Exotic Porcupine Bank catch nets second coconut

Several unusual warm-water species have turned up on western seaboard

 Max Foreman (8) with the 15 inch prawn and his cousins Luca Ristori who is holding a toad fish, Eabha Ristori (10) with the Alphonsino Beryx Splendens deep water fish and Ellie Ristori (3) who is holding one of the coconuts found at sea. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

Max Foreman (8) with the 15 inch prawn and his cousins Luca Ristori who is holding a toad fish, Eabha Ristori (10) with the Alphonsino Beryx Splendens deep water fish and Ellie Ristori (3) who is holding one of the coconuts found at sea. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

Sat, Aug 17, 2013, 01:00


Marine biologist Declan Quigley has long suspected that Ireland’s Porcupine Bank may have been the mythical island of Hy-Brasil, before sea levels rose after the last ice age.

Now, the netting of a second coconut off the Porcupine this summer by an Irish vessel lends further credence to his theory – in a week when several unusual warm-water species have also navigated their way to the western seaboard.

The coconut was caught by Thomas Fitzpatrick of the Shauna Ann and landed into Rossaveal, Co Galway, several days ago.

A similar coconut was presented to marine biologist Siubhan Ní Churraidhín in Rossaveal by Ciaran Powell of the Ocean Breeze earlier this summer.

Mr Quigley, a rare fish expert, says the coconuts may have arrived here naturally from the tropics, rather than having been dumped overboard a vessel or washed out to sea from Irish shores.

The outer casing or “pericarp” adds buoyancy to coconuts in order to aid seed dispersal via the marine environment, Mr Quigley says.

Alternatively, they could be among a number on the bed of the Porcupine, which may once have been a “Seychelles-type island” off this coast, he says. “The Porcupine is only 200 metres deep, and during the last ice age the sea level was about 120 metres lower than it is today.” He first began to consider the Hy-Brasil theory when sub-littoral fish, more common to inshore areas, began to be identified in catches on the offshore bank.

Higher temperatures and a continuous south to southwest wind direction this summer may be the main reason for identification of a number of warm-water species in these waters and on the shoreline over the past week, he says.

Some 150 of the Velella velella organisms, commonly known as “by-the-wind sailors”, were found by Luca Ristori (8), nephew of Ms Ní Churraidhín, at Cnocán Glas in Spiddal. Millions of these organisms – not harmful to humans – turned up in continuous drifts along this coastline from Kerry to Donegal’s Tory island in 1992.

A “mauve stinger” type of jellyfish, the type that wiped out 100,000 farmed salmon off Co Antrim in 2007, was also identified.

A deep-water toadfish and a second example of Beryx Splendens, a fish normally found around Madeira and the Azores, were also netted by the Shauna Ann. A similar sample of this fish was landed into Rossaveal by the Arkh Angell some weeks back.

Mr Quigley said fishing techniques and the interest of skippers had a bearing and one couldn’t automatically attribute the frequency of warmer water visitors to climate change.