Fireworks Anemone surveying – June 2022

Fireworks anemone – Pachycerianthus multiplicatus

An extremely rare species nationally Fireworks anemones have been recorded at three sites in Ireland. Globally they are present in a a number of sea lochs in Scotland and a number of sites in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. A large and striking species (tubes can be up to 1m long with tenatacles up to 30cm in length), they are typically bright white or white with brown rings.

Firework anemone, Kilkieran Bay, Co Galway – Photo Tony O’Callaghan
Fireworks Anemone (Pachycerianthus multiplicatus)
Distribution of records of

Surveying 2022

While the site at which Fireworks anemone occur in Kilkieran Bay is monitored as part of the National Marine Monitoring Scheme the full extent of the species at the site has not been fully measured. Seasearch Ireland plan on conducting a number of transect counts of firework anemone density and trying to map the coverage of fireworks anemone at the site. This will require a number of dives and, as the old adage goes, many hands make light work. So we are looking for divers to assist with this project. We will be conducting the dives in June 2022 (exact date will be decided based on availability of divers) so if you’re interested in helping out, drop us an email at

Note: There is no requirement to be an existing Seasearch recorder (though preference will be given to Seasearch divers) you just need to be qualified to BSAC/ScotSAC Sports Diver, PADI Advanced Open Water Diver, SAA Club Diver or CMAS 2 Star equivalent. You also must have done at least 20 dives, of which 10 should have been in temperate sea water.

Nature books 2021

As always we’ve spent the year with our nose in a book when it’s not been poking it’s nose in a fishes business. Here’s some of the ones we really enjoyed this year and we’d highly recommend them all but remember if you are buying books to support your local independent bookshop.


Future Sea : How to Rescue and Protect the World’s Oceans – Deborah Rowan Wright

Takes a somewhat legalistic approach but covers the laws that govern the seas and particularly the high seas. It suggests a paradigm shift from the idea of protected areas in a vast sea of exploited oceans and to an approach of all the oceans are protected by default with areas that are open for exploitation. Presents a somewhat dry subject in a highly readable and relatable way.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Peter Wohlleben

The science behind how trees communicate and some really interesting ideas about how a happy forest is a healthy forest. Trees (like humans) do much better in forests, in groups near other trees of the same species and don’t do well on their own. Great read couldn’t recommend it more.

Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel – Carl Safina

Amazing book that explores animal communication and emotions by examining wolves, elephants and orcas. Obviously with my background in behavioural ecology this was of particular interest to me but I hope it was written in a way that would make it accessible to a lay person. Really interesting book, the only caveat I would have about it is that reading about elephants always makes me a bit sad because of how they are treated by humans.

Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens

Obviously a fiction book but the nature imagery of this book at times is stunning. I’m loath to do much writing about it for fear of spoilers but I thought this was an excellent book.

Beak, Tooth and Claw Living with Predators in Britain – Mary Colwell

This book looks at our often fraught relationship with foxes, corvids, badgers, weasels, seals, and birds of prey. A much more even handed approach than I would have to the treatment of some of these species it explores both sides of the debate in a detailed manner. While it is a UK book most of the issues that are present there are relevant in Ireland.

On Fire: The Case for the Green New Deal – Naomi Klein

A call to arms for people interested in the incipient climate catastrophe while I think this book is unlikely to change anyone’s mind on these issues it does offer hope that climate breakdown can be averted. That being said the passages about the wildfires in Canada and how she explains this to her young son is particularly harrowing.

Back to Nature: How to love life and save it – Chris Packham, Megan McCubbin

First things first, if you don’t like Chris Packham’s unique style you will not enjoy this book. Lovely mix of personal stories, interesting science and conservation success stories. Covers some of the same ground that’s covered in Beak, Tooth and Claw Living with Predators in Britain above but not quite in the same even handed manner.

Rewilding: The Radical New Science of Ecological Recovery – Paul Jepson, Cain Blythe

Highly topical book given the attention focused in the last few years on Rewilding this book is somewhat dry in parts but full of fascinating ideas. It particularly focuses on the idea of large herbivores rather than apex predators which seem to dominate the media narrative around this subject. It explores the idea of getting rid of the idea of nature reserves for particular species being kept in an unnatural stasis through human actions by allowing landscape processes to take over and rewild. While I wouldn’t agree with all of the ideas put forward in this book nonetheless they are fascinating.

The Seaweed Collector’s Handook – Miek Zwamborn

The Seasweed Collector’s Handbook is a meandering wander around Seaweed’s and the general joy of studying them with lots of annecdotes regarding collectors / collections and how people perceive them. Some of the illustration are stunning there is a section on recipes which I have yet to try and a Portraits section which has some pressings and distributions maps  !

September Observer course

Having had a number of expressions of interest we’re going to run an Observer course with a difference in September. We will be posting course packs to all participants and making the training videos available online for viewing for the duration of the course. The videos will then be supplemented by two workshops recapping the main points of the videos and giving participants the opportunity to ask any questions that may have arisen during the videos. We’re aware it’s extremely difficult to recreate the intimacy of an in-person training course and the ability to ask questions and learn peer to peer but we will organise further virtual dives during the winter to allow people to build up their skills.

All courses videos will be available online from 15 September till 1 October to allow participants to work through course in their own time and supplemented by two online workshops to reinforce the learnings of video and to allow questions and answer sessions.

Dives for the course will take place the weekend of 2 and 3 October 2021 in Galway. These will be shore dives and may be slightly weather dependent, however we are confident we can get students in to see some of the amazing wildlife that Galway has to offer. (Dives are also open to existing Seasearch divers)/

The cost of the course will be €65 or €20 for any existing Observers who wish to undertake a Refresher course and further details can be obtained by emailing

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: