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Goodbye from Fulmar MCZ

By Josh Tate


In the past week we’ve finally had some good weather in the wake of storm Barra, allowing us to complete our MPA monitoring sampling at Fulmar Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) as part of this JNCC/Cefas survey. This site is located approximately 224 km from the Northumberland coast and covers an area of 2,437 km2, a similar size to the county of Cheshire!

Machine used to grab sediment sampling from the seabed with a sunset in the background, © Freya Mickleburgh/Cefas

Image 1: The Day grab we have been using for sediment sampling with a very dramatic sunset in the background, © Freya Mickleburgh/Cefas.

We have collected imagery using a camera sledge, and seabed samples using a Day grab (see our blog from December 3rd for pictures of these devices) at 60 stations across Fulmar. Our aim here is to gather evidence we can use to help assess the condition of the subtidal mud habitats that cover this MPA. The results of the analyses of these samples will contribute to an ongoing series of monitoring surveys that will enable us to observe any potential changes over time to the biological communities across Fulmar.

The camera sledge collects high-definition video as well as high quality stills photographs as it travels along the seabed, allowing us to identify species living on or near the sea floor. Phosphorescent sea pens (Pennatula phosphorea) have been regularly spotted protruding from the mud. These feather-like animals use special feeding apparatus, called autozooids. to catch plankton and other food particles from the water. This species of sea pen can also glow a blue-green colour when disturbed.

Sea pens on seabed © JNCC/Cefas

Image 2– Phosphorescent sea pens (Pennatula Phosphorea) © JNCC/Cefas

More rarely we have come across whole villages of tiny sea urchins (thought to be Gracilechinus acutus), with over 40 being seen in some photographs! A juvenile ray (Family Rajidae) was also snapped on one transect, as well as the occasional hermit crab (Pagurus bernhardus).

ray on seabed © JNCC/Cefas

Image 3 – Juvenile ray camouflaged against the seabed © JNCC/Cefas

Urchins on seabed © JNCC/Cefas

Image 4 – A large aggregation of urchins (likely Gracilechinus acutus) © JNCC/Cefas  

The data collected from these camera sledge runs will be analysed back in the lab to identify and count all the animals observed, as well as the different seabed habitats. Many of the animals collected in the Day grab are much smaller (down to 1 mm!). These will be identified by specialists using microscopes. Part of each grab sample is also collected to determine the composition of the sediment and any differences in this that may be present throughout the MPA.

After three weeks at sea and lots of hard work it is safe to say everyone is looking forward to a relaxing Christmas break!

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