Loughs Agency has welcomed an international delegation of almost 100 marine scientists, academics and political representatives to Derry~Londonderry for the much-anticipated SeaMonitor-STRAITS Conference, which took place at the stunning Guildhall on 23rd and 24th February.
The two-day event, which was compered by biologist and comedian Simon Watt, provided an opportunity for the consortium working on the Loughs Agency-led SeaMonitor project to present their findings and highlight the benefits of tracking aquatic life in our seas and rivers. It is hoped that the data collated will be utilised to help inform policy and management decisions, with the protection of vulnerable marine species a priority throughout the process. The species targeted included salmon, seals, basking sharks, cetaceans and skate.
The SeaMonitor project has received €4.7m of funding from the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). Match-funding for this project has been provided by the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in Ireland.
Ross McGill, Principal Project Officer of SeaMonitor Project, Loughs Agency; Dr Joanne O’Brien, Atlantic Technological University; Dr Niall Ó Maoiléidigh, Marine Institute; Dr Fred Whoriskey, Ocean Tracking Network; Dr Colin Adams, University of Glasgow; Sharon McMahon, CEO, Loughs Agency; Dr Oliver Ó Cadhla, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage Ireland; Andrew King, Special EU Programmes Body; Colin Armstrong, Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs; Dr Jonathan Houghton, Queens University Belfast.
The results of the project make for impressive reading. Over 1,000 animals were tagged throughout the life of SeaMonitor, while the receivers picked up over 4.5 million detections of a variety of species.
SeaMonitor has made waves in science circles for its innovation and ambition, with Europe’s largest fish counter deployed in the North Channel between Malin Head and Islay as part of the project. This particular counter measures comes in at over 60km and 100 receivers in length, demonstrating the scale of this important work. Loughs Agency has collaborated with the European Tracking Network (ETN) throughout this process, with similar counters deployed in the Danish Straits, the Strait of Gibraltar, and the Strait of Bosphorus and Dardanelles.
Day 2 of the conference focused on STRAITS, a new project that has received EU funding to the tune of €3.5 million as part of the Horizon 2030 initiative. In collaboration with partners from ETN, this four-year project will run until the end of 2026 and will essentially act as the successor to SeaMonitor, ensuring that the landmark counter in the North Channel is redeployed and integrated with the other major counters around Europe.
Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Cllr Sandra Duffy, opens the conference on Day 2.
A range of dignitaries attended the conference, including the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Cllr Sandra Duffy; Gina McIntyre, CEO of the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB); and Mark Hanniffy and Richard Hill, Joint Secretaries of the North South Ministerial Council, all of whom conducted speeches expressing their admiration for the collaborative approach taken throughout the duration of the project.
The consortium working on SeaMonitor consisted of Loughs Agency, Atlantic Technological University, University College Cork, the University of California (Davis), the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, Queen’s University Belfast, Ocean Tracking Network (Dalhousie University), Marine Institute, and the University of Glasgow. All members of the working group were in attendance at the Guildhall.
Ross McGill shows Richard Hill the Loughs Agency's Marine Machine.
A Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs spokesperson said:
“The SeaMonitor project set out to establish a tracking network at a much bigger scale than ever previously deployed and has provided us with fascinating insights into the movements of salmon, sea trout, seals and other protected species.
“This new information about migratory pathways will help identify the measures that need to be taken to protect these iconic species throughout their lifecycle. As the project closes, it provides not just improved knowledge, but also a collaborative network of scientists. This knowledge base can be built upon through future projects to identify further actions to assist the protection of these species from climate change and other threats.”
Minister of State for Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Malcolm Noonan T.D., commented:
“I applaud the SeaMonitor project, its collaborating partners and institutions, for what is truly a cause for celebration: through their many achievements in aquatic research and innovation, and in providing brilliant new insights into how some of our most elusive and most treasured species inhabit their underwater world. SeaMonitor highlights the currency and the value of working together on this island and in our shared seas as communities of people, of professionals, of policymakers, so that we can address and find solutions together to the marine environmental challenges of our time.”
Gina McIntyre, Chief Executive of the Special EU Programmes Body, added:
“I am delighted that SeaMonitor has reached this successful conclusion. Protecting life in our coastlines and oceans is vital for conservation both today and in the future, and as we all know nature does not recognise geographical borders, so we need to offer the same protection on all sides of borders.
“This is the reason why the EU Interreg VA Programme invested in projects which had environmental protection objectives. Partnerships across borders and between agencies, have been formed and solidified through the SeaMonitor project, which has produced astounding results and invaluable research. These will serve to enhance EU policy in this area and provide essential information for future developments.”
Sharon McMahon, Loughs Agency CEO addresses the conference.
Sharon McMahon, Chief Executive of Loughs Agency, said:
"SeaMonitor has represented a groundbreaking opportunity to better understand and protect our precious marine environment, and I am proud that Loughs Agency has been at the forefront of this exciting project.
"By harnessing the power of cutting-edge technology, and with the support of eight leading marine research institutions, SeaMonitor has not only enhanced our understanding of key marine species but also created new opportunities for research and conservation.
"This project is a shining example of how we can work together to protect our natural resources and create a better, more sustainable future for all."