Glasgow Uni students research under the Red Sea at Roots

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Our new blogger, Guy Henderson, reports on this summer’s undergraduate research expedition at the Open Ocean Science Centre at Roots Camp, El Quseir, Egypt…

June and July are busy months for science at Roots Camp and Pharaoh Dive Club El Quseir. This is when the annual University of Glasgow marine research expedition is based on site at the Open Ocean Science Centre. The students will be here until the end of July undertaking fieldwork for dissertations and doing data analysis in the purpose built marine lab. The team consists of eight members painstakingly selected way back in October. They have spent the last 8 months designing projects, applying for grants, fundraising and honing their diving skills. There is a good range of experience within the team with one first year, two second years, a fourth year (recently graduated) and four third year honours students. The third years will be collecting data for their dissertations and each have been assigned a buddy from the remaining team members to help with data collection.

GU Egypt Marine Expedition 2017: Left to Right, Back to Front – Max, Sarah, Dani, Stacey, Bella, Clara, Duncan & Rachel

Pilot studies and equipment familiarisation went without a hitch and the projects are all well underway with a substantial amount of data already collected. Below we will introduce the individual project methodologies and scientific relevance. We have two diving projects which are undertaken by members with diving qualifications at rescue level or higher, a shore based project on the reef flat and a rather exciting camera drop project which makes use of the speedboat.

Bella & Sarah – Camera drops in the mesophotic zone

Bella is investigating arguably the most mysterious of reef habitats; Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems (MCEs). Ranging in depths from 30 to 150 metres, MCEs receive enough light penetrating the surface waters for vibrant life but are generally too deep for traditional scuba diving techniques so are vastly understudied in comparison to shallow reefs. Round the globe there are gaps in our knowledge but particularly in the Red Sea, where the diverse marine life has yet to be fully charted on the map of scientific research.

Bella is using an innovative technique to capture footage of fish at varying depths within the MCE range. She is doing this by dropping a 3D camera off an RIB at GPS marked co-ordinates, 75-degree bearings from the shore, at depth level increments of roughly 10 metres. The footage will be used to identify and count all the fish found at each depth level as well as measure their biomass using EventMeasure software. Guy and her have been working hard on the construction of an intricate rig structure to protect the camera in the water, which will be essential to the effective success of the drops.

Bella deploying her 3D drop camera rig at Ras Quseir

Duncan & Rachel – Coral cover and light intensity

Duncan will be quantifying the effect of Photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) on the community structure of scleratinian (Hard) corals on the Abu Sautir reef. Understanding the impact differing PAR levels have on coral abundance and diversity will indicate the importance of light as an abiotic driver of coral community composition. Coupled with the lack of research and relevant literature in the Red Sea, Duncan’s study will provide valuable data relating to coral cover of a highly diverse yet relatively understudied Red Sea fringing reef.

Duncan filming a video transect with a custom camera mount

Clara & Stacey – Reef flat, rock pool diversity

Clara is investigating how factors such as distance from the shore, pH and salinity affect species diversity within the rock-pools in Abu Sautir. This is done by creating transects on the shore and using quadrat sampling to determine the species diversity and abundance. Rock-pools are found in intertidal habitats which may be extreme environments for inhabiting organisms; this is due to tidal changes, rough wave action and fluctuating water parameters. Some organisms have physiological coping mechanisms that help them survive the fluctuation in these conditions, such as starfish which can regulate their salt uptake. However those that are less well adapted to these variable conditions may not be found across the entire range of rock-pools, therefore it will be interesting to discover how the various species are distributed across the reef flat.

Clara and Stacey surveying a quadrat on the house reef Abu Sautir

Max & Dani – Hawkfish behaviour study

Max will be working on our longest running project by supplementing a 3 year data set. The hawkfish behaviour study aims to look at bold-shy behaviour of freckled hawkfish (Paracirrhites forsteri) in relation to mortality rates from year to year. Using 3D camera technology and photo identification software, the relative boldness of individual fish can be found and calculated by means of a simulated predator prey interaction. Animal behavioural studies are usually limited to lab settings with controlled conditions; this project is exciting as it allows us to look at the behaviour of fish in their natural habitats while investigating traits that may contribute to the evolution of populations.

Max ‘scaring’ a freckled hawkfish and recording the outcome in 3D

Aside from the Student expedition we have a number of volunteers with us throughout the summer months. The volunteers work closely with the local community organising clean up dives, beach and mangrove clean ups and educational outreach programmes with local schools and youth groups.

In the next instalment of this blog we will catch up with the volunteers and the students to see what they have been getting up to as well as checking on how the projects are progressing.

Follow the expedition Facebook page at www.facebook.com/GUEgypt2013/ or on twitter @guegypt

You can also visit: www.openoceanproject.orgwww.rootsredsea.com and www.pharaohdiveclub.co.uk

Guy Henderson

Guy Henderson

Guy completed his Bsc Hons in marine and freshwater biology at the University of Glasgow and during this time led four student research expeditions to the Egyptian Red Sea. His endeavours in Egypt earned him a scholarship from the Open Ocean Science Centre to undertake a PhD at the University of Glasgow. Guy's PhD thesis is on fish behaviour in shallow and mesophotic coral ecosystems and sees him based at Roots Camp, El Quseir six months of the year. Guy is a BSAC Dive Leader and PSAI sidemount qualified diver. He is passionate about coral reef ecology, conservation and engaging the general public in scientific research.

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