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Field work with Nature Live

24 Posts tagged with the zoology tag
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Welcome to...

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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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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
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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 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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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.

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Now that Tom has returned safely from his botanical trip to Costa Rica, I'll be heading off to the Bahamas with scientists from the Museum and the University of Southampton. Our destination is the remote island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas and most of our time will be spent on a boat.

 

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We’ll be using a Remotely-Operated Vehicle (ROV), called REX, to survey the fauna that live in this little explored part of the Caribbean. The really exciting bit is that in some cases this will be the first time that scientists have dropped a camera into these waters.

 

Aside from the observatory work, the team are also looking for a particular worm that likes to live on whale bones. Osedax worms have been found in every ocean in which scientists have looked for them, including the Antarctic, but will they also be found in the tropical waters of the Caribbean?

 

As part of the Museum’s Nature Live programme, I’m lucky enough be joining the trip and I’ll be sending back daily reports in the form of blog posts, pictures and videos. Get in touch with the field trip by using the comments section at the end of each blog.

 

For a chance to experience the trip come to the Museum's Attenborough Studio at 14:30 on 8, 9 and 10 March to see us in a live-video-link to the Bahamas.

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Ivvet Modinou

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