Friday 28 June 2019

Back on Solid Land Blog#8

Back on solid land!

After a really successful survey we have made it back to solid, dry land! On this survey we have completed all our planned survey objectives and, due to the kind weather and our effective team, we have also collected additional data which will tell us even more about Greater Haig Fras MCZ!

In total the survey:

  • Took 5 months of planning
  • Lasted 20 days
  • Involved 14 Scientists 
  • Completed 244 Video Tows
  • Collected 134 Hamon Grab Samples
  • Completed 167 Hours of Acoustic data collection

The maps below shows the successful stations visited.

Wednesday 12 June 2019

Getting beneath the skin of animals on survey Blog#7

As part of the sampling work the team have been carrying out, we have been collecting samples to support the work of our colleagues at the Natural History Museum and the Darwin Tree of Life project: ( 

During the collection of grab samples, we occasionally get samples that aren’t suitable for our MPA monitoring work. These samples may have had a stone caught in the grab jaws and have sediment washed out or have too little sediment for us to use. Rather than dispose of these samples, the team have been using them to collect individual animals, especially worms, sponges, bryozoans, starfish and brittlestars for the project, making maximum use of the time we spend and data we collect at sea.

Processing the DNA samples in the vessel's lab © JNCC/Cefas

When we’ve identified a sample for DNA analysis, we sieve off the sediment and retain the animals we find as well as any individuals living on the stones and cobbles that we’ve collected. The specimens are then identified by how they look to the eye (their morphotype) and a sample is extracted and preserved in ethanol to allow experts ashore to identify the animal and sequence its genome ( This allows us to build up a large dataset on what the genome of different species and morphotypes looks like, which is known as a biobank. One special request we’ve had is for the pelican foot gastropod (Aporrhais pespelecani) so watch this space to see if any turn up!

Keep up to date with all the latest from survey by following this blog, and using #CEND0719 on our Twitter and Facebook profiles!

Survey Fun Fact:
Aporrhais pespelecani is the Latin for ‘pelican’s foot’ which describes the outer lip of the gastropod which expands to a shape similar to that of the webbed foot of a pelican.   

Sunday 9 June 2019

A grab in the dark… the depths of Greater Haig Fras Blog#6

Hello again from Greater Haig Fras MCZ! The team here have been working hard to collect imagery and sediment samples from across the site in the last few days. The grabs that we have collected so far have highlighted the variety of biodiversity across this site with very diverse fauna and habitats found, including rocks, boulders and mud!

Optimum grabbing conditions on board the RV Cefas Endeavour © JNCC/ Cefas

The grab samples will form part of our monitoring dataset for the site and provide us with an insight into the world that these animals live in.

When we get grabs on-board, they are sieved down to uncover all of the hidden animals within the sediment. Sometimes these animals may have not been seen in these areas before, or in some cases may be new to science completely. On this survey we have already seen brittle stars, the Norway lobster Nephrops norvegicus and ragworms, alongside many other polychaetes, with many more species likely to be seen as we still have half the grabs to go!

An insight into some of the species the team have come across whilst on survey © JNCC/ Cefas

Collecting imagery data further allows the teams to investigate the seafloor habitats © JNCC/ Cefas

In addition to learning more about the animals in the site, particle size analysis of the sediment collected will allow us to 'classify' each grab we take (for how we do this, see, which in turn allows us to map where habitats are across the site.

Keep up to date with all the latest from survey by following this blog, and using #CEND0719 on our Twitter and Facebook profiles!

Survey Fun Fact:
The prefix "RV" on the name of the vessel "Cefas Endeavour" stands for Research Vessel. Prefixes like this allow for identification of the ship's purpose and have also been used in the past to denote the propulsion method, such as SS- Steam Ship. James Cook, on his voyage of discovery to Australia and New Zealand in the 1700's, captained the HMS Endeavour- His Majesty's Ship Endeavour.  

Saturday 1 June 2019

Echoes in the deep Blog#5

At Greater Haig Fras MCZ we have been busy collecting multibeam data from within the site, to the north and west of the central Haig Fras rock complex. We’ve targeted the survey area with the multibeam echosounder to hopefully capture the variety of habitats within the site on a larger scale than we can with grabbing or video techniques.

A multibeam echosounder is an acoustic tool that sends sound waves to the seabed and listens for how long that sound takes to return and how loud it is when it gets back. Multibeam tells us several things about the seabed; while perhaps most often used to chart the ocean depths to a very high degree of accuracy, it can also tell us about how rough and hard the seabed is. Check out this animation by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Processing the multibeam data on board the Endeavour © JNCC/Cefas

Close up of some processed multibeam data © JNCC/Cefas

Having specialist technicians and equipment onboard means we can process the multibeam data we’re collecting in almost real time, allowing the scientists onboard to interpret it and use it to inform where we should place additional grab and video stations to make best use of the time we have at sea. Don’t forget you can track the vessel throughout the survey at

Survey Fun Fact: The Haig Fras rock complex is the only substantial rocky reef in the offshore Celtic Sea. It is composed predominantly of granite and this bedrock supports many species including anemones, brittle stars, and Devonshire cup corals to name a few.

Keep up to date with all the latest from survey by following this blog, and using #CEND0719 on our Twitter and Facebook profiles!

Wednesday 29 May 2019

And we've arrived! Blog#4

After travelling from the East of England we have finally made it to Greater Haig Fras MCZ, which lies to the west of Cornwall. Since arriving at the site, the boat has been a flurry of activity. We have busied ourselves collecting multibeam sonar data for seabed mapping as well as beginning our camera and grab sampling.

Matt having a look at some night time multibeam collection. © JNCC/ Cefas

As the weather here has been favourable so far, we have been able to take good quality images of the seabed. Excitingly, we have already seen plenty of burrows in the imagery collected, indicating the presence of sea-pens and burrowing megafauna which we mentioned in an earlier post.

The team here are also happy to have begun collecting and sieving grab samples, which allows us to find specimens of the animals that live at the site which we preserve and store for later identification. This is a muddy job, but continuing consumption of biscuits and cups of tea helps! Even with a dash of seasickness, everyone remains in high spirits.

Keep up to date with all the latest from survey by following this blog, and using #CEND0719 on our Twitter and Facebook profiles!

Survey Fun Fact:
The Sea-pen and burrowing megafauna habitat in the deeper mud areas of the site, is listed as OSPAR threatened and/or declining. This means that the site has been highlighted for protection in order to maintain and/or restore a favourable habitat. With this habitat supporting species such as Nephrops norvegicus, sea pens and mud shrimps, you can see why it is an important place to understand. 

Sunday 26 May 2019

Away we go! CEND0719 Blog #3

Ropes off and we’ve set sail! 

After departing Lowestoft in some fine sunny conditions we’re transiting through the southern North Sea down through the English Channel. 

The scientific party have been putting the time to good use, setting up the survey equipment such as grabs and sieving tables, adjusting to day and night shift patterns and carrying out the all-important ship safety orientations and emergency drills. 

We should be arriving at our first sampling station in Lyme Bay shortly to collect samples for the Clean Seas Environmental Programme (CSEMP) before transiting to Greater Haig Fras through today into Monday morning where we can start the main sampling programme. Watch this space for updates on how the survey is progressing and some interesting insights into life and work onboard.

Keep up to date on all the goings on on survey by following this blog, and using #CEND0719 on our twitter and facebook profiles. 

Wednesday 8 May 2019

Greater Haig Fras MCZ Blog#2

Greater Haig Fras Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) is an offshore Marine Protected Area off the Cornish Coastline which covers 2,041km2 of seabed, larger than the size of West Sussex county. Greater Haig Fras MCZ is around 120km from the UK coastline and is designated for its sediment habitats, which range from fine muds to coarse and mixed sediments.

This site was designated in 2016 to afford protection to many of the species that live on and in the sediment. These species, such as the mud shrimp and Norway lobster alongside many others, help oxygen to filter deeper into the seabed and through this release nutrients back into the water column. Because of this, the site is also designated to protect Sea-Pen and Burrowing Megafauna communities, which are included on the OSPAR Threatened and/or Declining Habitat list for the North-East Atlantic.

JNCC and Cefas previously visited this site in 2012, and used similar methods to those we plan to use for this survey collecting sediment samples and images for later analysis.

Sediment seen at Greater Haig Fras in 2012 © JNCC/Cefas 

Norway lobster a burrowing species ©JNCC/Cefas

Survey Fun Fact:

Mud habitats protected within this site have a particle size of between 3.9 – 62.5ยตm in diameter, similar to the size range between a human red blood cell and a human hair.