This afternoon, Coastwatcher Emmet Delaney was taken up by Waterford Flying club to check whether Honeycomb worm reef can be seen from the air. They flew over an area of the Waterford estuary surveyed earlier by foot.
The answer is – Yes it can be seen! At least the fresh reef in the Waterford estuary, where the millions of tiny pink worms are using yellow sand to create their living reef homes.
As the tide was going down, the pilot James and Emmet saw cheddar cheese coloured sculptures emerging.
They estimated that the reef length was well over a kilometre on the Wexford (Hook head) side alone.
Coastwatch is delighted with the growing number of volunteers taking on survey sites to check by foot and would love to coax divers out too to see how far into the sublittoral the reefs extend.
‘This is really valuable as only by foot, or dive can see the state of the reef. Older reef which has seaweeds growing through may not be picked up from above. We are also looking for divers to check how far down into the sublittoral the reef stretches.’ said Karin Dubsky Project coordinator.
A second complete area fly over is now dreamt of to scout the Waterford side which is known to host some good reef habitat. The fly over should give an overview of most promising area and guide surveyors on the ground to these.
This is citizen science project designed by Coastwatch as part of biodiversity days 2015, supported by national parks and wildlife service.
Surveyor experience translate into local knowledge and pride which will help protect the reef from accidental damage. There is also scope to look at financial spin off as the French have done with ecotourism. Data will also help Ireland meet its reporting obligations on this fragile protected features and can be used when drawing up spatial plans for the coastal zone.
The published European record of honeycomb reef is 2.14 sq km, which is combining the size of two reefs on either side of the bay of St Michel in France. Ours are on two sides of the Waterford estuary and Tramore bay. Naturally we hope ours will come close or beat that record
There is huge potential for such aerial Nature surveys to supplement and guide ground surveys. Especially where there is poor access and what one is looking for is only visible for a short period at low tide.
In terms of awareness raising, flying club members looked at the close of pictures of the worm reefs and then saw them from above. The pilot was excited to be able to interpret features which meant nothing before.