Today’s diary comes to you from a guest on board the Neptune, from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) – an organisation which advises the UK government on conservation matters. Oceana are hosting two members of staff from JNCC on the first leg of the North Sea survey and hopefully the information collected in the waters off Scotland will help ourselves, Scottish Natural Heritage and Marine Scotland add to the picture of what the seabed habitat looks like in these areas. In return, we are getting stuck in to lend a hand with grab sampling and assisting wherever we can.
We started the day sat a stone’s throw off the Aberdeenshire coast, with blue skies and calm seas. As the divers headed out towards the coast, we kept busy using the Van Veen grab to sample areas of the seabed. The first grab brought up some small cobbles covered in a thin crust of Sabellaria spinulosa, a tube building worm. While Sabellaria itself is common in the North Sea, in some areas it can also form living reefs which rise above the seabed and provide an important habitat for other species. These reef structures may remain in place for some time, but can also break down and vanish or rebuild somewhere entirely different – this can make mapping their presence over time quite challenging! Other beasties included common starfish and brittle stars with their delicate arms, a tiny but energetic squat lobster, and some equally tiny anemones clamped on to small pebbles.
Conditions became windier as the day wore on so an ROV dive was carried out fairly close to shore, at around 45m depth. The video feed showed a mix of small and larger rocks covering the seabed, with tank-like edible crabs hiding in the crevices and scatterings of starfish and urchins. Flatfish were also present in very high numbers, flitting out of the way of the ROV as it approached.
In between sampling we kept the stocks of cake at bay and tested the crew’s patience as they tried to teach us some basic Russian. So with that, proshchay!