Coastwatch Europe seeks volunteers for 'eco-audit'


MEMBERS OF the public are being urged to volunteer for the first survey of Europe’s coastlines since 2005, starting in Ireland next weekend.

The first such “eco-audit” took place in 1987, in collaboration with The Irish Times.

“We are looking for volunteers who would take on a survey unit – that is 500m of shore – and walk it once at low tide with a questionnaire and notes in their hand to record their findings”, said Coastwatch Europe co-ordinator Karin Dubsky.

The survey of the shore is to run this autumn across Europe, with as much as possible of Ireland’s coastline being surveyed from October 1st to 14th.

“Obviously, the more people who participate, the more we will be able to cover,” Ms Dubsky said.

“If they are interested, we also have some water quality survey kits for nitrates and extra questions on biodiversity, thanks to a grant from the Department of the Environment. We’re also looking for dumps, illegal wetland damage and water pollution.

“It’s a basic eco-audit of the shore – like doing a stock count or taking a serious look at your home. Then all the audits, 500m long in each case, are put together like a big jigsaw puzzle to give a snapshot view of the coast as observed in autumn 2010.

“The exciting thing is that, after a long break, this year we will be putting international data together again and displaying that in Brussels in December. So we need an extra effort by surveyors to produce a decent-size Irish survey,” she added.

As 2010 is UN Biodiversity Year, Ms Dubsky said some volunteers could add wildlife questions to the survey results. But she conceded this was “more difficult as the average person cannot tell a cockle from a mussel but tell nine car brands apart”.

Finding litter was easier. “For several years the coastwatch litter data – the largest in the world with more than 10,000 sites – was used in looking at trends like drink container numbers. Low counts are found in countries with a deposit-and-return system.”

The first survey in 1987, to mark European Year of the Environment, received a “massive response” from the public, with data from more than 1,000 survey sites returned.

“Out of that ad hoc beginning, the coastwatch survey spread to 23 European countries,” Ms Dubsky said.

For this year’s survey she has proposed that everyone uses the same baseline form, with minimal national adaptations, so that the results would be comparable. Surveyors are also being urged to use GPS co-ordinates from their mobile phones or Google maps.

Anyone wishing to take part should register the area they would like to cover, using coastwatch codes on the web (, download the coastwatch questionnaire, complete it while walking the shore and return the information gathered.

They can also obtain test kits to check water quality and link the results to European water law.

“In an extra section, they can add personal comments and the good, the bad, the unusual, strange or old or new. Photos, cartoons and drawings are also welcome.”