2018 saw significant progress in the implementation of the Marine Institute’s Strategic Plan 2018 – 2022 Building Ocean Knowledge – Delivering Ocean Services where research and innovation are at the heart of the Institute’s activities.
Influenced by the goals of the Government's national marine strategy 'Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth' and the 'National Marine Research and Innovation Strategy 2017 – 2021', “the last year has seen the Institute play a crucial role in catalysing, coordinating, promoting, funding and implementing marine research,” said Dr Peter Heffernan, CEO of the Marine Institute.
Providing advice and services to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and other departments, agencies and stakeholders, the Marine Institute has completed projects ranging in fisheries research, marine environment and food safety, oceanography, data and technology, as well as seabed mapping. The IMDO’s remit has also included ongoing development, promotional and marketing support for the shipping and shipping services sector.
“The work of the Marine Institute has seen significant collaborations with industry and other research centres and universities in Ireland, Europe and international stakeholders, strengthening Ireland’s ability in providing a foundation for applied research and innovation. This has provided the Institute with a number of highlights throughout the year, which has been driven by the invaluable calibre of staff who are passionate about our work, as well as the development of our research infrastructure, our data and our IT capabilities which are used to provide excellence in our services” Dr Peter Heffernan further said.
Among these deliverables have included the outstanding work conducted on the RV Celtic Explorer and RV Celtic Voyager, which collectively completed 578 survey days at sea as well as including 27 survey days using the remotely operated vehicle ROV Holland I.
Some of the highlights included exploring and mapping the tectonic spreading at the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge on the Marine Institute’s RV Celtic Explorer. Using the Marine Institute’s remotely operated vehicle Holland I, the University College Dublin collected spectacular film footage of sponge gardens and even a skate nursery at 2000m under the sea. The discovery of more than 70 skate eggs were found, which is a first for the deep-sea and over 10,000km2 of the Zone were also mapped. This is almost the size of County Galway and Co Mayo together,” explained Chief Scientist Dr Aggie Georgiopoulou, University College Dublin.
The SeaRover Survey investigating Ireland's deep ocean territory 300 miles off the west coast also led to a number of ‘firsts’ using the Marine Institute's ROV Holland I onboard the ILV Granuaile. The high definition ROV-mounted video captured footage of coral species different to others described to date, as well as areas of potential 'sponge reef' on the Rockall Bank were discovered. Such formations are very rare and have previously only been recorded in Canadian waters.
As part of this survey the team of marine scientists also discovered a very rare shark nursery, David O’Sullivan, of INFOMAR and Chief Scientist said, “we are delighted to report the discovery of a rare shark nursery on a scale not previously documented in Irish waters. This discovery shows the significance of documenting sensitive marine habitats, and will give us a better understanding of the biology of these beautiful animals and their ecosystem function in Ireland’s Biologically Sensitive Area.”
Professor Andy Wheeler’s Marine Geology Research Group in the School of BEES, UCC, is undertaking a research project to monitor the range of coral habitats on the edge of Ireland’s continental shelf, 320 km west of Dingle. With the aim of understanding what drives these habitats, how they change through time and how sensitive they are to disturbances, the expedition on the RV Celtic Explorer utilized the ROV Holland to reveal the nature of the canyon. Using mapping technology on the Explorer, the team also mapped an area of 1800km² twice the size of Malta. “The find is significant in understanding more about how submarine canyons helps transport CO2, absorbed from the ocean surface, which is pumped into the deep ocean where it cannot get back into the atmosphere” explained Dr Aaron Lim of UCC’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES).
Marine scientists from NUI Galway led by Professor Louise Allcock found more stunning footage of Irish deep-sea waters approximately 100 kilometres west of Belmullet in County Mayo. The expedition 'Exploiting and Conserving Deep-sea Genetic Resources' was part of a Science Foundation Ireland and Marine Institute funded project to derive novel pharmaceuticals from deep-water organisms. Professor Louise Allcock emphasised the importance of Irish deep-sea fauna, saying: "We don't need much material to work out the structure of a new compound, which can then be synthesized in the laboratory, but new diseases emerge every decade, and it's really important to also conserve these unique habitats so that medicine can draw on them in the future. Our species distribution maps will help with that."
Other expeditions using the Marine Institute RV Celtic Explorer also included the SEA-SEIS D project, led by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, which successfully deployed 18 state-of-the-art ocean bottom seismometers to measure movement at the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of kilometres off the coast of Ireland. “The network will cover the entire Irish offshore area, and for the next two years, will collect data and shed light on the nature and history of the vast ocean floor along Ireland's coast,” explained principal investigator Sergei Lebedev, DIAS.
The Marine Institute also welcomed the announcement of a new marine research vessel for the State in the National Development Plan made by the Government. The new vessel is expected to be 50m in length and would replace the 31m Celtic Voyager, which has been at sea for more than 20 years. The modern research vessel that will provide critical national infrastructure to enable Ireland to address the considerable challenges of Brexit and the Common Fisheries Policy as well as climate induced impacts on our oceans.
Adapting to a changing climate is one of the greatest challenges facing society, governments and decision makers worldwide. Supporting the Institute’s Strategic Plan in research and innovation and forecasting ocean and climate change, the Institute announced €2 million in funding from the Marine Institute and the European Regional Development Fund for a major project on Atlantic climate change.
Led by Dr Gerard McCarthy of the ICARUS Climate Research Centre and Department of Geography at Maynooth University, over the next five years, the A4 project will target three areas in which substantial progress can be made including: ongoing Atlantic change, sea level rise, and decadal climate prediction. The project team will use advanced geological techniques to reconstruct Ireland's sea level, and combine these estimates with the modern National Tide Gauge Network managed by the Marine Institute, to better understand how sea levels have been changing around Ireland and the edges of the Atlantic.
The Marine Institute further welcomed the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine investment of over €0.7m in the Marine Data Buoy Network. The additional funding will provide for both ongoing operations and a significant upgrading of the existing infrastructure. “This will enable the Marine Institute to provide essential national services in ocean observation and weather forecasting programmes that have regional and local impact on our livelihoods, safety and the growing blue economy. It will also enable Ireland to be at the forefront in providing critical research capacity and overcoming infrastructure gaps that, in the past, have reduced our ability to address questions of national and global importance with respect to climate and ocean change,” said Dr Peter Heffernan.
A number of research workshops, conferences and events were hosted and supported by the Marine Institute this year. Among these included supporting the fifth annual Our Ocean Wealth Summit and SeaFest, Ireland’s national maritime festival. The Summit attracted a high level of marine sector speakers from across the globe including former President Mary Robinson, Blue Planet producer Orla Doherty, US Astronaut and Oceanographer Kathryn Sullivan, Jose Santos, Chairman of the Oceano Azul Foundation (Portugal), Claire Jolly, Head of Ocean Economy at the OECD and Investment Manager with Equinor (Statoil) Jill Tully, as well as other international business and marine leaders.
The Summit highlighted a positive message indicating that Ireland’s 'blue economy' continues to grow at a faster pace than the general economy. Growth is being driven by strong performances in the aquaculture, sea fisheries, shipping and marine tourism industries as well as continued growth in the emerging ocean industries. It was further noted that growth in employment for the marine sector has risen from 27,888 (FTEs) in 2015 to an estimated 32,509 (FTEs) in 2017, an increase of 16.6 per cent.
With attendance at SeaFest again reaching over 100,000 visitors Dr John Killeen, Chairman of the Marine Institute said, "Our Ocean Wealth Summit and SeaFest 2018 have both exceeded our expectations in terms of attendance and also for creating public awareness of the immense marine resources which are abundant around the island of Ireland. We are now, as a country, beginning to become more aware of the potential wealth that can be generated by our seas. SeaFest offers a platform to engage the public in the importance of our seas and the contribution to our local and national economy."
With a wonderful year of exciting research, promoting the importance the ocean has on our lives, as well as delivering services to a range of stakeholders, the Marine Institute would like to extend our warmest thoughts and best wishes to everyone and wish you all a wonderful holiday and a very happy new year in 2019.
The INFOMAR Programme is a Government of Ireland initiative, funded by Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and is a deliverable under Project 2040, Ireland’s National Development Plan. The survey called ‘SeaRover’ is the second of three surveys commissioned and jointly funded by the Irish Government and the EU’s European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. ‘The cross government initiative is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM), Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht (DCHG), and Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment as part of the Marine Institute’s implementation of the Marine Biodiversity scheme. Survey operations were coordinated and led by the INFOMAR programme which is a joint venture between the Geological Survey Ireland and the Marine Institute, funded by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Scientists from the Marine Institute, National Parks and Wildlife Service, National University of Ireland, Galway, Plymouth University and Aquafact participated in the survey which this year extended coverage to include Ireland’s farthest offshore area within its Exclusive Economic Zone at the Rockall Bank.