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The last trawl; let the work begin.

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Todays’ Sitrep proclaims success.

‘CEAMARC sampling officially finished at 8 minutes past midnight. Overall, 82 different sites were occupied during CEAMARC, with samples collected from at least 78 sites; well in excess of the 67 sites we had hoped for.’

We are one of three ships working in this part of Antarctica collecting marine life for the Collaborative East Antarctic Marine Census (CEAMARC). Our focus is on the benthic organisms below 200 metres. We have been looking at biodiversity in a region never before investigated so comprehensively and can now offer another jigsaw piece of information to complete the larger Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML) picture. Our grand tally is 106 trawls and 114 grab or box-corer deployments.

The CEAMARC sampling may be finished but the census work has really just begun. Fred and Romain have been hard at work entering data relating to all the specimens found. They have 3,600 ‘batches’. Batches are plastic bags which may contain one or many, maybe a hundred, specimens. Most batches are stored in alcohol in blue drums on the helideck. Some are in formalin in the white drums on the trawl deck. The rest are in the large freezer container in the ‘tween decks.
Each station has been fully documented. All of Bertrand’s crustaceans, and Bernard’s molluscs, Marc’s crinoids, Thomas’ algae and Catherine’s, Sam’s and Fred’s fish have been sifted and sorted and photographed by Sam and Fred. Each specimen is now numbered, measured and where possible identified. Stefan had been diligently filing tissue samples to grow cultures from. There is a large file of underwater video footage and still camera images showing the habitat at key stations.

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The specimens will be sent to experts at universities and museums around the world for identification, tissue sampling and bar coding of their DNA. Not all of the creatures found could be identified and new species might be recorded - like the puzzlingly ugly ‘moosefish’ from the family zoarcids.

In time, as the information is interpreted and analyzed, the stories will emerge of which plants and animals live together and how dense those populations are. We will learn where fish grow and what their feeding and reproductive patterns are and the secrets of species evolution and adaptation in this extreme environment. For the first time we will have a benchmark to monitor the impact of environmental change in a place that is so sensitive to warming that it will act as an important ‘canary in the mine’ for the rest of the planet.

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Pics:
Bertrand files a fish
The French benthic team

Margot Foster is a journalist currently on board the Australian Aurora Australis, an Australian research vessel currently participating in the Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML, IPY project 53). She works with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

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