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A BIM scientist has welcomed two recent reports in the scientific journal Nature recording how fisheries management and marine conservation have helped to reduce overfishing.

A recent Nature paper entitled “Rebuilding marine life” says that “substantial recovery of the abundance, structure and function of marine life could be achieved by 2050, if major pressures—including climate change—are mitigated”.

Writing in the current issue of The Skipper, Dr Ronán Cosgrove, BIM Fisheries Conservation Manager, says measures on management and conservation since the 1980s have boosted recovery to the point where two-thirds of large-scale commercial stocks are exploited at sustainable rates.

Cosgrove says that the number of marine species at risk of extinction has decreased while populations of marine mammals such as humpback whales and several seal species have significantly increased.

"The number of marine species at risk of extinction has decreased"

While it’s a case of much done and much more to do on the latter, climate change is the “critical backdrop against which all future rebuilding efforts will play out”, he says.

Drawing of the modified 100mm T90 codend by Dr Matthew McHughDrawing of the modified 100mm T90 codend by Dr Matthew McHugh

“Threats such as increased ocean warming, acidification, sea level rises, and ancillary impacts will need to be dealt with through effective mitigation of greenhouse gases and development of carbon capture and removal technologies,”he says.

Cosgrove says the latest edition of the Marine Institute Stock book includes a positive assessment of Irish fisheries.

The number of sustainably fished stocks rose from 33 in 2020 to 35 in 2021 with gradual progress towards long-term sustainable utilisation of the resource base since 2012, he says.

He attributes this to a variety of management measures and increasingly high-quality scientific advice from the institute.

Gear selectivity also helps develop sustainable fisheries, he says, such as increases in mesh sizes and introduction of large square mesh panels to reduce mortality in some fisheries.

Cosgrove records how BIM’s latest gear collaboration with industry has further boosted the performance of the highly selective T90 codend, a key gear measure in the Celtic and Irish Seas. The work was supported by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.

“Due to increased mesh openings, T90 consistently reduces catches of small fish. Thanks to increased water flow through the open meshes, greater quantities of larger market sized fish are swept into and retained in the codend,” he explains.

Testing of a new four-panel 100 mm T90 cod end design was led by BIM’s Daragh Browne, working with an Irish seiner and Cathal Boyle and colleagues at Swan Net Gundry.

The gear modification has been trialled in Canadian and Icelandic fisheries and was successfully tailored to the Irish seine net fishery with extensive design input from Swan Net Gundry, he says.

“Haddock is a key target species for seiners with additional monthly quotas allocated to this fleet,” he notes.

“Conducted on a self-sampling basis due to Covid restrictions, a comparison of the new T90 codend compared with a standard two-panel T90 codend demonstrated a 70% reduction in small grade haddock, and 157% and 133% increases in medium and large-grade haddock. Very few undersize fish occurred in either gear as expected with 100 mm T90 codends,”Cosgove says.

“While price data have yet to be analysed, large haddock are worth substantially more than small haddock meaning the new gear greatly assists in maximising the value of available quota,”he says.

Major reductions in small fish also reduces fishing mortality - leading to improved sustainability of the haddock stock.

The Nature papers are here

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-020-00668-1

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2146-7

The MI stock book is available at www.marine.ie.

Cosgrove’s full report in The Skipper is here

https://theskipper.ie/good-news-for-fisheries-sustainability/

Published in Fishing
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BirdWatch Ireland, the national charity protecting birds, has asked people who regularly visit coastal harbours and beaches and who take to the seas “ to help in tracking one of the most breathtaking sights in Nature.”

This is the phenomenon involving starlings, known as a murmuration and which in other European countries is associated with harbours and piers, but about which more data is needed in Ireland.

Niall Hatch of BirdWatch outlined to Tom MacSweeney on his Maritime Ireland Radio Show what they would like to hear about from the public.

Published in Marine Wildlife

Did you know that our Native oysters have been an important food source for centuries - the Romans even exported them back to Italy!

The first report of a recognised commercial oyster fishery in Belfast Lough was in 1780 and although the native oyster has been considered extinct there since 1903, in the summer of 2020, live oysters were discovered for the first time in over 100 years – evidence that the environmental conditions for establishment are right.

The charity, Ulster Wildlife Trust, is hoping to establish the first native oyster nursery in Northern Ireland in Bangor Marina on Belfast Lough to support the declining population and to help create a natural long-term carbon store to tackle climate change. So under F, G and H Pontoons, Ulster Wildlife's Heidi McIlvenny with Harbour Master Kevin Baird and his staff will deploy a native oyster nursery.

Highly prized Loch Ryan OystersHighly prized Loch Ryan Oysters

Around 26 cages will be suspended under the pontoon walkways and will be populated with highly prized Loch Ryan Oysters. The Loch Ryan Oyster Bed, one of Scotland’s largest, dates to 1701 when King William 111 granted a Royal Charter to the Wallace family.

The native or flat oyster stays fixed in one place and is a filter feeder meaning it uses its valves to pump water filtering out microscopic algae and small organic particles from the surrounding water. A single oyster can filter up to 200 litres of seawater per day, which can significantly improve water quality and clarity.

Already thriving in another Marina in Conwy Wales, over time the oysters will start releasing oyster larvae into the harbour which will be carried out to settle on the seabed, ultimately resulting in cleaner waters and better marine biodiversity.

Classified as a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework and a Feature of Conservation Importance for which Marine Conservation Zones can be designated, the oyster has a lifespan of six years.

Harbour Master Kevin Baird would like to get local schools involved after the oysters are in place. “It’s a great environmental project with many very positive benefits”. He added “There will be no disruption to marine traffic”.

Published in Belfast Lough

New antibiotics in the world’s oceans and the curative properties of marine animals like sponges will be explored in a European project involving researchers at University College Cork (UCC).

The EU has awarded a total of €7.5 million under its Horizon 2020 programme to the research into the largely unknown potential of the world’s oceans in protecting people, animals and crops from disease.

The Marine Biodiversity as Sustainable Resource of Disease-Suppressive Microbes and Bioprotectants for Aquaculture and Crop Diseases project, as it is officially known, has been given the name “Marbles”.

The research team will look specifically for new antibiotics and anti-fungals as well as microbes that can serve as “bio-protectants” in agriculture and aquaculture.

Synthetic chemicals currently used in pharmaceutical, agriculture and aquaculture have a devastating impact on marine life and this research is looking for sustainable solutions, according to the UCC research team.

The project will assess the potential of microorganisms derived from marine sponges, microalgae and fish for disease suppression.

They explain that “disease-suppressive” microorganisms will be drawn from "microbiomes", the complex collection of microorganisms that live in and around their marine hosts.

The world’s growing population and the current climate and biodiversity crises are driving the need to harness new compounds with pharmaceutical and nutritional applications sustainably, the UCC team says.

Prof Alan Dobson and Dr David Clarke from the UCC School of Microbiology and the Environmental Research Institute said that they were particularly excited about collaborating with the other 13 European partners from both academia and industry.

One project they hope to focus on involves isolating and genetically characterising disease suppressive microorganisms from the microbiome of Atlantic salmon.

These may then be generated into cocktails of microbial consortia, which could then be used either within fish feed as probiotics, or applied externally to boost the skin’s immune response in the salmon, they state.

This will improve disease control and overall fish health, and should decrease the dependency of using antibiotics in fish aquaculture systems while also reducing the potential spread of antimicrobial resistance in aquatic ecosystems, they state.

Published in Marine Science

There have been many reports of orcas - aka “killer whales” - attacking boats off the coast of Portugal and Spain. But large and all as they are, orcas are among the smaller whale species. And it seems that the bigger the whale, the more confident and friendly they are.

This drone video shows first one and then a pair of southern right whales interacting in the most harmless possible way with a very cool paddle boarder for an extraordinary inter-species experience. But as with everything to do with humans and whales, there’s a twist to the tale.

The “right whale” is so named because if you were on a whaling expedition, this was the right whale to hunt and slaughter for optimal profitability. Despite that, the sub-species has survived, and numbers are now back at healthy level.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Brown crabs are “mesmerised” by electromagnetism from underwater power cables laid around Scotland for offshore wind farms, a newly published study has found.

The edible crab Cancer pagurus displayed a clear attraction to the underwater cables, the study published in the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering has found.

Scientists at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University focused on the behaviour of a group of about 60 crabs at St Abbs marine station on the Scottish borders.

They found the higher levels of electromagnetism emanating from the cables caused cellular changes affecting the crabs’ blood cells.

“Underwater cables emit an electromagnetic field. When it’s at a strength of 500 microteslas and above, which is about 5 per cent of the strength of a fridge door magnet, the crabs seem to be attracted to it and just sit still,” Alastair Lyndon of Heriot-Watt University said.

“If they’re not moving, they’re not foraging for food or seeking a mate. The change in activity levels also leads to changes in sugar metabolism,” he said.

“ They store more sugar and produce less lactate, just like humans.”

“The aquarium lab is composed entirely of non-metallic materials, which means there is minimal electromagnetic interference,” Kevin Scott of St Abbs marine station said.

“ We found that exposure to higher levels of electromagnetic field strength changed the number of blood cells in the crabs’ bodies. This could have a range of consequences, like making them more susceptible to bacterial infection.”

Brown crabs are Britain’s second most valuable crustacean, and the most valuable inshore, catch. The scientists say the findings show how fishing markets could be affected by the change in crab behaviour.

The researchers have called for further research to ensure extensive underwater cabling required for Scottish coast wind farms does not destabilise the brown crab population.

Lyndon pointed out that if male brown crabs stop migrating up the east coast of Scotland, due to the impact of cables, it could affect population levels in the north-east and off the islands – and, by extension, the livelihoods of inshore fishermen.

Burying cables could provide a solution, but it is regarded as costly and posing maintenance challenges.

“We need to investigate further technical solutions so that we don’t create negative environmental effects while trying to decarbonise our energy supply,”Lyndon said.

The full study in the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering can be read here.

 

Published in Power From the Sea
Tagged under

New research at Queen’s University highlights the impact that microplastics are having on hermit crabs, which play an important role in balancing the marine ecosystem.

The research found that microplastics are affecting the behaviour of hermit crabs, namely their ability during shell fight contests, which are vital to their survival.

There is a strong association between hermit crabs and their shelters or shells, which are taken from marine snails to protect their soft abdomens. As the hermit crab grows over the years, it will need to find a succession of larger and larger shells to replace the ones that have become too small. They can achieve this through a contest, termed a shell fight, involving the ‘attacker’ rapping their shell against the ‘defender’ in an attempt to evict the opponent from its shell. In these contests, the hermit crabs will fight a competitor to secure the shell that they favour. These shells are vital in protecting and enabling hermit crabs to grow, reproduce and survive.

The new study builds on previous research by Queen’s University that showed hermit crabs were less likely to touch or enter high-quality shells when exposed to microplastics.

Hermit crabs were less likely to touch or enter high-quality shells when exposed to microplasticsHermit crabs were less likely to touch or enter high-quality shells when exposed to microplastics

The new study, published in Royal Society Open Science, provides a more in-depth insight into how the hermit crabs behaviour is affected when exposed to microplastics. The microplastics impair both the attacking and defending behaviour of hermit crabs during contests, impeding their ability to secure the larger shell that is required for both their growth and survival.

The research involved keeping hermit crabs in two tanks: one which contained polyethylene spheres (a common microplastic pollutant) and one without plastic (control) for five days. The team simulated the environment to encourage a hermit crab contest through placing pairs of hermit crabs in an arena, giving the larger crab a shell that was too small and the smaller crab a shell that was too big. Plastic-exposed hermit crabs displayed weaker attacking behaviour (known as rapping) during fights than crabs that were not exposed to plastic. Microplastics also reduced the ability of defending crabs to properly assess their attackers during contests and impaired their decision to give up their shell earlier.

Hermit crabs are known as scavengers as they recycle energy back into the ecosystem through eating up decomposed sea-life and bacteria. As such they play a vital role in rebalancing the ecosystem and are an important part of marine life.

Manus Cunningham from Queen’s University and one of the lead researchers on the paper, said: “These findings are hugely significant as they illustrate how both the information-gathering and shell evaluations were impaired when exposed to microplastics.

“Although 10% of global plastic production ends up in the ocean, there is very limited research on how this can disrupt animal behaviour and cognition. This study shows how the microplastic pollution crisis is threatening biodiversity more than is currently recognised.”

Dr Gareth Arnott, the principal investigator of the project said: “This study provides an insight into the potential for microplastics to alter important aspects of animal behaviour that are critical for survival and reproduction. We need to further investigate how microplastics affect their behaviour and the consequences, armed with this knowledge to advocate for change to protect our ecosystem.”

Published in Marine Science

Ireland has joined an international agreement to establish a marine protected area (MPA) in the North Atlantic Current and Evlanov sea basin.

The area is located in the high seas, to the west of the Ospar maritime area in the north-east Atlantic.

It covers 595,196 km² - over eight times the size of Ireland’s land area.

The designated area is home to up to five million seabirds across 21 different species, including five – such as the Atlantic Puffin – that are globally threatened.

Other threatened species, like the wide-ranging Basking Shark and Leatherback Turtle, also inhabit the ocean area.

Ireland’s commitment to the new MPA was announced on Friday by Minister of State for Heritage and Reform Malcolm Noonan at an Ospar ministerial meeting in Cascais, Portugal.

The Ospar Commission for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, an international organisation, has been chaired by Ireland since 2018.

The commission also approved a North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy.

It has 12 strategic objectives and over 50 practical, operational objectives to tackle the triple challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution (including marine litter) facing the oceans,Mr Noonan said.

Its implementation will be part of Ospar’s contribution to the achievement of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Noonan said.

Published in Marine Wildlife

University College Cork (UCC) says it is providing support to its staff who were passengers on the aircraft that was forced to make an emergency landing at Carne beach in Co Wexford on Thursday.

The staff were conducting marine life surveys in Irish offshore waters as part of the ObSERVE II project, UCC has confirmed.

An Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) inquiry has been initiated into the light aircraft crash which occurred at about 5.10 pm on September 23rd.

The €4.5 million ObSERVE programme has been conducting aerial surveys of almost 500,000km2 of Ireland’s maritime area.

It is being funded by several Government departments as part of planning for offshore renewable and other marine activities which could have an impact on sensitive marine ecosystems.

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

The four occupants of the aircraft - two men aged in their 20s and 50s and two women both aged in their 30s - sustained non life-threatening injuries in the incident.

The wreckage of the French-registered Vulcanair P68 twin-engined, four-seater aircraft has been recovered by the AAIU for delivery to Gormanston, Co Meath for a full examination.

AAIU chief Jurgen Whyte told RTÉ News that it was not yet clear if it was an engine problem or control issue that led to the emergency landing, and also credited the pilot for his successful manoeuvre.

The pilot had issued a “Mayday” after it got into trouble off the Wexford coast, and had to transit a nearby wind farm to approach the beach.

The sudden “deceleration” in approaching the beach would have resulted in injury, Whyte explained.

An eye witness, Niall Hore, has told the Padraig Byrne of The Wexford People that the four occupants were very fortunate and paid tribute to the pilot.

Hore, who had gone to Carne beach for some sea angling, said he and several Northern Irish anglers witnessed the incident.

“We ran down and two people were out of the plane and were shouting for us to call 112. The two people in the back of the plane were able to get out and had dragged out the pilot and co-pilot and they were propped up against the plane,” Hore said.

"The plane was very bent up at the front and I knew that the pilots’ legs must have been in a bad way,” he said.

“We just tried to keep them talking to make sure they were OK. We asked them where they came from and they said they took off from Waterford and that they were on their last run doing marine surveys in the area,” he said.

"One of the women was pretty bad and was covered in blood and not saying much, so we tried to talk to her to make sure she was OK. As it turned out, one of the crew was from Northern Ireland and was from the same area as the two other fishermen who were on the beach, he added.

“He did very well to get it down just at the shore,” Niall Hore said.

“I’m just glad he didn’t land further out in the water because the current is unreal there and it would have been very hard to get to them. It definitely wasn’t an easy thing for him to do. I’m just really glad that everyone is going to be alright, “he said.

Read more in The Wexford People here

Published in Marine Wildlife
Tagged under

Birdwatch Ireland says it is “deeply concerned” at a refusal by the Court of Appeal to continue the Government’s interim ban on large vessels fishing inside the six nautical mile zone.

The stay was applied for by Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue, pending a Court of Appeal ruling on a permanent ban.

A full hearing took place on June 22nd, and judgement was reserved.

The case arose after former marine minister Michael Creed announced in December 2018 that vessels over 18 metres (m) would be excluded from trawling inside the six nautical mile zone and the baselines from January 1st, 2020.

A three-year transition period was granted for vessels over 18m targeting sprat, as the fishery is concentrated inside the six nautical mile zone.

Birdwatch Ireland says the ban followed extensive consultation and was supported by “expert analysis by the Marine Institute and the Bord Iascaigh Mhara”.

“These reports highlighted that restricting the access of larger vessels inside the six nautical mile zone would lead to improved protection of coastal environments and essential fish habitat, benefitting marine biodiversity and commercially exploited fish stocks,” the NGO said.

“They highlighted the socio-economic benefits for the smaller inshore vessels, that constitute the vast majority of Ireland’s registered fishing vessels. The potential benefits included diversification opportunities, more jobs, and added value of landings,” it said.

“Improved management of inshore waters could be achieved by aligning fishing more closely with local ecological and environmental objectives and by reducing conflict between mobile and static gears,” it said.

It said it could also strengthen the link between local fish resources and local economies.

Two fishermen sought a judicial review, challenging the validity of the policy. The High Court ruled on October 6th 2020 that the policy was made in breach of fair procedures, and was void and/or of no legal effect.

After a call by a number of NGOs, the minister appealed the High Court decision to the Court of Appeal.

Birdwatch Ireland policy officer Fintan Kelly said that it was of “serious concern”, that 2019 sprat catches increased significantly - relative to 2016-2018 - to 13,000 tonnes, at a value of approximately €3.5 million.

“Anecdotal evidence from inshore fishermen and anglers around the coast suggest that landings in 2020 may again be an increase on 2019 levels putting significant pressure on the marine environment,” he said.

“We now fear that overfishing of sprat will again occur this winter because of this ruling,” Kelly said.

He noted that European sprat is a critically important species, linking plankton and top predators including seabirds and marine mammals.

Sprat are also an important forage fish species for commercial fish species like herring, Kelly said, and overfishing poses “a significant risk to the health of commercial fish stocks which poses socio-economic implications for the fishing industry”.

“This is especially relevant when considering that three out of the five herring stocks that Irish fisher’s exploit has collapsed, and have zero catch advice for 2021,” he added.

He said BirdWatch Ireland’s research shows that sprat is an important prey species for 12 out of the 23 regularly occurring breeding seabirds in Irish waters. Many of these species are Amber-listed birds of conservation concern.

Overfishing sprat is also a threat to the whale species that pass through Irish waters during the summer months and which rely heavily on Sprat, he said, with up to half of the fin whale diet and 70 per cent of the humpback whale diet relying on young sprat and herring.

Published in Fishing
Tagged under
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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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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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