Expedition blogs and news from the Shallow Marine Surveys Group

Things that go bump in the night

By Judith Brown

To get as complete a species list as possible we need to survey different habitats, different seasons and also during the day and at night. Some species remain well hidden during daylight hours when the plethora of fish predators make leaving the safety of the crack or crevice hazardous. When night arrives the seabed is littered by the sleeping bodies of the black fish and out comes a different array of animals. The striking red reef lobster, the small red scorpionfish, giant stretchy yellow banded sea cucumbers, many species of shrimps are just a few who we don’t see through the day. To quantify the difference in species diversity and abundance the SMSG team prepared for some day night comparison surveys.

[caption id="attachment_979" align="alignleft" width="300"]Q66 A (20) Day Quadrat Day Transect

[caption id="attachment_980" align="alignright" width="300"]Q66 B (20) Night Quadrat Night Transect

The survey method was adapted slightly (to compensate for reduced visibility at night) and involved three transects each 1m x 50m survey all along the rocky reef just off Wigan Pier. During the early afternoon Judith, Paul and Martin conducted the first set of transects – leaving the tape measures in situ with activated glow sticks on each end. As darkness fell the divers returned to the pier – Judith with a dive torch strapped to her head to allow her to count and write. This worked well except for that many small amphipods and worms which were attracted to the light at night meaning she had a constant swarm of critters buzzing around her head for the entire dive. Longspine black sea urchin were the most abundant to count with several hundred on each transect but the most exciting critter was an orange nudibranch – usually only found well hidden under rocks. After an 84 minute dive the team were all happy to return to the dive club to a pot of traditional St Helenian pilau cooked by Elizabeth on the BBQ.

[caption id="attachment_978" align="alignnone" width="300"]Q65-66-67 Macros Associated with Night Transects (6) Red Reef Lobster Reef lobster
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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.

130531Q52 and 53 00620130526-Ascension Is_PSII-U 060

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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Black triggerfish anecdotes

By Dr Martin Collins

It’s great to be back on Ascension and a particular treat to exchange the cold winter waters of the Falklands for the tropical seas surrounding Ascension.

Yesterday morning myself, Stevie Cartwright, Steve Brown, Elizabeth Clingham & Sarah Browning visited a new site off a headland between Comfortless Cove and Long Beach.   We were diving from Caz Yon’s RIB (thanks Caz) and Stevie and I were tasked with taking macro photographs and collecting invertebrate specimens, focusing on species that we had not previously encountered.

We dropped down to 10 m and, as usual, found an abundance of the black triggerfish (Melichthys niger). Our quest was for invertebrates, but as we turned over rocks to expose the cryptic fauna, we were surrounded by clouds of black triggerfish, who were snacking on anything that we exposed.  The black triggerfish are not fussy eaters and whilst I was using my ninja-like skills to capture small, but remarkably agile octopus, I heard a squeal from Stevie, whose ear was being nibbled by a blackfish.  Unfortunately for Stevie the little bit of blood drawn by the first bite only served to attract more black-fish and Steve was quickly surrounded.  Steve initially tried to fend them off, but his ears offered an exposed and tasty treat and he was forced to cover them with his mask strap to avoid further damage.

the Usual Balckfish

The little octopus was less than two cm long, maybe a white-spotted octopus (Octopus macropus), which will be new record for Ascension.  Jude saw an adult white-spotted octopus on a dive last week. The octopus has been preserved and will be sent an expert for a confirmation on its identification.

After the days diving and whilst dinner was cooking on the barbecue, eight of us headed out for a night dive off Wigan Pier, in English Bay.  Night dives on Ascension are fantastic and the contrast between night and day is incredible.  At night the black triggerfish that normally nibble on anything that move are found lying on their sides asleep, allowing all the invertebrates to come out and forage.   On this dive Steve Brown and Paul Brewin saw one of the largest invertebrates, a crayfish, catching and consuming a black-triggerfish.   As usual Paul Brewin described it as “Awesome” – I think he needs a new superlative.

Cray Blackfish

The final highlight of the day was emerging from the night dive on the beach at English Bay to see newly hatched turtles making their way to the sea.  One unfortunate turtle’s journey was abruptly curtailed by a “Sally lightfoot” crab that we spotted with a turtle in its claws, but plenty more made it to the sea – the first stage of their long journey to the feeding grounds off Brazil.

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The Elusive Parrotfish

By Dr Vladimir Laptikhovsky

Most us that have dived in tropical seas have seen parrot fishes. You might have heard them crunching and munching corals before you see them, they are amongst the most common fish in coral reefs all over the World. But not only coral reefs… some species in the genus Sparisoma managed to cross huge oceanic spaces and settled around the small oceanic islands of the Mid-Atlantic ridge, like the Azores. One of them, Sparisoma strigatum, is known to be endemic to Ascension and St. Helena. Around St. Helena, according to Dr Judith Brown, it is a very common species in shallow waters. Occasionally it occurs in groups in rocky areas between 5 and 20 meters depth. Juveniles might be distributed slightly deeper, amongst weed and rubble patches on sand at 15-18 m depth. The species was known around Ascension Island and even pictured on local postage stamp. However, our previous expedition that covered most of shallow waters around this island did not find it. Why are its numbers so low that it is virtually unnoticeable? This SMSG/SAERI expedition of is looking to answer to this question.


Eventually this mystery species was found, south of Catherine Point where a single specimen was seen and photographed by Steve Brown. It was found together with the white spotted filefish (Cantherhines macrocerus), also recorded on our last trip in August 2012. This was indeed quite an unusual site as it had a remarkable abundance of the endemic Ascension Island wrasse too.

Whitespot Filefish

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We’re back on island - this time with a smaller team of twelve

This the second phase of a SMSG/South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI) expedition funded by the Darwin Initiative to examine the marine biodiversity of Ascension Island. Our team of 12 started to arrive on the 24th May. Lt.Col. Simon Browning and Sarah Browning arrived first with our freight. Elizabeth Clingham and Judith and Steve Brown arrived from sunny St Helena on the Tuesday 28th. The rest of us arrived on the 31st May from a cold and blustery Falkland Islands.

Jude's Bath

Lt Col. Browning said “Surprise is a principle of war not logistics! With foresight and good planning everything has come together.” However, our start to the survey was not without its problems. Ascension Island’s dive club’s compressor was out of order. We found this out before the Falkland Islands' component departed so we were able to fly up a portable one.

Fish Chopping1

The objective of this ten day survey is to build on the first by targeting the intertidal  quantitatively, revisiting sites surveyed before to examine the community structure of different habitats on temporal scales and to visit sites and areas not surveyed previously. Efforts so far have already yielded a new species record for Ascension Island, a white spotted octopus (Octopus macropus). This species is active at night and is distributed in the east and west Atlantic but is not known from around Ascension Island. Judith Brown said “It is amazing to see the seasonal changes in fish communities, particularly the small recruitment of juvenile endemic Hawkish.” And Paul Brewin exclaimed “It’s awesome to be back”.

Watch this space – we’ll keep you posted on out progress and discoveries.

Paul's Office

The survey team:

  • Dr Paul Brickle (SAERI/SMSG – Expedition Leader)

  • Dr Judith Brown (SMSG/St Helena Government – Dive Officer)

  • Steve Brown (SMSG – Technical Services)

  • Steve Cartwright (SMSG – Technical Services)

  • Dr Martin Collins (SMSG/GSGSSI – Marine Ecologist)

  • Dr Vladimir Laptikhovsky (SMSG/CEFAS - Marine Ecologist)

  • Lt. Col. Simon Browning (SMSG/BFSAI – Logistics/Marine Ecologist)

  • Sarah Browning (SMSG/BFSAI – Marine Ecologist)

  • Dr Alexander Arkhipkin (SMSG/Falkland Islands Government Fisheries Department - Sclerochronology)

  • Dr Paul Brewin (SMSG/Falkland Islands Government Fisheries Department – Marine Ecologist)

  • Zhanna Shcherbich (SMSG/Falkland Islands Government Fisheries Department - Sclerochronology)

  • Elizabeth Clingham (SMSG/St Helena Government – Marine Ecologist)

  • Emily Hancox (SMSG/SAERI - Marine Ecologist)

As always we are extremely grateful to AIG, particularly Collin Wells (Administrator), Hamish Stewart (Director of Resources), Nicola and Sam Webber and the rest of the Conservation team. We are also grateful to Caz Yon for all of her help.
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Ascension Island fish record

During the 3 week survey of Ascension, the Shallow Marine Surveys Group took thousands of images of the marine life around the island. This page represents a photographic record of Ascension Island fish species seen by team members. The images in this post are being added to as the back-catalogue is processed and, when finished, should provide a useful and accurate guide to almost any species of fish life a skin-diver or scuba diver may see during a visit to Ascension Island.


Acanthuridae (surgeonfishes, tangs, and unicornfishes)

[caption id="attachment_1011" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Acanthurus bahianus (ocean surgeonfish) Acanthurus bahianus (ocean surgeonfish)

[caption id="attachment_1012" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Acanthurus bahianus (ocean surgeonfish) Acanthurus bahianus (ocean surgeonfish)

[caption id="attachment_1013" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Acanthurus coeruleus (blue tang) Acanthurus coeruleus (blue tang) - juvenile

[caption id="attachment_1014" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Acanthurus coeruleus (blue tang) Acanthurus coeruleus (blue tang)


Apogonidae (cardinalfishes)

[caption id="attachment_802" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Apogon axillaris (axillary spot cardinalfish)-1621 Apogon axillaris (axillary spot cardinalfish)

[caption id="attachment_801" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Apogon axillaris (axillary spot cardinalfish)-0243 Apogon axillaris (axillary spot cardinalfish)

[caption id="attachment_803" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Apogon pseudomaculatus (twospot cardinalfish)-9074 Apogon pseudomaculatus (twospot cardinalfish) - Image: Peter Wirtz

Aulostomidae (trumpet fish)

[caption id="attachment_804" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Aulostomus strigosus (Atlantic trumpetfish)-1159 Aulostomus strigosus (Atlantic trumpetfish)

[caption id="attachment_805" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Aulostomus strigosus (Atlantic trumpetfish) Aulostomus strigosus (Atlantic trumpetfish) - Image: Peter Wirtz

Balistidae (triggerfish)

[caption id="attachment_1037" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Melichthys niger (black triggerfish) Melichthys niger (black triggerfish)

[caption id="attachment_1038" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Melichthys niger (black triggerfish) Melichthys niger (black triggerfish)

[caption id="attachment_1039" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Balistes vetula (queen triggerfish) Balistes vetula (queen triggerfish)

[caption id="attachment_1040" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Canthidermis maculata (ocean triggerfish) Canthidermis maculata (ocean triggerfish)

Belonidae (needlefish)

[caption id="attachment_806" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Platybelone trachura (needlefish) Platybelone trachura (needlefish)

Bothidae (flounder)

[caption id="attachment_1019" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Bothus lunatus (peacock flounder) Bothus lunatus (peacock flounder)

[caption id="attachment_1020" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Bothus mellissi (St Helena flounder) Bothus mellissi (St Helena flounder)

Chaetodontidae (butterfly fish)

[caption id="attachment_840" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Chaetodon sanctaehelenae (St Helena butterflyfish)-1565 Chaetodon sanctaehelenae (St Helena butterflyfish)

[caption id="attachment_841" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Prognathodes dichrous (hedgehog butterflyfish)-2332 Prognathodes dichrous (hedgehog butterflyfish)

Cirrhitidae (hawkfish)

[caption id="attachment_843" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Amblycirrhitus earnshawi (white hawkfish)-1574 Amblycirrhitus earnshawi (white hawkfish)

[caption id="attachment_844" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Amblycirrhitus earnshawi (white hawkfish)-2590 Amblycirrhitus earnshawi (white hawkfish)

Diodontidae (porcupine fish)

[caption id="attachment_1016" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Diodon holocanthus (porcupine pufferfish) Diodon holocanthus (porcupine pufferfish)

[caption id="attachment_1017" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Diodon hystrix (spotted porcupinefish) Diodon hystrix (spotted porcupinefish)

Gobiidae (gobies)

[caption id="attachment_864" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Gnatholepis thompsoni (Thompsons goby)-1233 Gnatholepis thompsoni (Thompsons goby)

[caption id="attachment_1033" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Priolepis ascensionis (Ascension goby) Priolepis ascensionis (Ascension goby)


Holocentridae (soldierfish,squirrelfish)

[caption id="attachment_807" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Holocentrus adscensionis (squirrelfish)-1135 Holocentrus adscensionis (squirrelfish)

[caption id="attachment_808" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Holocentrus adscensionis (squirrelfish)-1000715 Holocentrus adscensionis (squirrelfish) - may be found in large schools.

[caption id="attachment_810" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Myripristis jacobus (blackbar soldierfish)-2275 Myripristis jacobus (blackbar soldierfish)

[caption id="attachment_809" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Myripristis jacobus (blackbar soldierfish)-1405 Myripristis jacobus (blackbar soldierfish)

Kyphosidae (sea chub)

[caption id="attachment_838" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Kyphosus sectatrix (sea chub)-2544 Kyphosus sectatrix (sea chub)

Labridae (wrasse)

[caption id="attachment_790" align="aligncenter" width="584"]20120827-DSC_1406 Thallasoma ascensionis (Ascension wrasse)

[caption id="attachment_792" align="aligncenter" width="584"]20120831-DSC_2123 Thallasoma ascensionis (Ascension wrasse) - juvenile

[caption id="attachment_1022" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Thalassoma ascensionis (Ascension wrasse) Thallasoma ascensionis (Ascension wrasse)

[caption id="attachment_1023" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Bodianus insularis (island hogfish) Bodianus insularis (island hogfish)

[caption id="attachment_785" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Bodianus insularis Bodianus insularis (island hogfish)

[caption id="attachment_1027" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Xyrichtys blanchardi (Blanchard's cleaver wrasse) Xyrichtys blanchardi (Blanchard's cleaver wrasse)

[caption id="attachment_1028" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Xyrichtys blanchardi (Blanchar's cleaver wrasse) Xyrichtys blanchardi (Blanchard's cleaver wrasse)

[caption id="attachment_1029" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Thalassoma sanctaehelenae (yellow razorfish) Thalassoma sanctaehelenae (yellow razorfish)

[caption id="attachment_789" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Xyrichtys novacula (marmalade razorfish) Xyrichtys novacula (marmalade razorfish)

Malacanthidae (tilefish)

[caption id="attachment_1031" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Malacanthus plumieri (sand tilefish) Malacanthus plumieri (sand tilefish)

Monacanthidae (filefish)

[caption id="attachment_846" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Aluterus scriptus (scrawled filefish)-1523 Aluterus scriptus (scrawled filefish)

[caption id="attachment_847" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Aluterus scriptus (scrawled filefish)-1010203 Aluterus scriptus (scrawled filefish)

[caption id="attachment_848" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Cantherhines macrocerus (whitespotted filefish)-5473 Cantherhines macrocerus (whitespotted filefish)

Mugilidae (mullet)

[caption id="attachment_813" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Mugil curvidens (dwarf mullet)-1010157 Mugil curvidens (dwarf mullet)

[caption id="attachment_812" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Mugil curvidens (dwarf mullet)-4999 Mugil curvidens (dwarf mullet)

Mullidae (goatfish)

[caption id="attachment_1007" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Mulloidichthys martinucus (yellow goatfish) Mulloidichthys martinucus (yellow goatfish)

[caption id="attachment_1008" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Mulloidichthys martinucus (yellow goatfish)-1550 Mulloidichthys martinucus (yellow goatfish)

[caption id="attachment_1009" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Mulloidichthys martinucus (yellow goatfish)-2629 Mulloidichthys martinucus (yellow goatfish)

Muraenidae (morays)

Ascension moray gallery here

Ophichthidae (snake eels)

[caption id="attachment_814" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Quassiremus ascensionis (black spotted snake eel)-0920 Quassiremus ascensionis (black spotted snake eel)

Pomacanthidae (angelfish)

[caption id="attachment_850" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Pomacanthus paru (french angelfish)-2392 Pomacanthus paru (french angelfish)

[caption id="attachment_531" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Pomacanthus paru (french angelfish Pomacanthus paru (french angelfish)

Ostraciidae (cowfish)

[caption id="attachment_859" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Acanthostracion notacanthus- (island cowfish)-1630 Acanthostracion notacanthus (island cowfish)

[caption id="attachment_860" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Acanthostracion notacanthus- (island cowfish)-1914 Acanthostracion notacanthus (island cowfish)

Pomacentridae (damselfish)

[caption id="attachment_855" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Abudefduf saxatilis (sergeant major)-1092 Abudefduf saxatilis (sergeant major)

[caption id="attachment_856" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Chromis multilineata (Apollo damselfish)-1816 Chromis multilineata (Apollo damselfish)

[caption id="attachment_857" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Stegastes lubbocki (Lubbocks damselfish)-2073 Stegastes lubbocki (Lubbocks damselfish)

Priacanthidae (bigeyes)

[caption id="attachment_815" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Heteropriacanthus cruentatus (glasseye)-1127 Heteropriacanthus cruentatus (glasseye)

Scorpaenidae (scorpionfish)

[caption id="attachment_818" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Scorpaenodes insularis (red scorpionfish)-1666 Scorpaenodes insularis (red scorpionfish)

[caption id="attachment_817" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Scorpaena plumieri (spotted scorpionfish)-9556 Scorpaena plumieri (spotted scorpionfish)

[caption id="attachment_816" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Scorpaena plumieri (spotted scorpionfish)-2637 Scorpaena plumieri (spotted scorpionfish)

Serranidae (groupers)

[caption id="attachment_825" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Rypticus saponaceus (greater soapfish)-8594 Rypticus saponaceus (greater soapfish) - Image: Peter Wirtz

[caption id="attachment_824" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Rypticus saponaceus (greater soapfish)-2236 Rypticus saponaceus (greater soapfish)

[caption id="attachment_823" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Paranthias furcifer (creolefish)-9147 Paranthias furcifer (creolefish) - Image: Peter Wirtz

[caption id="attachment_822" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Paranthias furcifer (creolefish)-2646 Paranthias furcifer (creolefish)

[caption id="attachment_821" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Paranthias furcifer (creolefish)-0172 Paranthias furcifer (creolefish)

[caption id="attachment_820" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Epinephelus adscensionis (rock hind)-1116 Epinephelus adscensionis (rock hind)

[caption id="attachment_819" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Epinephelus adscensionis (rock hind)-1004 Epinephelus adscensionis (rock hind) - juvenile

Synodontidae (lizardfish)

[caption id="attachment_827" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Synodus synodus (diamond lizardfish)-2588 Synodus synodus (diamond lizardfish)

[caption id="attachment_826" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Synodus synodus (diamond lizardfish)-0877 Synodus synodus (diamond lizardfish)

Tetraodontidae (pufferfish)

[caption id="attachment_862" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Canthigaster sanctaehelenae (St Helena pufferfish)-0816 Canthigaster sanctaehelenae (St Helena pufferfish)

To be added:

Carangidae (jacks)

Lutjanidae (snappers)

Tripterygiidae (triple fin blennies)

Blenniidae (blennies)

Callionymidae (dragonet)

Sphyraenidae (barracuda)

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