I NEVER knew that shellfish are vegetarians!
I learned that during the week when talking to Joe Silke, Director of Marine Environment and Food Safety Services at the Marine Institute, the State research agency based at Rinville on the edge of Galway Bay.
We were talking about something I had first heard about in the waters off West Cork.
That came from Sherkin Island and the legendary Matt Murphy whose research station there broke many marine stories.
Back in the 90s, the ‘Red Tide’ became a major story because of the toxins it caused in the water which threatened shellfish.
On my Maritime Ireland Radio Show I mentioned that first encounter with the red tide to Joe Silke, who was telling me about the new network which the Institute is developing to protect shellfish from toxin threats.
The shellfish industry in Ireland is worth €51m a year to the economy and provides quite a lot of employment in coastal areas, so it is worth protecting.
The Institute has been working with ten other European research agencies to develop a marine toxin warning network, called AlertoxNet, so that the shellfish industry throughout Europe will be prepared and ready to detect potential emerging toxins. Satellites are being used to monitor toxin dangers and changes in the coastal waters.
The red tide, he told me, is a natural phenomenon.
“That red colouration which sometimes appears in the sea is from plankton in the water. These are the plants and animals that float about in ocean currents.
“Phytoplankton are at the bottom of the food chain and this is very important because they are the food that shellfish feed upon and shellfish are actually vegetarian.
“They eat the plant’s algae. Phytoplankton also produce most of the oxygen that we breathe on the planet.”
Another thing I did not know was the importance of phytoplankton in producing oxygen. If you want to find out what happens when those plants are eaten, you’ll have to listen to the programme which is broadcast on 18 local community radio stations around Ireland and on three Podcast services – Apple, Spotify and Mixcloud.
Those two aspects of marine life were not the only new things I learned in a week with revelations.
Another was about the colour of lifeboats, which came to mind when I heard how busy the RNLI station at Courtmacsherry has been. In the past few week, it has had quite a lot of emergency call-outs, including to walkers cut off by tides. One call-out however turned out to be because of fireworks let off on land near Garrettstown.
On Sunday, it was called out to a 75-foot fishing vessel in difficulties 27 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale.
The Courtmacsherry lifeboat is a Trent all-weather class and the conditions of Force 7/8 really meant ‘all-weather.’
There were five crew on the fishing boat that put out a distress signal when the hull was breached in the difficult sea conditions and it was taking in water.
The Coast Guard Rescue 117 helicopter from Waterford was also on the scene and put an emergency salvage pump and winchman onto the vessel’s deck.
Pumping out was successful and, in those very difficult seas the lifeboat escorted the vessel safely to Kinsale Harbour.
The fishermen were, understandably, relieved when they saw the orange-coloured lifeboat heading their way, so it was interesting then to hear Niamh Stephenson, Media Manager for the RNLI, explaining on my programme why the original colours of blue and grey were changed to orange - the best and easiest to see at sea.
Three of the Courtmacsherry lifeboat crew on Sunday were from the same family – Mark Gannon was the Coxswain and with him were his son, Mark John and brother Dara. Also on the crew were mechanic Chris Guy, Denis Murphy, Ciaran Hurley and Evin O’Sullivan.
Another thing that I did not know- and was told about this week- was that ladies in Cobh took great offence towards a suggestion that females should be seen rowing in Cork harbour.
This was when regattas were big social occasions, but there could also be controversy and not only about the racing results!
In August of 1831 the organisers of a regatta at Cobh announced that, as part of the programme, there would be a race for “four-oared whale boats rowed by women and steered by men, for prizes valued at ten pounds.”
Thirty “ladies of Cove” sent a letter protesting that “our sex would be degraded by an unnatural and disgusting exhibition because we understand that some females in the lower ranks of life have been induced to take part in public rowing matches and expose themselves to the laughter and contempt of the assembled multitude.”
Despite the protest, the event went ahead and was described by the organisers as “a success!”