After a few dry days, today was the last dive of the expedition and Scotland has left its mark.
It is the kingdom of the crustaceans: velvet crabs, brown crabs, lobsters...we find a pair of claws guarding the entrance to almost every crack, every hole.
The interesting thing we came across was a velvet crab in the middle of molting. The way crustaceans grow is fascinating: they shed their shell (exoskeleton) as if it were a glove. Little by little its new shell absorbs water and hardens, growing to almost twice its size.
If I was forced to choose one of the dives that we have had the pleasure of enjoying up until today, I’d pick the Farne Islands, a National Nature Reserve on the border between English and Scottish water. The region teams with lobsters, brown crabs, lion's mane jellyfish, black wrasse, and opulent shoals of pollack, which, together to an immeasurable stretch of red dead man's fingers on the seabed, are guarded by the fascinating presence of the gray seal, the undisputed king of its coasts.
Another time zone, another UTM zone, and the circle closes. Numerous X mark the zones already conquered. The last stronghold is Newcastle: the siege begins.
The multi-beam gives us intel about the terrain. A flat zone, muddy, no rocks or slopes that would indicate something of interest. The scientists confirm the substrate and the type of local life with a few forays with the grab.
The weather makes it prudent to postpone the main observation attack with the ROV. Today it stays on deck, patiently waiting its turn.
Today we set out from IJmunden in the Netherlands heading out for British waters and the last leg of the expedition. The forecast predicts a hard crossing and indeed the waves are hitting the ship hard coming sideways from the south. We are passing the time reviewing the details for the last part of the expedition and gazing at the horizon to avoid sea sickness. As a Dane sailing to England in hard weather I cannot help but feel a little akin to the Vikings of old and their voyages across the very same sea that we are now traversing.
Some of our expedition members are leaving today, so we help them unload and say our goodbyes, wishing them good luck, as it is customary to do on the sea.
We took advantage of the delivery of supplies in the afternoon to visit Amsterdam, just a few kilometers away.
What can I say about this beautiful city? Simply that we had a wonderful afternoon and enjoyed its streets, canals and people and left wanting to explore the city more, but we have to get back to the boat since we’re leaving for the UK in a few hours.
We were on our way back to port this afternoon after a regular day of dredging/ROV/CTD/dredging/ROV/dredging when we spotted the enormous corpse of a whale (or most likely Balaenoptera spp.) floating on the surface. It’s ironic that we haven’t seen even one of the giants in the almost 50 days of the expedition and now we see one that’s died. A pity.
Can you imagine opening a window to the sea and being able to watch the seabed of the North Sea for two months?
Our observation methods, beyond our own sight, are multiple camera systems, sensors, underwater robots, dredgers and other sophisticated devices. In terms of documenting things in shallow waters, the dive team has enjoyed the bird colonies on the Scottish coast as well as extensive underwater kelp forests.
Acoustic mapping work is one of the few things that can be done at night during this cruise. Tonight is a travel night to a new research site north of the Bruine Bank. This mean that, due to my nocturnal sleeping cycle and the fact that we are not collecting new data tonight, it will be a night of organizing the data acquired in the past week. A rapid processing is performed to determine its quality as well as taking notes that will make finding specific files faster in the coming months.
Today was a day filled with underwater photo and videos. We started with the SPI (Sediment Profile Image) a device that penetrates the sea bottom and makes a picture of the cross-section. This way, you get an idea about the layering structure of the seabed. Two locations were visited in an area near the Doggerbank. The rest of the day was reserved for ROV. The first dive was at the same area as the SPI. Here we saw sand, shell fragments and many flatfish. The next ROV-location was quite different: a shipwreck!
I must say that I'm thoroughly enjoying our adventure on board the Neptune - it is a pleasure working with such a wonderful crew! As a researcher from the Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) I am interested in learning more about the distribution, structure and functioning of marine macrofauna within the Dutch sector of the North Sea. Together with the Oceana crew my collaborators Leo, Karin and I are combining acoustic, visual and seabed sampling techniques in order to improve our understanding of benthic habitats and communities existing in this sector of the North Sea.