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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

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 first in a series of hydrographic and geophysical surveys to be undertaken in the Celtic Sea and Atlantic Ocean under the INFOMAR programme between April and October 2019 is now under way.

The RV Celtic Voyager (callsign EIQN) set off on Friday 12 April for an 18-day survey, the first of four over the next five months 18 May-6 June, 12-28 July, 29 August-14 September).

The RV Celtic Explorer (callsign EIGB) will follow up with an 18-day survey from 21 September to 8 October. Both vessels will be towing a magnetometer sensor with a single cable of up to 200 metres in length.

Other survey vessel involved include the Geological Survey Ireland vessels RV Keary (callsign EI-GO-9), RV Geo (callsign EI-DK-6), RV Mallet (callsign EI-SN-9) and RV Lir (callsign EI-HI-2).

All will display appropriate lights and markers and will be listening on VHF Channel 16 throughout the course of the surveys.

Full details of the survey areas are included in Marine Notice No 8 of 2019, a PDF of which is available to read or download HERE.

Published in Marine Science

Children from Rang 2 at Scoil Shéamais Naofa in Bearna got up close and personal with sharks on the RV Celtic Explorer as part of the Marine Institute’s outreach and engagement programme.

The pupils completed a project module on sharks in Irish waters as part of the Marine Institute’s Explorers Education Programme, and also had the opportunity to visit the State research vessel.

Outreach officer Padraic Creedon of the Explorers Education Programme said one if the programme’s unique elements “is the content and support provided to teachers in the classroom in an easy and fun way.

“The students were inspired by the discovery of a rare shark nursery 200 miles off the west coast of Ireland in 2018, and we were delighted to create lessons, interactive experiments and discussion about the ocean, sharks and their environment for the class.”

While on board the RV Celtic Explorer, pupils met with the captain and scientists and saw what it might be like to work on a research vessel.

Students spoke with Captain Denis Ronan about the Celtic Explorer, and learn more about the acoustically silent ship that can stay out at sea for up to 35 days.

The pupils were excited to tour the vessel and speak with marine scientists to discover more about shark species, seabed mapping, shipwrecks and the marine environment.

Visiting the dry and wet labs, the pupils saw various fish species from recent surveys and shark species, such as dogfish and the tope shark.

Clár Ní Bhraonáin, teacher at Scoil Shéamais Naofa, said: “It has been an amazing experience … Students don’t forget days like this.”

The Explorers programme offers a range of materials including lesson plans to conduct experiments in class, watching films that helps generate discussion, and peer learning among pupils.

“Because of the students’ enthusiasm to learn more about sharks, we have been able to incorporate marine themes across the curriculum, where they have excelled and produced some incredible work, from writing books about sharks to a series of posters and artwork,” Ní Bhraonáin added.

“This project has really helped myself and the students learn more about the ocean.”

For more information on the Explorers Education outreach centres, visit the Explorers Contacts page at Explorers.ie. The programme is supported by the Marine Institute and is funded under the Marine Research Programme by the Government.

Published in Marine Wildlife

The annual Anglerfish and Megrim Survey has begun off the West South West and South Coasts of Ireland in fulfilment of Ireland’s Common Fisheries Policy obligations.

The purpose of this project is to carry out annual survey for relative annual abundance and distribution of anglerfish and megrim. However, other species of national
importance will also be sampled, along with physical and chemical oceanographic parameters.

IAMS 2019 runs till Monday 25 March. The demersal trawl survey consists of around 110 otter trawls (of 60 minutes each) in ICES areas 7b, 7c, 7g, 7h, 7j and 7k as indicated the map below.

MN 06 of 2019 IAMS 2019

Fishing in 2019 will take place within a three-nautical-mile radius of all positions indicated.

The survey will be conducted by the RV Celtic Explorer (Callsign: EIGB). The vessel will display all appropriate lights and signals during the survey and will also be listening on VHF Channel 16. The vessel will be towing a Jackson demersal trawl during fishing operations.

Commercial fishing and other marine operators are requested to keep a 3nm area around the tow points clear of any gear or apparatus during the survey period. For more details see Marine Notice No 6 of 2019, a PDF of which is available to read or download HERE.

Published in Fishing

Shipwrecks off the Irish coast are acting as artificial reefs for corals usually found much deeper in the Atlantic.

That’s according to NUI Galway ocean scientist Anthony Grehan, who told the Irish Examiner about his recent surprising find at the wreck of a cargo vessel 160 metres below the surface.

Using the new submersible robot Étáin from the University of Limerick, Grehan and a team on the RV Celtic Explorer found examples of the stony coral species lophelia pertusa, which usually found at depths of 500 metres or more.

And the new discovery suggests that such wrecks may provide the necessary stability for deep-water corals to thrive in shallower waters.

The Irish Examiner has much more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineScience - The new mission to Ireland’s offshore reaches to monitor seismic activity on the North Atlantic floor is to engage with schools while at sea.

As previously covered on Afloat.ie, scientists from the Dublin Institute for Advances Studies (DIAS) departed last Monday 17 September, on board the RV Celtic Explorer, for the three-week voyage that will see them deploy a network of 18 seismometers as part of the SEA-SEIS project.

Daniel Farrell is reporting on their work via the RV Celtic Explorer’s blog [email protected].

“I am looking forward to sharing first-hand what it’s like being on a research vessel such as the RV Celtic Explorer,” says Farrell, of CoastMonkey.ie and sponsored by DIAS and the Marine Institute.

“I have a passion for the sea, and will be filming the scientists, writing content for the blog as well as taking photos of all of the activities where everyone can keep up to date with what is happening.”

Students and teachers can engage with the mission through Farrell’s blog posts as well as with a range of resources and videos available on the SEA-SEIS website.

“The SEA-SEIS team have also organised a range of activities that both primary and secondary schools can take part in over the next couple of months,” Farrell adds.

“There are teaching resources and lesson plans from the Explorers Education Programme, as well as some great competitions involving a drawing competition and composing a rap song.”

Published in Marine Science

#MarineScience - Researchers from the Dublin Institute for Advances Studies (DIAS) departed Cobh yesterday (Monday 17 September) on the RV Celtic Explorer with a mission to monitor seismic activity on the North Atlantic Ocean floor.

As Silicon Republic reports, the SEA-SEIS project will deploy 18 seismometers over the next three weeks to form a network that will cover Ireland’s offshore area.

These sensors will collect data over the next two years, measuring tiny vibrations from seismic and ocean waves that will inform 3D models to unveil the mysteries below the sea bed.

DIAS is partnering with the Marine Institute, Geological Survey of Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland and Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences (iCRAG) on the SEA-SEIS mission that will use acoustic sensors developed by the iMARL deep ocean listening project.

“The geological evolution of Ireland’s offshore territory is fascinating, but there is still so much of it to be explored,” said Prof Chris Bean, a specialist in geophysics at DIAS.

He added the SEA-SEIS project means that for the first time “we will be able to make long-term direct observations of the interactions between our oceans and solid Earth in this region.”

Silicon Republic has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Science

#MarineScience - The extensive work carried out jointly by the Marine Institute and Geological Survey Ireland through the INFOMAR programme received substantial exposure and recognition at the 16th Forum for the Exchange of Mutual Multibeam Experiences (FEMME) in Bordeaux last week.

Hosted by the Kongsberg Maritime User Forum and focussing on seabed mapping, FEMME provides an international platform for hydrographic professionals to meet, exchange experiences and ideas, provide inspiration and contribute to improved system performance and the future of underwater mapping technologies.

High-profile attendees include the secretary general of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), chief hydrographers from the Service Hydrographique et Océanographique de la Marine (SHOM), and Seabed 2030 leaders.

An overview of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment-funded INFOMAR programme was provided by Dr Fabio Sacchetti, who updated the audience on future plans as well as recent achievements of the Irish national seabed mapping initiative.

Dr Sacchetti highlighted 10 case studies featuring multiple applications of multibeam technologies in support of sectors including coastal engineering, marine conservation and marine heritage and tourism.

In addition, a recent high-profile collaboration between INFOMAR and various US and Canadian research institutes was presented by international research partners in attendance.

INFOMAR featured prominently in a talk by Prof John Hughes Clarke (CCOM/University of New Hampshire) when describing research into the impact of internal wave activity on multibeam bathymetry in an Irish/Celtic Sea context, based on work conducted onboard the RV Celtic Explorer.

Prof Clarke has been collaborating with INFOMAR since 2015, and he is particularly focused on using hydrographic and fisheries sonar systems, combined with oceanographic data, to gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics and complexities of the Celtic Sea.

Jose Cordero, of Instituto Hidrografico dela Marina (Spain), demonstrated how improved sound speed control through remotely detecting thermocline undulations can be achieved.

The study was the result of a collaboration carried out in 2017 onboard the RV Celtic Explorer during a routine INFOMAR survey.

Finally, Anand D Hiroji (HSRC/University of Southern Mississippi) showed how unambiguous radiation pattern extraction methods can improve data derived from multisector multibeam Sonars. Once again, this study was carried out using data acquired by INFOMAR onboard the RV Celtic Explorer.

As Ireland continues toward completion of its seabed mapping programme in 2026, the Marine Institute says it is “widely acknowledged internationally” that our best practice approach towards open and integrated data acquisition, integration and exploitation “is a valued model, and one which gives Irish researchers and technology developers a global audience, and market.”

Published in Marine Science

#MarineScience - A UCC-led group of scientists from across the globe have revealed a submarine canyon on the edge of Ireland’s continental shelf, 320km west of Dingle, after mapping an area twice the size of Malta.

The group returned last Friday (10 August) after a research expedition on board the Marine Institute’s RV Celtic Explorer with ROV Holland I, mapping 1,800 sqkm of seabed to image the upper canyon over a fortnight.

Scientists say the find is significant in understanding more about how submarine canyon helps transport carbon to the deep ocean.

Although there is excess CO2 in the atmosphere (the greenhouse effect), the ocean is absorbing this at the surface, and canyons pump this into the deep ocean where it cannot get back into the atmosphere.

The expedition, led by Dr Aaron Lim of UCC’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES), utilised the Marine Institute’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Holland I and state-of-the-art mapping technologies to learn more about the nature of the canyon.

“This is a vast submarine canyon system, with near-vertical 700m cliff in places and going as deep as 3,000m. You could stack 10 Eiffel towers on top of each other in there,” Dr Lim said. “So far from land this canyon is a natural laboratory from which we feel the pulse of the changing Atlantic.”

According to Dr Lim, this discovery coupled with recent findings on the Irish-Atlantic margin – including rare sponge reefs and a spectacular mountain range in the mid-Atlantic – shows the advances in both Ireland’s marine technology and scientific workforce. “Ireland is world-class, and for a small country we punch above our weight,” he said.

The Porcupine Bank Canyon is the westernmost submarine canyon on the contiguous Irish margin 320km west of Dingle and exits onto the abyssal plain at 4,000m water depth. The upper canyon is full of cold-water corals forming reefs and mounds which create a rim on the lip of the canyon 30m tall and 28 km long.

The coral reefs on the rim of the canyon eventually break off and slide down into the canyon, where they form an accumulation of coral rubble deeper within the canyon.

The ROV ventured deeper into the canyon and found significant build-ups of coral debris that have fallen from hundreds of meters above.

“This is all about transporting carbon stored cold water corals into the deep. The corals get their carbon from dead plankton raining down from the ocean surface so ultimately from our atmosphere,” said Prof Andy Wheeler of the School of BEES at UCC and the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences (iCRAG).

“Increasing CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere are causing our extreme weather; oceans absorb this CO2 and canyons are a rapid route for pumping it into the deep ocean where it is safely stored away.”

The new detailed maps show lobes of sediment debris and the scars from submarine slides as the canyon walls collapse. There is also exposure of old crustal bedrock and incised channels in the canyon floor carved by sediment avalanches.

“We took cores with the ROV Holland I and the sediments reveal that although the canyon is quiet now, periodically it is a violent place where the seabed gets ripped up and eroded,” Prof Wheeler added.

The new mapping data shows a rim feature along the lip of the canyon at approximately 600m water depth.

“When we sent down the ROV, we saw that this rim is made of a profusion of cold water corals, which appears to extend for miles along the edge of the canyon,” said Prof Luis Conti of the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The research supports the shared vision of the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance, which includes the ongoing cooperation on ocean science and observation in the Atlantic Ocean.

The research has been funded by Science Foundation Ireland, Geological Survey Ireland and contributes to projects in the iCRAG. This research survey was also carried out with the support of the Marine Institute, funded under the Marine Research Programme 2014-2020 by the Irish Government.

Prof Wheeler’s Marine Geology Research Group in the UCC School of BEES is undertaking a research project to monitor the range of coral habitats within this canyon with the aim of understanding what drives these habitats, how they change through time and how sensitive they are to disturbances.

Published in Marine Science
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The Half Ton Class was created by the Offshore Racing Council for boats within the racing band not exceeding 22'-0". The ORC decided that the rule should "....permit the development of seaworthy offshore racing yachts...The Council will endeavour to protect the majority of the existing IOR fleet from rapid obsolescence caused by ....developments which produce increased performance without corresponding changes in ratings..."

When first introduced the IOR rule was perfectly adequate for rating boats in existence at that time. However yacht designers naturally examined the rule to seize upon any advantage they could find, the most noticeable of which has been a reduction in displacement and a return to fractional rigs.

After 1993, when the IOR Mk.III rule reached it termination due to lack of people building new boats, the rule was replaced by the CHS (Channel) Handicap system which in turn developed into the IRC system now used.

The IRC handicap system operates by a secret formula which tries to develop boats which are 'Cruising type' of relatively heavy boats with good internal accommodation. It tends to penalise boats with excessive stability or excessive sail area.

Competitions

The most significant events for the Half Ton Class has been the annual Half Ton Cup which was sailed under the IOR rules until 1993. More recently this has been replaced with the Half Ton Classics Cup. The venue of the event moved from continent to continent with over-representation on French or British ports. In later years the event is held biennially. Initially, it was proposed to hold events in Ireland, Britain and France by rotation. However, it was the Belgians who took the ball and ran with it. The Class is now managed from Belgium. 

At A Glance – Half Ton Classics Cup Winners

  • 2017 – Kinsale – Swuzzlebubble – Phil Plumtree – Farr 1977
  • 2016 – Falmouth – Swuzzlebubble – Greg Peck – Farr 1977
  • 2015 – Nieuwport – Checkmate XV – David Cullen – Humphreys 1985
  • 2014 – St Quay Portrieux – Swuzzlebubble – Peter Morton – Farr 1977
  • 2013 – Boulogne – Checkmate XV – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1985
  • 2011 – Cowes – Chimp – Michael Kershaw – Berret 1978
  • 2009 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978
  • 2007 – Dun Laoghaire – Henri-Lloyd Harmony – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1980~
  • 2005 – Dinard – Gingko – Patrick Lobrichon – Mauric 1968
  • 2003 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978

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