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.
...Who would have thought: it’s my turn again to write the daily journal, which means that it’s been a long time since the last time and that only means one thing: this fantastic adventure in the North Sea, full of good times, great experiences and so many miles travelled, is coming to an end. In short, it’s been great. A bit sad now but excited at the same to time to go home to those we left behind and explain how lucky we were to have lived aboard the “Neptune” these past two months.
I'll say goodbye to you now and see you next time. Thank you, Oceana.
Today has been great day’s work, one of those days that makes putting together a campaign like this worthwhile. We discovered a reef of polychaete worms of the Sabellaria cf. spinulosa species at Brown Bank, in the westernmost part of the Dutch waters. We conducted an 80-minute ROV on the seabed to film the reefs that these little builders have made by cementing tubes together to create reefs up to 30 centimeters tall that cover several square meters.
The human factor is undoubtedly the most important thing on any campaign. You can have campaigns without ROV, without dredges and without CTD, but you can’t have a campaign without a crew. The Oceana crew for this campaign has stayed steady at around 18 - 20 people. In theory, it should be hard to all live together on a 50-meter boat for two long months of hard work. In theory…
Life aboard a ship is a strange thing: all the crew members, each with their daily chores, packed together in a limited space and surrounded by the sea.
The boat becomes an ecosystem where each crew member seeks their space. It takes time to adapt to the boat, the rest of the crew, the hours on and off…and once you do, you realize that every day is the same, like a time loop, over and over again like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day”.
It’s been over 40 days since the expedition began. Today, a few of us met at our “movie theater” after the day’s work and we talked about how it felt like we had been here forever. It's as if we’ve always known each other and there’s no world beyond the Neptune and its horizon. But at the same time, we realized that time has flown by and that what seemed so long away at first has started to barrel towards us like a runaway train: the end of the campaign. I think this is a clear reflection of what life is like at sea, intense but rewarding every day.
It’s gratifying to be back at sea again after a few days in port. It was a shame to have to limit the dives with our Dutch colleagues Ben, Harold, Peter, Flor and Udo because of the crane and bad weather, although we did have the opportunity to return to Groningen and have a great time instead.