The Coastwatch survey is an exciting project dating back to 1987, when it was first implemented in Ireland thanks to the Irish Times. It was then expanded to an international survey in 1989, and today sees Ireland joining efforts with South-Western England, Germany, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Malta to try to assess the state of the country’s coasts by collecting data on site.
Anyone can contribute to the survey as it works on a voluntary base: volunteers have the chance to book a survey unit area of approximatively 500m on a shore of their own choosing through the https://www.coastwatch.org/all-ireland-survey website. After that, they can select a date with preferably good weather, and visit the site during low tide so to get the chance to better observe and recognise species. After photographing interesting findings, examining the various inflows of the area and noting down the amount of litter they have come across, volunteers can input the gathered data on the Coastwatch survey website or through the Coastwatch app.
This year the Autumn survey took place from mid-September to mid-October. We decided not to miss it and on October 2nd we drove to Tullaghan Beach, on the Leitrim coast, to survey one of the surfers’ favourite rocky beaches. Luckily, the weather was amazing and we managed to closely examine 1 km of the 5 km long Leitrim coast.
It was quite challenging because during low tide Tullaghan Beach appears mainly made of boulders and big rocks, which can be rather tricky to walk on. However, after two hours spent exploring the beach, we could deem ourselves quite satisfied with our findings. On the beach we discovered two inflows, one originating from a medium-sized pipe, while the second one was a stream forming a small lake by the beach.
Inflows are so important because one of the survey’s goals is to assess the quality of the water they bring to the sea by testing for nitrate. This substance, while being a valuable plants’ nutrient, if too present can make water bodies become eutrophic: the excessive growth of aquatic plants caused by it and their subsequent decay leads to a lack of oxygen for animal life, becoming then a threat to the shore’s biodiversity.
However, we found plenty of life both in the pools of clear water close to the pipe and originating from the stream, and in the lake. We had the chance to observe a lot of small fish quickly swimming in between the rocks and hiding under them, a feeding limpet, a brittle starfish and several alive flat and edible periwinkles. Shrimps were definitely one of the most entertaining discoveries: curious as they are, they would come closer, ‘bringing friends’ whenever we stuck a stick or a string of seaweed in the pools in which they were dwelling.
Most of the boulders were covered in brown and red seaweeds, but also green seaweed patches of what we believe was Seagrass (Zostera), a really valuable plant for the marine ecosystem, were common in certain areas of the beach. We were quite surprised to find little no litter on the beach: just a few bits of rope, a couple of cans and plastic bottles on the tide line.
Once our survey was over, we headed back to the office and tested the inflow water we collected for nitrate. We were glad to record on our survey form that samples from both inflows we came across in Tullaghan resulted negative!
As our first survey of a beach, it has been a truly interesting and educational experience. Contributing to a fascinating project such as Coastwatch and being able to discover the species that inhabit the local environment has been unique and enriching.