A determination of the critical bed shear stress of maerl is a prerequisite for quantifying its mobility, rate of erosion and deposition in conservation management. The critical bed shear stress for incipient motion has been determined for the first time for samples from biogenic free-living maerl beds in three contrasting environments (open marine, intertidal and beach) in Galway Bay, west of Ireland. The bed shear stress was determined using two methods, Law of the Wall and Turbulent Kinetic Energy, in a rotating annular flume and in a linear flume. The velocity profile of flowing water above a bed of natural maerl grains was measured in four runs of progressively increasing flow velocity until the flow exceeded the critical shear stress of grains on the bed. The critical Shields parameter and the mobility number are estimated and compared with the equivalent curves for natural quartz sand. The critical Shields parameters for the maerl particles from all three environments fall below the Shields curve. Along with a previously reported correlation between maerl grain shape and settling velocity, these results suggest that the highly irregular shapes also allow maerl grains to be mobilised more easily than quartz grains with the same sieve diameter. The intertidal beds with the roughest particles exhibit the greatest critical shear stress because the particle thalli interlock and resist entrainment. In samples with a high percentage of maerl and low percentage of siliciclastic sand, the lower density, lower settling velocity and lower critical bed shear stress of maerl results in its preferential transport over the siliciclastic sediment. At velocities similar to 10 cm s-(1) higher than the threshold velocity of grain motion, rarely-documented sub-aqueous maerl dunes formed in the annular flume. (C) 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.