SMSG Blog

Expedition blogs and news from the Shallow Marine Surveys Group

Volunteer Ecological Surveyors

By Sarah and Simon Browning

Simon and I have been volunteer divers with the Shallow Marine Survey Group (SMSG) for the last two years and have been privileged to undertake a number of marine research expeditions within the Falklands.


Last year we joined the SMSG Ascension Island expedition bringing with us a small team of the military divers from the Falklands but this year we are by ourselves as volunteers directly supporting the project, our main role to participate in underwater transact surveys, specimen collecting and underwater photography.


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Arriving on 24 May, we landed a few days ahead of the main group to enjoy some leave relaxing on this fabulous island.  We took the opportunity to do a couple of dives to check out the camera and more importantly confirm our fish identification skills ready for surveys! The topside of Ascension is equally fascinating and we enjoyed a couple of beach walks beachcombing and watching the blow hole at North East Bay. The evenings were spent on the beach looking for Green turtles and, even though now at the end of the season, after only a few minutes sitting on the beach we saw three laying - amazing. At the same time we saw hundreds of baby Greens scurrying off in to the sea under a full moon and were also very lucky to witness an eruption – truly spectacular seeing so many tiny juvenile turtles pouring out of the sand.


Our leave was soon over with the arrival of the RMS St Helena bringing Jude, Steve and Elizabeth from St Helena. The project swung into action led by Jude with us all out for an afternoon dive off Wigan Pier checking octopus holes, collecting data from settlement plates and assessing general seasonal changes from last August -September. The whole team was assembled by 1 June and since then we have been busy getting involved in all aspects of the project. So far we have  undertaken a number of transact surveys, completed intertidal surveys, collected a number of specimens, helped process samples, revisited the shrimp pools at Shelly Beach and helped with otolith (fish ear bones used for ageing) removal.


20130526-Ascension Is_PSII Simon-U 129


For Simon and myself this trip has given us such a great opportunity to work with eminent marine biologists and in the field. We are looking forward to the next week diving and exploring the rich marine ecology of Ascension…what new species will we discover?

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FIDT share their experience

The Falkland Island Dive Team (FIDT) is a group of Service, Ministry of Defense (MOD) and civilian personnel who have given their time to support this exciting Project.  The team is making a vital contribution to the project by providing logistical support and planning for the delivery of equipment plus booking of flights, accommodation, vehicles and boat.




[caption id="attachment_454" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Sarah Lee in Lava Tunnel, English Bay.

In the first 2 week period of the project the FIDT have assisted SMSG with data collection, critter and fish collection, photographs, transects and inter-tidal surveys. Not only are the team helping collect data but they have also been getting their hands dirty, literally, by helping to process fish specimens, with Simon Plummer, the diving supervisor, measuring, weighing and dissecting fish and to remove the otoliths which are used to tell how old the fish is.




[caption id="attachment_455" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Simon Plummer (centre) with Drs Vlad Laptikhovsky and Judith Brown

The FIDT have enjoyed discussing their findings with the expedition Drs and Professors. This has made the diving and the experience of working, helping and supporting the project a far more broadening experience. It has also made the team even more mindful of the diverse and balanced marine ecology of the Ascension Islands.




[caption id="attachment_456" align="aligncenter" width="584"] FIDT member Simon Browning demonstrate black triggerfish capture techniques, using a bread basket, while Vlad Laptikhovsky and Simon Plummer look on.
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Team Member Drew Avery

Drew Avery is a satellite communications engineer who returned to Ascension 2 years ago after an extended career in remote locations such as the Chagos Archipelago, Greenland and the Middle East. An amateur naturalist and wildlife photographer he has contributed to the Smithsonian Institute Encyclopaedia of Life and written species articles for Arkive, an on line data base of rare and endangered species. His most current project has been compiling a complete library of natural science research done on Ascension for the Ascension Heritage Society. A part-time student he is currently enrolled in Oregon State University Masters in Natural Resources program and will be shortly completing a post –graduate certificate in Sustainable Military Lands Management form Colorado State University.


Since returning to Ascension he has been fortunate enough to be able to volunteer with a number of diverse projects, including lichen surveys on Green Mountain, a variety of bird studies and the ongoing Overseas Territories Environment Green Turtle research Program.


Drew likes long walks and beer

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Team Member Caz Yon

[caption id="attachment_311" align="alignleft" width="199"] Caz Yon

Caroline (Caz) Yon has been living and working on Ascension Island for the last 20 years and currently manages the ESA Telemetry Tracking Station at North East Bay.  For her day job, Caz is a communications engineer but as with a lot of people on a small island wears many hats on a voluntary basis.


She gave up being a Justice of the Peace after 13 years of service and is now a legal advisor assisting people with various criminal and civil issues.


Caz also runs the Ascension Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals offering front line and emergency veterinary services as well as overseeing the import/export of pet animals.  Caz is also a First Aid and PADI Dive Instructor and offers courses in both on the island.


Rare moments of spare time are always spent in the water away from telephones and emails!  Having always lived next to, surrounded by or on the sea it is only natural she has a love of the underwater world.  After years of slightly bewildered but nonetheless real admiration and appreciation of the marine environment, she is really hoping to gain greater insights and knowledge by being involved in the survey.


She feels this is a fantastic opportunity to kick start education and awareness of the inshore waters of Ascension and will hopefully lead to a long term conservation commitment thus ensuring the health and vitality of the marine life for generations to come.

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Team Member Jolene Sim

[caption id="attachment_298" align="alignleft" width="168"] Jolene Sim
Ascension Island Government Conservation Department

Jolene Sim is the Assistant Conservation Officer for Ascension Island Government. Her interest in conservation started when she was a young girl. Jolene was inspired by her father’s respect for the fauna and flora of St Helena, both terrestrial and marine. He feels a special kinship with creatures of the sea. As a result, Jolene developed a passionate interest in St Helena's wildlife. Her personal experiences and observations gained from voluntary work on St Helena has provided not only knowledge, but a fascinating insight into the work involved in ecological restoration of remote islands.


In 1996 Jolene left St Helena for the UK where she joined the Merchant Navy as a Deck Cadet and progressed to the position of 1st Officer. Her 10 year career at sea meant she had long vacations where she could spend much time doing what she enjoyed most. Her natural desire to learn more about South Atlantic Islands meant she spent some of her free time visiting both St Helena and Ascension Island, where she carried out voluntary work with the Ascension Island Conservation Team, and St Helena’s seabird monitoring and underwater surveys (Fisheries Section of Agriculture & Natural Resources Department).
Jolene has a great appreciation of what Ascension Island has to offer, and it is her natural desire to learn more about the Island’s environment, to safeguard and restore native species and habitats, and to promote awareness of conservation, particularly through the schools.

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Team Member Pieter Van West

Pieter van West (Professor/Principal Investigator, University of Aberdeen) is the Microbiology Programme Leader in the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Aberdeen. He graduated as a molecular plant pathologist (MSc, Cum Laude & PhD) at the Wageningen University (1988-1993 & 1994-1998), which was followed by a post-doctoral project at the University of Aberdeen (1998-2000). He was awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship to study “Fundamental molecular processes in Oomycete pathogens” (2000-2008) and became a Lecturer (2004), a Senior Lecturer (2005), a Reader (2009) and currently holds a Chair in Oomycete Biology (2012).




[caption id="attachment_223" align="alignleft" width="200"]Peter van West Prof. Peter van West
University of Aberdeen

His current research programme in the Aberdeen Oomycete Laboratory focuses mainly on oomycete biology. Oomycetes, or water moulds, are a distinct group of eukaryotic microbes with often a fungal-like morphology, but with a much closer genetic similarity to brown algae and diatoms. Pathogenic oomycetes infect a wide range of organisms including crop plants, weeds, ornamental plants, trees, fish, humans, insects, crustaceans, brown algae, nematodes, fungi and even other oomycetes.


In the Aberdeen Oomycete Laboratory, several economically and environmentally important water moulds are studied at most disciplinary levels (taxonomy, ecology, epidemiology, biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology and especially host-microbe interactions). The most important animal pathogenic oomycetes under investigation are Saprolegnia parasitica, Saprolegnia australisSaprolegnia diclina and Aphanomyces spp. The plant pathogenic species include Phytophthora infestans and several Pythium spp. and the marine algal pathogenic species include Eurychasma dicksonii and Anisolpidium spp.


He has conducted and participated in expeditions and field trips with a scope in oomycete research, notably to the Falkland Islands, the Canadian Arctic, and Ascension Island.
Within the framework of the research expedition to Ascension, Pieter is particularly interested in collecting biological samples from fresh-water and salt-water for the presence of oomycete and fungal pathogens. In particular oomycetes that may infect algae or crustaceans, and fungi that attack sea turtle eggs.

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Dave John Hunting seaweeds around Ascension
31 August 2013
Great to see underwater photos of this very unusual submarine environment where the ubiquitous black...
Helen Marsh Team Member Stedson Stroud
03 July 2013
Great to hear more about Stedsons work, and how he got started, having met him on Ascension Island l...
Simon Plummer Volunteer Ecological Surveyors
10 June 2013
I can’t stop smiling thinking of what a brilliant time you are having. The fact that I can visualise...
Simon Plummer Black triggerfish anecdotes
10 June 2013
An enjoyable and funny read, thank you steve for making me chuckle.
Simon Plummer Ascension Island fish record
10 June 2013
The photos are brilliant, envious.

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