Wednesday 8 November 2017

Wyville-Thomson Ridge SAC: Blog #2

Blowing away those end of survey blues

After beating a retreat from another storm that was blowing across the exposed North Atlantic, we busied ourselves with working at some more sheltered contingency stations East of the Shetland Islands. It seems that you can’t hide forever though, and as the winds picked up, we sought more shelter inshore and sat out a bumpy (and for many of us, sleepless) night.

The following morning, while the southerly gales had died down, the residual swell meant slow progress as we steamed south. 

Rough seas causing sleepless nights. © Neil Golding/JNCC 2017

It was fair to say that at this point, team morale was at a low ebb. The rough seas, the unsettled stomachs and the long shifts had taken their toll. But as a group of us were on the bridge after lunch looking at a group of pelagic mackerel trawlers, a cry rang out which lifted everyone’s spirits……"ORCA!"

One of the pelagic mackerel trawlers. © Neil Golding/JNCC 2017

A bull killer whale came across our bow while a much larger group crossed our wake. They were leaping clear of the water, as they made a beeline for the trawlers, probably excited at the thought of a nice meal awaiting them as the trawlers hauled their nets packed with fish.

First glimpse! © Neil Golding/JNCC 2017

A killer whale swimming alongside the Scotia. © Neil Golding/JNCC 2017

Breaching orca. © Neil Golding/JNCC 2017
It’s amazing how just a fleeting glimpse of some amazing cetaceans can really lift the spirits of the team. For many, it had been their first Orca sighting ever, and for others, their first in UK waters. We carried on the steam to our next survey location with a little spring in our steps, as we got on with our work. 

For more updates from the team, make sure to follow @JNCC_UK on twitter and this blog by entering your email address on the right hand side of the screen.

Written by Neil Golding. 
Photos are © Neil Golding/JNCC 2017

Monday 6 November 2017

Wyville-Thomson Ridge SAC: Blog #1

Bedrock 'n' Roll

On October 29th, Laura, Neil and I made the long journey from Peterborough to Shetland to join the MRV Scotia and crew, ready to get involved in leg two of the offshore seabed survey. It was pretty darn chilly in Lerwick, but we were raring to go and conditions looked good (as did we!).

JNCC survey team for the second leg of the collaborative JNCC & Marine Scotland offshore monitoring surveys. Check out the Marine Scotland blog here. © Neil Golding/JNCC 2017. 

We set sail from Shetland at 10am on Monday, October 30th and made our way out to the Wyville Thomson Ridge Special Area of Conservation. This protected area sits about 150 kilometres off Cape Wrath in Scotland, has an area slightly larger than Shetland itself, and is home to some pretty cool marine life. The ridge is a rocky plateau in the middle of the ocean which has areas of bedrock, boulders, cobbles and gravel, made by huge glaciers ploughing into the seabed at the end of the last ice age. It might not sound like a very glamourous place to live, but the rock, boulders and cobbles provide the perfect surface for many seabed creatures to cling on to.

Setting sail for Wyville-Thomson Ridge. © Hayley Hinchen/JNCC 2017. 

We arrived at the site at about 4:30am on Tuesday, October 31st and plunged our camera system into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean to see what we could find. Laura, Joey and I are part of the night-shift team working midnight to midday, so there’s a lot that goes on in the wee small hours of the morning, in complete darkness… with a coffee (or seven!) in hand. Once our camera arrived on the seabed, expertly controlled by our Marine Scotland colleagues, we eagerly waited to see what the site had in store. 

So far, we’ve seen some brilliant examples of many kinds of colourful deep-sea sponges, sea cucumbers, starfish, anemones, sea urchins and fish. The ‘drop camera’ lets us take video footage of the seabed and still photographs so that we can identify the marine life in more detail. The kit works perfectly as long as the sea isn’t too rough – but the North Atlantic in November isn’t known for its calmness, and some poor weather conditions soon blew in (thankfully we all had our sea legs by that point!).

The hard substrate is an ideal habitat for many seabed species. © JNCC/Marine Scotland 2017.

Deep-sea fish and sea urchins are a common sight within Wyville-Thomson Ridge. © JNCC/Marine Scotland 2017. 
Having stuck it out for many choppy hours at Wyville Thomson Ridge, we decided to move to a slightly more sheltered site closer to shore so that we could keep working in the poor weather. The site selected was the West Shetland Shelf Nature Conservation MPA. We don’t yet have a good understanding of the sediments and biological communities that live in this protected site, so it was a great opportunity to take a more detailed look using our seabed grabbing gear. We also got a fleeting visit from some inquisitive common dolphin during the night shift, a welcome sight for our bleary eyes!

The Scotia team will be working non-stop, around the clock to make sure we get the most out of this survey trip, whatever the weather throws at us. Collecting information on the biological communities in these unique and exciting offshore sites is really valuable for advice and conservation, as often little is known about what’s living deep beneath the waves (apart, of course, from Sid the stonecrab). 

Plenty of hiding spots in the deep sea! © JNCC/Marine Scotland 2017.
Poor weather forced the team to calmer waters nearer to shore. A good time for opportunistic surveying at the West Shetland Shelf NCMPA! © Neil Golding/JNCC 2017. 
To find out more information about the Wyville-Thomson Ridge, check out the JNCC Site Information Centre

For more updates from the team, make sure to follow @JNCC_UK on twitter and this blog by entering your email address on the right hand side of the screen.

Written by Hayley Hinchen.

Thursday 2 November 2017

A Day in the Life of a Marine Scientist

I’m Tammy Noble-James, Marine Protected Areas Monitoring Officer at JNCC, and I’ve been aboard the Scotia since we began our survey of North-East Faroe Shetland Channel NCMPA and Wyville Thomson Ridge SAC on 20th October. Having completed leg one of the survey, myself and my shift-mate Jess Taylor (the ‘A team’ as we like to refer to ourselves), have added Offshore Survey Manager Neil Golding to our well-oiled JNCC machine. This is an account of our typical day…

09:30: Having pressed snooze several times I drag myself out of bed and psyche myself up for some exercise. Hitting the ‘gym’ (a shipping container with rowing machine and exercise bike) several times a week is essential to feel vaguely human. It’s easy to become sedentary on the ship, and my colleagues delight in trying to fatten me up with tasty ‘Percy Pig’ sweets on shift, so a burst of activity is a good way to start the day. After the bike session Neil and I suffer through some bootcamp circuits.

Home comforts and survey essentials!
10:30: I hit the shower (no easy feat when the waves are high), and relax in my cabin for a while. We are lucky on this trip; there is enough space for everyone to have their own en-suite cabin. This makes a huge difference when offshore for any length of time; personal space is at a premium when we spend all our work, eating and leisure time together! My cabin is cosy and I never get tired of watching the waves crashing against the porthole.

11:30: Lunchtime. The job of the offshore chef is fraught with danger… get it wrong and you could have a mutiny on your hands, or at least a seriously grumpy crew. Luckily, we have a fantastic galley crew who work tirelessly to keep us well-fed and happy with a menu of delightful grub.

12:00: The day shift begins, with a turbo cup of coffee and a handover with the night crew. They have completed 10 drop camera stations whilst we were asleep, adding significantly to our knowledge of the stony reef habitat within the Wyville Thomson Ridge SAC, and slowly building the first datapoint in our monitoring time series for the site.

12:30: Our first camera transect of the day. The three of us JNCC scientists and a Marine Scotland Science electronic engineer are in the camera operations centre (another shipping container), all working to collect georeferenced images of the seabed. Our engineer deploys the drop frame camera through the murky depths, passing the odd jellyfish, until we reach the rocky seabed at 450 metres. We take photographs and positional data as the camera glides above the seabed, spotting sponges, redfish, sea cucumbers, sea stars, sea urchins and squat lobsters. This rocky material, deposited thousands of years ago by icebergs ploughing through the seabed, provides a complex habitat and attachment surface for a wide range of deep-sea creatures.

The 'A Team' in the camera operations centre.
15:00: Time for more coffee. We have around 30 minutes to travel between each camera transect, during which we refresh our caffeine levels whilst keeping on top of our data management. When we’ve completed our data entry, Dave the deck technician drops in to teach us some nautical knot-tying skills.

17:30: We change out of our protective gear and head up to the mess for a delicious curry. There are a few faces missing at the table… some newly arrived scientists are suffering a bout of sea sickness and are tentatively nibbling on crackers in their cabins. This debilitating condition is unfortunately all too common up here in the Atlantic due to the stormy November weather. Just another sacrifice in the name of science!

00:00: We made it! After 12 hours of toil we are delighted to find we’ve completed 11 transects (one more than the night shift!). Our colleagues arrive to relieve us, and we are free to enjoy twelve hours of unfettered freedom and sleep before we come back and do it all over again.

Surveying the depths of the Wyville-Thomson Ridge MPA which provides a complex, rocky-reef habitat for various species.
To find out more information about the Wyville-Thomson Ridge MPA, check out the JNCC Site Information Centre

For more updates from the team, make sure to follow @JNCC_UK on twitter and this blog by entering your email address on the right hand side of the screen.

Written by 
Tammy Noble-James.
Seabed images copyright JNCC/MSS.
Non-seabed images copyright Tammy Noble-James/JNCC.