Bothering deep sea animals – BoBEco Cruise

The Victor ROV has been brought back onboard and been refitted for a biological survey. The machine really is very well designed; you have the main body of the machine, housing all the communication, positioning, cameras and thrusters and then an interchangeable sled-like bottom. We have two of these onboard. The one we were using previously contained all the bottom profiling equipment: sound wave emitters, receivers and several methods of knowing exactly where the machine is in space. We have now swapped this sled for the biological equipment. We have grasping hands, a bottom mounted camera (allowing us to mosaic all the areas we pass over onto a map) and an assortment of containers for bringing the beasties up. Finally we get to see what’s down there!
The Canyon D’Ars and Saint Nazairie didn’t disappoint. We found several coral thickets attached to the occasional hard part of the seabed but not what we would consider a reef. That’s a strange distinction that we come across a lot in this project. There is the animal: a little coral polyp that builds a home, and then there is the reef that they created – a habitat, a part of the world changed by this tiny animal. The two can feel so different at times.
We also saw Gorgonians (soft corals – see image), an oyster colony, a stunning sheer cliff face covered in life and several species of fish.

Huge Gorgonian

These physical samples have now arrived onboard. I have set up camp in a little lab just off the main lab. There is a window behind my laptop and as I write this I can glance through it at the flurry of activity going on. We have a wide range of specialists. People don’t just want specific animals but parts of specific animals. Some people want live tissue for genetic samples or chemical analysis, others want the hard parts to look back into the animal’s past and, due to their long life, the history of our planet. Each needs to be handled and preserved in specific ways. We have planned in advance how this will happen and through my window I am watching this slightly frantic dance take place.

It’s not all been hard work though. A little group of us have started doing yoga on deck and it is gaining popularity, we had seven participants today. We also have the upcoming Mario-cart tournament! I like my chances but Ronan and Rémy have snatched victory from me several times with highly tactical use of the blue turtle shell. Since I cannot speak French I am sure they strategise against me……or that may be the bad loser in me talking.

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