A major Ocean conference that took place in Galway this week highlighted Ireland’s maritime heritage and its role in our future.
The Irish Ocean Literacy Network held its sixth national meeting at the Marine Institute in Oranmore.
Keynote speakers Dr Easkey Britton, Postdoctorate fellow at NUI Galway and avid surfer, and filmmaker Ken O’Sullivan of SeaFever Productions spoke about the importance the ocean has on our lives as islanders.
Chairing the meeting Cushla Dromgool-Regan of the Marine Institute welcomed the two speakers, and praised the work they do in different ways to keep people interested and engages with the ocean.
“As an Island nation we are extremely lucky to have a wealth of experts from all walks of life willing to share their experiences with the wider marine community.”
He added that seeing a whale and calf up close in Ken’s films or learning to surf with Easkey “reminds us of the diversity and importance of our maritime heritage and looking after our ocean for future generations.”
Easkey Briton is a champion national and international surfer from Donegal and is currently completing a post-doctoral research fellow
with the EU-Horizon 2020 project Seas, Oceans and Public Health in Europe.
Growing in a family of surfers she developed a passionate connection to the water, and much of her work in science has centred on the environment and society.
Her current research involved a lot of community outreach and shows “how we all value the ocean in different ways, yet together we all seem to understand the importance of linking our ocean with human health,” Easkey said.
Ken O’Sullivan also grew up with a love of the ocean. The Kerry based filmmaker grew up in a family of fishermen.
But it was learning to dive that opened up new realms of discovery for him.
“Exploring the ocean as a child with no limitations was like living the life to what might be similar to Huckleberry Finn,” Ken said.
“Now making a career out of filming wildlife and creative documentaries in the most extreme environments has been a life of adventures.”
He set up Sea Fever Productions in 2006 with Katrina Costello to make marine documentaries, and last year they released ‘Ireland’s Deep Atlantic’.
This hugely ambitious project involved searching for Blue Whales and cold water corals in the North Atlantic, and documenting whale and shark behaviours in those habitats for the first time.
He said the public feedback from capturing those moments on film has been extremely gratifying, “particularly from those who are seeing marine life in Irish waters for the first time.”
The Ocean Literacy Network recruits ‘champions’ around Ireland to promote public interest and engagement with the ocean.
It now consists of more than 100 members representing individuals, businesses, community groups, NGOs, academic bodies, and sate agencies.
During a workshop during the conference, David Murphy of AquaTT noted that Ireland is in unique position to “increase peoples understanding and engagement about the ocean.”
“We are all individuals who bring something new to the network, yet working together as a collective highlights the importance of creating impactful actions and messaging promoting our ocean from coast to coast.”