Thursday, 29 December 2011

And she returns!

I'm back off my holiday, a lovely cruise to the Canaries (sailing from Southampton) on the Independence of the Seas (Royal Caribbean). We sailed to Vigo, Lisbon, Madeira, Gran Canaria, Tenerife and La Coruna [unfortunately we didn't get off here] and saw some lovely things. Once I've got the photos off my harddrive [most likely tomorrow evening] I shall stick some on here, we took some wonderful photos from the aquarium in Lisbon.

For now, I shall leave you with a photo of me and my wonderful mother and grandfather by the Christmas tree on board.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Rocky Shore, Mount Batten

I absolutely love this photo and it has some excellent memories attached. When I was at the University of Plymouth doing my undergraduate degree, we used to come here for most field trips in order to assess the rocky shore intertidal zone, collect data on various things. I had to collect the organisms for my dissertation here also - rock chips containing Chthalamus montagui barnacles (I had to remove the few Semibalanus balanoides that were present), the dog whelk Nucella lapillus (boreal-lusitanian species) and the oyster drill Ocenebra erinacea (classically a warm water species). I had some very fun times here. We even used to come for fun, just to sit on the rocks, have a good mooch in the rockpools seeing whether we could find the biggest edible crab (Cancer pagurus) or the biggest velvet swimming crab (Necora puber) - obviously we did this as to not largely disturb their habitat. In fact, it's a big message to any keen rockpooler - it's all good to go and have a look, turn over the rocks to see what's lurking, but please put the rocks back in the exact same place and be very wary of what is actually underneath the rock. If you drop it in the water without much consideration for what might be living there, you'll probably end up killing things!!

I had some very good times here anyway and I actually do miss Plymouth, mainly for this shore.

Dissertation titles are out...

Dissertation titles are out and I am doing "global status of fisheries for skates and rays". I'm quite happy with this, it was one of my first options. I'd also have loved to do one on the bioengineering (using the oceans) for climate change as I've done a tiny bit of that before but this would be interesting to do. Plus, I'd quite like to get into fisheries as a career path after university.

I have Dr Bryce Beukers-Stewart as my dissertation supervisor. He was the Fisheries Policy Officer for the Marine Conservation Society which is exciting news!

Anyway, based on the e-mail that was sent around regarding dissertation topics, this is essentially what I am doing:

"Several species of skates and rays have received widespread attention from the conservation community recently due to their threatened status. However, skates and rays are a very diverse group of species with a wide range of life history characteristics. How important are fisheries for skates and rays? Are all species equally threatened and if not why are some species more vulnerable than others? Is it possible to develop sustainable fisheries for skates and rays? This project will aim to address such questions through analysis of both global (FAO) and national databases (e.g. ICES, NOAA etc) of fisheries statistics. The results are likely to be of great interest to both the conservation community and fisheries managers."

It is going to be a lot of work, but I reckon the rewards will be great!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Dissertation topics chosen.

Potential dissertation titles were released earlier in the week and we had to have a scan through and pick some that we'd like to do. I've chosen five [so far] although this is likely to change. The deadline isn't until Monday thankfully [we have so much to do at the moment] but I thought it would be best to at least e-mail an idea of what I'd like to do, and then confirm it over the weekend say.

Anyway, I've picked to do one of these (fingers crossed).
  • Global status of fisheries for skates and rays
  • Historical analysis of contaminant levels in marine life
  • The biodiversity and ecosystems services value of eelgrass, (Zostera marina), horsemussel reefs, (Modiolus modiolus) and maerl beds in the British Isles
  • Evidence for the effects of Marine Protected Areas on crab and lobster potting in temperate habitats
  • The impact of Marine Protected Areas on intertidal sand ecosystems

I still don't know which one I'd prefer to do!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) at Boulders Beach, Simon's town, South Africa

This was another fantastic day trip that we did in our week 'holiday' before the field course, we went to see the penguins. A colony of African penguins, also known as Jackass penguins (Spheniscus demersus) settled at Boulders Beach in 1982 and is a popular tourist attraction. Luckily (I say it in a very loose way) it was bucketing it down with rain when we went... I've never been so wet in my life! I didn't even think about it, so here we were walking from the Simon's Town train station to Boulders Beach, in the rain, with our waterproof jackets on, completely forgetting that jeans have to be the absolute worst thing you can wear in these conditions. My blue jeans looked black by the end of it, when we came home we were shivering and I ended up breaking my phone (due to the rain). 


We got on a bus to get to Cape Town train station, it was actually very scary since the bus didn't want to stop for us and so we had to jump on whilst it was still moving, only to sit there being stared at for the whole 20-30 minutes. It was very cheap though so we couldn't complain. Upon arrival at the train station we bought our tickets... Return from Cape Town to Simon's Town... This cost us just 23,50 rand which at the time equated to about £2.30 - pretty good value if you ask me!

We walked, and walked, and walked (and got very wet as mentioned) until we reached Boulders Beach! I didn't realise it was part of the Table Mountain National Park but, there you go... I wish I could tell you an interesting story about each of the penguins, but I'm afraid I don't have any to tell. They all looked very cold and a few of them kept sneezing (which was quite cute, I'll admit). So instead, I'm going to flood the page with some penguin photos, all take by yours truly.

(I do think these two little things are adorable... they huddled together for a long time).

That's all for now! Rachel x

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Cage diving with Great White sharks in South Africa

I went to South Africa on a field course trip through the University of Plymouth (second year). It was absolutely fantastic since we went out a week beforehand to do the usual touristy things. The highlight of the holiday was a cage diving trip with great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) in Gansbaai. It truly was one of the best experiences of my life.

We were picked up at about 5.30am from our apartment just outside of Cape Town... Then we made a little stop off point (I can't remember where it was, I'm really bad at remembering that) to see a Southern Right Whale and her calf in the water. My camera is pretty poor for zoomed shots, but you can just see the calf below...

... Then a pretty standard shot of the beautiful coastline...

... Luckily I caught a photo of the calf breaching the water. It was beautiful to see (in person), unfortunately the camera doesn't do it justice.

This is just before we got onto the boat at Gansbaai...

... and this is our boat...

... this is the cage ...

... this is... a shark!

... Looking very cold!!!

Tuna head as bait, cage and shark


... One of the best photos I took that day, it was fantastic...

... and the other cracking shot. Unfortunately my camera [as mentioned] isn't the best but I thought it was good timing at least!!

And there we have it!

Rachel x

Not remotely marine or course related but...

How fabulous is this cup? My housemate brought me a cup of tea since she knows I've been working away like mad and it really put a smile on my face.

(And looky, the blog is in the background!)

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Appalling day regards to work.

I don't get what is up with me... I used to be relatively good at doing essays, collating information collected and generally really getting into it. At the moment my head just seems to be fluffed up with rubbish knowledge though and it is really beginning to get me down.

Currently I'm trying to write a [relatively small] section on Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) plants used to exploit the difference between the warmer, shallow waters and the colder, deeper waters. I know I don't need to go into much information regarding how the system works (because a lot of people have dismissed it anyway, it has too big of an environmental impact) but I need to find a lot of information regarding the negative impacts it has. So far I've found one abstract from a paper in the 1980s predicting how a 40-MW plant located 1/4 mile off Kahe Point in Hawaii will affect marine mammals. I can't access the main paper (always the way) and the abstract doesn't give much away either.

I've done a small bit on the use of off-shore wind farms (in terms of effects). I need to do all the background info now before I go for my GIS practical, then this evening I can bulk it out with the effects on organisms..It's going to be a late night, I can feel it. Definitely time to stock up on some Red Bull even though I hate the damn thing.

Edit @ 14.42: Word count currently stands at 2000, meaning I have just 3000 words left to do.... "JUST" *laughs* that's the same as my essay on coldwater reefs, so I really need to pick up my game... I'll do 3 hours when I get in from GIS and I suggested another 3 hours tomorrow. If I do 500 words an hour I can get it done, but that's just awful and never going to happen since I haven't even got all my research together yet...

Panic sets in.... Now!

Project Ocean

I really wish these bands were still available.

PADI Open Water diving course.

I've finally made the plunge and agreed to do a PADI Open Water diving course at my local diving school in York, Overland Underwater. I've been e-mailing the owner of the school and she has agreed to charge me £315 (as opposed to the full £350) and loan out the DVDs for free (since I have already got the Open Water manual thanks to one of the instructors there, who also happens to be a course mate).

I'm going to be securing my place on the course with my friend next week (most likely) and so I'll have a quick drive to the school in Acomb so I can have a chat with either her or her partner about what we'd be doing.

The start date for the pool sessions is the 13th January (yes, that is Friday the 13th) and run for about 5 weeks (unless you need more sessions, free of charge) and then I think two days of Open Water in a quarry (lovely and chilly!) but I couldn't be more excited.

I need to do this, and then 10 extra dives before I can dive on the course over Easter. Luckily, we're going out to Egypt a week before the course starts and booking a 4 day diving course (£99 I believe it was) with two dives per day (8 dives in total). I'll just need to do two extra which I can either do by doing an extra day in Sharm, or I could do two more dives in the UK. I'll see what my coursemate would like to do and then set the ball rolling.

I'm so very excited about this. I've been putting it off for years and years and now I'm finally doing it.

I just need to buy my mask, fins, snorkel, slate and booties (I think that is all). I've already got a wetsuit which should suffice, we'll see.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

We can have fun too!

Simply because it makes me laugh, a photo of my friend and I messing about on the sandy shore in Roscoff after finding something that looked like a fin!


I handed in my first piece of coursework for the MSc on Monday... Since then I've been finding it very difficult to get myself motivated for the next piece... it's a big one too! 5000 words due for a Marine Environmental Case Study - I've gone for an essay on "Marine Renewable Energy Devices: Just how environmentally benign are they?" I'm quite into it if I'm honest, but there's not a chance in hell that I'm going to get it done for Friday [it's only a draft thankfully].

My essay that I handed in on Monday was a 3000 word assessment of human impacts on coldwater coral reefs using Lophelia pertusa in northwest Atlantic Ocean, Norwegian and North Sea. It was supposed to only be in the North Sea originally but that kind of ignored the Darwin Mounds, an important area of L.pertusa just off the northwest of Scotland... plus within the North Sea, prior to the decommissioning of an oil and gas platform, L.pertusa hadn't even been found there!

So, my fingers [and toes] are crossed that I get a decent mark on that first one. I was a bit bored writing it... I know I know I should've picked a topic that I was really into but I just don't have a clue. This one I quite like investigating since it is something I'd actually quite like to get into once I've finished my MSc.

We'll see anyway.

Monday, 31 October 2011

The last post.

Apologies for the bluntness of the last post. I realise it kind of came to a bit of an abrupt end. I realised that I was scouring through my lecture notes to try and say something interesting or even to highlight the errors of our ways (as humans) but it was a) winding me up and b) making me realise I really need to get started on a piece of coursework. I may do another post later when time is on my side (or when I've actually done something today) and we'll see how it goes.

The Deep Sea

For our 'Marine Ecosystems' lecture today we were given an overview of the Deep Sea environment, the main threats and what has been done to protect it. I'm actually quite shocked at the amount of management surrounding the deep sea, i.e. very little has been done or is due to be done thus is remains relatively unprotected. I guess this is due to the amount of information that we know about this habitat, we just don't know enough to protect it efficiently. I mean, think of it like this, 87% of the sea is dominated by this 'deep sea'. It is the most widespread habitat yet we only know about 0.0005% of it. I'd say it was shocking but some of these areas are ridiculously deep. Light becomes limited in the mesopelagic zone (also known as the Twilight Zone) which is between 200 and 1000m deep. Then you read the bathypelagic zone (the midnight zone) which is totally pitch black (1000-2000m deep). In both of these zones you do get some bioluminescent organisms though. Then you reach the Abyssopelagic and Hadopelagic zone and suddenly everything is very... sparse. The hadal zone includes those deep ocean trenches that you find and can reach depths up to (and maybe exceeding) 11000m.

Anyway, I've done very little research surrounding the deep sea. I think we may have touched on it a little in the first year of my undergraduate degree but I don't think much time was spent on it. I remember various facts, like the important of food falls or 'ocean snow' in order to provide those living in the deep with food since primary productivity is limited to bacteria whom synthesise organic compounds using chemical energy (chemosynthesis), and that whale carcasses often provide a 'stepping stone' for organisms recolonising to different hydrothermal vents... I recall this much but I never really acknowledged the main threats associated with the anthropogenic exploitation of the deep sea and it was quite shocking!

We were shown comparable sites of... Lophela pertusa for example (photo below) and it was just disgusting how much damage a single trawl can do to hundreds of years of coral reef.

Lophelia pertusa, a stony coral (scleractinian) which produces reefs. Most well known example of a cold water coral, and currently under threat from deep sea trawling (deep sea fisheries). Below is a before and after photo of damage in Norway.

To think that as a result of anthropogenic greed for money and food, hundreds of organisms have lost their habitat.

I found this species very interesting too, I'd never actually seen one before. It is a scaly-foot gastropod Crysomallon squamiferum and has a foot reinforced with scales made of iron and organic materials.

Giant isopod, a perfect example of gigantism.

Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) has been observed at depths of 2200m.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Coastal Squeeze, Humber Estuary.

On Friday we did our first bit of fieldwork for the Ocean and Coastal Processes module that we have to do. We jumped on the coach towards Grimsby and Cleethorpes in order to investigate the effects by comparing both sites. Grimsby docks were created in the 19th century resulting in a two way 'coastal squeeze' with both rising sea levels and a manmade structure. It was actually a very fun day and so good to be out in the open air doing some field work, getting a little muddy and wet along the way (it is all part of the fun).

We had split off into two groups. I didn't fancy getting stuck in the mud (I've done it too many times and I end up falling in, something I didn't want to do) and it was a lovely day (photo opportunity as you shall see later) and so I chose to visit the Cleethorpes site. Here we sampled along a transect across the intertidal zone (1000m in Cleethorpes, 400m in Grimsby). Sampling involved taking four core samples (for infauna) and two sediment samples. This was all simple enough at the strandline (where we started) but as soon as we went into the wetter sand it got increasingly more difficult since it was harder to remove from the cores and we were slowly sinking into the quick-sand like surface.

Standard photo of the muddy wellies

The site at Cleethorpes and the beautiful weather.

I love this photo with the mounds of sands and the pools of water. This was at about 1000m from the strandline.

The sunshine.

Some of the group in action with the infauna core samples.

New start.

I think it gets to the stage where you've finished flickering between this and that and you really need to just settle for one thing, right? I've been using Tumblr for my daily blogging needs (usually involves rambling about my day, reblogging other photos and doing this and that). I decided to create a subblog (of sorts) which is named (rather unoriginal I know) the same as this blog, ocean-defender. Whilst I'll still keep my Tumblr for the random general crap I go on about I thought I'd retrace my steps and rejoin 'blogger'...
... Okay, that's pretty much just rambling again... Ignore me.

I'm 21 years old, a recent graduate of the University of Plymouth where I studied BSc Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology. I obtained a First Class Hons (go me!) and got my dissertation paper 'published' onto the Plymouth Student Scientist (click the link to be sent to the volume it is in). I'm now currently at the University of York studying MSc Marine Environmental Management and loving it.