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Oceana Ranger Expedition 2012: Exploring Ocean Depths

The 2012 Ranger expedition will document the deep areas of the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Our underwater robot (ROV) will take video footage and high resolution photographs of the underwater flora, fauna and habitats

Diaries

Life-IndemaresAlthough it was still not looking good based on the waves and currents, we headed out early to work, but this time, we used the Van Veen dredge, not the ROV. Our plan was to use the dredge to collect samples from different points around Seco de los Olivos. We got as far as 14 dredges before it became impossible to continue, so we stopped and returned back to port.

Life-Indemares- for all of us, because although we are supposed to be working in Seco, we are dealing with 5 knot wind. It’s being difficult to document the Chella Bank (Seco de los Olivos) this year, but at least we were able to do 11 ROV immersions in the first few days of the campaign, and we know that they won’t be the last ones. Let’s see what happens tomorrow, since weather forecasts are kind of crazy.

Yesterday we finally had some dolphin sightings in the Gulf of Cadiz, but whales have been harder to spot. We are still trying though, and we spent the day today watching the sea. Despite the fact that the forecast was correct and fog did appear in the early hours of the morning, we managed to see one only one or two hundred yards away of the ship. Later on, in the afternoon, and in Alboran Sea, we saw almost countless striped dolphins eating and jumping out of the water.

At 9:00 pm today we’ll head back to Seco after spending a few good days of work in the Gorringe. It should take about two days of sailing, during which time we expect to see whales, particularly in the Strait and the Alboran Sea, where they are usually easy spot. But for that, we’ll need good weather, and the forecast is saying we’ll have fog the morning we get to the Strait.

This afternoon we arrived in Vilamoura, dropped off the Portuguese scientists and are now preparing to leave tomorrow for the Straits of Gibraltar.

The sea is looking good, so it’s possible we’ll arrive at port ahead of schedule, which would be great as we will have more time to unload, prepare everything for the next few days, and get our feet on solid ground for a bit.

We conducted three ROV dives today. One on the east side about 520 meters deep, one in a small canyon southeast about 380 m deep, and the last on a mound that reached up to 40 meters.

In the first dive, we saw a mainly detrital sea floor and found some interesting things, including monkfish (Lophius budegassa and Chaunax pictus) and an amphora.

In the second, a rocky area with lots of life teeming in small caves and crevices, including roughies, parrot fish, forkbeards ... but we also saw too many fishing lines and entangled ropes and nets.

Last night we made a dive to see if we could spot some deep sea sharks, which at that time are usually rising from deeper areas in search of prey. And just at about 500 meters deep we found a Deania cf. calcea, a small shark with an elongated and flattened nose. We continued to lower the ROV down to -550 m.

Now we’ll be starting some dives into the small canyons south of Ormonde.

We continue to have good weather, but dawn brought a bit more wind. Yesterday there was barely any wind and the sea was as flat as a board.

Today we worked east of the Gettysburg seamount. It is here, in the valley between the two underwater mountains that more interesting species often appear (and where we often see cetaceans). The sea is almost flat.

It’s been a long but full day. We conducted dives on small 100-200 meter elevations found on the eastern slope of Gettysburg. In the first, at about 510 meters deep we found a nest of sponges (Pheronema carpenteri) on a detrital sea bottom and hydrocorals (possibly Stylaster sp.) on rocky bottom.

The first ROV immersio was to a sandy detrital bottom at 500 meters deep. There was little diversity. We found many solitary fan corals (Flabellum Chuni), several types of fish, a stripe, urchins, crinoids and many dead mackerels (Scomber japonicus). It looks like they were discards.

On the surface we found a lot of storm-petrels, almost all were Leach’s storm petrels(Oceanodroma leucorhoa), a Manx shearwater seabird (Puffinus Puffinus), a couple of skuas (Stercorarius skua) and a Sabine's gull (Larus Sabini).

According to the weather, we are going to get a break to work on the Gorringe bank. It may only be 2-3 days, so we have to make the best of it.

Today we are in port (Vilamoura) doing paperwork and waiting for the new Portuguese scientists to come on board. In the morning we’ll depart for the Gettysburg seamount and plan to return on Sunday October 7. Then we head back to the Mediterranean.

These days (September 29 and 30 and October 1st) we have been working in Faro, collaborating in a project about the effects of sea bottom trawling coordinated by the Algarve University. During the three days we have been filming the bottom opposite Faro, we have had two members of the project on board – Paulo Jorge Menano Ribeiro da Fonseca, from the Algarve University, and Rui Pedro Silva Vieira, from Aveiro University.

Everything is set, we are now off to Faro to pick up two researchers from the University of the Algarve, who will join us for two days of work in front of Faro before we leave for the Gorringe bank. We are still depending on the forecast, so maybe we spend one more day here, then leave for the Gorringe and on the way back we finish the work here. Now it is about diving in an area where trawlers don’t work regularly, in order to compare it with the situation of neighbouring, similar areas but heavily trawled.

Life-Indemares

The weather forecast is very changeable. Every time we consult it we get different forecasts to the previous ones. Making a decision this way is quite complicated, but we stronly intend to leave for Portugal. At last we work the whole day in the Chella Bank after three days moored and we make the most out of the little time we have. Thus we carry out 4 dives, three of them in moundes we haven’t visited before, and another one looking for a difficult area that we had to leave days ago due to the high amount of fishing lines entangled in the rocks. But we are stubborn and want to document it better, since the amount of white and black corals –leaving apart the fishing lines- was awesome.

Life-Indemares

We are still in port, but watching the weather forecast, and tomorrow we will go out to work. The good news today is that we have had a close look at the forecast for Portugal and we see a possible window of opportunity, so we keep consulting it the whole day and being pending of the updates. That window –though not very clear- seems enough so that we consider seriously the feasibility of leaving for the Gorring Bank tomorrow after one more day in the Chella Bank (Angela - are you translating it as Seco de los Olivos or Chella Bank ?). Anyway, this is a decision to be made in the last minute, depending on the latest forecast –whether to come back to port or to to make up our mind and begin the crossing.

Logo LIFE-INDEMARES

We still can’t go sailing so although unplanned, we decided to go on dive. Our divers were able to find a corner of the coast sheltered from the waves overlooking Roquetas de Mar, and dive into a magnificent posidonia seagrass meadow, one of the last barrier reefs preserved in Spain. Fortunately, it is included in the LIFE + Posidonia project launched by Andalusia, and will result in a series of management measures for the conservation of Andalusian seagrass plains, to stop destructive activities like trawling and illegal dredging, which is frequent in the area.

Logo LIFE-INDEMARESWe left three days ago for Burriana Vilamoura (Portugal), to wait for the rest of the team and the ROV before heading to the Gorringe bank. We had planned to begin research that we have been planning since early 2012 as part of this campaign, but the weather decided to turn on us and a storm was on its way which would prevent us from dropping the ROV into the water.

It’s expedition time again; one of our favorite times of year!

Today, we launched the Oceana Ranger Expedition 2012 and this year’s focus will be on the deep sea areas of the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

We’ll be using our underwater robot (ROV) to take video footage and images of underwater mountains with peaks so deep that divers can’t get to them.

Seamounts are incredibly important to protect as they are home to a wide variety of species and habitats that occupy the many different heights and soil types along their banks.

The Oceana Ranger has now left the dry dock where it has spent the last few months. The research catamaran departed for Burriana (Castellón), from the shipyard in Valencia, with a skeleton crew to load up with supplies and take care of the finishing touches. Next week, scientists, divers and the underwater robot (ROV) operators will hop on board to officially launch the 2012 expedition.

 

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The Crew