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The Marine Institute has published the report, New Connections IV - A Review of Irish Participation in EU Marine Research Projects 2014–2020. The report illustrates the success of the Irish marine research community in competitive European Union-funded programmes from 2014 to 2020.

Over the six-year period from 2014-2020, Irish organisations participated in 314 marine-focused collaborative projects resulting in over €158 million in total grant-aid. Horizon 2020 was the programme with the highest grant-aid of €91.5 million and the highest number of projects at 147 with Irish participation. A total of 84 Interreg V projects received grant-aid of €58 million.

Small and Medium Enterprises were the main recipient of this EU grant-aid, based on a number of participating organisations across the six programmes reviewed, followed by public bodies and Higher Education Institutes.

“This publication shows the breadth and scale of marine-related research, training and innovation being undertaken in Ireland,” Dr Paul Connolly, CEO of the Marine Institute, said. “For the next phase of EU funding instruments, we have a unique opportunity to evolve marine research capacity in Ireland, by collaborating and integrating international expertise, for example, through the Horizon Europe Framework Programme.”

Horizon Europe includes the five EU Missions which aim to address societal challenges, to connect with citizens and empower them as actors of change. One of the five Missions sets out to Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030, which requires a new systemic and global approach. The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–2030) also offers a unique opportunity to engage with the global community in addressing the UN Sustainable Development agenda, and the potential of the ocean to contribute to this agenda is huge.

Dr Connolly added, “We are at an exciting moment in our relationship with the ocean. The decade ahead is crucial as we all pursue the vision of a healthy, clean, sustainable ocean that will allow future generations to thrive on our planet.”

The report New Connections IV complements its predecessors, New Connections I, II (2007– 2013) and III (2014–2016). New Connections IV includes projects funded under the following EU programmes: Horizon 2020, Interreg V, European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST), Erasmus+, LIFE and European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

The report, New Connections IV, A Review of Irish Participation in EU Marine Research Projects 2014–2020, is available to download here

Published in Marine Science
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You don’t want to run out of Marmite, butter or Guinness on board a yacht in a remote part of Greenland.

One piece of advice from a very elated Richard Darley, who sailed the 3,300 nautical mile trip by Danú of Galway to Greenland and back to the west coast with skipper Peter Owens.

A calm sea and a beautiful setting sun marked the yacht’s arrival at Parkmore pier on Thursday evening, with Kinvara musicians and many friends and family turning out to welcome the crew after a successful scientific, sailing and mountaineering expedition to the world’s largest and deepest fjord system in Greenland.

Among the welcoming party were Owens’ wife and accomplished sailor, Vera Quinlan, and the couple’s two children Ruairí and Lilian.

Peter Owens, his wife Vera Quinlan and two children, Lilian and Ruairí, along with family and friends celebrate the return of Danu at Parkmore Phone: Tony MaguirePeter Owens, his wife Vera Quinlan and two children, Lilian and Ruairí, along with family and friends celebrate the return of Danu at Parkmore Phone: Tony Maguire

The group of independent adventurers had recorded some new mountaineering achievements in the remote Scoresby Sound fjord system on Greenland’s eastern coast.

Kinvara musicians who play with Peter Owens, Danú of Galway skipper, welcoming the yacht at Parkmore pier Photo: Tony MaguireKinvara musicians who play with Peter Owens, Danú of Galway skipper, welcoming the yacht at Parkmore pier Photo: Tony Maguire

They also took daily sea and freshwater samples to assess the extent of microplastics spreading into Arctic waters and affecting marine life as part of a research project with Trinity College, Dublin’s Centre for the Environment.

“Mesmerising” was how Owens, a University of Galway scientist, described the experience in the remote Greenland fjord system.

He was speaking en route from the Aran island of Inis Mór where he and his crew spent Wednesday night.

Danú of Galway had left Kilrush, Co Clare, bound for Iceland and then Greenland, in late June with Owens, Darley and Paddy Griffin, also from Kinvara, on board.

They were joined on the Iceland-Greenland leg by Paul Murphy from Carran, Co Clare and Dublin mountaineer Sean Marnane.

The Scoresby Sound expedition aimed to be self-sufficient in the Arctic, with a strict policy of “leave no trace” on the environment.

Owens has paid tribute to his crew, family and friends for their support, and to the expedition sponsors - the Gino Watkins Arctic Club awards, the Ocean Cruising Club challenge grant and Mountaineering Ireland.

Wavelengths spoke to Owens, who had his violin out, and his fellow sailors, and to Vera Quinlan, who recalled how it was just over two years since the Owens-Quinlan family berthed Danú of Galway at Parkmore after their own Atlantic adventure.

Published in Wavelength Podcast

Irish yacht Danú which set off on a scientific, sailing and mountaineering expedition to the Arctic last month has reported a highly successful trip to the world’s largest and deepest fjord system, Scoresby Sound in east Greenland.

The group of independent adventurers on board the 13m (43ft) steel ketch led by NUI Galway scientist and mountaineer Peter Owens has now reached Iceland on its return passage south and departs for Ireland early next week, weather permitting.

The crew took daily sea and freshwater samples to assess the extent of microplastics in northern waters, and also collected information on new anchorages, which can be added to sailing guides.

Owens and crew members Paddy Griffin, both from Kinvara, Co Galway, and English sailor Richard Darley, experienced challenging weather during their passage north to Iceland from Kilrush, Co Clare.

Irish adventurers Paddy Griffin, Peter Owens and Richard Darley of Danú, bound for GreenlandIrish adventurers Paddy Griffin, Peter Owens and Richard Darley of Danú, bound for Greenland

Heavy Atlantic waves smashed one of the yacht’s windows en route, and they had to effect temporary repairs.

The crew had to fix Danú’s engine in Husavik on Iceland’s north coast, and then spent time analysing daily ice charts sent from England to plan their passage further north. Paul Murphy from Carran, Co Clare and Dublin mountaineer Sean Marnane joined the crew in Iceland.

“We took a chance and left for Turner island on the eastern coast of Greenland, which was very wild and remote,” Owens said.

“From there we headed for the settlement of Ittoqqortoormiit, formerly known as Scoresbysund or Sound, where we got a rifle in case we needed it for polar bears,”Owens said.

“Every day it was never above five degrees Celsius, though it didn’t snow, and when we sailed into Scoresby Sound there was fog and we saw what looked like a bank of cloud ahead of us - but in fact it was pack ice,” Owens said.

Eielson glacier in Rype Fjord (photo Paddy Griffin).jpgEielson glacier in Rype Fjord Photo: Paddy Griffin

Icelanders had told him several weeks before that it was one of their most unsettled summers in 30 years.

“We waited several days in Jameson Land, an eastern Greenland peninsula, for the ice to clear, we anchored in a very remote place, and we took another chance and sailed south, motoring along the edge of the ice – though for a while there was no lead, no openings, and a lot of running on engine only as there was very little wind,” he said.

“We had to go back, wait several more days, and then we found the whole system had changed, there was no ice and very large icebergs which came and went in Scoresby Sound,” Owens said.

“We spent the next few weeks in this area, visiting a series of remote anchorages and surveying each one around Milne land and Renland,” he said.

“We also took sea and freshwater samples for assessment of microplastics, in a research link up with Trinity College, Dublin’s Centre for the Environment,” he explained.

Owens and Sean Marnane tried three different areas for climbing, adding a new 10-pitch route above the Skillebugt fjord anchorage on the south coast of Renland. It often took hours of scrambling up scree rock to reach the base of routes, Owens said..

Danú then circumnavigated Milne Land, a large island within the fjord system. Owens and Marnane, who had the use of kayaks to gain access to the mountain routes, ascended to the summit of Hermelintop.

The 1172m-high peak, which offers a panoramic view of the confluence of three ice-choked fjord systems, involved ascending a spectacular and enormous gully that “went on for miles and terminated not far from the main summit”, Owens said.

Danú of Galway in  Romer Fjord, its first anchorage in Greenland (Photo Paddy Griffin).jpgDanú of Galway in Romer Fjord, its first anchorage in Greenland Photo: Paddy Griffin

The yacht was in its last bit of concentrated ice as it sailed around Milne Land. The ice was “constantly cracking, forming, changing and emitting big, loud bangs”, he said.

“It sounded like a rockfall in the Alps, so we would be climbing and would hear this loud bang, and I’d be waiting for something to fall on me – but it was just the icebergs,” Owens said.

“After that, we could see a weather window and thought it would be a good time to start heading back, so we returned to the Ittoqqortoormiit settlement to leave back the rifle – which we didn’t have to use,”he said.

“The pure expanse of the whole place was wonderful, and we could spend a lifetime exploring this region, but given the time we had, we are happy with the outcomes,” Owens said.

The crew “worked very well through the highs and lows of Arctic travel”, he said.

“We didn’t have a watermaker on boat, so we resupplied with freshwater from streams,” he said.

“We did see other boats occasionally, but if you found yourself in trouble, there was nobody physically living there to help and no emergency services,” he said.

“We didn’t get to wash for two-and-a-half weeks, and our first shower was in Ittoqqortoormiit,” he said.

“It took us two-and-a-half days to return from Scoresby Sound to Iceland, and two of our crew then flew home from Reyjkavik, as pre-arranged,” he said.

After another crew change, Danú is preparing to head further south to Ireland, and to Parkmore pier in Kinvara around the last week of August, weather permitting.

Owens is a mountaineer sailor with many years experience. He and his wife Vera Quinlan, and two children, Lilian and Ruairí spent 14 months sailing, climbing and hiking around the Atlantic several years ago.

The Scoresby Sound expedition aimed to be self-sufficient in the Arctic, with a strict policy of “leave no trace” on the environment,

Owens thanked the expedition sponsors, the Gino Watkins Arctic Club awards, the Ocean Cruising Club challenge grant and Mountaineering Ireland.

Danú of Galway in Skillebugt Fjord (photo Paddy Griffnin).jpgDanú of Galway in Skillebugt Fjord Photo: Paddy Griffin

Published in Marine Science

A UCC researcher has called for mandatory biosecurity measures to curtail the spread of invasive species through Ireland’s waterways.

As The Sunday Independent reports, post-doctoral researcher Dr Neil Coughlan warns the Corbicula clam could pose a serious threat to salmon and trout spawning beds in river systems.

The Corbicula clam is so clever that it resembles gravel on a river bed, and has the ability to reproduce without requiring a mate.

It can also interfere with power plant operation, drinking water abstraction and other industries using raw water.

Dr Coughlan, who has led a recently published study on the species in European waters, says that the vast majority of freshwaters on the island of Ireland are, unfortunately “suitable habitats” for the invasive species.

UCC researcher Dr  Neil Coughlan, invasive species expertUCC researcher Dr Neil Coughlan, invasive species expert

“Whereas zebra mussels, another invasive species, need a male and female, one single individual Corbicula clam can produce one long thread of clams which can spread from rivers overland, contaminating equipment,” Dr Coughlan explains.

It was first detected in the river Barrow in April, 2010. It has since spread to the river Nore, and has been discovered on the river Foyle and on the river Shannon where leisure craft can help its distribution.

Working with Queen’s University, Belfast, Coughlan’s UCC research examined invasive freshwater bivalves on the river Seine, upstream of Paris for a paper published in the journal Science of The Total Environment.

Improving biosecurity by thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting equipment – such as angling gear and boats - is the best way to prevent any further spread,” he says, as there has been no successful eradication programme in the world.

Biosecurity is required at some Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) events, but it is not mandatory in Ireland.

Since 2014, an EU regulation targets transportation, exchanging, keeping and releasing of “black-listed” invasive alien species, Dr Coughlan says.

Dr Coughlan says that although national campaigns such as “Check, Clean, Dry” promote best-practice biosecurity protocols, these techniques remain “underutilised, underfinanced, and data-deficient”.

He believes legislation is now required to underpin mandatory controls.

Read more in The Sunday Independent here

Published in Marine Science

An Irish yacht on a scientific, sailing and mountaineering expedition to the Arctic has reached Iceland en route to the world’s largest and deepest fjord system, Scoresby Sound in east Greenland.

The group of independent adventurers on board the 13m (43ft) steel ketch Danú is led by NUI Galway scientist and mountaineer Peter Owens.

The crew aim to research the extent of microplastics in northern waters, while also exploring the remote Arctic region.

The Scoresby Sound fjord area is currently inaccessible due to ice conditions, but the crew are receiving regularly updates from Iceland, which they reached several days ago.

Irish yacht Danú, which is bound for Greenland, berthed in Husavik, IcelandIrish yacht Danú, which is bound for Greenland, berthed in Husavik, Iceland Photo: Paddy Griffin

The crew of Owens and Paddy Griffin, both from Kinvara, Co Galway, and English sailor Richard Darley, experienced challenging weather during their passage north to Iceland from Kilrush, Co Clare.

Heavy Atlantic waves smashed one of the yacht’s windows en route, and they had to effect temporary repairs.

“The wind changed out of nowhere, went up to gale force in seconds and a flailing rope took out the “doghouse” window in front of the steering position,” Owens said.

“The seas also ripped away one of our solar panels,” he said.

“Conditions were so heavy during the seven-and-a-half-day passage that we were rarely out of gales, and landed in Djuvipogur in Iceland in a force nine gale with four-metre seas,” Owens said.

The yacht berthed in Husavik on the north coast of Iceland, where several other vessels have been taking refuge. The crew have been working on engine repairs and will await favourable ice conditions before setting off for Greenland.

Owens said that Icelanders told him it was one of their most unsettled summers in 30 years.

The crew of Danú are gathering samples of salt and fresh water sources, which they are filtering to test for microplastic evidence in a scientific collaboration with Trinity College, Dublin’s Centre for the Environment.

“There is not much data for microplastic presence in Arctic waters, and we hope to improve global knowledge of this when the information is analysed,” Owens explained.

Joining the yacht in Iceland are Paul Murphy from Carran, Co Clare and Dublin mountaineer Sean Marnane.

Marnane aims to climb with Owens in Milne Land and Renland, a peninsula in eastern Greenland, around the remote Scoresby Sound landscape- extending over almost 300 km from northeast Greenland national park.

Owens, expedition leader is a mountaineer sailor with many years of experience. He and his wife Vera Quinlan and two children Lilian and Ruairí spent 14 months sailing, climbing and hiking around the Atlantic several years ago.

The Scoresby Sound expedition aims to be self-sufficient in the Arctic, with a strict policy of “leave no trace” on the environment. It has received funding from the Ocean Cruising Club and the Arctic Club in Britain.

Published in Marine Science

Marine Researchers at NUI Galway (NUIG) say an Atlantic coral that they discovered on Ireland’s Continental Shelf has a chemical compound which can act against the Covid-19 virus.

The cauliflower coral was found on the seabed about half a mile below the surface on the edge of Ireland’s Continental Shelf.

The coral contains a previously unknown chemical compound, and research into its make-up is being conducted in partnership with North America’s South Florida University.

The compound was isolated, and named "tuaimenal" – a blend of "tuaim" from the old Irish word for sounds of the sea, and “enal”, a chemistry term for a compound with an alkene aldehyde functional group.

The research showed that Tuaimenal A can block the major enzyme of the Covid-19 virus, known as Main Protease, which is responsible for the manufacture of virus particles inside the infected cell, according to NUIG.

The cauliflower coral was found on the seabed about half a mile below the surface on the edge of Ireland’s Continental ShelfDr Carolina De Marco Verissimo of NUIG’s Molecular Parasitology Laboratory conducted a study of the coral-derived Tuaimenal and how it interacts with the Covid-19 enzyme

NUIG professor of zoology Louise Allcock said that while the scientists did not set out to find this specific species, they were “hunting for corals, especially soft corals, because of their potential in bio-discovery”.

Prof Allcock, who is director of NUIG’s Ryan Institute Centre for Ocean Research and Exploration, deploys the ROV Holland I submarine from Marine Institute research ship Celtic Explorer to hunt for deep-sea corals and sponges which may have novel chemical compounds with pharmaceutical potential.

"Nature never ceases to amaze - to think that a coral, which spends its life on the sea bed and is never exposed to viruses and diseases which affect humanity so profoundly, has the potential to influence treatments and therapies,”Prof Allcock says.

“Drug development is a lengthy process, but the first step is finding the magic compounds with bio-reactivity in the laboratory,” she says.

Dr Carolina De Marco Verissimo of NUIG’s Molecular Parasitology Laboratory conducted a study of the coral-derived Tuaimenal and how it interacts with the Covid-19 enzyme.

“Tuaimenal A represents what we term in science as a ‘lead compound’ – that is, a basic structure from which scientists can produce more potent and specific drugs that could be used for the treatment of Covid-19 and perhaps other viruses,” she has said.

Results of the recently published work can be found here

Published in Marine Science
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Irish companies, researchers and NGOs involved in climate action supporting oceans and a “sustainable blue economy” in developing countries could qualify for grants under a new €1m government fund.

Work in small island developing states may also qualify if related to climate action.

Individual grants of up to €300,000 are available under the Irish Aid Enterprise Fund for International Climate Action announced by the Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora Colm Brophy.

The fund is aimed at Irish organisations, working alone or as part of international partnerships, who will be invited to submit proposals for climate-related activities with a commercial or enterprise aspect

“Irish Aid and our partners work hard to support climate action in developing countries but the level of action needed means we need all hands on deck,” Mr Brophy said.

“ Climate change is the greatest challenge that we face. We must pull out all the stops"

“The private sector, as well as researchers and NGOs, have an important role to play in both supporting and delivering climate action,” he said.

“ The Irish Aid Enterprise Fund for International Climate Action will allow Irish Aid to engage Irish entrepreneurship, talent, experience and knowledge in support of climate action for those who need it most.”

Particular consideration will be given to activities targeting:

  • Climate action taking place in “Least Developed Countries” or “Small Island Developing States”;
  • Clean energy (including clean cooking) projects that reach the community level;
  • Climate action with an adaptation focus;
  • Climate action that supports oceans and sustainable blue economy;
  • Climate action with cross-cutting impacts for gender and/or biodiversity.

The fund will support a variety of activities, including project funding, research and feasibility studies, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The fund will also support capacity building and knowledge exchange activities between organisations in Ireland and developing countries.

The department said that the private sector plays an integral role in financing the climate response, but it is “crucial” that it increases.

By 2030 annual climate finance of $4.35 trillion will be required to reach our climate objectives, it says.

The closing date for applications is April 29th, 2022, and further details on eligibility and application forms are at the Irish Aid Enterprise Fund for International Climate Action - Department of Foreign Affairs.

Published in Marine Science
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Martin Heydon T.D., Minister of State with responsibility for Research and Development, Farm Safety, and New Market Development at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), visited the Marine Institute’s headquarters in Oranmore, Co Galway today.

The innovative research programmes being undertaken by the Marine Institute were highlighted during Minister Heydon’s visit. In presentations by Marine Institute scientists, Minister Heydon was provided with an overview of four significant research projects funded by DAFM.

Minister Heydon said, “It has been a pleasure to see the exemplary science being undertaken by the Marine Institute and how funding from DAFM is enabling applied research in the areas of aquaculture, fisheries and marine planning. It is also important to see the collaborative approach in these research projects, where Marine Institute scientists are working together with industry and third-level institutions, to enable Ireland’s fisheries and aquaculture sectors to grow sustainably.”

Dr Niall McDonough, Director of Policy, Innovation and Research Services at the Marine Institute said, “We are delighted to welcome Minister Heydon to the Marine Institute to see our facilities and meet with our scientific researchers. Research is central to the services we provide to industry, government and stakeholders in Ireland. The research funding provided by DAFM, enables the Marine Institute to continue delivering new knowledge and innovation which supports Ireland’s marine sector.”

During his visit, the Minister Heydon learned about some of the projects that have been funded through the DAFM competitive research programme. The FishKOSM project, led by Prof Dave Reid of the Marine Institute, set out to reconsider the Maximum Sustainable Yield of commercial fisheries by looking at the wider ecosystem. The project team looked at the relationship between fishing and the ecosystem, and changes in that relationship. The project outcome means that fisheries managers can be provided with a more nuanced view of Maximum Sustainable Yield, when considering commercial fish stocks as part of a wider and dynamic ecosystem. This allows advice on exploitation to be provided that considers sustainability in a holistic way, and not just in terms of an individual stock.

The PSPSafe project, led by Dave Clarke of the Marine Institute, is investigating the increasing abundance and distribution of Paralytic Shellfish Toxins – a group of naturally occurring marine toxins which can occur in shellfish and cause serious illness to humans if consumed. In collaboration with University College Dublin and Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, this research project aims to develop risk management strategies and predictive forecasting tools to provide an early warning system for the aquaculture industry and regulatory authorities, while also providing increased food safety assurances to consumers, and ensuring the high quality and reputation of Irish shellfish.

Bivalve molluscs such as mussels, oysters, clams and cockles, have a significant socio-economic and ecological role to play in Irish marine coastal communities and environments. Dr Oliver Tully from the Marine Institute is collaborating with University College Cork on the BIVALVE research project, which seeks to bridge research and practice to improve the future sustainability and growth of the Irish shellfish industry. The involvement of industry stakeholders is integral to the project with the final output ultimately to recommend, implement and monitor best practices for smart sustainable production to increase profitability in this sector, as well as preserving important ecosystem services for the marine environment.

Finally, the SEERAC (Spatially Explicit Ecological Risk Assessment for Conservation) project, involving Dr Oliver Tully and the National University of Ireland Galway, focuses on the planning and organisation of activities in the marine environment. Different human activities and industry sectors are competing for space and there is also an underlying requirement to conserve and protect marine habitats and species. This project sought to develop expertise in Ireland on the use of risk assessments and methods for conservation planning to support advice to government.

Published in Marine Science

With an investment of €2.6 million under the Marine Institute’s 2021 Blue Carbon call, two Irish research teams led by Dr Grace Cott and Dr Mark Coughlan of University College Dublin, will undertake a substantial programme of research to investigate how Ireland’s marine habitats store carbon and potentially reduce carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. This flagship award by the Marine Institute is co-funded with contribution of €400,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

‘Blue Carbon’ refers to the uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by natural marine and coastal habitats in a way that can be quantified. This is a critical ecosystem service which helps to reduce the extent and speed of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

The five-year programme of research will improve our understanding of how Ireland’s Blue Carbon habitats, which include coastal salt marshes and seagrass beds, can mitigate climate change. The research will also investigate the substantial carbon sequestration capacity of seabed sediments which are challenging to quantify. The successful projects, (BlueC and Quest), will deepen our understanding of the carbon dynamics in Irish marine ecosystems and assess their capacity to be integrated into climate policy.

This is research that is specifically targeted to inform policy and regulation. It will provide knowledge and evidence to assist with Ireland’s goal of attaining 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and improve our capacity to meet broader Irish and international climate and biodiversity targets.

In line with a commitment under the current Programme for Government, the research will also inform the appropriate and effective development, regulation and use of Marine Protected Areas, and broader marine spatial planning and management frameworks including the National Marine Planning Framework.

Dr Paul Connolly, CEO of the Marine Institute said, “This research will be extremely important in generating a much greater understanding of how Ireland’s marine and coastal systems act as a key carbon sink to mitigate against climate change. The ability to quantify the uptake and storage of atmospheric carbon by marine habitats such as salt marshes and seagrass beds could be key in helping to meet national and European climate adaptation and mitigation policy goals. This project is also important in the context of meeting EU nature restoration targets for those habitats that can capture and store carbon and prevent and reduce coastal erosion and flooding.”

According to Dr Grace Cott, University College Dublin and Principal Investigator in the BlueC project, “ocean and coastal marine systems play a significant role in the global carbon cycle, representing the largest long-term sink of carbon. Ireland has two Blue Carbon habitats; saltmarsh and seagrass meadows, and a vast marine territory containing potential Blue Carbon systems, such as carbon-rich macroalgae, maërl, cold water corals, phytoplankton and sediments. Specifically, for Ireland, there is a paucity of data on the carbon storage capacity of these ecosystems, and a lack of coherent management strategies that hampers our ability to integrate these ecosystems into climate policy frameworks.”

Working with project partners NUI Galway and University College Cork, the overarching aim of BlueC is to advance scientific understanding of the carbon dynamics in Irish coastal and marine environments, whilst simultaneously improving management and harnessing their potential for climate mitigation, adaptation and other ecosystem services to underpin policy development. Dr Cott emphasises that engagement with stakeholders will be a key goal throughout the project in addition to building national capacity for Blue Carbon research across disciplines. A key deliverable from this project will be a validated national inventory of the carbon storage capacity of Blue Carbon habitats which will enable inclusion in National Inventory Greenhouse Gas reporting to the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Dr Mark Coughlan, also of University College Dublin and Principal Investigator in the Quest project, says, “Ireland’s expansive marine resource has the potential to sequester and store significant amounts of carbon in seafloor sediments and the habitats they support.”

He explains the challenge he and his partners are trying to address, “there is a scarcity of data and information on the past and present stock of carbon in seafloor sediments. At the same time, Ireland’s seabed is coming under increased pressure from direct human activities which add to the impacts of climate change itself. To fully understand, and effectively manage the seabed in terms of maximising this Blue Carbon potential, requires a thorough understanding of carbon cycling in the marine environment over time, physical processes at the seafloor and high-quality spatial mapping.”

The Quest project team (a collaboration between University College Dublin, Dublin City University and the Geological Survey of Norway) comprises experienced and skilled researchers in these areas who will conduct a multidisciplinary programme of research to qualify and quantify stocks of carbon in Irish marine sediments, examine and characterise threats to Blue Carbon in these settings and support the development of long-term management strategies. This will include supporting the designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and facilitate the delivery of the Government’s Climate Action Plan. The Quest project also intends to engage with stakeholders and the public to achieve a better understanding of Blue Carbon across society, and to raise the visibility of such research at a national and EU level.

The BlueC and Quest projects are due to commence in June 2022, and the two teams are looking forward to sharing their research findings as widely as possible over the next five years.

The Blue Carbon Research Programme is carried out with the support of the Marine Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency funded by the Irish Government.

Published in Marine Science

Scientists have been able to use forensics to determine drowning in saltwater on prehistoric human remains for what they say is the first time.

The research team led by the University of Southampton has confirmed saltwater drowning as the cause of death for a Neolithic man whose remains were found in a mass grave on the coast of Northern Chile.

The team developed an enhanced version of a modern forensic test to solve a “5000-year-old cold case and believe it will help archaeologists understand more about past civilisations in coastal regions.

Professor James Goff of the University of Southampton, who led the study. worked with Prof Pedro Andrade of the Universidad de Concepción in Chile.

Prof Andrade had previously studied an archaeological site known as Copaca 1, 30 kilometres south of Tocopilla on the Chilean coastline. The site area contains a grave with three well-preserved skeletons.

Prof James Goff and the fishermanProf James Goff and the fisherman (Credit Genevieve Cain/James Goff)

The individual they studied was a male hunter-gather aged between 35 and 45. The condition of his bones suggested he was a fisherman as there were signs of frequent harpooning, rowing and harvesting of shellfish.

As the research team explains in a paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science, modern forensics can confirm drowning as the cause of death in recent victims by testing for diatoms inside the bones of the victims.

Diatoms are a group of algae found in oceans, freshwater and soils. When diatoms are found inside the bones of victims’ bodies, it is likely that they drowned; if they had died before entering the water, they would not have swallowed any saltwater.

In addition to the diatom test, the research team says they carried out a wide-ranging microscopic analysis of bone marrow extracted from the man’s skeleton.

This allowed them to search for a greater range of microscopic particles that could provide more insight into the cause of his death. Apart from marine particles, they found evidence of fossilised algae, parasite eggs and sediment.

“By looking at what we found in his bone marrow, we know that he drowned in shallow saltwater,” Prof Goff continued. “We could see that the poor man swallowed sediment in his final moments and sediment does not tend to float around in sufficient concentrations in deeper waters.”

Based on their initial findings, the team believe that he died in a marine accident rather than in a major catastrophic event. This is partly because the bones of the others he was buried with did not contain marine particles so it is unlikely they all died by saltwater drowning.

Prof Goff noted that “mass burials have often been necessary after natural disasters such as tsunamis, floods or large storms”.

“However we know very little about whether prehistoric mass burial sites near coastlines could be the result of natural disasters or other causes such as war, famine and disease. This gave us our light bulb moment of developing an enhanced version of a modern forensic test to use on ancient bones,” he said.

The team advise they could shed more light on this by testing other human remains in the site and studying geological records for evidence of natural disasters in the area.

Most importantly, the scientist believes this new technique can be used for ancient mass burial sites around the world to get a richer picture of the lives of people in coastal communities throughout history.

Prof Goff said the team had “cracked open a whole new way to do things”.

“This can help us understand much more about how tough it was living by the coast in pre-historic days – and how people there were affected by catastrophic events, just as we are today,” he said.

“There are many coastal mass burial sites around the world where excellent archaeological studies have been carried out but the fundamental question of what caused so many deaths have not been addressed. Now we can take this new technique out around the world and potentially re-write prehistory.”

The study “Evidence for a mid-Holocene drowning from the Atacama Desert coast of Chile” has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science with DOI here

Published in Marine Science
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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.


At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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