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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 invited the local school children to SWIMS (Spanish Wells Institute of Marine Science, remember!) to have a look at what we have been up to. They really enjoyed sieving for worms in the sand but I think they thought we were all crazy for wearing summer clothes in March!

 

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Above: Diva and Leigh leading a sieving workshop on the beach

 

While we were sieving with the pupils we came across a tiger shark tooth. Yet more evidence that they are abundant in these waters ... but we still haven’t managed to actually see one on this field trip!

 

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Above: More evidence of sharks - but still no sighting

 

After the schools children left the team got back to work looking at samples under the microscopes. The big question on everyone’s lips was whether the goat skull we found yesterday had any Osedax on it.

 

The scientists spent a long time studying the skull and debating the findings. They can see tubes on the skull that belong to a worm but that doesn’t necessarily have to be Osedax.

 

Adrian is not convinced that it’s Osedax at all. He believes they may have found another polychaete worm from the family Terebellidae.

 

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Above: Terebellidae found on the goat skull

 

However, if it is Terebellidae then it shouldn’t be living on a goat skull. Usually they live in limestone crevices but the goat skull may be close enough for it to call home. Basically you can see how sometimes discoveries can create more questions than answers! I don’t think we are going to get a conclusive answer before we get back to the Museum.

 

We only have one day left here in the Bahamas but here are some of the great pieces of footage that REX has shot over the last week.

This is the moment that REX went over the Grand Bahaman Canyon that goes down to 3,000m …

 

 

For me, some of the most amazing footage we have seen was when REX went through the purple bacteria in Ocean Hole. Also, look out for when REX meets the goat skull…

 

 

Tonight is our last night in the Bahamas. We’re saying goodbye in an appropriate manner – a drink on the beach at sunset!

 

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Above: Our last sunset in the Bahamas

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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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After collecting so many samples over the last few days it was now time to sit down and sift and sort through all of them to see what species we found.

 

Diva spent the morning looking over the bits of wood that were brought up yesterday. She picked off as much of the fauna as she could and put them directly into salt water and alcohol to preserve them for the journey back to London. So far she has found crabs, shrimps, polychaetes and some hydroids growing on the worms.

 

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Above: Diva is trying to pick off all the animals she can see living on the wood

(Click on images to see them full size)

 

She also put the pieces of wood out to dry in the sun so that she can take those back with her and put them in the CT scanner. She will be looking for wood-boring molluscs but won’t have the results for a while.

 

We all got slightly preoccupied by seeing a grass snake in the bushes...

 

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Helena spent most of the day going over the only piece of whale bone the shark left behind. She has found lots of polychaete worms living on the bones but no evidence of any whale fall specialists, like Osedax, yet.

 

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Above: Helena shows us on the big screen the creatures she is looking at under the microscope

 

Helena has already spotted 2 potential new species of worm from the mangrove samples and once she's back at the Museum she’ll be able to say for certain. If they are, then that leaves one more thing. The name…

 

 

Tomorrow we're hoping to go over to Ocean Hole on Eleuthera to drop REX down to 200m and hopefully see lots of animals using the HD camera. Maybe sharks too. We’ll also be collecting some copeopods that Geoff asked us to collect for him from the Attenborough Studio during the Nature Live event last week! All weather dependent, of course...

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Our last Nature Live event from the Bahamas was a bioblitz with Helena and Diva. It was great fun as we trawled the beach, against the clock, to find whatever we could for the family-friendly audience.

 

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Above: Helena, Diva and 1 talk to the Nature Live audience in London

(Click images to see them full size)

 

With yesterday’s shark incident still at the fore of our minds, we set out to recover the 2nd package and to try and find and recover the 3rd package.

We made visual contact with the 2nd package late last night but it was getting too dark to bring it to the surface. So we returned to the spot today and hauled it up on to the boat.

 

The shark damage was obvious but we got a piece of good news…it hadn’t taken all of the whale bones! We found a small bone still attached to the basket which lifted everyone’s spirits. Helena was particularly excited – even though it was a small piece she will be analysing it under the microscope for any evidence of Osedax.

 

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Above: Helena was very pleased that some of the whale bones had been recovered

 

After lunch we moved on to the 3rd and final package which was perched on the edge of the Great Bahamian Canyon. If it wasn’t were we left it six months ago then it had slipped into the abyss, far out of REX’s reach. It took nearly 2 hours to locate it and the control room was full of people waiting to catch a glimpse of it in the blue. This is the moment Nick spotted it…

 

 

After the initial excitement of finding the package we quickly realised that it would be a challenge to recover. At 55m deep, it was too deep for divers to go down to get it so we had to make sure that REX had a good grip on it so as it didn’t drop as it came to the surface. We carefully raised it to the surface and Nick and Leigh jumped in to retrieve it.

 

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Above: Despite its appearance we were very glad to see our basket!

 

Using REX meant that we knew, even when the experiment was still on the sea floor, that it too had been visited by a curious/hungry shark as all the whale bones were missing. But this time all the wood was still attached to the baskets. We now know that sharks, if given the choice, don’t like eating wood! The best bit was seeing how many lionfish were surrounding the basket…

 

 

That wrapped up our time on the boat and it was great that we managed to recover all 3 experiments using REX, it’s just a shame that sharks got to the them before we could!

 

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Above: This sums it all up beautifully. Lesson #1: Sharks like whale bones.

 

Tomorrow will be a long day of microscope work but the day after we head out to Blue Hole to drop REX down to nearly 200m. Will we get to finally see sharks instead of just their bite marks?!

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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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Welcome to...

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(Click images to see them full size)

 

We are all waking up really early - around 6am when the sun comes up. After breakfast we loaded up the golf carts with spades, sieves and sampling jars and we were ready to go panning for worms. We ventured out to the mangroves on the other side of the island, where we were relieved to find that the wind was much less intense.

 

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Above: Helena is ready to find some worms in the Bahamian sand

 

Once we reached the marina we had to get out to the sampling site and what better way than to kayak. Then we had to do some serious digging, put the muddy sand into a bucket and kayak the samples back to the shore. To be fair, Nick did a lot of the hard work!

 

It was then up to Diva and Helena to sieve through all the mud, this may sound easy but when you’re looking for tiny creatures you have to be very precise and it can take quite a while.

 

 

We found a few large creatures, such as sea cucumbers and a giant anemone, but the really exciting stuff is only visible under the microscope. Helena was really excited as she thinks she has found a new species of the marine worm Ophryotrocha under the microscope! Obviously we can't tell for sure until we get back to the Museum but it's great to think that it might be so.

 

 

Above: Could this be a new species of the marine worm Ophryotrocha?

 

One of the other highlights of the day was that Gill got to see Cassiopeia jellyfish for the first time in the wild!

 

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Above: Cassiopeia made Gill’s day!

 

After lunch (which was rice and beans!) we spent a good part of the day testing REX before we send him into the deep later in the week. Adrian and Leigh set up a mission control in a repurposed bathroom on the beach and we sat and watched REX manoeuvre through the shallow sea grass beds.

 

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Above: Yes, Adrian is sitting on a toilet!

 

Here is when REX met a lionfish…

 

 

On Thu 8 Mar (which is tomorrow for me as I write this) we'll be linking live to the Attenborough Studio so do join us if you can!

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After a very early start and a shaky flight across the Atlantic we landed in Nassau.

 

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(Click images to see them full size)

 

That was the easy bit we found, as we then had to catch various modes of transport until we reached base camp but, luckily, none of them involved 12 hour hikes! After landing in a windy Nassau we had to get a small plane. It was slightly terrifying but the pilot was amazing.

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We then met our taxi driver, Fredrick, who as well as driving visitors around the island also grows the best tomatoes and cabbages on Eleuthera, where we are staying. He took us on a detour to his farm and gave us a stock of fresh vegetables. We were very grateful and it was a great example of Bahamian hospitality. On the down side, I got bitten by ants while digging up cabbages on the farm. Fredrick escaped unscathed.

 

 

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Next, was the Night Rider water taxi that took us a short way across the ocean where we were met by Adrian (who had flown out a couple of days earlier) and our final mode of transportation … golf carts! My golf cart driving lesson is tomorrow and I am VERY excited.

 

 

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We begin with all the science in the morning. Tonight we're just settling in to our new beach home…

 

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The team

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The Museum has recently acquired a great bit of kit that allows us to complete our work in the Bahamas. It’s a remotely-operated vehicle that we lovingly call REX (short for Remotely-operated vehicle for Education and eXploration).

 

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It has the ability to go to depths of 200 metres and we’ll be using it to retrieve the experiments that were laid down late last year. It has a robotic arm too and apparently if you can play XBox you can operate it pretty easily!

 

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The really special thing about REX is that it has a HD camera attached to it so we can film amazing footage of the sea and the life within it. It’s important for scientists to observe how animals behave in their natural environment, especially when it comes to creatures like jellyfish, as when you bring them up to the surface they look like amorphous blobs.

 

Like I’ve said before I’m really looking forward to seeing sharks and going by the video shot last year I won’t be disappointed!

 

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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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On Friday and Saturday, I introduced everyone else who is going to the Bahamas, and now there’s only me left:

 

Being a Nature Live host, I have always worked closely with Museum scientists but I’ve never had the opportunity to accompany them on a field trip. I feel extremely lucky to be going to the Bahamas and it will definitely make a change from being in the Attenborough Studio at the Museum (see me hosting a recent session about the Bahamas with Adrian Glover here).

 

The really exciting thing for me about this field work trip is being able to engage our visitors with Museum science as it happens, live, on the other side of the Atlantic. Hopefully it will help people see we are much more than the ‘Dinosaur museum’!

 

Highlight?

A highlight for me would be to see sharks, even if it is through our eyes in the ocean - the remotely operated vehicle, REX. I also hope we find a new species of Osedax so that I can have first dibs on naming it! (I realise I won’t get the honour but a girl can dream!)

 

Anything worrying me?

I am a little worried about the possibility of getting sea sick. I don’t do well on boats – a fact I have kept to myself until now!

 

I hope you’ll follow our trip and check in for the latest on our journey...

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What do you do at the Museum?

I'm a Media Technician supporting Nature Live and other learning programmes.

 

What’s the best bit about your job?

I’m lucky, my job is pretty diverse. One minute I’m fixing the interactive exhibitions in the Museum’s galleries and the next I’m doing a Nature Live with video-links to NASA. I’m constantly researching all the coolest gadgets and trying to integrate them into our live events. I get to work with computers, cameras, video editing, special effects and sound.

 

What are you most excited about seeing on the trip?

Amazing HD footage of marine life - techno geek I know! But my favourite thing about this trip specifically is being able to reach out to Museum visitors and helping them engage with the science that goes on here.

 

Is anything worrying you about the trip?

I’m worried about getting sand in the technical equipment. Oh and sun burn.

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What do you study at the Museum?

I study string jellyfish, or siphonophores, which are very delicate deep sea species that pass their whole life cycle in the plankton, and are not normally found anywhere near the shore because of turbulence.

 

The only jellyfish that lives on the surface of the water is the Physalia - also known as the Portuguese man of war. Once it has matured it has a massive float which means it cannot sink below the water.

 

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

Rarely collected species of siphonophores from the Tongue of the Ocean - several new species were described from the area in the 1980s to 1990s - but have not been found since. I have only ever seen about 2 live siphonophores in my life, as I work on preserved material, so anything will be exciting for me.

 

What do you miss the most when you go on field work?

Probably my husband, who will be at home whilst I’m in the Bahamas. This trip is a first for me because I am a non-funded Scientific Associate in the Museum, and just do my research for fun, not money! This is the first time I’ve ever been offered a place on a Museum expedition, so I am very excited to be going, and grateful for being invited to participate.

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What do you study at the Museum?

I study polychaetes (marine segmented worms), from the deep sea and from whale-falls and hydrothermal vents. Polychaetes are related to earth worms but usually a lot prettier and more colourful. I am describing new species that we discover in the deep sea samples, and I sequence their DNA to see how they are related to each other.

 

The DNA sequences can also be used to study how these worms move around in the sea. It can be useful to know if they can go anywhere else if their current habitat becomes inhospitable or if they're stuck in one place and doomed when bad things happen.

 

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

If we get those whale bones up from the sea floor, I am sure that there are undescribed worm species on them. I am very curious to see what they look like, and also to bring them back to the lab and sequence their DNA to see where they belong among the other worms from similar habitats.

 

Where have you been previously on field work?

In my undergraduate studies I spent one year on Svalbard studying Arctic Biology, and we went on several field trips both on sea and on land. And then I've been to New Zealand, Chile and on an expedition to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and on several expeditions at sea back home in Sweden.

 

What is your favourite thing about going on field work?

My favourite thing is getting the samples! It's a lot like looking for treasure; whenever the sampling gear comes aboard we're all very excited to see what is brought up with it. Even a heap of mud can cause quite a shuffle when everybody wants to see what's in it and pick out the things they work on.

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