Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lough Hyne - 'A Natural Laboratory'

Europe's first Marine Nature Reserve and one of the world's most studied marine sites, Lough Hyne, celebrates its 30th birthday this year amidst a flurry of activity.

Communicate Science correspondents were in Skibbereen, Co. Cork last night to attend a talk by Terri Kearney of the Skibbereen Heritage Centre about Lough Hyne: The Marine Researchers – in pictures

This is the title of a new book by Terri prepared with the assistance of the Gwendoline Harold Barry Trust, Skibbereen Credit Union and the Heritage Council. 

The School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences (BEES) at University College Cork and the Skibbereen heritage Centre are also organising a series of events this week, including a conference on Friday, Lough Hyne at 30, to celebrate the 30 years since Lough Hyne was designated Europe’s first Marine Nature Reserve.

The Lough is a semi-enclosed marine lake, located about 3 miles west of Skibereen in West Cork. It's believed that the Lough was a freshwater lake up to 4000 years ago, when a rise in sea level joined it with the sea. It is now a highly sheltered, seawater basin connected to the North Atlantic by a narrow inlet.

This inlet constricts at one point to form the "Rapids" - 5 metres deep at high tide. It leads to an 'asymmetrical tide' with water flowing in for 4 hours and taking 8.5 hours to go out. This rock pool effect means it is a very unique ecosystem and a popular location for scientific studies. 

The School of BEES, UCC operate three research laboratories on shore of the lough - the Renouf, Kitching and Bohane Labs. 

The Kitching lab is named after Prof. Jack Kitching who carried out marine biology research at the Lough from 1946 to 1986. He built two of the onsite labs. The Bohane lab is named for John Bohane, a Lough Hyne resident who was involved in UCC research at the site for over 60 years and was the first warden when the Lough became a Marine Reserve in 1981.

The Lough is one of the most studied marine biological areas anywhere in the world! Well over 300 scientific papers have been written about the biology and ecology of the lough.

Last night's talk was a lively jaunt through over 120 years of scientific endeavor in this corner of Ireland. From Victorian expeditions to early 20th century visits aboard the Helga (before it was fitted with guns to play a role in War of Independence and Civil War). 

The triumph of fashion over the logistical nightmares of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, the development of the various laboratories and the people who visited and continue to visit, they were all touched upon during the evening. 

The strongest characters to emerge from the many photos on show were those, such as Louis Renouf (who built the first research station), who spent years, and in many cases decades, of their lives at Lough Hyne, returning year-in, year-out (as many still do) to work there. 

It was noted that, in many cases, scientists who have been returning for 30 years are almost unknown by the wider community – capturing the strange sub-culture that existed, no doubt encouraged by the sense of remoteness, self sufficiency and adventure felt by earlier scientists.

The pictures also showcased Skibbereen, Lough Hyne and Baltimore in bygone days and the local people who helped the scientists along the way. It also captured the almost-military-like way in which the logistics of the expeditions were run.

You can read about Louis Renouf's early work at the Lough, in his own words, here (pdf)

from Annals of Botany (1932)


Anonymous December 10, 2011 at 2:28 PM  

A long hot summer in the 1960s with Jack Kitching at Lough Ine[sic] - never to be forgotten in the annals of UEA:)

Adrian Smith

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