COD, salmon and eels could soon become a rare sight in Irish waters, scientists warned today.
And it is not necessarily because of overfishing, pollution or habitat destruction.
Studies carried out by teams of scientists in Maynooth, Galway and Mayo suggest another culprit -- climate change.
Long term changes in the temperature and salt content of our seas may force cold water species, like salmon, into deeper colder waters. It may see them replaced with warm water fish like lesser spotted dogfish, bass and even boarfish -- a Mediterranean fish with a pig-like snout also found off New South Wales in Australia.
Ireland is "an ideal laboratory" to study climate change, which acts "not only as a transporter of solar heat from the equator to the poles, but also as the world's largest natural processor of atmospheric carbon dioxide," said the scientists
"Understanding the interactions between the oceans and the atmosphere is one of the greatest challenges facing climate scientists -- not least of which is the difficulty in telling which changes occur naturally and which might be due to global warming," a spokesman for the Marine Institute said.
A €2.2m Marine Climate Change (MCC) research programme was set up last year under the National Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation. "We set about working in three teams," said Dr Glenn Nolan of the Marine Institute, who is heading up the MCC programme.
The teams are based at the Marine Institute, one at NUI Galway and one at NUI Maynooth.
The scientists are looking not just at historical records stretching back over 50 years, but using cutting edge technology like data from the network of floating weather buoys around the coast, readings from underwater gliders -- remote controlled underwater vehicles -- as well as satellites to try and make sense of what has been going on in our seas.
They also plan to use a new 'supercomputer' system to produce forecasts of what might happen in the future.
"Even now, some worrying trends in the data are starting to emerge, which confirms anecdotal information that the seas around Ireland are warming up," the Marine Institute said.
While the Atlantic is currently in a natural occurring "warming" phase, data from Malin Head observatory in Donegal shows the warmest years on record occurring since 1995.
The amount of salt in the sea around Ireland is also showing an upward trend.
"These warmer and saltier conditions, which are becoming increasingly like the Mediterranean rather than the Atlantic, are having a gradual but profound change on the marine animals and plants that live there," the scientists said.