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International training for Egagasini brings benthic camera techniques home

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Dirk Rosen of MARE at the controls piloting the ROV aboard R/V Fulmar

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MARE engineers deploy the ROV

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A very useful feature on the R/V Fulmar is the fold-down projection screen, enabling observers to watch the live ROV camera output

By Dr Charles von der Meden, SAEON Egagasini Node

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NOAA's Research Vessel Fulmar (right) in Monterey Bay harbour, ready for the day's ROV work in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

With the aim of fast-tracking development of SAEON's towed benthic camera work, Drs Lara Atkinson and Charles von der Meden have been drawing on the considerable experience of colleagues in the USA.

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SAEON’s Charles von der Meden (in black T-shirt) with IfAME Director Prof. James Lindholm (back, centre right) and part of his team together with MARE Executive Director, Dirk Rosen (back, far right) and engineers aboard the R/V Fulmar

This contact culminated in a two-week training visit to the Institute for Applied Marine Ecology (IfAME) of California State University, Monterey Bay. Charles was fortunate to make the trip, which was jointly funded through a National Research Foundation (NRF) Mobility Travel Grant and the generosity of the host institute and its Director, Professor James Lindholm.

Staff and students at IfAME have been using various towed benthic camera sleds and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) systems for many years in the context of both broad-scale benthic characterisation efforts and focused ecological questions along the central and southern California coast. The region is dynamic, with major deepwater canyon features 'right on their doorstep' forming an exciting part of this work.

During his time in Monterey, Charles spent three days aboard the Federal Research Vessel, Fulmar, observing ROV deployment and image capture by the IfAME and MARE (Marine Applied Research & Exploration) teams. These days at sea covered the Point Sur area as well as the Ascension and Año Nuevo Canyons, with the ROV working at depths between 100 – 500 m.

Work aside, being at sea off this incredible coast was really unforgettable, with just as much going on at the surface as below it, including breaching Humpback and Blue whales and inquisitive Albatrosses eager to investigate the surfacing ROV.

Back at campus, time was spent in the IfAME labs where benthic imagery is processed and analysed. The centre was a hive of activity with undergraduate interns and researchers alike working through a systematic process to transform hours of benthic video into organised databases.

Blueprint for SkiMonkey III

Being able to see the entire 'workflow' of the IfAME lab is providing a valuable blueprint for the setup and management of SAEON's benthic camera ( SkiMonkey III) processing work. More than this, the time was well spent gaining insights into some of the problematic nuances of benthic imagery such as laser scaling, invertebrate identification and approaches to experimental design.

Although the trip was primarily aimed at learning from US colleagues, it also provided the opportunity to present SAEON's recent benthic work at the Prince Edward Islands. Feedback from this, together with techniques gained during the time in California and a continuing link with IfAME all help put the Egagasini Node on a strong footing for developing offshore benthic monitoring and research.

The Egagasini team join Lara and Charles in extending thanks to Prof. Lindholm and the researchers in his group, Dr Ashley Knight and Megan Basset who organised an excellent trip.

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