Challenging Habitat Blog

I’ve been blogging for a while about the Antarctic Quest 21 expedition that will take a team of eight onto the Forbidden Plateau on the central spine of the Antarctic Peninsula to install scientific equipment and down to the shores of the Weddell Sea to do some more of the same…see my previous posts here and here.

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It is good to see that the public is reminded of the importance of small freshwater bodies for biodiversity by the Helen Briggs at the BBC:

Having created a wildlife pond in my own garden this summer, I have been astonished by the arrival of invertebrates, mollusks and birds within the first few weeks and months of its existence and the colonisation of pond margins with a variety of mosses, ferns and wild flowers.

Pond beetles whirling in my wildlife pond, November 2020

If you have a little space, I’d strongly encourage you to introduce water into your garden – a tiny space a couple of metres across will add a beautiful dimension to the experience of your space and it will support wildlife, such as newts and birds. It can be such a pleasure to watch evolve, get kids involved and learning as your wildlife pond matures…

I also sincerely hope that the protection of water courses on farmland and common land will be high on the agenda in coming years.

Just after the 8am news on BBC Radio Four, an elephant entered the studio of the Today programme.

During the interview with the education secretary, it remained there, unmentioned.

The interview was about adjusting school exam practice and grading, to take into account the disruption to learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Proposed adjustments are to be made for all students, irrespective of the actual level of disruption experienced in a particular school or students’ access to IT and additional tuition.

The reasonable question how universally applied adjustments would help to level out the differences in learning experience for students in different regions and varying access to educational resources remained unanswered.

Over and over again, the question how the proposed adjustments will be fair, was ignored.

And this is where the elephant comes into sharp focus: it is not fair, will not be fair and never has been a level playing field for all children in Britain, nor in the world, for that matter. Never mind the particular circumstance of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current educational secretary just maintains a tradition, and that elephant remains in the room.

Some students excel in spite of the disadvantages they experiencing, others struggle to fulfil their true potential. This is our common loss, a loss for the whole society.

Featured Image: C Braungardt, South Africa 2009.

(Apologies to all elephants!)

New life!

We’ll before oaks shed their last leaves, acorns are preparing the next generation.

A lesson in sustainability to all of us from the scale of families and education, organisations and businesses to political parties and government.

I’m back on the Pelican of London for the final day of the voyage: up the Thames, through Tower Bridge (twice) and the final docking at Canary wharf.

It feels strange to be socially distancing from people I lived and worked with, as recently as last week, in a covid-19 free bubble. …and I’m gutted not to be part of the crew maning the yards on our sail through the bridge.

It’s clearly scenic in its own way, and photographers aboard are as busy as ever. As environmental scientist, I preferred the more natural and pristine land and seascapes of Scotland.

The river is busy and unfortunately carries a lot of floating litter. I chose to show one of the less revolting items …

Exciting times: getting aloft for the sail through Tower Bridge!

Getting ready…
… opening just for us…
… Imogen leading a shanty….
…a job well done, just enjoy it now!

As the afternoon fades, we enter Canary wharf to dock for a final time on this voyage.

We’ve arrived!

A final evening of celebrating a fantastic journey lies ahead and then it’s good bye (for now).

Today was special, even more so than other days during the Darwin 200 voyage on the Tall Ship Pelican of London.

We visited Bass Rock!

With 75000 pairs of breeding gannets, plus young birds and chicks, Bass Rock is the largest northern gannet breeding colony.

Gannets grow incredibly fast but don’t develop their full adult colouring until they are around five years old and ready to breed.

Adult with chick that is loosing it’s first fluffy plumage.

Chicks and young birds with different stages of dark plumage occupy Bass Rock.

Adults with beautiful facial markings and this year’s chicks nearly fat enough to enter the water.

The number and proximity, the cacophony of sound and pungent smell of guano!

A unique experience of the wonders of nature.

Gannets rule!

Learn more about gannets at the Scottish Seabird Center

Today was sadly the day I left Pelican for life on land again. Duties at the University of Plymouth are calling…

It’s been a fantastic voyage around Britain’s North, on the Pelican, now quite familiar, and with its crew, who I have grown very fond of.

Leaving Pelican behind in the ship’s RIB…

Thank you!

This morning the science conference brings together all the projects we’ve been running aboard the Pelican of London.

First off – wind energy with Lorimer and Jasper, here explaining plans for a new wind farm in the Thames estuary.

Find out more about our wind energy activities here https://darwin200.com/understanding-sustainable-energy/

Kerry and Aoibhinn present data of macroplastics collected during systematic beach cleans that will also be reported to the Marine Conservation Society.
Abigail, final year Environmental Science student at the University of Plymouth, talks us through nutrient concentrations around the British coast and relates it to the objectives of Water Framework Directive for coastal and transitional waters.
Thomas introduces the world of plankton with data from Scottish and Irish waters and wonderful images and film taken with digital microscopes.

Find out more about plankton on our voyage there: https://darwin200.com/systematic-plankton-studies/

Joe collated all 110 individual sightings of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sunfish on a database that he visualised on Google maps. The data will be sent to the Seawatch Foundation for further analysis.
Shaolin presented extensive background information about microplastics in the oceans, from sources to impacts. Amazing numbers of these particles and fibers were detected by microscope in dust collected in the mess, the washing machine, deck scrubbings, sea water and sediment.
Molly compared traditional and modern ways of measuring temperature at sea.
The impact of microplastics on the geological record during the Anthropocene is explained with exhibits by Imogen and Penelope. An excellent food for thought with respect to making choices about our personal choices and behaviour, as well as what we want to achieve in life.

Tomorrow, we’ll be filming each projects in more detail.

Featured image: Copyright Dr Rohan Holt. Diver: Kelly Mackay

Tomorrow morning is the moment when the young people who studied different parts of the science during our voyage will present their findings to all of us.

The Darwin 200 team has provided very desirable prizes for the top three presentations, so the ship is buzzing with data analysis and creating stories from the evidence…

Maps are drawn, statistics calculated and videos edited…

…and there is also some light relief once the work is done!

A fun night aboard Pelican in Montrose. No shore leave, but who needs it when we have a teak welldeck for a dance floor and playlists from the Rolling Stones to the latest top of the chart tunes, grime, shanties and ceilidhs? (an ABBA being banished to the Happy Hour forever!)

The bright lights of oil and gas fields illuminated the horizon during the night’s sail, which was powered by the wind. Pelican’s headsails, spanker and three square sails were set to ensure optimal use of light winds.

On board, maintenance of ropes and rigging is not only essential to keep Pelican sailing, it is also an opportunity for skills development.

The young people aboard have been engaged with the ship’s training programme and ate getting quizzed by the permanent crew on diverse topics, including safety equipment and procedures, knowledge of sails and how to set them, navigation and buoyage, helming and galley hygiene…and get their log books signed off bit by bit.

The opportunities for personal development aboard go way beyond this formal learning and training.

The tough regime of keeping watch on a 24 hour rota require dedication to the team effort, discipline and responsibility. At times, leadership. Safety on board rely on situation awareness of everyone especially during sail handling, mooring operations and maneuver in confined spaces.

For many of the young people aboard, this is a new experience and each job done well has the potential to build confidence. Interacting in teams and shared accommodation, doing chores cleaning heads and showers, helping in the galley and scrubbing the decks  leads to insights and reflections that enhances self-awarenes.

Questions arise and don’t look for immediate answers.

Some keep it to themselves for now, some share it with shipmates and talk it through. It’s a privilege to be part of this.

This voyage touches everyone and its effects will ripple through our lives…

With the beautiful backdrop of the Inner Hebrides, we’ve got a day packed with science and filming.

The diving team is studying the benthos and once more bring specimen aboard. This starfish is regrowing several arms lost in an unknown event.

Water quality analysis near a salmon farm, plankton net trawls scanned for microfibers and plankton diversity, bird watching and cetacean surveys are all adding to our growing data set.

We’ve also started to compare surface water temperatures measured with a replica of the wooden bucket, such as would have been around in Charles Darwin’s times, with modern equivalent and the electronic sensors the University of Plymouth brought on board.

The biggest task today is the installation of our wind turbine, which was greatly helped by the ship’s engineer Daniel.

Once up and running, its operation and purpose was filmed in the style of an interview by Lorimer and Jasper. Watch this space!

Meanwhile, I had a bit of fun running a 12 V fan off the battery we charged with it… Captain Ben thought it hilarious.

A hike across the island of Kerrara this morning led us to beautiful beaches.

A systematic plastic survey for the Marine Conservation Society was led by Kerry and, sadly, turned up hundreds of individual items of litter.

At least it all entered a managed waste disposal system now.

Meanwhile, Shaolin and I took water samples for nutrient analysis along a transect towards a fish farm.

Along the way, we found stranded crates and marker buoys from the fishing industry.

I’ll report on the results later…

The scenery on our passage to Lochaline is beautiful beyond description…and that was more than enough compensation for not seeing any dolphins or whales today.

Once anchored and after a delicious dinner of fish pie, we challenged five teams to design an efficient, beautiful and/or funny wind turbine.

The efficiency was measured by the voltage produced by running a toy motor as a dynamo.

And the winner was an unlikely looking design called flower power with 26 mV output!

Other designs went for classic shapes or attempts to specifically work with our source of wind, Molly’s hair dryer (the only one on board!)

A fun time that will be followed by the installation of a commercial wind turbine on Pelican in the coming days.

We’ve been riding out gale Francis in the shelter of the Firth of Clyde and filled the morning with a microscope session comparing plankton net samples (53 um) from the estuary of the Mersey and Canning Dock in Liverpool with samples from here.

Although the little digital camera doesn’t do it justice (below), with our light microscopes, we’ve had a great time finding diatoms, dinoflagellates and radiolarians, as well as copepods, mollusks and crustacean larvae.

In summary, the turbid waters of the Mersey estuary were dominated by sediments and other non-living particles, with few microalgae. Canning Dock water featured a range of both phytoplankton (algae) and zooplankton (small animals and larvae of larger animals), while the sample from the Firth of Clyde showed the highest density and diversity of life, with the lowest number of microplastics.

Slightly better weather and slower wind speeds allow us to be off to the west now.

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