Science students take to the sea to study cold water coral ecosystems in Irish wate

Press Release - Sunday, 14th September 2014

The national research vessel, Celtic Explorer has become a 'Floating University' for 14 postgraduate students from seven countries (including Ireland) who have a unique chance to study cold water coral systems in their living environment in Irish waters.

The Atlantic Summer School (11-17th September) involves a multidisciplinary investigation of cold water coral ecosystems of the Belgica Mound Province , which is a special area of conservation (SAC) approximately 150km south west of Ireland. The initiative is a collaboration between the Strategic Marine Alliance for Research and Training (SMART), Ireland and the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), Germany.

"Cold water corals live at ocean depths of around 1000 m and build reefs which over millennia can reach up to 300 m high. These giant coral mounds act as biological "hot-spots" and provide habitats for a variety of marine life", explained Dr Pauhla McGrane, National Coordinator of SMART, Ireland. "The Atlantic Summer School will enable postgraduate students to survey these mounds and collect data that will ultimately increase our understanding of these unique environments " Dr McGrane said.

"It's not everyday that students get a chance to explore the ocean's seabed gaining vital skills for exciting careers", said Prof. Andy Wheeler, Head of Geology, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University College Cork, "Whenever we get a chance to get out there, we always find something new which changes our perspective on how this planet functions."

The Atlantic Summer School includes a one-day sea survival training course at the National Maritime College of Ireland in Cork, as well as distance learning and pre- and post-survey workshops in University College Cork and National University of Ireland, Galway.

"This pooled infrastructure and expertise from Ireland and Germany's Higher Education Institutes provides an incredible chance for postgraduates to get the necessary practical experience and develop networking opportunities they need early in their careers," said Professor Karen Wiltshire, Vice-President of AWI.

"We are all delighted to be part of this strategic collaboration, which will ultimately develop career pathways and mobility for students between the island of Ireland and Germany and increase multidisciplinary research capacity in Atlantic nations," she said.

Dr Peter Heffernan, CEO Marine Institute congratulated all involved in the initiative saying, "It's essential to learn more about the ocean as it the life support system for our planet. We're proud to be part of this and to support this unique training opportunity for our future ocean explorers."

The 2015 Atlantic Summer School will take place onboard the RV Polarstern on an Atlantic meridional transect from Bremerhaven, Germany to Cape Town, South Africa and will provide eight Irish marine science students with the opportunity to conduct research.
For further information please visit the SMART website( or contact


For more information contact Lisa Fitzpatrick, Communications Manager, Marine Institute.
Email : or telephone 087 2250871


The Strategic Marine Alliance for Research and Training (SMART) is a thematic-based cluster of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), the Higher Education Authority and the Marine Institute, led by Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) and HEI partners that include Athlone Institute of Technology, NUI Galway, University College Cork and University of Ulster. The SMART consortium was initiated in 2011 to develop and deliver practical offshore training onboard the national research vessels for students of marine science, technology and engineering with the aim of increasing national capacity in research and enterprise.
The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) Germany, conducts research in the Arctic, the Antarctic and at temperate latitudes. It coordinates Polar research in Germany and provides both the necessary equipment and the essential logistic back up for polar expeditions. Recent additional research themes include North Sea Research, contributions to Marine Biological Monitoring, Marine Pollution Research, Investigation of naturally occuring marine substances and technical marine developments.
AWI collaborates in numerous international research programmes and maintains close contacts with many universities and institutes in Europe and farther afield. It sends scientists to other institutes throughout the world, to other research ships and stations, and invites scientists from other nations to cruises aboard "Polarstern", as well as to Bremerhaven and Potsdam. About a quarter of those participating in "Polarstern" expeditions are scientists from abroad.