Hello! My name Vanessa Fernández, I am a professor and researcher from Universidad de Antioquia (Medellín, Colombia). My current research focuses on the effect of organic matter in benthic fauna, especially polychaetes from soft shallow seabeds and red mangrove roots in the Colombian Caribbean Sea. Benthic fauna from that kind of seabed are usually small but colourful because of the influence of coral reef formation. In contrast, benthic fauna from red mangrove forests have to face the challenges of high levels of organic matter and low water interchange. This is the case of the Gulf of Urabá (South end of the Colombian Caribbean) the second largest estuary system in Colombia that constantly receives the sediment discharge from the Atrato river.
In October 2018 I applied for an Open Call Shipboard Training Fellowship founded by the Partnership of the Global Ocean (POGO). In mid-April I received an e-mail from POGO Secretariat requesting an interview to place a fellowship on the Porcupine Abyssal Plain (PAP) sustained observatory cruise. Of course, I said yes, and the next day I was doing my best to gain the fellowship position. A few hours after the interview I received the Acceptance Letter. I confess that I needed to read the letter many times. I couldn’t believe that I had been selected for the first deep-sea cruise in my life. I was so happy. Being part of this cruise represents an important opportunity to gain knowledge about deep-sea invertebrates. This new knowledge will be used to explore the potential deep-sea areas of Colombia; and also, create new work networks between Colombia and England that could be used for future research projects for graduate and undergraduate students.
Eight weeks after the interview, I landed at Heathrow Airport after taking a flight of 12 hours from my country. The first week I was involved in the sea survival course and doing the ENG1. It was just a matter a time to be part of the scientific team.
When sampling in shallow areas we do not need to do any survival course or ENG1, unless you are going to the most recent explorations in the Antarctic. These new explorations are funded by several Colombian research institutions. The main objective is to compare the fauna of Colombian Pacific sea and Antarctica in order to establish migration routes and measure the effect of climate change in several biological levels. The chief scientist of the laboratory I belong to has participated in some of those campaigns, and he is now analysing a possible new polychaete species.
Most of the time, sampling in shallow areas involves walking from the beach directly into the water using snorkel equipment. Occasionally, we use small boats to get into places a bit further away, but still the depth would never be more than 30m, and in those cases, we use scuba diving equipment. As you can imagine I have never used the kind of PPE we use here so I thought it was funny when I saw myself in the mirror in a helmet, boiler suit and safety boots.
The week before sailing, I met Dr. Brian Bett, who is my host supervisor at NOC and he introduced me the NOC facilities and the benthic team (who by the way, are very lovely, amazing people). They are always attentive and offer their help in case I have questions. Dr. Bett also explained me what kind of equipment I would have the opportunity to use in the benthic sampling. It was a pleasure for me to exchange information about benthic research in Colombia with him, mostly about organic matter.
One of the most remarkable differences between sampling on shallow water and deep sea is the equipment used to take sediment from the bottom. In shallow water, first we observe the conditions of the bottom and decide the quantity of samplings points -because the transparency of the water allows us to do that- and then, we collect sediments using a single tube that is operated manually; after getting the sample we sort it immediately in order to preserve the animals quickly. Here at PAP I had the opportunity to see and use the megacorer that goes beyond 4000 m depth, something almost incredible to those who are used to seeing shallow bottoms. When the first core came out, I was very impressed by the texture are colour of the sediment: soft, sticky and light yellow. This gives me the idea that the amount of organic matter in the bottom is less than in the Colombian estuaries.
Last night I had the opportunity to observe in real time the fauna of PAP’s sea-bed, using HyBIS. I was absorbed by the screen watching in real time the deep-sea wonders. I can’t wait to see what is coming in the next sampling days. I am sure that, at the end of the cruise, I will have a better understanding not only of the deep sea-bed but also the measurement procedures of meteorological and biogeochemical data from the water column of PAP.