An Urgent Enquiry Dublin City:
Fiona McDonald


Sensing Ecologies is a free app comprising of geo-located interviews and soundscapes created by Fiona McDonald for the Dublin City residency on Bull Island. It explores environmental sensors and bioindicators that act as natural sensors. The island is part of the UNESCO designated Dublin Bay Biosphere.

It is internationally recognised for its significant habitats and wildlife and is also the only biosphere worldwide which includes areas of a capital city. The audio tour commences at the wooden bridge in Clontarf and finishes at the end of the pier on Bull Island.


Download the app & press START. As you walk along the iconic wooden bridge to Bull Island and the pier and enter one of the yellow circular shapes which appear on the map you will trigger the audio content of that location.


The Sensing Ecologies app allows you to enjoy the immersive experience of Audio AR (augmented reality). Audio AR is audio that layers and enriches the physical world around you.


When you physically enter a yellow geo-location demarcated on the app your presence will trigger the audio for that location. The circular shape will turn from yellow to blue signifying that it is active, the interview will play once to the end while you remain in the circle. Stay present and appreciate the richness of your surroundings, take in the 360° view of sea, land and sky while experiencing the additional layer of audio.


Discover how researchers from various fields working on Bull Island and across the planet use environmental sensors, bioindicators, human senses and phenology (the study of plant and animal life cycles) in understanding and mitigating the effects of climate change.


A series of interviews explore environmental sensing referencing both man-made sensors as well as bioindicators which are the plants and animals that act as natural sensors. The geo-located recordings include voice-overs from the past (Darwin), interviews from the present and speculations on the future. The interviews contemplate how this information might help us in understanding the effects of climate change.


Researchers from various fields of science and geography describe how islands act as laboratories. Bull Island with its many microhabitats is the envy of European researchers. Environmental sensors help in understanding the changing world around us and the data these sensors provide are not just an environmental archive but also a social archive. The ‘big data’ revolution provides evidence that climate change is breaking the earths beat; and how the original sensor in evolutionary biology and ecology, the human observer, still plays an essential role in validating this data.


There is irrefutable evidence that climate change is happening but how do researchers measure and predict this change. Sensing Ecologies invites you to explore some of the tools and methods researchers from various fields used to observe biodiversity and habitats and explore how human activity is intentionally and unintentionally transforming our planet.


During the initial stages of her residency, Fiona met Biodiversity Officer, Lorraine Bull, Manager of Bull Island, Pat Corrigan and Conservationist,

Dr. Melinda Lyons to gain a deeper understanding of the island’s multiple habitats and biodiversity. Her interest in environmental sensors and bioindicators and how they help to denote and monitor both local and global changes in climate led to her working with a number of researchers who informed the development of the Sensing Ecologies app.


Fiona engaged with Aoife Delaney, Coastal Ecologist and Eco Hydrologist Shane Regan from National Parks and Wildlife Service on a number of site visits to the Island’s Alder Marsh. In September 2019, Fiona along with Shane Regan (who kindly gave the loan of a hydrology sensor) reinstated hydrology monitoring devices on Bull Island used to measure the water table. Data collected from the sensor is important for the conservation of these rare and important ecosystems.


"An understanding of the hydrological regime via monitoring is therefore key to us being able to suggest and implement measures to try to ensure conservation of these habitats and the communities of plants and animals they support. In addition to previous data the newly installed sensors will give us a long-term data set going back to the beginning of the century which will help detect changes in the dunes and relate them to environmental pressures.’’

Aoife Delaney


Sensing Ecologies was created by artist Fiona Mc Donald as part of An Urgent Enquiry residency commission for Dublin City Council. The app was officially launched in September 2020 and is free to download from Apple and Google Play stores.

Sensing Ecologies can be downloaded from Apple or Google Play Stores








Sensing Ecologies was created by artist Fiona McDonald as part of An Urgent Enquiry residency commission for Bull Island 2019.  An Urgent Enquiry is funded under the Arts Council’s Invitation to Collaboration Scheme, 2018 and 2019, Dublin City Council,
Wexford County Council and
Fingal County Council.


Acoustic Biosensors/Big data

Samuel RP-J Ross, Acoustic Ecologist,

The Donohue Lab, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College, Dublin.


Songbirds Bull Island

Fionn O'Marcaigh, Behavioural and Evolutionary Ecologist , Zoology Department, Trinity College, Dublin.