Citizen science pinpointed the first samples of a rare kelp in Irish waters and now NUI Galway researchers are hoping that sea swimmers, divers and kayakers may help to find more. Samples of golden kelp (Laminaria ochroleuca), normally found in France, Spain, and Britain, were identified for the first time in north Mayo.
The small population was discovered in Scots Port cove on the north west facing Belmullet coastline, and recognised by Kathryn Schoenrock of NUI Galway’s (NUIG) Ryan Institute. The dominant kelp species found in Irish waters is Cuvie (Laminaria hyperborea), and five main types of kelp provide important habitats for marine life.
“Golden kelp, which harbours less biodiversity, is a really important species in Spain and Portugal,” said Dr Schoenrock. “We would have expected to find the first samples here on Ireland’s south-east coast, given the proximity to Britain, France, and Spain.”
Scots Port is located 1,040km from the nearest golden kelp population in Britain, and 1,630km away from the nearest population in France.
Genetic analyses would suggest that the Co Mayo population is more diverse than the British, resembling the richness described for populations in the Iberian peninsula, said Dr Schoenrock.
“The fact that it was found in a small enclosed cove in north Mayo may be a result of a Portuguese or Spanish vessel sheltering nearby,” she said.
However, it can drift long distances and it could be more prevalent than we know.
The samples found by citizen science participants in a Seasearch Ireland and Porcupine survey trip were collected by Stacy A Krueger-Hadfield for genetic analysis at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in North America.
The discovery was the subject of a study which had recently been published in the scientific journal, Marine Biodiversity Records.
Dr Schoenrock said citizen science initiatives such as Seasearch Ireland and Coastwatch are an “excellent way to involve local communities that have a vested interest in the health of these ecosystems”.
“In conjunction with existing research bodies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Parks and Wildlife Services, and the Marine Institute, we need more programmes that can sustain long term ecological research of shallow marine systems over many years,” she said.
Given that golden kelp has much lower biodiversity than native kelp forests, it is a more suitable kelp to harvest, Dr Schoenrock noted. “It can grow to a larger size and it doesn’t dominate habitats yet in Ireland,”she said.
State approval in November 2017 of a license to harvest native kelp in Bantry Bay has aroused opposition on environmental grounds in west Cork, and resulted in ongoing litigation.