Wednesday, 19 September 2018

#1218S final blog: Is it a whale? Is it a rig platform? No, it's land!


After 26 days at sea, the 1218S JNCC and Marine Scotland survey is complete! What a whirlwind four weeks we have had. Scientists on board the MRV Scotia have travelled nearly 3,000 kilometres, collected over 3,800 photographs, recorded over 113 hours of video footage of the seabed and collected and processed 47 grab samples from Faroe Shetland Sponge Belt NCMPA. In doing so we have met all our primary objectives for the survey!

'Ping-Pong' Tree Sponge (Chondrocladia) © JNCC/MSS 2018 

We have documented a huge variety of marine life and habitats across these sites, ranging from the deep-sea sponges of Rosemary Bank Seamount and Faroe Shetland Sponge Belt MPAs, to corals and iceberg ploughmark rocky habitats at Wyville Thomson Ridge SAC. As showcased in our previous blogs, the diversity of the marine life we have seen has been staggering!

Reflecting on this, JNCC monitoring lead for the survey and on-ship data guru Chris McCabe said, "the survey was incredibly exciting, seeing some of the extraordinary species in the deep sea of the Wyville-Thompson Ridge SAC from our camera tows was a fantastic experience".

Beautiful sunrise as the MRV Scotia approaches Aberdeen © JNCC/MSS 2018 

The data we have collected will form a crucial part of a dataset that will be used to monitor how these diverse habitats change over time.

In summary, I am glad to report that thanks to the hard work of our Marine Scotland Science colleagues, the crew and our own scientists, this survey has been a success. Please check back in with us for more survey blogging when we next go to sea, but for now we are excited to begin working up the data collected!

Welcome home! JNCC staff return from a successful survey with Marine Scotland Science © JNCC/MSS 2018

Keep an eye out for the results and progress of the data we have collected on our JNCC Twitter feed with #1218S!

Survey Fun Fact:
Did you know that the aptly-named ‘Ping-Pong’ Tree Sponge (Chondrocladia) is carnivorous? As a member of the Cladorhizidae family of carnivorous demosponges, it survives by catching small crustaceans and small fish with hook-like features covering the ball-like surfaces.
Read more here:

Written by Jessica Taylor
Images Copyright JNCC/MSS 2018

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Revisiting Wyville Thomson... Fridge! Blog #6


Hello again from the 1218S survey! We have now returned to Wyville Thomson Ridge SAC to continue our sampling here following a welcome half-landing in sunny Ullapool.

Since we have been here we have found it hard to ignore the influence that the topography of the ridge has on the habitats and communities we have encountered (see Figure 1). Closely related to this, we have found much variation in the temperature of the water at the seabed surrounding Wyville Thomson Ridge. Influenced by colder Arctic water, seabed communities to the north-west of the site experience water temperatures which drop to a chilly -0.7°C (much colder than your average fridge!). A few miles to the south-east the warmer Atlantic water, itself warmed by the Gulf stream, was observed on this survey to reach a balmy 9.4°C at the seabed. Due to this, we have encountered different biological communities in different regions of the MPA.     

Ship’s sonar showing changes in bathymetry (seabed elevation) from 400 meters to 800 meters depth, reflecting the complex topology of Wyville Thomson Ridge SAC

But what of the habitats themselves? We have found that the shallower parts of the site (the ridge top and sides) seem to be dominated by cobbles, boulders and coarse sediment such as gravel and sand. In the deeper water off the ridge, we have found muddier habitats, including some consisting of hard material with a thin covering of silt.  

From our observations, these habitats all have distinct biological communities associated with them. We have found crinoids and even cold-water corals dominating similar habitats (cobble and boulder fields), while sponges have been seen on rocky surfaces throughout the site. Burrows, with as yet unknown inhabitants, were seen in the muddy areas, together with a giant Umbellulla sp. seapen!  

The images below show some examples of the range of habitats we have encountered and the animals which live there.

Potential stony reef with cold-water corals (A) and sponges and crinoids (B), cauliflower coral on gravel (C), and mud with Umbellulla sp. seapen (D)

We have also seen a plethora of mobile species from fish, captured by the underwater camera at the seabed, to marine mammals at the surface. Fish species observed include rays, chimaeras, ling and many, many red fish. During one camera tow, we were especially excited to spot two Arctic skates enjoying a nice seabed walk! This species was also sampled during the first leg of this survey; see if you can spot it on our previous 
blog.

Arctic skate (A) and Chimaera monstrosa (B)

Please check out @JNCC_UK on Twitter (#1218S) if you would like to see footage of the common dolphins, pilot whales and fin whale we have encountered! 

Survey Fun Fact:
The Chimaera monstrosa or Rabbitfish, is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in the 'Near Threatened' category. Its favourable depth range coincides with high-levels of deep-sea fisheries making it vulnerable to capture, via methods such as trawls and bottom gillnets. A secondary threat is the increasing interest in using liver oil from this species in human dietary supplements. Read more here:

Written by Joey O'Connor & Ellen Last
Images copyright JNCC/MSS 2018


Friday, 7 September 2018

Half landing ahoy! A chance to refuel and stretch those sea legs...Blog #5


Since the last blog post the team here have been squirreling away, successfully collecting video data from all of the planned stations at Rosemary Bank Seamount and starting to collect still photos and video from Wyville Thomson Ridge. The weather has delayed us a little on this goal but we are back on track, and steaming ahead aiming to collect as much data as we possibly can before we come in to the half landing at Ullapool.


Fish assemblage from 1200m depth from the North side of Wyville Thomson Ridge in the Faroe-Shetland Channel

The half landing is anticipated by everyone by this point as stocks of chocolate bars and packs of crisps run dangerously low! Additionally, at the half landing we will be bidding farewell to our MSS and JNCC colleagues bar myself and welcoming 6 new JNCC staff to the ship. With the promise of a replenishment of the sweets and biscuits, and a chance to stretch our legs on a little less wobbly a footing, it is safe to say that everyone is looking forward to those 24 hours on dry land.


All systems go on board the MRV Scotia

After the half landing it will be a race against the clock with only 8 days left on the survey to try and gather as much data as possible from the 2 sites we plan to revisit, Wyville Thomson Ridge and Faroe Shetland Sponge Belt. The drop-frame camera system is the technology of choice for finding out all we can about the animals that live in these 2 protected areas and catching a glimpse into the world they inhabit. If the chariot footage is any indication, the staff joining Scotia are in for a real treat, the amazing footage we have already seen shows the fantastic diversity of the marine life and habitats within these 2 sites. 

Written by Jess Taylor


 

Monday, 3 September 2018

Investigating the species of the deep... Blog #4


We have begun our depth stratified trawl transect that will take us from the warm NE Atlantic waters of the Rockall Basin, up and over the Wyville Thomson Ridge SAC and then down into the Arctic-influenced water of the Faroe-Bank Channel. We have begun the transect some 30 miles east of Rosemary Bank Seamount NCMPA and have so far undertaken a line of trawls at depths of approx.1800m, 1600m, and 1200m working north. We have encountered diverse assemblages of fish at each depth, two of which are shown below:


Fish assemblage from 1200m depth

Fish assemblage from 1800m depth


Survey Fun Fact:
There are two families of deep-sea, squaliform, sharks that are able to glow in the dark; Kitefin sharks (Dalatidae) and Lantern sharks (Etmopteridae). This phenomenon is also known as bioluminescence!  

Read more here
Glow in the dark sharks


Written By Jim Drewery & Ellen Last

Friday, 31 August 2018

What is living beneath the waves? Blog #3

We’ve had three nights of towing the chariot at different depths at Faroe Shetland Sponge belt NCMPA and three days sampling the fish and benthic fauna. We’ve seen a lot of sponges, bizarre invertebrates, and fish.  We’ve also recorded many hours of video and are starting to build a good picture of the depths at which the narrow band of sponges starts and ends.

Results from trawls taken at Faroe Shetland Sponge Belt NCMPA

Whilst steaming to Rosemary Bank Seamount NCMPA, we spent some time looking at the video data collected to decide where to deploy our drop-down camera on the second leg of the survey.


The weather forecast doesn’t look too good for the next few days. The swell is expected to increase to 3.5m, which will be too high to operate the chariot effectively and, more importantly, too high for Jessica to operate effectively! It’s likely that we will lose one night of survey time due to this, so we will need to re-evaluate our plans.

Survey Fun Fact:
Seasickness, or motion sickness, results from an imbalance of motion detected by our ears and other internal sensors, and what we visually perceive. Whilst travelling through the Bay of Biscay Darwin wrote to this father: “Nobody who has only been to sea for 24 hours has a right to say, that sea-sickness is even uncomfortable. The real misery only begins when you are so exhausted that a little exertion makes a feeling of faintness come on” (Darwin Correspondence Project). He speaks of the relief of raisins to address his hunger… perhaps the team on board the Scotia should give these a go if the swell picks up!

Read more here:

Written by Jessica Taylor & Emily Sym


Remember you can keep up to date with the 1218S survey on the JNCC and Marine Scotland Twitter pages!

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

We’re going on a sponge hunt! Blog #2


It’s our third shift at Faroe Shetland Sponge Belt NCMPA and we’re on the hunt for sponges.
Technical issues have delayed us by a day and have persisted. Offshore surveys are never straightforward, but work is now well underway.

Faroe Shetland Sponge Belt NCMPA is designated to protect deep-sea sponge aggregations but currently we lack information on where they occur within the site. This survey will help us to understand how this habitat is distributed across the site. We will collect this information using two different pieces of equipment, the video chariot and the drop-down camera.

The video chariot being deployed 

The video chariot can be towed above the seabed at a relatively high speed (2 knots). By towing the video chariot in long transects, we can quickly scan our survey area for sponge aggregations.

Later in the cruise, once we know where sponge aggregations occur, we plan to return to Faroe Shetland Sponge Belt NCMPA with a drop-down camera. The drop-down camera is towed slowly and close to the seabed to provide us with more detailed information about the sponge aggregations.

Example image of sponges seen at Faroe Shetland Sponge Belt NCMPA (laser scale 30cm)

During daylight hours, Marine Scotland Science colleagues are undertaking trawl surveys in the Faroe-Shetland Channel between 1100m and 1400m. While the primary objective is to delimit the distribution of Greenland Halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides) in the area and provide stock indices, the catch weights and length frequencies of all other fish species will also be recorded. This will aid understanding of how fish assemblages vary in relation to environmental factors such as depth and temperature.


Survey Fun Fact:
The main deep-sea sponge aggregation found at the Faroe Shetland Sponge Belt NCMPA is boreal ‘ostur’. They are abundant with the giant sponge species Demospongia referred to locally by the fishermen as ‘Osterbunds’ or ‘cheese-bottoms’ relating to their appearance (with cheese translating to ‘ostur’ in Icelandic). In UK waters, the boreal ‘ostur’ sponge aggregations are only found to occur in the biogeographic region which encompasses the Faroe-Shetland Channel (JNCC, Oct 2017). 


Written by Jessica Taylor & Jim Drewery
Images copyright JNCC/MSS.

Friday, 10 August 2018

JNCC/ Marine Scotland August Survey- Blog #1

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:


Written by Emily Sym

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 http://noc.ac.uk/news/rrs-james-cook-returns-successful-collaborative-voyage

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!