Normally there are 13 crew members on-board the Ranger, which means that each one of us will write four diary entries during the two-month Malta expedition. That is enough to be able to tell you things about the expedition from many different perspectives. In my last diary entry, I gave you a summary on how things had been going. I’m not going to talk about the miles we’ve traveled but rather the dives we’ve carried out and how productive the campaign is turning out to be.
It's been a choppy day today. We saw the bad weather coming in but we still took the risk of going out ten nautical miles early on this morning, at 6am, to fully make the most of the few hours available before the forecasted winds arrived. After an hour of transect along the bed with the robot, we were forced to bring it on board and find shelter, mid-morning, with the whole day ahead of us.
The first ROV immersions of this 2016 campaign have been carried out in a fossil reef with stone sponges.
This reef, discovered last year, promises to be a great deal bigger than what we have previously seen. It's a habitat replete with nooks and crannies, where dozens of species of crustaceans, molluscs, coral, fish and numerous other sea inhabitants shelter and feed, and it’s also one of the biggest natural assets discovered in Maltese waters, as well as being one of a kind in the Mediterranean.
Well, now we can tell. Last Saturday (June 20th), we had a special visit. Some might have already seen it in the media outlets and most of you reading know what I mean. June 20 diary facts are true, but it is not the whole truth of what happened that day in the Ranger. First we had to officially release the news since we could not tell a word before the release. Taking advantage of the fact that today the waves are too high to sail, I hereby certify for the record that Elsa Pataky and Chris Hemsworth were onboard the Ranger.
The Mediterranean was finally calm enough to let us rummage through its depths. Two immersions looking for reefs were our treat for the day. Gozo´s surface is rather pretty, but there´s still way too much to find out on its bottoms. On the first immersion we found detritic muds on the bottom and many interesting species. The second one was more exciting, with new habitats we hadn´t documented before that are perfect candidates to be protected as a ‘Reef Habitat’ within the Red Natura 2000 network. We also collected some samples of sponges and gorgonians using the ROV.
We are almost at the limit of the wind speed we can work with. We tried to work in a sheltered area, next to a cape at the south of Gozo. We could feel the wind speed as it was moving the boat at about 0.7 knots, which was not ideal. When using the ROV to carry out the transects to document the bottom, and to stop at the most interesting areas, the wind speed is ideally lower than 0.3 or 0.4 knots. We spent an hour with the ROV in this coastal area and found some rocks and sandy bottoms at about 100m deep.
We saw it coming, and eventually it happened. Today we were about to lose the ROV; it was a rather nail-biting situation, the umbilical cable and the ballast were hooked on everywhere. The ROV itself was trapped with little mobility under a rocky ledge of the walls of the bottoms we are investigating. But we managed to get everything back onboard, so we can say we´ve been lucky. I just don´t think the ROV, that ended up with a broken arm because of the efforts to free itself, feels the same way though.
Today we did (in my opinion) what one must do while in Gozo: enjoy the sea and the landscape. The wind was blowing too hard to go out sailing, so, after so many days of non-stop hard work, the moment for a windy day off in Gozo finally came. As a respectable bunch of tourists, we rented a 4x4 convertible and set off to the famous Blue Hole. It was simply astonishing, and the water temperature was just perfect to cope with the Mediterranean hot temperature in the island.
The Habitats Directive lists a number of marine habitats present in European waters, identified as being of “Community interest”. These are: shallow sand banks, seagrass meadows, reefs, underwater caves and several formations originated by gas emissions. Member States are required by this Directive to determine the presence of these habitats in their waters and protect them. In Malta, under the LIFE + BAHAR for N2K project, we will work on three of them: reefs, sandbanks and caves.