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Quark Expedition 2018

Shared by both Finland and Sweden, the Quark is home to a unique mix of marine, brackish, and freshwater species, partly due to remarkable geological processes that continue to shape the area’s landscape and seascape.

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Diaries

Time to summarize and to start thinking about the report we must prepare about all the findings we’ve made during the expedition.

Today, we had an event in Vaasa with journalists, scientists and representatives from governmental agencies and fisher’s associations. It was good to have the chance to exchange information and feelings with people that are also interested about this part of the Baltic Sea.

Now, we start the process of putting all the information we’ve gathered into motion so that we may promote a transboundary marine protected area in this unique ecosystem.

Due to the inclement weather, we’ll have to stay in port for the next few days and today will be our last day at sea.

Luckily, after anchoring overnight, we were able to sail towards our work site for the day and were able to complete a dive, a grab, CTD and use the drop camera.

Afterwards, the whole crew took stock of the equipment and started packing. Tomorrow a truck will pick up everything and take it back to our warehouse in Spain.

6:00 – The raise the anchors while we’re still in bed, with a long trip ahead to our first diving spot, we set-off earlier than usual. 

6:45 – Various alarm clocks ring at the same time, signaling another day of hard work lie ahead.

7:00 – The smell of a freshly-made food reaches its way to our bunks, Cris has our breakfast ready. Carlos, he’s in charge of the toasts.

“Pass me the coffee”.

“Anyone want more toast”?

“What’s in this juice”?

“Cris, is there any yoghurt”?

Being the last diary entry I’ll make on this expedition, I’ll try to tell you, from a personal viewpoint, what I’ve felt throughout these past, intense days.

The scientists on board, led by Ricardo Aguilar, have already classified some 70 species. As you can imagine by now, this is despite the fact that out of dozens of dives, we’re only able to document small variety of invertebrates, fish, plants or algae at a time.

Driven by a weather report of increasing winds, we jumped into the water earlier than usual near the island of Bullergrund, near Vaasa.

The dive was similar to the ones we did yesterday: we dropped down to 8 meters and were unable to position the metallic frame we use for sampling because it kept on sinking into the muddy seafloor. The visibility here is a bit over half a meter and it took us 30 minutes to walk underwater from the from the shore using our compass as the only guide.

I was so happy to manage squeezing-in the opportunity in my schedule to visit our expedition in the Quark. And, equally, I was happy that my visit fit within the expedition's schedule as well. It would have been such a pity to miss this chance while the crew was in Finnish waters.
 

Our workday started today just like it did in my previous diary entry: we were visited by journalists, only this time they were from the Finnish newspaper, Pohjalainen. Later, before heading to our new port of Vaasa, we conducted a dive in the area near Holgrundberget, in rather murky waters at a maximum depth of 3,5 meters.

Today we continued conducting inventories in the beautiful Quark archipelago, unfortunately we couldn’t use the drop-video camera because it rained the whole day.

This doesn’t impact the diving though, so our talented divers carried out two dives as usual. The rest of us got a much-needed opportunity to catch up with some of our other work, such as checking samples and sending e-mails.

In this part of the Baltic, you notice the connection between the land and sea, fresh and salt water, best. A brackish environment, the most common species here are those typically found in lakes and rivers, albeit for a few bivalves, saltwater fish and marine algae.

Foxes and minks lurk about the rocky coast and the plants seem to crawl onto the land. The low horizon makes it difficult to discern where the water ends and land begins or telling apart a lake from the sea.

With Swedish waters behind us, we set-off for the second part of expedition in Finland. Our welcome here couldn’t have been any better: just a few miles after crossing the “border”, we arrived in an Marine Protected Area (MAP) for seals. Anchoring isn’t allowed within a MAP, so we anchored northeast of the zone and, within a few minutes, had our first visit…

At 6 a.m. in the morning, my mobile phone’s rang; we had to make the most out of our time in the Baltic. An hour later, we set out in to a dense forest in search of the one of the most beautiful mammals: the moose. 

But, none of the four of us that went out saw any—one day perhaps…

Later, we conducted our 11th dive in Swedish waters. The salinity here is very low, around 3 parts per thousand.

After an early-morning visit by a team of reporters from TV4 Sweden, we conducted two dives around the island of Holmön. The first dive was rather unexciting: a flat seafloor that stretched almost to the shore and only a few species to document. The second dive, on the other hand, was far different: abundant marine plants—some, up to two meters tall—as well as a number of invertebrates that are often associated to the plants, like snails.

Today, we got to be out and film with the drop-video camera for several hours, since we now have two boats in addition to our floating home and office. The drop-video camera is an inventory tool that is widely used in both Sweden and Finland for marine inventories in the Baltic Sea. It allows you to efficiently cover a large area, although you usually cannot determine all the species you see on the video. It does however give you an idea of the type of substrate and vegetation and conditions that prevail at each filmed point.

Today we stayed at port (Holmsund), on one hand, this was due to bureaucratic problems with the boat and, on the other hand, because we were running out of water. So, we took advantage of the day to fill the tanks, fix several things, stock up on food, etc.

This “resting” time also allowed us to finish identifying the organisms from our samples and photos (more algae, snails, fish, crustaceans, etc.), do some homework and answer e-mails.

During the night and early in the morning, there were clouds of mosquitos, moths, flies, etc. all around us. Iit made me realize how important insects are for ecosystem.

Normally we do not pay much attention to small animals: insects, worms, leeches, amphipods… they are sometimes thousands of these individuals in any small area. Obviously, they are there for a reason. . They are food. They control insect overpopulation and the structure of the sediments, and they also create microhabitats.

This is my third expedition is this peculiar sea. This time around I’m the Logistics Coordinator, which makes it a bit more exciting and interesting to be here once again.

I love the Scandinavian countries;  their landscapes, their quiet streets… and, what a difference in weather from my home in Valencia, Spain. Here, I’m saying goodbye to the summer, or at least the summer as we know it in Southern Europe.

Without a doubt, the Baltic Sea is different.

As an enclosed sea, its salinity is much lower than usual, and this salinity decreases as the latitude increases—which also makes for lower water temperatures when compared to other seas. The sea is also shallow, which tends to make it favorable for sunlight to reach the seafloor.

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