Ireland's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covers an area in the sea of more than 420,000 square kilometres. It stretches from the relatively shallow and calmer Irish Sea to the deep and exposed Atlantic Ocean to the west of the island. Within this vast marine area an extraordinary range of species, habitats and physical features are to be found. The region also supports a thriving maritime economy and heritage that have nurtured its people for centuries.
Now, more than ever, there's a recognition that we need to protect and conserve our rich marine biodiversity and manage the available natural resources in harmony with surrounding ecosystems, whether they are biological or physical resources such as energy for example. Important marine industrial activities, like the exploration and development of oil and gas deposits, require careful assessment, management and regulation in order to protect our environment and to live up to our national and international obligations.
In October 2014 a major marine scientific programme was established by the Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment in partnership with the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Called the ObSERVE Programme, its main aim is to greatly improve our knowledge and understanding of protected offshore species and sensitive habitats through high quality, state-of-the-art data collection across Ireland's EEZ. Information generated and analysed under the programme is expected to feed into the sustainable management of offshore activities and appropriate marine conservation strategies. The dynamic "Atlantic Margin", where Ireland's continental shelf merges into deeper oceanic basins, has been a key focus of this work since it's of growing interest to marine industry but also historically an area with significant gaps in environmental information.
Two new strategic projects have now been completed under the ObSERVE Programme with a combined Government investment of almost €2.7 million. ObSERVE Aerial consists of a series of high quality aerial surveys for whales, dolphins, seabirds and other marine life which covered most of our EEZ across two summers and two winters, and carried out three further intensive seabird surveys in the western Irish Sea. The second novel project, ObSERVE Acoustic, tapped into the array of underwater sounds made by more than 20 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, in order to learn more about their occurrence, distribution, abundance and migration habits, particularly those species that are rarely seen. Both projects were publicly tendered contracts that began work in the spring of 2015 and were three years in duration.
ObSERVE Reports (to be made available at the end of November):
Acoustic Surveys of Cetaceans in the Irish Atlantic Margin in 2015 - 2016: Occurence, distribution and abundance
Aerial Surveys of Cetaceans and Seabirds in Irish Waters: Occurence, distribution and abundance 2015 - 2017
The seasonal distribution and abundance of Seabirds in the western Irish Sea, 2016
For further information about the ObSERVE programme, please contact us at ObSERVE@dccae.gov.ie