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Deep-Sea Lebanon 2016

This October 2016 Oceana embarked on a 1-month at-sea expedition in the Mediterranean Sea to document and explore submarine canyons and deep-sea areas in Lebanese waters.

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The campaign is drawing to a close and we must decide which shall be the final samples of the campaign, a dredge in the canyon of Saint George and a sampling with CTD, and two further CTD to complete the information on the canyon of Jounieh. The CTD enables us to obtain salinity data, pH, temperature and other physical parameters about the column of water at several depths... interesting information.  In total we have conducted 13 CTD dives, 52 dives filming the depths with the ROV and 12 dredges. 

My name is Ghazi Bitar, I am an oceanographics professor in the Lebanese University. I represent the RAC/SPA, which depends on the UNEP, on board the Sea Patron ship within the framework of the "Deep Sea Lebanon" project. On 26 October 2016, just one day before said mission ends, it was my turn to give my opinion and express my impressions about the way the day has gone.

We are now in the last week of work and you can start to feel the returning home syndrome for those who have spent longer away from home.

The campaign continues well. We have been encountering extremely rare species, the names of which I do not recall, and other more common ones, such as shrimps. It is interesting to see them living and in their habitat instead of on a plate. The move around in groups and sometimes we see them in procession from one place to the next, grouped around a rock or a tyre, as if it were their temple.

Today, Monday, I am writing you from the port, instead of doing so from the sea as planned. A problem with the probe of the boat, an essential tool for us to be able to work, meant that we had to return to land before scheduled and moor for a couple of hours - hopefully not too long - before returning to sea.

Working days are numbered now, the end of the campaign draws near, despite the fact that my colleague Marta and I have just joined this expedition to carry out the final week of research on board.

Today, the day began with a major aim: investigate the depths of the Saint George canyon for the first time, never before sampled not even during this campaign. When we began the first dive, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was coralligenous. In the first sighting of the sea floor it was strange to view that so familiar pink colour, traversed by a large group of squirrelfish... an invader species in the Mediterranean originating from the Red Sea, very close to these waters. I found this first clash very interesting...

RINGGG... 7am, breakfast in the mess room, two cups of coffee (sacred), a slice of tomato, a slice of cheese, three slices of cucumber, two slices of toast, a boiled egg and a slice of melon.  Some political talk, some bet for the day and everyone under cover.

Engines, generator and auxiliary engine, two on top, three below and sound of a cock crowing in the background. It was tough but in the end, I gained his trust, after trying to catch it to put it in the container... in the end it walked towards me.

To give you an idea about our work on board, I will briefly share with you what a typical day is like. The alarm clock rings at 6.45 am, the first rays of sun have already appeared. By 7.30 am both the members of Oceana and the kind and varied crew finish our breakfast. It is then time to get down to our well-defined task. In my case, I divide my time, trying to capture good shots using the photographic and video cameras.

…1030, 1040….and a record!! 1050 metres depth, maximum immersion with ROV in Oceana, just before returning and enjoying the city of Beirut... we will be back on Thursday! 

We will forget a bit about work and think about resting and relaxing for a short period. But today is also a day of change, since we are saying goodbye to two campaign colleagues, thank you! And really looking forward to welcoming new colleagues, new people who will arrive with enthusiasm, excitement and energy to spend these last wonderful days.


To the Oceana team,

Participating on board the Sea Patron with the OCEANA team for the biodiversity study of the seabed of the Lebanon is a pleasant and exceptional opportunity. As Lebanese PhD student co-managed between the National Centre for Marine Research (Batroun, Lebanon) and the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis (France) on the topic of "Coastal ecosystems of the Lebanese coast: evolution, ecology and conservation", this mission has enable me to meet expert researchers in my field and explore this amazing universe: the universe of the marine seabed of the LEBANON.

We’re in Lebanon, just in front of Beirut. We’re working everyday with some excellent views of this lovely city, built on mountains next to the sea. It’s like seeing the hillsides on a big city that never end.

Our fascinating work takes us to depths of 1,000 metres. We’re finding very unique underwater life, which is often the case on Oceana’s expeditions and at these depths. The sad part of that, even at such deep depths, rubbish deposited by humans. Our lovely Mediterranean Sea is suffering because of us and it is so sad to see.

Participating on board Seapatron with the OCEANA team to study the biodiversity in the seabed of Lebanon is an enjoyable and exceptional experience. As a Lebanese PhD student co-managed by the National Centre for Marine Research (Batroun, Lebanon) and the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis (France) on the topic: "Coastal ecosystems on the Lebanese coast: Evolution, Ecology and Conservation"; this mission enabled me to meet expert researchers in my field and explore this incredible universe: the universe of the marine bed of LEBANON.

My name is Ghazi BITAR, oceanographic studies professor at the Lebanese University. I represent RAC/SPA of the UNEP on board the "Sea Patron" vessel as part of the "Deep Sea Lebanon" project. The main objective of that project is first to study biodiversity and to map deep habitats in particular the canyons on the Lebanese side and second to help Lebanon to implement its national Protected Marine Areas strategy. This project supported by the RAC/SPA and the IUCN is implemented by OCEANA, the International Organisation for Conservation of the Marine Environment.

Today we’re dedicating the whole day to exploring the Beirut Canyon and we’re starting early. We’ve planned a dive in the deepest area (between 500-600 metres) and another one in a more shallow area (60-120 metres) at the top of the Canyon. But we also want to find what they call here the “shark trench” where they say there is a bull shark. As we set off for our destination with the port behind us, a spectacular sunrise over the skyline in Beirut which could easily be the Manhattan of the Mediterranean.

Today was a kind of strange day. For those who have been on-board since the start it’s a day off and, for those like me and Javier Camarena who are new to the expedition, it’s a day spent doing paperwork in the port.

Jorge passed the torch to me so I could continue to help Riki and now I know how I have to collect the samples, where all the liquids are kept to be conserved, how to label them, and how the CDT and Olex work – everything a campaigner on-board ought to know. But, he did forget to give me the instructions on how to work the washing machine!

Today we reach the halfway point of the campaign and with a little analysis of what we have been documenting on a daily basis it is easy to see that from a depth of 200 metres the seabeds are mainly composed of mud.

Dozens of submarine canyons descend in parallel to the 225 km of the Lebanese coastline.

 Few benthic creatures adapt to living on these muddy slopes, with gradients that may even exceed 45 degrees.

We have just reached the end of the first week of the expedition and, watching the weekly video from our on-board artist Kike Talledo, it’s time to pause for a moment and take stock of the week. Of the nearly 200 hours we’ve spent plying the Lebanese Mediterranean, more than 24 have involved underwater recording in 18 dives by the ROV. We have managed to collect more than 40 samples in 5 dredges. We have ascertained the physical-chemical characteristics of the water in different places thanks to 8 CTD launches ...

Following the mishap with the Sea Patron’s engine, we decided to leave the port in search of things that we need this week’s work on the Lebanese coast. On the wish list from staff are: cables, batteries, medicine, gloves, keys, and herbal teas to help us to digest the food onboard. It turned out to be a dash against the clock through the crowded and frenetic streets of Beirut, which actually in a crazy way, relaxes me. Here paperwork is slow and the cars go fast. Getting back to list, I’ve asked for a set of green eyes. In my opinion, this country has many treasures to its name.

Second day of “rest and relaxation” in Beirut. During campaigns in which we barely return to port, you appreciate these days, either more or less complicated, with more or fewer pending tasks, because what is clear is that they are different kinds of days.

... And so we arrived back in port! After the first 6 days of work we returned to Beirut having successfully carried out our tasks. Great!

Once in Beirut, with our minds on the idea that we can now leave the boat and relax, we started with our work of checking and improving all the equipment, stowing the A-frame, gathering up the ropes, checking the winch etc. Basically, tidying up and putting away the equipment used during these first few days of the campaign.

The day began hot and noisy. The maze which is the steampunk, the boat that has been my home during this last month, greeted me with blasts of hot air and a hellish roar coming from the engine room.

In the work area the atmosphere was cooler and summery, and the Mediterranean was as flat as a plate glass window. The Lebanese coast was beautiful and Tripoli rose majestically in the east. We launched the ROV.

Third day of the expedition over these virtually unexplored Lebanese Mediterranean seabeds. That’s precisely why we’re here. Oceana wants to study one of the most unknown parts of the Mare Nostrum. During the month of the expedition, Sea Patron and its crew aim to document an area of more than 750 km2 and investigate 5 immense canyon systems.

Hello everyone.

New campaign with Oceana. New waters too, in this case Lebanese, and their seabeds – which is what we have come to study.

And a new boat. Which is what I’m going to talk about. We are in a tug of 42 metres in length, 11.4 metres wide and 622 GT, and not exactly new.

On this occasion I’m not going to be the skipper, but I have had the opportunity to steer it. And if I’m honest I have to say that when I came on board I had doubts about the suitability of the boat for what we are going to ask of it.

It’s always good to celebrate a birthday in a special and different way, and even better if it’s for a good reason. And that’s how it’s been, embarked on DEEP-SEA LEBANON Expedition and documenting life on board. Today we are a few miles from the battered cities of Tripoli and Beirut, just a few hundred kilometres from a cruel and senseless war.

We left port about 10 and sailed to the Jounieh canyon to test the equipment. We were checking and solving the typical problems we encounter on the first few days with the CTD, ROV, winch, etc. So we have nothing particularly interesting to report.

While we were preparing the equipment, a group of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) came close to the boat. They had a baby dolphin with them.

Then we tried out the ROV over a muddy seabed at the head of the canyon, at a depth of about 260 metres.

Today we met with everyone involved in the expedition: the Lebanese government, the Navy Hydrographic Service, the CNRS, the IUCN and the RAC/SPA.

We are agreeing the programme, protocols and other relevant arrangements before beginning the expedition. Meanwhile, our ship’s agent is handling the paperwork so we can start to operate at sea as soon as possible.

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