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Field work with Nature Live

6 Posts tagged with the nick_higgs tag
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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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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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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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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?

I study animals that live on dead whale skeletons and how this affects the formation of whale fossils. I am particularly interested in the Osedax bone-eating worms!

 

What are you most excited about seeing on the trip?

I am really excited about seeing what kind of animals live in the deep water of the Bahamas. I grew up nearby and have always wondered what was living beyond the shallow water that I could reach while diving.

 

Where have you been previously on field work?

I have been to California, Japan and Sweden on field work before to study what happens to dead whales in these areas.

 

What is your least favourite thing about going on field work?

I’m really lucky be to able to travel to so many places as part of my job and I love it. But my least favourite thing is the preparation involved. Going to another country and bringing back samples involves a LOT of paperwork and planning, especially if you’re dealing with specially protected animals like whales.

 

Is anything worrying you about the trip?

I’m a little worried about not finding all of the experiments we prepared last time we were in the Bahamas. We dropped one very near an underwater cliff so let’s hope it didn’t fall down into the abyss!

 

What advice would you give to someone going on field work for the first time?

Remember that other people have different cultural backgrounds with different norms that you should respect. This is easy to forget when travelling to English speaking countries.