Nature’s ability to thrive in less than favourable conditions can be seen at Cockleshell Strand in Tralee where rows of tomato vines are currently growing along its shoreline.
Hundreds of tomato fruits, assisted by the unseasonably mild autumn, were spotted by Sinn Féin Cllr Cathal Foley while he was out for a stroll at the popular public amenity spot.
Given the spread of the plants along the fringe of the high tide mark, it is possible the seeds may have entered the sea from the nearby wastewater treatment plant and self-seeded on the shore.
Tomato seed is not broken down in the human digestive tract, while it’s thought stomach acid removes part of an outer layer of the seed which maximises its chances of germinating if it finds favourable growing conditions.
The discovery is thought to be the first of its kind on a Kerry beach. However, a case of hundreds of tomatoes growing on the coastline at Pegwell Bay in the UK was recorded last month, which environmentalist claim resulted from sewer outfalls into the sea.
Both Kerry County Council (KCC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were informed of the discovery but neither organisation would comment on what may have caused the plants to grow at Cockleshell Strand.
Cllr Foley said he has been visiting the area since he was a child and can never recall seeing tomatoes grow along the strand, which is located between the Lock Gates and Cockleshell Road in the Kerries.
“I was walking the shore when I spotted a plant that drew my attention. I saw that the fruit was from a tomato plant,” he said.
“Then I could see plants all along the shoreline with tomatoes growing. There must have been hundreds of them there. If it was just one plant, you’d think nothing of it, but this was across a good stretch,” Cllr Foley told The Kerryman.
Cllr Foley believes that because tomato seed is indigestible, and the wastewater treatment plant is located yards from the shoreline, it’s likely the seeds were carried in human waste.
“This isn’t a negative as the wastewater is treated at the plant. But these seeds are extremely resilient and are not broken down. This is why they are able to escape back into the sea.
“It’s incredible to see them growing. To see all these fruits is very unusual, especially in such an exposed place. You would think they were grown in a sun-room. At least it’s not an invasive species and I don’t think this will cause any problems for the beach,” Cllr Foley said.
Marine Biologist at Dingle Ocean World, Kevin Flannery, is also perplexed at the discovery saying he has never come across something like this before in Kerry.
“It’s possible that someone may have dumped the plant there and it set seed over time. But it’s also possible, given that they are there in such high numbers, that it’s wastewater related,” said Kevin.
“I’ve never come across this before, though. You do come across unusual plants that people would dump and you get unusual growth in strange places. With so many different tomato plants coming in, they’re more tolerant to different conditions,” he added.