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