Invasive seaweed look out

Scientists from NUI Galway and Seasearch Ireland are asking divers and marina users to keep an eye out for Undaria pinnatifida commonly known as Wakame or Japanese kelp. This species was first recorded in Ireland in 2014 but had been found in Carrickfergus Marina in Northern Ireland two years prior to that. Having subsequently been recorded at Dun Laoghaire and Greystones Harbours scientists believe it is likely to be far more widespread than currently recorded.

What can I do?

We are asking any marine users who see a kelp species matching the description below to send a photo to to confirm the identification and then our colleagues from the KelpRes team in NUIG intend to collect samples of the seaweed for genetic analysis.

Why is it important to know the location?

International experience with Wakame would indicate it is much more likely to occur in marinas and on other man-made structures. From here it can attach to boats and be carried to other parts of the country when boats are moved. Marinas and harbours with wakame need to alert users to the danger of spreading this species to allow people to take biosecurity measures such as cleaning or drying out their boat before moving it.

Current distribution in Ireland

Following the initial record from Belfast Lough, Northern Ireland in 2012, Wakame has subsequently been recorded at Carlingford Lough in 2014 and Kilmore Quay in Wexford in 2016. Since then it has been recorded by Seasearch diver Frances O’Sullivan of the Dalkey Sub Aqua club recorded it in Dun Laoghaire Harbour in 2017 and by Seasearch Ireland and KelpRes divers at Greystones Harbour in 2020. Given the widespread nature of the records on the east coast it is thought that the species is likely to occur in suitable habitats between these areas and may have spread to other areas of the coast.

Identification of Wakame

Wakame can be distinguished from other species of kelp found in Ireland by it’s large size, undulate margins and distinctive midrib. The distinctive midrib on this species makes it easy to distinguish from other kelp species in Irish waters while dabberlocks (Alaria esculenta), another species of seaweed with a distinctive midrib is typically much smaller. The image below can be downloaded for use as an identification tool in the field.

Why take genetic samples?

Studying the genetics of invasive species is important in terms of identifying vectors for introduction and vectors for spread. For example in Zebra mussels Dreissena polymorpha (a freshwater invasive species) a study combing genetic analysis with field work revealed leisure boats from the United Kingdom as the most likely source (vector) of introduction. If the Wakame populations in Ireland are extremely similar genetically that would likely indicate a single introduction event and subsequent spread, a close genetic clustering might indicate multiple introduction events from the same location, while a number of different genetic populations might indicate multiple introduction events from multiple locations.

Wakame in Greystones Harbour 2020

40 species in 40 days

It’s hard sometimes with the doom and gloom of lockdown to find something to look forward to but yesterday at lunchtime I got the pleasant surprise of the first Brimstone of the year float past my window. So with that in mind I decided, it’s Lent, there’s 40 days, 40 days for 40 species is definitely achievable. (I should have started on pancake Tuesday but I was too full). So this morning armed with a notebook, a pair of binoculars and my trusty assistant we headed out to make a start.

My trusty assistant

First we primed our garden with a mix of bird seed and peanuts and waited to see what would show up. Unfortunately two issues quickly arose, a) my assistant has very little patience and b) cats (Felis catus) eat peanuts so off we went. On the bird feeder around the corner we found two blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) munching away  and adding to our Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) from the day before we were already up to two species. Our neighbour has starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) nesting in her attic so we knew we’d be able to tick those off next before we’d even left the garden.

I wasn’t aware cats ate peanuts before today

My assistant hopped on his bike and we were off to see what we could find further afield. Down the road we saw Blackbird (Turdus merula) with nesting material, a robin  (Erithacus rubecula) hoping in the road and a pair of magpies (Pica pica) on a silage bale and we started getting excited, maybe we’d tick off all 40 today. We headed down to the lake hoping to tick off mute swan (Cygnus olor) and maybe a a duck or two (Anas platyrhynchos) but no luck on this occasion. Circling our 5k radius it was more blackbirds and robins but not much else to see until we came to a local farmers field where in addition to the sheep (Ovis aries) we came across a flock of rooks (Corvus frugilegus).

A curious robin

Thinking 9 was a good start we headed for home where on our return to the garden the cat presumably having eaten it’s fill we startled a mixed feeding aggregation of chaffinchs (Fringilla coelebs) and collared doves (Streptopelia decaocto) and then while we enjoyed a celebratory yoghurt we were lucky enough to see our neighbourhood jay (Garrulus glandarius).

Our resident jay visiting the garden

While my assistant took a well deserved break I got on to Biodiversity Ireland to log our records. We lost two species at this point (you can’t record domestic species so cat and sheep had to go) but we were happy enough with our mornings work. And the best part of it all once I’d logged the records I could log in there was a full list for me to review. 10 down only another 30 to go.

Biodiversity Ireland allows you to log in and view the records you’ve submitted so you can keep track of all the species you’ve recorded in a given time frame. A very handy feature

Public consultation on expanding marine protected areas

The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, and the Minister for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, this week launched a public consultation on the process of expanding Ireland’s network of marine protected areas (MPAs). MPAs are geographically defined maritime areas with certain protections for conservation purposes. The Government aims to expand Ireland’s MPA network from 2.13% to 30% of Ireland’s maritime area by 2030.

Creating an MPA regime will constitute a major change in marine environmental protection in Ireland. At present, there is no definition of an MPA in Irish law. Environmental protections under the Wildlife Acts only apply to the foreshore. Protection in marine areas beyond 12 nautical miles is limited, both in terms of space and species.

Marine Protected Areas in Ireland cannot be allowed to become paper parks offering no practical protection to marine biodiversity but should promote the conservation of marine biodiversity over the vested interests of the fisheries industry. A well designed network of marine protected areas in inshore waters managed at local level would offer marine reserves with complete exclusion of damaging activities to carefully managed areas with sustainable use of natural resources that favour our neglected low impact fishermen rather than industrial fishing.

We would encourage anyone with an interest in the protection of the marine environment to make a submission by clicking here.

The full report Expanding Ireland’s Marine Protected Area Network can be found here.

Christmas book ideas

The Seabird’s Cry

Adam Nicolson – Williams Collins  

A beautiful book on birds written in beautiful prose which makes you look anew at these fantastic creatures. It describes 10 of the charasmatic seabirds their lifecycle and gives you a real feel for them – all written in lovely prose with poetry added to enhance the experience

The Unhabitable Earth

David Wallace-Wells – Crown Publishing Group

A genuinely depressing read this book lays out in all it’s glory detail the extent of the trouble our planet and by extension the human race is in when it comes to climate change. I can’t promise you’ll enjoy reading this book but it is a fascinating read and incredibly broad in its coverage of the implications of the climate catostrophe.


Isabella Tree – Picador Press Highly recommended by 2019 Wainwright book Prize  

Very interesting book on the wilding of an estate farm in southern England, the section on trying to maintain good farming practices and loosing money should be compulsary reading for Irish TD’s and farming representative. The resistance encountered to their plans seem to be redolent of what we are constantly hearing here. Well worth a read !  


Benedict Macdonald – Pelagic

Building on some of the themes in Wilding this book contains a call to arms to UK birders and, after painting a bleak picture of how they got there, presents an amazing vision for the future of UK birds with everything from warblers to pelicans finding a home in the UK through habitat restoration. While the end point seems incredible the book lays out how simple changes in UK public policy could create an amazing and inspiring future for British birds.

Whittled Away

Pádraic Fogarty – Collins Press

Obviously can’t mention rewilding and the shocking state of nature on the British Isles without coming to our very own denuded landscape. Laid out in great detail this excellent read by the campaign office for the Irish Wildlife Trust this book explains how we got where we are (spoiler alert our biodiversity isn’t doing great) but more importantly how we can fix it.


Hugh Aldersey-Williams Penguin press  

More about tides than you really want to know – but an enjoyable piece of prose with interesting anecodotes – lots of history on tides and also current science – well worth a read.

Cuckoo : Cheating by Nature

Nick Davies – Bloomsbury

This is a book about cuckoos. That’s really all there is to it, cuckoos, information about cuckoos at a depth and scope that you didn’t think you needed. And you probably don’t but I have to say this is an incredibly enjoyable book and will give you a great appreciation of the struggle that goes into that wonderful cry you hear on a summer morning.

Prawn parasite lookout

Bopyrus squillarum is a parasite on the common Palaemon serratus. Researchers from GMIT’s Marine and Freshwater Research Centre have noticed a high parasite load in the common prawn fishery in Galway Bay. As an extremely visible parasite (see images below) we thought it would be a useful exercise to post some images of this species and alert recorders to its appearance in an effort to get a better understanding of the distribution of this species around Ireland. 

You can record this species on your Seasearch form as part of any of the Seasearch Ireland schemes or directly with the National Biodiversity Data Centre here.


So get examining your prawns and let’s fill in that map below.

Common prawn infected with parasite (Bopyrus squillarum) – Photo copyright Mark Thomas
Common prawn infected with parasite (Bopyrus squillarum) – Photo copyright Mark Thomas
Bopyrus squillarum
Records of the Bopyrus squillarum in Irish waters on Biodiversity maps

Equity at Carlingford Lough

Carlingford Lough

Carlingford Lough is a multiple-designation marine protected area (MPA). Through its designated status as both a Special Area of Conservation (EU Habitats Directive) and a Special Protection Area (EU Birds Directive), it is part of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas. It is listed under the Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance and a nationally-designated Marine Conservation Zone and Area of Special Scientific Interest on its Northern Irish shore. It is also part of the OSPAR Commission’s North East Atlantic Network of MPAs (Region III – Celtic Seas). These multiple designations should, in theory, improve the management and monitoring of Carlingford Lough due to the legally-binding nature of most of these designating authorities (e.g. the European Commission or the OSPAR Commission).

Marine Protected Areas

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are be designated for many reasons, from nature conservation to fisheries management, and are considered successful if they can meet their biological objectives while maintaining sustainable use. This means taking into consideration not just environmental sustainability (i.e. ecological resilience) but also socioeconomic sustainability – maintaining the cultural and economic services that the area provides. Stakeholder involvement in MPA management is necessary to ensure a functional balance between nature conservation and human activity, because research shows that when stakeholders are not aware of and not involved in MPA management and governance, biodiversity suffers. This respect and inclusion of stakeholders in protected area decision-making is known as equitable governance and it is one of the aims of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for improving the status of biodiversity by protecting ecosystems, species, and genetic diversity. Aichi Target 11 of the CBD calls for ‘effectively and equitably managed’ protected areas. However, equity tends to be overlooked in protected area management assessments.


A study conducted by Constance Schéré, a PhD candidate at King’s College London studying marine conservation in the Irish Sea, is exploring the role equity (i.e. fairness and inclusion) plays in MPA effectiveness. Carlingford Lough is one of three case-study sites included in her research. In order to fully understand the state of equitable conservation in the Irish Sea, this study is looking to recruit participants in the Carlingford Lough area to part in a short, fully anonymous online survey. This survey is open to anyone with an interest in the conservation and protection of the lough. It should take about 15 minutes to complete and all participants who complete the survey can choose to be entered into a prize draw to win 1 of 3 Amazon gift cards, worth up to £/€100. Participants can also choose to be interviewed (by phone or by Skype) to elaborate on any issues or good practices they feel are most important regarding how Carlingford Lough is being managed and protected. Since the online survey is fully anonymous, identities will not be revealed in the study results even if participants choose to be interviewed.


The link to the survey can be found here:

How do we take an inventory of the vast depths and expanse of the Ocean?

When most people think of the ocean it seems too big to comprehend. We once believed that our smallness by comparison meant that our actions could never harm it in any way. The fact that the Marine environment is not easily accessible, means that it is a world that seems alien, surreal and distant to the wider public. Marine citizen scientists can bridge that distance with knowledge and enthusiasm. My personal experience working in the diving industry was that scuba diving enthusiasts come from all walks of life, excitement from learning, identification and record contributions are infectious to their friends and family. All have in common a superpower, breathing underwater (periodically at least) and a deep love for the ocean and its inhabitants.


Citizen science diver surveying an eel grass bed

Public scientific contributions give communities a chance to actively participate in protection and monitoring of their local environments. There have been numerous successful citizen science initiatives in Ireland, for example: Irish butterfly and bumblebee monitoring schemes and several schemes run by Bird Watch Ireland (Donnelly et al,2013). These initiatives benefit from plenty of volunteers due to easier access, smartphone apps and other automatic data management assists. In the marine environment a smartphone won’t last, you need a smart diver which is where Seasearch Ireland and its members come in.

Citizen Science data has been shown by studies to have the potential to benefit both ecological and biodiversity studies and contribute to monitoring programs as well as help in invasive species management (via early detection) (Delaney et al,2007), and identification of new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Donnelly et al,2013 found the potential within schemes such as Seasearches Adopt a dive site program, to address major constraints in the continuous monitoring in subtidal areas of interest. The main ones being time, finance and availability of experts. Many studies such as that of Delaney et al,2007 compared accuracy of trained volunteers versus specialists and found it to be comparable.

Continual surveys create experts who will hone and improve their skills each time, training provided and identification guides which are continually improved upon, all add power to the data. Availability of data, data validation techniques, and survey design methods are all details which are important to any scientist using the data (Burgess et al,2016), if the survey is to be carried out again, for example, to prove a change has occurred in the environment it must be carried out the same way for comparison. Measures of variability must be assessed, and final statistics are always delivered with a probability of error and an expected range for results of a repeat survey/experiment.

None of this of course is any fun at all, well not for me anyway, statistics was my worst module, a necessary evil. Preliminary assessment of the responses I have had with the quiz suggest extremely responsible recording and a high level of knowledge. This week I will be writing the final report and holding off on the statistics in the hope for a few more responses. Please look out for the final report, hope to see you all underwater sometime soon,

Lisa Nihill.


Burgess, H. K., DeBey, L. B., Froehlich, H. E., Schmidt, N., Theobald, E. J., Ettinger, A. K., … Parrish, J. K. (2017).” The science of citizen science: Exploring barriers to use as a primary research tool”. Biological Conservation, 208, 113–120. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2016.05.014. Available at: (accessed 16/04/2020)

Delaney, D. G., Sperling, C. D., Adams, C. S., & Leung, B. (2007). “Marine invasive species: validation of citizen science and implications for national monitoring networks”. Biological Invasions, 10(1), 117–128. doi:10.1007/s10530-007-9114-0. Available at: (accessed 17/04/2020)

Donnelly, A., Crowe, O., Regan, E., Begley, S., & Caffarra, A. (2013). “The role of citizen science in monitoring biodiversity in Ireland”. International Journal of Biometeorology, 58(6), 1237–1249. doi:10.1007/s00484-013-0717-0. Available at: (accessed 19/04/2020)

Who cares about the dragonets?

Diving is so calming, everything slows down and you are acutely aware of your breathing rhythms, it’s like a meditation. In the short time (too short) spent on a dive you could spot anything from 10-100 different species depending on the site, your knowledge and the patience of your dive buddy. I appreciated the beauty and elegance of it all without thinking of the functional roles each organism plays in the ecosystem.

When it comes to conservation, often scientists will try to assign a monetary value to things in order to ensure funding for studies and protection. For example, the identification of cold-water coral habitats as essential breeding ground for the Norwegian Redfish, which is of commercial importance. There is little profit to made from Dragonets which is reflected in the lack of target specific surveys. Dr Pauline King noted an absence in C. reticulatus during her sampling in Galway bay (King et al,1978). A paper written by Chang,1951 did find specimens of C. reticulatus while sampling off Plymouth for C. lyra and added it as a North Sea fish. At that time an examination of zoological museum specimens at Bergan revealed two Reticulated dragonets which had been misidentified as the Spotted dragonet (C. maculatus, Rafinsque,1810). A review of the world’s genera by Fricke, 1981, Nekado, 1982 has led to dead specimens at least being clearly distinguishable by number of fin rays and pre-opercular spines, 1st dorsal fin and pattern differences on 2nd dorsal fin (Froiland,1976).

Close-up of 2nd dorsal fin C. lyra. WoRMS,2019.

Reticulated 2nd dorsal pattern. Hans Hillewaerte,2007.







So, the Spotted confused with the Reticulated, and the Reticulated confused with the Common. Last week we were talking about habitat preference, many of the photographs of the Reticulated do appear to be on coarse substrate noted by Seasearch members also. Fricke, 2017 sampled the Mediterranean in search of C. reticulatus and noted a preference to coarse sand bottom with large shell fragments, it was believed that the grain size was similar in size to the spots on the back and sides. During this sampling a clear depth boundary was noted between the spotted and the Reticulated with the Spotted found in deeper water. Given that the Common and the Reticulated share the same food preferences (small crustaceans, gastropods, polychaete worms & small starfish) (McDermott et al,1995) it would make sense for them to have distinguished foraging grounds also to avoid competition.

Chang,1951 found C. reticulatus rare in offshore waters where as Boer,1971 found their numbers increased further away from the Dutch coast, these varied depth findings could simply be down to substrate type at different sampling locations. Then they could easily be found both at the same site but on different substrate patches. Their behaviour could also be different in different locations, breeding time is different in the North Sea versus the Mediterranean for example, and dominant prey items vary with location. A paper was published by Burgeot et al, 1993 identifying Callionymus lyra as a target species to assess pollution in the Marine environment using biomarkers, however despite its abundance its biology was not well studied, and this is an important condition. Hopefully future comprehensive studies can be performed here to characterize our Dragonets.


  • Boer, P.,1971. “The occurrence of Callionymus reticulatus in the Southern North Sea” ICES journal of Marine Science (33(3) pp506-509). Available at: (accessed 08 April 2020)
  • Chang, H-W., 1951. “Age and growth of Callionymus lyra”. Journal of Marine Biology Association. Pp281-295. Available at: DOI: 10.3750/AIEP/02098 (accessed 22 March 2020)
  • Fricke, R. & Ordines, F. “First record of the Reticulated Dragonet Callionymus reticulatus from the Balereac Islands, Western Mediterranean”. Acta Ichthyol. Piscat (47(2) pp163-171). Available at: https:/DOI: 10.3750/AIEP/02098 (accessed 22 March 2020)
  • Froiland, O & Greve, L., 1976. “Callionymus reticulatus (Pisces, Callionymidae) from Western Norway”. Sarsia (62(1) pp1-4) Available at: (accessed 02 April 2020)
  • King, P.A., Fives, J. M. & McGrath, D. “Reproduction growth and feeding of the dragonet, Callionymus lyra (Teleostei: Callionomidae), in Galway Bay, Ireland” (1994). Journal of the Marine Biological association of the United Kingdom, (volume 74, 3, pp 513-526). Available at: (accessed 17 February, 2020).
  • McDermott, S. & Fives, JM. “The diet of an assemblage of small demersal fish in the western Irish Sea”. Biology and Environment: Proceeding of the Royal Irish Academy, 1995. (95B (3) pp195-201). Available at: (accessed 10 April 2020)
  • Wheeler, A.,1961. “Callionymus reticulatus as a North Sea fish” Annals and magazine of Natural History (4(48) pp753-754) Available at: (accessed 20 March 2020)
  • Wheeler, A. (1969). The Fishes of the British Isles and North-West Europe. Michigan state University Press, East Lansing, 1969.

Does the reticulated dragonet prefer the rocks or the sand?

A tale of two fishes

Lisa Nihill

Learning is often like going down the rabbit hole, each piece of acquired knowledge leads to more questions and sends you off down a different tunnel. I’m now itching to get back in the ocean and pay a bit more attention to these guys who become more interesting all the time.

This week I have been sending out a photographic identification quiz containing 20 photographs of both the Common and the Reticulated dragonets. The idea behind the quiz is to get an idea of an overall % error and to compare the data for identification of males versus females/juvenile males. As a biologist I fully acknowledge that photographic identification is not ideal, and certainly some of the photographs will reflect real conditions under which live recordings would be made (although you do get more time).

The development of the quiz has not been without difficulties. The initial plan was to have a bank of 100 photographs in a bank and randomly choose from this bank ensuring a balance. I had intended to obtain photographs from both the aquarium and the field, but these plans were curtailed by our collective current circumstances. This left me searching the internet for pictures where I found many which I believed to be labelled incorrectly. In fact, finding photographs which were of reputable sources was possible, but limited my bank down to a less desirable 30. Here again highlights, and possibly contributes to identification issues. With the females and the juveniles, I honestly can’t tell myself and had to double check, one was subsequently removed from the bank. Here is an example of one which I think may be mislabelled, what do you think? Common or reticulated? Can you find more?

Dragonet? Frijsinger, A & Vestjens, 2004

All Seasearch members have been doing exceptionally well in the quiz so far and many have diligently pointed out to me that many times they would like a genus option, where I have provided only species choices. This is very encouraging and of course would be the correct thing to do if unsure, and unsurety is sure to happen with some of these, I ask for people to give it a go in the interest of statistically highlighting the difficulties in identification of females and juveniles.

There has been some interesting feedback on habitat preferences too with some saying that the reticulated dragonet prefers hanging out on rocky mixed ground, where trawlers do not go and therefore divers gravitate towards. There are some who say they are found in sandy, muddy areas and some who say they are mostly on mixed gravel and coarse sand. This poses another interesting question and I plan to pull the reticulated records to determine if there is a clear pattern to substrate preference.

Until next time, I appreciate any and all participation, and wait in anticipation for your insights.

If you’d like to take part in the quiz you can download the pdf here and simply answer and email to

Where is the Reticulated dragonet hiding? Is it in plain sight?

A tale of two fishes – Lisa Nihill, GMIT

Where is the Reticulated dragonet hiding? Is it in plain sight?

I learned to dive in the subtropics while travelling and got my Divemaster in the Andaman Islands. Having come from Dublin suburbia I was ignorant of the majestic beauty of our own oceans until I returned. I feel that the term “Divemaster” was not entirely deserved by me until I had completed my first season here. Wild swells, tidal currents of 6knots, wind, cold. All these tough conditions contribute to the high productivity supporting a diverse array of life here. When the dust settles and the visibility is good there is a world of colour which rivals coral reefs, and like our sunsets are never the same from day to day.

When identification comes down to small details in the field a combination of these conditions can really make life difficult. We are in their world, and we are certainly not as prepared for it as they are no matter how much gear is dangling off us. They are often very well camouflaged in their environment, you need to “get your eye in”. Still there are organisms I don’t see until they move (been inked before you’ve seen the cuttlefish?). Particularly when the viz is like this,

 Diver in poor visibility, turbid water. (Nguyen et al,2019)

another day you get this,

Me at Gurrig Island, Maharees. (Sarah Tallon, 2013)

Bottom dwelling (benthic) organisms like the dragonets are designed to go unseen. They cruise around on the bottom feeding on small crustaceans and worms, even starfish have been found in their stomachs. They in turn have been found in the stomachs of bigger fish including cod. The ICES fish stomach contents survey returns an incidence ratio of Callionymus lyra 10:1 Callionymus reticulatus. This ratio is closer to Seasearch data (7:1) and MarLiN Marine Survey data (professional) (7:1), interesting that these are so different to records from commercial surveys. Searching through papers for comprehensive surveys of dragonets I came across a paper written by Dr Paulin King, a study on C. lyra in Galway Bay, and as luck would have it one of my favourite lecturers. During the following interview we talked about C. reticulatus and I asked had she come across many of them during sampling, she said she had not (King et al, 1994).

This got me thinking again about their differences, back to the drawing board so to speak. Size could be an important factor here, the Common is the larger of the two max length male 30cm, Female 20cm. Pauline collected her samples from bycatch piles on Nephrops trawlers mostly in Galway Bay, the cod end would have a mesh size of about 80mm diamond mesh, although this size is being reviewed. In her paper she mentions the diversity amongst the destructive piles. I wonder now if the smaller size of the Reticulated makes it less susceptible to the trawl. Pauline found among her samples a significant deviation from 1:1, M: F, there were more males in the samples, and it was suggested this could be because of the difference in size between sexes. The Reticulated Male max. length is 11cm, Female 6.5cm. Could this be the reason? Let me know what you think?