Aerial survey of Honeycomb reef, Waterford

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.


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