Date: 26 May 2005
Explorers of Europe's underwater world gathered at the Marine Institute, Galway this week as part of a programme to create the first seabed habitat maps for north-west Europe. As seabed habitats come under mounting pressures from a multitude of users, 12 partners in an INTERREG IIIB funded programme - Mapping European Seabed Habitats (MESH) - aim to create new seabed habitat maps, collate existing data, and develop predictive modelling for unmapped areas.
The seas around north-west Europe support a wide range of seabed habitats and rich biodiversity. They provide important food resources (fish, shellfish), contribute to essential ecosystem functioning (such as nutrient recycling) and yield valuable natural resources (oil, gas, aggregates). In addition the seabed is subject to increasing pressures from new developments, such as for renewable energy (e.g. wind-farms) and coastal developments for leisure activities and coastal defences.
Growing pressures on our seas and coasts can lead to conflict between users and potential for degradation of the marine environment and the essential physical, chemical and biological processes that maintain our marine ecosystem.
"MESH aims to answer questions about seabed habitats from a wide range of stakeholders. The answers we will provide will allow managers and policy makers to make more informed decisions on how best to protect and conserve our natural resources for future generation. We can't protect our marine resources until we know what's there," says Fiona Fitzpatrick, Seabed Survey Manager, Marine Institute.
Information gathered on seabed and intertidal habitats around Europe to date has been patchy and poorly collated. This project will unify seabed mapping across Europe and provide a baseline for marine habitat mapping worldwide. The partner organisations bring a wide variety of skills in different areas such as multibeam acoustic seabed mapping, lasar airborne sensors, and remote operated vehicles with cameras and video recording equipment.
Ireland brings unique experience of seabed mapping and marine data management to the group. David Connor, Chair of the ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Seas) Working Group on Marine Habitat Mapping (WGMHM), and project manager for the MESH project says: "The Irish National Seabed Survey reveals how Ireland has led the way in Europe in undertaking a comprehensive national survey of its waters. The scope and quality of this programme has been outstanding, particularly as the survey has progressed in latter years to include a greater element of much needed ecological measurements. As such Ireland's aim to provide a complete coverage of national waters using the latest mapping techniques has been an inspiration for many other ICES countries. The WGMHM has followed with great interest the progress of the Irish National Seabed Survey as it heads towards the all important Phase 2 for its inshore waters; this region is likely to prove the most important as it is subject to many pressures from a range of marine users which need to be balanced in these complex inshore regions to achieve sustainable development and good ecosystem quality."
The Galway meeting, hosted by the Marine Institute 24-27th May, is attended by 35 European and internationally recognised experts in marine surveys and habitat mapping. The group visited Ireland's national research vessels, the RV Celtic Explorer and the RV Celtic Voyager and tomorrow (Friday), they visit Killary Harbour to give insight into how to approach mapping the seabed in a Fjord. Killary Harbour will be mapped later this year in an effort to better understand the movement of harmful algal blooms in the harbour. This is part of a joint NUI Galway/Marine Institute project called BOHAB to develop early warning systems for fish and shellfish producers.
The MESH partners are keen to create awareness of the project in order to get input from as many stakeholders as possible as to what questions they need answered about the ocean. To learn more about the project and work carried out to date visit www.searchmesh.net
or contact Fiona Fitzpatrick, Marine Institute Galway email email@example.com
For media information, to arrange interviews or photographs contact Lisa Fitzpatrick, Marine Institute, Tel.: 087 293 7476
Notes to editor:
MESH is an international marine habitat mapping programme that started in spring 2004 and will last for 3 years. A consortium of 12 partners across the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and France gained financial support from the EU INTERREG IIIB fund for this international programme. The MESH partnership covers all five countries in the Interreg (IIIB) north-west Europe area, drawing together scientific and technical habitat mapping skills, expertise in data collation and its management, and proven practical experience in the use of seabed habitat maps for environmental management within national regulatory frameworks.
Irish National Seabed Survey
The Irish National Seabed Survey (INSS) is a multimillion European initiative supported by the Irish government. The survey aims to map Ireland's 220 million acres of territorial seafloor, a natural resource that is approximately ten times the size of Ireland's land area. The survey is being carried out by the Geological Survey of Ireland and the Marine Institute. As one of the world's largest and most ambitious seabed mapping programmes, the results of the survey are crucial to the sustainable development of the Nation's offshore resources. Survey cruises began in 2002 on the national research vessel RV Celtic Voyager, and in May 2003 the new RV Celtic Explorer also commenced work on the INSS. By end 2004, the RV Celtic Explorer had surveyed 28,411km2 under the direction of the GSI, with current programme commitments running to the end of 2005.
David Connor, Head of the Marine Habitats section of the UK's Joint Nature Conservation Committee
David Connor has over 25 years experience in the field of marine biology, much of it devoted to improving our knowledge and understanding of the marine environment to help better conserve and protect it. He has specialist knowledge in intertidal and shallow water habitats, the latter mainly through SCUBA diving. He has undertaken some 1200 dives, mainly in Ireland, Britain and the Caribbean. His early work focused on marine biological projects in both the north and south of Ireland, before moving to Britain to undertake a major survey of the coast of Britain. During this time he led work to develop a classification of seabed habitats for Britain and Ireland, within the Irish-led BioMar project; this classification has since formed the foundation of a European classification for seabed habitats (EUNIS). This work has subsequently led to the need to produce maps of the seabed which provide essential information for marine managers and policy makers. This is now being realised through the multi-national MESH project, which aims to develop the first seabed habitat maps for north-west Europe. David is Head of the Marine Habitats section of the UK's Joint Nature Conservation Committee, with responsibilities for UK and international issues. He provides advice to the OSPAR and Cartagena Conventions (responsible for protecting the north-east Atlantic and Caribbean respectively) and is Chair of the ICES Working Group on Marine Habitat Mapping.
Fiona Fitzpatrick , Seabed Survey Manager, Marine Institute
Fiona Fitzpatrick is a marine geologist and has spent the last twenty years in the marine survey sector, specializing in sediment transport and geohazard work. She has had over 10 years working primarily offshore in Australian and European waters, carrying out oil & gas related, subsea cable and marine mining surveys. Prior to joining the Marine Institute in May 2003, she spent 8 years in South Africa and Namibia in the marine diamond industry, both on the exploration and mining side of operations. Fiona is presently the survey operations manager for the Irish National Seabed Survey, and she and her team are responsible for the survey work being carried out from the Marine Institute vessels, the R.V. Celtic Explorer and R.V. Celtic Voyager. The vessels have just returned this week to Galway after a successful first 6-week survey of the area north of Mallin Head.