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Blog Posts by: Helena Álvarez

The days pass by and we’re almost at the middle of our campaign. For the moment, we haven’t any complaints on how the wind, sea nor islands have treated us.

These are perfect conditions to survey the depths of the Aeolians, which surprise us daily with new species and habitats that deserve to be protected. One of the things that caught our attention is the confirmation, once again, on how structural organisms, specifically corals, grow in relation to other surrounding species.

Finally, after checking the weather again and again, it seemed that there was a little window of opportunity to make our passage from Norway to Denmark (around 100 nm). That was our best chance, since, according to the forecast, Friday afternoon will get worse again. So yesterday night we secured everything as best as we could, just in case we still have the wind and waves hammering against the boat. So, this morning, at 6:00 a.m., the engines of our floating home got to work and we finally left rainy (but beautiful) Norway behind.

Today, like yesterday, the weather has not been on our side; the waves are big. Fortunately, the Norwegian coast has a multitude of islets and rocks where we can shelter to go diving. On both days we were able to record vast forests of kelp (Laminaria saccorhiza), accompanied with the usual inhabitants found there such as echinoderms, nudibranchs, lots of epiphyte plants living on the leaves of bigger plants.

Now the first two expedition weeks have passed, I’d like to give a summary of how productive this North Sea campaign has been so far. We have now visited 2 out of 4 countries and documented 5 of our selected areas. In those areas, we have performed 22 ROV dives, 6 Scuba dives, 18 CDTs and 55 Van Veen grabs, processing a total of 165 specimen samples (some released, some fixed and kept) with both the grabs and the ROV’s arm, plus 55 (one per grab) sediment samples of 3 different granulometries.

It’s always exciting to start a new expedition. There are a large number of things that have to work perfectly, which requires many months of preparation and, above all, a great team of people. This time, we are leaving behind the old familiar seas (the Mediterranean and the Baltic, the Iberian and Macaronesian Atlantic) to discover what lurks beneath the surface of the North Sea. This sea, surrounded by the countries of northern Europe, has suffered a long list of impacts over countless years, which have been closely related to the development of these bordering countries.

Today, we continued to sample an anchoring spot, to the east of Malta, an area common with big vessels. Despite the big impacts the area suffers from such vessels, the marine environment is sneaking through bringing with it beautiful bundles of calcareous algae, green algae, and occasionally, structured mud with a high presence of some protected species. Nevertheles, you can see the impact that anchors of cargo ships, gas carriers, and tug boats have had on the area, which have destroyed these fragile habitats. We must film this in order to find a solution.

All research methods involve some degree of impact on the environment and all researchers are aware of that. Although it is practically impossible to cause no harm at all, for example, when lifting sediments, the sampling we do with the ROV is the least intrusive method there is to study the deep sea. Even so, an image is sometimes not enough to distinguish one species from another as some vary ever so slightly, like for example, in details of structure or polyps. In such cases, taking a specimen sample to study later on in more detail either on-board or in a lab is therefore necessary.

I’ve just recently joined the expedition in Malta and today we’ve set sail towards one of the furthest research areas we’ll be going to, where we’ll be for the next three days.

The weather, together with good sea conditions means it’s a perfect day to be sailing for 4 hours to reach our first sampling area.

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