Revolutionary medical treatments based on new compounds from the deep oceans, sustainable power from wave energy and a network of sensors feeding back a spectrum of marine environmental information in real time are all developments predicted by Dr. Peter Heffernan, Chief Executive of the Marine Institute, in an innovative presentation to the Engineers Ireland 2011 in Galway yesterday (March 31st).
Projecting the audience forward in time to the year 2021, Dr. Heffernan reported on the careers of three fictional engineers - a biotechnologist, a marine energy engineer and an expert in sensors technology. Each of the reports was grounded in actual projects being conducted in Ireland today as part of the Sea Change Marine Knowledge, Research and Innovation Strategy for Ireland 2007-2013 and clearly demonstrate the potential of each area to contribute to jobs and economic growth in the decade ahead.
“Bioactive substances isolated from live deep sea organisms offer great potential for the creation of a new generation of drugs to heal a variety of human illnesses,” said Dr. Heffernan. “In the future the isolation of say, anti-cancer compounds from certain starfish or of pain-relieving substances from deep sea sponges, is a distinct possibility. We are already laying the foundation for this work here in present-day Ireland through strategic and collaborative research with industry and academia funded under the Sea Changeprogramme.”
Likewise, the foundation of an Irish sustainable energy network using wave power is well underway in collaboration with industry and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. Two prototype devices have already been extensively field tested on the Marine Institute test site in Galway Bay and plans for a larger, commercial test site at Belmullet off the Mayo coast are well advanced.
Also within the next ten years, Ireland will see the creation of a network of coastal sensor systems that constantly monitor the marine environment and send back information in real time to give warnings of algal blooms, chemical and bacterial contamination, storm surges and rogue waves.
“Such systems are already being pioneered through the Smart Bay project in Galway Bay,” said Dr. Heffernan. “This joint initiative pioneered by the Marine Institute together with a cluster of multi-national corporations, indigenous SMEs, state agencies and centres of excellence in the Universities shows us just what is possible by harnessing marine expertise, environmental awareness and state of the art technology.”
Full details of current projects being funded under the Sea Change Programme are available online at https://www.marine.ie/home/research/SeaChange/