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From blue whales to coral reefs - a new series will show the unexplored beauty of Ireland's Atlantic

The documentary series, which will air on RTÉ, will explore previously unseen sights off the Irish coast.

Image: George Karbus

A NEW SERIES showing the previously unexplored beauty of Ireland’s Atlantic waters will be broadcast on RTÉ as part of its new schedule.

The three-part series, Ireland’s Deep Atlantic, will show sights like coral reefs, deep sea squid, sperm whales and even blue whales.

Though the diversity of wildlife off our shores is well-known, the programme-makers say the beauty of the environment has proven difficult to capture on-screen.

It’s for this reason that, while incredible creatures can be found in Irish waters, they’re rarely the focus for filmmakers, co-director Ken O’Sullivan told TheJournal.ie.

I know a lot of the underwater cameramen around Europe and I still have yet to meet someone who has been in the ocean where we’re going, which is the edge of the continental shelf off Ireland. And it’s an incredible place.

whalessmall Ireland's Deep Atlantic will look at the blue and sperm whales in Irish waters

While the popularity of shows like the BBC’s Planet Earth proves the appetite for arresting nature documentaries, it’s far easier for filmmakers to capture these maritime animals in clearer, less turbulent waters.

But O’Sullivan, an experienced wildlife filmmaker, said he was determined to bring viewers down into the depths of the seas off Ireland.

“I’m trying to tell stories in an Irish context about things that are here.

It’s a bit of a masochistic occupation, between filming and trying to make documentaries in the ocean around Ireland. But that’s what motivates me, to try and document these things, because a lot of it hasn’t been done.

The notoriously choppy waters of the North Atlantic presented a host of logistical problems for the series’ crew, who shot much of their footage from the Celtic Explorer – a robust, state-owned research vessel.

Certain shots required the use of smaller sailing boats. O’Sullivan said they had to wait for breaks in the weather in order to get the shots they needed.

The thing we’ve done more than anything is waiting. You’re waiting for weather conditions to be able to get out.

Filming began between 60 and 100km off the shore, so creating the series meant a constant battle with the sea conditions. The crew – which at some periods included up to 35 people – had to be kept on call for much of that time.

The average visibility in Irish waters, for example, is 3 to 4 metres.

“In Ireland, I’ve been in the water with whales where I can’t see them,” said O’Sullivan.

Making the series was very much a passion project for O’Sullivan, he explained. Having freelanced for outlets like the BBC, he was always keen work in Irish waters. His family have been based in Co Kerry for 250 years, he said – so are deeply connected to the coast.

I feel very lucky. My father could never have looked under the sea and, even though he could swim, most of my family couldn’t even swim. He would never have seen below that membrane that is the water. And I just feel incredibly fortunate that I can do that.

Much of O’Sullivan’s previous work has explored that connection between man and the sea.

His six-part series for TG4, Farraigí na hÉireann, explored not just the contents of Ireland’s seas, but the relationship between places like Kerry and the Aran Islands and the water around them.

“What we’re trying to show is the interconnectedness of everything,” said O’Sullivan.

What’s actually happening in the deep ocean and the deep ocean seabed absolutely affects what’s happening at the surface and absolutely affects the coast.

Cold Water Corals and Sponges A cold water coral reef located 2,500m deep and 300km off the west of Ireland

O’Sullivan is also passionate about that historical connection between Ireland’s original inhabitants and the sea.

The first peoples that came to Ireland, they lived on the coast and they lived on the shore and they lived on shellfish originally, and they were foragers.

Conservation

O’Sullivan also hopes that the series will encourage people to conserve the wildlife depicted in the programmes. Working with Ireland’s Marine Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency, the crew plans to chart the migration path of the blue whales that pass through Irish waters, using this data to help protect them.

There’s 1,400 left in all of the North Atlantic, so they’re desperately endangered.

In areas of the deep sea previously thought uninhabited, and hence used as waste dumps until the 1980s, a remote-contolled vehicle manned by the Ireland’s Deep Atlantic crew is finding areas teeming with life.

I don’t want to give too much away, but there are cold water coral reefs, deep sea squid, octopus – hundreds and thousands of different species.

Examining Ireland

The show, which will air in the spring, is the centrepiece of the new RTÉ schedule for the coming season, which promises a host of documentary programmes.

Here are some other highlights:

  • The Classroom Divide: Joe Duffy examines how where you went to school impacts your life
  • What Are You Working For?: Philip Boucher Hayes looks at how we work and what we earn
  • The Game: A definitive history of hurling in three parts
  • WeatherWatch Live: An interactive insight into Ireland’s weather systems
  • It’s a Park’s Life: A behind-the-scenes look at Dublin’s Phoenix Park
  • My Trans Life: The lives of young transgender people in Ireland as they transition

Read: ‘I’m in a privileged position’: Claire Byrne and Ryan Tubridy on their salaries and gender balance >

Read: RTÉ has just revealed its autumn schedule – here are the highlights >

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