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IMG_0065.jpgI am excited to announce the launch of Deep Sea ID, an app for the iPhone and iPad that provides taxonomic information on over 20,000 species, over 350 beautiful high resolution images of deep-sea specimens as well as links to online taxonomic tools, sources and important references. The app is completely free and I encourage interested users to download it here.

 

The deep sea is the largest yet least-explored ecosystem on the planet. Despite low temperatures, the absence of light and limited food availability, it is home to a remarkable diversity of marine life. Deep Sea ID is designed to enable faster access to important taxonomic information on these deep-sea animals and by including high quality specimen photos we are creating a field guide that can be used to identify specimens from collected samples or from video survey.

 

The app uses the species database at the World Register of Deep Sea Species (WoRDSS) which is itself a thematic database of the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), the most up-to-date source of taxonomic information on marine life. When we update Deep Sea ID, changes from the WoRDSS and WoRMS websites will be automatically included.

 

The images in the app have been individually sourced and include many beautiful specimen photographs from both researchers and professional photographers. All copyright images are used with permission from the authors, and contact details for the photographers are provided with all images.

 

One of the most important features of the app is that all the data and images are available offline, and at high speed. This allows it to be used by deep-sea researchers during their long voyages at sea where internet access is limited. We plan to regularly update the app with more images as they become available, and we welcome any potential contributors to contact the team at the WoRDSS, the database that the app is built around.

 

The creation of this app would not have been possible without our partner organisations, including the WoRMS, and the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. Funding has come from the International Network for Scientific Investigation of Deep-Sea Ecosystems (INDEEP). We are also extremely grateful to all those who have contributed images so far.

 

The taxonomic information held in the WoRDSS is sourced directly from the WoRMS, which is managed by an international Steering Committee, a Board of Editors and the IT team at the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) in Belgium. Both the WoRMS and WoRDSS websites are hosted at VLIZ.

 

The species lists and images that are used to create Deep Sea ID are currently maintained at the Museum by me, Dr Adrian Glover, and at the University of Plymouth, by Dr Nicholas Higgs. At the National Oceanography Centre, Dr Tammy Horton is contributing to the species lists and co-ordinating the collation of taxonomic identification resources.

 

This is an ongoing project, and we plan regular updates to the app. We welcome corrections and contributions for the next version and if you are able to help, please get in touch.

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As you’re reading this I’m flying across the Atlantic home, to what I hear is a sunny London! I’ve had an amazing experience following the scientists as they look for new species and experiment with REX in the waters around the Bahamas.

 

The scientists will have a lot of work to do when they get back to the Museum with all their samples. They will be busy checking to see if the species they have found here in the Bahamas are actually undescribed and new to science and we'll keep you updated with any results.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed following the blog as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Highlights for me have been seeing the amazing footage that REX was sending back to the control room, helping the scientists sieve for worms in the mangroves, sharing in their ups and downs as they looked for the experiments and, of course, waking up with an amazing view every morning!

 

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Above: Our office for the last 10 days – not bad

(Click images to see them full size)

 

Now it’s time for the credits… there are lots of people to thank for making this happen!

 

Firstly to Stephen, Martin and Honor for allowing me to spend 10 days out of the office. To everyone in the Learning department for their support but especially my fantastic colleagues in the Nature Live team – Jo, Ana Rita, Natalie and Tom.

 

Extra special thanks to Tom and Natalie for hosting the shows so professionally and dealing with any technical problems so gracefully – I bet the audience had no idea what was happening behind the scenes! Also to Verity Nye, who came up from Southampton, and Museum scientist Geoff Boxshall who were our anchors in the studio during the live-links. Geoff, great news, we collected you a sample from Hatchet Bay and I have a big bruise on my leg to prove it!

 

Thanks to Adam and the special effects team for making sure the live-video-links back to London worked so smoothly.

 

To Jonathan for setting up the fantastic live-chat sessions and to Grace for organising the entire schools component of the fieldtrip. It was so great having that interaction with pupils.

 

In the Bahamas we have a lot of people to thank – firstly Janet and Harvey Higgs and the rest of Nick’s family for being so hospitable – no request was ever too much, and we requested a lot!

 

Big thank you to our fantastic skipper Howard, not only was he a great Captain, he’s also a great cook too – preparing freshly caught fish while we were busy with REX...

 

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Above: Howard making lunch as everyone looks on

 

Thank you to Kendra from the Bahamas Marine Mammals Research Organisation who supplied the whale bones that we sank for our experiments. I bet the sharks are grateful for that too!

 

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Above: Kendra joined us to see what we had done with her donated whale bones!

 

The science team have been amazing and so accommodating to my requests; whether that was asking to interview them, taking part in Nature Live and other events or my personal favourite, ‘how do you spell that again’?!

 

Big thanks to Diva, Leigh, Nick, Helena and Gill for being great field companions. Thanks to Tony for always being at the ready with the camera and making those live-video-links happen from this end.

 

Finally, a big thank you to Adrian for making this whole fieldtrip possible! I’ve had a fantastic time following science as it happens in the field – capturing their discoveries and sharing them with you - and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it!

 

I asked Adrian to sum up the trip for us…

 

 

Keep in touch with the Field work with Nature Live community and subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog and you’ll receive updates whenever a new post appears.

 

And remember, you can meet more Museum scientists every day at Nature Live events held in the Museum’s Attenborough studio at 14:30 (and also at 12:30 at weekends and holidays).

 

I hope to see you at a Nature Live event soon!

 

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Above: Team Bahamas (except Tony, who was taking the photo!)

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Today we had an early start to begin the 200 mile round-trip to Ocean Hole on south Eleuthera.

 

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The inland lake called Ocean Hole

(Click images to see them full size)

 

Ocean Hole is an inland lake, a mile from the oceans, that rises and ebbs with the tides. When we arrived we attracted a large gathering from a local school and Nick spoke to them about what we were doing with REX and why.

 

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Above: Nick doing some educational outreach

 

Amongst the crowds that had gathered was Ronald Horton, who is the administrator of Ocean Hole, and I asked him his thoughts…

 

 

 

 

REX went in and immediately descended to 40m. He didn't see any mermaids but when it was looking at the rubbish littering the floor of Ocean Hole it stumbled upon a goat skull.

 

REX carefully brought the skull up to the surface and, although it’s not a whale bone, everyone was excited at the idea that Osedax maybe be living on the bones, albeit in the most unlikely of places. It would have definitely made up for the earlier setbacks with the sharks!

 

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Above: Helena inspecting the goat skull

 

The team will now spend the best part of tomorrow trying to determine whether the worms found on the goat skull are Osedax. I’ll keep you posted!

 

When REX went in for a second time he descended to 38m. As he ventured down he saw this amazing purple glowing layer. From where we were sitting in the control room it looked very similar to the aurora. We nicknamed it the purple haze but what it is actually a type of bacteria.

 

None of the team had ever seen anything like this before. We didn't record any difference in temperature as REX descended so Adrian thinks that this purple haze may indicate the point when freshwater and sea water meet. Either way, the bacteria looked amazing on film…

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow we’re going to be analysing the goat skull under the microscope to see if we can find any evidence of Osedax. If the worm is on the goat skull it wouldn’t have been how we expected to find it, but every cloud…

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We started the day early with another successful round of live-video-links to the UK to talk to school pupils and the Nature Live audience in the Attenborough Studio.

 

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Above: Adrian speaks to students back in the UK

(Click images to see them full size)

 

With the weather improving everyday, we got the news we'd been waiting for yesterday - that we could finally head out to sea and look for the experiments that were laid down six months ago. We left port full of hope for the day ahead and with a large supply of seasickness tablets.

 

It took nearly an hour to get out to the first site and there was a lot of waiting around but once REX hit the water, the excitement set in. I couldn’t believe I was getting just as excited about finding these whale bones as the scientists were. Would we find the first package and would we find Osedax?

 

 

It wasn’t long before we found the package however it wasn’t exactly how we left it…

 

 

When the remains of the basket were pulled aboard we saw that there were no whale bones left, let alone Osedax. I had no idea that whale bones were that attractive to sharks but the shark bite marks on the plastic basket were conclusive evidence!

 

Although everyone was a little disapppointed that the experiment had been lost they quickly started working on the other creatures found living on the basket. They found many different polychaetes and as I type they are still analysing them under the microscope.

 

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Above: Helena and Diva inspecting the remains of the experiment for any life

 

As we moved on to the 2nd site many in the team were left wondering, what state would the next experiment be in?!

 

Adrian did a great job of piloting the ROV and we found the second package in a relatively short period of time. But REX delivered some more bad news…

 

 

We were asked today by a student during our live video link if Jaws could happen. Well, I suppose if you’re a plastic basket it most certainly can!

 

We're heading out tomorrow to look for the third package which is deeper down at 55 metres. Will it be sharks - 3, scientists - 0?

 

And don't forget you can speak to Helena and Diva live in the Bahamas today at 2.30pm in the Attenborough Studio.

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Last night we got A LOT of rain. Bizarrely, it made all the frogs come out and they were so loud they kept us up most of the night!

 

 

We woke up bright and early (this is becoming the norm now!) and the sun was there to greet us. But alas, so was the wind. We set up a mock Attenborough Studio right on the beach – complete with chairs, coffee table and an audience! And after a few technical glitches, we video-linked live to London and spoke to Nature Live host Natalie and Professor Geoff Boxshall. Great fun and Geoff even put in a request for some specimens so we’ll be heading to the other side of the island later in the week to collect some copepods for him.

 

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Above: It's the first time I've ever done a Nature Live barefoot!
(Click images to see them full size)

 

Diva and I also live-chatted with some schools online – Bowhunt, Wigmore, Elmshurst and Ashcroft – who asked some great questions! We’re looking forward to the next session on Tuesday.

 

Helena and Diva showed how diligent they were; while the sun was shining they were hunched over their microscopes looking for new species. Extra credit for them!

 

 

 

 

After lunch we all headed out to the sea grass beds to see what we could find.

 

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Above: No Photoshop required!

 

This is an area of shallow sea grass that becomes visible at low tide and is home to an array of marine life. I was warned to wear shoes as the sea grass beds are teeming with lionfish - very dangerous. Nick, who grew up on the island, told me that they’re an invasive species, originally from the Indo-Pacific. The reason they’re so dangerous to fish in these waters is that some of the fish don’t actually recognise them as predators and there’s nothing around that predates them.

 

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Above: Beautiful, but beware of lionfish...

 

During our beach bioblitz we found anemones, sea squirts, conch shells, sea urchins…and 2 lionfish!

 

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Above: Leigh is beaming after finding her first conch!

 

The good news is that the weather is improving so we're going on the boat tomorrow! Hopefully we’ll find the whale bones and some Osedax!

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One of the objectives of our field trip to the Bahamas is to see if a species of the bone-eating worm, Osedax, can be found there, which would be a first for science. However, if we're to find Osedax worms in tropical waters we need to lure them to us.

 

We know that these bizarre creatures bore into the bones of dead whales that have fallen to the seafloor. Finding a whale skeleton naturally in the waters in the Caribbean could take weeks or months and although a stay that long sounds like an attractive prospect it wouldn't be the most economical. Instead, the team thought to sink pieces of whale bone and wood to attract the worms.

 

So, in October 2011, Adrian Glover and Nick Higgs went to the Bahamas to do just that. Here is a picture of the experiments...

 

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Weighted baskets with bones and wood attached - the floats will (hopefully!) help to locate them
(Click images to see them full size)

 

The baskets were dropped to the sea floor at different depths; one each at 19m, 30m and 55m.

 

Here is the experiment that was lowered at 19m in October - will we be able to find it on our return?

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The basket on the sea floor, at a depth of 19m below the surface

 

Now, 6 months later, we're going to retrieve them and hopefully in that time an Osedax species will have colonised them and we'll find the first record of the worms in the Caribbean. We’ll keep you posted!

 

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Will we find Osedax in tropical waters?

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What do you study at the Museum?

My main interest is deep-sea biology and in particular the diversity, evolution and ecology of the marine annelid worms - the polychaetes. These are incredibly diverse in the deep-sea, the least explored and largest ecosystem on the planet.

 

What are you most excited about seeing/finding on the trip?

Although our main science goal is the retrieval of a set of important colonisation experiments, I am secretly most excited about taking our little underwater robot 'REX' to its deepest depth rating - 200m. I would like to take it below the warm surface waters into the cooler, darker deep waters - the twilight zone - to observe the marine life using this new low-cost deep-sea approach that we are pioneering on this trip.

 

Where have you been previously been on field work?

I have been fortunate enough to be involved in field work all over the world. Mostly it has been in rather cold places (the Southern Ocean, the Antarctic and the North Sea). I am looking forward to a tropical trip for a change!

 

What is your best experience whilst on field work?

The best experience has been our first discovery of the enigmatic Osedax worms whilst on a sampling trip in Sweden. It was incredible to find these bizarre animals living so close to a marine lab, in shallow water. It reinforced to me how little we know even the accessible parts of our oceans.