Sunday, 27 August 2017

A short but sweet time beneath the Wild Atlantic Way

A short but sweet time beneath the Wild Atlantic Way
               By Niamh Brown & Josh Baker

Hi everyone! We’re Niamh and Josh, an oceanographer and marine biologist going into our final years studying in Plymouth, UK. We’re both really interested in all things marine, be it scuba diving, rock-pooling or (as Niamh delicately puts it) throwing expensive monitoring equipment off the side of boats! What attracted us to Sea Synergy was the education and research efforts. I’m lucky enough to be able to use the cetacean data that Sea Synergy collect for my dissertation, some research that will hopefully be beneficial to the local area.

This is both of our first times (that we can remember) in Ireland, and certainly the first time in Co. Kerry. The landscape is so impressive, especially compared to where I come from in East Anglia, where the terrain closely resembles a crêpe! I was lucky enough to get out to the Skelligs last weekend, and the views were truly breath-taking! The phrase goes that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing, and we’ve both been caught out by that once or twice in the time we’ve been here, the viewing point for seal surveys is certainly a soggy place when you forget some waterproofs!
It’s such a shame that we get to spend so little time here, everything we’ve been doing has been so much fun! I’ve particularly enjoyed the Seashore Safaris, seeing children’s faces light up as they see and touch some sea creatures for the first time is truly incredible, and it’s great to hear the little snippets of information that each person brings.
Last weekend we had to say good-bye to Cian and Heather, which was surprisingly hard given we’d only known them for 10 days! It did have a slight upside in that we could move into the house, instead of camping! We’re all going to a pub quiz at the community centre this week, which should be entertaining.
It’s going to be difficult saying good-bye to this place next week, but we’re both making sure we’re getting as much out of every minute as possible for the time we have left!

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Adventure Continues

The Adventure Continues…
By Christie O’Toole
Well, the month of June has been a very busy one for us interns!  On the first weekend in June myself and Esmee had the day off and decided there would be no better way to spend it than on a hike we had been hoping to do for a while.  During a chat in the tourist office next to Sea Synergy on one of our first days in Waterville, we had been told about a beautiful hike around Lough Currane which was supposed to offer excellent views of the lake and surrounding countryside….we were not disappointed!  We had an early lunch and set off from our house at 12:30pm to begin our hike.
After attempting a few wrong paths we found the road we were looking for and began our walk along the lakeside.  Lough Currane is absolutely beautiful, surrounded by hills and separated from the sea by a thin spit of land where Waterville sits.  Our 25km hike took us on small country roads, logging paths through the woods, joining part of the Kerry Way and following sheep trails through the grassy hills and mountains where we were afforded spectacular views of this gorgeous part of Kerry.  As we walked we had a great time chatting but also enjoyed the chirping birds, gurgling streams and baas of a few disgruntled sheep.  We had the wilderness to ourselves and only met a few people towards the end of our hike, it was very peaceful!  We were lucky with the weather and the sun shone on us all day but, in true Irish style, the heavens opened and thoroughly drenched us in the final 10 minute stretch back to the house leaving us dripping.  Nonetheless we were happy, excited by our day and delighted to have seen more of the beautiful area we’re living in.  We made some homemade pizza, put our feet up and watched a well-earned movie with Cian and Sinead when they returned from their day at Sea Synergy.
We’re lucky to be living in a place as beautiful as the west coast of Ireland and to have had weather that is allowing us to get out in nature as much as possible.  In mid-June Cian, Esmee and I did a loop walk around Sneem, again getting to enjoy walking through the woods, hiking up hills, a quick picnic by the roadside and only a few scattered showers.  We did, however, have an ulterior motive for choosing Sneem as the location for our hike….we had heard about Strawberryfields Pancake Cottage and felt we HAD to make a trip to try their pancakes.  Delicious chocolatey pancakes with marshmallows and fresh strawberries was exactly what was needed to refuel following our hike before we headed off to do some more exploring, this time in search of Coral Beach, one of 2 beaches in Ireland made of maerl, a corraline red algae.  Finding the beach was an adventure in itself as we wound our way down tiny roads, walked numerous trails and let out our inner mountain goat to scramble over hills and climb rocky outcrops but we made it!  It was beautiful, even more so after the fun we had getting there and a lovely place to sit and enjoy the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks.
Helen and Heather, our new interns, arrived in time for the next escapade; the Summer Solstice Walk from Caherdaniel to Waterville.  51 of us in total took part in the walk and, though we had figured it would be beautiful, we were still blown away by the scenery as we walked in Daniel O’Connell’s footsteps.  Our excellent guides filled us in on the history the places we passed along the way and we were treated to some beautiful traditional singing at the halfway point. It was an evening to remember and a great opportunity for Cian and I to get to know Helen and Heather as we walked.  As sad as it was to say goodbye to Esmee and Sinead who have become our good friends, we can tell that we’ll make a great team this summer!

Finally, our most recent excursion involved a trip to Loher Fort for Heather and I.  The drive to the fort is very picturesque and the fort itself is really lovely, a sight to behold.  I always love looking at the skill of the builders of the past and wonder how they managed to construct something that would be admired hundreds of years in the future.
So, my first 6 weeks in Waterville have been busy and very exciting!  Outside of exploring my surroundings I’ve been travelling to schools around Kerry to do Seashore Safaris with the kids, carrying out seal surveys, making lesson plans for upcoming camps and so much more….the summer is going brilliantly, I can’t wait for what’s in store next!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

A Day On The Skellig Ring
By Cian McGuinness

What a stunning day it was today! Out of bed and the sun was shining, it was my first day off – though it never really feels like work here. I had checked the weather and we were set for rain by four pm but the weather always seems to lie in Waterville. So Darcy (my motorbike) and I set off to the Skellig Ring to catch the fleeting sun. I never feel alone when riding my bike. The immersive nature of being constantly exposed to the elements enables a deepening of connection with one’s surroundings. Turning the key, cranking the engine, I took off for the day around the Skellig coast ready to take in the sights and be bounced about on the uneven roads. 

In the fresh cool breeze, only getting a little lost, I found the coast with its slow, windy roads and waving hellos from passing cars and motorcycles – something I find very endearing about the area. Soon the island perched upon a glittering ocean came into view. The durable old red sandstone peaks of Skellig Michael, rising 218m above sea level, are inspiring to see even from the mainland.

Soon after appeared a small bay filled with stacking waves on what appeared a calm day. Astonished by the volume of the ocean I pulled over, kicked down my side, and took a seat on one of the perfectly placed picnic tables. Nearby, an artist was sat painting the scene while a family danced around some rock pools to escape the splashing waves. Taking in the view, there was no distraction - everyone focused on their surroundings. A small boreen caught my eye, casually marked 80km/h even with tufts of grass centering it - I was tempted to explore. Hopping back on my bike I followed this bumpy road past an old farmhouse. The aged building spoke of the salty ocean air by its peppered paint work, fallen bricks, and bleached grasses crawling up its side. Like this, there are places you may catch a glimpse of while passing that look to be forgotten by time. Shells of brick, homes to our ancestors, places and stories still speaking today to the fleets of visitors eager to listen. Being here, amongst the history of the land, I felt proud to be Irish and proud of our will to survive in such remote and beautiful areas.
I carried onto Valentia Island visiting Bray Head and onwards towards the Tetrapod fossil. Being a student of geology, the tetrapod footprints were one of the first paleontology items we learned about! Totally nerding out, I took myself on a mini field trip to visit the footprints of one of our earliest ancestors. A steep pebble path lead to a small outcrop sectioned off by a row stainless posts and cable, presumably to preserve the trace fossil from being worn by our footsteps. The footprints, pressed into the 350-million-year-old stone, rest on the ocean's edge just as the animal would have crawled from the sea during the Cambrian era. Nearby is Valentia Lighthouse which, having used much of the station data in climatology assignments and lectures, I was equally excited to visit! The lighthouse, modestly perched at the end of the causeway, is surrounded by tall protecting walls footed exposed rock meeting the throwing ocean. Climbing back up from the sea level I carried along the Valentia ring as rhododendrons, though an alien invasive plant, framed the roads in green and purple. Then, back over the long bridge to Portmagee, I continued home along the ring towards Cahersiveen.

Entering Waterville I passed a string of about 20 bikes, presumably doing the Ring of Kerry before the Killarney Bike festival over the weekend. I waved to a few of them but no response, all riding Harleys and BMWs maybe they weren’t too impressed with my little Darcy, a 400cc Honda. Still though, what they have to enjoy for a few days I have a whole summer to explore. 

Monday, 3 July 2017

New Interns first impressions!

First Impressions
By: Heather Sieger and Helen Waghorne! My name is Heather, and I am from Austin, Texas. I just finished my second year at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, studying human ecology with a focus on environmental science and conservation. I am particularly passionate about marine conservation, ocean litter prevention and clean-up, and marine education. Sea Synergy connects these interests and works toward educating others about threats our ocean faces.
I love to travel and am excited to be in Ireland for the first time. Before arriving at Sea Synergy, I visited Dublin, Galway, Doolin, and Dingle. I have enjoyed learning about Ireland and the Irish culture. Although I’ve only been at Sea Synergy for a week, I’ve enjoyed the beautiful landscape and kind people. We have had some lovely sunny days as well as windy rainy days, but each one has been enjoyable nonetheless. The vibrant green mountains and never-ending ocean views are astonishing, and I feel incredibly lucky to spend the next seven weeks here.
Last week the other interns and I went on a spectacular evening walk from Caherdaniel to Waterville organized by the Community Centre. We learned the history of the area, enjoyed Irish singing, and met great people. I have also done two seal surveys this week and loved watching the seals lay out on the rocky island and swim around. I’ve enjoyed learning about the marine life on the coast of Ireland and noticing the striking similarities to marine life in Maine. I’m looking forward to swimming and snorkeling on warm days, Sea Camp, and meeting the people who come into the centre to learn about the Wild Atlantic Way.
I love working with children, exploring new places, learning new things, snorkeling and diving, and knitting. I am so excited for the opportunities and experiences this summer holds and can’t wait to explore alongside Lucy, Christie, Cian, and Helen.

Dive 5 (Santa Rosa Sea Spider Still).pngHello! I’m Helen and I’m currently studying for an Integrated Masters in Marine Biology at the University of Southampton. I was born in Yorkshire but spent the majority of my life in Singapore where I’ve been diving since I was young. I love the marine world and Sea Synergy’s focus on education and conservation is exactly what made me want to spend my summer here, as well as wanting to explore more about the marine life in Ireland and colder waters.
I am really looking forward to when the summer Sea Camps start in a few weeks, since the chance to work with groups of different people and share my passion for the underwater world and everything in it is exactly what I want to do. Especially working with children who are so much fun to work with. I also can’t wait to do some snorkelling and diving or to visit the Skelligs and see a real puffin for the first time.
Being in Waterville has been amazing, not only is it great to be so close to the ocean and the beach considering I’ve been living in a city with no beach but I love being in a small town where it is nice and quiet. At first it was a little disconcerting waking up to birds instead of car horns but now that I’ve gotten used to it, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to go back to a noisy city. It was great going for a morning swim with Christie, Cian and Esmee before opening Sea Synergy even if it was a little freezing, and I hope that we’ll get a chance to do it again.

Fingers crossed I’ll have a summer full of excitement and have a wonderful time teaching, sharing and learning more.

Friday, 2 June 2017

First impressions for new season @ Sea Synergy

First Impressions
By Christie O’Toole, Sinead Kelly, Esmee Bannenberg and Cian McGuinness
Hi, I’m Christie and I’ll be with Sea Synergy for the whole summer.  I’m really excited to be part of such a fantastic place with a very important message.  I did my undergraduate degree in Marine Science in NUI Galway and have recently completed my MSc in Marine Biology in UCC.  I have had a deep love for all things marine since I was a young girl growing up next to the ocean in west Mayo playing on the beach, surfing, looking for critters in rockpools and out fishing in my dad’s curragh.  I love SCUBA diving, snorkelling, hiking, travelling, rugby and reading…I’m happiest when I’m active and in, on or under the sea!

I have been in Waterville for 2 weeks now and I’m loving every second.  I’ve been helping get Sea Synergy up and running for its opening on June 1st and also exploring the area and finding my feet in my new surroundings.  So far I have been discovering the wonders of the seashore with local school groups, carrying out seal surveys from headlands, whale and dolphin surveys from boats, snorkelling, diving, and attending courses; there is always more to learn!  I also got the opportunity to hike to the top of Skellig Michael which was such a special experience.  It is an amazing place with so much history, as well as being the beautiful home to many different types of seabird including gannets and puffins.  This is just one of the unforgettable memories I have made since arriving in Waterville.  Sea Synergy is a wonderful place and I can’t wait for what the rest of the summer will bring.  The centre allows me to share my passion for the marine world with the public while also getting out in nature regularly, expanding my knowledge, and enjoying the beauty of Kerry and all it has to offer.  We live in a gorgeous country with so much biodiversity; it is fantastic to be in a place which showcases this to everyone who visits!    
“Hey there! My name’s Sinead and I’m studying for a master’s degree in Applied Coastal and Marine Management, with a bachelors degree in Geology. I’m from Killarney which is only an hour or so from Waterville but prior to this summer I have never ventured down here. Although I’m disappointed that I haven’t discovered the beauty of Waterville before two weeks ago, I’m happy to have discovered this gem now. I was delighted when I received an intern position at Sea Synergy with Lucy Hunt, as I wanted to get the opportunity to make more people aware of the marine biodiversity and resources associated with the ocean. I’ve been here the bones of two weeks now and I’ve already seen and done so much.
Last weekend I took part in a course run by Seasearch Ireland and on the first day of the course I learnt how to correctly identify different types of seaweed and animals seen around the Irish coast. On the second day, I went snorkelling off Abbey Island in Derrynane, in Co. Kerry, where I recorded all the different types of animals and seaweeds I encountered in the lower intertidal zone. The day after the Seasearch course I got the opportunity to go out to Skellig Michael, a UNESCO world heritage site and see the world famous monastic site, puffins and the second largest gannet colony in the world on Skellig Beag. I spent the remainder of the day recording cetaceans around Scariff Island. The calm seas made for ideal conditions to monitor cetaceans and over the course of two hours, slowly but surely our boat became surrounded by over 60 common dolphins leaping, jumping, and playing in every direction. Two minke whales were also observed off Skellig Michael.  I feel so lucky to partake in the wonderful work Lucy is doing down here, in such a beautiful part of the country and I’m looking forward to making more people aware of what’s out there in the deep blue, if they just take a moment to stop and look out, they won’t be disappointed!”

Hi there! My name is Esmee and I came down from the Netherlands to help out in the Sea Synergy sea life centre this summer.

Just like many others, as a small kid living near the sea I fell in love with the ocean. As I grew older I became aware of the threats to the ocean such as overfishing, warming of the ocean and the huge amounts of (plastic) litter present. In an attempt to figure out how to protect our beautiful nature I started studying forest and nature conservation in the Netherlands. I am now halfway in my graduate degree focussing on protection of marine nature in developing countries.

Because of my love for marine animals, travelling and giving education, I applied for an internship at Sea Synergy and I feel very lucky that I have been given the opportunity to come to Ireland and learn even more about the marine environment and education. The minute I got out of the bus and saw the dolphin tail sticking out of one of the beautiful coloured houses, I knew this was going to be a great summer! While waiting for Lucy to pick me up at the pub, I started talking to some very friendly locals and learned some of the Irish customs, all while drinking my first Guinness ;)

My first impressions so far are great and the weather is being very kind to us. Although even in sunshine the dives into the water are very cold… I am excited to start helping out during the workshops or even create a new workshop (specific requests are always welcome ;)) and provide fun facts to people visiting the sea life centre.  Oh and a first impression not to forget: the mountains are great! Since we don’t have any mountains back home, I really enjoy them while I still can.

Hello, my name is Cian, an Earth Science graduate of University College Cork. I’m writing while out on a seal survey, sitting just at the end of the prom, and the seals are loving the sun. I first arrived into Waterville on a clear afternoon in mid-May. The car was packed with my wetsuit, fins, guitar, hiking boots, motorcycle tools (my bike yet to be ridden up), and heap of other gear ready for the summer ahead. I was just catching my breath after driving through the Ballaghisheen Pass, a wild and beautiful stretch of road considered a shortcut to locals but just about put me in the ditch around every other bend, and, while taking in the surroundings, I was excited! Excited that I wasn’t just visiting this beautiful seaside village for an ice-cream and stroll along the prom. I was here for a whole summer by the sea, something I have always desired to do. Soon Lucy arrived on her bicycle and welcomed me to Waterville.
Growing up in Cork, our house well within earshot of the M8, I found going to sleep on the first night in Waterville unusual. The silence was almost deafening. I couldn’t get over how calm and silent it gets here at night. Two weeks on and it still hits me sometimes but I very much appreciate it, it is a welcomed quiet. Living in the west you cannot help but to embrace your surroundings. I wake each morning, opening the curtains, excited to see how the canvas has been painted. Today the sky was clear, the sun defining the undulating crests and troughs of the mountains. It’s safe to say I’m loving life here!
I am delighted to have to opportunity to work with Lucy, Sinead, Esmee, and Christie this summer at Sea Synergy. Being the only boy though I’m getting to do my fair share of ‘man-work’ in haha! I hope this summer at Sea Synergy, having focused my undergraduate thesis on marine waste, to encourage visitors in understanding the importance they play in protecting the preciousness and beauty of our planet's marine species and environments - now under greater threat than ever before.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Shine a Light on Summer Festival

Life Beneath the Lighthouse workshop
Discover Life Beneath the Lighthouse and what lies beneath the Wild Atlantic Way with local marine biologist Lucy Hunt from Sea Synergy Marine Awareness & Activity Centre. Lucy will reveal the marine life lighthouse keepers and their families would have seen whilst living on the edge between land and ocean! This fantastic interactive show and tell presentation of Irish sea life is suitable for all ages. Be amazed at the size of some of the largest animals in the world found along Irelands coast and the rich heritage we have with these animals. Also get up close and personal with some of the smallest critters in the sea that are so important to our survival. Learn the names of the animals we see along our shores and be surprised at the diversity of the ocean!

Lucy is bringing her Life Beneath the Lighthouse presentation to Valentia Lighthouse for the nationwide Shine A Light Festival. See Lucy and all her seashore friends at 3pm in Valentia Lighthouse on Sunday the 30th of April.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Hope you are well and Storm Ewan hasn't caused too much disruption wherever you are! When the storm passed here this afternoon we had glorious blue skies and sunshine before sunset over the bay. We have had a busy start to February with school bookings for the Marine Explorers Programme for primary schools and Heritage in Schools Programme which will have me out and about traversing the nation teaching all things marine to primary schools in the coming weeks.

Also last week we had a UCD SMARTLAB seminar in Cahersiveen for international and local PhD students of which I'm delighted to say I am now part of the cohort, I am starting a PhD on Marine Education influencing youths wellbeing and environmental stewardship!! A new chapter begins! The event was also featured in The Examiner as we had a fabulous Light Tipi ceremony in Cahergeal fort to get the week long seminar off to a good start!

The Failte Ireland Skellig Coast Visitor Experience Development Plan has also been launched a project where all the communities from Kells to Castlecove came together with agencies such as Failte Ireland, SKDP, LEO, Kerry County council & Udaras na Gaeltachta to put a tourism plan in place for the region. We will have Skellig Coast representatives at one of the largest Tourism conferences in the world - ITB Berlin in March, so it is exciting to get our special part of the world out to such a huge international audience with over 7000 exhibitors! We also spoke to Frank Lewis on Radio Kerry about the new plan.

We have been shortlisting our interns for Sea Synergy and interviews planned with them this week. Its looking like its going to be a cracker of a season with lots of workshops, camps, activities and surveys for the summer planned! Keep an eye on our facebook  page to stay up to date.

Clean Coasts Roadshow in Tralee Bay Wetlands 4th of March (see poster attached)

Burrenbeo Learning Landscapes on the 9-12th of March in Kinvara, Co Galway.

I will be running a weekend Introduction to Irelands Marine Life course for UCC on the 24-26th of March in Cahersiveen Adult Education Centre for anybody interested in learning about Ireland’s fantastic sea life from small seashore animals to largest animals on Earth. More info is available on the link above. registration instructions on the above link.
Also that weekend a fantastic astronomy weekend in Irelands only Gold Tier Dark sky Reserve - Messiers Marathon in Ballinskelligs

I’m delighted to say Alex of Carey Yoga & Nutrition  and I are teaming up again to do our Boost retreat in May 12-14th for anyone who wants a boost for their New Years resolutions and have a fun relaxing nurturing weekend. We are located in the beautiful Danu House in Chapeltown, Valentia (€320pp inclusive of all meals, accommodation, yoga, nutrition, mindfulness and guided walk sessions over the weekend) please email to book in for a weekend invested in you or for more information.

Seasearch Observers Course  May 27-28th for any Scuba divers and snorkellers interested in surveying our beautiful coastline and learning more about survey techniques and marine biodiversity. 

The Iveragh Learning Landscapes weekend will be back in Autumn due to popular demand from the 6-8th of October!! A weekend of empowered learning outdoors in the Iveragh classroom!  We have some great talks and workshops planned.
Last Friday was Annual Skip the Straw Day, plastic drink straws are one of the biggest marine litter problems adding to the plastic in the ocean. These straws can kill marine wildlife like turtles. Scientists believe that by 2050 there will be more plastic (by weight) in the sea than there will be fish! A horrifying fact for all of us. You can help reduce plastic by simply asking for 'No straw please' when getting a drink or use your own alternatives you can purchase steel straws and bamboo straws that are much more environmentally friendly.

As Spring is on the way Dandelions and other perennials sometimes thought of as 'weeds' will be springing up, please don't spray them with harmful chemicals. Leave them add colour to your garden or verges and help the bees. Some of these plants are are also extremely beneficial to us and can help relieve common ailments, don't just believe me ask expert herbalist Niall Hogan from Derrynane Clinic!

Look forward to seeing you soon,
Have an awesome few weeks til next time! :)