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A team of marine scientists have discovered a very rare shark nursery, 200 miles west of Ireland while investigating Ireland’s deep ocean territory. The announcement was made at the INFOMAR Seabed Mapping Seminar in Kinsale today, where video highlights were debuted of this rare occurrence, discovered during the recent “SeaRover” survey by the Marine Institute’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Holland 1 deployed onboard the ILV Granuaile. The INFOMAR Programme is a Government of Ireland initiative, funded by Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and is a deliverable under Project 2040, Ireland’s National Development Plan.

Speaking at the event David O’Sullivan, of INFOMAR and Chief Scientist on the SeaRover survey (Sensitive Ecosystem Analysis and ROV Exploration of Reef habitat) said: ‘We are delighted to report the discovery of a rare shark nursery on a scale not previously documented in Irish waters. This discovery shows the significance of documenting sensitive marine habitats, and will give us a better understanding of the biology of these beautiful animals and their ecosystem function in Ireland’s Biologically Sensitive Area.”

During the SeaRover survey undertaken last July, the shark nursery was discovered while exploring Ireland’s deep-water coral reef systems. The exploration initiative was a collaboration jointly funded by the Irish Government (DAFM & DCHG) and the EU’s European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, supported by Marine Institute, NPWS, Geological Survey Ireland, & NUIGalway. 

Speaking at the INFOMAR Seminar, Koen Verbruggen, GSI Director said “We are delighted that this discovery has been unveiled at todays’ event, demonstrating the importance of mapping our seabed habitats in understanding and managing our vast and valued ocean resources. Our data and team continue to make significant contributions to harnessing our ocean wealth.”

Very large numbers of egg cases, commonly called mermaids purses, were filmed on the seafloor at depths reaching 750 m. Such large concentrations of egg cases, are rarely recorded and indicate females may gather in this particular area on the seafloor to lay their eggs.

A large school of Blackmouth catshark (Galeus melastomus), abundant in the northeast Atlantic were present at the site, and it is likely the eggs are of this species. A second more unusual and solitary species, the Sailfin roughshark (Oxynotus paradoxus) was also observed. “Both species are of scientific interest as Ireland has an obligation to monitor deepwater sharks under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive”, said Maurice Clarke from the Fisheries Ecosystem Advisory Services at the Marine Institute.

The Sailfin roughshark is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature meaning it may be considered threatened with extinction in the near future. The species grows up to a length of 1.2 m and is usually observed moving slowly with deep water currents feeding on small benthic invertebrates. The individual may have been feeding on the eggs although this was not observed by the science team.

“No pups were obvious at the site and it is believed that the adult sharks might be utilising degraded coral reef and exposed carbonate rock on which to lay their eggs. A healthy coral reef in the vicinity, may act as a refuge for the juvenile shark pups once they hatch. It is anticipated that further study of the site will answer some important scientific questions on the biology and ecology of deep water sharks in Irish waters,” explained David O’Sullivan. 

The shark nursery was observed within one of six offshore Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) in Irish waters designated under the EU Habitats Directive for Annex 1 reefs. The SACs host a diverse range of marine animals including sea fans, sponges, worms, starfish, crustaceans and a variety of fish species. Many of these species were apparent in the newly discovered nursery highlighting the importance of conserving key areas of our oceans to sustain and support marine biodiversity. 

“Our key objective is to assess, protect and monitor Ireland’s rich offshore marine biodiversity so we can begin to manage our marine resources effectively. Without knowledge of what lives in our seas we are at risk of never fully understanding and appreciating Ireland’s marine environment”, Dr Yvonne Leahy (NPWS) explained.

Scientific expertise and the high resolution deep sea mapping dataset used in survey planning and design was provided by the national seabed mapping programme INFOMAR. This enabled targeting potential locations of reef habitat for this survey, in the form of seabed features including submarine canyons and seabed mounds, frequently host to cold water coral reefs and associated habitats in Ireland’s rich offshore waters.

The survey called ‘SeaRover’ is the second of three surveys commissioned and jointly funded by the Irish Government and the EU’s European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. ‘The cross-government initiative is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM), Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht (DCHG), and Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment as part of the Marine Institute’s implementation of the Marine Biodiversity scheme. Survey operations were coordinated and led by the INFOMAR programme which is a joint venture between the Geological Survey Ireland and the Marine Institute, funded by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Scientists from the Marine Institute, National Parks and Wildlife Service, National University of Ireland, Galway, Plymouth University and Aquafact participated in the survey which this year extended coverage to include Ireland’s farthest offshore area within its Exclusive Economic Zone at the Rockall Bank. 

Published in Marine Science

Minister Creed today attended the international Our Ocean Conference in Nusa Dua, Bali. This is the fifth of these conferences, started by former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, which brings together global community representatives and urges them to commit to tangible actions to ensure the future sustainability of the world’s oceans, and since 2014, the conference has produced commitments totalling in the region of US$18 billion.

In speaking during the panel discussion on Climate Change, Minister Creed outlined Ireland’s continued commitment to addressing the challenges raised by climate change stating that “the requirement to address knowledge gaps in relation to climate impacts within the marine/coastal environment have been identified as a prospective priority research area to enhance Ireland’s climate resilience”.

Minister Creed highlighted the provision of €10m to the local authority sector in Ireland to aid in the establishment of four Climate Action Regional Offices (CAROs), the continued commitment to the Environmental Educational module of Ireland’s Green Schools programme, continued support of the Clean Coast Programme and the provision of €1mil over a five year period (2019-2024) towards a new programme of Ocean & Climate research in an Irish Higher Education Institution. 

Other commitments announced by Ireland included the completion of a €250 million naval vessel replacement programme involving the purchase of four larger more capable offshore patrol vessels tasked primarily with maritime surveillance and fishery protection, and Ireland’s commitment of €32 million for the delivery of three Pilatus 12 aircraft to the Irish Defence Forces in 2019/20.

Alongside the conference, Minister Creed attended a lunch, hosted by President of Indonesia Joko Widodo; met with the EU Commissioner Vella; met Irish attendees at the Our Ocean Youth Summit and met with the USA delegation to the conference to discuss the work of the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance (AORA).

Published in Marine Science

A scientific experiment, conducted by SEA-Tech a Cork based SME, under the control of a group of reputable witnesses composed of maritime professionals and researchers is set to enter the record books. The purpose of the experiment was to set a world record for the furthest maritime broadband transmission without satellite or cellular network using SeaFi wireless maritime communication system. Academic staff from Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and The National Maritime College of Ireland (NMCI) and University College Dublin (UCD) were actively involved as reputable expert witnesses. 

Dr Sean McSweeney, Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science in CIT and Sean O’Callaghan (NMCI), were tasked to conduct a thorough inspection at Roches Point Lighthouse SeaFi coastal station. Their experience, both as lecturer and system administrator, helped in establishing the fact that the lighthouse and the ship that would take part in the experiment were not connected to each other with any other system but a wireless radio link. Immediately after the inspection, the lighthouse was closed and keys kept by the Commissioners of Irish Lights when Prof Frederic Dias (Mathematician UCD) witnessing the operations in Roches Point Lighthouse, would take up position in the lighthouse with SeaFi coastal operator Theophile Buyssens from France. Prof Frederic Dias’ role consisted of calculating distance in real-time between stations.

Karle Grabe, Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science in CIT, and Capt Bill Kavanagh from NMCI, inspected SeaFi ship station on board OSV Ocean Spey in Ringaskiddy Deep Water Berth prior to departure. Their expertise in ICT and Nautical Science combined together guaranteed the results. Bill Kavanagh is a former sea captain (Emerald Isle Marine), nautical instructor and Head of Regional Fisheries, needless to say a well-seasoned seaman who knows his way around a ship. Assisting Karl Grab, a software development expert and a yachting enthusiast, both men inspected the bridge and the mast of the ship in search for any trace of connectivity other than SeaFi radio link before leaving the ship under the watchful eye of CIT graduate, Capt Mark Sloan and Chief Officer James Darwin.

SeaFi facilitates the creation of private telecommunication networks in ports and coastal areas by establishing the connection between lighthouses, maritime wind turbines, or offshore drilling platforms and vessels at sea. These networks are used to connect the ships and their crews, as well as the data collection buoys (weather, tides...) for example. SeaFI is a radio system on the frequency band of 2.4 GigaHertz which works a little like Marconi's telegraph system, using coastal stations (connection points) and embarked stations at sea. The key to the system is a bespoke ship antenna, which transmits wirelessly, and securely, over a private wireless network to special receiving shore antennas, one of which is attached to the Roche’s Point lighthouse “to put it simply, WiFi is more like a bare light bulb while SeaFi is more like a focused flashlight” says SEA-Tech.

The SeaFi ship station operator was Arnaud Disant, Marine Data Communications lecturer in NMCI and Marine ICT Engineer working with Port of Cork, Port of Waterford and Rosslare Europort. For the past decade, Arnaud Disant has been involved into the development of SeaFi working with maritime professionals, pilots and the Irish Naval Service. 

Four bells in the afternoon watch, the ship left port at 14.00hrs. Expert witnesses from CIT, NMCI and UCD were in contact by email with the ship station operator. For several hours the Offshore Supply Vessel, owned by Mainport, had set course south of Roches Point Lighthouse in Cork Harbour. Every 15 minutes both operators in Roches Point, and on the bridge, kept running tests such as sending emails to the expert witnesses and making Skype calls. Emails leave traces when sent, expert witnesses Sean O’Callaghan, Carl Grabe and Dr Sean McSweeney would also confirm the emails originated from SeaFi ship station. Each email sent to shore, from the ship, was delivered without satellite or cellular connection. Once designed to guide ships into ports, lighthouses could be refitted to enter the digital era of marine big data.

At exactly 16:31hrs Roches Point issued one last message to the ship station, at 16:32hrs SeaFi ship station (code name Gemini) had gone silent after two and a half hours on uninterrupted transmission. OSV Ocean Spey was spotted on INS vessel LÉ James Joyce patrolling south west of Ocean Spey position. Prof Frederic Dias posted on Twitter the results of his calculation and was immediately echoed by expert witness, Lt Commander Brett, Commanding Officer of LÉ James Joyce reporting the position of Ocean Spey at Lat 51 30.05N Long 008 03.70W – 19.4 nautical miles from Roches Point (35.9 kilometres) at the time the last transmission was made. Evidence of the record has been sent to the Guinness World Book of Records for homologation.

The submission was supported by each individual independent expert witness. 

Arnaud Disant, the engineer who invented SeaFi said: “SeaFi could put Ireland on the forefront of modern maritime technology.”It’s no doubt, this episode will be followed by many others, SeaFi is already attracting curiosity in The Netherlands, France, Italy, US and from as far away as Chile. Beyond the achievement itself, for an island nation, it’s a vivid example of academic staff teaming up actively together to support the research of a local SME.

Published in Marine Science

#MarineScience - An international team of marine scientists from six countries are currently sailing on Ireland’s national research vessel RV Celtic Explorer on a transatlantic voyage to study the impact of climate change on the ocean.

Departing from St John’s in Newfoundland on Thursday 27 April — after launching the miniature yacht Lancer a few days previously — and due to arrive in Galway on 23 May, the Marine Institute-led team of experts are surveying a transect of the Atlantic Ocean last surveyed 20 years ago to investigate carbon dioxide levels in the ocean.

The survey is essential to understand and project how carbon dioxide emissions are accumulated in the oceans and the atmosphere, as well as its effects on the acidification of the ocean.

The survey is part of the Global Oceans Ship-Based Hydrographic Investigations Program (GO-SHIP), which carries out systematic and global surveys of select hydrographic sections, through an international consortium of 16 countries and laboratories.

This is the first GO-SHIP survey to involve this level of collaboration with scientists from ten leading universities and research institutes representing six countries joining the survey.

Marine Institute chief executive Dr Peter Heffernan said: “The Marine Institute is proud to lead this truly international collaboration. This GO-SHIP A02 survey is a very real example of the Galway Statement in action: working together to better understand and increase our knowledge of the Atlantic Ocean and its dynamic systems, and promoting the sustainable management of its resources.”

The Galway Statement, signed at the Marine Institute 24 May 2013, launched the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance between the EU, Canada and the USA.

The survey is co-ordinated by the Marine Institute and NUI Galway with research partners in Dalhousie University and Fisheries and Oceans, Canada; University of Exeter, United Kingdom; GEOMAR, Germany; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Columbia University, USA; and Aarhus University, Denmark.

“Ship-based surveys are still the only way to collect the best quality measurements of fundamental physical, chemical and biological properties known as Essential Ocean Variables,” said Dr Evin McGovern of the Marine Institute and principal investigator on the GO-SHIP A02 survey.

“Although technology has provided many new methods to collect ocean measurements, there’s really no substitute for going out on the ocean on a research vessel.

“We can use satellite technology to look at certain properties the ocean surface and can deploy autonomous argo floats to take some measurements to depths of 2000, but we need to carry out ocean surveys that can measure to get a complete picture of the chemistry of the ocean at different depths up to 5,000m.

“The transect we are surveying is a really dynamic area of the Atlantic for heat transport and carbon uptake and is hugely important to informing our understanding of our global climate and how the ocean regulates our climate,” added Dr McGovern.

“The Northwest Atlantic is one of the world’s largest sinks of carbon dioxide and despite progress in our understanding there’s still a huge lack of data as it relates to climate change’s impact on the ocean and what that means for the economy and society,” said Brad de Young, a professor of physics and physical oceanography at Memorial University, Newfoundland and an Ocean Frontier Institute researcher.

“Improving our scientific understanding and developing strategic and effective solutions for safe and sustainable ocean development requires sharing of expertise, international co-operation and exchange of data and best practices. And that’s what this voyage is all about,” adds Doug Wallace, Canada Excellence research chair at Dalhousie University.

Published in Marine Science

#MarineScience - A deep-ocean drone was recovered with the help of the Marine Institute off the coast of Baltimore in West Cork earlier this month.

The SILBO autonomous glider, deployed by Teledyne Webb Research USA from Falmouth, Massachusetts in April last year, was sent on a mission to cross the North Atlantic and gather data from the ocean.

SILBO is one of 16 gliders undertaking 128,000km of co-ordinated surveys following an ocean gyre around the five global ocean basins. as part of the Unesco-endorsed Challenger mission.

Gliders look like torpedoes but lack propellors and an engine, instead relying on a movable internal ballast and external moveable fins to move across the ocean. They contain large battery packs to power the movement of the fins and change the internal ballast, as well as to power the glider’s sensors for ocean monitoring.

"Gliders like SILBO are equipped with a variety of sensors that enable scientists to monitor the ocean temperature, salinity, currents and other ocean conditions as well as offering a picture of places in the ocean that traditional satellites and research vessels may not be able to,” explained Aodhan Fitzgerald, RV operations manager at the Marine Institute, which used its remote operated vehicle to help recover the drone off Baltimore on Thursday 9 March.

“By contributing real-time data to a global portal, deep-sea gliders enable marine scientists to mutually benefit by creating a better assessment and understanding of the ocean and evaluating the ocean environment.”

Gliders like SILBO have the ability to go where it is impractical to send people. They can travel major distances over long periods of time, moving both horizontally and vertically through the ocean, continually gathering data.

The drones are also programmed to surface at designated times throughout their mission, allowing them to transmit the data they have collected to shore while at the same time downloading new mission instructions.

This two-way communications ability allows gliders to continually gather information about the most important and diverse regions of our ocean basins.

The Marine Institute says it is currently developing its capacity to use such gliders as they are an important tool for marine scientists to study and map the dynamic features of the ocean.

"With the opportunity to learn more about deep-sea glider capabilities, SILBO will be used for a training session led by Teledyne Webb Research at the Marine Institute's facilities in Galway,” Fitzgerald added.

“This will involve Irish and international glider technicians learning how to overhaul the glider and prepare it for its next mission before it is re-deployed from Irish shores to complete further mission transects for this global initiative.”

Published in Marine Science

#Fishing - Local eel fishermen were celebrated recently at an information day hosted by Inland Fisheries Ireland in Athlone.

The fishermen, who are involved in IFI’s Scientific Eel Fisheries in different parts of the country, attended the event which aimed to provide an update on the progress made through these fisheries and to recognise the contribution of the fishermen to date.

In total, there are 11 fishermen involved in the initiative, with many experienced in fishing for eels over several years.

Since last year, they have provided support to IFI by fishing for eel in a conservation-focused manner with a view to gathering necessary data which will help protect the species into the future.

Their local expertise and historical knowledge around eels in their areaa has given invaluable support to IFI during the set up and delivery of the Scientific Eel Fishery.

IFI commenced the process of setting up a network of scientific fisheries for eel around Ireland in 2016. These scientific fisheries cover the different life stages — glass eel, elver, yellow and silver eel — and are distributed in key catchments around Ireland.

The purpose of the fisheries is to increase the knowledge around eels in Ireland ahead of the next EU review of this endangered species, and to inform the management of eel populations which are currently in decline.

Dr Cathal Gallagher, head of R&D at IFI, said: “This important partnership between eel fishermen and research has one shared objective: to improve our knowledge of the state of the eel populations and to ensure their conservation for future generations.

“Inland Fisheries Ireland appreciates the benefit of citizen science programmes such as this one which will preserve the heritage of eel fishing and at the same time deliver on the research requirements needed to report to the EU. I would like to recognise and thank all the fishermen involved for their support.”

Citizen science is growing in popularity and encompasses many different ways in which citizens who are non-scientists are involved in scientific research projects.

The involvement of fishermen in the Scientific Eel Fisheries plays an important role in respecting the tradition and heritage of eel fishing in Ireland. Many of the fishermen come from families where eel fishing has been practised across several generations with local expertise and knowledge passed down through the years.

Published in Fishing

#MarineScience - Over 20 Transition Year students participated in a wide range of activities at the Marine Institute as part of Engineering Week this past week from Monday 27 February to Friday 3 March.

For the third annual TY training week at the Marine Institute headquarters in Oranmore, the fourth-year pupils from Mayo, Galway, Kerry, Cork and Tralee increased their understanding of and interest in marine science, research engineering and technology careers.

Scientists and staff from the State agency responsible for marine research and innovation welcomed the opportunity to share their passion and insights across a wide range of areas in the marine science and maritime sectors.

Ireland's marine sector is a vibrant part of our national economy and the need for education in the marine sector at all levels is highlighted by Ireland's Integrated Marine Plan, Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth, according to Marine Institute chief executive Dr Peter Heffernan.

“Increasing the student's knowledge and engagement with marine careers in science, technology and innovation, as well as the sustainable development and management of our marine resource, is key to support Ireland's ocean economy, where highly qualified and skilled professionals are needed in the coming years,” he added.

The annual TY training course offers students an intensive week of shadowing scientists and staff learning about marine science, technology and engineering as well as a range of diverse supporting disciplines.

Promoting ocean literacy, the students took part in interactive experiments involving IT applications, marine environment and food safety, fisheries sciences, research vessel operations as well as advanced mapping, maritime development and communications.

The students found themselves working with hairdryers, balls and vinegar learning about data collection to how human industrial activities affect the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the ocean.

Interactive activities included dressing up in wet gear, forming sand sculptures of shipwrecks and working on group poster presentations provided learning opportunities that extended their skills and interests as well as raising their awareness about the ocean.

“With the training week fully booked out, we were delighted to see the increased levels of interest and understanding of the marine and the direct benefits of the communications and team building training that form an essential part of this rounded programme,” said Marine Institute HR manager Catherine Quigley-Johnston.

The programme aims to ensure a diverse and well-educated generation of marine scientists and researchers for the future, she added.

“The feedback from students confirms the need for industry and third level institutes, as well as State agencies to promote training and access for young people in marine and maritime careers.

“The training programme also highlights the effort and willingness of the Institute's staff to share their areas of expertise with the younger generations. This is what helps makes TY open days and training weeks so successful,” said Quigley-Johnston.

Published in Marine Science

#Research - A recent visit to the Marine Institute by the Norwegian Ambassador to Ireland Else Berit Eikeland was an opportunity to discuss marine research collaborations with a North Atlantic partner.

That’s according to Marine Institute chief executive Dr Peter Heffernan, who added: "The essential role of international cooperation in developing our knowledge of the Atlantic and North Atlantic Ocean and its dynamic systems is necessary, particularly in a time when we need to adapt to climate and environmental changes taking place around the world.

"Aligning our research efforts in areas such as fisheries ecosystem management; marine environment and food safety in aquaculture and shellfish; as well as oceanographic digital research, provides us with future partnerships that can benefit and improve ocean health and stewardship as well as promote the sustainable management of our ocean resources.”

The Marine Institute hosted the visit of Her Excellency Else Berit Eikeland, Ambassador of the Royal Norwegian Embassy to Galway, where she met executive management at its headquarters in Rinville, Oranmore last Thursday 23 February.

Published in Marine Science

#Lancer - An American high school student this week made the trip across the Atlantic to meet the Galway schoolgirl who found her marine science project mini-yacht last year.

Kaitlyn Dow from Waterford High School in Connecticut met eight-year-old Méabh Ní Ghionnáin for the first time at the Marine Institute in Galway for the official handover of the unmanned Lancer sailboat, which is set to be relaunched from the RV Celtic Explorer in the Atlantic later this year.

The 1.5m boat provided by Educational Passages was used as part of Kaitlyn's year-long research project studying wind and currents in the ocean.

Fitted with a GPS transmitter, the boat was released in May 2016 by NOAA ship Neil Armstrong off the coast of Cape Cod and successfully crossed the Atlantic.

In September, Kaitlyn made an appeal to Afloat.ie readers to keep a look-out for Lancer as it was tracked as far as Galway Bay.

And when it was eventually washed up in Connemara on 20 September, Méabh was the first to find it after following its GSP signal to a spot near her home in Lettermore.

Marine Institute chief executive Dr Peter Heffernan congratulated Méabh and Kaitlyn on their endeavours, adding: "We are thrilled to be involved with the continued voyage of the Lancer sailboat where it will be launched from the research vessel RV Celtic Explorer during its up and coming transatlantic expedition in April.

"This story is a wonderful example of both science literacy and citizen engagement with the oceans – themes which are a priority for the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance between Canada, the EU and USA.

“Seeing new friendships formed across the Atlantic at an early age highlights the value of international partnerships that are essential for sharing marine science.”

Dr Heffernan added: “With the Atlantic being the second largest ocean in the world, it is important to increase our awareness of the value, opportunities and societal benefits the ocean provides us.”

Michael O'Connor, Kaitlyn's science teacher from Waterford High School, also made the trip to Ireland wit her and her family.

"I am thrilled to see this project to the next stage bringing Méabh and Kaitlyn together,” he said. “Although this started as a science project, the social connections and the sea that binds them are just as important as the data collected.

"Kaitlyn learned to design a study from the ground up, figure out how to fund it, make the social and professional connections to further the project and foster an international dialog about the ocean.

“She has a love for sailing and turned that love into a science project with great social impact and a great story. She will carry that combined social service and love of the sea to the Coast Guard Academy next year for college.”

Lancer was repaired by Ciaran Oliver and James Rattigan from Port of Galway Sea Scouts, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

The Sea Scouts recently visited the RV Celtic Explorer with Méabh and will also be attending a seashore safari with Galway Atlantaquaria and the Explorers Education Programme team later this month.

Published in Coastal Notes

#MarineScience – Women at Inland Fisheries Ireland who work across science projects are celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science today (11 February 2017).

International Day of Women and Girls in Science is a UN initiative which aims to help achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls.

Staff working in IFI carry out scientific fisheries research, monitoring and investigations which aim to manage, improve and protect the inland fisheries resource.

Find out more about International Day of Women and Girls in Science here.

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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