Expedition blogs and news from the Shallow Marine Surveys Group

Back to school!

This morning Drs Judith Brown and Wetjens Dimmlich woke early to go back to school. They travelled up the hill to Two Boats school to show the children there a selection of images from Shallow Marine Survey Group's work in both the Falkland Islands and the current Ascension expedition.

[caption id="attachment_441" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Jude speaks to a full room during morning assembly.
Image: W Dimmlich

Jude spoke to the entire school who were gathered in the gym and managed to maintain the interest of all ages during her talk. She showed images of different species of animals found in the cold Falkland waters and the tropical Ascension waters and challenged her audience to pick which came from where.

She also described our unsuccessful attempts so far to entice an unidentified shrimp from his hole and received some very useful tips for the audience on how to entice the creature from its burrow. During the drive back to the Conservation offices we had some discussion about finding a source on the island for parsley!

[caption id="attachment_442" align="aligncenter" width="584"] The kids enthusiastically offered suggestions on how to capture elusive sea creatures.
Image: W Dimmlich
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Our day in court

Yesterday, Drs Paul Brickle, Jude Brown and Simon Morley gave a talk about the project to a gathering held in the Ascension Islands magistrate's court.

The island's Administrator, Mr Colin Wells, attended along with other Ascension Island government representatives including councillors, service heads, Ascension Conservation members and the RAF base commander.

[caption id="attachment_430" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Paul Brickle presenting the work of the Shallow Marine Surveys Group, while Simon Morley and Jude Brown wait for their turn in the spotlight.
Image: W Dimmlich

After the talk the team was very grateful for the words of support offered by the audience and the enthusiasm with which the work was received as well as a desire for the continuation of studies of the marine environment by local participants in the future.

[caption id="attachment_431" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Simon explains the objectives and methods used in his climate-change related experiments carried out during the expedition.
Image: W Dimmlich

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Ascension 24/08/12

[caption id="attachment_325" align="alignleft" width="201"] Divers descend to commence another survey

The team has settled into a diving routine over the last couple of days. Generally we have been boat diving in the mornings and then shore diving in the afternoon. The weather has continued to be highly changeable, alternating between brilliant sunshine and torrential rain.

Loading the boats at the Georgetown pier can be challenging in a swell. The exposed site makes passing gear over a matter of careful timing as the boat rises or drops several meters. However once loaded and away the seas on this side of the island have been mild and we've been able to access some good sites along the north-west coast. Windy weather has kept us to this section of coastline until now but hopefully over the next few days we'll be able to push further around the island.

Dives here are utterly dominated by countless black triggerfish (Melichthys niger). While sheer numbers impressed all the divers at the beginning, now they are simply getting in the way of photographs we'd like to take of other species! The only challenge to the abundance of black triggerfish comes from the creolefish (Paranthias furcifer), but even in their vast numbers they can only manage a distant second place.

So far all is going very smoothly, but logistics are made a little more complicated by roadworks on one of the main roads linking different regions of the island, necessitating long detours for what normally be a short drive. Some team members swear certain offroad shortcuts can cut journey times but this is still under considerable debate.

[caption id="attachment_323" align="aligncenter" width="584"] One of the team vehicles departs Georgetown on a short-cut through the lava fields on the way to English Bay, location of the Ascension Island Dive Club facilities and one of our bases of operation.

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Guest — louise stilwell-stage
Hi Drew, Thanks for your guided tour- it has to be the most memorable moment of the trip
Wednesday, 20 February 2013 8:08 PM
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Ascension 21/08/12

Day Two

Most of the team have now arrived on Ascension and are getting straight into work. Yesterday (Monday 20th August) new arrivals were somewhat groggily taking their first dives just hours after touching down on Wideawake Airfield. First order of business was trialling the sampling methodology for transects along the seabed during which species counts would taken.

[caption id="attachment_303" align="alignleft" width="584"] Dr Judith Brown gives a rundown of safety guidelines for the team to follow while diving in this remote location.
Image: Pieter van West

These early dives were done in English Bay, a sheltered beach with easy access and relatively calm waters so everyone could check out their gear and make sure all was in good working order. The weather was overcast with passing showers, but occasionally the sun broke through in full tropical strength.

Under the direction of Dr Simon Morley some team members also began to set up the lab in the offices of the Ascension Island Conservation Dept. complete with collapsible aquaria for climate change experiments. We still need to address the issue of transporting fresh seawater to the office everyday to keep the experiment running over the 3 weeks. Today, Simon and Dr Wetjens Dimmlich embarked on a scavenger hunt around the island following any rumour of containers which might hold water. Eventually, after scouring the local rubbish tip unsuccessfully they had to give up and now need to work on a new plan for getting water to the fish tanks.

[caption id="attachment_316" align="alignleft" width="300"] The boiler of the Derby, sunk in 1929.
Image: SMSG

This morning’s dives were on the wreck of the Derby, a steel hulled steam trawler which was used to transport guano from Boatswain Bird Island.  She was moored in English Bay but sank together with other small vessels during heavy rollers in January 1929. She lies off a reef in about 9m of water and involved more transect work and also photography of marine life near the wreck. This proved challenging in the swell, and was made more difficult by the countless urchins found in almost every crevice so any handholds or potential spots to kneel had to be carefully considered before committing yourself to it. In the meantime the subject generally decided not to wait around and had swum away. It’s likely that capturing images of the fish life is going to prove quite a lot more frustrating than anticipated.

[caption id="attachment_620" align="aligncenter" width="584"] The bow section of the Derby.

While other team members were either diving or driving around Ascension in futile quests for water containers, Dr’s Pieter van West and Alexander Arkhipkin enjoyed a very memorable tour by Jolene and Natasha of Ascension Island Conservation. Shelly Beach is a location accessible only by 4wd vehicle and a half hour hike through a lava field. This used to be the site of a large sooty tern colony numbering in the hundreds of thousands of birds, but this was wiped out by feral cats. Rock pools are found here, separated from the sea by 100m of lava platform but replenished with seawater through underground fissures. These pools appear to contain ecosystems probably found nowhere else. Of particular interest are two unique species of shrimp (Procaris ascensionis and Typhlatya rogersi) living in these interconnected network of rock pools.

[caption id="attachment_305" align="alignleft" width="584"] Procaris ascensionis, one of the extremely rare and protected species of shrimp found only on Ascension Island.
Image: Pieter van West

It may be that the shrimp are the most vulnerable species on the planet, found only in these pools and only on Ascension Island and are completely protected to the extent that we are only permitted to look but not touch. In addition to the shrimp Peter noticed other distinct species of algal and invertebrate life which may be worth further investigation. Unfortunately this visit to the rock pools was only a short one as the main object of the excursion was to collect oysters required for another study. A return visit to these pools will no doubt occur later in the trip with the underwater cameras to collect a full record of the species existing there.

Recent Comments
Guest — Phil Thomas
I will speak to Interserve this morning to see if they can help with water containers, if you go to the Interserve offices and ask... Read More
Thursday, 23 August 2012 8:08 AM
Guest — SMSG
Thanks Phil, we should be ok for now. Have managed to scrounge up some containers...
Thursday, 23 August 2012 10:10 AM
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