Tuesday 20 October 2015

JNCC are back at Sea!

Teams from JNCC and Marine Scotland Science are aboard the RV Scotia, in the seas to the east of Scotland, embarking on a cruise to conduct the first monitoring surveys within two offshore Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas (NCMPAs). Our enthusiastic scientists will spend two weeks collecting seabed samples and photographic data from East of Gannet and Montrose Fields NCMPA and Norwegian Boundary Sediment Plain NCMPA.  These sites have been designated for two features; ocean quahog aggregations (including sands and gravels as their supporting habitat), and offshore deep sea muds.

East of Gannet and Montrose Fields NCMPA and Norwegian Boundary Sediment Plain NCMPA location

The ocean quahog (Arctica islandica) is a large and extremely long-lived species of clam which is typically found beneath the surface of sandy sediments. Ocean quahog are an important food source for several species of fish, including cod, and can live buried deep in the sand for long periods of time without food or oxygen to escape predators. Arctica islandica hit the headlines in recent years for being the world’s oldest animal ever recorded. An individual was collected from the seabed off the coast of Iceland in 2006 that was eventually aged by scientists as 507 years old (link to article). The scientists that collected the clam named it ‘Ming’, after the Chinese Ming dynasty that ruled over China when the animal was born. This means that Ming was four years old when Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa and born only 7 years after Columbus first sailed to the Americas!

Arctica islandica and Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa © Creative Commons

Offshore deep sea muds are relatively stable environments which typically support communities of burrowing megafaunal species, such as the commercially important Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus), and populations of fragile sea pens.

Large amounts of data are needed to accurately sample the sediment communities at these sites. Weather permitting, the team hope to collect at least 270 seabed samples across the two sites for ocean quahog, with extra camera work where deep sea muds are found. This data will form the first point in a monitoring time-series, which will allow JNCC to monitor the rate and direction of long-term change in ocean quahog aggregations and offshore deep sea mud communities.