Expedition blogs and news from the Shallow Marine Surveys Group

Evening in the Saint's Club

Last night the Ascension Island community were invited to a presentation by the team about their previous work in Falklands and South Georgia, as well as talks about the current expedition.

The talk was held in the Saint's Club, here in Georgetown, which is one of the centres of night-life in this small town. It's a great place to unwind at the bar, have lunch or watch a game of skittles!

Everyone enjoyed the images of undersea life, some of which have already been loaded to this blog as well as some detailed information about some of the methods we are using to capture some animals for further study.

Throughout our stay in Ascension the group has very much appreciated the great interest in the expedition by island residents. As we reluctantly prepare to leave soon, we remind all that anyone who would like to chat about the project will be most welcome to corner any member of the team while we're still here!

[caption id="attachment_559" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Paul Brickle introduces the talk with some information about the work of the Shallow Marine Surveys Group.

[caption id="attachment_562" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Peter Wirtz entertaining the audience with an impromptu talk about the various animals found in Ascension waters.

[caption id="attachment_561" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Simon Morley provides details about his settlement plate experiments.

[caption id="attachment_560" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Jude Brown explains the survey methods used by the team to count sealife underwater.


[caption id="attachment_563" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Frithjof Kuepper wraps up the presentation with some information about the search for new algal species.

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Settlement panels deployed

Those of you who follow this blog may have read about the settlement panels; squares of plastic that are placed underwater and which allow us to follow how animals settle and grow on the rocks. There are two problems that have to be overcome when deploying anything in the seas around Ascension Island.

Firstly, the panels need to be secured against the affects of the famous Ascension rollers. We came up with several ideas but in the end we decided that no amount of ballast was going to secure the plates against the swell. A colleague of mine at the British Antarctic Survey has tried to use similar panels, held down by ballast, but he lost the lot. We therefore decided that we would strap the plates to objects that had been there for a long, long time.

[caption id="attachment_539" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Stevie Cartwright attaching plates to an old undersea cable.

Secondly, very little grows on the surface of rocks at Ascension as the black trigger fish will eat almost anything that is exposed. The panels, therefore, need to be fixed to a solid surface that would stop trigger fish getting access to the underside of the plates.

[caption id="attachment_541" align="aligncenter" width="584"] These plates are attached to the wreck of the Derby, which sank in 1929, and hopefully will stay in place for at least another year!

We chose to position the first of the three plates on one of the cables in Mitchell’s Bay, the second on the wreck of the Derby and the final plates just off Wigan pier. Stevie Cartwright was in charge of fixing the plates using a selection of cable ties and straps. He also cable tied one temperature logger to each of the plates and a tag that lets anyone who finds them know that these are scientific experiments and should not be disturbed.

[caption id="attachment_536" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Panel in place and waiting for a new community of sealife to move in.

The key to the success of this project is the willingness of local divers Caz, Sam and Nik to visit the panels every 6-8 weeks and take high resolution images of the developing communities. They will post the pictures back to Dr David Barnes in the UK who will identify each of the animals and follow how the panels are colonised through time. This long term project will help us understand the time of year when animals spawn at Ascension and the data loggers also give us one of the first high resolution records of how shallow water sea temperature varies around the Island. These two vital pieces of information can be compared with other parts of the world and will allow us to better manage the Island's marine biodiversity.

We appreciate any of you Ascension divers and snorkellers letting us know if you see any damage to the plates.

- Submitted by Dr Simon Morley

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New records are pouring in.

With so many divers in the water each day, it is no surprise that new records for Ascension Island are pouring in almost daily.

In 1980, Roger Lubbock compiled a check-list of the fishes of Ascension Island. Since then, quite a few new fish records have been accumulated, in particular by island residents and visitors Jimmy Young and John & Jane Bingeman. We are planning to update the fish list and additionally produce a number of publications on the invertebrates discovered during the expedition.

[caption id="attachment_472" align="aligncenter" width="584"] A beautiful brown nudibranch, extracted from the maerl pile accumulated by a tilefish, will have to be sent to an expert for identification.
Image: S Morley

[caption id="attachment_473" align="aligncenter" width="584"] The little sea hare, Dolabrifera dolabrifera, is also new for Ascension Island.
Image: S Morley

[caption id="attachment_469" align="aligncenter" width="584"] At night, the tube anemone, Isarachnanthus maderensis, can be seen in great numbers but it, too, has never been recorded from here.

The sea anemone, Telmatactis cricoides, was known from St Helena island but not yet from Ascension.

[caption id="attachment_466" align="alignnone" width="584"] A little fish (centre of image), the dragonet Callionymus bairdi, which lives on gravel and rather looks like a piece of gravel, is also a new record for Ascension Island.
Image: P Wirtz

- Contributed by Peter Wirtz.

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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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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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Ascension 25/08/12

Simon Morley joins the team as a scientific diver but is also running two projects that will add to research being conducted across the globe. Over the last 10 years the team at the British Antarctic Survey have measured the temperature limits of animals from Arctic, temperate, tropical and Antarctic shallow seas. By measuring how the temperature limits of marine animals change when temperature is raised at different rates they aim to predict how vulnerable these animals will be to climate change in different locations. Ascension Island provides an ideal comparison with tropical Singapore as it compares an isolated tropical Island (Ascension) with one that is almost continuous with other land masses and is exposed to much higher levels of human influence.

[caption id="attachment_331" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Dr Morley tending to his aquaria which have been set up in the Ascension Island Conservation offices.

The second project is to look at the settlement of larvae onto an artificial sea bed that can be turned over and photographed on a regular basis. Whilst the team can deploy the plates during the survey, this project will be continued by local divers who will visit the plates every 6-8 weeks to take more photos as animals settle and start to grow on the plates. We will also attach temperature loggers to the plates so that we can measure changes in temperature throughout the year.

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