• Minke whale dorsal fin at sea surface


Collaborative Oceanography and Monitoring for Protected Areas and Species

The COMPASS project is a 5 year project, which will establish a network of oceanographic and acoustic moorings within and adjacent to cross-border marine protected areas (MPAs), which will produce new marine monitoring data for emerging areas of environmental concern including ocean acidification and the long-term impacts of anthropogenic noise on marine life. It will also help fulfill international, European and national biodiversity obligations.

COMPASS will deliver a clearer understanding of what changes in the oceanographic climate have on underwater habitats, fauna and flora across the region. The project will also develop an innovative acoustic tag programme to understand the migration patterns, the behaviour and mortality of salmon and sea trout in the North Western part of the Irish Sea.

The interregional perspective will allow data to be captured and shared across Northern Ireland, the Border Region of Ireland and Western Scotland and help in the development of effective future monitoring programmes for MPAs.

SAMS leads two work packages of the overall COMPASS project.

Dr Andrew Dale leads the modelling work package. While MPAs may be geographically isolated, the marine environment is fluid, and organisms, nutrients and water types are freely transported on local, regional and oceanic scales. An improved understanding of the moving context of the MPA network, and also of the defining contribution that physical processes (e.g. current speed, turbulence, stratification, fronts) make to habitat type is crucial to understanding the nature of MPAs and their interconnection with surrounding habitats as well as other MPAs. Moreover, this context clearly needs to be provided seamlessly across national borders. The modelling work package will address the programme objective of developing crossborder capacity by drawing together two currently unrelated national hydrodynamic models, the Irish Northeast Atlantic Model and the Scottish Shelf Model (SSM), or an alternative west coast domain, into an integrated model system for the target region. This interfaced hydrodynamic model will itself address one of the programme’s required model outputs, providing simulations of the evolving marine environment, but it will also provide the underpinning for two further models. These will consider biological connectivity between sites across the region and hydrodynamic habitat type, both of key importance in understanding, developing and managing MPA networks.

Dr Denise Risch leads the work package on passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) of anthropogenic noise and soniferous species, such as marine mammals and fish. Acoustic data on the occurrence of vocally active marine mammals and fish will be integrated with oceanographic, visual and ambient noise data sampled at similar spatio-temporal scales to increase understanding of habitat associations and environmental drivers for observed seasonal occurrence of mobile species. Results from this work package will thus benefit directly from oceanographic and modelling data sets collated in other COMPASS work packages.