Storm Callum and sea level rise in Clew Bay 12102018

Storm Callum reached its peak in Clew Bay on friday morning (12102018). Flooding occurred at Westport Quay caused by the spring tide and south west wind (11 metres per second). If the wind had come from the west the flooding at Westport Quay would have been greater. Wind gusts of 110km/hour were forecast. The strongest gust recorded in Ireland was in Mayo. A gust of 125km per hour was recorded in Belmullet. Storm damage and coastal flooding was less than expected. An EPA report, State of Knowledge on Climate Change Impacts for Ireland published in 2014 concludes more information is required on the vulnerability of low-lying coastal urban centres and critical infrastructure to the impacts of climate change. Integrated Coastal Zone Management needs to be implemented to coherently meet the challenges posed by climate change. Since the early 1990s (1993) a Sea Level Rise of c. 3.5cm per decade (currently c. 3.4mm/year) has been observed. Predicted changes in mean sea level will be the primary driver in magnifying the impacts of changing storm surge and wave patterns in coastal areas. Increases of 55cm-60cm this century will amplify impacts of storm surges and wave erosion in coastal areas. Clearly Ireland’s sea level in coastal areas is on the rise.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (2003) a sensible approach to coastal management for sea level change is

  • no new building or new development within 100 m of  ‘soft’ shoreline,
  • no further reclamation of estuary land,
  • no removal of sand dunes, beach sand or gravel,
  • all coastal defence measures to be assessed for environmental impact. Where possible, the landward migration of coastal features, such as dunes and marshes should be facilitated. These features form an integral part of the coastal system, physically and ecologically, and provide protection against wave energy through dissipation.
coastal erosion from winter storms
Each winter storm erodes tonnes of soil by the sea from drumlins in Clew Bay, County Mayo March 2018.

 The EPA states that a policy of planned retreat in some areas, combined with prohibitions on new developments in vulnerable coastal zones offers the best economic solution for most areas in Ireland.

“Ireland’s coastal vulnerability lies more with the attitudes of the people towards Integrated Coastal Zone Management than in any physical susceptibility of the coast for response to climate changes.”

(Devoy 2008- Coastal Vulnerability and the Implications of Sea-Level Rise for Ireland).

Common seal pups and mackerel in Clew Bay

FelipeMonicaMariana LR13072018 crop
Felipe, Monica fishing for mackerel and Mariana at the helm onboard “Rebecca,” on a wildlife tour among the inner islands of Clew Bay, County Mayo, July 2018

CSeal and two pups LR 13072018 Sleeping Common Seal adult with two pups, on an island in Westport Bay, County Mayo 2018

Boat trip to the seal colony in Clew Bay

Ireland has two species of seal. The Common or Harbour seal and the Grey seal.
Clew Bay  is  a Natura 2000 site and has both species but the Common seal is the more numberous. Many Common seal pups are born by early July. Pups accompany the female adult Common seals hauled out on the island skerries in Westport Bay. Unused to boats the pups are nervous and take to the safety of the tide when first approached. On a recent trip we found a female apparently with two pups contentedly asleep, at first mistaking them for dead seals.


Lion’s Mane Jellyfish

Lion’s mane  jellyfish
Lion’s Mane Jellyfish in Clew Bay July 2018

Lion’s mane jellyfish
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Scyphozoa
Order: Semaeostomeae
Family: Cyaneidae
Genus: Cyanea
Species: C. capillata
Binomial name
Cyanea capillata
(Linnaeus, 1758)

Jellyfish are common in Clew Bay in summer. The lion’s mane jellyfish, is the largest known species of jellyfish and appears to have been more frequently seen this July in Clew Bay. Encounters by swimming in the sea can cause stings from contact with its tentacles. Vinegar can be used to deactivate the nematocysts (stinging cells), but due to the large number of tentacles medical attention is recommended after exposure.

July mackerel fishing in the calms

Fishing for mackerel in Clew Bay, County Mayo from “Rebecca.”
Leon landed his first three mackerel from “Rebecca,” in Clew Bay


Fishing for mackerel in Clew Bay, County Mayo July 2018

Clew Bay mackerel fishing


A family party fish for mackerel onboard “Rebecca” in Clew Bay, County Mayo with Kilmeena based Wild Atlantic Charters.

July saw unprecedented fine weather in Clew Bay which was like waking up in a different country. It is so long since we have experienced such a long settled spell of weather. Female Common seals have had there pups and can be seen hauled out on smaller skerries in Westport Bay. The terns and seagulls have young and are numberous especially on Dorinish. Moon jellyfish are prolific in the bay and also dangerous Portugeuse man o’war as big as dustbins!

Make booking here


Mackerel in Clew Bay on May 12th.


Clew Bay pano 12 May 2018 LR
A panoramic view from “Rebecca” near Inishoo in Clew Bay 12th Mayo 2018 Photo Shay Fennelly
Kevin has a horse and gives trips in a horse and carriage in Westport town. Kevin is a seaman and also a keen observer of nature. Kevin told me the moon jelly fish have arrived in Clew Bay. Signs of fish in the bay, gannets and terns searching for fish. I went out later today and caught my first two mackerel of 2018! Thanks Kevin for the tip. I struck it lucky near Inishgort just after the evening high tide. Then I went to Westport Bay to see the Common Seals who pup in late May. No sign of any early pups among the 20 or so seals at Stone Island.
Mackerel fillets


Spring bloom arrives in Clew Bay

oyster farming in Clew Bay
Murrisk Shellfish Oyster farm grows pacific oysters in Clew Bay, County Mayo.

Recently I met an oyster farmer in Murrisk who grows pacific oysters. I asked if he saw any recent growth in his oysters after a long winter. He said he noticed fresh growth after a period of rain. Oysters are “filter feeders” and filter 50 gallons (189 Litres) of  water per day and extract phytoplankton from the seawater.  Phytoplankton are microscopic plants and animals in the water column that sustain both the oysters and mussel farms in Clew Bay, but also sea giants like the Basking Shark which were once caught in a fishery in Achill Island in the 1950’s. Clean water quality in the sea is the critical key to this natural cycle of growth and renewal each year.

A not so common Common Lizard


Leitrim Lizard 12042018 LR
An expired Comon Lizard (Lacerta vivipara). Irelands only reptile, left on a fence post. Photo © Shay Fennelly 2018

A not so commonly seen animal in Ireland is the Common Lizard (Lacerta vivipara). I remember as a child seeing them skittering away on a summers days when I tried to catch them. This is the first I have seen one in the last thirty years found on a fence post in a bog. It had a wound to its neck so I guess it may have been a Kestrels prey. Why have they apparently declined so much?

Common Lizard
The colourful underside of a Common Lizard recently deceased. Note the neck wound possibly from a predatory bird. Photo © Shay Fennelly 2018

Vikings, longships and Clew Bay

Viking raiders on Irelands west coast
The earliest undisputed reference to Viking raids on Skellig Michael is in the Annals of Inisfallen, where under the year 824 it is stated: “Scelec was plundered by the heathens and Etgal was carried off into captivity, and he died of hunger on their hands.”

On Ireland’s west coast Viking raiders were known to raid monasteries on offshore islands (Skelligs, Inishmurray) and inland up rivers from the coast.

Clew bay's islands, County Mayo
Clew Bay’s islands provided shelter from wind and wave to seafarers from the Vikings, sea queen Grania O’Malley and the Spanish Armada in County Mayo, Ireland.

Clew bay’s islands were a perfect seafarers haven to rest up for such raiders. The National Museum in Castlebar has a fascinating find which suggests Viking ships have visited Clew Bay in the 10th century.

In 1939 a local man discovered eleven silver arm-rings and fragments of fourteen others, buried together on his land in Kilmeena, on the shore of Clew Bay.

This is the largest hoard of such arm-rings (date to 915AD) ever found and it seems clear that they were deliberately buried, probably for temporary safe-keeping, sometime in the 10th century. We know these arm-rings were used by Irish people, as many have been found in areas never occupied by Vikings, but in this case the seaside location may suggest that they belonged to a Viking sailing along the Mayo coast.

The island of Inishcuttle is said to be named after a Danish or viking Kettel ( or similar ) said to be buried there.

A sword was dredged from the River Moy at Coolcronaun, near Foxford in 1963. It is a Viking type of sword, probably made in Scandinavia around c.925-975 AD and brought to Ireland by a Viking warrior. However, its final owner could have been either a Viking or an Irish warrior.

“In Connacht, the second over-kingdom discussed in Lebor na Cert, only one local king is offered ships by his provincial king: the king of Umall or Clew Bay who is offered five ships. Such a gift provides a context for the raid on Clew Bay by a fleet of seven ships of Hebrideans in 1015, indicating that the area was involved in maritime politics. In 1079, a plundeing raid by Tairdelbach Ui Briain took place on the islands of Clew Bay ; This would seem to imply that the Ui Briain also had an interest in the region”. Lebor na Cert  is a collection of poems dealing with the relationships between local Irish kingdoms and their over-kings.

Curiously, one of the biggest Viking warships ever found, built to carry some 40 oarsmen, Skuldelev 2 is a Danish-type warship (narrow, low-sided and of shallow draft) found scuttled at the entrance to Roskilde fiord in Denmark, but built in Ireland c. A.D, 1060-70 according to dendrochronological evidence. Source: ROYAL FLEETS IN VIKING IRELAND: THE EVIDENCE OF LEBOR NA CERT, A.D. 1050- I I 50 By CATHERINE SWIFT.

According to the Annals of Ulster there are several references to attacks by the ‘sea robbers’ or Vikings in the Kingdom of Umhall (lands around Clew Bay) in 811. Source Military History of the Western Islands by Sheila Mulloy (1989 Westport Historical Society Journal).


Bottlenose dolphins in Mayo

It takes time and effort to learn what marine mammals are present off the Mayo coast. One collaborative effort involving Dutch, Norwegian, English and Irish scientists occurred between 2008-2009 off the Galway and Mayo coast.

Bottlenose dolphins in Connemara and Mayo 2008-2009. Movement patterns between two coastal areas in the west of Ireland.

A total of 46 dedicated and 33 opportunistic boat-based surveys were conducted in the coastal waters off Connemara and Mayo in 2008 and 2009, resulting in 31 encounters with groups of bottlenose dolphins. Between the two coastal areas, a total of 201 photo-identification records of dolphins were obtained, resulting in a minimum number of 177 individual dolphins identified. More dolphins were observed in northwest Mayo (n=179, 89% of the total number of identifications) than in Connemara (n=92, 46%). (Report to NPWSPDF icon Oudejans_et_al_2010_Bottlenose_dolphins_in Connemara_and_Mayo.pdf )


%d bloggers like this: