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Minister Ryan has announced significant funding of €1,764,000 for the Irish Environmental Network and its members in 2021. This is an increase of €704,000 on the level of funding provided in 2020.

The Irish Environmental Network is made up of over 30 environmental groups from around the country including BirdWatch Ireland, the Irish Wildlife Trust, VOICE and Friends of the Earth. 

The network also includes the marine wildlife organisation, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

An Taisce, the administrator of the bleu Flag scheme for beaches and marinas is also a member. 

Minister Ryan commented, “I am very aware of the critical work carried out by the member organisations of the Irish Environmental Network (IEN). These national environmental NGOs are active on a broad range of environmental issues, including wildlife conservation, biodiversity and climate change.

‘I have worked closely with the IEN members for many years and I have met them on a number of occasions since I became Minister. I am very aware of the financial challenges the sector has faced over the last number of years and how the Covid 19 pandemic has impacted on these organisations. Their role in how we address the climate and biodiversity challenges we face has never been more crucial.

‘Therefore I am pleased to be able to deliver this substantial increase in their financial supports so that they can continue to build on their great work. I do this in recognition of the significant contribution they continue to make to Ireland's fight against climate change.” ​

Published in Marine Wildlife
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 The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group is reporting a sighting of large Fin Whales close to the shore at Hevlick Head on the County Waterford Coast.

Andrew Malcolm photographed and identified the pod close to shore feeding.

There were at least five animals present in two groups on Christmas Day.

More details from the IWDG here.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Ronald Surgenor is a Project Officer with the Ulster Wildlife Trust and has been awarded the Marsh Volunteer Award for Marine Conservation. As well as caring for nature reserves and peatlands, Ronald is a dedicated volunteer sea-angler for the shark conservation project 'Sea Deep'. Since 2018, he has tagged over 100 sharks, skates and rays, and was the first angler to be granted a license to tag common skate for the project. His records make up 75% of all our skate records, contributing to this critically endangered species' conservation and management.

This Award is run in partnership with the Wildlife Trusts. It recognises a volunteer who has made an outstanding contribution to marine conservation and furthered the work of the Wildlife Trusts in this area.

Rays and skates are a species of fish closely related to sharks and are dorso-ventrally flattened. This gives them an added advantage to be able to glide along the sea-floor. Rays and skates are similar in appearance, and the White Skate and the Flapper Skate are just two of the 500 skate and ray species in the world. Of these 28 are found in the waters around Ireland.

Ronald, a berth holder in Bangor Marina, says " We fish anywhere between Malin Head and Belfast Lough, depending on the species we are trying to catch and the time of year. Most of the fish tagged have been on my angling friend's boat The Mistress, a Redbay 21 and perfect for angling". Ronald has a Shetland Sheltie berthed in Bangor during the summer months and from it, he targets the smaller shark species such as Black-mouthed dogfish which are a deep-water species which he has only recorded in an area between the south of Rathlin Island, off the North Coast, and the entrance to Belfast Lough in 90 m plus depth. He adds " The Flapper Skate can only be targeted by anglers trained and licensed in best practice handling these endangered animals, for tagging and collecting DNA samples".

Ronald explained " The fish would be out of the water for about a minute – we have all the tagging and DNA kit ready so as soon as the fish is landed, with the measure mat and sling for lifting them back out of the boat ready on the deck. We can recognise signs of stress so that we have a minimum impact. I have caught the same fish on three occasions, twice in the one day and then six months later".

Marina Manager Kevin Baird commented, "Well done from all the Marina team. delighted that Ronald Surgenor has been awarded the Marsh Volunteer Award for Marine Conservation".

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Whales are known to be disturbed by the noise of ships and oil and gas drilling, but now a new study says that bottom trawling can also upset marine mammals.

As the Irish Independent reports today, scientists at NUI Galway’s (NUIG) Ryan Institute have found that the sound generated by trawling for fish around underwater canyons is amplified and may affect marine mammals’ ability to hunt and navigate.

The team used hydrophones to record the impact on the marine environment of trawlers in two surveys in the Irish Sea and Celtic Sea.

Ecologically sensitive areas of the oceans need stronger environmental protection from the wide variety of potential pollution sources, including ships, deep-sea mining and bottom trawling, the team suggests.

The scientists modelled how the noise generated by bottom trawling could travel through the water column, along the seabed, and through a 20km long submarine canyon in the Porcupine Basin off the south-west Irish coast.

They found the noise funnels through underwater canyons and into deeper waters, affecting marine mammals feeding and migrating.

They also discovered that “modelled trawler sound” generated on the seabed travels underwater more “efficiently” than sound generated at the surface by boats.

Eoghan Daly, a PhD researcher with NUIG’s Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences (iCRAG), said that raised levels of marine noise can “interfere with a marine mammal’s ability to communicate, hunt and navigate using echolocation”

“Human-derived noise in the world’s oceans comes from many sources”, but “ bottom trawling’s impact has received “little attention to date”, he said.

“In an ocean already faced with plastic pollution and climate change, a better understanding of trawler noise pollution will highlight it as another human impact on the marine ecosystem,” Daly said.

The NUIG team’s findings have been published in the scientific journal, Marine Pollution Bulletin.

The team hopes their research will inform improved environmental regulations near key marine habitats, marine protected areas (MPAs) and any additional special areas of conservation in Irish waters.

Ireland has set a target of designating a total of 30% of its maritime area as MPAs by 2030.

“The research fills an important gap in marine noise pollution monitoring,” Dr Martin White of NUIG said.

“Areas such as the Porcupine Basin and the wider European continental margin are ecologically sensitive, and trawlers operating in this part of the Atlantic Ocean have more powerful engines and heavier gear,” he said.

“The enhanced currents and nutrient mixing in these parts of the ocean help create good conditions for cold-water coral mounds and for associated invertebrates, fish and mammals to thrive,” he noted.

Marine life should be protected from the wide variety of pollution sources, including ship noise, pile driving and from bottom trawling, as we now know,” he said.

Read The Irish Independent here

Published in Marine Science
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A leading specialist in the ecology of Irish kelp forests along the Atlantic coastline has been given an award by the Irish Research Council (IRC).

NUI Galway marine ecologist Dr Kathryn Schoenrock has been given Early Career Researcher of the Year award.

Dr Schoenrock is a post-doctoral researcher who has led an intensive monitoring effort in kelp forests over the past three years, which is the first of its kind.

The IRC says her “ground-breaking work in this field has made her the authoritative voice on Irish kelp forest ecology, and the productivity and biodiversity of these systems in nearshore waters”.

Dr Schoenrock reported the first discovery of golden kelp in Irish waters last year. The small population was discovered in Scots Port cove on the north-west facing Belmullet coastline in Co Mayo.

Scots Port is located 1,040km from the nearest golden kelp population in Britain, and 1,630km away from the nearest population in France.

The dominant kelp species found in Irish waters is Cuvie (Laminaria Hyperborea), and five main types of kelp provide important habitats for marine life.

Kelp forest habitats are recognised as an important primary resource for terrestrial and marine organisms.

“ Recently they have been highlighted as an important blue carbon repository that may buffer climate change impacts to marine habitats by sequestering the increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere,”the IRC notes.

There has been recent industry interest in, and environmental concern about, harvesting the native subtidal kelp, Laminaria Hyperborea.

Dr Schoenrock says she hopes her work will “inform academic studies, conservation planning, and industry ventures in the future”.

She says her work has led to international collaborations, laying the foundation for current research funding with the EPA, and she contributes data from Irish coastlines to national, European and international kelp forest monitoring networks.

She specialises in studying species response to climate change, ecophysiology of primary producers (seaweeds), chemical and marine ecology, and population and environmental genetics of marine seaweeds.

Her use of scientific diving in my research has supported development of a scientific diving dive-control board at NUIG, where she is dive officer, and taught the first Irish scientific (not technical) diving course there in spring-summer 2020.

Published in Marine Science
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Warm water anchovies and sprat are tempting pods of dolphins, fin whales and seabirds close to the south coast this week, with feeding frenzies reported in outer Cork harbour.

An estimated 50 to 60 dolphins have been sighted by several eyewitnesses off Myrtleville and Fountainstown and Roche’s Point over the past week.

The marine mammals have been joined by kayakers who have filmed the marine mammals flipping and jumping as they tuck into the “bait balls”.

“We’ve never seen dolphins in such large numbers before at this time of year,” Donal Kissane of Myrtleville said.

“They are particularly close at high tide, and it has been wonderful to watch,” Mr Kissane said.

Carrigaline resident Derek McGreevy photographed the pods from outer Cork harbour and said he estimated there were 50 to 60 common dolphins at times, with gannets competing for the fish.

The shoals of tiny fish are also drawing in fin whales off the south-east coast, with almost daily sightings of the second largest creature on the planet, according to Padraig Whooley of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

The abundance of anchovies – a warm water species with higher value now, used in pizza toppings and pasta dishes – has been described as “astonishing” by Dr Kevin Flannery of Dingles’s Mara Beo aquarium.

Small numbers of anchovies have been identified in Irish waters before, with the first record being off Ventry, Co Kerry, in 1870. The fish also appeared off west Cork last January.

“We thought of them as vagrants, whereas this past week has seen astonishing numbers,” Flannery said.

The Marine Institute said that it was aware of anchovies appearing in these waters in small quantities since 2003, and has identified them up as part of its periodic groundfish surveys.

Mr Whooley said that the IWDG had received sighting reports of marine mammals this week extending from Kinsale to Roche’s Point to Myrtleville and up the river Suir estuary.

“It’s not unusual for this time of year, but it is still wonderful that people can see them so close to the coast, and from their houses in Dunmore East,” he said.

At least 1,000 tonnes of anchovies landed into Dingle last week were sent to fish meal, as there are no markets for anchovies in Ireland.

The IWDG has criticised this, stating that there is “no excuse for removing the base of our inshore food chains”, which could have long term catastrophic impacts on entire ecosystems.

Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue is currently appealing a recent High Court judicial review which overturned a ban on trawling by vessels over 18 metres inside the six-mile limit.

Published in Cork Harbour

Coral reefs are under pressure from hurricanes, pollution, bleaching and global warming, and scientists have now confirmed the extent of the threat from an aggressive alga.

The algae, known as peyssonnelid algal crusts (PAC), are colonising reefs in the Caribbean at such an aggressive rate that they are interfering with the reef’s natural ecosystem, according to new research.

Marine biologists from the University of Oxford, California State University Northridge and the Carnegie Institution for Science who have been studying the issue for four years describe the extent of the threat in the Scientific Reports.

The golden-brown, crust-like alga is rapidly overgrowing shallow reefs, and has been described as an “ecological winner” by Dr Bryan Wilson of the University of Oxford’s department of zoology.

“It aggressively occupies any vacant space on the reefs, rapidly overgrows and kills live corals, prevents free-swimming coral larvae from settling on the benthos and becoming adult colonies, and is unaffected by the regular destructive hurricanes that sweep through the area,”he says.

‘It is also seemingly resistant to grazing by fish, and as far as we know, is only fed upon by a single creature, the black spiny urchin (Diadema antillarum),”he said.

The spiny urchin was once abundant in the Caribbean, but was effectively wiped out in the 1980s by a mysterious disease, he says.

“Our research has initially looked into the microbiology of PAC and compared it with that of close relatives (the crustose coralline algae, or CCA) which are known to stimulate the recruitment of coral larvae to reefs,”Dr Wilson says.

A key finding was that the PAC alga manages to inhibit the growth of beneficial marine bacteria which otherwise produce chemical compounds that attract coral larvae to the seafloor.

This means that reefs colonised by the alga are unlikely to host corals again.

The alga is described as having a “dark brown and dirty orange veneer” which stands out among the white sands and light greens, pinks, yellows and other colours that make up the reef.

The scientists say it is unclear if PAC is made up of one algal species or several, and they don’t know what is causing its rapid spread – but describe it as an “alarming trend”

They say that the next stage of their research will be to unravel the alga's “complex physiological mechanisms for this ecological success”, through studying its genome. Ultimately, they say they “hope to find ways to mitigate against this new threat”.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Taking 20 minutes to listen to music inspired by five oceans is the focus of a new release by a Dublin songwriter and musician Dan Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick, also known as Badhands, combines acoustic and electronic instrumentation to reflect what he calls "the pulse of the ocean" and its "many moods, ranging from calm and serene to explosive and dangerous".

Vocals are also used to explore themes such as escapism, the dangers which oceans pose to humans and vice-versa.

"I'm hoping people can find 20 minutes to listen to the record and think about their own relationship with the sea and what it means to them," he says.

Fitzpatrick composed the soundtrack to the RTE wildlife series, a Wild Irish Year, and the soundtrack for the award-winning Wild Cuba documentary. The music for the two-part film won a Jackson Wild award in the US.

Speaking about the inspiration for the Indian Ocean track on his EP, Fitzpatrick said an unseasonal storm put an end to a friend's attempt to sail alone, non-stop, around the world, and this made him realise the "power and vastness of the ocean".

Fitzpatrick availed of an Arts Council initiative to support artists during Covid.

The EP is freely available on bandcamp.com and can be heard on Soundcloud with the track 'Waves' below

Published in Marine Wildlife
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The BBC has reported that a wild swan found dead earlier this week at Lough Beg near Toomebridge, a small village on the North West corner of Lough Neagh has tested positive for Bird Flu. Lough Beg is a small freshwater lake on the border between County Londonderry and County Antrim.

The Lower River Bann flows into it from Lough Neagh at the southern end and continues its route to the sea from the northern end. It has been designated a Ramsar Site which is a wetland site designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Preliminary results confirmed that the swan had a similar strain of the disease to that found in poultry flocks and wild birds in Britain. Public health officials have advised that the risk to public health from this strain of avian influenza is very low, as is the threat to food safety. A dead falcon found in County Limerick also tested positive in recent days.

The chief vet Dr Robert Huey urged poultry keepers to tighten their biosecurity measures to stop transmission to commercial flocks.

The swan was found by environmentalist Chris Murphy who was assessing the impact of A6 roadworks on overwintering birds at the lough - an internationally important protected site. Further tests will now be carried out to establish whether the disease is a highly pathogenic strain or one which is less virulent.

On Wednesday a bird flu prevention zone was declared across Britain after the discovery of the disease there. Where it is detected in poultry flocks, the birds are destroyed, and prevention zones are established around affected premises. It can also lead to restrictions on trade.

Northern Ireland's Chief Vet Robert Huey urged anyone with poultry to tighten their biosecurity to prevent interaction between wild birds and their flocks.

One of the most difficult, controversial and upsetting marine environment stories I have reported in my time as a marine correspondent concerns seals. I've seen them rehabilitated by a sanctuary and marvelled at the work put into healing injured, sick seals and releasing them back into the sea. I've seen fishermen provide fish to feed those seals being rehabilitated.

I've also heard fishermen claim, in anger and fury, that their catches were taken from their nets, partially eaten and then discarded useless by seals.

I've seen injured seals and heard allegations by animal welfare groups and environmentalists that fishermen had taken the law into their own hands against protected species.

Under the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2018, cetaceans and seals are protected species.

Under the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2018, cetaceans and seals are protected speciesSeals are a protected species Photo: Bob Bateman

Dáil debate

In recent weeks the whole issue has come to the fore again, after a Dáil debate when national media reported that licences could be given to fishermen for a cull to shoot seals. There was another outburst of fury, particularly on social media. But what is the truth of this issue?

Inland Fisheries Ireland

Official records show that the State agency responsible for the conservation, protection and management of Ireland's inland fisheries and sea angling applied three times for licences to shoot seals. A spokesperson for Inland Fisheries Ireland confirmed that it had applied for Section 42 authorisations from the National Parks and Wildlife Service on three occasions in the last 10 years. No application has been made this year. "One seal has been removed under a Section 42 authorisation in the last 10 years for reasons of public safety," the IFI said.

National Inshore Fishermen's Association

The National Inshore Fishermen's Association said there had been "biased reporting by mainstream media" which never interviewed anyone from the inshore fisheries sector. "If you take the time to listen and consider fishermen's complaints, you'll understand there are two separate aspects. The first is the amount of fish seals eat and the impact it has on fish stocks. The second is the economic impact seals have on fishers' livelihoods."

So, for this week's podcast, I spoke to the Secretary of the Inshore Fishermen's Association, Alex Crowley.

Listen to the Podcast here

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Dublin Bay

Dublin Bay on the east coast of Ireland stretches over seven kilometres, from Howth Head on its northern tip to Dalkey Island in the south. It's a place most Dubliners simply take for granted, and one of the capital's least visited places. But there's more going on out there than you'd imagine.

The biggest boating centre is at Dun Laoghaire Harbour on the Bay's south shore that is home to over 1,500 pleasure craft, four waterfront yacht clubs and Ireland's largest marina.

The bay is rather shallow with many sandbanks and rocky outcrops, and was notorious in the past for shipwrecks, especially when the wind was from the east. Until modern times, many ships and their passengers were lost along the treacherous coastline from Howth to Dun Laoghaire, less than a kilometre from shore.

The Bay is a C-shaped inlet of the Irish Sea and is about 10 kilometres wide along its north-south base, and 7 km in length to its apex at the centre of the city of Dublin; stretching from Howth Head in the north to Dalkey Point in the south. North Bull Island is situated in the northwest part of the bay, where one of two major inshore sandbanks lie, and features a 5 km long sandy beach, Dollymount Strand, fronting an internationally recognised wildfowl reserve. Many of the rivers of Dublin reach the Irish Sea at Dublin Bay: the River Liffey, with the River Dodder flow received less than 1 km inland, River Tolka, and various smaller rivers and streams.

Dublin Bay FAQs

There are approximately ten beaches and bathing spots around Dublin Bay: Dollymount Strand; Forty Foot Bathing Place; Half Moon bathing spot; Merrion Strand; Bull Wall; Sandycove Beach; Sandymount Strand; Seapoint; Shelley Banks; Sutton, Burrow Beach

There are slipways on the north side of Dublin Bay at Clontarf, Sutton and on the southside at Dun Laoghaire Harbour, and in Dalkey at Coliemore and Bulloch Harbours.

Dublin Bay is administered by a number of Government Departments, three local authorities and several statutory agencies. Dublin Port Company is in charge of navigation on the Bay.

Dublin Bay is approximately 70 sq kilometres or 7,000 hectares. The Bay is about 10 kilometres wide along its north-south base, and seven km in length east-west to its peak at the centre of the city of Dublin; stretching from Howth Head in the north to Dalkey Point in the south.

Dun Laoghaire Harbour on the southside of the Bay has an East and West Pier, each one kilometre long; this is one of the largest human-made harbours in the world. There also piers or walls at the entrance to the River Liffey at Dublin city known as the Great North and South Walls. Other harbours on the Bay include Bulloch Harbour and Coliemore Harbours both at Dalkey.

There are two marinas on Dublin Bay. Ireland's largest marina with over 800 berths is on the southern shore at Dun Laoghaire Harbour. The other is at Poolbeg Yacht and Boat Club on the River Liffey close to Dublin City.

Car and passenger Ferries operate from Dublin Port to the UK, Isle of Man and France. A passenger ferry operates from Dun Laoghaire Harbour to Howth as well as providing tourist voyages around the bay.

Dublin Bay has two Islands. Bull Island at Clontarf and Dalkey Island on the southern shore of the Bay.

The River Liffey flows through Dublin city and into the Bay. Its tributaries include the River Dodder, the River Poddle and the River Camac.

Dollymount, Burrow and Seapoint beaches

Approximately 1,500 boats from small dinghies to motorboats to ocean-going yachts. The vast majority, over 1,000, are moored at Dun Laoghaire Harbour which is Ireland's boating capital.

In 1981, UNESCO recognised the importance of Dublin Bay by designating North Bull Island as a Biosphere because of its rare and internationally important habitats and species of wildlife. To support sustainable development, UNESCO’s concept of a Biosphere has evolved to include not just areas of ecological value but also the areas around them and the communities that live and work within these areas. There have since been additional international and national designations, covering much of Dublin Bay, to ensure the protection of its water quality and biodiversity. To fulfil these broader management aims for the ecosystem, the Biosphere was expanded in 2015. The Biosphere now covers Dublin Bay, reflecting its significant environmental, economic, cultural and tourism importance, and extends to over 300km² to include the bay, the shore and nearby residential areas.

On the Southside at Dun Laoghaire, there is the National Yacht Club, Royal St. George Yacht Club, Royal Irish Yacht Club and Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club as well as Dublin Bay Sailing Club. In the city centre, there is Poolbeg Yacht and Boat Club. On the Northside of Dublin, there is Clontarf Yacht and Boat Club and Sutton Dinghy Club. While not on Dublin Bay, Howth Yacht Club is the major north Dublin Sailing centre.

© Afloat 2020

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