Although I have been back from Ireland for a few weeks now I still wanted to finish blogging about my experiences, I just had to write the final paper first.
Weeks 8 & 9 were lots of fun for me. My duties with Coastwatch came to an end so I had a bit of time to do things that I wanted to do. Here are a few of the highlights from my final weeks in Ireland.
I had the pleasure of traveling south of Dublin to Wexford for a Ramsar meeting where I learned about issues affecting wetlands in Ireland. The name “Ramsar” comes from a city in Iran where the first International convention on wetlands took place in 1971 . Ramsar sites are specially designated wetlands that are critical habitats for waterfowl.
While at the meeting we saw a presentation about Tacumshin Lake where a variety of impacts are affecting the sustainability of the wetlands and habitats of the area. The condensed version goes like this, human impacts are causing the lake to dry up which is destroying the wetlands and reducing habitat space for waterfowl. Other human impacts such as twitchers (extreme birders) and people driving vehicles in the dried up lake are causing further damage.
Over the weekend I visited the Dublin Botanic Gardens with my housemate Emma from France. We saw lots of amazing flowers. My favorites were the orchids and the carnivorous plants.
I had the chance to see a falconry show at Trinity College, thanks to the Zoology club, and it was fantastic! The falconer brought a buzzard, two Harris Hawks, a Barn Owl, an Eagle Owl, a Long-Eared Owl, and two Peregrine Falcons (my favorite birds). It was so amazing to see the bond that he had created with the birds. While he was there we got to pet an owl, and he also flew the harris hawks and barn owl.
Donabate, County Fingal
I also traveled north of Dublin to an area named Donabate. This beach was by far the cleanest beach that I saw during my internship. I found just a few pieces of rubbish while surveying and there was lots of biodiversity. While Surveying I saw Lug worms and Sand masons, Dog Whelks, Sea Anemone, a few different species of birds, and amazing views.
The following are some of the things I thought were interesting over the 6th and 7th weeks I was in Ireland.
Mullaghmore, County Sligo
I decided to drive over to the west coast of Ireland again so I could do more survey training and outreach. Unfortunately, the person I was supposed to meet to do the training canceled at the last minute so there was a mad dash to find something else to do. Luckily a previous Coastwatch volunteer was willing to meet me. So, I traveled to Mullaghmore Beach, County Sligo.
Mullaghmore head is a place that I have seen numerous times in the surfing media, as it is home to one of the most famous waves in Ireland. Winter swells can produce waves that are 20 ft. +, so I was excited to visit this area. I met up with Dr. Diana Brown who walked with me along Mullaghmore Beach, along with her wonderful dog.
I was very surprised at how clean this beach was compared to other beaches I have seen throughout Ireland. We ended up doing 4 survey units or 2km of beach and only found a few pieces of trash and a large piece of plastic. This is in large part to the residents of the Mullaghmore community that make an effort to clean the beach anytime they walk the shore.
Mullaghmore has a very healthy dune system and small lake in the hinterlands. There is also a small stream coming from the lake that divides the beach into two sections and on northern bank there is peat from an ancient bog being uncovered by the tides. Peat is an important fuel source for heating in Irish homes, however it is a very dirty fossil fuel.
There was a wide variety of shells in Mullaghmore. The shells I found include Razor shells, Donax, Cockles, Striped Venus, Top shells, Sand Gapers, and Limpets. I also found evidence of lugworms and Sand Masons. The presence of all of these on the beach are signs of a healthy beach ecosystem.
Bundoran, County Donegal
After I was finished with the survey I decided to head north 20 minutes to go for a quick surf. I paddled out at another one of Ireland’s premier spots for surfing called “The Peak.” Not too long ago this legendary wave was threatened by the development of a harbour, but local action helped to prevent that harbour from being built thus saving the wave. I lucked out when I got there because there were only 2 guys surfing. The wave there actually reminded me of a wave I surfed in Hawaii last year. It was good craic (that’s Irish for fun) up until I noticed a foul smell coming from the water. That didn’t keep me from surfing though…however, after my session I started to feel sick to my stomach and later that night I became really sick and vomited at the hostel I was staying at. As it turns out, Bundoran and the peak are known to be very dirty surf spots. This is due to a river that feeds right into the bay and the spot I was surfing. Many of the surfers I met said that people regularly fall ill because of sewage that is dumped into the water from substandard treatment facilities. The discharge of sewage into Irish waters seems to be a very common occurrence that needs to be dealt with immediately.
Unfortunately, I have been extremely busy with the Coastwatch Survey and I haven’t been able to update my blog as much as I would have liked to. So here is a quick recap of the highlights of my internship since my last post.
First off, Christine (my co-intern) returned back to the states as her internship came to an end. This left me with much more responsibility. My main tasks after she left were to book survey units and send confirmation emails and also to train any individuals and groups interested in doing the Coastwatch survey. I was also responsible for mailing out supplies such as nitrate test kits and survey forms which filled up most of my days.
Hook Head, County Wexford
Right before Christine left, Karin (my Supervisor) and I went to Hook Head, County Wexford to do a training for a group of German Students visiting Ireland. While at Hook Head we discovered baby Blue Rayed Limpets living on Sea Spaghetti (Seaweed) which was an extraordinary find as not much is known about their lifecycle. While in Hook Head we also saw a Honeycomb Reef, which is built by a worm, and is experiencing declines throughout Ireland. As most people know I am an avid birder and I was very excited to see two Hen Harriers hunting in the meadows above our survey unit.
Irish Town Nature Park/ Ringsend Dump
The past few weeks I have done around 35 surveys on my own. The area around Ringsend and The Irish Town Nature Park was an area that I did that was very interesting. This area was four units or 2km of surveying, but I actually walked 4 km because I had to walk back. In total I walked about 10 km that day.
This area was originally a dump and was left to return to nature. This coastline here is dominated by hard erosion control in order to prevent the ocean from eroding the dump site. However, the erosion control is very narrow in some points allowing for some erosion of the cliff. This is apparent as you can see layers of plastic and old bottles sticking out of the cliff face. This is troubling as we don’t know exactly what is in the dump and sea levels will only continue to rise.
One of the things I learned from the Environmental and Planning Issues in Coastal Communities class with Mark Hafen was that communities must locate critical infrastructure away from areas that are prone to erosion or sea level rise. In class we talked mostly about hospitals and power stations being located away from dangerous, but I think a dumpsite could also be included as critical infrastructure.
There is also lots of litter surrounding this area. Mostly in the form of plastic bottles and cans (It seems like a popular place for people to drink). This may be easily remedied by adding more waste bins for users of this area.
There were some good things about this area though. A seagrass bed is growing just off the shore, which is a positive sign of water quality. Seagrass beds are very important habitats for juvenile fish and shellfish, most notably scallops. Scallops should be very familiar to people in the Tampa Bay area because just to our north lies Homassassa, which supports a very large bay scallop fishery. While at Ringsend I also found a large variety of shells and lots of birds feeding on them. These shells included Cockles, Muscles, and Razor Shells. I also found evidence of sand masons and lug worms.
Bull Island Survey
Bull island is an island that came into existence as a result of human actions to keep a channel clear for navigation. In 1761, a stone pier was built which trapped sand. This eventually collected so much that an island formed that was large enough to support a golf course!
Bull island is an important area for migratory and wading birds and is a part of the Unesco Biosphere reserve and a Natura 2000 site (bird sanctuary). Despite these designations there is a remarkable amount of litter on the shores. Most of this trash seems to come from the road across the bay from the island. While surveying Bull Island I found some disturbing thins such as a sewage inflow, a used syringe, and various types of litter. The most common things were cotton buds made of plastic (q-tips) and plastic bottles. There is also a notable lack of signage to let people know that this is a designated area.
It wasn’t all bad things though. There is a huge variety of birds at bull island that including (but not limited to): Grey Herons, Oyster catchers, Red Shanks, Bar-tailed godwits, Curlews, Turnstones, Little Egrets, Brent Geese, Shelducks, a variety of gulls, Peregrine Falcons, and Eurasian Kestrels. The mudflats here also support large numbers of muscles and cockles.
Upon arriving in Dublin from Lahinch, Christine and I rushed to Trinity University in order to pick up Coastwatch marketing materials for delivery to the Dublin area libraries. Anybody who’s been to Dublin will know that traffic here can be insane (especially with the amount of road construction that is taking place), but we actually got to Trinity fairly quickly. I dropped Christine off at Dame st. (the main road leading to the gates of Trinity) so she could run to our office and grab the supplies. I proceeded to circle around until she came out to hand off the supplies. I then drove to the main library (which would have been an hour walk) and dropped them off.
That evening, we decided to take some of our roommates to Howth to enjoy the world-famous chowder at the Brass Monkey. If you are ever in Howth you’ve got to try it! it is similar to clam chowder however it also has Salmon, muscles, scallops, and prawns (shrimp). It was amazing!
The next morning I returned the rental car : (
Tuesday was filled with more office work and preparation for the ploughing championship
Port Laoise Ploughing Championships
The Following day I headed out to the middle of Ireland for the annual Port Laoise Ploughing Championships. This is an event that is similar to a county fair, but on a much bigger scale. There must have been 100k people in attendance. We were there to represent Coastwatch in the Environmental Pillar tent. The Ploughing championships were originally started as a way for farmers to compete against each other in ploughing, but has now morphed into a giant agricultural trade show. It seemed a bit odd to be talking to people about the coasts so far inland, but we definitely had some interested people and Integrated coastal zone management makes the case that your coasts actually start at the beginning of your watersheds.
Cfram Flood conference and Sandymount training
On Thursday I attended a conference about the state of the flood protection and impacts of Dublin. My main purpose for being there was to ask if they had looked at the possible impacts of a dredging scheme for Dublin harbour that could potentially lead to increased wave action pushing more water into the city center during storm events. This was something that they had not modeled. They responded by saying that they could only model current conditions, but it seems that planned projects should be taken into account. This takes me back to the precautionary principle, “No technology or material can be used unless it is proven environmentally harmless.”
After the conference I caught a bus back towards Dublin so I could meet Christine for a training for college students at Sandymount (a suburb just south of Dublin).
The students we met for the training were all part of the UCD SCUBA club and were studying zoology. They were a great bunch of students!
On Friday, Christine and I just did more office work. Not too much to talk about here.
Weekend trip to Strandhill, County Sligo with Stint
Over the weekend Stint (our internship organizers) planned a trip to Strandhill, County Sligo on the west coast. We woke up and boarded a bus to Strandhill which took about 3 hours. As soon as we arrived I rushed down to the promenade to have a look at the waves. As soon as I got down to the beach I knew it was on and I ran back to our hostel threw on my wetsuit, grabbed my board, and ran back down to the beach for a surf! Everyone else was weary from waking up early (not early by my standards) and hung out at the hostel. I spent about 2 and a half hours in the water trading waves with local surfers and when I got out the girls were on the beach and snapped a picture of me.
After I surfed the girls decided that they would get a surf lesson, so I stayed in my wetsuit and drank some tea to warm up while they got ready. I ended up going back down to the beach and helping out with their surf lesson by pushing them into waves and giving them tips. I think I was more excited to see the girls surf than they were to actually surf. All I had been talking about with Christine was surfing and I was happy that she finally got a chance to experience the activity I get so much joy out of. As it turns out, the girls’ surf instructor was also an environmental scientist who had previously worked with Karin at Coastwatch!
That evening we ate at the pub across the road from our hostel and called it a night. The next day I checked the waves, but it had gone flat. So, we climbed up the large dune at the beach took some pictures and went home to Dublin.
My second week in Ireland was crazy! I started out my week by recording for a spot on Dublin City Radio, kind of like NPR, to talk about Coastwatch. I was super nervous, but I think it went pretty well, despite the fact I still really didn’t know what I was doing! The goal of this radio spot was to get people to book survey units around Dublin. I never had a chance to hear our segment, but I’m sure it is floating around on the internet somewhere.
The next day I observed an EU fisheries conference at Dublin Castle, where they were discussing the state of the fisheries around Ireland and the plans for the fisheries in the future. Some of the things they spoke about were using multi-species and multi-annual approaches and MSY (maximum sustainable yields) and FMSY (fisheries maximum sustainable yields). It was very interesting to sit in on this conference as there were 3 different languages being spoken. Thankfully, we had headsets that were used to play a translators voice. There was some opposition to plans of sustainable fishing from representatives of fisherman unions who thought that they should be able to take as much as they want. This reminded me of our lecture on the Tragedy of the Commons.
Dublin City Council
The next day we manned a Coastwatch booth at the Dublin City Council where we were supposed to be getting people to enroll in the Coastwatch survey. Most people seemed to be too busy to stop and talk but we did have a few interested people.
The following day we went back to trinity college and did a lot more emails and mailing of nitrate test kits.
Road Trip to Lahinch, County Clare
That Friday, I rented a car, and Christine and I headed out to Lahinch, County Clare on the west coast (a gorgeous 3 hour drive from Dublin). The purpose of this trip was to encourage participation in an area where we have had little coverage. Thankfully an old friend of mine from Tampa married an Irish lad that lives in Lahinch so we had a free place to stay! It was great catching up with her and getting to experience her new life in Ireland! While we were there we had the chance to go to a community garden cook-up, participate in a beach clean-up, I helped my friend prepare for a surf contest, and I got to finally surf (it had been three weeks and I was going through withdrawals)!
If you are under 25 renting a car can be expensive. Since I’m an old man it wasn’t too bad, €120 for 4 days not including petrol, which is around € 5 to 6 a gallon. thankfully this car got 65 miles to the gallon!
Moy Hill Community Garden
We arrived just in time for the weekly Friday Cook-up. I was so happy to be eating fresh vegetables! The vegetables here are all organic and everything is done on the honor system, just put in a donation and grab what you like. The Garden was started by Fergal Smith, a legendary Irish Big-wave surfer. Here is one of his videos
After years of traveling to score waves he grew concerned about the impact of his air travel on climate change and pollution and decided to stay put in Ireland (which has plenty of big waves on offer) and created the Moy Hill Community Garden. Fergal actually introduced Lexi to her husband Robin while she was there woofing! (WWOOF or world wide opportunities on organic farms)
Lahinch Beach clean-up
The morning of the beach clean-up my friend Lexi made us a brilliant breakfast of coffee and tea, blackberry pancakes (from blackberries we found in the yard), brown bread, and oranges. It was great fuel for the beach clean-up.
The beach clean-up went really well and there were around 20 volunteers participating. Christine and I got our picture taken for the local paper and we talked about Coastwatch with everyone we met. The majority of stuff we found on the beach was litter such as plastic bottles, plastic bags, and old fishing gear that had been washed up onto the rocks.
Cliffs of Moher
After the beach clean-up we decided to go check out the Cliffs of Moher. Christine had already been there on a previous trip, but his was the first time she walked in from the south. I guess this path has much less people which was very nice. We didn’t know it , but previous rains had made the cliffs unstable and the previous day big sections were falling down below. Coastal erosion at work!
Surfing on Sunday
That Sunday I helped Lexi get ready for a local surf contest. I was her caddy. This involved helping her with strategy and carrying her board down the slippery rocks to the water. After her heat we ate some food and then I got a chance to finally surf! The waves were so fun and I can’t wait to go back. After my surf we did three survey units on Lahinch Beach, then got some chowder from a pub, and called it a night. Monday morning we packed up early and headed back down for another surf. I was so happy to see my old friend and to share a surf with her and her husband. To top it off we were the only ones out! After our surf we got in the car and drove back to Dublin.