South West Irish Sea Survey

A New Investigation of the Irish Sea Invertebrate Fauna

Prince Madog - the research ship

The Museum has embarked on a new study of the seabed invertebrates of the Southern Irish Sea.

This new project, entitled the South West Irish Sea Survey (SWISS), is in collaboration with the University of Wales Bangor (UWB), and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and their associated environmental consultants AquaFact International Services Ltd. It is part funded by the European Union (EU) under their INTERREG programme. INTERREG aims to promote collaboration between adjacent EU countries - in this case Wales and Ireland. SWISS is to a large extent a continuation of the earlier work carried out by the NMGW and published in 1995 as the BIOMÔR Report 1. The scope of the new study is larger, however, incorporating additional sampling techniques and involving a wider range of experts from both sides of the Irish Sea. When the study is completed the entire southern Irish Sea seabed will have been mapped in terms of its sediments, animal assemblages and biodiversity.

Map of the Celtic Sea showing stations sampled

Sampling was heavily dependent on NMGW staff. Opportunities were made for non-biological staff to take part and these were enthusiastically taken. Despite some unpleasant weather at the start and end of the offshore work, all participants found the experience worthwhile - even enjoyable!

In addition to the core team of Andy Mackie & Teresa Darbyshire (BioSyB), Ivor Rees (UWB) and Caitriona Nic Aonghusa (TCD), other NMGW staff involved were Deborah Spillards (BioSyB), Julian Carter (Conservation), Mike Lambert (Geology), Kate Lowry (Art), Don Bradford (Warding) and Jim Wilde (Photography). The remaining offshore places were filled by Brendan O'Connor, Florence White and Patricia Dineen of AquaFact. Piers Langhelt, Alison Trew and Peter Howlett (all BioSyB) provided logistic support.

In total some 68 stations were sampled by grab, dredge or trawl, resulting in over 500 buckets of preserved sieved animals/sediment. The processing of all the material will take place in the Invertebrate Laboratory of BioSyB. Initially 4 sorters (2 from Wales, 2 from Ireland) will extract all the animals from the sediments.Thereafter, the specimens will be sent to appropriate taxonomic experts for identification and enumeration. Only then can analysis of the results commence. Sponsorship for a publication similar to BIOMÔR 1 will be sought in the coming year and it is planned that this will appear in 1999. Specimens from the SWISS project will be lodged in the collection of the NMGW and the Natural History Museum Dublin.

For the future, the Marine Biodiversity section plans to continue investigating the invertebrates off the Welsh coasts. Prime among the areas to be targeted are the Bristol Channel / Severn Estuary and the Celtic Sea. The former has been studied previously, but the potential for development (e.g. Sea Empress) make it an area of considerable interest. The latter is of particular interest faunistically since it borders the Irish Sea itself and the Bristol Channel . From a zoo-geographical point of view alone it would be extremely valuable to compare the fauna of the Celtic Sea with that of the Irish Sea and the Bristol Channel. Taxonomically, the Celtic Sea promises to be as, if not more, rewarding than the Irish Sea has been to date.