departments and organisations across Ireland including Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Bord Bia, Met Éireann, Commissioners of Irish Lights and EPIC Irish Emigration Museum, to celebrate and highlight the vital role our ocean plays in all of our lives.

Dr Paul Connolly, CEO of the Marine Institute, said “As we anticipate the arrival of Ireland’s new state-of-the-art, multi-purpose research vessel the RV Tom Crean, it’s the perfect time to reflect on our research vessels and explorers of the past and to mark the wonderful achievements of our present day research vessels – the RV Celtic Voyager which came into service in 1997 and the RV Celtic Explorer which arrived in 2003.

“These research vessels have been central to the Marine Institute’s work and research programmes. They enhance our ability to collaborate with our many national and international partners and are central to positioning Ireland as a leader in ocean knowledge. They continue to facilitate a deeper understanding of our ocean, helping us to safeguard it for future generations.”

A new video released this week as part of Oceans of Learning focuses on Ireland’s research vessels of the past.

In the early years of fisheries surveys and marine research (the late 19th century), a variety of different ships were used in the waters around Ireland. One of the first on record was the HMS Lightning (1865-67), a wooden-hulled paddle powered gun vessel. Other ships from these early days of fisheries research include the Flying Fox, Fingal, Harlequin, Granuaile and Saturn.

The Helga was purchased in 1900 – the same year the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction was established - and used both as a scientific research vessel and as a fisheries protection vessel.

Helga II (also known as HMS Helga, Muirchú) came into service as a fishery research vessel in 1908. She was solely designed to carry out scientific investigations in Irish waters. A modern creation, she was fully electrified, contained refrigeration units and a continuous-wave radio.

At various points in her history, the Helga II was requisitioned away from fisheries research work. She served as an anti-submarine patrol vessel during World War I, was involved in shelling buildings in Dublin occupied by Irish volunteers during the 1916 Rising, and played a key role during the Civil War in moving Free State troops.

At the outbreak of World War II, the Free State did not yet have a navy and the ship, now named Muirchú (Sea Hound), was one of the first ships to be co-opted for the then Marine and Coastwatching Service.

In 1947, the ship was decommissioned and sold to a Dublin company for scrap. In transit from Cork, she began to take on water. Those onboard were rescued and the vessel sank beneath the waves off the Wexford coast.

Several ships were used as research vessels over the following years: the steam trawler Fort Rannoch (1938-1947), Cú Feasa – Hound of Knowledge (commissioned in 1958), Cú na Mara – Hound of the Sea (1966-1972) and the RV Lough Beltra (1976-1997).

Launched in 1973 as a 21 metre fishing trawler, the Lough Beltra was refitted in 1976 as Ireland’s national research vessel. She had the most up-to-date navigational equipment at the time, including a Decca Auto Pilot, Track Plotter, Navigator and Radar.

From 1994 to 1997, the vessel surveyed areas of the Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. She was decommissioned in 1997, when the newly built RV Celtic Voyager, managed by the Marine Institute, came into service 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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