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The annual Irish Groundfish Survey (IGFS 2019) will take place off the North, West and South Coasts for six weeks from 31 October.

Carried out by the Marine Institute, the IGFS is a demersal trawl survey consisting of around 170 fishing hauls, each of of 30 minutes’ duration, in ICES areas VIa, VIIb, VIIg and VIIj.

As part of the requirements for the 2019 survey, fishing will take place within a 2-nautical-mile radius of indicated positions.

The survey will be conducted by the RV Celtic Explorer (callsign EIGB) which will display appropriate lights and signals.

The vessel will be towing a high headline GOV 36/47 demersal trawl during fishing operations.

IGFS 2019

Co-ordinates and approximate locations of these hauls are included in Marine Notice No 47 of 2019, a PDF of which is available to read or download HERE.

The Marine Institute requests that commercial fishing and other marine operators keep a 2nm area around the tow mid-points clear of any gear or apparatus during the survey period between Thursday 31 October and Friday 14 December.

This survey follows the annual Irish Anglerfish and Megrim Survey which was conducted off the West South West and South Coasts in March.

Published in Fishing

Dr Heffernan has served as the CEO of the Marine Institute since 1993 and has held a highly successful role in building and leading the organisation. The semi-state agency has grown from a staff of one to 230, which now incorporates the Institute’s headquarters in Co Galway, the Newport Research Facility in Co Mayo and the Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO) in Dublin. 

Chairman of the Marine Institute Dr John Killeen said, “As CEO, Dr Heffernan has overseen tremendous growth. He has played a fundamental role in developing Ireland’s ocean research capacity, increasing collaboration in marine research and innovation in Europe, as well as driving sustainable development across a range of maritime sectors. Dr Heffernan leaves a lasting-legacy and has set the Institute on course to become a global leader in ocean knowledge. On behalf of the Board and Marine Institute staff, I thank Dr Heffernan for his dedication, strategic direction and leadership as CEO and wish him all the best as he begins a new voyage.” 

As CEO of the Institute, Dr Heffernan has overseen the arrival of Ireland’s two purpose-built marine research vessels, the RV Celtic Voyager in 1997 and the RV Celtic Explorer in 2003. The RV Celtic Voyager has provided a platform for scientists to undertake essential fisheries research, environmental monitoring, seabed mapping, oceanographic work, data buoy maintenance and student training. The RV Celtic Explorer has played a vital role in Ireland’s fisheries research, placing Ireland in a much stronger position to propose effective conservation measures for fish stocks and support the sustainability of the Irish fishing industry. A new state-of-the-art marine research vessel is also scheduled for completion in 2022, which will mark a major milestone in the Marine Institute’s effort to provide world-class marine scientific advice and services. 

In 2009, Dr Peter Heffernan instigated the development of the Inter-Department Marine Coordination Group (MCG). Chaired by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, the group brought together representatives of departments with an involvement in marine and maritime issues to coordinate inter-departmental action. The MCG produced Ireland’s first integrated marine plan for Ireland Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth in 2012 which set out two targets - increase the value of Ireland’s ocean wealth to 2.4% of GDP by 2030 and double the turnover from our ocean economy (from €3.2 billion) to exceed €6.4 billion by 2020. In 2018, Ireland’s ocean economy is estimated to have a turnover of €6.2 billion and GVA estimated at €4.2 billion equivalent to 2% of GDP.

In 2013, Dr Heffernan acted as an inspiration and Irish EU Presidency ambassador for the creation of the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance (AORA) with the signing of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation between Canada, the European Union and the United States of America. Six years on and AORA has been recognised as an outstanding success story in the Atlantic area and an exemplar of international science diplomacy. To date, AORA has achieved an investment from Horizon 2020 EU funding of more than €140 million to support research in the Atlantic Ocean.

Ireland is now considered a world leader in the field of seabed mapping through the expertise of the Geological Survey Ireland and the Marine Institute. The Irish National Seabed Survey (INSS), which began in 1999 remains one of the largest seabed mapping projects ever undertaken in the world. Now known as the INFOMAR programme and scheduled for completion in 2026, Ireland will become the first nation in the world to have comprehensively mapped its entire seabed territory.

Research and Innovation are central to the role and mission of the Marine Institute. A Marine Knowledge, Research and Innovation Strategy for Ireland, ‘Sea Change’ was prepared by the Marine Institute and launched in 2007. A new National Marine Research and Innovation Strategy 2021 was also prepared by the Marine Institute in 2017, to help ensure Ireland maintains its position at the forefront of marine research in Europe. 

The Marine Institute has achieved an outstanding success rate of over 40% in funding bids to the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme. The total funding approved to date under this programme has now surpassed the €8m target, 18 months ahead of schedule. The work of the Marine Institute has seen significant collaborations with industry and other research centres and universities in Ireland, Europe and international stakeholders, strengthening Ireland’s ability in providing a foundation for applied research and innovation. 

Dr Heffernan was recently selected as a member of the European Commission’s Mission Board for Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters, one of five major research missions of Horizon Europe, the EU Research and Innovation programme (2021 – 2027). Dr Heffernan will be one of 15 experts on the Mission Board which will identify the first possible specific missions on healthy oceans by the end of 2019.

Published in Marine Science

Studies carried out by a research team led by Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) have resulted in the development of the world's first scientific-based shellfish traceability tool.

This unique tool used ‘trace elemental fingerprinting’ of shellfish soft tissues and shells to identify the harvest location of blue mussels and king scallops with a 100% success rate — including mussels reared from two sites located just 6km apart within the one bay.

The technique used not only correctly identified the site of harvest of scallops, but was also able to distinguish between harvesting events just six weeks apart, both with 100% success.

The Marine Institute provided scientific advice and input into the initial stages of the research project, as well as providing samples of mussels and scallops for the studies led by Dr Conor Graham of the GMIT Marine and Freshwater Research Centre in collaboration with Dr Liam Morrison of Earth and Ocean Sciences and the Ryan Institute, NUI Galway.

The research was also conducted in association with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, European Food Safety Authority and University College Dublin.

Lead scientist Dr Graham said: “In recent years consumers have become more food-conscious, seeking traceability of produce, and while such tools exist for agriculture, until now no scientifically based system existed to trace both farmed and wild shellfish produce to their source.

“The aquaculture of shellfish such as mussels and oysters and the wild fisheries for scallops, razorfish and clams is a multi-million industry in Ireland supporting thousands of jobs in rural maritime communities around our coasts. This research aimed to create the world’s first bivalve shellfish scientifically based traceability tool for Irish produce to promote this ecologically sustainable food.”

Trace elemental fingerprinting is somewhat similar to genetic analyses, the Marine Institute explains, except that instead of identifying the variation in a number of genes to create a unique genetic identifier, it analyses how large numbers of trace elements contained naturally within the flesh and shells of shellfish vary uniquely according to growing sites.

Although the shells of mussels and scallops are composed primarily of calcium carbonate, other elements are incorporated into their shells at relatively low levels as they grow, which is determined by the bioavailable concentrations of these elements in the surrounding water column in which the shellfish live.

The research was recently published in two scientific papers (on king scallops and blue mussels, respectively) in international peer-reviewed journal Science of the Total Environment.

Details will also be presented by Dr Graham at the Marine Institute’s 11th Shellfish Safety Workshop next Tuesday 8 October at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Athlone. The event will include presentations from representatives from a variety of state agencies, academic and research institutions and the shellfish industry.

The Marine Institute is the national reference laboratory in Ireland for the monitoring of marine biotoxins and microbiological/viral contamination of bivalve shellfish, and provides this information to the competent authorities under legislative and statutory requirements.

Published in Marine Wildlife

An Irish-led, international team of marine scientists on board the RV Celtic Explorer recently completed the third and final leg of an extensive offshore reef study using the Marine Institute’s remote operated vehicle (ROV) Holland 1.

The 21-day expedition investigating sensitive deep-sea habitats at the outer extent of the continental shelf off the southwest of Ireland was part of the SeaRover (Sensitive Ecosystem Assessment and ROV Exploration of Reef) project.

During their time at sea, the survey team mapped 154 separate locations within Ireland's marine territory, in what the Marine Institute describes as one of the most significant deep water benthic habitat assessments undertaken in this country.

The data and findings will contribute to good fisheries practice and the sustainable management of Ireland's marine biodiversity, the institute adds.

The survey used the ROV Holland 1 to capture high-definition footage of reef habitats up to 3000 metres deep, and to recover biological and sediment samples from 52 locations along the continental margin.

“Sensitive reef habitats form fragile ecosystems and attract a variety of marine species, such as sea pens, sponges, fish and crustaceans,” said survey chief scientist Yvonne Leahy, of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

“Surveying these habitats enables us to better understand Ireland’s deep sea territory so that we can protect and monitor our marine biodiversity and sustainably manage Ireland's marine resources effectively.”

Scientists from NUI Galway and University of Plymouth also joined the expedition to gather a range of biological samples to enable further research into population genetics studies, ecological modelling, and the harvesting of sponges for potential novel compounds for use in bio-medical applications.

Sediment samples will also be utilised for microplastics studies by NUI Galway and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT).

An octopus 1,000 metres below the surface | Photo: Marine InstituteAn octopus 1,000 metres below the surface | Photo: Marine Institute

The three SeaRover surveys between since 2017 have involved a combined 63 days at sea, recorded 332 hours of high-definition video from the seafloor — almost 14 days of footage — and have undertaken detailed studies of 350km of seabed along a shelf extent of nearly 2,500km.

The surveys have explored 154 different locations along Ireland’s continental margin, including the Rockall and Porcupine Banks, the Goban Spur and the Whittard Canyon.

The HD camera picks up fine detail of deep-water coral species. The first SeaRover survey in 2017 included the discovery of the deepest known occurrence of the cold-water coral Solenosmilia variabilis, forming reefs in Irish waters at depths of 1,600m.

In 2018 the team discovered a rare shark nursery, 200 miles west of Ireland. A large number of egg cases were filmed on the seafloor at depths reaching 750m, and a large school of blackmouth catshark (Galeus melastomus) were present at the site. There were also numerous recordings of different coral species observed in Irish waters for the first time.

“After three years, the survey team has created an extensive data set which represents one of the most comprehensive assessments of Ireland's marine biodiversity,” said Leonie O'Dowd, Marine Institute section manager and European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) programme co-ordinator.

“The success of these surveys is thanks to the coordination and collaboration across many organisations and government departments, and will benefit national policy development as well as researchers and scientists exploring our marine territory in the future.”

Thomas Furey, the Marine Institute’s joint INFOMAR programme manager, added: “It is fantastic to see the underlying INFOMAR seabed mapping data being used to strategically identify and target such vulnerable marine ecosystems for detailed studies in support of future marine management plans.

“In funding INFOMAR, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment are supporting key evidence based investigations of our ever changing marine environment.”

The three-year SeaRover project was commissioned and jointly funded by the Irish Government and the EU’s European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

The cross-government initiative was supported by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht, and Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment as part of the Marine Institute’s implementation of the EMFF Marine Biodiversity scheme.

Survey operations were led by the Marine Institute, INFOMAR and NPWS, accompanied by scientists from NUI Galway and the Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre at the University of Plymouth, and supported by scientists in Geological Survey Ireland and the Norwegian Marine Institute.

Published in Marine Science

Louth-based marine technology firm Xocean is following its recent funding boost with plans to expand into North America and eventually Asia, according to business news site Fora.

The company specialises in innovative robotics, particularly unmanned vehicles, and IoT technology to monitor and collect data at sea.

Earlier this year it was awarded €199,739 in funding over two years via the Marine Institute to transform marine monitoring and data collection, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

In addition the Greenore-based business raised half a million euro from Chris Huskilson, former CEO of Canadian energy company Emera and now chairman of Xocean.

While its focus until now has been on northern Europe, with clients including the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Xocean confirms it is in discussions to deliver its first projects in the US and Canada within the next six months.

Fora has much more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Science

Marine Institute chief executive Dr Peter Heffernan has been selected as a member of the European Commission’s Mission Board for Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters.

He is one of two Irish appointees to the Mission Boards of Horizon Europe, the EU Research and Innovation programme (2021 – 2027).

And he joins 14 other experts on his Mission Board which will identify the first possible specific missions on healthy oceans by the end of 2019.

Dr Heffernan has served as CEO of the Marine Institute since its formation in 1993, and will retire from this role in October this year. The Marine Institute is currently recruiting for his successor, with the deadline for applications at close of business next Tuesday 6 August.

Welcoming the announcement of Dr Heffernan’s new appointment, Marine Institute chairman Dr John Killeen said he “has played a fundamental role in developing Ireland’s ocean research capacity, and for driving collaboration in marine research and innovation in Europe and internationally.

“I congratulate Peter on his appointment, which reflects his strong standing in the European research community.”

Over 2,100 individuals from across the EU and beyond applied to become a member of a Mission Board. Dr Heffernan previously served on the EU’s Research and Innovation Area Board (ERIAB) from 2012 to 2016.

Published in Marine Science

Marine scientists from University College Cork have discovered plastic at the bottom of a deep submarine canyon while investigating cold-water coral habitats.

UCC’s Marine Geology Research Group has been investigating cold-water coral habitats in the Porcupine Bank Canyon, some 320km due west of Dingle, on a research expedition led by UCC’s Dr Aaron Lim on board the Marine Institute’s RV Celtic Explorer.

The team had recovered eight novel monitoring stations, called ‘landers’, worth €450,000 and deployed between 700m and 2500m water depth by the Marine Institute’s Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Holland 1 earlier this summer.

The monitoring stations record the speed, temperatures and direction of the currents around these habitats as well as trapping samples of the food, sediments and microplastic being deposited around the corals, to understand conditions and how the corals are coping with changing oceans.

The researchers found plastic in the bottom of one canyon at 2,125m water depth — as deep as ten Eiffel Towers stacked on top of one another.

The reach of human plastic waste is now confirmed as this deep, even 320km offshore.

“It’s always sad to see plastic rubbish in these otherwise pristine habitats. It’s quite incredible that our plastic waste can get this far out and so deep in the oceans,” said Professor Andy Wheeler of UCC, who has pioneered research on cold-water coral mounds offshore of Ireland over the past 20 years.

“I don’t think people think about this when that dump their rubbish. We’re also trying to see if microplastics are being fed to the corals from above. We’ve just got the samples; let’s hope we're wrong.”

“ROVROV Holland 1 recovering one of the monitoring stations | Photo: UCC

The Porcupine Bank Canyon is teeming with a whole range of cold-water coral habitats, just on Ireland’s doorstep, says Dr Lim.

“The environment is much more dynamic than we thought, with two of the monitoring stations knocked over by the currents; food supply for the coral is variable but the corals are doing okay.

“Some of these habitats have existed for millions of years and have grown so large they resemble hills made of coral, called coral mounds.

“This is the first time eight of these monitoring stations have been deployed and collected using the ROV Holland 1. It will provide scientists with an insight into the processes affecting these cold-water coral habitats, food sources and the impact of microplastics.”

Dr Lim said Ireland’s cold-water coral reefs are found in the cold, dark ocean at water depths of 600m to 1,000m along our continental margin.

“Not only is this expedition vital for understanding these habitats and our impact upon them, it also acts as a baseline to start monitoring how our deep-water habitats here are changing,” he added.

The team has a research agenda which will see them return to the canyon and other habitats alike for a number of years, to monitor the changes in the environment around these habitats. The monitoring stations will be brought back to UCC for detailed analyses.

This research survey is carried out with the support of the Marine Institute, funded under the Marine Research Programme 2014-2020 by the Government to support and promote the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance, which facilitates common research and knowledge exchange for us to provide healthy, resilient oceans for our future generations.

The survey has also received funding from Science Foundation Ireland, Geological Survey Ireland and UCC.

Published in Marine Science

Fifteen angling vessels will soon be granted authorisation to participate in Tuna CHART (Catch and Release Tagging), a pilot Bluefin Tuna Data Collection Programme.

As previously reported for Afloat.ie by Lorna Siggins, the programme will see the 15 authorised vessels catch, tag and release Atlantic bluefin tuna for data collection purposes off the Irish coast.

These vessels, which are located in Cork, Clare, Galway, Sligo and Donegal, will support scientific work to increase knowledge of the behaviour and abundance of bluefin tuna in Irish waters — which currently do not host a sport or commercial fishery for the species.

The new programme, which has been developed by Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) and the Marine Institute in partnership with the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA), the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (DCCAE), will operate on a pilot basis this year.

Authorisations will be granted from mid-August until mid-October, and all skippers and trained crew have participated in training with guidance provided around fish handling, welfare, tagging and data recording.

Participants in the programme will catch, tag and release bluefin tuna while adhering to strict fish safety and handling procedures at all times.

Marine Minister Michael Creed has welcomed the initiative. “My department has been working on this project for two years at both EU and domestic levels and I am happy to announce the commencement of the project this month,” he said.

“This initiative will allow the Marine Institute and Inland Fisheries Ireland to collect valuable data on the migratory patterns of bluefin tuna in Irish waters in a tightly controlled environment.

“This project has been a wonderful example of co-operation between my department, DCCAE, SFPA, IFI and the Marine Institute and I am looking forward to the continued development of this relationship.”

Sean Canney, Minister with responsibility for inland fisheries, added: “The angling vessels which will be receiving authorisation from my department will contribute in a very tangible way to important data collection around Bluefin tuna as they migrate past the Irish coastline.

“The recreational fisheries sector is crucial in the delivery of this pilot programme and we look forward to working with all the State agencies involved and critically with the skippers and their crews who have received authorisations in providing valuable data for scientific purposes.”

The SFPA and IFI will undertake inspections and patrols around the coast to ensure this remains a strictly controlled fishery.

Anglers wishing to engage in this fishery must only do so on a sea angling vessel specifically authorised to participate in the pilot programme. Any person engaging in this fishery on any vessel which is not appropriately authorised will be in breach of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction (Bluefin Tuna) Regulations 2019 (SI No 265 of 2019).

Published in Angling

A shark species previously unrecorded in Irish waters has been sighted in the Celtic Sea.

A smooth hammerhead shark was reported on the edge of the continental shelf, south-west of Ireland, during a recent fisheries survey on the Marine Institute’s RV Celtic Explorer.

The sighting was made by experienced marine mammal observer John Power and bird observer Paul Connaughton during the Marine Institute’s Western European Shelf Pelagic Acoustic Survey (WESPAS).

“While scanning the ocean surface, we sighted a dorsal fin unlike anything we had encountered before,” said Power.

“It was quite different to the fins seen on basking sharks and blue sharks. After consulting available ID keys, we agreed that the shark must be a smooth hammerhead.”

The large, tall and slender dorsal fin of the smooth hammerhead shark distinguishes it from other shark species. The smooth hammerhead also has a single-notch in the centre of its rounded head and is up to four metres in length.

The species gives birth to live young and the pups are usually found in the shallow sandy waters near Florida, the Caribbean and West Africa. However, the species has been recorded as far north as England and Wales.

The smooth hammerhead was sighted during the WESPAS survey, which surveys the waters from France to Scotland and the West of Ireland each year.

Marine scientists collect acoustic and biological data on herring, boarfish and horse mackerel, which is used to provide an independent measure of these fish stocks in Irish waters. Scientists also monitor plankton, sea birds and marine mammals during this survey.

This is an exciting encounter, especially since a rare deep-water shark nursery was discovered by Irish scientists last year

Dr Paul Connolly, director of fisheries and ecosystems services at the Marine Institute, said: “Our Irish waters support a range of marine life and diverse ecosystems, including 35 known species of sharks.

“This is an exciting encounter, especially since a rare deep-water shark nursery, 200 miles west of Ireland, was discovered by Irish scientists last year using the Marine Institute's Remotely Operated Vehicle [ROV Holland 1].”

He added: “This sighting of a new shark species shows the importance of our fishery surveys to monitor our marine environment, and to observe changes in our oceans and marine ecosystems.

“Observing and understanding a changing ocean, is essential for protecting and managing our marine ecosystems for the future.”

The hammerhead shark poses little risk to humans, and there have been no known fatalities from hammerhead sharks anywhere in the world to date.

The species is listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, and is being increasingly targeted for the shark fin trade as its large fins are highly valued.

Thirty-five species of sharks have been recorded in Irish waters, including the blue shark, porbeagle shark, lesser spotted dogfish and the second-largest shark in the world, the basking shark — a regular visitor inshore during the summer months.

Published in Marine Wildlife

The Marine Institute, the State agency responsible for marine research, technology development and innovation in Ireland, is recruiting for a new chief executive to succeed Dr Peter Heffernan.

Reporting to the chair of the board of the Marine Institute, the CEO is responsible with the board for setting the strategic direction of the organisation in line with its mission, vision and values.

The institute seeks applications from high-calibre dynamic individuals with proven senior management experience and strong knowledge, experience and understanding of marine research, technology development and innovation.

The deadline for applications is 5pm GMT (6pm IST) on Tuesday 6 August. Mazars will be managing all aspects of the recruitment process on behalf of the Marine Institute. Further information on this role is available at Mazars.ie (Search Ref. MAR0119).

Published in Marine Science
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