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Displaying items by tag: marine science

A Dublin student whose love of sailing inspired him to research wave energy has won second prize in his category at this year’s BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

Fionnán Ó Baoill (13) built a wave energy tank out of containers in his back garden to test out his theory that fin design could influence optimum use of energy generated by the sea.

“I took up sailing in Dun Laoghaire a few summers ago, and that is when I started to think about it,” O Baoill told Afloat.

“I used the Open SCAD software to model the boats, and then three-D printed them out,” he explained.

“The fins under the hull catch the energy to propel the boat and contribute to fuel savings when on engine,” he said.

“When I was researching it, I discovered it had been thought about 100 years ago for personal use, and several companies also experimented with the concept,” he said.

“ However, they didn’t take it to a widespread commercial level,” he said.

“Science is my passion, and I love sailing,” Ó Baill who is homeschooled, said.

Ó Baoill was highly commended at last year’s BT Young Scientist exhibition for his project on optimisation of yeast production.

His mother, Orna Collins, said the family was delighted to hear Fionnan’s name being announced during the closing ceremony.

Dublin students Aditya Joshi and Aditya Kumar of Synge Street CBS were declared this year’s BT Young Scientists.

Their winning project focused on a new method of solving the Bernoulli Quadrisection problem.

Climate change awareness and the importance of sustainability in their lives were dominant themes at this year’s exhibition, according to the organisers.

Projects looking towards developing more sustainable practices, promoting biodiversity within the community and the use of environmentally friendly alternatives to household products were among the entries.

“Row-tricity" was the title of an entry by Ardscoil Rís in Limerick, designing and developing a device to capture the potential energy of an ergometer (rowing machine).The students also presented a case study to examine if it could power a rowing club.

“Is hydrogen power usage within transport part of the solution for the current global climate crisis?” was the title of a project submitted by St Kieran's College, Kilkenny

It explored the feasibility for broad scale use of hydrogen as a means to supplement wind and solar power, providing renewable global energy needs.

Mohill Community College in Leitrim researched how wind turbine blades could be made more eco friendly and cost-efficient, without using fibreglass or any other toxic material.

A team from Loreto College, Dublin explored how to tackle the “jellyfish crisis”, exploring reasons for increased jellyfish numbers in Irish waters.

Loreto Convent in Donegal submitted an entry on microplastics in water and fish guts, while Mary Immaculate secondary school in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare, investigated the level of microplastics on a number of beaches in the west of Ireland.

Research into whether pond algae and seaweed could be used as a substitute for non-biodegradable materials or plastic was carried out by a team from Mercy Secondary School, Co Kerry.

The full list of results of the contest are here

Published in Marine Science
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New research from Queen’s University Belfast has led to 184 deep-sea species being added to the global “Red List” of threatened species.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the world’s foremost conservation authority, and its “red list” categorises universally recognised extinction risk categories.

More than 140,000 species have been “red listed”, but less than 15% are from marine environments and barely any have been from the deep sea, the QUB scientists point out.

The scientists examined mollusc species in hydrothermal vents, a unique deep sea ecosystem which is the equivalent in density of life as tropical rainforests or coral reefs.

A deep-sea Hydrothermal Vent taken by a Remotely Operate Vehicle (ROV). Photo credit to Marum Universitat BremenA deep-sea Hydrothermal vent taken by a Remotely Operate Vehicle (ROV). Photo: Marum Universitat Bremen

There are about 600 hydrothermal vents known, most being about a third of a football field in size.

The scientists assessed 184 “vent-endemic” mollusc species and found 114 or 62 per cent were threatened by deep-sea mining.

They found a further 45 species (24.4%) are listed as “near threatened”, while only 13.6% of species are listed as of “least concern”, under the protection of marine protected areas (MPAs).

“The deep sea is the largest environment on earth with thousands of unique species living in extreme habitats,” the scientists said.

“ The remoteness of these seafloor habitats means they are often understudied, making it difficult to understand and communicate their conservation requirements,” they said.

“There is growing industrial interest in the deep sea, including deep-sea mining for commercially important metals, meaning it is now vital to protect these unique, insular ecosystems and their specialist endemic species,” they said.

The research was supported by the Marine Institute and involved an international team from the USA, Canada, Japan and Britain.

QUB PhD student, Elin Thomas, who is lead researcher, said the teams focus was on “assessing species found at hydrothermal vents, as these areas are increasingly targeted for their natural resources, and we wanted to better understand the threat this poses to the rich marine life found there”.

“As one of the dominant species groups at vent habitats.... we focused our study on molluscs,” Thomas said.

“Almost two-thirds of the molluscs are listed as threatened, which illustrates the urgent need to protect these species from extinction,” she said.

“Indian Ocean vent molluscs are under the greatest extinction risk, with 100% of species listed in threatened categories and 60% as critically endangered,” Thomas pointed out,

She noted that this “coincides with the distribution of mining contracts granted by the International Seabed Authority”

“We found that seabed management and mining regulation consistently had the greatest impact on a species’ extinction risk so we need regulations in place as a matter of urgency. This research should be used to develop new policies to protect these species before it is too late,” Thomas said.

“It’s vital that we continue to deepen our understanding of the marine environment before it’s too late for too many species,” she said.

The research has been published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Marine Science.

Published in Marine Science

As Cop26 continues to debate methane – with the US And EU having pledged to reduce agricultural methane outputs from ruminant livestock by upwards of 30% by 2030 – scientists at the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) at Queen’s University Belfast are to feed seaweed to farm animals in a bid to slash methane by at least 30%.

Seaweed has long been hailed a ‘superfood’ for humans but adding it to animal feed to reduce methane gas released into the atmosphere by ruminants' burping and flatulence is a relatively new idea. Early laboratory research at IGFS has shown promising results using native Irish and UK seaweeds.

Previous research in Australia and the USA generated headline results – up to 80% reductions in methane emissions from cattle given supplements from a red seaweed variety. These red seaweeds grow abundantly in warmer climates; however, they also contain high levels of bromoform – known to be damaging to the ozone layer. Seaweed indigenous to the UK and Ireland tends to be brown or green and does not contain bromoform.

UK and Irish seaweeds are also rich in active compounds called phlorotannins, found in red wine and berries, which are anti-bacterial and improve immunity so could have additional health benefits for animals.

Harvesting seaweed research samples at Queen’s University Marine Lab in Portaferry, Co. DownHarvesting seaweed research samples at Queen’s University Marine Lab in Portaferry, Co. Down

Now the IGFS science is moving into the field, with trials on UK farms about to begin, using seaweed sourced from the Irish and North Seas as a feed supplement for cattle.

One 3-year project is in partnership with the UK supermarket Morrisons and its network of British beef farmers who will facilitate farm trials. The project also includes the Agrifood and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), in Northern Ireland, as a partner.

A second project sees IGFS and AFBI join a €2million, international project - led by Irish agency An Teagasc - to monitor the effects of seaweed in the diet of pasture-based livestock. Seaweed will be added to grass-based silage on farm trials involving dairy cows in NI from early 2022.

As well as assessing methane emissions of the beef and dairy cattle, these projects will assess the nutritional value of a variety of homegrown seaweeds, their effects on animal productivity and meat quality.

IGFS lead Sharon Huws, Professor of Animal Science and Microbiology within the School of Biological Sciences, said she expected the combined research to evidence a reduction in GHG emissions of at least 30%.

She said: “The science is there. It’s simply a matter of providing the necessary data and then implementing it. Using seaweed is a natural, sustainable way of reducing emissions and has great potential to be scaled up. There is no reason why we can’t be farming seaweed – this would also protect the biodiversity of our shorelines.

“If UK farmers are to meet a zero-carbon model, we really need to start putting this kind of research into practice. I hope IGFS and AFBI research can soon provide the necessary data and reassurance for governments to take forward.”

Agriculture accounts for around 10% of all UK GHG emissions. Within this, beef farming is the most carbon-intensive, with methane, which cows produce as they digest, a major component. At a NI level, methane accounts for almost a quarter of GHG emissions, with 80% of that from agriculture.

The above projects form part of the Queen's-AFBI Alliance – a strategic partnership between Queen’s University and AFBI to maximise science and innovation capacity in NI to meet global challenges, such as carbon-neutral farming.

Morrisons supermarket plans to be completely supplied by net-zero-carbon British farms by 2030. Sophie Throup, Head of Agriculture at Morrisons said: “As British farming's biggest customer, we’re very mindful of our role in supporting and inspiring the farmers we work with to help them achieve goals in sustainable farming.

“By supporting this research at Queen’s and AFBI, we are trialling this natural approach to reducing environmental emissions and improving the quality of beef products.”

Published in Marine Science
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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

The 1.5 metre unmanned mini sailboat called 'Seoltóir Na Gaillimhe – the Galway Sailor', that was deployed in June, was recently found stranded on the Bunes Beach above the Arctic Circle in the Lofoten Islands, in Norway.

After travelling over 3,000km from Irish waters in the Atlantic to Norway, the 'Seoltóir Na Gaillimhe – the Galway Sailor' was found by the Bjørnsen family and friends while on holidays on the Lofoten Island over the summer, the Marine Institute’s Explorers Education Programme has reported.

Mr Lars Bjørnsen said his daughters were thrilled to discover the mini boat washed up on the remote Bunes Beach, “our neighbour had found the boat and my three girls were so excited to join him to open the hatch of the boat to see the Irish messages and ‘treasures’ inside. We were able to read most of the letters that had been written by the students at Kilglass National School in Galway, although some were a little wet. The girls were also delighted with the Irish candy and crisps – which survived the voyage.”

“Bunes Beach is quite isolated on the western side of Reinefjorden on the Moskenesøya island, Norway. You can only get there by ferry and then have to walk 3km to the beach. It is a beautiful beach in a bay surrounded by mountains and steep ridges. However, not many people get to go there on a regular basis. Therefore, the fact that we found the Galway Sailor mini boat, that had made its way into the bay and then washed up on the shore with little structural damage is amazing for such a small boat,” Mr Bjørnsen further explained.

Bjørnsen family and friends discover the treasures inside the mini-boat 'Seoltóir Na Gaillimhe – the Galway Sailor’, after discovering it washed up on Bunes Beach above the Arctic Circle in the Lofoten Islands, in Norway. Photograph: Mr Lars BjørnsenBjørnsen family and friends discover the treasures inside the mini-boat 'Seoltóir Na Gaillimhe – the Galway Sailor’, after discovering it washed up on Bunes Beach above the Arctic Circle in the Lofoten Islands, in Norway. Photograph: Mr Lars Bjørnsen

The 'Seoltóir Na Gaillimhe – the Galway Sailor' is a 1.5 metre unmanned mini sailboat that was provided to Kilglass National School in County Galway, as part of a collaborative school project, coordinated by the Marine Institute’s Explorers Education Programme and supported by the international Educational Passages programme in the USA. The project was also funded by EU Interreg iFADO (Innovation in the Framework of the Atlantic Deep Ocean) project, in which the Marine Institute are partners.

'Seoltóir Na Gaillimhe – the Galway Sailor’ was delivered to the RV Celtic Explorer by the Kilglass National School, for its first part of its voyage, out to the Atlantic Ocean to be deployed in June.'Seoltóir Na Gaillimhe – the Galway Sailor’ was delivered to the RV Celtic Explorer by the Kilglass National School, for its first part of its voyage, out to the Atlantic Ocean to be deployed in June.Photo: Andrew Downes

Welcoming the news of the boat being found, Mick Gillooly, Interim CEO said, "The Explorers mini-boat project is a great example of marine science literacy and engaging with the community at a local school level in Ireland as well as across the ocean in other countries. For school children, this project provides an exciting way of seeing real life examples of how the ocean has an influence on all our lives, how it connects us, as well as learning how the ocean influences our weather and climate, and the types of technology used at sea. The Marine Institute are delighted to have been involved with this project and look forward to supporting this collaboration involving the Explorers Education Programme team, Kilglass National school, the Research Infrastructures team at the Marine Institute, as well as Educational Passages in the USA with the ongoing mini boat adventures'.

The mini boat was equipped with a sail and a satellite tracker, which allowed the students at Kilglass NS to track it as it sailed across the ocean, using the international Educational Passages tracking system. Mr Peter Kane, who was the school teacher leading the project at Kilglass National School in Ahascragh, Co Galway was thrilled with the news from Norway and thanked the Bjørnsen family for their lovely message sent to the school children in Galway. “It is truly a mini-summer miracle! Everyone at Kilglass National School are so delighted with the news that our mini-boat 'Seoltóir na Gaillimhe' has been found in Norway. When the mini boats are found after their travels, this highlights how the ocean connects us all”.

The Explorers Education Programme’s marine project involved over 100 children taking part in science, geography and art activities learning about the ocean; as well as preparing the mini boat for its journey. The students painted and decorated the boat, created artwork and good luck messages, and named the boat 'Seoltóir Na Gaillimhe – the Galway Sailor', which recognises the tradition of fishing in Galway. The mini boat was launched by the Marine Institute’s RV Celtic Explorer near the M6 Data Buoy, in the Atlantic Ocean during a scientific survey in June.

Peter Kane also commented on the collaboration with the Marine Institute’s Explorers Education Programme, highlighting the importance of marine themes used on the curriculum in Ireland. “The Educational Passages mini boat programme brings children, schools and countries together in so many different ways, from building the boats, tracking them at sea, to finding them in new countries when they reach land.”

“When the 'Seoltóir Na Gaillimhe – the Galway Sailor' last reported its GPS location near the Faroe Islands in June, we didn’t know whether the boat had been damaged or was still drifting with the currents and winds. We were therefore thrilled to get a call from Cassie at Educational Passages to let us know that 'Seoltóir Na Gaillimhe – the Galway Sailor' made it back to land in Norway,” Mr Kane said

The Marine Institute’s ocean modellers have since provided a map showing the likely journey of the 'Seoltóir Na Gaillimhe – the Galway Sailor' after it lost its GPS tracking signal. Knowing the last coordinates, as well as where the boat was found, the team were able to produce a map showing the boats likely movement based on the currents and wind direction at the time. It was estimated that the boat travelled over 3000km from when it was deployed in the Atlantic.

Marine Institute Tracking Map showing the likely journey that the 'Seoltóir Na Gaillimhe – the Galway Sailor’ travelled, after the GPS signal was lost, using the OpenDrift, a particle-tracking model, that predicts the path followed by the boat based on the combined effect of marine currents and atmospheric winds.

Mr Kane further said, “we were also excited to find out that our boat had also set a new record for the most northern journey ever made by one of the unmanned mini-boats with Educational Passages. We now look forward to the next stage of working with the Explorers Education Programme and linking our students with the local Norwegian Primary School, who have taken over the boat’s next new adventure.” 

Educational Passages Map showing the tracking of 'Seoltóir Na Gaillimhe – the Galway Sailor’ from when it was deployed in the Atlantic from the RV Celtic Explorer.Educational Passages Map showing the tracking of 'Seoltóir Na Gaillimhe – the Galway Sailor’ from when it was deployed in the Atlantic from the RV Celtic Explorer.

Engaging in the Educational Passages mini-boat Program, the iFADO consortium of researchers are launching a total of five mini-boats this year around the Atlantic from Ireland, Portugal, Spain, France, and the UK. Engaging in the Educational Passages mini-boat Program, the iFADO consortium of researchers are launching a total of five mini-boats this year around the Atlantic from Ireland, Portugal, Spain, France, and the UK.  

The Explorers Education Programme is funded by the Marine Institute, Ireland's state agency for marine research and development. 

Published in Marine Science
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Sea and sky, as in the marine and astronomy, were twin themes of this year’s “Young Hearts”, a field programme involving transition year students working with senior citizens in Galway.

Tutors Dr Noirin Burke of Galway Atlantaquaria, artist Vicky Smith and astronomy experts Prof Andy Shearer and Adriana Cardinot of NUI Galway drew up a curriculum involving marine biology, astronomy and art.

Prof Shearer explained that the “Sky and Earth” module was supported by a Royal Astronomical Society award, marking its bicentenary.

The overall aim of the intergenerational programme is to build relationships and solidarity, according to co-ordinator Loretta Needham of Croí na Gaillimhe.

In spite of Covid 19, “Young Hearts” continued on Zoom over the past year, with pupils from Our Lady’s College, Galway and older members of the community.

Needham explained that isolation has been an issue for senior citizens long before Covid-19, and the programme aims to “create a foundation for lifelong social responsibility and understanding among young people”.

Young HeartsThe overall aim of the intergenerational programme is to build relationships and solidarity

The last class for the 2020/2021 year was not on Zoom, but was at the socially distanced setting of low Spring tide on Galway’s Grattan beach.

Hear more about it on this week’s Wavelengths

Published in Wavelength Podcast
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Marine survival of salmon in the eastern North Atlantic has substantially declined in recent decades, yet little was known about the migratory behaviour and distribution of populations. A new genetic tagging study, just published in the international journal Fish & Fisheries, shows where young salmon gather and begin to migrate during their first summer at sea; migrating along the the continental shelves off Ireland, Scotland and Norway and subsequently aggregating to feed in the Norwegian Sea west of the Vøring Plateau in international waters (those waters outside national jurisdiction). Here they are exposed to potential mortality from major commercial fisheries for other pelagic species. 

The genetic analysis of fish caught at sea demonstrates that the salmon stocks that make up this feeding aggregation are unexpectedly not from neighbouring Norwegian rivers, but are predominantly from southern rivers such as those in Britain, Ireland, France and Spain.

This points to fundamental differences in migration behaviours (routes) and likely explains variation in how stocks from Northern and Southern European rivers have been responding to environmental change and critically to recent climate change, and may account for the differences that have been observed among stock groups in marine survival.

Experimental salmon trawl net being hauled aboard the Celtic Explorer Research Ship, May 2008Experimental salmon trawl net being hauled aboard the Celtic Explorer Research Ship, May 2008

Joint senior author of the paper, Prof. Philip McGinnity of UCC and the Marine Institute said, “This report is the culmination of a major logistical and technical effort to synthesise the data from 385 marine cruises, 10,202 individual trawls, 9,269 captured post smolts, spanning three decades and approximately 4.75 million Km2 of ocean and 3,423 individuals assigned to their region of origin.” 

Further adding, “A post smolt salmon at 25cm is a very small and rare fish in a very large ocean and so to firstly catch and then assign a couple of thousand fish back to their region and even, potentially, their river of origin is a considerable feat.”

The sampling was largely carried out by research vessels, such as the Marine Institute’s RV Celtic Explorer (pictured), from several European countries and the laboratory analysis by many European labs.

In addition to the large team of international researchers from the UK, Norway, Faroes, Denmark, Russia, France, Spain, Finland, Irish scientists from University College Cork, the Marine Institute, Queen’s University Belfast, the Atlantic Salmon Trust, the Loughs Agency and the Agri-Food and the Biosciences Institute for Northern Ireland were centrally involved. 

Marine Institute's RV Celtic ExplorerMarine Institute's RV Celtic Explorer

Professor Tom Quinn of the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, a leading world authority on salmon has welcomed the study, saying “This paper is the result of sampling efforts that were vast in space and time, and equally impressive collaboration including research agencies and universities from many nations. The scope of this study alone is most impressive, and the results are of great importance. These scientists have revealed rich variation in the early marine migrations of Atlantic salmon from different regions, and are entirely consistent with a growing body of research using similar genetic methods being conducted on Pacific salmon. It is clear that salmon migrate to distant, stock-specific locations at sea, despite never having been to these regions before, and having no older members of their cohort to lead them. The environmental conditions that they encounter in their respective locations will affect their access to food, hence growth, but also their exposure to predators and intercepting fisheries. Thus migratory routes are of great consequence for the persistence and recovery of salmon stocks, in addition to the marvel of animal orientation that they reflect.”

According to Dr Niall Ó Maoiléidigh of the Marine Institute and a co-author on the paper, “Precise information on migration routes and timing are crucial for research into highly migratory marine species especially as the main factors causing population declines may be unknown.”

Dr Ciaran Kelly, Director of Fisheries and Ecosystem Services at the Marine Institute said, "The Marine Institute is pleased to see the contribution of its scientists and infrastructure to this project come to fruition. The findings of this study are very important for the management and conservation of salmon in the pelagic marine ecosystem." 

Link to full paper here

Published in Marine Wildlife

A flotilla is steaming up the river Liffey today in the next stage of a marine wildlife campaign to secure legal protection for basking sharks in these waters.

Over 7,000 people have already voiced support for the Save Our Sharks campaign, which aims to deliver a letter personally to Minister of State Malcolm Noonan.

The letter highlights the need for legal protection of the world’s second-largest shark and fish – known as Liabhán chor gréine, or the “great fish of the sun” – within Irish territorial waters.

In May of this year, Social Democrat TD and former marine biologist Jennifer Whitmore proposed amending the Wildlife Act (1976) to include the basking shark.

This would provide legal protection to the shark in Irish territorial waters.

Scientists signed an open letter to Government last month, explaining that Irish coastal waters are “one of the few places globally” where basking sharks “regularly and predictably occur on the surface close to shore”.

“This surface swimming behaviour is the root of its deep cultural connections with western Irish coastal and island communities,” the scientists said.

The number of breeding individuals has been estimated at approximately 8,000-10,000 worldwide, the majority of which are in the northeast Atlantic.

The scientists believe section 23 of the Wildlife Act should be amended to protect the endangered species.

Celebrating Irish sharks of all shapes and sizes for Shark Awareness Day

Today, 14th July, the Marine Institute is recognising sharks of all shapes and sizes for Shark Awareness Day. Irish waters are home to 71 species of shark, skates and rays, 58 of which have been studied in detail and listed on the Ireland Red List of Cartilaginous fish. Irish sharks range from small Sleeper sharks, Dogfish and Catsharks, to larger species like Frilled, Mackerel and Cow sharks, all the way to the second largest shark in the world, the Basking shark.

Published in Marine Wildlife

A HABscope, a microscope with an attached iPod using artificially intelligent software is currently being tested by scientists from the Marine Institute and the National University of Ireland, Galway to detect harmful algal bloom species (HABs) in Irish waters. The pilot study is part of an international collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA in the USA.

The HABscope was recently used on board the Marine Institute’s RV Celtic Voyager as part of a dedicated harmful phytoplankton survey (DINO21) in the Celtic Sea led by Dr Robin Raine of NUI, Galway. Data collected from this pilot study will contribute to the PhD research being conducted by Catherine Jordan from NUI, Galway as part of the Marine Institute’s Cullen Scholarship Programme.

Ocean colour satellite imagery, combined with the HABscope system, provides scientists with a ‘bird’s eye view’ of the ocean and may provide early detection and monitoring of phytoplankton blooms. Daily imagery is used to track the bloom’s movement using specifically designed algorithms that calculate the reflectance of light off the ocean surface.

Sheena Fennell of NUI Galway using the HABscope on the RV Celtic Voyager research shipSheena Fennell of NUI Galway using the HABscope on the RV Celtic Voyager research ship

The HABscope, developed by NOAA with funding from NASA, consists of a microscope with an iPod attached, embedded with artificially intelligent software to identify the swimming pattern of the phytoplankton Karenia. Results are returned instantly on whether the genre of phytoplankton is present in the water sample.

Ms Catherine Jordan said, “When phytoplankton appears in high numbers, and depending on the type of phytoplankton, they can produce green and dark red hues in the water known as 'algal blooms'. As these blooms can sometimes be visible from space, satellites provide a useful tool in monitoring the location and extent of these blooms. In most cases, phytoplankton blooms are of benefit to the ecosystem, but a small proportion of phytoplankton species produce toxins which may affect other marine life.”

“This is the first time that the HABscope has been tested outside of the United States,” Ms Jordan added. “Using the HABscope alongside satellite technology may help to provide early wide-scale warnings of the presence of harmful algal blooms. HABS can have an impact on industries such as aquaculture, fisheries and tourism, so it is important to be able to detect, monitor, track and forecast the development and movement of HABs in real-time.”

Karenia mikimotoi is a naturally occurring phytoplankton species that occasionally can form dense blooms off the Irish coast. These “Red-Tides” can sometimes cause the seawater to discolour and can even result in localised mortality of a range of marine animals. The Marine Institute monitors our coastal waters for this species as part of the National Phytoplankton Monitoring Programme. It is thought Karenia overwinter in low numbers as motile cells and when favourable conditions arrive in early to late summer they can form these blooms.

As part of the recent survey on board the RV Celtic Voyager, Karenia was detected offshore in one area at a cell density of 250,000 cells per litre in a thin sub-surface layer, analogous to an underwater cloud. The HABscope was used successfully with samples from this layer and its performance is currently being evaluated.

Despite causing occasional impacts on marine animals, Karenia has no impact on human health and is a common species in Irish coastal waters at this time of the year. The Marine Institute programme analyses water samples from around the coast of Ireland to identify any harmful or nuisance phytoplankton, and to monitor their impact on shellfish and finfish in particular.

Published in Marine Science
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“Subterranean estuaries” may be critical in managing sustainable fishing and aquaculture, according to new research.

Subterranean estuaries may be invisible to the naked eye, but may be very important in the ecology of coastal systems, the research by Trinity College Dublin and the Marine Research Institute of the Spanish Research Council in Vigo, Galicia, Spain has found.

They may also filter pollutants – some of which have been slowly travelling to sea for decades having leached from agricultural soils.

The researchers uncovered subterranean estuaries in the Ria de Vigo in Galicia -one of the most productive coastal ecosystems in Europe and leader in bivalve production for human consumption.

They assessed their importance to the coastal environment, and estimated that almost 25% of the continental freshwater discharged to the Ria de Vigo comes from these subterranean sources.

“Bivalve aquaculture is a strategic, expanding sector in Irish sustainable development and features highly in the national plans to diversify food production”, Carlos Rocha, professor in environmental change at Trinity College, Dublin’s school of natural sciences said.

“While our work was conducted in the Ria de Vigo, this area was carefully selected because of its capability to support aquaculture and its biogeographic similarity to parts of the Irish coastline,” Prof Rocha said.

“These subterranean estuaries have a high capability to filter out pollutants, like fertilisers, from freshwater. Given the extent to which they supply large ecosystems with incoming freshwater, they have a much more important role to play than many would have believed,” he added.

NUI Galway has previously conducted research on subterranean streams in the limestone-rich Burren area of Co Clare and their influence on Galway Bay.

The new research has just been published in open access in Frontiers in Marine Science (https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2021.626813) and Limnology and Oceanography (https://doi.org/10.1002/lno.11733).

Published in Marine Science
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Ferry & Car Ferry News The ferry industry on the Irish Sea, is just like any other sector of the shipping industry, in that it is made up of a myriad of ship operators, owners, managers, charterers all contributing to providing a network of routes carried out by a variety of ships designed for different albeit similar purposes.

All this ferry activity involves conventional ferry tonnage, 'ro-pax', where the vessel's primary design is to carry more freight capacity rather than passengers. This is in some cases though, is in complete variance to the fast ferry craft where they carry many more passengers and charging a premium.

In reporting the ferry scene, we examine the constantly changing trends of this sector, as rival ferry operators are competing in an intensive environment, battling out for market share following the fallout of the economic crisis. All this has consequences some immediately felt, while at times, the effects can be drawn out over time, leading to the expense of others, through reduced competition or takeover or even face complete removal from the marketplace, as witnessed in recent years.

Arising from these challenging times, there are of course winners and losers, as exemplified in the trend to run high-speed ferry craft only during the peak-season summer months and on shorter distance routes. In addition, where fastcraft had once dominated the ferry scene, during the heady days from the mid-90's onwards, they have been replaced by recent newcomers in the form of the 'fast ferry' and with increased levels of luxury, yet seeming to form as a cost-effective alternative.

Irish Sea Ferry Routes

Irrespective of the type of vessel deployed on Irish Sea routes (between 2-9 hours), it is the ferry companies that keep the wheels of industry moving as freight vehicles literally (roll-on and roll-off) ships coupled with motoring tourists and the humble 'foot' passenger transported 363 days a year.

As such the exclusive freight-only operators provide important trading routes between Ireland and the UK, where the freight haulage customer is 'king' to generating year-round revenue to the ferry operator. However, custom built tonnage entering service in recent years has exceeded the level of capacity of the Irish Sea in certain quarters of the freight market.

A prime example of the necessity for trade in which we consumers often expect daily, though arguably question how it reached our shores, is the delivery of just in time perishable products to fill our supermarket shelves.

A visual manifestation of this is the arrival every morning and evening into our main ports, where a combination of ferries, ro-pax vessels and fast-craft all descend at the same time. In essence this a marine version to our road-based rush hour traffic going in and out along the commuter belts.

Across the Celtic Sea, the ferry scene coverage is also about those overnight direct ferry routes from Ireland connecting the north-western French ports in Brittany and Normandy.

Due to the seasonality of these routes to Europe, the ferry scene may be in the majority running between February to November, however by no means does this lessen operator competition.

Noting there have been plans over the years to run a direct Irish –Iberian ferry service, which would open up existing and develop new freight markets. Should a direct service open, it would bring new opportunities also for holidaymakers, where Spain is the most visited country in the EU visited by Irish holidaymakers ... heading for the sun!

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