Thursday, 24 January 2013

COTF4: Simon's Thoughts

As we sit on RV Celtic Explorer, hove-to, 280 nmls southwest of Galway, it seems a good time to reflect on what an enormous asset our state research vessels, RV Celtic Explorer and RV Celtic Voyager, are to Ireland.  It has been over three years since I was last on RV Celtic Explorer (on the first Cetaceans on the Frontier survey) and it reminds me how lucky we are to have such a fine ship and crew in Ireland.  Last night the crew deployed nearly 5000m of cable to test an acoustic release, which enabled our team to collect samples of water (for microplastics) and plankton (stable isotopes and genetics). This morning the crew deployed a weather buoy in 4800m of water, and are now looking to recover a mooring which has important monitoring equipment attached.  To be able to operate in these extreme conditions and provide a platform for marine research is huge. 

For many years the IWDG have been using RV Celtic Explorer as a ship of opportunity to gain access to Irelands’ offshore waters to map the distribution of cetaceans.  These maps are essential to enable the state to meet some of its monitoring obligations to the EU.  Most of the survey work for the new IWDG Offshore Marine Mammal Atlas, which goes to print over next few weeks, was carried out on RV Celtic Explorer. A similar mapping project needs to be carried out for seabirds.

For the Marine Institute to offer ship time to researchers to carry out dedicated multi-disciplinary surveys is priceless. By preparing a multi-disciplinary team from within and outside Ireland the benefits to marine research in Ireland is enormous.  Not only can ground breaking research be carried out at under-graduate and post-graduate level but it provides young marine scientists to gain ship-time experience and even become a cruise leader.  To be able to work 200 miles offshore in big seas and heavy swell, to learn how to conduct yourself for 2 or 3 weeks as a member of a tight team of crew and scientists, to be able to organise your time and motivation to ensure the best data return for the time at sea can only be learnt by doing it.  Over the last 3-4 years at least ten of our surveyors who had their first offshore experience on RV Celtic Explorer, some of them on the Cetaceans on the Frontier Cruises are now working full-time as Marine Mammal Observers or Passive Acoustic Monitoring Operators for seismic survey companies throughout the world.  The experience gained on offshore cruises in Ireland has set them up to be able to compete with anybody in the world.  Working offshore for weeks at a time is not for everybody but for some, they love it, and can make a good living.

Simon Berrow
(Irish Whale & Dolphin Group)

 R.V. Celtic Explorer

Suzanne listening to cetacean vocalisations on PAM (c) Emila Chorazyczewska

Alex recording seabird sightings (c) Emila Chorazyczewska

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