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Government extends funding for research programme to protect vital marine ecosystem

18 Jun 2021
Some of the aerial survey team (Photo: Steve Geelhoed, Wageningen University & Research)

Latest funding of €1.6 million for the ObSERVE 2 Aerial survey project brings total investment of the ObSERVE Programme to €4.5 million

An Irish-led international consortium will this month begin extensive aerial surveys of almost 500,000km2 of Ireland’s maritime area. The ObSERVE 2 Aerial survey will help build a greater understanding of Ireland’s marine species and the habitats they need to survive and to thrive.

Our ocean area is home to an amazing array of marine life including whales, dolphins, porpoises and seabirds which we are committed to protect. Our natural marine environment and its renewable energy resources can also help us to meet our climate goals, and the Government is committed to understanding and protecting our marine life when developing plans for the offshore.

The ObSERVE programme helps us to plan marine activities and development, without threatening sensitive marine ecosystems.  The Programme is jointly funded by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications; the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage; and Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland (SEAI).

Speaking at the launchof the ObSERVE Aerial 2 project, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan TD said,
"Developing our offshore wind resources gives Ireland a wonderful opportunity to break away from fossil fuels and meet our ambitious climate targets. In doing so we are determined to protect our marine environment and the wonderful biodiversity it contains. The scientific knowledge from the ObSERVE project will play a critical role in developing our resources in a sustainable way. The collaboration of my Department, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland in supporting the project emphasises the importance the State places on protecting our marine environment and our shared ambitions in combating climate change and biodiversity loss.”

Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan TD said,
“The conservation of marine biodiversity is one of my key priorities as Minister for Heritage and this important research programme will support that endeavour. Ireland’s maritime area is one of the largest in Europe - we have a responsibility to look after it and the diverse array of wildlife that depends on it, especially as we develop our offshore renewable energy resource as part of Ireland’s ambitious climate action agenda. The Observe 2 project represents an important step forward as we continue to develop our scientific understanding of the marine ecosystem and work collaboratively with all stakeholders to ensure its long-term protection.”

William Walsh CEO of the SEAI said, “SEAI is delighted to be involved with the ObSERVE programme. We look forward to the results of the surveys that will help us to both understand more about the marine ecosystem and inform offshore renewable energy plans for the future”.

Welcoming the Government’s continued funding of the research, Greg Donovan, Former Head of Science at International Whaling Commission said, “Effective conservation and management can only come from robust science. It is wonderful to see Ireland lead the way in the marine environment with the original ObSERVE programme and now ObSERVE 2.”

Extensive Aerial surveys under the ObSERVE programme are due to start in June 2021.  These Aerial surveys will sample a large portion of Ireland’s maritime area of almost 490,000km2, led by University College Cork. The data collected as part of the first phase of the programme has already filled major data gaps and has assisted in more informed and sustainable management of offshore activities, and in the development of suitable conservation strategies that will sustain our marine environment into the future. This second phase of the ObSERVE will build on the knowledge and data gathered in the successful first phase.
 
The UCC team is led by Dr Mark Jessopp and Prof. Emer Rogan from the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, and the Environmental Research Institute, with partners from Action Air, France, Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands and Duke University in the US.  

"UCC is delighted to be delivering the ObSERVE 2 Programme.  The survey programme includes summer and winter flights over the next two years, but we are looking forward to the challenge”, Dr Mark Jessopp noted.  According to Prof. Rogan “the results from the ObSERVE II programme will provide us with a unique timeseries to look at trends in seabird and cetacean abundance and distribution, informing management and conservation".

Ireland’s marine waters are home to numerous species of whales and dolphins including rare species such as the blue whale, and deep-diving beaked whales, as well as more common species such as bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins or harbour porpoise. Our seas also provide important foraging ground for leatherback turtles and dozens of seabird species such as puffins, guillemots, petrels, gannets and shearwaters. ObSERVE is a ground breaking scientific programme designed to improve our knowledge and understanding of these species and their habitats. This better understanding is achieved by regularly collecting and analysing high quality data on the distribution and abundance of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), seabirds, turtles and other marine species around the Irish coast, and in our wild Atlantic waters.

Since its inception in 2014, the ObSERVE Programme has demonstrated the rich biodiversity and natural productivity of Ireland’s marine environment.

The second phase of the ObSERVE Programme involves active partnership and coordination between the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, who together have provided funding of €1.6 million for the Aerial survey project. This brings the total investment of the ObSERVE Programme so far to €4.5 million.

School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences

An Scoil Eolaíochtaí Bitheolaíocha, Domhaneolaíocha agus Comhshaoil

University College Cork, Distillery Fields, North Mall, Cork, Ireland T23 N73K

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