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Mapping the deep.

Byline: DAVID GREENWOOD

EXPERTS from North Wales and Ireland will meet tomorrow to draw up plans for a wildlife map of the Irish Sea bed.

The pounds 600, 000 three-year project will be the focus of a two-day workshop in Bangor.

Scientists from both sides of the Irish Sea aim to highlight wildlife and marine habitats.

Code-named Habmap, the operation is being co-ordinated by the Countryside Council for Wales. Scientists will pinpoint what lies under the Irish Sea, allowing potentially sensitive areas to be protected from development or over-use.

Bangor-based research officer Dr Karen Robinson said: ``It will be done by collating what is already known, then filling in the gaps using a combination of predictive modelling and survey work.

``Much of the mapping will involve advanced technology - developing computer models to predict what we might find on the sea-bed in terms of the communities that live there.

``These will then be used to produce digital maps of the sea-bed that will be validated during survey cruises. ''

Dr Robinson added: ``The sea-bed of the southern Irish Sea has a wide range of col ourful and intriguing wildlife - from algae-dominated rocky reefs to deep muddy areas, home to many burrowing animals.

``The underwater landscapes are just as varied and dramatic as those on land but have the added fascination of being hidden from view.

``A wide range of people use the sea-bed, whether it is for fishing, recreation, aggregate extraction or the development of renewable energy sources, for example.

``The habitat maps will be used to help us manage the sea-bed more effectively, helping us to identify and protect vulnerable ecosystems, enabling potential developers and planners to make more informed decisions. ''

Project leader Dr Kirsten Ramsay said: ``We will have around 20 delegates at the workshop. It is partly about collating what information is available, which is pretty well scattered, and adding to it. ''

The project has attracted cash aid under the European Interreg scheme.

Linking up with CCW are the National Museums and Galleries for Wales, Cardiff University, Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork and the Marine Institute.

A living sea

n Warm waters from the Atlantic Gulf Stream meet cooler, tidally driven waters at both the northern and southern ends of the Irish Sea producing good conditions for plankton, which act as food for a huge range of fish, seabirds, seals and various shellfish, including cockles, mussels and clams.

n Large whales, such as fin, sperm and humpback often come into the deeper, offshore areas of the region, while various types of dolphins, such as the common dolphin, move throughout the centre of the Irish Sea.

n Cardigan Bay is an important breeding and feeding area for bottle nose dolphins.

n The sea has also attracted giant leatherback turtles as well as blue and basking shark, along with other visitors from the south including sunfish and Portugese man o'war.

n More than 20 species of sea bird breed in the region including British storm petrel, fulmar, Manx shearwater, gannet, kittiwake, puffin, guillemot, razorbill, and sandwich and roseate terns.

CAPTION(S):

Experts are to map the wildlife of the Irish Sea bed in a pounds 600, 000 project over the next three years Graphic: RICHARD WILLIAMS
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 26, 2005
Words:536
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