Thursday 26 May 2016

A Week off Northumberland

On 22nd April 2016, JNCC participated on a six day multidisciplinary seabed survey with Cefas, Northumberland Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) and Natural England. The four organisations worked together on the Research Vessel (RV) Cefas Endeavour with the aim of undertaking a detailed ecological study of soft sediments within, and immediately adjacent to, the Coquet to St Mary’s MCZ, which was designated on 17th January 2016. The site is located along the Northumberland coast in the north east of England, and covers 192 km2 of intertidal and offshore waters from near Whitley Bay in the south to near Alnwick in the north.

Map showing the Coquet to St Mary’s Marine Conservation Zone © Natural England 2015.

A huge amount of data from this inshore site was collected using different survey equipment, from grabs to seabed cameras, which highlights the benefits and value for money that can be gained by undertaking collaborative work in an area where data collection can be expensive.

In terms of the survey equipment deployed, we used a NIOZ box corer and Day grab (pictured below) to collect sediment and macrofauna (biological) samples to find out what communities are living within the seabed, also known as the ‘infauna’. We also took images of the seabed to help understand the range of organisms living on top of the sediment (the ‘epifauna’), and increase our understanding of the habitats across the wider area. To this end, we conducted video tows and collected still images with a drop camera (also pictured below).
NIOZ box corer being deployed during the night shift (left); Day grab containing a sample collected from the area of study (right). Both images © Yolanda Arjona/JNCC 2016. 
Nowadays, the technology onboard these research vessels is really advanced, giving us the option to collect a large quantity of high quality information revealing what’s under the sea. For example, we collected data using a Sediment Profile Imagery (SPI) camera to take still images from the first 15cm of the sediment. An example image from the SPI camera is shown below.

 SPI camera being deployed (left) © Yolanda Arjona/JNCC 2016; SPI image showing redox layer and two burrowing annelids (right) © Cefas/Natural England 2016

Drop camera onboard the RV Cefas Endeavour © Yolanda Arjona/JNCC 2016

We worked hard to collect all the information required at the 65 sampling stations (105 Day grab samples, 54 drop camera tows, 48 NIOZ core samples and 10 SPI camera images), despite encountering some bad weather. However, we also had plenty of nice surprises during the survey…
For example, on the third day of the survey a nudibranch, preliminarily identified as Polycera faeroensis (see picture below), was found in a Day grab sample collected at a depth of 48m! We were amazed, and shared the finding with the rest of the crew, many of whom had never seen a nudibranch before.

Nudibranch (left), thought to be Polycera faeroensis, found in a Day grab sample from 48m in subtidal sand © Mike Young 2016; Circular Crab (Atelecyclus rotundatus) (right) in mixed sediment © Yolanda Arjona/JNCC 2016
 The seabed habitats protected at this site includes rock, sand, mud, mixed and coarse sediment. This range of habitats provides home for a large variety of life. For example, we spotted brittlestars, burrowing anemones, starfish, sponges, crabs, prawns and fish on this survey, some of which are pictured below!

Drop Camera images showing a swimming crab (left) (thought to be Portunidae sp.), and dead men’s fingers (Alcyonium digitatum) and an anemone (right) © CEFAS / Natural England 2016
JNCC wants to thank all the staff onboard the RV Cefas Endeavour, and all the scientists involved, for the opportunity to participate in this interesting and enjoyable collaborative survey with Natural England, Northumberland IFCA and Cefas!

See you soon!

Yolanda Arjona
Marine Protected Areas Support Officer