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.

Thursday 2 May 2019

New JNCC/Cefas Survey in May, CEND0719 - Blog#1

It’s that time of year again, another joint survey between JNCC and Cefas. This time the scientists are venturing into the Atlantic, heading south off the Cornish coastline on the RV Endeavour for 19 days to visit Greater Haig Fras Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ). This survey aims to build on our monitoring efforts to understand more about these important sites and provide robust management advice.

The scientists out on this survey will be collecting a large variety of information from within these protected areas to improve our understanding of the animals that live within these environments. This information will come in the form of photos, sediment samples, videos and maps of the seafloor. This work will all help scientists to understand what lies beneath the waves at these two sites.

Greater Haig Fras MCZ is 120km off of the Cornish coastline and the protected area covers over 2000km2 of seabed, similar to the West Sussex county. A later blog post will delve a little deeper into this site and why it’s protected so keep your eyes peeled for the later blog!

Monday 28 January 2019

Lowestoft Ahoy! - Blog #6

Hello once more from the Cefas Endeavour, where we are nearing the end of this most recent JNCC and Cefas Marine Protected Area (MPA) monitoring survey.

The past few days have flown by as we have finished off the last bits of camera work and Hamon grabbing in both MPAs. We have spent the last day or so of the survey as we began, by collecting multibeam bathymetry and backscatter data. This time, our target was an area of suspected rock in Offshore Brighton Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) which we sampled with our camera system earlier this week. By using the multibeam and imagery data together we hope to update the map of the extent of the rock in this part of the MCZ. Once we have completed this work, we will make our way back to the Endeavour’s home port of Lowestoft (Suffolk), where this survey will end.

Camera stations and the mulitbeam survey area at the rock habitats of Offshore Brighton MCZ © JNCC/Cefas 

All in all, we have collected 76 Hamon grab samples, completed over 200 camera transects and over 2500km of multibeam bathymetry and backscatter.  

View from the bridge back in Lowestoft. Welcome home Joey and James! © JNCC

We have enjoyed very good weather and sea conditions on this survey, particularly given the time of year, and I am glad to report that we have managed to complete all of our planned objectives. Even with the superb weather, this would not have been possible without the hard work of the crew and our Cefas colleagues aboard, so I will close this account with a huge thank you to everyone involved!

You can catch-up on the survey by following JNCCCefas and the survey hashtag #CEND0119 on Twitter, or by joining us on Facebook.

Survey Fun Fact

There has been a settlement at Lowestoft, the most easterly point of the British Isles, for over a millennium. The Viking origin of the name Lowestoft – made up of the name Hlothver and the suffix – toft, meaning homestead – points towards the importance of the sea and the people and products it delivered to Lowestoft.

Tuesday 22 January 2019

A Colourful Cast at Offshore Brighton Rock - Blog #5

Greetings again from the CEND0119 team. Having completed the bulk of our planned sampling at Offshore Overfalls, we are now at Offshore Brighton MCZ. More information about this MCZ and our plans here can be seen in the first blog post for this survey 

Our survey operations in Offshore Brighton have so far focussed on the collection of still images and video from the seabed using the drop-frame camera system, these provide our team on the boat with plenty to talk about and try and identify. The drop-frame camera is also equipped with other sensors used to measure parameters such as temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen. These measurements provide us with some key information about what the environment on the seabed is like, whether it changes across the site and potentially clues as to why the animals we are finding are living where they are.

We have begun our sampling in a ‘rocky’ part of the MCZ, a substrate vital for sessile (non-moving) animals like sponges, bryozoans (sea mosses), anemones and sea squirts as well as providing nooks and crannies for mobile species including crustaceans and some fish species.

Though more redolent of David than Richard Attenborough1, in our short time here we have nonetheless encountered a colourful cast of characters, some of whom you can see below.

© JNCC and Cefas 2019

Bright green jewel anemones (Corynactis viridis) attached to a rock at Offshore Brighton MCZ

© JNCC and Cefas 2019

Sponges, including a breadcrumb sponge (likely Halichondria panicea, encrusting a rock at Offshore Brighton MCZ. Scallops (likely Aequipecten opercularis) have also anchored themselves here using their cementlike “byssal” thread.

© JNCC and Cefas 2019

Animals growing amongst the compacted gravel at Offshore Brighton MCZ. Here we have the bryozoan Horn Wrack (Flustra foliacea), and two sponges; a yellow Hedgehog sponge (Polymastia boletiformis), and a branching sponge called Mermaid’s Glove (Raspailia ramosa).

Survey fun fact

The site area of Offshore Brighton MPA is 862km2 which is roughly ten times the size of Brighton!

1 Wondering about Richard Attenborough's connection? He played the lead character, "Pinkie", in none other than the classic 1948 adaptation of Graham Greene's 1938 novel "Brighton Rock"

Monday 14 January 2019

Our Historic Waters - Blog #4

Hello from Offshore Overfalls MCZ, where the team have been working hard to finish off collection of the multibeam data. Whilst collecting this data we have seen a few shipwrecks, which has added some excitement to the early hours of the morning for the night shift. I have written about how some of these ships came to be on the seafloor below. These shipwrecks were identified as being of interest before sailing, in collaboration with Historic England.

One of the wrecks we have seen is the SS Alaska, which sunk in 1939. The vessel sank in collision with a British cargo vessel SS Dotterel on 15th November 1939. Two men were sadly lost in the collision however the remaining crew were rescued by other vessels. The location of this vessel was not confirmed until recently as a number of different positions were given for this wreck although salvage operations directed at SS Alaska are recorded as having occurred between 1947 and 1951.

Wreck of the SS Alaska © Cefas/JNCC
HMS Implacable is an additional wreck that we have been keeping an eye out for on this survey. This vessel was scuttled by the Royal Navy in the English Channel in 1949, but it was built in Rochefort (France) 149 years earlier in 1800 as the 74-gun ship Daguay-Trouin. She saw action at Trafalgar in 1805 and was captured by the British in the battles aftermath and renamed HMS Implacable.

In the 1940s she was deemed too expensive to maintain and on 2nd December 1949 she was scuttled in the English Channel. The stern section and figurehead were removed beforehand and given to the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich where they can still be viewed today. Finding evidence of this wreck is very exciting as we were not sure how much of HMS Implacable's wooden structure would have survived 70 years on the seabed. 

Polandia is the third and final vessel that we have seen on this survey. Polandia was a steam-driven liner built in Germany in 1898 weighing 2,238 ton and original named Paul. She was captured by the British in 1914 and renamed Polandia only to be sunk claiming the lives of all 30 crew members after being attacked by a German U-boat on 10th or 11th March 1917.

These are just a few of the wrecks we have seen on the recent survey from the multibeam data out of the 50 wreck site records held for this area. Having completed the acoustic survey that we had planned for Offshore Overfalls, the team are now shifting focus to collection of photographs and videos of the seafloor within this MCZ. Steering clear of all known wrecks in this area to ensure our drop camera doesn’t join the many wrecks down at the bottom of the channel, the team are ready to get a closer view of what animal life can be found in this area.

The weekend weather is sadly looking to break the trend of calm seas we have been enjoying so far with the wind due to pick up and so the boat may be moving around a little more than previously. Fingers crossed my sea-legs have kicked in and the copious amounts of ginger biscuits at hand will keep the sea sickness at bay. 

For further updates before and during the survey - watch this space; follow JNCCCefas and the survey hashtag #CEND0119 on Twitter, or join us on Facebook.

Thursday 10 January 2019

Sonar, So Good! - Blog #3

Since we last wrote, the team has been hard at work continuing to collect multibeam data at Offshore Overfalls MCZ.

JNCC and Cefas scientific crew monitoring the multibeam data acquisition. 
In addition to the protected seabed habitats at Offshore Overfalls MCZ, the site is also designated to protect the unique underwater landscape believed to have been created over 200,000 years ago. This was around the same time that the first humans (Homo sapiens) were thought to be alive in Africa.
A deep paleochannel (“paleo” – meaning ancient) runs through Offshore Overfalls MCZ. This channel has the shape of a river bed, which means that when the first humans were alive the English Channel would have been land, allowing people to walk from France to England.
This was all set to change at the end of the last ice age, when the melting glacier produced enough water to flood this river and the surrounding low-lying land to form the English Channel that we know today. This means the paleochannel at Offshore Overfalls MCZ is rather special as it is very similar to features you might see on land, such as those created by the large volumes of water that are produced as glaciers melt in the summer. 

Map showing multibeam data collected at Offshore Overfalls MCZ during the current survey (colour ramp), overlaid on existing lower resolution (singlebeam) data (greyscale). The Offshore Overfalls MCZ boundary is shown in purple. © JNCC/Cefas

Satellite image from Google maps showing channels created by the meltwaters of an Icelandic Glacier. Notice the similar features seen at Offshore Overfalls MCZ such as the tear-drop shaped islands. © JNCC/Cefas
 Another idea about how the paleochannel was formed is that a large lake existed in the area now known as the North Sea. This lake was made up of the water from melting glaciers and burst its bank to the south, in what has been referred to as a “catastrophic flood event”. Could this flood have created the paleochannel?
The higher resolution multibeam data has enabled us to see other seabed features. These include large “underwater dunes”, which have been created by strong currents that force the sediment to form these interesting features. The largest found so far measuring over a kilometre in length. It’s not clear whether these particular underwater dunes would have been created by a catastrophic flood event or by more recent tidal currents.

Underwater dunes seen at Offshore Overfalls MCZ © JNCC/Cefas
Multibeam alone won’t reveal all the secrets of these features, but later in the survey we will be collecting sediment using a grab sampler based on what we have found with the multibeam.

For further updates before and during the survey - watch this space; follow JNCCCefas and the survey hashtag #CEND0119 on Twitter, or join us on Facebook.

Monday 7 January 2019

Arriving at Offshore Overfalls - Blog #2

And we’re off! The JNCC and Cefas crew have joined the RV Cefas Endeavour and set sail for Offshore Brighton and Offshore Overfalls Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). After a transit hugging the coastline (which provided the team with plenty of phone signal!) in exceptionally flat calm seas for January, we have arrived at Offshore Overfalls MCZ.

Our first challenge on this survey is to produce a more detailed map of what the seabed looks like at Offshore Overfalls MCZ. To do this we will be using a Multibeam Echo Sounder. Multibeam uses sonar to tell us two things about the seabed; how deep it is, and how hard it is. This is worked out by measuring how long it takes for sound to travel from the ship to the seabed and back again (i.e. the longer it takes, the deeper the water is), and by measuring how strong the returning sound signal is (i.e. harder seabed like rock will reflect more sound energy than softer seabed like mud). Due to the large size of the area within the MCZ that we plan to map, we estimate that this element of the survey will require 7.5 days to complete!

Multibeam from Offshore Overfalls MCZ survey CEND0119 © JNCC/Cefas

Multibeam data collected for the site will be used to update the existing map of seabed habitats at Offshore Overfalls MCZ. This mapping will also help the team on the ship decide where to collect grab samples and drop-frame camera images later in the trip.

For further updates before and during the survey - watch this space; follow JNCC, Cefas and the survey hashtag #CEND0119 on Twitter, or join us on Facebook.

Survey Fun Fact

The multibeam uses sound waves to “see” through even the murkiest of waters, replacing the more traditional lead weight on a rope method to provide us with colourful bathymetric pictures of the seafloor. The term bathymetry comes from the Greek meanings “Deep”(Bathy) and “Measure”(metry) and is the measurement of the depth of water in oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, and canals.

Written by Jess Taylor