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A newly formed Irish environmental coalition says it is “demanding” a fifteen-fold increase in Ireland’s marine protected areas (MPAs).

The Fair Seas campaign wants at least 10 per cent of Irish waters to be designated as “fully protected” by 2025, and “at least” 30 per cent by 2030.

“Today Ireland’s MPA coverage is at a mere 2.13% lagging behind even our closest neighbours in Scotland at 37%,” the campaign says.

“Ireland has not met its previous target of 10% protection by 2020,” it says warning that “Fair Seas will hold the government to account so it does not miss its upcoming targets”.

Minke Whale, Photo: Pádraig Whooley, IWDGMinke Whale, Photo: Pádraig Whooley, IWDG

“Ireland’s maritime area is seven times the size of our landmass and is home to spectacular wildlife including endangered basking sharks, humpback whales, blue whales, otters, seals, puffins and even deep-sea coral reefs,” the campaign says.

It aims to see Ireland becoming a “world leader in marine protection, giving our species, habitats and coastal communities the opportunity to thrive”.

MPAs, which give legal protection to the conservation of species and habitats, are a “vital tool” in improving ocean health, it says.

Common dolphins Photo: Sibéal Regan, IWDGCommon dolphins Photo: Sibéal Regan, IWDG

The Fair Seas campaign says it will publish its first expert report, underpinned by scientific data, this summer, and this will identify where it believes MPAs should be designated.

Legislation for the designation and management of MPAs is currently being drafted and the Heads of Bill is expected before Government in December 2022.

“In January 2022 Ireland showed its passion for the ocean by speaking out against Russian missile testing,” Fair Seas campaign manager Aoife O’Mahony said.

Puffin Photo: George KarbusPuffin Photo: George Karbus

“Voices from the fishing industry, government, environmental groups and the public were all echoing the need to protect our marine biodiversity and commercially important fish stocks. Fair Seas is calling on those same voices to ask the Irish government to follow up and secure a network of effective well-managed MPAs,” she said.

“Fair Seas is a new and inclusive approach to environmental campaigning,” Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) co-ordinator Dr Simon Berrow said.

The IWDG is part of the new coalition, along with the Irish Wildlife Trust, BirdWatch Ireland, Coastwatch, Coomhola Salmon Trust, Friends of the Irish Environment, SWAN and the Irish Environmental Network

Fair Seas says it is funded by Oceans 5, the Becht Family Charitable Trust, Blue Nature Alliance and WyssFoundation.

Humpback Whale - common dolphin Photo: Daniella Morgernstern, IWDGHumpback Whale and a common dolphin Photo: Daniella Morgernstern, IWDG

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan says he is “ deeply concerned” at the news that military exercises are to be conducted by Russia within Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Area due to the impact on marine mammals.

In a statement last night, Noonan said he had written to both Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and the Russian Ambassador to Ireland to express his concerns.

“While we do not know the nature of these exercises, we do know that underwater sounds such as active military sonar can have devastating consequences for cetaceans including some of our rarest marine mammal species, notably the deep-diving and rarely-seen Blue whale, Sperm whale and beaked whales,” Noonan said.

Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm NoonanMinister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan

“ It can cause significant disruption to their hearing systems and normal behaviour, and may lead to permanent or even lethal injury,” he said.

“Ireland’s marine mammals have been the focus of considerable research efforts over the last three decades and the understanding of species occurrence, abundance and distribution has improved markedly in that time,” he said.

As Afloat reported earlier, Cuvier’s beaked whales are known to inhabit the area where Russia plans a military exercise early next month

“Most recently the ObSERVE project, run jointly by my department and the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, mapped cetaceans through aerial and ship-based surveys over a three year period and across an extensive area of our off-shore waters,” he said.

“The second phase of this project – ObSERVE 2 – is currently ongoing,” Noonan said.

Russia's Ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov said that controversy around the exercise was "hugely overblown".

He told a press conference on Monday that the planned exercises by Russian naval vessels off the southwest Irish coast were "not in any way a threat to Ireland or anybody else" and that no harm was intended by it.

Filatov said three or four ships would be involved, but he did not know if missiles or submarines would be used.

60 fishing vessels

Up to 60 fishing vessels affiliated to the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation (IS&WFPO) have pledged to peacefully disrupt the exercises due to the threats to marine life and biodiversity.

IS&WFPO chief executive Patrick Murphy told RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland that there were currently "half a billion tonnes" of blue whiting in the area that move up along the coastline, representing "a one million tonne fishery".

"This is a very important ground where fish come to spawn... and we don't know what's going on out here.

"We should be entitled to go fishing there, and if we're fishing there then these boats, these warships, shouldn't be having war games."

Murphy said an issue of "real concern" was that their fishing gear at the back of their boats could get tangled with a submarine.

In a comment to RTÉ, the Russian Embassy said it would be “reckless” for the fishing organisation to send vessels to the area within the exercise.

Head of German navy resigns

Earlier this week, the head of the German navy resigned after attracting criticism at home and abroad for saying that Ukraine would never regain the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Speaking at an event in New Delhi, India, on Friday, Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach also said it was important to have Russia on side against China, and suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin deserved “respect”.

“Is Russia really interested in having a tiny strip of Ukraine’s soil? No,” he said, in remarks which were recorded on video.

“Or to integrate it in the country? No, this is nonsense. Putin is probably putting pressure because he knows he can do it and he knows that it splits the European Union,” Schoenbach said.

“What he (Putin) really wants is respect. And my God, giving someone respect is low cost, even no cost … It is easy to give him the respect he really demands – and probably also deserves,” he added, calling Russia an old and important country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nature papers are here

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

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

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

Cosgrove’s full report in The Skipper is here

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

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

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

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

Published in Marine Wildlife

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

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

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

Highly prized Loch Ryan OystersHighly prized Loch Ryan Oysters

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Belfast Lough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Marine Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Published in Power From the Sea
Tagged under

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Marine Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Marine Wildlife
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