Sherkin Comment journal provides a monitor of the magic of marine life in west Cork’s Roaring Water Bay

EVERY time I go to this island ‘in the sun’ I take print publications from another island with me, the Sherkin Comment, published by the Marine Station on that island in west Cork’s Roaring Water Bay. It can also be downloaded from the internet.
Sherkin Comment journal provides a monitor of the magic of marine life in west Cork’s Roaring Water Bay

Each of the quarterly issues provides an absorbing read of well-written, superbly-researched articles on the flora and fauna of Ireland, marine and terrestrial, and on nature and climate in the wider world. It informs and educates, and here, in this entirely different environment (although the sea is the same, and some of the creatures in it) it connects me with the outdoor world at home.

In the latest issue, an article by Oscar Merne, the doyen of Irish and European seabird ornithology, now sadly, deceased, reports on curlews worldwide. Curlews have a place in my heart as they do in the heart of anyone who has ever heard their haunting call. Mr Merne wrote especially about the Irish population which he believed might well go the way of the corncrake.

Curlews nested in 90 per cent of Irish habitats surveyed in 1972. By 2013, there were less than 200 pairs nesting here. I see curlews regularly, some probably natives but, mostly, winter migrants, on the mudflats of Courtmacsherry Bay in west Cork. Reading about these and other Irish birds, native and migrant, in the Comment keeps me in touch with home.

The Lough Wildfowl Society of Cork city is a major feature in the latest issue, No 59, and Tony O’Mahony presents a personal perspective on the flora of Cork.

I have with me, too, Issue 58, in which an article entitled “Conserving Our Eel Stocks”, particularly drew my attention. I have written about the benighted behaviour of Dutchmen, Germans, and others, quaffing European eels (Anguilla anguilla) along with their beers, and the British slurping down jellied eels after drinking theirs, and the lie that these are farmed eels, and therefore do not deplete the wild population.

Nonsense! They were netted by their millions as tiny glass eels and then grown and fattened. Not one elver of those millions would ever return to the Sargasso Sea to breed; they would all end up in human stomachs. I planned to use the information in The Comment to make further comment myself. And I will do so. The quarterly is on my desk beside me.

All creatures great and small, and matters of energy, conservation, geology, and history (the 19th century import of Peruvian guano to Cork) receive scholarly attention. I find reports on “The Atlantic Salmon — lost at sea”; “Sanderlings, the Duracell ‘sea mice’”; “...the adverse effects of declawing Irish Brown Crab”; “The Pros and Cons of Windpower”, and many others.

But most interesting in the latest edition is the story of “40 years of Sherkin Island Marine Station”, written by Matt Murphy, its founder and director. He relates how he and his wife Eileen, with the first five of their seven children, “a few suitcases and some furniture” came to live on the island in 1971, following a dream. I also followed dreams to islands but they were sunnier, and I, certainly, never achieved the results they did.

After the oil spill in Bantry Bay in 1974 and a survey of its effects on the rocky shores of the island by Dr Jenny Baker, an expert on marine oil pollution, Gillian Bishop, a British biologist and the Murphys, a conclusion was reached that only a programme of long term monitoring of rocky shores would provide significant results, and so the Sherkin Island Marine Station was born.

It relied on volunteers, and students came in numbers from universities. Some had third-level degrees in science theory, but had never experienced marine life in practice until their stay on Sherkin. They went on to spread the word and make personal careers.

Today, it has four laboratories and five libraries, and a huge archive of samples. Every year, volunteer scientists spend from April to November establishing baseline data on shores from Cork Harbour to Bantry Bay, recording the natural changes in animal and plant communities. Raising awareness of the marine environment, and education, is a guiding principle. The station publishes scholarly and popular books, on flora and fauna. In the early 1990s, I took my, then, 11-year-old son to an exhibition of marine creatures put on by the Marine Station at Connolly Hall in Cork. He remembers it still.

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