2nd of September 2013, King Edward Point:

I’ve caught them!!!! I’ve caught them!!! I have flipping caught them!!!! This is amazing!! I’ve caught fish larvae!!!! Unbelievable!! I caught them, and they are beautiful! Way more than I thought they’d be…. This is amazing….

But perhaps I should start at the beginning… This morning the Pharos was about to sail off to go do the fish larvae trawling exercise that they do every month to assess the fish larvae density. They do so with plankton nets that they deploy down to about 100m of depth and by the time the larvae are up on deck, they are rather squished and no use for me. As the Pharos was going out there, I thought that perhaps I could give it a shot at deploying traps off the Pharos, just to see if I could catch something. After discussions with the Government Officers, I realised that there was pretty much no point in me going aboard, as the ship would not be stopping anywhere deep enough for any length of time. So I gave up on the idea… And then, to make things worse, I was informed that I had my departure date in late September…. I already knew that that was when I was supposed to leave, but seeing the date so close kind off freaked me out. And then a huge feeling of failure started getting hold of me. I had tried…. I had tried and failed… miserably… I got even gloomier than I had been for the last week. I tried to shake it all off by planning some further offshore “deep” traps. I modified them once again, adding more flotation to each trap (Suggestion by GO Jo!)  to make lifting the whole line a little bit easier. So I added more weight to the base of each trap to make sure they sank properly, and added a whole lot of polystyrene to the top. Then after I had them nearly ready I was told that the boating trip I was planning to take advantage off was cancelled…. Hummmpffff….. So I did what I needed to do… Call home base (AKA boss) for confirmation that it was okay to get some more boating hours and some much needed moral support. It’s funny but after that call I felt completely renewed…. And I was ready for more … Be it success or failure. So I booked the boat for myself to go out and deploy anyway, regardless of other people or weather, I was gonna “poner toda la carne en el asador“. Two lines with four jellyfish traps of 60m and 40m of depth. This time, deployments were as smooth as silk and we were done in less than 40 minutes. I had originally thought of putting out the four bubble traps out off the pier while Pharos was out, but then, decided to give the spotlight a try… It was a wild card, there were reports of larvae being caught by hand of the jetty back in the 90’s, though everyone so far had laughed at the idea. And I had been told so many times that it was so difficult to catch them, that I had not given this method serious thought. GRAVE MISTAKE!!! VERY VERY GRAVE MISTAKE!!! So I found a floodlight, and at dusk I placed it just off the pier and then went for dinner, after an hour I dragged myself to the pier ready to retrieve the lamp and face defeat once again. Surely enough the sea was heaving with critters moving around, the usual suspects: amphipods, polychaetes, isopods, the odd shrimp…. Sigh….. The same as always….. But then something crossed that didn’t move like an amphipod, or a polychaete, or a shrimp… No, this thing was definitely swaying a tail side to side… Nah… Could it? Nah…. Impossible, and then another one…. Wait a second, I need to check this. I ran as quickly as I could in the two foot deep snow to fetch an improvised long-handle soft mesh hand net and fished out that wiggling thing. Off into a bucket. And there it was! My first fish larvae!!! This time there was no doubt about it. I had caught a fish larvae!!! 30 minutes later I had dozen of them of at least three different species!!! One of them had the most beautiful dragon fins! Stunning creatures!!!

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Now I had a problem… What do I do with these?? Off I went running again to the main house, and Dan very kindly offered to help. First I showed him my capture, which he confirmed, reassuring me that I wasn’t inventing stuff, or I was starting to lose the plot. Then we went off on a frantic search for somewhere to overnight the larvae until I had the aquarium ready. I must admit I was rather unprepared for this. Needed somewhere at 0oC. The aquarium room was too warm without the chillers on, outside was too cold… Hummmm… Joe and Ernie were quick thinkers and suggested either the food store (1oC was close enough), or making a mesh bucket and floating it till tomorrow. 20 minutes later we had our bucket, but sadly when we came back, the surface of my original bucket with fish larvae had started to freeze and half my larvae were already belly up…. The wind had picked up and the water in the bucket was now -4oC…. A first Antarctic fish husbandry lesson has been learned, as you’re catching the larvae, the water needs to be kept warm enough. Or the larvae need to be transferred straight away to the aquarium. I have already thought of several ways to solve the problem (floating buckets and polystyrene boxes will come handy).

I am a bit disappointed with myself for not having done this before… I should have done it earlier regardless of opinions… but, hey, I found a way to catch the larvae.

It’s now 1am, and tomorrow I have to start the aquarium. I was tired before I went down to the pier, but now I am buzzing with excitement about the prospect of starting the aquarium. I am curious to see it there is anything in my deep water traps. And I can’t wait to set up the lights again tomorrow eve. Perhaps my luck just changed…. 🙂

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Wednesday, 31st of July, 2013: King Edward point

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It’s been 10 days since my last update. Progress with work has been slow, but we’re getting there. I’ve got six jellyfish traps and four bubble traps.

And I came up with a pulley system suspended between buoys and the shore to be able to deploy traps offshore. One day I tested whether the pulley system would actually work… I think the guys in the Pharos were having a good laugh out of seeing me throwing buoys and ropes off the pier, fighting the wind, and trying to retrieve them form the shore… I must admit it wasn’t my most glorious moment. At one point I was running back into the boathouse looking at the floor to make sure I didn’t step onto some icesheet, when I heard the spookiest noise ever… it was this guttural “grruuunnfff” combined with a blubbery slurp… I looked up and my heart nearly popped out of my chest.

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I was running straight onto an elephant seal, and intimidated by my unphased run, was now standing as tall as possible (and that was pretty tall… ) while backing up towards the sea and making noises to scare me off… The adrenaline rush left me laughing nervously for the next 20 minutes… Mental note: “Look where you put your feet AND where you are heading to!!!”.

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Anyhow, the pulley system worked… kinda. So I decided to go ahead and deploy a few buoys and see what happens. Monday was a lovely sunny day, so Ella and Hazel help me out and we were finally able to deploy two of these buoys (one about 30m offshore, and the other about 50m offshore), which thanks to the kelp forest proved to be a more difficult and complicated task than I had envisaged.

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But on the other hand, the pulley system worked a treat, and monday I was able to deploy two traps. And yesterday it was 6 traps. Thanks Tony for the wonderful pics!!!

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The traps are working very well, they traps lots of things and some get pretty full. But as of yet, not a fish larvae in sight… I was starting to feel a bit disheartened by the lack of larvae… how am I gonna get enough larvae if I can’t catch a single one? Sue had caught 17 larvae in the plankton trawl in the middle of the bay on Tuesday night, so there are some out there… I know I’ll have to try many more times before I even start thinking negatively… but, will the larvae even be so close to shore? and in such shallow waters? And then, while going through the records of last year’s trawls, Sue showed me that on September 2nd last year they caught over 700 larvae in the same trawl exercise. I then remembered that I wasn’t expecting to catch anything until at least early/mid August. So there is hope!!! Now the plans are to deploy some of the jellyfish traps in deeper waters off the other side of the Pharos while it is moored on the pier and keep deploying the traps from the pulley systems in front of the station.

On the social level, life at KEP has been jam-packed with activities. On a couple of afternoons base-commander Rod taught us how to use crampons and ice-axes, and how to stop yourself if you’re sliding down an icy slope towards a cliff… I have also attended Doc Hazel’s Medschool and learned how to put suture stiches!! I hope I will not be put into such a situation where either knowledge is needed…

Last Tuesday Sue organised a fantastic Quiz with the Pharos crew!! I was actually able to respond some of the questions!!! For once I felt useful on a quiz! Lots of questions about science, cooking, and geography… Loved it!! Though I managed to get a Eurovision question wrong…. Hahaha! Our team ended up second!! I then stayed up an the bar with some of the lads, and after a few beers I was showed the other side of “rocking” Pharos… A great night was had!!

On Friday night we had a dart completion against the staff at BAS Halley Station, which was great fun again! Commentators Paula and Joe made a great job at making us laugh with every throw. And on Paula’s P Saturday, after some lovely Paula’s Personalised Peppery Pizzas, I got everyone (or nearly) on the Prancefloor for some Practice-salsa moves. It was a good laugh, and I think people enjoyed it. Tomorrow’s is Paula’s departure party and I’m gutted to see her leave. She’s been an absolute star at making me feel at home here since day one. The whole “big brother house feeling” is becoming even more realistic…

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In the meantime I will leave you with a few pics of random things:

The view from walk to “the office” and me hard at work:

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A saturday afternoon in Grytviken, the old whaling station. Plus a pic of a flock of South Georgia Pintails… incredibly cute but carnivorous!!!!!

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We had a massive snowfall one day, which made everything (rubbish included) look beautiful. It also woke up the child in me…

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And a bit of drama on Paula’s P’day after she got her hair cut and her favorite wine glass got smashed… 😦 At least now she wont have the dilema of whether to take it with her or not….

Monday 22nd July, King Edward Point.

It’s been a week since I arrived, and what a week it has been. I am still grinning around non-stop and have caught a reputation of being “bubbly”…. Hahaha! No wonder with the life I am living here… Where to start? Well, I constructed two template fishlarvae traps: “bubble trap” and “jellyfish trap”

Jellyfish trap:

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And bubble trap!!

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I deployed them on Thursday night from the pier to test them and see how they behaved in the water and whether they survived the night. They floated nicely on the icy sea surface and were very bright indeed! I couldn’t stop watching them in the water, they were even pretty, glowing in the transparent sea with bits of ice floating around… and then things were darting around them! Excellent! The light bait was working… for something at least. Now they only needed to go INTO the trap.

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And they did!! The next day, I went to fetch the traps. Thankfully they were still there, still floating, still alight, and full of marine critters: gammarids, copepods, the odd isopod…. But no fish larvae..

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And one of the curious expectators around the event…

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Oh well, I was delighted that the traps actually trapped things. Now it’s just a case of making many traps and deploying them in as many places as possible to see if I can catch those little elusive dragons. So today I have made another five jellyfish traps that will be ready for deployment tomorrow eve. Nik’s attack on the fish larvae is about to start! Hahaha!

In terms of my free time and daily life at base, I tested my skis on the flat around base a couple of times. I found it hard initially but later on got the jazz of it. It’s a weird move, like moonwalking… and it hits some weird muscles, which are very much sore now. This weekend was blue skies and sunshine ALL weekend. Unbelievable weather, not even jealous of the UK heat wave. So Saturday I got over my achy legs and went skiing at the other side of the cove with Dan.

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Four hours cross-country and went up some hills and I discovered that I LOVE going up hills with the skis! Its amazing! They have these “high heels” that make going up the mountain like going up the stairs. Then it was going down which took me some time to remember how to turn. I think I have skied one day since I was 15. The scenery was once again incredible, the mountains, the frozen lakes, the blue skies.

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Saturday night is formal night here at the station with a three course meal! So I dressed up, tie and all! It started with a few drinks at the bar (including South Georgia brewed ale!) and then a delicious candle-lit dinner with one of my favourites for main: butternut squash risotto! The next few hours were spent getting to know everybody a bit more.

I started Sunday with my pancake ritual, and judging by the interest in them, I can proceed to make more next week (and perhaps put on some Sunday morning music). Hehe! And then by 10:30, I brave it off again, and set off skiing with Jo, Rod, Hazel and Ella, this time towards Maiviken. Once past Grytviken, we went uphill towards Deadman. Nothing prepared for what I was about to experience. After about one hour, we hit the top and I literally lost my breath…. It was unbelievable. The scenery was just impeccable; everything white, the different ranges of mountains, the valleys, the ski had several tones of light grey, pink and purple and the sea was reflecting it all… We had to stop for a good while to take it all in.

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Then, off we went downhill into that untouched snow. Some decided to return midway, but Hazel and I wanted more, so we carried on all the way to the Maiviken refuge to have a cuppa.

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By the time we came back around 4pm I was knackered, but good knackered.

Though I’m excited about the progress with work this week, I can’t wait for the next weekend to continue exploring this frozen paradise.

Monday 15th of July 2013, King Edward Point, South Georgia:

Woke up this morning after a not-so-bad rocky evening on the Pharos. Felt much more rested than the previous day. Got out of bed and looked out the porthole. It was 7:25 and there was little light outside, but the little there was reflected from the glistening snowcapped mountains of South Georgia. It was breathtaking… and so exciting!!! Watched the scenery for a good 20 minutes, then remembered breakfast. Last breakfast on board… not that it had been bad, but after a week of not doing much I was eager to get on with some work.

After breakfast (Pancakes, yeay!!) we all went to the bridge to watch the scenery, this time with a beautiful pale winter light. The sky was ash grey, the sea reflected that shade, and the mountains pure white and tar black. The odd cape petrel and sooty albatross gliding around… it was picture-perfect postcard material! And then… “Nik, look at the elephant seals!!”, shouted Sarah as she pointed to some mahousive dark blobs stranded on the beach, “and the Gentoo penguin there…” The rather comical character was walking out on the beach for some rest. “and some fur seals there just in front of the station”, all peaking up to the sky as if trying to figure out the weather. In the first five minutes I was at KEP I saw so many of the charismatic Antarctic species, it was unbelievable. And then to top it all up, “Hey guys, check the leopard seal there on the other side!!”. Holy mad bananas! There it was a leopard seal just lying there on the shore at the other side of the bay. Felt like on safari, but for real!! I was bouncing with excitement, literally!!

Unfortunatelly I’ve had a glitch with one of my memory cards, so i’ve lost many of the pics of the arrival…. 😦 …

View of Grytviken from Pharos, arrival to KEP and my new “family” to be for the next 3 months!!!

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Half an hour later we were unloading all the equipment and luggage and met with the rest of the base staff. An eclectic mix of obvious adventurers: tough but up for a laugh. My previous excitement about the wildlife turned into a boiling sensation of “I’m really gonna like this”.

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And amidst all the shades of white, grey and black, handshakes and first encounters, my life turned back again into technicolour. The air was fresh, and I couldn’t think of a better place to be!

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Me being abnouxiously excited about everything…

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My new home, King Edward Point Research Station; the Pharos moored outside KEP; and the view from the station…. hummmmm… competes with my view from home over the Menai Straits!! hahaha!!!

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First walk and animals around the station:

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And a quick visit to Grytviken:

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The rest of the day was about settling in, unpacking, tea breaks and finding my way around. Appointment at five at the gym with Ella, Hazel and Tony. These two girls are made of cast iron!!! If I survive their ring training programme, I’m gonna be very fit by the end of the three months, my abs hurt…). And then, the first “Genomics & Technology” session at Sarah and Pat’s überconfy bungalow. Lasagne for dinner (Lasagne always makes me happy), followed by getting to know my new “homies”. This is THE life!

Tomorrow real work starts with meeting at 11. The real fun is about to start!!!

Saturday 13th of July 2013, Antarctic Ocean:

Wohaaa!!! This ship rocks!! And not in a “cool” way…. It rocks a lot!! I’ve been on a few vessels around in the Pacific, the North Sea, the Irish Sea, the Med and the Caribbean, and I’ve always been alright. I like to think it’s the Viking and Pirate blood in me… 🙂  I’ve only been sick at sea once when we got hit by 6m waves on a dreadful tiny trawler off Liverpool bay while gutting and removing bloody otoliths out of flounder, and on that day everyone on board, even the skipper, had their heads overboard feeding the fish…

But on this trip so far we have had what has been described as “unbelievably good” conditions and the water has been indeed quite calm, yet the ship swung like the hips of Cuban rhumba dancers.

I have now found out that Pharos was never meant to be an Antarctic vessel, she’s too shallow. So doing anything useful proved futile. And then on Thursday, after we crossed the Atlantic/Antarctic ocean, we hit some strong winds and it was like: “Hold to one side of the wall, and… oh! No, now the other… and back to the first side”! IMGP4680Memories came back to my mind of the first time I was in a big ship, the “Inspiration”, playing and jumping with my cousins in the corridors as the ship swayed side to side… This time, as back then, the only thing I had in mind is “keep the tummy full”. And that is all we’ve been doing so far, eating Chef Jorge’s delicious meals (fillet mignon included!!), three times a day, plus 24h salad bar…. That, watching and learning to recognise Antarctic seabirds (Wondering Albatross included!!!), and sleeping… I’ve never slept so much in my life…. Though still not feel rested. At one point in the middle of the night, I woke up on what felt like the middle of the air before hitting the bed back again… Prrooommmpommpommmpoommmm…. “???” That was a noise I’ve never heard on a ship before… and apparently it’s the way the Pharos sounds when it’s surfing atop waves… it was quite impressive.

Leaving the Falklands behind:

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Me on my usual friday night frocks…

 

 

 

 

 

And entering the Antarctic Ocean:

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I have not been sick yet on this trip, but Thursday and Friday I was definitely not in the mood for anything else than lying horizontally while trying to follow some film… Today it’s a bit better, managed to go outside, and we have finally reached South Georgia!!! It was beautiful!!! That ghostly white landscape on the horizon against the white clouds was impressive. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Quite a sight after five days of seeing nothing but ocean. We are now circumnavigating the island and we will not reach Kind Edward Point for another couple of days.

First glimpse of South Georgia from the south.

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Tuesday 9th of July, Falkland Islands

The flight was a joy. After 9h there was a quick stop over in Ascension, where the air was thick, hot, and humid and smelled of holidays.

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Then another 9h on the plane southbound. Just before we arrived to the Falklands, two jets appeared over the horizon and escorted us to Stanley. It was pretty weird and cool at the same time. The jets were so close we could even see the faces of the pilots!

And then, the Falklands… the ragged mountains were griping the sunny winter ski like claws and the land was a light drab brown. It looked mysterious and peaceful. Once landed I was relieved to find that it was a balmy 3oC. Didn’t know what to expect.

Grateful that it was all there, I collected my luggage, and once again, there were no trollies. So there I was, moving 4 boxes and 3 bags around one by one… I truly felt like a Haitian “Madam Sara” with suitcases and suitcases filled to the rim with STUFF… Ended up being last to leave the airport, but thankfully there was a taxi waiting for me.

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And then, there was the ride to Stanley. One hour through that land that looked desolated and barren under the winter light but full of spring potential. There were sheep and upland geese everywhere with the odd farmhouse dotted around. It reminded me of some weird mixture of the plains in Spain in midwinter with rugged elements from Snowdonia.

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Arrived to Stanley just after sunset and was welcomed by the very bubbly owner of the motel. She made me feel like a son coming back home. Had dinner and though I would hit town to see what was going on in the pubs in Stanley. The first thing that attracted my attention was the profusion of flags… I had never seen so many in my life; they were everywhere and covered just about everything: British, English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Australian, New Zealand… get the picture? … I made a mental note to make sure that I removed my “Equato-gentinian” accent from my Spanish, should I dare to speak it around. Following my usual line, it wasn’t long before I had company. A fun night was had with some Brits working on the new Stanley pier and a cool bunch of jolly Saint Helenians. After a few rounds with my new friends, and a few more laughs, it was time to go back… somehow… without a map… across the dark “streets” of Stanley… and not a soul in sight. It was bitterly cold but the sky was FULL of stars so the stroll was a joy!! The Milky Way was more like the Creamy Way. And with that private present in my mind I went to bed.

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This morning I woke up to another amazing present: sunrise over Port Stanley bay. I started to notice that I had a bit of a smile I couldn’t delete from my face. After breakfast I went to buy a couple of absolute essentials I had forgotten (i.e. coffee press), and I had just enough time to have a quick walk in Stanley, so went to see the Cathedral and the whale bone monument! Wooohaaa!! I never thought they were THAT big!! If that’s just a rib bone, what do the real things look like? Perhaps I will find out sometime soon… how exciting!!!

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The taxi came to pick me and my luggage, which had again grown by another large bag of winter kit and a few bits and bobs I had ordered in Stanley. Then I met Tony, Pat and Sarah, with whom I will be sailing for the next few days. I am now in the MV Pharos, South Georgia’s Government fisheries patrol vessel. My cabin is next to luxurious, and I am so excited about the trip.

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Sometime between Sunday night 7th and Monday morning 8th of July, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic.

I am on the plane… I made it!! I am off towards the southern hemisphere! And I am surprised!! What an afternoon it has been: I decided to go to the airport 6h early to check in (an absolute record for me) and figure out how to fly with all my luggage/equipment. It was really hot and I made the bad choice of dressing up smart with a shirt and long trousers, while transporting 4 large boxes, two bags and a skibag … on my own, and with no trolleys available, great! What a show. There I was, frantically moving all this stuff, sweating like a pig, trying to appear serious and smart, surrounded by all these military men with sensible backpaks looking at me in disbelief. I have not been that self-conscious in years! I finally arrived to the counter, started putting all my stuff on the scales. I had a weight limit of 54kg and my personal luggage was less than 20kg, but all those boxes…. Hummmmm… 15 minutes later I had a grand total: 91 kg. Whooohaaa!!! The guy behind the counter was as astonished as I was. But thankfully I could just pay for the excess luggage rather than having to reshuffle and re-edit the “cargo” in front of all those entertained eyes behind me, who were starting to get slightly exasperated. I had done enough of a show so far, so 37kg excess luggage fee it was. I though the ordeal was over (Ha!), and I had four hours before departure so I headed back to my accommodation for a much needed shower. Two hours before departure I headed back to the airport, luggage was checked in, I had my boarding pass, my passport, hand-luggage was ready, I had cleaned and put petrol on the rental car… Everything was under control: just had to get there, drop the car, and get on the plane. And then, traffic. Sunday 10pm and there was traffic. Anxiety started to build up, but I reminded myself that I had plenty of time. I finally got to the airport, still an hour and a half before departure. Headed for the rental car return point, where I was greeted by a security officer. He was asking for an access permit. Huh? “You need an access permit” What? “Go to that building over there and ask for a permit”. So there I headed, to request said permit. 10 minutes later I was smiling to the security officer with my permit. “Which company did you rent your car from?” I handed over the paperwork I was given when I collected the car from the University’s preferred car rental company. “Nah, I’ve never heard of this company, you can’t park here”. WHAT?? But I’ve got a plane to catch and the instructions I received was that I would return the car here, at the airport. There must be a mistake, can you check your records? “Sorry Sir, but you cannot park your car here unless it’s from one of these companies”. Okey, now the anxiety was turning into panic. Look, I’ve got to get on a plane to travel across the planet and I am not going to miss it because of a rental car. “You can leave your car anywhere you want, but not in the rental carpark”. I headed back out wondering what to do at 10:45pm on a Sunday night. I had seen there wasn’t a parking space for quite a distance, so though of just leaving the car on the road, would I get a ticket? A ticket was obviously better than missing the plane. And in middle of the panic storm, I realised there must be something somewhere stating which company this car had been sub-hired from. So I scoured the car, and I finally found a paper in a hidden pocket. Headed back to security. I could see in his face he was ready to deny me access again, but confronted with my evidence he took his time to read the whole thing and finally I was allowed to park the bloody car. As I went through the doors of the airport I heard my name being called, there I was making a scene again. But I made it through security and onto the plane. Those who know me know how much I hate flying, but after all I have gone through the last week, I have no adrenaline left and crossing the Atlantic North to South seems like a pleasant ride.

Saturday 6th of July, Oxford

I’m in Oxford now. Took me most of the day yesterday to travel down after a much protracted departure from Bangor, an unsuccessful stopover in Llandudno, a few stops in various DIY shops which I starved of airducts, and a very professional two hour ski fitting session in Manchester (Golden star for Ross!!). Now fully kitted for some cross country skiing! Yeah baby, bring that snow on!!!

Against all odds, the final pieces of my kit: those acrylic tubes arrived, and they are now in my possession.

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However, to be able to fit them in my luggage I’ve had to cut them longitudinally so that I can fit them inside each other. Finding somewhere in Oxford where I would have the space to place the tubes and access to electricity was a big challenge! After trying a few DIY shops, I ended up asking the pub where I had parked my car, The Old Black Horse. Was quite something explaining my situation: a marine biologist in Oxford, that needed to cut acrylic tubes for his babyfish traps last minute before heading to Antarctica…. they were incredibly helpful!! So there I was, at 2pm in a 30oC full sun Oxford car park with my jigsaw frantically cutting tubes and repacking all my equipment. Needless to say I sweated like a pig, but I really enjoyed those last few hours of summer. Pete, the owner of the pub was ever so kind giving me sodas every hour.

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Five hours later, I celebrated with a beer having “just” four boxes and three bags to travel with.

Next hurdle… how to fly with four boxes and three bags….

Thursday 4th of July, Bangor

It’s been two crazy-mad weeks of contacting suppliers, ordering equipment, and trying to get all the equipment delivered on time before my departure. Trouble-shooting the trap designs, problem solving, sourcing the different trap components and aquarium equipment, getting quotes, coordinating payment through finance office (the biggest thank you to Gill and Iris!!!), and getting invoices has been stressful, but a lot of fun too. It’s been fascinating the responses of suppliers when I was asking for advice and quotes for plastic rods, nuts, and washers for the construction of Antarctic fish larvae traps; or when I was looking for thermostats to control the temperature of an aquarium facility that would be warmed to 0oC in South Georgia; although, one of the best must have been looking for a whole alpine touring kit in Britain at the end of June… the faces… like mastercard… priceless!!

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Anyhow, it’s now Thursday, I’ve got about 95% of my equipment here: 50 odd LED waterproof tealights of different colours and intensities, enough lightsticks to liven up the Greenman festival ;-), a dozen battery-operated airpumps (absurdly difficult to find…), aquarium heaters, nearly 4kg of batteries (took about half hour to remove all the packaging), battery chargers, chains, buckets, funnels, pipes, airducts, polystyrene boxes (Gold star for Delphine!!!), fishnets, mosquitonets, rods, nuts and bolts, a long etcetera of random stuff and a mammoth-sized car …

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but one of the key and most important bits of my equipment hasn’t yet arrived: the acrylic tubes for the 16 “jellyfish” traps. Without them I’m screwed… I have had to forward the address to Oxford and they say they will be arriving there tomorrow guaranteed…. Let’s see…

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Now time to pack all this equipment together… … … without the crucial tubes….

SOW project brief description and Intro to what am I about to do

Hello Everyone,

Welcome to my blog.

Here I will post updates about my field trip to South Georgia in the Antarctic Ocean as part of the Southern Ocean Warming (SOW) project. The project is a collaboration between Bangor University and the British Antarctic Survey. The aim is to predict the impact of expected future climate change on Antarctic commercial fisheries and their biodiversity.

These fisheries, normally found in the sea shelf around Antarctic islands, are composed of several species, each of which has their own life history characteristics. In our case, we are most interested in the how long fish larvae stay in a planktonic phase (i.e. drifting with the sea currents) before they settle on the sea bottom. The length of this planktonic phase is important as it will dictate how far away fish larvae will be able to travel from their parents. Long phases will promote lots of mixing of larvae among islands, and hence the fishery for these species can be managed as a single unit. On the other hand, if the planktonic phase is short, then larvae will likely be retained close to their parents with little mixing among islands, and the fishery will need to be managed at an island level. In the last scenario, if an island population is overfished it is unlikely to recover through migration from other islands.

We can estimate the length of the planktonic fish by ageing fish larvae; this can be done by counting daily rings formed in their ear bones. Once we know how long larvae stay in a planktonic stage, we can forecast how far these larvae are likely to reach with the use of oceanographic current models. Then, we can simulate the impact this exchange of larvae will have on population genetic structure among the islands. By comparing these simulated values with real population genetic structure we can evaluate how accurate our models are at estimating current genetic mixing among islands.

Larvae growth rates are affected by their surrounding temperature, and the projected temperature increase in the Antarctic due to climate change, is thus likely to shorten the length of the planktonic phase. This could impact on the larvae exchange among islands, and thus have severe consequences for the fisheries as well as for the species survival at all islands.

In this task of the SOW project, I aim to collect icefish larvae at the beginning of their planktonic phase and keep them in tanks at ambient temperature and at the projected Antarctic temperature in 2050.

Although, this may seem as a simple task, two factors complicate things. First, the highest densities of larvae are during the Antarctic winter, so I have to go there from July to September during the coldest months. And secondly, collecting icefish larvae in a good enough condition to be kept alive is not as simple as it may seem. Icefish larvae can be collected in abundance with plankton nets, but their skin will be damaged by the mesh, and may get squished at the cod end. So I have to use a different approach, with larvae traps that will not damage the larvae and, once retrieved, will keep water in them so the larvae are never exposed to air. To that aim I have come up with a couple of trap designs modified from other models I have seen.

From now on I will be posting every so often about my adventures about getting these traps together, travelling down to King Edward Point in South Georgia, and my experiences with getting the fish larvae and, hopefully, keeping them alive in the aquarium.

 

Wish me luck, I’ll need plenty of it!!!

And thanks for watching this space!