First record of Golden kelp in Ireland – but how did it get here and will it stay?

Seasearch Ireland press release issued May 17th, 2019

First record of Golden kelp (Laminaria ochroleuca)

Golden Kelp first recorded in Ireland in 2018. Photo: (c) Kathryn Schoenrock

Researchers from the NUI Galway and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, using samples collected by citizen science recorders from a Seasearch Ireland and Porcupine survey trip, have confirmed the presence of the golden kelp (Laminaria ochroleuca) in Ireland for the first time. During a field survey of Béal an Mhuirthead (Belmullet), Co. Mayo, a small population of L. ochroleuca was discovered in a sheltered cove called Scots Port on the northwest facing coastline of Béal an Mhuirthead, September 10th, 2018. The species was originally recognized by Dr. Kathryn Schoenrock of NUI Galway with help from the Porcupine group and samples were subsequently collected for genetic analysis at the University of Alabama at Birmingham by Dr. Stacy A. Krueger-Hadfield.

The dominant kelp species found in Irish waters is Cuvie (Laminaria hyperborea) and is found on all Irish coasts, while golden kelp is typically found in the southern EU waters and its northern range is restricted to the south coast of England, France and Spain. Golden kelp has been found to harbour less biodiversity than Cuvie and the migration of this species to Ireland has the potential to impact marine inshore biodiversity. Because Scots Port is located ~1040 km away from the nearest population of L. ochroleuca in the United Kingdom and ~1630 km away from the nearest population in France the exact pathway for the expansion of this species range is unknown. However, genetic analyses would suggest that this population is more diverse than UK populations, resembling the richness described for populations in the Iberian Peninsula.

Dr Kathryn Schoenrock of NUI Galway explains “The present range expansion of Laminaria ochroleuca highlights a critical need to continue monitoring Irish kelp forests. The knowledge of Irish kelp forest ecosystem is limited, including the most basic information, such as population distributions. The presence of L. ochroleuca, which is known to harbour much less biodiversity than its congeneric and current dominant species in Boreal kelp forests, necessitates further studies beginning with obtaining distribution records.”

“Citizen science like Seasearch Ireland and Coastwatch are an excellent way to involve local communities that have a vested interest in the health of these ecosystems. In conjunction with existing research bodies like the Environmental Protection Agency, National Parks and Wildlife Services, and the Marine Institute, we need more programs that can sustain long term ecological research (LTERs) of shallow marine systems over many years. We hope that this new species record in Ireland is a push to better understand the natural history of marine ecosystems in Ireland via continued funding for this fundamental line of research.

Tony O’Callaghan, National Coordinator of Seasearch Ireland: “Citizen science projects can play an important role in monitoring marine ecosystems and recreational divers are uniquely placed to be the eyes and ears for marine waters as they are regularly immersed in them. While scientific research, and particularly LTERs, are important tools in monitoring the marine environment, citizen science is an under used and undervalued resource in Ireland and particularly in the marine. Seasearch recorders have collected over 50,000 records of over a thousand species and this data set is the best continuous record collected since the last major state funded study of Ireland’s inshore marine environment, the Biomar survey, which was in the 90s.”

This research is accepted for publication in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records.



For further information, contact

Seasearch Ireland

Seasearch is a project by the Marine Conservation Society for divers and snorkelers, who have an interest in what they’re seeing under water, want to learn more and want to help protect the marine environment around the coasts of Britain and Ireland. Seasearch Ireland is a citizen science initiative to encourage divers and snorkelers to document details of species seen during marine dives to help build the knowledge base on the distribution of marine species in Ireland’s in-shore waters To date volunteer recorders have collected over 50,000 species and habitat records in Irish waters.

Seasearch Ireland is an entirely voluntary organization and operates an open-data policy, with all provided to the National Biodiversity Data Centre and freely available on the Data Centre’s mapping portal, Biodiversity Maps.


Dr. Kathryn Schoenrock was supported by the Irish Research Council during the period of discovery. Ongoing research is supported by the Environmental Protection Agency via the project “Kelp Res: the diversity and resilience of Kelp Ecosystems in Ireland” in which Seasearch plays a major role.

“This project is funded under the EPA Research Programme 2014-2020. The EPA Research Programme is a Government of Ireland initiative funded by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.”


Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the material contained in this article, complete accuracy cannot be guaranteed. Neither the Environmental Protection Agency nor the authors accept any responsibility whatsoever for loss or damage occasioned or claimed to have been occasioned, in part or in full, as a consequence of any person acting or refraining from acting, as a result of a matter contained in this article.

EPA Research Programme 2014–2020


The EPA’s current Research Programme 2014–2020 is built around three pillars – Sustainability, Climate and Water. More information about the EPA Research Programme can be found by visiting the EPA website where you can subscribe to the Research Newsletter. This provides news and updates about research calls, events and publications that are of relevance to researchers and other interested parties. You can also follow EPA Research on Twitter @EPAResearchNews for the information and developments about the Research Programme and its projects.


Dr. Stacy Krueger-Hadfield

Stacy A. Krueger-Hadfield is an assistant professor of biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is an evolutionary ecologist and works on algae and invertebrates in order to understand more about the maintenance of biodiversity. Her lab will be genotyping samples collected with KelpRes to explore the connectivity of kelp populations in Ireland.

Golden kelp

Golden kelp (Laminaria ochroleuca) is found in France, Spain and the south coast of the UK. The stipe (stem) of golden kelp is clean of growths of algae and sponge (epiphytes) compared to Laminaria hyperborea and as a result stands of golden kelp have a much lower biodiversity than native kelp forests.