The CONICET Oceanographic Vessel returned from the Namuncurá-Burdwood Bank Campaign

After three weeks aboard the ship, 32 scientists obtained important samples with relevant information about a strategic protected area of the Argentine Sea.

In spite of the three storms and the snow, the 32 scientists who participated in the Namuncurá- Burdwood Bank campaign sailed from the 4th to the 27th of November. Aiming to conduct subsequent research, the group obtained samples aboard the Puerto Deseado Research Vessel (BOPD), a ship that belongs to the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) and is crewed by the Argentine Army and Argentine Hydrographic Service. On their return from the expedition, the team was welcomed by relatives and friends who waited for them at the Mar del Plata Naval Base. Over the coming weeks, they will analyse the results.

This was the fourth campaign in 2014 and it is part of the Pampa Azul Initiative, a project of the Argentine State that aims to deepen scientific knowledge as a basis for conservation and management of the natural resources of our country on the area of the South Atlantic. The area chosen to conduct the campaign was the Namuncurá-Burwood Bank, a high-biodiversity area located south to the Malvinas Islands and east to the Isla de los Estados, The Namuncurá-Burwood Bank was declared marine protected area (Law 26.875) in order to protect its biodiversity.

This multidisciplinary campaign, covering oceanography, biology, geology and geography, to name some – has different objectives, such as determining the benthic biological and genetic diversity and parasitic markers; to measure primary productivity and the contribution of different taxonomic functional groups; phytoplankton, bacteria and viruses; to identify how productivity influences the distribution of organisms in the water column and top predators; to determine the presence of adult and larvae of fish in different areas of the Bank; to study birds and marine mammals to include them in the food webs of the region; and to obtain samples of seafloor rocks for geological characterization.

Dr. Daniel Fernández, CONICET researcher at the Laboratorio de Ecología, Fisiología y Evolución de Organismos Acuáticos (LEFyE) [Laboratory of Ecology, Physiology and Evolution of Aquatic Organisms] of the Centro Austral de Investigaciones Científicas (CADIC) [Austral Centre for Scientific Research], is the scientific coordinator of the campaign. He says that “there were other campaigns at the Bank, they were oriented towards fishing in the 70s and 90s, and other specific samplings conducted during different campaigns. This time we studied the whole ecosystem and its connections to nearby areas such as the coast of Tierra del Fuego and la Isla de los Estados to know the existing biodiversity, analyze the processes that need to be studied at an appropriate spatial and temporal scale, as for instance the primary productivity of the area, and to take protective measures suitables for the conservation of the Marine Protected Area”.

The campaign aimed at covering 33 oceanographic stations – 20 of those located at the Bank and required about 8 and 10 hours of field work. “The Bank is a very special area with a very rich and interesting benthic fauna. It is very shallow – 50 and 200 metres deep – and is surrounded by deeper areas. For about 80% of the last million of years this place has been an island, which is currently covered by sea”, the scientific coordinator explained.

It is not the first time that Dr. Fernández participates in a campaign at the Bank aboard the Puerto Deseado, so he knew that the weather conditions could not be the best. “It is a complicated area, with several low pressure systems that affect it. Many times we could not work because of the rough water”. Finally, they were able to monitor 21 of the 33 stations.

During the campaign, scientists used different instruments operated with different hoists of the ship. The list includes trawls (to obtain sample of benthos); one epibenthic sledge (for peracarids crustaceans, benthic pycnogonids); a dredge (to obtain samples from the seafloor); pelagic nets for junior specimens (IKMT) and fish larvae (RTM), apart from different nets for phyto and zooplankton. Besides, the group obtained profiles of conductivity, temperature, pressure and fluorescence (using a CTD) and took water samples at different depths using bottles. Alongside the navigation, the researchers observed the birds, mammals and biopsied birds. The temperature and salinity of sea water surface was constantly recorded with a thermosalinograph and air samples were taken during the whole trip.

Laura Schejter holds a PhD in Biology and works at the National Institute for Fisheries Research and Development (INIDEP). She is a CONICET associate researcher and joined the campaign to study benthic communities that inhabit the seafloor: snails, mollusks, corals, and all kinds of invertebrates living in the seafloor. “It is the third time that I visit the area, which is so rich in species. It was a great privilege for me to be part of this interesting and not so common experience aboard a research vessel”.

The captain of the ship, Sergio Ciminari, remarked that “the atmosphere of camaraderie during the campaign was essential to maintain good humour despite the offshore difficulties”.

During their leisure time the scientists watched films, read, played the guitar and dined together. At the end of the campaign, after sharing aboard a great experience, the researchers parted affectionately at the Mar del Plata Naval Base. Leonardo Mutti, CONICET fellow who holds a PhD in Biology and works at the Instituto de Biodiversidad y Biología Experimental y Aplicada (IBBEA) [Institute of Biodiversity and Experimental and Applied Biology], commented “to be part of the Pampa Azul was to feel, for the first time, that I was working for my homeland”.

Ignacio Chiesa, CONICET posdoctoral fellow at the “Bernardino Rivadavia” Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences, had to spend his mother’s birthday away and greet her by phone but he did not feel sorry for that or for experiencing some time far from his ordinary activities.

In the case of Daniel Bruno, CONICET postdoctoral fellow at the CADIC, it was the fourth time he participated in the campaign to study fish larvae on the Beagle Channel, but it was the first time he visited the Namuncurá- Burdwood Bank area.

For her part, Melisa Pontrelli Albisetti, who has a degree in Geography and is a CONICET fellow from the group of Coastal Geology and Paleoecology of the National University of Mar del Plata, was the only researcher from Social Sciences. Her aim was to obtain samples with a trigger weight core to analyse the geological and chemical composition of the Burdwood Bank, and check for gas fields in place that are beneficial in the future. “It was a great experience for me, I made a lot of friends and now I have a greater commitment to the country”, she commented.

Furthermore, there were scientists from the Patagonian National Research Center (CENPAT-CONICET), the Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras (IIMYC-CONICET) [Institute of Marine and Coastal Research] and the Instituto de Geociencias Básicas (IGEBA-CONICET) [Basic Geosciences Institute].

To watch the video of this campaign: click here.

More about the Puerto Deseado Vessel

The Puerto Deseado oceanographic vessel of the CONICET is operated and crewed by the Argentine Army and the Argentine Hydrographic Service. Together with the Comodoro Rivadavia Coastal Vessel, they form the Hydro Oceanographic Research Unit (UNHIDO), which is administered by the CONICET and the Argentine Ministry of Defense.

All the samples collected are going to be part of the biological collections of diverse research institutes such as the Marine and Coastal Research Institute IIMyC-CONICET, the National University of Mar del Plata or the Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum of CONICET and they form the National System of Biological Data conducted by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation of Argentina.