Expedition blogs and news from the Shallow Marine Surveys Group

Creatures big and small

Most of the group has now left southward, returning to the Falkland Islands. The remainder will leave tonight northward, to Great Britain - except for our two intrepid plant specialists, who will stay another 7 days.

During the expedition, we have recorded literally hundreds of marine species and taken more than 8000 photographs.

The largest species encountered and photographed was probably a group of bottlenose dolphins that accompanied the boat on the way to Boatswain Bird Island. But it is likely that the fin spotted near Boatswain Bird Island belonged to a much larger animal, a whale shark. Unfortunately, by the time we put on masks and fins it had already disappeared. A mention may also be made of the passing humpback whale several members reported seeing from the shore while filling tanks. The largest creature actually captured was certainly the hawksbill turtle which was tagged, measured and released from Georgetown pierhead.

[caption id="attachment_638" align="aligncenter" width="584"] A pod of bottlenose dolphins escorted the team to their dive site near Boatswain Bird Island.

At the other end of the scale, one of the smallest creatures recorded (and captured) must have been a tiny sea slug, belonging to a group called Sacoglossa. It lives on the green alga Bryopsis,where it is perfectly camouflaged. It was first spotted well after a dive while Kostas Tsiamis was examining a sample of Bryopsis under a microscope. Peter Wirtz then managed to find further specimens during subsequent dives.

[caption id="attachment_639" align="aligncenter" width="584"] This tiny sea slug is photographed crawling on the fingertip of Peter Wirtz. As illustrated by this image, it's very difficult to tell apart from the algae on which it lives.

- Article by Peter Wirtz

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Diving Boatswain Bird Island!

With our appetites for the legendary Boatswain Bird Island whetted by the hike to see it, we had to wait some time before weather, the swell and an available vessel came together to allow us to return.

Over two days last week, the entire team made the voyage around Ascension Island to survey this amazing location, diving clear waters in the shadow of the looming rock which is home to thousands of nesting seabirds.

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These photos are just a few of the hundreds recorded by the team. Over the following days we'll be sorting and cataloguing the rest, and we'll be uploading galleries for all the species we've recorded during the surveys.

Hopefully we'll be able to return to Boatswain Bird Island before the expedition is over but that depends heavily on the sea state, with that side of Ascension Island usually exposed to the full Atlantic swell. Even if we can't make it back, there is still plenty of work to be done along the more accessible coasts!

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Boatswain Bird Island

On Sunday 26th August, most of the team had a break from the intensive diving of the first week on the island. Team members dispersed to all corners of Ascension but Dr's Pieter van West, Vladimir Laptikhovsky and Wetjens Dimmlich elected to take the 4 hr round trip hike to Letterbox, a vantage point at the eastern-most point of Ascension Island. This location offers magnificent views along the coast and over Boatswain Bird Island, an inaccessible rock about 300m from Ascension.

The hikers were met at the start of the walk by low clouds and strong winds driving rain over the mountain and had to make the decision whether to attempt the long walk across the inhospitable lava fields. However, the indomitable Vlad Laptikhovsky, echoing the words of another famous Russian pioneer, Yuri Gagarin, "Let's go!" encouraged the rest of the small group to grit their teeth and set forth into the white-out conditions.

(It may also be that the same words were used by Captain Scott in the Antarctic).

Along the way the group were alternately hot, cold, wet and dry but the effort was rewarded by stunning views of Boatswain Bird Island before the weather closed in yet again.

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