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Sprats, anchovy, marine mammals, birds, coffee and chocolate under close observation off SW England

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For the third consecutive year, the multidisciplinary pelagic survey of the Western English Channel, Isles of Scilly and the Bristol Channel has started. For those not familiar with the previous surveys (or series of blogs), the “PELTIC” surveys are part of the Defra funded project POSEIDON and aim to investigate the distribution and abundance of small pelagic species, such as sprat and anchovy, and their environment, food and predators.

During the 3 weeks of the survey, we collect information on a variety of variables including temperature and salinity of the water column, phytoplankton and zooplankton, and, of course, size- composition, age and distribution of the small pelagic fish and their eggs and larvae.

To do that we are using a variety of tools, from zooplankton nets (with a mesh size of 1/12 of a hair) to the herring trawl (with an opening that could comfortably fit a three-storey house), from microscopes to satellite remote sensing. And with two observers from MarineLIFE on board we will keep an eye also on marine mammals and seabirds.

Example map of the sample points for the survey
Example map of the sample points for the survey

We are looking forward to this year’s survey; it will be interesting to compare the data collected during these weeks with previous years, to see if this year’s predominantly warm weather had any effect on the small pelagic fish community.

The survey actually started over a week ago so we have a bit of catching up to do. The first day on board was spent off Portland Bill calibrating the echo sounders which are used to detect the small pelagic fish. With good weather, a good team and slack tide we achieved a full calibration in less than three hours. We were delighted with the result, considering that this has taken up to nine hours in the past.

The calibration was followed by the crew familiarising themselves with the deployment procedures, trialling the gear and ironing out any issues before we started the survey proper.

Our crew trailing gear before starting the survey
Our crew trailing gear before starting the survey

Meanwhile the scientific staff, most of whom have been on the previous pelagic surveys, were training some of the new members, Kate and Conor in the mysteries of water sampling, Elisa in the duties of a second in charge and Richy (the fish room manager) in preparing the perfect Italian caffe’ (Moka) for the early risers.

On 3 October, with a successful gear trial instilling confidence in gear and crew, the coffee and chocolate corner set up and open for business, the team caffeine pumped and ready, the survey finally began.

How we got on, we’ll let you know soon.

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