A very productive gathering in Cork concludes the first series of regional meetings organised by the IOLN Secretariat in 2023

Fifteen between IOLN members and other local ocean literacy stakeholders joined the IOLN Secretariat members Noirin Burke and Maria Vittoria Marra at Old Cork Waterworks Experience on Wednesday the 7th of June from 10am to 4pm to conclude the series of regional meetings started in Belfast last March. Some pictures of the gathering can be found at the bottom of this blog piece.

The meeting saw also the participation of the Member of the European Parliament Grace O’Sullivan who listen with delight to some of the engaging ocean literacy initiatives carried on in Munster and commented about the important role they play in creating a more sustainable future. In fact, the meeting featured a very diversified line-up of presentations ranging from education and public engagement to water quality, citizen science , and Horizon Europe projects.

Mervyn Horgan (Old Cork Waterworks Experience) introduced the venue of the meeting starting from its history: dating back to the 1760’s, Old Cork Waterworks played a key role in the prosperity of Cork and offers fascinating insights into the city’s industrial heritage. Afterwards, Mervyn gave an overview of the broad portfolio of activities carried out in the facilities, which includes an interactive exhibit area, dedicated classroom space, large courtyard space where  from September to June primary school children are engaged with hands-on Discover Primary Science and Maths accredited workshops, school outreach as well as historical school tours of the Old Cork Waterworks. Finally, Mervyn reminded the meeting attendees about the forthcoming Cork Carnival of Science, which in 2022 reached 25,000 visitors.

David Whyte (MaREI, UCC) talked about the project PREP4BLUE which stands for ‘Preparing the Research & Innovation Core Mission Ocean, Seas & Waters’ one of the 5 EU Missions of which he first gave an overview. Then David, who leads along with Aoife Deane (MaREI, UCC) PREP4BLUE’s WP3 focused on enabling stakeholders to empower citizen and community-led action in support of the Mission, described to the attendees objectives and first achievements of the project in this regard, as e. g. the results of the survey carried out from October 2022 to January 2023 to analyse citizen participation in marine & freshwater activities across Europe and its waters, the webinar series on ‘Planning for Citizen Participation in Mission Ocean & Waters’ aimed primarily at anyone applying for Mission Ocean funding under Horizon Europe, and a toolbox of approaches for citizen engagement.

Catherine Seale-Duggan (Local Authority Waters Programme) pointed out that ~72% of water bodies in co. Cork are of good quality compared to the national average of 53%, but there is a high pressure on transitional waters caused by excess nitrogen, bad wastewater treatment and boats discharge at sea in ports. However, Catherine described how communities can be successfully involved in the conservation of their catchments, as e. g. in the case of the Minane river for which an Aquatic Baseline and Management Plan was developed as result of a community-led study. Finally, Catherine described a number of actions people can take for water quality, and she also showcased some initiatives that have been carried out to draw people’s attention on the connection between the inland waters and the ocean, like e. g. the ‘Source To Sea’ educational video resources for primary schools developed by Scoil Na Mara.

Dave Wall (National Biodiversity Data Centre) shared some results of the Explore your Shore! Programme focused on Cork, which is by far the Southern county where the highest number of validated open access records has been collected. Also, he described some of the new citizen science projects included in the programme, i. e. The Big Beach Biodiversity Survey, The Great Rocky Shore Bioblitz, and Adopt-a-Rockpool!. He also explained how the records collected by the Irish citizen scientists are important to build baselines for the distribution of intertidal species, including the invasive ones, as well as to monitor the effects of climate change and water quality on it, and how these records feed into broader European databases contributing to a more comprehensive perspective on species distribution. Finally, Dave announced the Round-Ireland Coastal Bioblitz happening from 8-11th June 2023 to celebrate World Ocean Day.

Elaine Doyle (Clean Coasts) described some of the yearlong activities carried out by the 2,000 Clean Coasts community groups around Ireland to help protect and care for Ireland’s waterways, coastline, seas, ocean and marine life​ focusing on some of the major Clean Coasts campaign, as e. g. beach and city river clean-ups, marram grass planting. Elaine also showcased some of the many initiatives carried out by Clean Coasts, as e. g. the Valentine’s Day campaign and the ‘Love Your Coast’ photography competition among many others, and mentioned the Corporate Volunteering Programme which, together with donations from individuals and companies, helps offer support to Clean Coasts volunteering groups via a Grant Scheme. Elaine also pointed out how World Ocean Day will be an important date to celebrate Clean Coasts’ 20th anniversary.

Rebecca Pflanz (ERINN) introduced another Horizon Europe project called BlueRemediomics which seeks to establish strategies to harness the full potential of marine microbial communities by uniting science, industry, and society stakeholders in a framework compatible with environmental protection. In order to increase awareness of the project and its results among different stakeholders, the outreach actions of BlueRemediomics link in with the popular marine outreach program Tara Oceans. As its latest project, Tara will go on a new 2 year long expedition  along the entire European coast called TREC – ‘Traversing European Coastlines’ and, in collaboration with BlueRemediomics, it will promote healthy microbiome approaches and establish a new metric for assessing ocean health. From 9th to 16th September 2023, Tara Oceans will make a major port-call in Galway to hold the Tara Europa Lab, a workshop to promote science-to-policy dialogue with local and regional organisations.

Rory Jackson (West Cork Ocean Tours) presented the Oceans Plastic Project started in 2017 with the aim of teaching marine knowledge as well as building up a picture of and monitoring the scale of the plastic waste along the Irish coastline. After the success of the pilot, carried out with the transition/4th year plus other years students of the Skibbereen Community School, Rory has engaged other schools in co. Cork to look at new ways to reduce plastic use in our daily lives, to recycle, to collect the plastic and upcycle it using the waste in art and design projects in the schools, and potentially to invent new products to manage the plastics and prevent them from entering the marine environment. Rory reported also on the Oceans Plastic Project team at Schull Community College who won the ‘Upcycling and Reusing Marine plastic waste’ category of the 2023 Eco UNESCO Competition.

In collaboration with Cassie Stymiest (Educational Passages), who joined the meeting remotely from the US via Zoom, Rory Jackson shared also the story of the miniboat ‘Crimson Current’ which was launched by the Morristown Beard School (MBS) in New Jersey in April 2022, landed in Cork in June of the same year and, after being refurbished by the students of Barryroe National School, will be relaunched by the same Irish school this summer. The Educational Passages’ miniboat programme enables connection with the local school and community where a boat lands and advance learning about cultures around the world, tracking their miniboats while learning about ocean currents, weather, technology and much more about the oceans, as experienced by the students in the two schools in Ireland and the US who have been connecting over the last year.

The slides of all presentations can be downloaded by clicking on the name of the corresponding speaker.

As it happened in Belfast and Galway at the previous meetings, the final part of the day involved a discussion among the attendees about the activities the IOLN should plan for the next future. A strong need that emerged during the meeting in Cork was for the IOLN to support initiatives focused on transitional waters, the interface habitats between inland waters and the ocean which, in spite of their importance, are often neglected and there is less public awareness about. Also, in line with the previous regional meetings, the attendees in Cork expressed the hope that new face-to-face gatherings will be organised soon in order to give the IOLN Members new opportunities to liaise and get to know each other in person, and also that the IOLN Secretariat will restart a recurring newsletter to share with the Members events, funding opportunities and other news of general interest.

The IOLN Secretariat aims at putting into practice these suggested actions after the summer, so please contact irishoceanliteracynetwork@gmail.com to receive more information about the next in-person meetings that will be organised and/or if you are interested in subscribing a newsletter about all things ocean literacy happening across the Island of Ireland.

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