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CoralFISH Cruise Blog

Celtic Explorer CE0908
Welcome aboard the Research Vessel Celtic Explorer! We, Paula and Marie, will tell you the story of our 14 days aboard the 2nd leg of the CoralFISH cruise.

Day 1 - Tuesday 5th May:
We joined the R.V. Celtic Explorer in Brest, France at 10.00 a.m for the 2nd leg of the CoralFISH CE0908 survey. The crew and some of the scientific staff had already boarded the ship in Galway some 5 days earlier. The equipment - ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) - necessary for this survey was already onboard and operational.

After leaving our luggage in our respective cabins, we went on a tour aboard the French R.V. Pourquoi pas? (IFREMER vessel) which was docked close to the R.V. Celtic Explorer. She is a very big ship with 7 decks, a lift, 5 wet labs and the most impressive of all were the equipment onboard: the submersible Nautile, the Remotely Operated Vehicle ROV Victor 6000 and an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). It was amazing!

French research vessel Pourquoi pas? (photo by Marie Le Guitton)

Back aboard the R.V. Celtic Explorer, we had our first lunch before the safety tour and talk. The safety tour consisted of informing the new staff of the locations of the safety gear (life jacket, survivor suits), lifeboats and the safety procedure in the event of a fire for example. We set sail at 4.00 p.m. towards our first station. We went to bed quickly because of the motion of the ship and to prevent the seasickness.

Harbour and castle of Brest (photo by Marie Le Guitton)

Day 2 - Wednesday 6th May:
We arrived on station at 4.00 a.m. The location of the first dive was Le Guilvinec Canyon (cf. map on section: Where is the ship?) in the Bay of Biscay. The ROV entered the water at 7.45 a.m. and reached the bottom of the seafloor approx. 1 hour 30 minutes after. The transect thus began in at a depth of 1,300 meters. The ROV continued along a predefined transect, recording images of the seafloor. Our work involved watching 2 TV screens all day long in the dry lab and to record the important events we saw on the seafloor, for example, changes in sediment type/structure or presence/absence of fish, corals etc. We also noted any plastic bags which where caught on the coral mounds in order to have some data for a future study about the human impact on the deep-sea. The same work was done by Anthony, Anna, Brigitte and Pascal in the container where the ROV was controlled. All the camera feeds were recorded on tape on board the ship. The dive continued up the canyon wall to approx. 800 meters. At the end of dive, we came across the coral reef we were hoping to find. The ROV exited the water at 8.00 p.m..

Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) before and after its launch. (photo by Marie Le Guitton)

During the night, and every night from then on, some brave students Damien, Bill and Catherine carried out a total of 55 Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) profiles to obtain oceanographic information (temperature, salinity, density, dissolved oxygen and pH) from both the dive sites and other transects. A total of 5 SAPS (Self-Automated Pumping System) deployments were also carried out during the night shift to provide samples for the assessment of organic compounds in the water column.

Day 3 - Thursday 7th May:
Before launching the ROV, we saw a fishing boat fishing on our intended transect line. We contacted it for a location of their gear to avoid entanglement of the ROV.. With this information, the ROV was launched at 7.55 a.m. and reached the bottom one hour later at a depth of 900 m. We worked a further 400 meters of the same transect line as yesterday before moving to a new location on the Guilvinec Canyon. It took less than one hour to move to the new location. The ROV entered the water at 1.39 p.m. for dive 3 and reached the bottom at 2.12 p.m. at a depth of 1176 m. During dive 3 we discovered lots of dead and live corals and some of the species we saw included Lophelia pertusa and Madrepora sp., which are the main species of reef building deep-sea corals. The area was very diverse both in habitat and species. The ROV was taken out of the water at 5.51 p.m. at 689 m depth.

TV screen on which we followed the progression of the ROV in the dry lab. (photo by Paula Harrison)

During the afternoon, a guest came on board, surprising us. It was a lovely owl.

Owl (photo by Marie Le Guitton)

Day 4 - Friday 8th May
During the night we travelled to Le Croisic Canyon in the Bay of Biscay. CTD casts were done in the early morning. The ROV entered the water for dive 4 at approx. 9.00 a.m. The depth reached by the ROV was 1,466 meters. This was a very interesting dive straight from the start as there was a 60 meters wall, which was abundant in coral, yellow corals, sponges and Brachiopoda. After this wall, the terrain was terrace like with sandy sediment between these terraces. A number of fish species were present during this dive such as scorpion fish, monkfish, orange roughy, Nephrops, sharks and an octopus. The dive was terminated at 5.00 p.m. due to very strong bottom currents.

A deep-sea fish imaged during ROV dive 4.

Day 5 - Saturday 9th May
During the night we began our transit towards the southwest of Ireland. Was it a sign? The weather, which was sunny, began to change. The Celtic Explorer was on its way to our next station: the Arc Mounds on the margin of the Porcupine Bank. The work of the day consisted of saving all the data we had collected during the last four days and trying to solve the problems we met, but also to relax.
After dinner, some lucky people (Pascal, Anna and Catherine) had the chance to see some dolphins.

Common dolphins (photo by Dave Wall)

Day 6 - Sunday 10th May
Sunday was a day of rest for a lot of people. The crew stopped painting the ship, but scientists continued to prepare for the next days. We were still on our way to the next station: the Arc Mounds, on the Porcupine Seabight.

Discussion on the bridge (Left to right: Paddy, Paul, Pat and Anthony) (photo by Marie Le Guitton)

Day 7 - Monday 11th May
We arrived on station in the morning. The ROV was launched at 10.00 a.m. for dive 5 in a canyon called Canyon T1 located on the SW margin of the Porcupine Bank. After 2 and a half hours of diving, we lost the G.A.P.S. (Global Acoustic Positioning System) signal, i.e. we didn't know the exact position of the ROV on the bottom. The ROV pilots decided to retrieve the ROV rather than risk potential damage flying blind, so dive 5 was terminated at 1.30 p.m. To finish the day four grab samples were taken recovering dead coral, although new colonies were visible on the reef . These samples were quite rich in animals especially ophuiroids.

Paddy and Frank waiting for the grab, here it is (photo by Marie Le Guitton)

Day 8 - Tuesday 12th May
We did one long dive (dive 6) on the Arc Mounds on the Porcupine Bank margin. The ROV entered the water at 9.40 a.m. and reached the bottom half on hour later at a depth of 655m. During this dive we saw lot of big solitary purple sea urchins on the sand. Our interest increased when we discovered some impressive coral stands, taller than those observed in the Bay of Biscay. In addition, fish,were more plentiful, e.g. we say a tusk feeding on a small fish captured on the reef. At the end of the day, 5 grab stations were also done to collect samples.

Samples collected with a daygrab (photo by Paula Harrison)

Day 9 - Wednesday 13th May
We did a second short dive (dive 7) at the Canyon T1 site. The ROV was launched at 10.00 a.m. and reached the bottom less than one hour later at a depth of 1,396m. This was a very interesting dive with a lot of fish especially shark species and Macrourids (rattail fish). There wasn't much coral, mostly coral fragments and evidence of trawling present, but sometimes we found some drop stones covered in live corals. One of these was amazing: in the middle of nowhere, we found a drop stone with a large antipatharian (black coral) fan supporting squat lobsters extending their long arms into the water column in an attempt to catch food. Zooming in with the HDTV camera, we discovered some small fish hiding in the corals. The day continued with grab sampling to collect coral samples.

Day 10 - Thursday 14th May
The bad weather expected during the night appeared in the morning. Waves became higher, but nobody aboard was seasick. As the weather didn't permit us to use the ROV, we decided to do 9 grabs to collect corals on the top of some predefined mound locations and CTDs, which gave the chemical characteristics of the sea water.

Bird in the storm (photo by Paula Harrison)

Day 11 - Friday 15th May
The sun was back. The seabirds were also, following us believing we were fishermen and they could expect fish. The program today was to carry out CTDs and SAPs (collect phytoplankton by pumping sea water) all the day for some scientists and to continue analysing the data for others. During the preparation of the 2nd SAPs some lucky people saw a seal.

Seabirds waiting for fish (photo by Marie Le Guitton)

Day 12 - Saturday 16th May
The weather was very bad: big waves with a lot of wind and rain. It was difficult to work on the computers but some of us managed, others spent time to relax and not be seasick. Because of the weather we spent 19 hours in transit from Belgica mounds to the Arc mounds. Towards nightfall, the weather improved slightly and so we were able to conduct some CTDs and SAPs.
In the evening it was time for the Eurovision song contest final. Yeah! Almost everyone was watching TV and Jimmy was very well dressed for the occasion. We had our own competition and scorecards. First prize was of course for the winner, second prize went to the last person with the least points! and third prize was for the second. And the winners were... Richard for Norway, Pat for Finland and Marie for Iceland!

Eurovision final. Guess which country James was supporting... (photo by Marie Le Guitton)

Day 13 - Sunday 17th May
The weather had improved. We were on the way back to Belgica mounds to do some more grabs. During the day, scientists continued to analyse the data collected and the crew cleaned the ship. After dinner, we had our last scientific meeting to ensure that all the data were collected, exchanged and saved. In the evening a number of grab samples were taken to collect live corals, however no live corals were found.

Sunset (photo by Anna Rengstorf)

Day 14 - Monday 18th May
It is the last day of the cruise. Everybody is cleaning, packing and organising equipment and samples for transport back to base. We arrived in Cobh at midday, before leaving we had our last lunch together. Those travelling back to the continent stayed aboard for one more night while the NUI Galway contingent packed up their equipment in a large van and headed back to Galway.

Cobh (photo by Marie Le Guitton)

Dr. Anthony Grehan
Anthony is the Chief Scientist for the cruise CE0908. A veteran of numerous deep-sea expeditions, this is the second time in recent years he has had the pleasure of leading deep-water ROV investigations aboard the Celtic Explorer (CE). On board he has the job of organising the science and technical teams at sea and liaising between them and the Captain and crew. This is an important job because while all cruises begin with ambitious science plans, working in the middle of the Atlantic with its frequent bad weather, together with technical problems with equipment mean that plans often have to be changed at sea.
Anthony is a deep-sea ecologist and his current research interests are i) assessing the status of Irish deep-water corals and developing strategies for their protection both within Irish waters and beyond, and ii) developing methodologies for the production of novel remote sensing thematic maps to aid sustainable management of Irish and European offshore resources.
Anthony is the co-ordinator of the EU CoralFISH project ( CE0908 is an important first cruise in the CoralFISH programme allowing both NUIG and IFREMER scientists to gather detailed in situ observations using the ROV of the usage by fish of the coral habitat.

Brigitte Guillaumont
Brigitte est benthologue à IFREMER, l’institut français de recherche et de l’exploitation des mer. Après avoir principalement travaillée dans le domaine côtier au développement de cartes des habitats et de la mise en place d’un réseau de surveillance de la faune et de la flore, elle a rejoint le laboratoire Environnements Profonds. Depuis un an, elle supervise les études sur les coraux profonds. Cela lui a permis d’en apprendre plus sur l’identification de la fascinante faune des profondeurs à partir d’images mais également de nouvelles technologies détudes et de programmation de campagnes à la mer.
CoralFISH est une composante majeure du programme sur les coraux dans le Golfe de Gascogne, qu’elle supervise. Elle n’a pas donc pas hésité à répondre positivement à l’invitation d’Anthony Grehan de joindre cette mission sur le Celtic Explorer dont le but est d’explorer les canyons de la pente continentale française et les longs carbonates au large de l’Irlande à l’aide d’un ROV. La compilation des d’environnement et des observations disponibles a permis de planifier des transects et les résultats fraîchement obtenus ont dépassé les espérances tant au niveau de la richesse des fonds explorés que de la qualité des images acquises.

Pascal Laffargue
Pascal is a scientist interested in benthic ecology, ichtyology and fisheries, working in the laboratory of Ecology and Modelling for Fisheries, IFREMER Nantes. His area of work is the continental shelf. Pascal's work consists of establishing the link between environmental features and biological communities structure. One of his aims is to develop knowledge and strategies to choose and monitor protected marine areas. His work aboard the Celtic Explorer survey is to provide expertise on identification of fish species living among and around corals during ROV dives, help with data management, learn about corals ecosystem, bring back knowledge on functional use of coral areas by fish and have fun!

Anna Rengstorf
Anna is a PhD student in the Earth and Ocean Sciences Department at NUI Galway. Within the EU-Project CoralFISH she is developing habitat suitability models for cold-water corals in waters offshore Ireland. During the cruise she is collecting ROV-based video data and grab samples for her PhD project and integrating the multi-disciplinary studies on board the ship into a GIS platform.

Marie Le Guitton
Marie is a Marine Biology Masters Student from the European Institute for Sea Research located in Brest (France) but she is onboard as a student from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research where she is doing her Masters project. Her work aboard the CoralFISH cruise consisted of mapping the distribution of deepsea corals as required by her supervisors Marc Lavaleye and Gerard Duineveld. She also analysed grab samples, carried out CTDs profiles and SAPS, and wrote the blog and the poster.

Dr. Janine Guinan
Janine is a Marine Scientist based at the Marine Institute, Galway. Whilst, she has previous experience using Remotely Operated Vessels (ROV) for habitat mapping in deep water, the CoralFISH cruise is particularly relevent to an upcoming survey when the Marine Institute's new ROV will be used to acquire data on specific Annex 1 habitat types (EC Habitats Directive) from selected offshore deep water locations in Irish waters.

Bill Wood
Bill is a postgraduate student in the Earth and Ocean Sciences Department, National University of Ireland Galway. He is specialising in the study of palaeoenvironments and palaeoclimatology using shallow marine sediments and terrestrial sedimentary environments over the past ca. 13,000 years. His work aboard the Celtic Explorer consists of backing up video streams on DVD for post cruise processing by CoralFISH scientists, and assisting in CTD and SAPs deployment.

Damien Guilhen
Damien is a PhD student at NUI, Galway, studying physical oceanography, specifically the turbulent motion around cold-water reefs in Norway. During the night when most of the scientific crew is asleep and the ROV is on deck, he used the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) sensor to build up a profile of the water structure over the coral mounds. This information helps to describe the water movement over the corals. Density imbalances drive current flows, which bring nutrients and to the corals.

Dave Wall
Dave Wall is a zoologist who works with Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group. Dave is currently working on the PReCAST project. PReCAST is a joint project between the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology. This three-year project (2008-2011) aims to provide robust scientific data to support conservation policy and provide guidance to state agencies in implementing national and international obligations. Under PReCAST his role is to systematically survey all cetacean species in all Irish waters over the three-year survey period. The Irish EEZ has been divided into 10 survey zones, which will be surveyed on a priority basis, based on the amount of prior survey effort within that block. Dave spends six months per annum at sea.

PReCAST is funded by the Marine Institute (through the SeaChange programme) and the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Environment. For more information go to:

Catherine is a PhD student in the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at NUIG. Her research focuses on igneous petrology, geochemistry and volcanic geology. Her work aboard the Celtic Explorer consists of editing, back up and archiving of all data collected on the ROV dive for the marine biologists. During the latter half of the cruise, CTD casts and SAPS analysis were also carried out to provide a clearer picture of the water column in and around the coral mounds.

Paula Harrison
Paula is a PhD student from University College Cork and her work involves developing tools for identifying and mapping areas likely to contain essential/preferred fish habitat in relation to deep sea corals. The main focus of her research is the use of geo-statistical analytical techniques and simulations to investigate the relationships between fish population distributions and environmental parameters.

Philip Baugh is the Master.
Brandon McGovern is a merchant seaman and the chief officer aboard the Celtic Explorer.
Patrick Kilbane and Richard O'Regan are second officers. Their work aboard the Celtic Explorer is to ensure safety and provide navigation.
Ted Sweeney is the chief engineer, Jason White, the 2nd engineer.
Gordon Furey is a senior instrumentation technician with P&O Maritime Services Ireland. He is responsible for the Bridge and dry lab instrumentation on the ship. He also covers IT and satellite communications and installs or supervises any rental or third party scientific equipment mobilised on the ship.
Paul Wray is the Electro-Technico-Officer (ETO).
Stephen Lantry is the bosun and Frank and Paddy Kenny, Micileen Faherty, Ken O'Neill are the deckhands.
Pat Codd and Louise Richards are the cooks aboard and Louise is also our steward.

Left to right: Patrick, Paddy, Jason, Frank, Micileen and Stephen.

Greme Hoyle is the ROV supervisor on board.
James McDonald is the ROV senior pilot and technician and also the funniest guy onboard.
Paul Booth is a SMD ROV consultant BsC.
Mark McCarthy is a ROV technician from the Irish Royal Navy and Steffen Klar the ROV engineer.

Interview with Greme Hoyle:

What are the main considerations during ROV deployment?
The ROV weighs 6 tonnes so lifting that amount of machinery from the deck of the ship into the water requires a number of considerations. Before deployment we look at the wind speed, surface current and wave height to ensure the conditions are right for the safety of the people working on deck, the ship and the ROV. A full suite of deck checks are carried out and this includes checking the electronics and lights, running the hydraulics, making sure the beacons are turned on. We don't turn the lights on until the ROV is underwater as this would cause the lights to burn out.

What happens next?
We check with the bridge that they are on position with the ships DP (dynamic positioning-a computer controlled system which automatically maintains the ships position using her own propellers and thrusters) paper log/dive log. The ROV is deployed with the TMS (tether management system-manages the tether cable which is the link for electrical power and sensors on the ROV including video and telemetry). Once in the water, the pilot begins to fly the ROV from the control cabin on deck. The altimeter provides information on how far we are from seabed and depth gauge gives us water depth from the sea surface and sonar on the ROV provides a bottom return acoustic signal. Once the operating depth is reached, the ROV begins the dive transect.

Who else is in the control cabin?
A Pilot and co-pilot fly the ROV. The pilot has the joystick whilst the co-pilot monitors the instrumentation. The pilot and co-pilot work a 12 hour day working one hour off one hour on. We also have 2 scientists with us who monitor the dive and make decisions on where we go and what we look at.

Paul and James in the control room (Photo by Anna Rengstorf)

What type of equipment is on the ROV?
There are 6 cameras in total -a pilot colour zoom camera, a HDTV camera, a black and white low light camera, a digital stills camera, a downward facing camera and a rear facing camera to observe the bullet and tether. The HDTV has a HMI 400 Watt floodlight. There are two manipulator arms; one has 5 functions and the second has 7 functions and these allow for the collection of samples e.g. rocks or pieces of coral to be placed in the hydraulically operated drawers. There are also push cores, which can be used to sample soft sediment.

Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) "Holland 1" (Photo by Anna Rengstorf)

What happens after the dive?
Once the ROV is on deck the post-dive checks are carried out, the ROV is washed with freshwater. A maintenance plan ensures the ROV is constantly maintained.

Where is the ship?
The cruise is the first of two joint NUIG/IFREMER ROV expeditions which will focus on investigating hotspot ecosystems (deep-water corals on mounds and in canyons), and their interaction with fish.

Map by Anna Rengstorf

Objective of Cruise
The objectives of the cruise are to
1. map and characterise the coral habitat in the Bay of Biscay and the west of Ireland through ROV camera transects
2. obtain depth profiles of temperature and salinity for each transect to describe the oceanographic characteristics of the area
3. collect coral specimens for genetic fingerprinting to assess the potential erosion of genetic fitness of corals due to long-term exposure to fishing patterns. Sampling of the benthos will be conducted using a grap. Live coral colonies will be sampled and all specimens maintained and preserved for analysis.
4. conduct ROV Training and Equipment Testing
3 Sep 2009 - 12:03 by CoralFISH Celtic Explorer Cruise | comments (0)
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