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I was back out into the rainforest today with Dan and the team.  It was a particularly long, sweaty and gruelling trek to their newest sampling site.  We enlisted a local guide to help us find the quickest and easiest route there, but it still involved a lot of slipping and sliding up and down several ridges before we got there. 

 

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Dan and our local guide discuss the best way to get to today’s sampling site.

 

Dan and the others are studying the invertebrates and lichens at 8 different sites within the lowland Dipterocarp rainforest here in Maliau.  At each site, Dan, Kerry and Keiron carry out 6 different sampling methods, in order to collect as many different flying, crawling and wriggling invertebrates as possible.  This should give them a really good understanding of exactly what is living here.

 

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Dan with a Malaise Trap in the rainforest.

 

As well as the Pitfall traps that I showed you yesterday, the team also use Malaise traps and SLAM traps. These look a little bit like modified tents, and are used to catch aerial (flying) insects.

 

Dan explains how Malaise traps and SLAM traps work.

 

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A SLAM trap hanging in the air, having been hoisted up with the aid of a tennis ball and some rope. 

 

The Malaise and SLAM traps stay up for three days before the team return to the site to collect them. We’ll wait and see whether today’s traps have been successful….

 

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Look closely and you can see an insect has already flown into this Malaise trap.

 

Back at the Studies Centre, having survived the walk back through thick undergrowth and over several fallen trees, I was feeling pretty smug that I had yet to experience a leech bite in Borneo.  On arrival in Maliau several days ago, Tony and I had been greeted with numerous tales of engorged leeches and bloodied clothing from various members of the team. But the worst leechy story was Keiron’s (one of Dan’s volunteer Research Assistants). Having eaten an orange for lunch, some of the fruit appeared to have got trapped between his teeth.  He dug around inside his mouth and pulled it out, only to discover it wasn’t a bit of orange between his teeth, it was a leech! To this day no-one is quite sure how it got there (perhaps it was hanging around on the mouth piece of his water bottle) but it was the last thing Keiron expected to find between his molars!

 

So it was with a mixture of annoyance and a slight sense of respect that I discovered a VERY fat leech attached to my shoulder today. 

 

A well-fed leech!

 

Having ‘liberated’ the leech and detached it from my skin, the wound continued to bleed for some time. The anti-coagulant that leeches use to stop your blood from clotting and ensure a free-flowing meal is clearly very effective!

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A great start to the day. While clearing up after breakfast (a mixture of noodles, chicken nuggets and potato wedges followed by a particularly good cup of Bornean tea), Dan spotted some movement in the trees close to the dining room.  We gathered round, peering hopefully across the clearing into the forest.  The branches moved again.  The leaves rustled.  We caught a glimpse of a monkey…and where there’s one monkey, there’s usually more!

 

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A Pig-Tailed Macaque bounds through the trees.

 

After waiting patiently, we were rewarded with the view of several Pig-Tailed Macaques (recognisable by their short, half-erect tails), jumping from branch to branch and occasionally peering back out at us through the densely packed leaves. Unlike most monkeys, Macaques spend a lot of their time in the lower canopy and on the forest floor searching for fruit and insects (among other things) to eat. Which is fortunate for us, because it makes them far easier to see!

 

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Today, like every other, was full of retrieving traps and sampling.  One method the team uses, to collect fast moving invertebrates on the forest floor, is digging pitfall traps.  As with all the sampling techniques being used here, this is a method Dan has previously used to sample invertebrates in the New Forest, back in the UK.

 

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Dan digging a hole for a pitfall trap.

 

It’s hard work digging holes in such humid conditions, and the soil in the forest is often full of plant roots.  Once the holes have been dug and the plastic cups inserted, the pit fall traps are left for three days before the team return to collect them. 

 

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A pitfall trap, prepared and in place on the forest floor.

 

Emptying Pitfall Traps

 

Unfortunately, the frequent rainfall has been causing havoc with the team’s samples.  It rains daily here, usually in the afternoon or evening, and when it rains, it pours!

 

The rain in Borneo

 

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The rain here can soak you to the skin in minutes.

 

Tomorrow we’re heading to a sampling site on top of a ridge.  In theory, it’s only a small ridge, but it’s apparently very steep and very slippery.  I will go prepared with my trusty walking stick!

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….you’re certain of a sweaty but memorable day!  Today was my first day in the Dipterocarp Rainforest of Borneo and a real eye-opener to the research our Museum scientists are carrying out, and the conditions they have been working under. 

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We head off bright and early, leaving the Studies Centre for a morning of sampling and studying in the rainforest.

 

After a breakfast of rice, hard-boiled egg and a rather hot chilli and fish dish, we donned our gear and set off.  Working in the rainforest requires a fair amount of preparation, making sure you’re wearing the correct clothes and carrying the necessary essentials. 

 

 

The rainforest itself was dense and humid, with ridges to climb up and over and vines that tangled themselves around our feet.  It was muddy in places, and even in my walking boots I struggled not to slip.  I have a glorious bruise already from a failed attempt to remain upright! 

 

Our first stop was at a site where Dan and the team had been three days ago.  At each site they carry out a variety of sampling techniques – breaking up and sorting through rotten wood, sifting through soil that they have dug up and sieving the leaf litter.  They then set up a series of different traps including Malaise traps and Pitfall traps, which are left out for three days and then collected.

 

While helping to collect the traps, I had my first leech encounter…I discovered a Tiger Leech looping its way across the front of my shirt.  You won’t believe how elastic and rubbery they can be!  Once they’re on your skin, it’s really difficult to get them off, no matter how hard you try to pull them. 

 

 

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(c)T. Cockerill. A Tiger Leech, identified by the bright orange stripe on it’s underside, found in the rainforests of Borneo.

 

After collecting the traps, we moved onto a new site and began sampling there.  Pat and Holger were also with us, busily studying the lichens on the trees.  The trees here are incredibly tall, stretching high up above our heads. There are hundreds of different species, with trees from the Dipterocarpaceae family dominating the forest canopy – hence the name, Dipterocarp Rainforest.  Some of the trees have massive buttress roots, which can make them look like rockets about to take off!

 

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Charlotte standing next to the massive buttress roots of a tree.

 

It’s hard to describe what it’s really like in the rainforest.  It’s so densely packed with trees and vines that photographs rarely do it justice.  But by listening to the sounds of the forest, you can hopefully begin to imagine what it’s like here.

 

 

I’ll be following Dan, Holger, Pat and rest of the team over the coming days and telling you more about the different sampling techniques and traps that they’re using and what they hope to achieve.  Don’t forget, Dan has also been blogging about his experiences, including what he was doing before coming to the Maliau Basin. 

 

For now, I’m feeling pleasantly tired and very satisfied after a successful day in the forest!

 

Forest-River.jpgThe Maliau River, running out of the Maliau Basin.

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Today has been a day of discovery!  Not only have I been exploring our home for the next ten days, the Maliau Basin Studies Centre, but I’ve also been discovering some of the weird and wonderful animals that live on our doorstep.

 

stag-beetle1.jpgA Rhinoceros Beetle, so named because of it’s ‘horns’ and rhino like appearance.  This is one of Dan’s favourite insects in the rainforest.

 

The Centre itself is brilliantly equipped, there’s a laboratory where Holger and Pat can start to study the lichens they have collected, clean and comfortable bunkbeds for the end of tiring days in the field, and a large dining room serving particularly tasty food.  The meals here often consist of rice or noodles, with chicken and seafood being popular too.  There’s a ready supply of fresh fruit and cold drinking water – a real treat considering how hot and humid it is.

 

 

Day and night, the air is saturated with the sounds of insects and birds.  Cicadas chirp constantly and there’s a species that chips in, particularly loudly, at 6pm everyday.  It was premature today, being heard at about 5.30pm, and Kerry said this meant it was likely to rain.  Only an hour or two later, as predicted, the heavens opened. 

 

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One of many different species of Cicada, living in and around the Maliau Basin Studies Centre.

 

Insects are relatively easy to see here because they’re attracted to the building lights at night, noisily buzzing around the lightbulbs and occasionally crashing to the floor.  Larger animals such as birds and mammals are harder to spot, but we’ve seen evidence of their presence already.  Hopefully as the days pass we may get a sighting of a Red Leaf Monkey or a Gibbon…or if we’re VERY lucky, an Orangutan!

 

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Evidence of a four-footed mammalian visitor.  These Civit paw prints were found just outside our living room door, perhaps attracted by interesting smells coming from the wastebin!

 

Tomorrow, Tony and I are venturing into the rainforest with Dan and the others.  I have my leech proof socks at the ready, insect repellent and a LARGE bottle of water.  I can’t wait!

 

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A Preying Mantis, a predatory insect, hanging out in our dining room.

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No sooner had we left the city of Tawau, and started the long car journey to Maliau, we were surrounded on both sides of the road by palm tree plantations that stretched as far as the eye could see.  At first it looked exotic, but as the views remained unchanged mile after mile we soon realized that this was no tropical paradise, it was cultivation on an immense scale.  We were looking at Oil Palm plantations.  I knew the palm oil industry was big in Borneo, but I wasn’t prepared for this. 

 

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Eventually the plantations subsided and we were left with views of undulating native forest.  Our 4x4 vehicle proved its weight it gold, as the road changed from tarmac, to loose gravel, to dirt track.  Massive dips and holes in the road, compounded by the sluggish logging vehicles that we regularly passed, made the journey slow going.  But with the luxury of air conditioning in the heat of the day, we were in no hurry.

 

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Finally, after five hours, we arrived at the Maliau Basin Studies Centre, our home for the next 12 days.  Here we were greeted by Dan, Kerry, Keiron, Holger and Pat, all in good spirits despite four weeks in the field already!

 

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Relieved to find a delicious meal of sweet and sour squid and fresh pineapple for dinner, I happily sunk into my (none too small and pretty comfy) bed, ready to begin exploring tomorrow.

 

 

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We have arrived in Borneo! It took a while.  First I nearly missed my taxi to the airport, then we had a 12 hour flight to Kuala Lumpur and then we took off on our connecting flight only to have to return to the airport because of a problem with the plane!  By this point, Tony and I were exhausted. Sleeping on planes is not easy, partly because you’re sat up, and partly because the in-flight entertainment is so tempting!

 

After a short delay, while they attempted to fix the plane, we were finally off again and heading to the city of Tawau in Borneo.  By the time we got there it was already dark and we had been travelling for over 24hrs. Following a meal of fish and rice and a curious green custard type dessert, we gratefully made our way to our air conditioned rooms and bed.

 

Waking up this morning, I forgot for a moment where I was.  I drew back the curtains to see a sprawling city, surprisingly green, with a mixture of new and old buildings, corrugated iron roofs and tall office blocks. Tony and I took our breakfast outside, and the first thing that struck us was the heat.  Far warmer than the autumnal Britain we left a day or two ago. 

 

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We are now sat waiting for a car to take us to the rainforest, a good four hours journey away. Our bags are repacked (with a bit of squeezing and shoving), I’ve taken my travel sickness tablets (a precaution in case of bumpy, winding tracks) and we are really excited about finally meeting up with Dan and the team in Maliau.

 

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Charlotte Coales will be your roving reporter, writing daily blogs and keeping you updated on life in the rainforest, giving you an insider’s view on the research and sampling techniques being undertaken by our Museum scientists.


Following a BSc in Ecology and Environmental Biology and an MSc in Science Communication, Charlotte gained work experience at the BBC Natural History Unit before working as a researcher at Natural History New Zealand.  Returning to the UK, Charlotte worked as an explainer at London Zoo before getting a job at the Natural History Museum on the Nature Live team.  She regularly hosts public events with Museum scientists and loves working at the museum and being surrounded by animals, she just wishes they weren’t all dead!


Earlier this year, Charlotte took time off work to travel to South Africa and Botswana, where she trained to be a Safari Guide.  She loved spending time outdoors and learning more about Africa’s incredible plants and animals but is glad to be back at the Museum.  She can’t wait to explore the rainforests of Borneo and will be revealing some of the incredible things our Museum scientists discover.

 

 

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Tony Vinhas is the media technician going to Borneo with Charlotte. His primary role will be to operate the satellite equipment, cameras, etc. so that you can see live and pre-recorded videos of what the scientists are researching while they are there.


Tony is really excited about getting out there and being able to capture footage from one of the most beautiful and biodiverse areas on the planet. He’s most looking forward to hopefully seeing Orang-utans, Sumatran rhinos and clouded leopards. He’s least looking forward to the leeches and mosquitoes.

 


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The scientists I will be following over the next couple of weeks are already out in Borneo and working hard.....

 

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Dan Carpenter likes soil, so it is lucky that he works in the Soil Biodiversity Group in the Life Sciences Department of the Natural History Museum. Having completed a BSc in Wildlife Conservation, he went on to do a PhD in Soil Science jointly at the University of Reading and the Museum and studied earthworms and their effects on mineral weathering in soils.  He is now a Post-doctoral Research Assistant and he has been studying diversity patterns of soil invertebrates and their role in ecosystem processes.

Dan is particularly fond of earthworms, so much so that he played a large part in setting up the Earthworm Society of Britain and sits on its committee.  When he isn’t digging holes, Dan likes running around in mountains and swimming. He is also a member of the Berkshire Lowland Search and Rescue team, so he is a handy person to know if you get lost!

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Kerry Leigh studied Biology at university before moving to London.  After originally volunteering in the tropical butterfly house at the Natural History Museum, she began volunteering with the Soil Biodiversity Group, spending time in the New Forest with Dan and his team sampling different habitats. The enthusiasm of everyone in the group rubbed off on her and she’s been helping out in the lab ever since, sorting and identifying various invertebrates that the group have collected.


When not in the Museum, Kerry  works in a little butterfly house in West London where she looks after caterpillars, pupae and butterflies, and sends some of them off to other exhibitions. She loves travelling (particularly in Africa) and her favourite country is Sierra Leone, she hopes to move there one day and build a hostel and restaurant on a beautiful beach! 

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Keiron Derek Brown has been volunteering in the Soil Biodiversity Group of the Natural History Museum for over 2 years.  A biology granduate, with field work experience in the tropics, Keiron decided his dream was to work in the field on zoological projects and conservation.


Keiron's time at the museum has been spent looking down a microscope to sort and identify invertebrate samples that he helped collect on field trips to the New Forest.  In his spare time he enjoys going on courses to learn more about the amazing wildlife that live across Great Britain and is also a member of the Earthworm Society of Britain. Over the summer he has been working for the Bat Conservation Trust where he provides advice to many different kinds of people for all things bat-related! Keiron has always wanted to visit the island of Borneo and is excited about experiencing life in the rainforest.

 

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Holger Thues is a curator at the Natural History Museum. His focus is on lichenised fungi and their associated algae which makes him a part mycologist / part-botanist. Before he came to the NHM , he was working partly as a researcher and partly as an environmental consultant. This included work with lichens, mosses and seed plants but also with various animal groups:  from aquatic invertebrates, leafhoppers to hamsters and salmon.


Holger's previous fieldwork has been mostly all over Europe (particularly “rocky” habitats from coastal cliffs to alpine peaks – you can easily locate him in the field by the sound of his chisel). In the tropics so far two field trips to the Venezuelan part of the Andes (focussed on freshwater habitats in open areas with Paramo-vegetation) and earlier this year a month in the mountains of Costa Rica.


One of his hopes for this trip is to collect a rich selection of fresh lichen material from areas which have never been studied by lichenologists before such as the Maliau Basin and to enhance the collections both in Sabah and for our museum with poorly known taxonomic groups which will become a resource for further studies by researchers in Malaysia, at our museum and for other collaborators across the world.

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Following on from two amazing trips to Costa Rica and the Bahamas earlier this year, I'm preparing to fly out to Borneo in South East Asia this weekend! 

 

I'm going to be joining a group of Museum scientists who have already been steeped in the hot and humid rainforests of Borneo for the past four weeks, and have been blogging about their experiences so far.  I'll be reporting back on their research, giving you an insider's view on their ingenious sampling methods, keeping you updated on exciting wildlife sightings and recounting the highs and lows of life in the field.

 

You can join in by following our blog and using the comments section at the end of each daily post, or by visiting the Museum in person for some very special Nature Live events in the Attenborough Studio including live-video-links to Borneo:

 

Thu 11 October at 14.30: Biodiversity in Borneo

Sat 13 October at 12.30 and 14.30: Caught in a Trap: Borneo (the 14.30 event will be British Sign Language interpreted)

Wed 17 October at 14.30: Eaten Alive in Borneo

 

Time to get packing......

 

Charlotte Coales

 

P.S. We also have a special series of Nature Live in the Field videoconferences and live-chats for Schools. The first is on Friday 9 October so if you want your school or class to take part, contact us as soon as possible.

 

Image copyright: Tim Cockerill

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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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