MSc Marine Biology fieldtrip to Millport

Phrase of the trip: ‘There’s a schmell a whelk!’; meaning, there is an aroma similar to that of dog whelks in this region/from this person.

Sarah Long reports on the MSc Marine Biology fieldtrip to Millport.

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The MSc Marine Biology class jetted off to Millport bright and early on Sunday 28th February for a week of intertidal and subtidal fieldwork. After a long bus journey from Edinburgh to Largs, chips and ice cream were much needed as we waited in the sun for the ferry across to Millport. Having settled into the new Field Studies Council (FSC) accommodation, we made the most of the blazing sun by taking a whirlwind tour of the island before the forecasted rain and wind set in. Along the way, we gained an extra student in the form of a photo-bombing German tourist, who was very impressed by Rob’s extensive knowledge of the island!

We struggled out of bed at 6am Monday morning to chase the tide as part of our intertidal project work on different rocky shores across the island, surveying edible periwinkles (Littorina littorea) and imposex in dog whelks (Nucella lapillus). Now that’s dedication! Even the seals watching us work from the water seemed curious as to why anyone in their right mind would willingly subject themselves to the rain, strong winds, and near freezing temperatures that battered us on the rocky shore. But we persevered and were rewarded with a liquid hug in the form of a warm cup of tea just in time before our fingers fell off!

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Unfortunately the weather was too bad to allow us out on the boat to collect samples for our subtidal project using beam trawls and grab samples. Luckily for us, the skipper braved the choppy waters on our behalf (or unlucky for us when we saw the amount of creatures we then had to identify and count!!). The pier at Millport proved impossible to approach so they went above and beyond to get our samples to us by using a roundabout way back to the mainland and across again on the ferry to Millport. Meanwhile we lazed around the FSC station, making copious amounts of tea and chatting (it’s a hard life in the field!!).

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Our lounging about was short-lived, however, and the samples arrived mid-afternoon. We eventually got through it all, sorting, counting and IDing brittle stars, crabs, fish, urchins, and many more! The worms were especially fun to identify, especially because they’re all so small and similar to each other!! Our favourite worm by far was definitely the Disco Worm, a nickname we gave to Nephtys sp., which sparkled like a disco ball depending on which way we looked at it under the microscope (we may also have gone a little mad at this stage!). This gruelling work drove the class to the pub for a drink (or two… or three!).

The next day was primarily intertidal work, with many of us staying in the lab examining the dog whelks we collected for imposex. This involved finding a penis and identifying if it was a male or an imposex female. This examination was done with the utmost professionalism expected from Masters students (i.e. constant, very mature penis jokes). This was followed by a wild night of tea and a movie in the lounge! Examining microscopic dog whelk penises is hard work!

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Over the rest of the week the weather slowly improved, allowing us to really enjoy the trip, with Rob pointing out some of the sightseeing attractions to us along the way. Crocodile rock, in particular, caught our eye… although some of us stand by our original thought that it’s more like Dragon Rock but Rob is still adamant that it’s a crocodile… the jury’s out!

We kept the best shore for last, with some 1m2 quadrats yielding 200-300 miniscule juvenile dog whelks (most so small that they could comfortably live inside barnacle shells with room to spare!). Probably just to make life more difficult for us; they have no consideration for the plight of Marine Biologists!!

Luckily we finished our subtidal report early and so had the majority of Friday off. A hike to the top of the island was in order, with stunning views all around. Then it was back to the station for more tea and Countdown – Marine biologists gone wild! Our trip to Scotland wouldn’t be complete without a bit of deep fried haggis, gourmet cuisine from Largs!

Thanks to Rob (bus driver extraordinaire!), Ruth, and Mary Catherine for organising the fieldtrip and helping to make it a fantastic experience for us all!

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Bigger Arms Race

by Adam Kane

He stands 189cm tall and weighs 107kg. Who is this giant? He is none other than an average player in the Irish Rugby Union team’s starting 15 this weekend. By contrast, your bog standard Irish man typically stands 177 cm tall. Clearly, rugby is a strong selector of body size.

Image by Eoin Gardiner (Creative Commons License)

Image by Eoin Gardiner (Creative Commons License)

This is no secret, we know that rugby selects for big players but some researchers have shown how dramatic this increase in size has been over the past 100 years or so. If we look at body weight, from 1905-1974 an average player weighed 87.8kg but from 1975-1999 this had risen to 95.1kg. The onset of professionalism in rugby was a big driver of this growth spurt.

And why are we seeing such a trend? We can argue about the benefits of tactics, French Flair and the Haka all we want, but there is an obvious advantage in being bigger than your opponents. Taller backs can reclaim the ball more easily, taller forwards are better at taking lineouts and bulkier props can shunt the opposing scrum. Success in the Rugby World Cup backs this up, teams with the taller backs and heavier forwards get the job done more often than not.

What we have here is a type of Arms Race in the sport such that no team can afford to fall behind in the size game. Biologists are familiar with this kind of dynamic in evolution where we have the Red Queen effect, typically realised as a game of one-upmanship between a host (Ireland) and its parasite (England) or a predator (Ireland) and its prey (England). To paraphrase the Red Queen herself, when it comes to rugby it takes all the growing you can do, to keep in the same place.

Image: RWC 2007 (Creative Commons License)

Image: RWC 2007 (Creative Commons License)

But as the rugby environment selects for ever greater size the pool of potential players shrinks. All animals have a limit to the how big they can become and humans are no different. The loading stress on our bones mean we’ll never see a team of King Kong sized players duke it out. Even over the past decade player size is starting to plateau.

To take the natural selection analogy further, changes in the rules of the game can change the selection pressure on the preferred morphology of the players. In the future, for example, if scrums are banned or rarely occur then we would see a move away from the gigantic front rows populating the sport today.

What about the game on Saturday? The Irish team outweigh the English starting 15 by 2kg and are about 3cm taller. So an Irish win then. But wait! England are playing at home and this confers big advantages. For instance, the home team produces more testosterone before a game than the away team. This can be explained in evolutionary terms as well, whereby the home team view their opponents as territorial intruders so they need to get ready to defend themselves. So it’s England to win then? Well do remember the aphorism, prediction is difficult, especially about the future.

Adam Kane is a postdoctoral researcher at UCC who is studying the ecology of seabirds.

Email: adam.kane@ucc.ie

Twitter: @P1zPalu

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Millport Fieldtrip 2015

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Last Monday 31 brave Zoology/Ecology students set forth to the land of highland cows, haggis, and most importantly the Millport Marine Station. After a smooth journey over we were thrown straight into life at the station with a tour of the area and the first of many interesting lectures. The next day we set out to Kames Bay where we conducted environmental surveys, took grain samples, and dug box cores. Digging a box core involves a metal box that is jumped on until it is firmly in the ground, obviously an incredibly graceful technique. We spend the rest of the day identifying all the species in the sand.

mill3The following morning we were lucky enough to tag along on a beam trawl. The weather was not so great this day so we had to keep checking that we hadn’t lost anyone overboard!! The rest of the morning was spent identifying all the weird and wonderful starfish, crustaceans, and fish. We then got to look at all the crazy plankton under the microscope! On Thursday we braved the rain to count the species in rock pools, and when I say rain, I mean a monsoon that we practically had to swim through! No one was washed away and we made it back to base safe and sound.

mill1On the last two days we had to collect data for our own projects. We had a great taxi service (Rob) who brought us anywhere we needed to go. There were many different projects on jellyfish, crabs, anemones, and various other invertebrates. We all had to come up with an experiment and design different sampling methods with the help of our lecturers.

mill4On the final day there was a big celebration in Millport to mark the end of the tourist season. This was a strange event with houses decorated with padella candles and displays honouring great movies, including Bear Wars (Star Wars with teddy bears).

mill6Overall we had a really great time and learned a lot about marine biology. It was an incredibly well organised trip and we all wish to thank Dr Rob McAllen, Prof. Sarah Culloty, Prof. John Davenport, and Mary Catherine for all their help and guidance.

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Certificate and Diploma in Field Ecology

1The Field Ecology Diploma students recently completed their second and final 2-week intensive summer field school. The students got out into the field each day of the course and learned about many different types of habitats and survey methods.

They surveyed for bats and caught small mammals. They enhanced their vegetation and habitat identification skills in semi-rural grasslands and coastal dune systems and learned about soil sampling techniques. Students learned about the techniques and rationale behind habitat restoration work and learn how to decipher the quality of lakes and river systems based on invertebrate life.

The students on the course were in their second year of the programme and are working towards gaining their Diploma. Students who choose to exit the programme after one year can gain a Certificate. Both are NFQ Level 7 qualifications.

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One student said of the week “the bat survey was excellent and was my favourite part – it was great to learn about the different sounds they make and how to identify them with a bat detector”. The final project for the summer school was a full site survey where the students worked in groups to produce a full habitat map and ecological assessment of a site.

A student said, “It’s great that as we come to the end of the course we can see how the lectures and practicals come together and give us the confidence to survey sites in our groups.”

One of the project groups even found and identified a muskrat – an invasive mammal species that had not yet been to occur in Cork City surroundings.

Video of Muskrat by one of our students in Cork recently cc @eagoldst @johbees @NatureRTE @fotawildlife https://t.co/Us3RsW0Vue

— School of BEES, UCC (@uccBEES) July 28, 2015

Please note, the Certificate and Diploma in Field Ecology is no longer being offered by School of BEES. For information on courses currently available see: http://www.ucc.ie/en/bees/courses/ 

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Final #QuERCi Post

Hi again from the RV Celtic Explorer! Here is the final update on board, and a summary, as we have now reached the end of the cruise! We have completed our transit back to Galway and, as I write, can see land on the horizon again for the first time in almost two weeks! Back to civilisation once more, as blue skies and a calm sea welcome us home with the coastline coming into view!

Niamh Connolly (myself) on-board the RV Celtic Explorer!

Niamh Connolly (myself) on-board the RV Celtic Explorer!

 

On deck view of the horizon just off Galway Bay

On deck view of the horizon just off Galway Bay

Here is a quick overview of the exciting events that occurred on the Celtic Explorer throughout the cruise across the Western Porcupine Seabight in the North Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Ireland!

Our first location was the Moira Mounds in the Belgica Mound Province. Here we collected incredible multibeam data to produce detailed topographic maps of the seabed in this region. Seismic profiles of the internal structures of the mounds and seabed (sub-bottom profiles) were also produced, using the CHIRP, of mounds at approx. 840m water depth.

Also, using the multibeam mounted on the ROV we were able to create an even higher resolution map of the Piddington Mound topography, slopes and sedimentary features as well as the other mounds surrounding it! These datasets will hopefully lead to many more windows for discovery and research in the near future as we continue to increase our understanding of these deep sea systems!

 

The ROV being deployed

The ROV being deployed

The ROV was then used to also create a mosaic using live footage of the seafloor on the Piddington Mound, producing the first images ever seen in this area! Below are just some of the wonderful scenes captured with the HD camera mounted on the ROV.

Multibeam echosounder profile of the Porcupine Bank Canyon; showing the steep sides of the canyon and coral mounds at the top

Multibeam echosounder profile of the Porcupine Bank Canyon; showing the steep sides of the canyon and coral mounds at the top

A collection of some of the images gathered from the Moira Mounds; Top left: Flytrap deep sea anemone, Lophelia pertusa and glass sponges, Top right: Lophelia pertusa (pale pink) and deep sea cnidaria, soft coral (Alcyonacea [red]), Bottom Left: sea urchin, dead Lophelia pertusa and gorgonocephalus (on top of Lophelia pertusa), along with more glass sponges (white/transparent), Bottom right: deep sea fish surrounded by living and dead Lophelia pertusa

A collection of some of the images gathered from the Moira Mounds; Top left: Flytrap deep sea anemone, Lophelia pertusa and glass sponges, Top right: Lophelia pertusa (pale pink) and deep sea cnidaria, soft Some images gathered from the Porcupine Bank Canyon; Top left: Black Coral (red), dead and living Lophelia pertusa, and a crinoid (yellow), Top right: Leiopathes (large black coral colony, orange) and Lophelia pertusa, Bottom left: A crinoid, Bottom right; sea star.

Moving swiftly onto our second location, the Porcupine Bank Canyon produced more incredible results and data! The multibeam and ROV multibeam created another intriguing bathymetric profile of the submarine canyon and its channels reaching just over 2km water depth at the bottom and around 700m water depth at the top, with the mounds! From this, an efficient dive plan was created (with some room for exploration on the way), and even with that we weren’t sure exactly what we would find! We weren’t disappointed with the incredible scenes that faced us!

A collection of some of the images gathered from the Moira Mounds; Top left: Flytrap deep sea anemone, Lophelia pertusa and glass sponges, Top right: Lophelia pertusa (pale pink) and deep sea cnidaria, soft coral (Alcyonacea [red]), Bottom Left: sea urchin, dead Lophelia pertusa and gorgonocephalus (on top of Lophelia pertusa), along with more glass sponges (white/transparent), Bottom right: deep sea fish surrounded by living and dead Lophelia pertusa

Some gravity cores were also attempted at this location but were unsuccessful unfortunately!! However, we made up for it by taking a few smaller box cores, composed of surface sediment which will be used for analysis in the lab on shore.

Another exciting aspect to this cruise was the experimentation with the drill mounted on the ROV. This also had never been attempted before so anticipation was high as we tentatively watched the ROV use the drill to bore into the solid rock wall! Thankfully we were successful and managed to retrieve a 20cm core through a calcite vein from a vertical rock face, proving that this technique has the potential to be used in other locations, depths and possibly different rock types, with more experimentation to determine the right size and composition of the drill and core equipment for a given area or situation! Therefore, ending the cruise on an extremely positive note!

Overall, the cruise has been a very successful one, with our knowledge and appreciation heightened for these cold water coral carbonate mound features, and also the complex ecosystem and environmental interactions!

For me personally, it has been a memorable and extremely valuable experience not only learning the scientific expertise behind these research expeditions but also the endless work of the crew, engineers and catering staff who allow everything to run smoothly and remain on track!

 

QuERCi scientists (left to right): Edel O’Donnell, Romano Capucci, Dr. Chris McGonigle, Ken O’Sullivan, Andy Wheeler, Kevin Power, Graham Ryan, Luca Crippa, Raissa Hogan, Arie Van Der Assam, Agostina Vertino,Niamh Connolly, Eileen McCarthy, Aaron Lim.

QuERCi scientists (left to right): Edel O’Donnell, Romano Capucci, Dr. Chris McGonigle, Ken O’Sullivan, Andy Wheeler, Kevin Power, Graham Ryan, Luca Crippa, Raissa Hogan, Arie Van Der Assam, Agostina Vertino,Niamh Connolly, Eileen McCarthy, Aaron Lim.

 

Cruise photo of the officers, crew, scientists and the ROV team

Cruise photo of the officers, crew, scientists and the ROV team

 

 

Goodbye from the RV Celtic Explorer and hopefully you have enjoyed tracking the progress and events of this cruise and research vessel!

 

Niamh Connolly, 3rd Year Earth Science, Bsc, UCC.

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QuERCi Update Seven

Niamh Connolly, 3rd Year, Earth Science, BSc, UCC

Keeping you posted on the progress of the RV Celtic Explorer! There has been exciting times recently on-board! Our run of incredible weather conditions continues which has greatly helped our data collection!

smlOn-deck viewUsing the multibeam echosounder data, Aaron Lim (PhD student) was skilfully able to create a detailed bathymetric map showing delicate features of the floor of the canyon in the Porcupine Bank. This allowed us to make a detailed dive plan for the enthusiastic biologists and geologists to watch this seafloor canyon come to life. The deepest point of the canyon reaches a water depth of just over 2,000m, while the ridges at the top are at approximately 700m. You can get an idea of the percipitous terrain.

 

Multibeam bathymetric map produced of the Porcupine Bank Canyon margin where coral mounds occur above a steep, sometimes vertical canyon walls (courtesy of Aaron Lim)

Multibeam bathymetric map produced of the Porcupine Bank Canyon margin where coral mounds occur above a steep, sometimes vertical canyon walls (courtesy of Aaron Lim)

Throughout this extensive dive, HD video footage and photographs were gathered as we wandered our way through the mysteries of this never before seen canyon floor.

Some crinoids and a small brittle star finding their home on a dropstone at the lower part of the Canyon channel

Some crinoids and a small brittle star finding their home on a dropstone at the lower part of the Canyon channel

We were interested to see what kind of life inhabited these areas and if the coral ecosystems and mounds we found earlier had also colonised the face of the cliff near the top of the Porcupine Bank Canyon. The deepest parts of the canyon were littered with sea pens and crinoids, much to the delight of our biologists on-board!

smlA crab, some black corals

A massive colony of black coral (Leiopathes sp.) attached to the hard surface of the cliff face

As for the cliff face of the canyon, with everyone glued to the live video feed, we were left amazed at the sheer extent and size of coral coverage found here! Massive coral colonies reaching out and thriving suggesting that they are taking advantage of the nutrients possibly upwelling from colder, deeper depths and carried by strong currents. A wonderful sight that couldn’t be missed!

Different species colonising the rock cliff face of the Canyon; Madrepora oculata (orange), Lophelia pertusa (whitish), black corals (red and orange [Leiopathes sp.]), black corals: Stichopathes sp. (yellow) and a few glass sponges (round and transparent-like in appearance)

Different species colonising the rock cliff face of the Canyon; Madrepora oculata (orange), Lophelia pertusa (whitish), black corals (red and orange [Leiopathes sp.]), black corals: Stichopathes sp. (yellow) and a few glass sponges (round and transparent-like in appearance)

smlA crab, some black corals

A crab, some black corals, dead and living Lophelia, Madrepora (white), black coral (orange), and bamboo coral (Paramuricea sp. [yellow]) covering the cliff face of the Porcupine Bank Canyon (what a sight!)

 

A crinoid sampled and preserved in ethanol

A crinoid sampled and preserved in ethanol

 

Deploying a gravity core to take sediment samples through a coral carbonate mound

Deploying a gravity core to take sediment samples through a coral carbonate mound

We have attempted to gather several gravity cores, but so far, unfortunately, they have been unsuccessful! However, we will continue to try and get sediment samples through the seabed near these intriguing cold-water coral mounds!

Our transit home will also begin shortly! Even though we are all excited to get home, our time spent in the Atlantic Ocean and the Porcupine Seabight has been an entertaining, insightful and thoroughly enjoyable experience, and at times almost too short! I hope to be back soon!

A massive thank you to Andy Wheeler, Aaron Lim and all the crew that made this cruise on the RV Celtic Explorer possible and such a great experience!!

Niamh Connolly, 3rd Year, Earth Science, Bsc, UCC.

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QuERCi Update 6: Taking a closer look

Keeping you up to date on the progress of the RV Celtic Explorer, the sea remains relatively calm. From sunrises to sunsets there are some spectacular scenes to be witnessed, and that’s just above the surface! Many more wonderful scenes have been discovered at deeper depths!

A sunset view from the bow of the ship

A sunset view from the bow of the ship

The transit to the Porcupine Bank Canyon went smoothly, thankfully, and the swell didn’t pick up as much as expected! Sunny skies now mean life on-board is quite good, with a tropical feeling and clear blue water in the Atlantic Ocean!!

Here are some of the samples collected by the ROV on the last dive and brought on to the ship for sampling and preservation, for further analysis once we reach the shore.

 

Collected samples of Lophelia pertusa (orange, LHS) and a Hydroid (RHS)

Collected samples of Lophelia pertusa (orange, LHS) and a Hydroid (RHS)

 

A crinoid being photographed before sampling and preservation

A crinoid being photographed before sampling and preservation

Following those exciting discoveries in the Moira Mounds we swiftly moved on to the next location; the Porcupine Bank Canyon. Here, the team has worked until all hours to collect the ship based and ROV multibeam data of the canyon, which is slow and tedious work but should produce incredible results!

The edge of the canyon starts at 700m water depth and then steeply sloping down to reach 4,700 m which is an incredible water depth and the deepest we have come across so far on this cruise! The Porcupine Bank Canyon measures 20km in width and 100km in length! This is one of the largest canyons in this region.

The data collected from the ROV multibeam is now being processed to produce an incredibly detailed map of this canyon which will hopefully reveal features we haven’t seen here yet! on the first run the multibeam on the ROV flies at 100m above the seabed, the second one is more detailed, running at 20m from the seafloor.

Map showing the study area of the Porcupine Bank Canyon

Map showing the study area of the Porcupine Bank Canyon

 

From there video footage will be gathered from the canyon and surrounding ridges, which are possibly scattered with coral carbonate mounds from the upwelling of colder water from depth. Again, this will be the first visual footage of this area and anticipation is building as we are excited to see if our suspicions are right! Hopefully we are!

Pilot whales investigating the Celtic Explorer on their travels!>

Pilot whales investigating the Celtic Explorer on their travels!

Amazingly, even with all that excitement we still managed to spot a pod of pilot whales investigating the ship, spy hopping and circling the vessel to get a good look! How lucky we are!

Niamh Connolly, 3rd Year, Bsc, UCC.

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Views from the ocean floor: QuERCi update 5

Niamh Connolly, 3rd Year Earth Science, BSc, UCC.

Hi again from the Celtic Explorer! Here is another update on the adventures unfolding so far. It was a misty start to the morning with winds picking up creating a slight swell, nonetheless, it didn’t dampen our spirits and conditions remain comfortable!

An air of excitement surrounds the ship as we continue to gather more incredible data! Working tirelessly, the team has managed to create the beginnings of a mosaic map using ROV multibeam bathymetric data obtained yesterday.

ROV obtained multibeam topographic map showing the profusion of Moira Mounds in this area, more than known before

ROV obtained multibeam topographic map showing the profusion of Moira Mounds in this area, more than known before

One of the Moira Mounds, the Piddington Mound, was meticulously scanned along 50 lines of overlapping high definition video. This will then be mosaiced and drapped over the topography to produce a virtual 3D mound 40m across which can be zoomed in on to a cm resolution.

The ROV now travels at 0.5 m above the seabed for a exploration dive with cameras forward facing exploring all the over mounds, which means our biologists are very excited as we can start sampling too! It’s incredible to see the amount of life covering the seafloor even at depths of 945 m; it’s still teeming with life! Even more exciting is the fact that we were lucky enough to be the first people ever to see it!

 The ROVs robotic arm collect an Antipatharian (black coral) Stichopathy sp. from one of the Moira Mounds. Also visible are white glass sponges, Madrepora oculata (calcareous coral) and (bottom right) an octocoral (Alcyonacea)

The ROVs robotic arm collect an Antipatharian (black coral) Stichopathy sp. from one of the Moira Mounds. Also visible are white glass sponges, Madrepora oculata (calcareous coral) and (bottom right) an octocoral (Alcyonacea)

Fitted with robotic arms, the ROV is readily equipped for collecting pieces of coral, sponges, crinoids and an abundance of other organisms needed for investigation, analysis and identification.

Manipulating the ROV is slow and careful work, but well worth the effort in collecting amazing samples and also doing as little damage to these habitats as possible. This will hopefully allow us to better understand environmental and ecosystem interactions of these complex systems. As the deep sea is so poor studied the chance of finding new species is a distinct possibility! Exciting stuff!

Here’s a stingray

Here’s a stingray

 

The ROV securing a sample of coral rubble with an octocoral attached in collection boxes. The large bolder is colonised by large barnacles. Laser dots are 11cm apart. The boulder fell to the seabed from a melting iceberg over 10,000 years ago.

The ROV securing a sample of coral rubble with an octocoral attached in collection boxes. The large bolder is colonised by large barnacles. Laser dots are 11cm apart. The boulder fell to the seabed from a melting iceberg over 10,000 years ago.

Here is a quick snapshot of some of the incredible scenes from the seafloor and these cold-water coral carbonate mounds capturing a dynamic environment that is constantly changing!

A view over the top of a small carbonate mound showing Madrepora oculate and Lophelia pertusa calcareous corals, white glass sponges and yellow octocorals

A view over the top of a small carbonate mound showing Madrepora oculate and Lophelia pertusa calcareous corals, white glass sponges and yellow octocorals

Close up view of a coral framework (Lophelia pertusa). Note the shrimp bottom left, barnacles top right and a sneeky crabs claw upper left. Red laser dots 11cm apart.

Close up view of a coral framework (Lophelia pertusa). Note the shrimp bottom left, barnacles top right and a sneeky crabs claw upper left. Red laser dots 11cm apart.

The thick density of the coral framework allows it to trap sediment and provides an environment for other corals and sponges to inhabit, among other organisms.

A range of living/dead coral (Lophelia pertusa and Madrepora oculata) with sponges and a beautiful orange sea anenome in their habitat

A range of living/dead coral (Lophelia pertusa and Madrepora oculata) with sponges and a beautiful orange sea anenome in their habitat

Interactions between different species: a Gorgonocephalus climbing on an Alcyonacea octocoral coral.

Interactions between different species: a Gorgonocephalus climbing on an Alcyonacea octocoral coral.

We will shortly begin our transit to the next exciting location; the submarine canyons of the Porcupine Bank, where more wonders need to be discovered! Can’t wait!

 

 

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Adventures in seabird monitoring

Firstly – I think it’s appropriate to introduce myself, my name is Gavin Arneill and I am a PhD student in the school of BEES. My project is funded by the NPWS and aims to develop and assess a monitoring strategy for Puffins, Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels.

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Why is this important? To use an example close to home, for the past 3 years Marine Biology MSc. students have carried out population censuses on Manx Shearwaters under the supervision of Prof. John Quinn. The results of these projects demonstrated the lack of accurate population estimates for Manx Shearwaters in Ireland. These inaccuracies are largely due to the fact that estimating the population size of burrow nesting seabirds is difficult because (a) you can’t see occupied sites and (b) 2 of the 3 species only come to land at night. My project aims to test the effectiveness of existing methods and develop the most effective strategy for future monitoring.

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The field season has started off great, with the first trip to High island off the Connemara coast. The site hosts a population of both Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels, as well as a number of other seabirds. Dave Whelan, a marine biology MSc student, and myself worked on estimating the size of the Manx shearwater population by carrying out plackback surveys over the entire island. Additionally, acoustic recorders were deployed in areas around the island to record the calls of both Manx Shearwaters and Storm petrels throughout the night.

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Right now, I am on Great Saltee island off the Wexford coast using time-lapse and motion sensor cameras to test how effective they are at determining the size of Puffin populations. This trip has been particularly interesting as the number of Puffins on the island has increased considerably compared to when I carried out my fieldwork for my undergraduate honours project here. On top of the camera work, we are looking at the number of Puffins rafting around the island everyday.

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It’s great that UCC seabird research group (or whatever we decide to call ourselves) is becoming a very solid entity in the school of BEES. The outputs from the current and future projects are going to make a considerable difference in our understanding and conservation of Irish seabirds.

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Celtic Explorer Update 4: 15 June 2015

Here’s another update on the exciting times on-board the RV Celtic Explorer! Sea conditions remain incredibly calm and early morning starts are no tough task when you can enjoy spectacular 6am sunrises like this!

Vivid morning sunrise across the Atlantic Ocean

Vivid morning sunrise across the Atlantic Ocean

Yesterday we managed to collect some ship’s hull-mounted MBES (multibeam) data to investigate the full western extent of the Moira Mounds. However, we won’t know the results until this data has been processed, but it is an exciting prospect!

The tedious and ambitious task of trying to get two gravity cores of one of the smaller mounds unfortunately were not successful as it is quite difficult to hit a target 20m across in almost 1km of water and while also fighting currents, despite gallant efforts by the QuERCi team.

ROV Control room (it’s a tight fit!)

ROV Control room (it’s a tight fit!)

The ROV control room was a hive of activity during the early hours of the morning and throughout the day as a downward facing HD camera was placed on the ROV, recording video footage and photographs of the habitats and ecosystems colonising the Piddington Mound. At 970m below the sea surface, there is no light reaching these depths, however, we are lucky enough to illuminate this darkness for a few minutes to get an amazing glimpse of this hidden world!

Photo of Piddington Mound taken from ROV HD camera

Photo of Piddington Mound taken from ROV HD camera

This cold-water coral carbonate mound is completely covered with a range of different corals, sponges, crabs and several species of fish. The ROV is hovering at 3m above the surface of this mound (at one stage almost coming in close contact with an unsuspecting octopus!).

This footage will be used to create a virtual map (mosaic) of this area. Our next task is to take samples of organisms and sediment (using box cores) for analysis in the lab from an adjacent area.

During our time off, we have also taken up whale watching and spotting a few jets of spray rising above an otherwise flat, calm ocean surface. The jets of spray are blows from the whales and we got photos of whales breaching (jumping out of the water) in the distance. Photo ID suggests they are beaked whales which have only been sighted a few times in Irish waters. We really know so little about the deep ocean.

Further updates to come, keeping you posted on the progress on-board!

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