At sea: Preparing for discovery!

At last! We have substituted more than a year of logistics and science planning, team building, administration, shipping, permits, emails, long-distance phone calls and enthusiastic meetings for what is now a living, beautiful ocean expedition. It felt so good to leave the dock at Recife and really start work.

Ready to depart Recife, Brazil, for the 1,200 mile passage to Ascension Island. Photo by Mike Gloistein, BAS.

The 1,200 nautical mile passage is just about long enough for us to prepare all of our equipment and fine–tune our survey plans.

We love preparing the equipment: These are not just pieces of gear, we look upon these tools as reliable old friends and they are unpacked from the shipping crates, assembled and tested with extreme care. Preparing for our deep ocean work is an exciting business – we will be deploying these rigs into unknown territory and we are prepared for new discoveries!

We’ll use a number of techniques to get a better understanding of all parts of Ascension’s waters, from the seafloor to the surface!

Shallow Underwater Camera Systems

Shallow Underwater Camera Systems provide high resolution images of the seabed with controllable lighting to quantify densities of life.  Used in combination with a trawl that collects seafloor specimens, the Shallow Underwater Camera Systems can estimate many different aspects of biodiversity that helps us study richness, biomass and vulnerability hotspots on the ocean floor.  You can see two examples of this tool’s use in these recent papers: Blue carbon in the cold,  Signals of past biodiversity.

A shallow underwater camera system is readied. Photo by Dave Barnes.

Plankton Nets

Ninety two years ago, the RRS Discovery surveyed Ascension Island’s waters as part of its 1925-1926 expedition. On our cruise, zooplankton ecologist Peter Ward will replicate the RRS Discovery’s surveys to understand the changes that have taken place over the last century.

To make this comparison possible he’ll use a net identical to the one that the scientists used 92 years ago. Today’s version, the N70 plankton net, was built based on the original drawings and the Discovery reports. Using the N70 net at Ascension, in the same way as the RRS Discovery did 92 years ago, will give us perfect comparative data.

One of our plankton nets, the N70, being prepared. Photo by Mike Gloistein, BAS.


The N70 plankton net was built based on the original drawings of the net used on the RRS Discovery cruises. Photo by Mike Gloistein, BAS.

Deep-sea drop-cameras

While on our cruise, we’ll also be deploying custom designed deep-sea drop-cameras from the National Geographic Remote Engineering Lab. The HD cameras are housed within sealed glass balls. When deployed, the sink to the seafloor and record all life that passes by. After a specified period of time, they return to the surface where they’re recovered, and their data is analyzed by the team. Click here to learn more about these drop cams from a previous expedition!

Remote Imaging engineer Mike Shepard prepares the drop camera for deployment. Photo by Jack Kirby.

Pelagic Cameras

Our team will also be studying the mid-depths, the “pelagic” zone where most migratory fish can be found. To survey this area, University of Western Australia Marine Scientist Chris Thompson will be deploying the pelagic cam system. These baited, floating cameras are thrown overboard at different intervals and then float at specified depths where they record all organisms that swim by.


University of Western Australia Marine Scientist Chris Thompson assembles the pelagic cameras. Photo by Jack Kirby.

Learn more about some of the other tools we’ve brought along with us.

The Pristine Seas team is currently conducting an expedition to the remote island of Ascension, in partnership with the Ascension Island Conservation Department, the British Antarctic Survey, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and The Blue Marine Foundation.

Read all Ascension Island 2017 expedition posts.

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Paul Rose is an ardent explorer, television presenter, journalist, author, and Vice President of the Royal Geographical Society, and an Expedition Leader on the Pristine Seas team.