Dublin Students Win Five-Day Mission on Irish Research Vessel

The winning team: (L-R) Julien Chopelet, Gemma Byrne, Edward Farrell, Jen Coughlan, Javier Atalah, Jayne Fitch and Ilraia Coscia.

A team of PhD students studying with the Marine Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution (MarBEE) Group at University College, Dublin are the winners of theSea Change “Bright Sparks Award”, designed to introduce budding scientists to the Marine Institute’s research vessel fleet.

The award is funded through the Marine Institute by the Government’s Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2006-2013 (SSTI) which provides time at sea for dedicated training programmes on marine science, and for integrated research surveys of a multidisciplinary nature.  

“The Sea Change Marine Knowledge, Research and Information Strategy, lays particular emphasis on ready access to ship time by new researchers,” said Dr. Peter Heffernan, CEO of the Marine Institute. “This five-day mission on the Celtic Voyager will allow  the team of PhD students direct experience of scientific survey planning and execution, analysis of survey data and the preparation of a final report.”

The monetary value of five days ship time on board the RV Celtic Voyager is estimated at €30,000. In addition, the Marine Institute is awarding a further €5,000 to cover additional expenses on consumables.  

The survey team will sail from Dublin on 29th August and make landfall again in Rosslare, Co. Wexford, on the 2nd September. During that time Edward Farrell , Jen Coughlan, Javier Atalah, Julien Chopelet, Jayne Fitch and Ilaria Cosciawill examine communities of fish and bottom-dwelling animals in the Western Irish Sea.

One objective is to compare sites where wind turbines have been constructed with undeveloped sites where turbines are proposed. Another objective is to study the distribution and abundance of sharks and rays in the Western Irish Sea and identify possible nursery areas on offshore sandbanks. As well as fisheries biologists and ecologists, the team will also include a geologist, Gemma Byrne, who will map the seabed and examine the sands and gravels in the study areas.  

“This is a great opportunity for us to get valuable time on the Celtic Voyager and to gain experience in the planning, preparation and implementation of a scientific survey,” said Edward Farrell on behalf of the team. “The multidisciplinary nature of our survey will also help us to broaden our knowledge and training as PhD students”.

The “Bright Sparks Award” Sea Change – A Marine Knowledge, Research & Innovation Strategy for Ireland 2007-2013 identified the need for a dedicated competitive R&D Research Vessel Funding Programme, similar to that operated in other countries, to make grand-aid available to researchers on a competitive, annual basis.

This would enable them to gain access to ship-time as part of institutional and co-operative international marine research and training programmes.   Accordingly, the Marine Institute secured funding, through the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, under the Government’s Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2006-2013 (SSTI).  

The aim of the Bright Sparks competition is to introduce emerging scientists to the Marine Institute’s research vessel facilities and to provide experience in the following areas:   Preparation and submission of research proposals Design, planning and execution of scientific surveys Analysis of survey data; and Preparation of a final survey report  

Applicants must be a student/group of students (undergraduate or postgraduate) registered in a higher education institution on the island of Ireland.

At least one experienced academic researcher must provide mentoring and guidance to students in the preparation of the proposal, and oversee the design and planning of the survey, analysis of the data and preparation of the final report.

In addition, at least one experienced survey scientist must act as Chief Scientist onboard the ship for the duration of the survey.  

The winning team were -  MarBEE researchers:   Edward Farrell (team leader) - elasmobranchs Jennifer Coughlan – Chief Scientist Javier Atalah - benthos Jayne Fitch - benthos Julien Chopelet - teleosts Illaria Coscia - teleosts   Supervisors: Dr  Tasman Crowe and Dr Stefano Mariani   Further details of the group and their research available at www.ucd.ie/zoology/marbee   Geologist: Gemma Byrne, DCMNR (supervisor: Koen Verbruggen, Geological Survey of Ireland)