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Blog Posts by: Helena Álvarez

The end of the expedition is now nearing and, even though we have been able to advance a lot over the weekend, the weather does not give us any respite. Today the forecast indicated good conditions, but as we came out of the port we saw how the waves started to climb, so we have to work against the clock.

Today was my first day on the Sound Expedition and apparently was also the first sunny day in Sweden for a long time! The crew were enthusiastic about being able to finally go back to sea instead of being stuck in the hotel due to bad weather conditions. Although there were some ROV problems and strong currents on the sea bottom (almost 2 knots), we managed to carry out 5 dives in an area that was heavily dredged a short time ago.

At only two days away from the end of this year´s campaign we´ve decided to take advantage of the short time left. The area 4 is very large and there is plenty to survey so we perform seven ROV dives. The temperatures peak and the fans spin at full speed. After 26 ROV dives in the area, the result shows the wide biodiversity that exists in the circalittoral strip of Eastern Malta, where maërl habitats alternate with mud, gravel and rubble. We´ve also documented areas with emerging boulderswith a variety of species.

Today Ursula and Dominique Eichenberger from Drittes Foundation paid us the most pleasant visit, which came along with two interesting dives. The first survey was carried out in a not very deep area where we had previously found rhodoliths, but this time what we found was mud withemerging rocks. We could also see crinoid aggregations, sea pens and corals such as Dendrophyllia ramea, scorpionfish, lobsters and even a small-spotted catshark (Scyliorhinus canicula).

Jesus gets up really early to go running before we all start working at 7:30. Cris sometimes has a swim in the morning in a small cove nearby. Pisha drinks a cup of coffee for breakfast (with plenty of condensed milk). Kike hates onions. Tomas is a vegetarian. Yaiza just returned from the Caribbean and knows how to make macramé. Ramón studies English in his leisure time. Carlos hates jelly. When James was 28, he created a gold mining company in Africa, where he lived for 10 years. Albert is always hungry.  The captain´s mother is Italian. Riki makes a superb impression of Donald Duck.

It all starts here. The discovery of new species or not described to a certain area or depth range, the documentation of threats to marine life, or the seed for a new Marine Protected Area. It all starts by knowing what lies there, where it is and its conservation status. Today I joined Malta´s campaign to work documenting these bottoms, most of them unexplored until today. The lack of information often represents a problem when trying to apply the necessary protective measures and, therefore, this is the first and indispensable step to achieve significant goals.

We cannot believe today is the last day of sampling during this campaign that has been so intense and enriching. To top the day off, we decided to return to Punta del Cascajo, an area we had previously sampled but that could not be “squeezed” as we would have liked to due to weather conditions. As expected, it did not disappoint us, we found large deep coral reefs (Lophelia pertusa, Madrepora oculata), large aggregations of glass sponges, carnivorous sponges, black corals and once again, sharks.

Today we had two productive dives at 800-1000m deep at El Llanito and Punta Tejeda. Large aggregations of deep-sea corals (Madrepora oculata, Lophelia pertusa, Acanella fasciata, Desmophyllum sp., Corallium Niobe, etc.) have been filmed over rocks and vertical walls. Remote giant foraminifera, sea urchins, large anemones and fish as peculiar and interesting as the spiderfish (Bathypterois dubius) or snipe eels (Nemichthys sp.) occur at these depths.

We could finally see a thresher shark deep in detail. Maybe it's the same shark we missed a few days ago in a nearby area (Punta Miradero). We could clearly appreciate its particular physiognomy, standing out its tail, which is about half of its total size. We also saw another sixgill shark, much more elusive and hard to see though.

Although at first it was not part of our plans, after detecting some anomalies in the bottom of Mar de las Calmas (areas with dead black corals (Antipathella wollastonii ) for no apparent reason), we decided to pay a visit to the famous underwater volcano. This is a very special spot, since the volcano erupted back in 2011 and we were all very curious to see how it had evolved. Although the summit is at only 80 meters deep, the currents prevented us to have it easy.

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