Coastal monitoring


This section aims to provide up-to-date data on coastal water quality and meteorology acquired from a network of remotely moored monitoring stations around the Northern Irish coastline that telemeter data to a base station at AFBI, Belfast.


Monitoring of the offshore and coastal seas has historically been carried out at fixed estuarine and coastal sites during periodic surveys. Although providing good spatial coverage, sampling frequency is unable to resolve temporal variability adequately. As a result, the development of remotely deployed automated in-situ instruments capable of monitoring a range of physico-chemical and environmental variables has occurred. Systems developed by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) and DARD (now DAERA) have been remotely monitoring selected coastal sites around the UK for some years.

The North of Ireland Joint Agency Monitoring Programme brings together the efforts and investments of AFBI, the Loughs Agency and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency to deliver a comprehensive in-situ monitoring programme around the Northern Irish Coastline. A second generation of instruments is now deployed in sensitive coastal and estuarine sites around the north of Ireland allowing near-real-time water quality monitoring.

Data provided by this project will be available rapidly and will have many practical benefits such as:

  • Better quality information for pollution control, water management and policy development
  • Current high resolution data available for public and scientific scrutiny and use.

These moored monitoring stations are supported by a programme of spatial surveying with extra focus being put on a certain Lough or area every 5 years, on a rotating basis. This allows a full review of the water body to be undertaken putting the fixed point “sentinel” mooring station in environmental context.

Monitored sites

Instruments have now been installed in over twelve sites  including many of the sea-loughs in the north of Ireland. Sites have been selected that are suitable for monitoring, allowing for concerns such as navigation and fishing, whilst also of significance and relevance for conservation and aquaculture issues.

The Irish Sea sites do not currently operate with data telemetry and data is not yet available through this website, this is still under development.

Site descriptions

Studies of sea loughs and estuaries around the coast of Northern Ireland suggest that three sites are eutrophic - these have been identified as Sensitive Areas (SA's) under the terms of the EC Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD). This directive is designed to reduce the pollution of freshwater, estuarine and coastal waters by effective monitoring and improved management of pollution sources.


Remote instrument packages typically use a variety of water-quality and oceanographic monitoring instruments. These systems have sensors for the measurement of salinity (conductivity), pressure, temperature, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and chlorophyll a fluorescence. Selected stations also have meteorology. Not every parameter is measured at every station.

High temporal resolution data is gathered to help understand and monitor the environment. For example, monitoring the oxygen status and algal content of the water body can help to define algal blooms and understand their effects alongside the cycling of organic and inorganic matter. Data relating to diurnal, seasonal and episodic events can then be related to physical and chemical conditions within the water body to facilitate management and monitoring.  Deployed instruments are moored beneath a buoy or a navigation platform. In certain sites a combination of instruments at two different depths allows processes such as stratification to be studied.

A McLane Remote Access Sampler (RAS) can be deployed in combination with a Seabird SBE 19 CTD (with additional fluorimetry and turbidity) at certain sites. The sampler is capable of taking up to 48 individual 100-ml samples over extended time periods, and preserving them for future analysis. Full GSM communication and control allows flexible sampling schedules. This system is self-cleaning, logging facilities record the details of each sampling event. Current developments include the software integration of instruments through a multiplexed system, allowing autonomous control and integration of instrumental, water sampling  and Meteorological packages.


Moorings contain GPRS modems allowing two-way communications with the remote instruments from a base station – and most systems are currently “pushing” data to server based databases. Power supplies for the instruments and communications are self-contained and are sufficient for long deployments in aquatic environments. Service intervals are determined primarily by biofouling and instrumental drift.


Water quality parameters and physical processes such as stratification can be identified and monitored allowing better reactive management and monitoring. The high-resolution data allows the temporal stability of physico-chemical parameters to be monitored. The interaction between different water bodies can be investigated, aiding early warning of algal bloom events, better modelling of water stratification, and direct monitoring of water quality.

Quality Assurance

Dedicated reference instrumentation is coupled to moored data to improve data quality control. It is our current goal to establish a system that can report (in a semi-automated or automated manner) data within defined quality limits or perform exclusions if reference measurements don’t comply with filtering criteria. Whilst some un-validated (but still good quality) data could potentially not be reported due to this process, all data is retained so that both non-QA’d and QA’d data can be reviewed and interpreted.

Data archive

This website aims to provide up-to-date data on coastal water quality acquired from a network of remotely moored monitoring stations that send data to a base station at DARD through GSM modem links. We are currently migrating data management systems to more web-based platforms, so please note that not all data will be reliably accessed through the AFBI archive as not all processes are automated.

To generate a graph:

  1. Select a monitored site from the sites list
  2. Select a measured parameter from the graphs list
  3. Indicate the time range you wish the plot to cover by selecting a day, month and year for the 'From Date' and 'To Date' fields.
  4. Click the 'Generate Graph' button.
  5. To zoom into a specific area of the graph, click and drag along the x-axis to highlight the area you wish view in more detail.

Weekly in-situ water quality monitoring reports

We currently have a number of newly upgraded systems which are transmitting live data straight to the web.
View Live Lough Foyle and Strangford Lough data

We aim to publish Coastal Monitoring reports on a monthly basis. Please find the most recent reports below and older reports in the data archive.

Dredge monitoring

AFBI maintain an operational capacity for dredge monitoring, allowing the assessment of both the dredge activity and dumping to aid compliance with license requirements.

Temporary moorings are established to supply real-time data to a web-hosted facility reporting temperature, salinity, suspended solids, dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll fluorescence. These data are accessible to the monitoring contractor and to named individuals dependent upon the clients requirements.

Real-time data from the moored instruments are integrated with AFBI’s moored operations and data validation scheme to provide detailed information on the environmental consequences (or lack of consequence) of the activity. Shellfish monitoring, disposal site surveys and fishery specific investigations provide a complete package for environmental safety and monitoring compliance.