Marine Wildlife Roadshow to visit Clew Bay primary schools
Each year, Heritage Week provides us with an opportunity to celebrate the wealth of wildlife situated on our doorstep, with a whole host of free events taking place around the country. This year, the Heritage Council and National Parks and Wildlife Service have sponsored a series of workshops on marine wildlife, targeting schools in the Clew Bay and Tralee Bay areas.
The roadshow, which is being run by marine biologist Dr Sarah Varian, will be visiting Mayo schools from September 6 to 9, highlighting the diverse array of animals and plants that can be found in the Clew Bay marine Special Area of Conservation.
The school visits have also been prompted by the results of Purse Search Ireland, a fisheries conservation project that aims to encourage the Irish public to report their observations of shark and ray eggcases (aka mermaids’ purses), commonly washed up on beaches around our coastline. These sightings are being used to identify nursery areas for ten species of shark, skate and ray, some of which are critically endangered.
CLEW BAY SKATE NURSERY
Clew Bay is of particular interest to the scientists since it is thought to be a nursery area for a population of Common Skate (Dipturus batis), a large, impressive species that can grow up to 2.9 metres in length. Although once a common catch in the north east Atlantic (hence the name), this species is now classified as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union; it is illegal to catch and retain Common Skate in the EU.
The fishing community in Westport is very aware of these conservation issues and has been working closely with scientists and fisheries managers to safeguard stocks. Fortunately, the Central Fisheries Board tagging programme has also shown that Common Skate survival rates are high when the animals are returned to sea following capture, with the same individuals returning to Clew Bay year after year.
HELM SKATE FESTIVAL
Indeed, the continuing health of the bay’s skate population is celebrated by the Helm Skate Festival, which will be taking place on September 2 and 3 this year. This unique event, similar to the Westport International Sea Angling Festival held in June, attracts anglers from around the world who compete to catch the big skate.
This year, with support from the Heritage Council, Purse Search scientists will also be attending the event in the hope of sharing knowledge and information with the local angling community.
GET IN TOUCH
If you are interested in a marine wildlife workshop for your school, or if you would like to talk to a scientist about the skate project, contact Marine Dimensions at 01 2828876.
Marine Dimensions is a non-profit organisation dedicated to enhancing understanding and appreciation of marine biodiversity through education, research and community based participation – www.marinedimensions.ie