November 12th, 2018, Monday morning, the MSc Conservation Behaviour class of 2018 set off from GMIT heading for Co. Kerry in search of marine mammals and birds along the wild west coast of Ireland.
We want to use this opportunity to improve our identification skills, learn new data collection methods and enhance our fieldwork skills. We also aim to improve our knowledge on the biodiversity that the West coast of Ireland has to offer.
Our first stop along the coast was Tarbert, Co. Kerry. We observed numerous wind turbines along the landscape. We were informed that these wind turbines feed the power station owned by SSE Airtricity. We discussed the long-term implications associated with these turbines. Turbines have a 20-30-year life span and currently, no money has been issued to decommission the turbines after their life span . This provokes questions such as what will happen to all the lifeless wind turbines? Will we be left with horizons full of obsolete wind farms? Tarbert being situated along the Shannon estuary is an important area for numerous bird species, the current existence and creation of more turbines poses a fatal risk to birds flying in the area through collision.
We took a stop to look at Foynes Island where we were informed that the IWDG have CPODs deployed which are static acoustic monitoring devices capable of detecting acoustic vocalisations produced by marine mammals. The data recorded will be used for long term monitoring of marine mammals, particularly the resident bottlenose dolphin population. We discovered the borders of the Shannon Estuary SAC and the locations where Bottlenose dolphins are commonly sighted. Unfortunately, we had no sighting of the resident population this time.
During a stop at Ballylongford castle along the Shannon Estuary, we were shown where the liquid nitrogen plant is to be developed. The development has been given the green light where fracked gas will be imported from the USA. We discussed the implications regarding this €500m development. Firstly, in 2017 due to the high methane gas emissions associated, domestic fracking has been banned in Ireland and importing fracked gas from the USA is quite a hypocritical move . Currently, Ireland are under pressure to meet 2020 deadlines for carbon emission reductions. From 2005, emissions of greenhouse gases must be reduced by 20% and the EPA inform us that by 2020 Ireland will only achieve a 1% reduction. Ireland will face significant penalty fines as great as €600 million per year after 2020 . The proposed development is to be situated within Shannon estuary SPA (special protected area) designated for 22 different species of bird and titled “the most important coastal wetland in the country with international importance” . The proposed development is to be situated within a special area of conservation designated for 7 species and 14 habitats. If SPAs and SACs are to exist successfully under the EU Birds and Habitats directives, Ireland must improve on enforcement of legislation to conserve species and habitats . The plant will process gas which must be cooled to -20◦C. This cold water will constantly be expelled into the Shannon estuary. Plumes of low temperature water may cause changes in behaviours of species such as salmon and sea trout and their migrations upriver. This may also affect fisheries such as sprat. This has an indirect impact on the Bottlenose dolphin population within the Shannon estuary as they rely on these fish as food sources.
In the last hour of daylight, we were welcomed to Camp beach by four Harbour seals swimming in the shallows of the sandy shore (Figure 1). We set up a telescope for a closer look. Unfortunately, these guys were not being their usual inquisitive selves and didn’t stick around too long to investigate us.
Figure 1. Common seals resting in the shelters of the shoreline (SealrescueIreland)
My favourite part of day one was the walk along Beale strand. Despite the rain and hardy wind on the Kerry coast, we were able to watch two curlews flying over the sand dunes. Curlews are one of Ireland’s most threatened bird species (Figure 2). The NPWS have reported as little as 120 breeding pairs remaining in Ireland due to loss of bogland from peat extraction, the increased intensity of agricultural practices, deforestation and predation from the usual suspects such as foxes. The NPWS go on to report that curlews may be extinct in Ireland within 10 years . With that in mind, every sighting of these birds is special. The GLAS fund is issued by the department of agriculture to farmers, which now incorporates measures to protect curlews. However, greater protection for curlews is required to conserve the species through issuing protection in other habitats such as bogland and other known nesting sites .
Figure 2. Curlew in flight along Beale strand, Co. Kerry
On a lighter note, a competition was initiated between the two vans. This involved the students in each van working as a team to list all birds that they had seen during the day and the van with the most birds on their list at the end of the day were the winners. The competitive aspect certainly motivated team members to keep their eyes peeled for birds while travelling from place to place. Today, Joanne’s van won the competition.
Bird sightings for the day
Herring Gull, Curlew, Common Gull, Robin, Pigeon, Oyster Catcher, Chaffinch, Jackdaw, Rook, Blackbird, Wren, Kestral, Pheasant, Cormorant, Little Egrit, Black headed gull, Lapwing, Wigeon, Wood Pigeon, Greater Black Backed Gull, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Hooded Crow, Mallard.
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