Monday 26 October 2015

Of (Sea) Mice and Mud

Greetings all from the deck of the Marine Research Vessel (MRV) Scotia, where we are currently surveying in the East of Gannet and Montrose Field (EGM) and Norwegian Boundary Sediment Plain (NSP) Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas (NCMPAs) with our Marine Scotland Science colleagues.

Sunrise on the MRV Scotia © JNCC, 2015.
This first week has gone by quite quickly and has been spent adapting to ship life, where we work in 12 hour shifts to ensure the ship is able to collect scientific data around the clock. As we have spent a good deal of time this year planning this survey, I have really enjoyed this week and the opportunity to get out into the field to test the preparation work completed back in the office!

We have been very lucky with weather so far on this trip, with only 8 hours of ‘downtime’ experienced so far. This, in combination with our hard working crew and scientists, has allowed us to successfully complete almost 200 stations, using the large Hamon grab (pictured below). We hope to complete another 80 or so large Hamon grab stations and 60 camera sledge transects to help our colleagues monitor these sites, providing the good weather continues.

Morning breaks over the Hamon Grab (left) with sieves at the ready (right). © JNCC, 2015.

If you are new to our survey blog you will find earlier posts which detail what the Hamon grab and camera sledge are and how we deploy and operate these.

We have encountered mostly fine-grained, muddy material in our samples, which have contained a plethora of seabed dwelling animals including marine worms, brittlestars, sea potatoes (Echinocardium cordatum), sea pens (Pennatulacea sp.), a sea mouse (Aphrodita aculeata) and some crustaceans. Once aboard, the Hamon grab samples are sieved to remove material smaller than 1mm, and preserved for further analysis back in the laboratory.

 Just a few preserved seabed samples! © JNCC, 2015.

Unfortunately, we have had to dispose of three samples to date and redeploy the grab a second time as the hagfish present in these three samples would not have allowed us to ‘process’ the remainder of the sample. The threat posed by the all-consuming slime of the sampled hagfish is generally sufficiently convincing for marine scientists to redeploy sampling equipment in the hope of obtaining a more accommodating sample!

We have also managed to find specimens of Arctica islandica (also known as the ocean quahog), which is the protected feature common to both sites we will visit on this survey, in our samples. More about that later; now it is time to get back to those sieves... 

By Joey O'Connor