Sea Change Strategy Launched at Marine Institute in Galway

On the 16th February, Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Mr. Noel Dempsey T.D. launched Sea Change – A Marine Knowledge, Research and Innovation Strategy for Ireland (2007-2013) at the Marine Institute’s headquarters and laboratory facilities at Oranmore, Co. Galway.  

The Sea Change strategy aims to drive the development of the marine sector as a dynamic element of Ireland’s knowledge economy. It uses a series of carefully calculated possible scenarios for Ireland by the year 2020 to define global market opportunities linked to the development of marine technologies and resources, as well as practical costed action plans and clearly defined objectives regarding how those opportunities might be achieved.

Photo: Dr. Peter Heffernan, CEO Marine Institute (left) and Minister Dempsey (right) at the Launch ofSea Change.

Full details and downloadable documents are available at

Sea Change highlights the need for a shift away from the traditional view of the sector as one primarily associated with the harvesting of food, and points towards a wide variety of market-led opportunities in sustainable energy, functional food products, transport, technology and environmental well-being.  

Sea Change presents a national agenda, comprising science, research, innovation and management, aimed at a complete transformation of the Irish maritime economy,” said Minister Dempsey at the launch. “Its success depends on the collaboration of a wide range of agencies, research performers and industry partners, working together in a determined, flexible and innovative way.”  

Specifically, Sea Change seeks to strengthen the competitiveness and environmental sustainability of the marine sector by developing greater alignment between the needs of industry and the research capacity of the public sector and the third level. It aims to build multidisciplinary research capacity and capability that can be applied to marine-related activities, leading to the acquisition of new technical skills, improved flow of expert personnel between the research community and industry and the creation of new commercial opportunities.

Sea Change will also deliver a comprehensive planned policy support research measure to apply the knowledge gained from research and monitoring to inform public policy, governance and regulation.  

“There are significant opportunities to sustainably develop Ireland’s marine resources by focusing scientific and technological effort on emerging niche areas,” said Dr. Peter Heffernan, CEO of the Marine Institute. “Reliable market analyses presented to us as part of the foresight exercise behind Sea Change suggest that the global industry in marine renewable energy alone will increase in value by a staggering ten fold by 2009. Ireland is ideally placed to become a world-leader in this new and vital technology and further opportunities exist in the development of marine biological resources as functional foods, health products and sources of new bio-chemical processes, tapping into a global market that is expected to rise to €100 billion a year. By harnessing our national research capability in a co-ordinated way we can make enormous strides in sustainable food production, shipping, underwater monitoring systems and increase our understanding of the processes behind rapid climate change. But we need to act decisively and we need to act now if are to put the foundations in place in time to reap these rewards in years to come .”

While the scope of the strategy may appear wide-ranging and ambitious, Sea Changeargues that transforming maritime Ireland into a fully-fledged knowledge economy requires an innovative approach by industry and those involved with the formation of new policy and implementation actions. By the year 2020, Sea Change envisions that the Irish maritime sector will “sell into specialised global and local markets in a dynamic, innovative and technologically driven manner, by means of strong industry research partnerships, a skilled workforce and a strategic capability that responds to markets and technology. It will be internationally recognised for its high quality marine environment and characterised by coherent policy and regulation.”

To achieve this vision, Sea Change will be mobilising three research measures and two support programmes as follows, funded by a combination of NDP monies, EU research grants and exchequer funding:  

INDUSTRY research measure - targeting the existing and largely indigenous maritime industries of marine food (including fisheries, aquaculture, seaweed production and seafood processing), offshore oil and gas, shipping and transport. It supports applied industry research initiatives aimed at improving competitiveness or creating new opportunities as a result of research into the natural sciences, engineering and commerce.  

DISCOVERY research measure - including five programmes that build on the significant state investments in marine research aimed at improving our understanding of new areas such as marine biodiscovery and biotechnology, marine technology, marine functional foods, renewable ocean energy and rapid climate change.  

POLICY SUPPORT research measure - will support research work that informs public policy, governance and the regulation of the marine sector. It will apply knowledge derived from research and monitoring of the environment to inform decision makers in the public and private sectors. The Measure will also support research into knowledge and information management systems that can capture and disseminate information to as wide a customer base as possible.   The two support programmes include;  

INFRASTRUCTURE support programme - which will provide the essential tools necessary to the three research measures including seabed and resource mapping, high-end computer capability, test and demonstration facilities, an extension of the ocean and coastal monitoring network, access to the national equipment pool and to ship-time aboard the state’s research vessels, robotic platforms, test facilities for offshore energy and specialist laboratories and facilities  

INNOVATION support programme - which is a cross-cutting action in support of the three research measures designed to empower researchers with a dedicated programme of management resources, third-level – industry brokering and facilitation, technical mentoring, the stimulation of international collaboration and networking and support for commercialisation. The Innovation Programme also encompasses the need for the provision of co-ordinated supports by the state’s industrial development agencies to assist small companies manage technology at all stages of the value chain, including the take up of research findings and transfer of technology to industry, new product development and the training of management and staff  

To ensure value for money and delivery of the strategy to agreed timelines, Sea Changewill be managed by a High Level Steering Group. This group will consist of senior management from the relevant state agencies, as well as representatives of industry and third-level interests. It will direct the Sea Change Management Unit within the Marine Institute, which is  the lead agency for the programme.  

The Marine Institute was created under the Marine Institute Act in 1991 to “undertake, to co-ordinate, to promote and to assist” in the development of marine research and development in Ireland. Since its early days in Harcourt Street Dublin, it has grown into an internationally respected science body with over 200 staff, two purpose-built vessels – RV Celtic Explorer and RV Celtic Voyager, a research facility near Newport, Co. Mayo and now a brand new headquarters and laboratory on the shores of Galway Bay.  

State agencies supporting Sea Change include the Environmental Protection Agency, Sustainable Energy Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland, the Higher Education Authority, Teagasc, Met Eireann, An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Enterprise Ireland, Udaras na Gaeltachta, Petroleum Affairs Division, Central Fisheries Board, Sustainable Energy Ireland, and the Geological Survey of Ireland. Sea Change is also supported by the Department of Communication, the Marine and Natural Resources, and the Departments of Environment, Transport, Agriculture, Foreign Affairs and Enterprise, Trade and Employment.  

Three important areas that Sea Change addresses include sustainable energy from the sea, rapid climate change and the sustainable production of food from the oceans.

1. Harnessing the Power of the Sea  

Ireland’s offshore renewable energy resources, in the form of wave and offshore wind, are considered as being among the best in the world and represent, with the exception of the recently commissioned Arklow offshore wind farm, a resource that is completely unexploited.  

The Scenario for 2020 Sea Change envisages that, given the continuing rise in the price of energy and the rise in demand for cleaner energy, by the year 2020 the commercial prospects for renewable ocean energy will be clearly established.  

It suggests that, because of pro-active investment in research, demonstration and development, Ireland could be a world leader in the manufacture and use of ocean energy systems creating over 800 jobs and an annual market for the sale of devices, both at home and overseas, of  €144 million a year, rising to over €400 million a year and over 2,000 jobs by 2025.

In addition, Ireland will be generating over 100  Megawatts from ocean energy devices by 2020, rising to almost 400 Megawatt by 2025   It will create this wealth by developing research and technical support capabilities in the third-level sector, by providing a range of R&D and capital support measures for the developers of ocean energy devices and by establishing open-sea test sites for prototype trials.  

Objectives for 2013 - As a series of concrete objectives, Sea Change proposes that, by 2013, Ireland will be recognised as a Centre of Excellence in Renewable Ocean Energy research and will have established competence in a number of key areas including model testing and performance validation, mooring design, hydrodynamics and modelling, wave forecasting and power take-off technologies.

There will be a minimum of two full-scale, prototype ocean energy devices operational as pre-production models, established and effective approaches to the challenges of wave forecasting, power intermittency management and energy storage. There will also be in place user-friendly information systems that support the needs of offshore energy companies regarding access to environmental data.  

Ireland is already making progress towards these objectives:  

Current Research Capacity  

Three research groups(approximately 23 researchers), currently funded through a number of mechanisms e.g. Marine NDP and DCMNR Parsons Energy Award, , are already actively involved in wave and tidal energy research at University College Cork, University of Limerick and NUI Maynooth. Between them they are researching such topics as tidal current research, the development of wave energy devices, control and electrical systems for ocean energy systems, physical and numerical modelling and the optimal formation of arrays of wave power devices.  

In industry, there are already 4-5 private companies actively engaged in ocean energy research.  

Test Site for Wave Energy Prototypes Already Established  

In 2006 the first prototype wave energy device, “Wavebob” was deployed on a 37-hecture wave energy test site in Galway Bay licensed as a joint venture between the Marine Institute and Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI). A second wave energy generator prototype, designed and built by the Cork-based company Ocean Energy Ltd, arrived on site in Galway on St. Stephens’ Day last year. The device, named the “OE Bouy®” operates by containing a column of water which moves up and down with the waves, pumping air from the chamber above it through a turbine which in turn drives a generator.  

Development of the device has proceeded from a 1/50th scale model, which was successfully tested at the Hydraulics and Maritime Research Centre at University College, Cork to find the best hull design to maximise the energy produced. Work then proceeded to a larger 1/15th scale model that was tested in Nantes, France to provide more detail on ways of transferring electricity from the buoy to the land. Results of these trials have produced the half-scale model currently being tested in Galway Bay.  

It is hoped that the Galway Bay test site will be used to field test a number of other exciting Irish wave device designs over the coming years.   

Because of its exposed position in the north-east corner of the Atlantic Ocean, Ireland has one of the most energetic wave climates in the world, matched only by the north-west coast of America. According to a report produced by Ireland and the SEI in 2005 and an atlas of wave energy produced by the Marine Institute and the ESB, up to 59 TerraWatt hours (59 million megawatt hours) per year of electricity were practically accessible from wave energy reaching the west coast of Ireland. This is in excess of predicted All-Ireland gross electrical consumption of 44 TWh per annum for 2010.  

On a European scale, up to 20 million homes in Europe could be powered by clean, renewable energy from the sea, according to ocean energy expert Teresa Pontes of Portugal, speaking at the EurOcean marine science and policy event in Galway, hosted by the Marine Institute during Ireland’s EU presidency in 2004. She estimated that, by harnessing energy from waves and ocean currents, Europe could produce around 200 TerraWatt hours per year of electrical power.    

2. Getting a Handle on Rapid Climate Change  

One of the greatest challenges currently facing human populations in the 21st century is rapid climate change brought about by global warming. Regarding the oceans and seas, the potential large-scale impacts of global warming include; an increase in sea-level and sea-surface temperatures, decreases in sea ice cover, and changes in salinity, alkalinity, wave climate and ocean circulation.  

The consequences of these changes in the marine environment include; increased storminess, coastal flooding, and changes in the distribution of marine species, including species of economic interest (such as fish and shellfish) and invasive species ( including microbes and pathogens).  

Although there can be no certainty regarding the precise nature and rate of changes to Ireland’s marine environment, it is clear that changes brought about by rapid climate change have the potential to cause serious social, economic and environmental impacts.  

The Scenario  for 2020

The vision of Sea Change with regard to Rapid Climate Change is that, by 2020, Ireland will be a key player in European-North Atlantic climate change modelling, predication and scenario development. Also, as part of a pan-European-North Atlantic network, Ireland will be using sophisticated climate prediction models, drawing data from real-time in-situ ocean and coastal monitoring stations, to prepare reliable local climate impact predictions, including warnings on storm surges, coastal inundation and flooding, and species movements and migrations.  

This work will enable climate change predictions and scenarios to be used routinely in all large-scale, medium-to-long-term social, economic and environmental development strategies, which will enable Ireland to anticipate and benefit from climatic induced environmental changes, while avoiding the negative aspects of climate change.  

Objectives for 2013

To realise this vision, Sea Change has already set concrete objectives to be achieved by 2013. These include; an increased understanding of the drivers and regulators of climate so as to improve the accuracy and reliability of predictive models, and a downscaling of  global climate model predictions to the regional/local level in order to refine local impact scenarios. It is also intended to develop and use both physical indicators such as temperature and salinity readings, as well as biological information such as species shifts as measures of climate change, and to include climate change scenarios in all major social, economic and environmental strategies.

Ireland is already making progress towards these objectives as follows by harnessing the considerable number of long term marine and aquatic data sets already held by the Institute to assess potential rapid climate change effects over time. Those data sets include detailed information on ocean currents, marine chemistry and the distribution of marine species, unique records of salmon and eel migration, along with water temperature and salinity from the Burrishoole river catchment near Newport Co. Mayo.   The Institute is also already involved in a number of international studies on climate change, both in marine and freshwater and has recently embarked on oceanographic studies in the mid-Atlantic at the interface between the warm North Atlantic Drift current and the colder northern seas.

3. Ensuring a Sustainable Harvest from the Sea  

Human consumption of fish is around 86 million tonnes per year, almost 15.7 kg per person (which has more than doubled from 7 kg per person in 1950), with predictions suggesting a further increase to 17.1 kg per person by 2020. By contrast, global capture fisheries are predicted to grow by less than 0.7% per year, as many stocks have become over-exploited. This presents a series of enormous challenges for marine scientists, which have already been highlighted in the recent Cawley report from the Seafood Industry Strategy Review Group – namely to conserve and protect the commercial wild fish stocks that remain, to increase production of fish, shellfish and seaweed from aquaculture and to make the most efficient use of the marine food we can catch or grow, through new products and processing techniques, possibly as health-giving functional foods.  

The Scenario for 2020  

The Sea Change strategy envisions that, by 2020, Ireland will have an economically viable fishing industry that contributes to the generation of prosperity in coastal communities, from a well managed and sustainably exploited resource base, informed by clear, reliable and impartial marine science and built on a foundation of strong stakeholder participation.  

By 2020, finfish aquaculture will be a vibrant industry supporting coastal communities to meet their social, cultural, environmental and economic objectives. The sector will be an important employer in the regional economy and will be a key supplier to the domestic seafood consumer and seafood processing markets.  

Shellfish aquaculture will have continued its steady growth, with the benefits of science-based management systems, managed seed supply, integrated hatcheries and better farm efficiencies. The industry, researchers and state agencies will have evolved a framework for science-based, rational management of seed supply in the mussel sector. The industry, supported by key agencies, will continue to build its reputation for a high standard of food safety and will supply top quality, fresh shellfish, including Pacific oysters, for European markets, supported by proactive management of shellfish water quality.  

By 2020, the seaweed sector will have evolved from the current hybrid of a declining wild harvest and fledgling aquaculture production into a sector with sustainable, scientifically based harvesting of kelp, fucoids and coralline maërl. Farmed seaweeds will form the basis for downstream processing of value-added biophamaceauticals and nutraceutical products, with seaweed regularly being used in biotechnology. By this time, the seaweed production and processing sector will be worth €30 million per annum and will play an increasing role in the socio-economic fabric of coastal communities.  

By 2020, Irish seafood products will be perceived as high quality and high value with a strong “Blue/Green” seafood brand. The sector will have evolved through rationalisation and will be characterised by a mix of small and large companies, automation in larger-scale operations, and close working ties with the aquaculture sector and the third-level research sector. Ireland will be producing niche products for niche markets, e.g. functional foods with an identified health benefit, and there will be a focus on high value-added processing activity for the export market, and processing carried out to EN45011 and ISO65 standards.   

Given increased fuel costs and Ireland’s proximity to the fishing grounds of the North East Atlantic, this country will have developed specialised fish handling facilities for European Fleets. All landings will receive added value in specialist processing and packing facilities and the major Fishery Harbour Centres (at Killybegs, Rossaveal, Castletownbere, Dunmore East and Howth) will encourage increased international landings. It is envisioned that the home market will account for 25% of seafood production via direct consumption, with the remaining 75% being exported, mainly to EU countries.  

Objectives for 2013  

Increased dialogue between fishermen and scientists, a better understanding of the life history and ecology of key fish stocks, as well as a “complete ecosystem approach” to fisheries management are all key objectives of the Sea Change programme in an effort to save and rebuild the dwindling fish stocks in Irish waters.  

The aims of Sea Change for 2013 are therefore to; increase transparency of scientific advice through increased stakeholder interaction and participation and the use of fishing industry knowledge in the scientific advisory process, to build integrated data capacity and knowledge management expertise, as well as increasing our understanding of the life history, ecology, socio-economics, dynamics and ecosystem role of fish stocks.  

This will enable improved scientific advice to be delivered to stakeholders, including clear, reliable and impartial advice on the fish stocks of economic importance to Ireland, which in turn will contribute to the rebuilding of depleted fish stocks.  

Regarding the production of fish and shellfish on fish farms, the objectives of Sea Changeare to focus on the production and marketing of higher value, safe seafood (including organic fish products), to refine and develop Codes of Best Practice for farm management, fish health and to improve marine planning and management of aquaculture so as to maximise production while minimising negative interactions in the coastal zone. Environmental monitoring and forecasting capabilities will also be developed and refined, as will technology and management systems to enable offshore sites to be identified and used effectively.  

In particular, it is intended to transfer technology and commercialise hatchery, juvenile production and on-growing capabilities for char, cod, turbot and halibut, to foster R&D in the production of white fish and related technologies, and build capacity in onshore re-circulation technologies, in both sea and freshwater.   For shellfish, the objectives include the development and implementation of a science-based management system for each shellfish species and each stage of production, including creation of dynamic carrying capacity models for each major shellfish bay, so as to pro-actively facilitate the rationalisation of shellfish production sites.  

Agreement will be reached on a regulatory framework and management plan for the sustainable harvest of wild seaweed with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (DCMNR) and research agencies, and integrated systems for seaweed aquaculture developed, including polyculture methodologies and seed hatchery production. It is also intended to develop a screening programme for potential seaweed products (including nutritional and biochemical analysis) across a range of candidate species. 

Regarding the seafood processing sector, the Sea Change objectives include; providing support for Irish companies to enable them to produce a large variety of value-added, convenient functional seafood for the home and export markets; improving production efficiencies with the introduction of the latest technology and world-class manufacturing processes, to underpin our international reputation for quality and safety, and enhancing quality, shelf-life and traceability through the application of smart packaging and labelling technologies.  

Every effort will be made to ensure that waste is minimised and by-products recycled into alternative value-added products. Raw material supply from Ireland and other countries will be maximised to ensure its optimal utilisation, and expertise in food/seafood processing within state agencies and third-level institutes will be co-ordinated to ensure efficiencies.  

Progress to date  

A number of significant advances have been made recently towards the Sea Change objectives including:  

  • The setting up of Regional Advisory Councils made up of fishing interests, fisheries managers and fisheries scientists, which are facilitating greater dialogue between fishermen and scientists.  
  • The first ever harvest of farmed cod was achieved over the last few weeks from a farm in Connemara. This was supported in part by funding from the Marine Institute under the Marine RTDI Measure 2000-2006  
  • A workshop of some 140 scientists, experts and food manufacturers took place at the Marine Institute in Galway to discuss the opportunities presented by marine functional foods.