Friday, 10 August 2018

JNCC/ Marine Scotland August Survey

Swap your flip-flops for some steel toe-capped boots, we’re going on survey!

As summer pushes on, it’s that time of year again for a joint survey between JNCC and Marine Scotland Science. Survey staff will live and work on the research vessel MRV Scotia for 26 days in the Scottish offshore waters. The joint team plan to visit the Faroe Shetland Sponge Belt Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area (NCMPA), Wyville Thomson Ridge Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Rosemary Bank Seamount NCMPA. The purpose of this survey is to continue to add to our monitoring efforts to understand more about these important sites and provide sound management advice.
Figure 1: Location of the sites to be surveyed

The Faroe Shetland Sponge Belt MPA has multiple protected features including deep-sea sponge aggregations and the bivalve, Ocean quahog (Arctica islandica). It is the largest of the three sites the team plan to visit, at approximately 188 km in length, and is located on the Scottish side of the Faroe-Shetland Channel.

Figure 2: Lamellate sponges (Porifera) on deep sea sediments of the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt MPA

The Rockall Trough carves around the western edge of the United Kingdom and Ireland, opening out into the Porcupine Abyssal Plain in the south and meeting a series of features in Scottish offshore waters in the North. Wyville Thomson Ridge SAC represents a rocky plateau to the north-east of the Rockall Trough. The site is home to extensive areas of protected stony reef, which in turn host diverse biological communities including sponges, soft corals, beds of feather stars and sea cucumbers, to name a few.

Figure 3: A section of reef from the Wyville Thomson Ridge SAC, dominated by the feather star Heliometra glacialis

Rosemary Bank Seamount MPA is also located to the north-east of the Rockall Trough and is an extinct volcano, taller than Ben Nevis. Seamounts are characteristically hotspots of marine life due to their conical shape and the related effects on local currents which supply the feature with nutrients. Rosemary Bank Seamount MPA has rich communities consisting of deep-sea sponge aggregations, a variety of coral species and deep-water fish, such as orange roughy.      

Figure 4: An orange roughy with some deep-sea corals on Rosemary Bank seamount MPA. Image courtesy of the NERC funded Deep Links Project- Plymouth University, Oxford University, JNCC & BGS

To gather further information about these sites, the team will use a variety of sampling equipment. Video tows and drop-cameras will be used to collect live footage and high-resolution images of the seabed and its inhabitants. The survey will also use a Hamon grab to take samples of the seabed for particle size analysis of the substratum and identification of the animals living within the sediment.  

Watch this space, the JNCC Twitter and Marine Scotland Twitter feeds and JNCC Facebook, for further updates before and during the survey!

Survey Fun Fact:
The Wyville Thomson Ridge was named after Professor Sir Charles Wyville Thomson. He had a decorated education in Natural History before being granted permission from the Royal Navy to modify and use one of their ships, HMS Challenger, to explore the underwater world. During the 1870s, the Challenger Expedition achieved ground-breaking work in marine science and is considered by many to be the flagship of oceanography. Read more here:

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

RRS James Cook returns from successful collaborative voyage

On Friday 6 July, the RRS James Cook sailed into Southampton following a successful three-week expedition to the Celtic Shelf and Bay of Biscay, west of Cornwall. The voyage delivered a unique combination of first-class science, trials of novel marine robots, and training opportunities for scientists, technicians and engineers. In addition, the expedition represented an important collaboration between the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), with the core of the science work being targeted at developing a better understanding of the spatial and temporal patterns in seabed biological communities in two of the UK’s new marine protected areas (MPAs).
Autosub6000 ready to be deployed

The team on board used the
Autosub6000 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) to map a section of the Greater Haig Fras MPA, an area including the only rocky reef on the Celtic Shelf, protected for its mosaic of underwater habitats. The AUV collected detailed acoustic and photographic data over a section of the marine conservation zone (MCZ) that it also surveyed in 2012 and 2015. These repeat surveys are enabling NOC researchers and UK Government to understand how the seabed and its inhabitants are changing through time.
Seafloor video data and samples were gathered by the NOC’s Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Isis, which was also deployed in the Whittard Canyon in the Bay of Biscay (an area which includes The Canyons MPA). This submarine canyon hosts unique deep-sea communities, including England’s only cold-water coral reefs, and the ROV provided new data on the status of the coral and the seafloor environment in the area, down to a depth of 3850m.
Deploying the ROV Isis

In addition to the ROV and AUV, the NOC’s Marine Autonomous & Robotic Systems (MARS) team trialled a number of other robotic vehicles and subsystems, including the UK’s first 6000m depth rated underwater glider, and a sub-system which will be used for long-range under ice navigation.

'Rapidly developing'
Dr Maaten Furlong, Head of MARS, said: “It is an exciting time in the development of marine robotic systems, as they are rapidly developing and becoming an integral part of ocean observation. This expedition has allowed us to test systems which will augment ship-based data collection, and to trial ship-independent systems which will be used to collect data over the wider ocean and in difficult to access areas.”
Ana Jesus, Marine Evidence Manager at JNCC, said: “The surveys by ROV Isis, Autosub6000 and the RRS James Cook provide JNCC with invaluable information about the marine areas we have to monitor and manage. At JNCC, we do not have regular access to equipment with these advanced capabilities and depth ratings, and so are keen to explore their performance in relation to the monitoring of MPAs. We look forward to continuing and expanding our collaboration with the NOC.” 
The training opportunities provided by this unique science/engineering expedition were appreciated by all on board. The NOC’s Dr Veerle Huvenne, chief scientist of the expedition, said: “Working so closely with each other, learning the details of each other’s role on board, was a very good experience for both the engineering and the science teams. We are training the next generation of scientists and engineers in the use of the newest marine research equipment, while simultaneously maximising the research output from every single day our vessels are at sea.”

Scientists on board observe the data gathered 

The research at Haig Fras and Whittard Canyon is part of
CLASS (Climate-Linked Atlantic Sector Science), the new National Capability programme funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

This article was originally published on the 25th July 2018 by the National Oceanography Centre at

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Farnes East MCZ and the end of another survey

It’s come to that time and we’ve reached the end of another survey. We’ve had a packed survey schedule and I’m really pleased with everything we have managed to achieve over the last couple of weeks. This includes more than 500 Hamon grab samples, and over 10 hours of video footage collected across Farnes East MCZ and North East of Farnes Deep MCZ.

At Farnes East MCZ we have now set up 16 sentinel monitoring stations, which we can use to build up a long-term time series to understand how the habitats and species communities at the site change over time.
Sampled stations at Farnes East MCZ

Completed sampling stations at Farnes East MCZ. Showing the long-term monitoring stations set up to show trends at the site, and the mud stations chosen to better understand the distribution so sea-pen and burrowing megafauna communities at the site.

We also sampled areas of subtidal mud at Farnes East MCZ. In this substrate type we have evidence for, or suspect the habitat feature of conservation importance (FOCI) sea-pen and burrowing megafauna communities to be present. The burrows created by species such as Nephrops norvegicus are a key feature of this habitat. This data collected here will give us a better understanding of the distribution of this FOCI at the site.
A surprised little Nephrops norvegicus caught on camera

Nephrops norvegicus builds its burrows in muddy seabed habitats. This crustacean goes by many names, you may know it as; “Norway lobster”, “Dublin Bay prawn”, “Langoustine”, or “Scampi”.

The next step will be to have all this raw data processed and analysed, the results of which will be made available in a monitoring report.

So it’s goodbye to Farnes East MCZ and North East of Farnes Deep MCZ for now, but we’ll be back!

Thanks for all the effort from the Cefas scientists and crew of the Cefas Endeavor for making this another successful partnership survey.
Obligatory sunset photo from the end of the survey
Written by James Albrecht

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Sieving in the Moonlight

As my first survey with JNCC, and working alongside Cefas I was incredibly excited when James and I boarded their research vessel, the Cefas Endeavour. At the time of writing, I am one week into the 12-day survey, and we have made great progress.
Couldn't get a closer selfie as the Cefas Endeavour wouldn't fit in!
The team has completed the survey of North East of Farnes Deep MCZ, and collected a full dataset that will help us assess how the features of the site change over time. Being on the night shift team, it was quite daunting to get used to a working pattern of 00:00-12:00, and really weird to say “Good Morning!” to the team at 23:30, and “Sleep well!” at 13:00! But after a couple of days (and mountains of coffee) we’ve got into the swing of things. 
Hamon grab before deployment
The survey at North East of Farnes Deep MCZ was focused on gathering evidence of the broadscale habitats of the area and the infaunal communities by using sediment grabs with a Hamon Grab. 
Although it sounds strange, I have found sieving mud, gravel and sand is a fantastic method to see the complexity and variety of life on the seabed here, and we were lucky enough to land several of the species of conservation interest, Arctica islandica, or ocean quahog,  for which the site is designated to conserve.
James sieving the sediment samples
Plenty of variety in the sieved sediment samples!
After effectively sampling North East of Farnes Deep MCZ, Cefas Endeavour steamed south west to Farnes East MCZ, which we have been sampling for a few days now. The survey at Farnes East MCZ is designed to build up a robust dataset and evidence on order to inform management and further monitoring efforts of the site, and includes camera sled operations as well as Hamon grabbing. 
Camera sledge in the moonlight
The camera sled has given a fantastic view of the seabed, and we have seen plenty of evidence of the burrowing megafauna that the site is designated for, as well as many hagfish, crabs, sea stars, tube worms, anemones and bryozoans. Although unfortunately today camera operations have been suspended. Gathering information has not ceased though, and grabbing of the site to develop sentinel stations, in order to allow of change over long-term scales to be assessed effectively, has gone underway! In certain areas (and today especially) sediment grabbing can be hit and miss, and it often feels as if we are fishing for cobblestones, rather than infaunal species! However, we’ve been lucky in grabbing fish, octopus and hagfish, which got everyone excited! 

The fish we found in one of our grab samples

Tomorrow (or 00:00 tonight, actually) we continue to survey Farnes East MCZ, taking grabs at the sentinel stations which represent each of the broadscale habitats within the site and hopefully continue with camera sledding deployments! But right now, I’m going to get some rest!

Written by Chris McCabe

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

JNCC/CEFAS April Survey in the North Sea

The time has come again for our JNCC survey staff to join Cefas staff on their research vessel, the Cefas Endeavour, for a 2-week-long survey to Farnes East and North-east of Farnes Deep Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), within offshore English waters. Monitoring MPAs in general, help us understand how these sites contribute to network of marine protected areas (MPAs) around the UK coastline. Farnes East MCZ has been selected due to the need for a bigger dataset to allow management to be well informed regarding the status of the site. North-east of Farnes Deep MCZ has been chosen due to the need to assess the effects of proposed management measures.

Figure 1: Locations of the sites to be surveyed this April.

Farnes East MCZ contains a glacial trench forming the deepest part of the MCZ. The site is designated for a large variety of sediment types, seapen and burrowing megafauna, and the presence of Ocean quahog. The main focus of this survey is to investigate the glacial trench and the subtidal mud feature within it.
The bivalve mollusc, ocean quahog (Arctica islandica) is a protected feature of conservation importance is found at this site. Additionally, sea pens and burrowing species such as the Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus) make their home within the muddy habitats of this MPA.
Our team will be using a combination of mini-Hamon grab and drop-frame camera equipment to better understand the subtidal mud feature within the site. They also aim to identify the quality and quantity of the Habitat Feature of Community Importance (FOCI), sea-pen and burrowing megafauna communities.

©2012 JNCC and Cefas

Figure 2: Bottom topography of Farnes East MCZ obtained from the joint 2012 survey with Cefas..

North East of Farnes Deep MCZ (NEFD) is mainly composed of sandy sediment, with smaller patches of gravelly sand and mud, which are all protected substrates. These substrates are known to support a diverse range of marine flora and fauna such as anemones, worms, molluscs, echinoderms and fish species.
Watch this space and JNCC Twitter feed for further updates before and during the survey!

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Wyville-Thomson Ridge SAC: Blog #2

Blowing away those end of survey blues

After beating a retreat from another storm that was blowing across the exposed North Atlantic, we busied ourselves with working at some more sheltered contingency stations East of the Shetland Islands. It seems that you can’t hide forever though, and as the winds picked up, we sought more shelter inshore and sat out a bumpy (and for many of us, sleepless) night.

The following morning, while the southerly gales had died down, the residual swell meant slow progress as we steamed south. 

Rough seas causing sleepless nights. © Neil Golding/JNCC 2017

It was fair to say that at this point, team morale was at a low ebb. The rough seas, the unsettled stomachs and the long shifts had taken their toll. But as a group of us were on the bridge after lunch looking at a group of pelagic mackerel trawlers, a cry rang out which lifted everyone’s spirits……"ORCA!"

One of the pelagic mackerel trawlers. © Neil Golding/JNCC 2017

A bull killer whale came across our bow while a much larger group crossed our wake. They were leaping clear of the water, as they made a beeline for the trawlers, probably excited at the thought of a nice meal awaiting them as the trawlers hauled their nets packed with fish.

First glimpse! © Neil Golding/JNCC 2017

A killer whale swimming alongside the Scotia. © Neil Golding/JNCC 2017

Breaching orca. © Neil Golding/JNCC 2017
It’s amazing how just a fleeting glimpse of some amazing cetaceans can really lift the spirits of the team. For many, it had been their first Orca sighting ever, and for others, their first in UK waters. We carried on the steam to our next survey location with a little spring in our steps, as we got on with our work. 

For more updates from the team, make sure to follow @JNCC_UK on twitter and this blog by entering your email address on the right hand side of the screen.

Written by Neil Golding. 
Photos are © Neil Golding/JNCC 2017

Monday, 6 November 2017

Wyville-Thomson Ridge SAC: Blog #1

Bedrock 'n' Roll

On October 29th, Laura, Neil and I made the long journey from Peterborough to Shetland to join the MRV Scotia and crew, ready to get involved in leg two of the offshore seabed survey. It was pretty darn chilly in Lerwick, but we were raring to go and conditions looked good (as did we!).

JNCC survey team for the second leg of the collaborative JNCC & Marine Scotland offshore monitoring surveys. Check out the Marine Scotland blog here. © Neil Golding/JNCC 2017. 

We set sail from Shetland at 10am on Monday, October 30th and made our way out to the Wyville Thomson Ridge Special Area of Conservation. This protected area sits about 150 kilometres off Cape Wrath in Scotland, has an area slightly larger than Shetland itself, and is home to some pretty cool marine life. The ridge is a rocky plateau in the middle of the ocean which has areas of bedrock, boulders, cobbles and gravel, made by huge glaciers ploughing into the seabed at the end of the last ice age. It might not sound like a very glamourous place to live, but the rock, boulders and cobbles provide the perfect surface for many seabed creatures to cling on to.

Setting sail for Wyville-Thomson Ridge. © Hayley Hinchen/JNCC 2017. 

We arrived at the site at about 4:30am on Tuesday, October 31st and plunged our camera system into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean to see what we could find. Laura, Joey and I are part of the night-shift team working midnight to midday, so there’s a lot that goes on in the wee small hours of the morning, in complete darkness… with a coffee (or seven!) in hand. Once our camera arrived on the seabed, expertly controlled by our Marine Scotland colleagues, we eagerly waited to see what the site had in store. 

So far, we’ve seen some brilliant examples of many kinds of colourful deep-sea sponges, sea cucumbers, starfish, anemones, sea urchins and fish. The ‘drop camera’ lets us take video footage of the seabed and still photographs so that we can identify the marine life in more detail. The kit works perfectly as long as the sea isn’t too rough – but the North Atlantic in November isn’t known for its calmness, and some poor weather conditions soon blew in (thankfully we all had our sea legs by that point!).

The hard substrate is an ideal habitat for many seabed species. © JNCC/Marine Scotland 2017.

Deep-sea fish and sea urchins are a common sight within Wyville-Thomson Ridge. © JNCC/Marine Scotland 2017. 
Having stuck it out for many choppy hours at Wyville Thomson Ridge, we decided to move to a slightly more sheltered site closer to shore so that we could keep working in the poor weather. The site selected was the West Shetland Shelf Nature Conservation MPA. We don’t yet have a good understanding of the sediments and biological communities that live in this protected site, so it was a great opportunity to take a more detailed look using our seabed grabbing gear. We also got a fleeting visit from some inquisitive common dolphin during the night shift, a welcome sight for our bleary eyes!

The Scotia team will be working non-stop, around the clock to make sure we get the most out of this survey trip, whatever the weather throws at us. Collecting information on the biological communities in these unique and exciting offshore sites is really valuable for advice and conservation, as often little is known about what’s living deep beneath the waves (apart, of course, from Sid the stonecrab). 

Plenty of hiding spots in the deep sea! © JNCC/Marine Scotland 2017.
Poor weather forced the team to calmer waters nearer to shore. A good time for opportunistic surveying at the West Shetland Shelf NCMPA! © Neil Golding/JNCC 2017. 
To find out more information about the Wyville-Thomson Ridge, check out the JNCC Site Information Centre

For more updates from the team, make sure to follow @JNCC_UK on twitter and this blog by entering your email address on the right hand side of the screen.

Written by Hayley Hinchen.