Visiting the Mother of Gods

Visiting the Mother of Gods

Figure 1: From Left to Right: Rodrigo Sanchez, Christoph Mayr, Lilian Reiss, Gunter Försterra, Aris Thomasberger, Luis Hernández Maldonado.

In January 2018 a team of six brave scientists from the Huinay Scientific Field Station embarked an adventurous expedition into the heart of the archipelago Madre de Dios (Mother of Gods Archipelago) situated in the province of Última Esperanza (Province of Last Hope) of the Region Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica.

The expedition group consisted of two teams, a terrestrial and a marine one, plus Huinay’s fearless captain Don Boris. The terrestrial team’s (Christoph and Lilian) mission was to collect calcareous sinter, a freshwater calcium carbonate deposit with well-developed lamination, as well as core samples of old trees in order to reconstruct the climate history of the area through stable isotope analysis.

The marine team`s (Fossi, Rodrigo and Aris) mission was to visit an experiment site in the narrow Copihue Channel (50°20’24.23″S, 75°22’42.51″W) were a recent mass mortality of the hydrocoral Errina antarctica is being investigated. After monitoring equipment installed on a prior Huinay expedition was reported missing, the team brought a full new set of instruments including multiple temperature logger, a conductivity meter, two current meter and one acoustic doppler current profiler that needed to be installed in the Channel.

After a 24 hours boat trip from Puerto Natales through the channels of the Magellanes Region, the group arrived at their destination and basecamp – the world’s southernmost limestone mine on the very isolated Guarello Island where accommodation, food and workspace was provided by IMOPAC, the mine operator.

Figure 2: World’s southernmost limestone mine on Guarello Island.

Shortly after arrival, the marine team started to unpack the expedition boxes and dive gear while the terrestrial team already started to explore the surrounding forests.

During the following ten days, ten dives were conducted in occasionally difficult conditions due to very strong and rapidly changing wind driven currents. The monitoring instruments were successfully deployed and pictures were taken of recruitment tiles installed in 2016. To the delight of the divers, multiple new recruits of the hydrocoral E.antarctica were spotted along the channel’s walls, some measuring about 25cm in diameter, after a mass mortality event eradicated the entire population some years ago.

Figure 3: Diver installing a current meter.

In September 2018 divers will head back to this remote area to retrieve the instruments and read out the data, revealing some more secrets of this incredibly interesting and unknown world and hopefully giving hints to what could have led to the sudden death of hydrocorals in the narrow channel.

Figure 5: New recruits of E.antarctica in the Copihue Channel.
Misfortunes Never Come Singly: An Expedition Full of the Unexpected

Misfortunes Never Come Singly: An Expedition Full of the Unexpected

In April and May 2018, divers and scientists from Huinay Scientific Field Station (HSFS) sailed to Canal Martinez and Canal Messier in Southern Patagonia where they carried out dozens of transect dives in depths ranging from 0m to 499m and discovered deep-sea sharks, chimaeras, coral banks and colourful sea fans.

Separated in two parts, the fourth expedition (HF37) of the year was the longest and most anticipated expedition of 2018 lasting for almost six weeks. The first part was dedicated to collect material for two long-term marine research projects that investigate how environmental components (or abiotic factors) affect the benthic community in three very unrelated fjord regions of Chilean Patagonia (see project here), and how the melting of glaciers affect coastal ecosystems (see project here) The second part of the expedition was carried out with the purpose of discovering new species in the Patagonian fjords and raising awareness about the beautiful wonders of Chilean Patagonia through SCUBA diving and deep sea exploration with a remote operated vehicle (ROV) (see project here).

Fig. 1. The team of Huinay sails through pristine parts of Chilean Patagonia on the sailboat Saoirse to reach the Martinez channel. Photos: Mette Schiønning

Part I:

Transect Dives

In order to reach the destination of the expedition, the group from Huinay teamed up with Keri Pashuk and Greg Landreth, owners of the sailboat Saoirse and long-term collaborators of the station. After days of travelling in the pristine and breath-taking fjords of Patagonia and meeting the captains of Saoirse in Puerto Eden, the SCUBA dive team finally reached Canal Martinez, where the first part of the expedition would take place (Fig. 1). D uring that following week, the dive team conducted more than 10 hours of transects in 0-20 m depth, covered what is equivalent to a 3 km horizontal stretch and collected more than 1000 transect photographs. which will be analysed by scientists from the Institute of Marine Sciences at Austral University of Chile  during the austral winter/spring 2018.

Stranded Teams in Isolated Patagonia

After completing the transect SCUBA dives, it was time to sail back to Puerto Eden to collect the remaining and newly arriving Huinay team, however, this was easier said than done. As the dive team laid anchor in Connor’s Cove to rest for the night, the propeller got stuck. In spite of great effort, underwater investigations of the propeller and intense pulling for several days, the propeller did not move a single inch. Meanwhile, things were not looking brighter for the arriving Huinay team either.

Defying all wind, weather and waves, the second group finally arrived at Connor’s Cove in the evening, after having spent two wet and cold days in rough sea on an artisanal fishing vessel while towing Noctiluca, the station’s research vessel equipped to operate the ROV. It was a series of unfortunate events, including a ferry collision with a rock resulting in team having to return to harbour, and wait for a replacement boat to Puerto Eden.

Part II:

ROV Dives and Underwater Footages 

Pleased to be reunited, the group set out the following day to embark the second part of the expedition: to explore the unexplored Canal Messier – the deepest channel in the world outside of Antarctica. But shortly after, while attempting to launch the ROV, the group was facing new challenges. A large amount of electrical discharges was emitted from a 100 kg heavy cable reel that was connected to the ROV, which consequently prohibited the team from continuing their research. Therefore, the team saw no other option but to return to Connor’s Cove in order to solve the problem. Working days and nights without completely solving the technical issue, including disassembling the reel with 600 m of cable, disconnecting all the cables to the ROV and making numerous satellite phone calls to a technician of the manufacturer, the team was once more prepared to test the underwater robot (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. The Huinay team is working day and night to solve the technical issues. Photos: Mette Schiønning.

Equipped with rubber gloves, puffy survival suits and life jackets, the team successfully launched the ROV down to 250 m in the deepest part of Canal Messier, where they recorded interesting gorgonians, a group of soft corals also known as sea fans (Fig. 3). But as the team got ready to sample their interesting findings with the ROV’s manipulator arm in the deep, the thrusters failed and the team lost control of the robot. Forced to abort the ROV dive, the team found themselves back in the cove with malfunctioning thrusters.

At this point, considering the idea of discontinuing the expedition hardly mattered, as the ferry that was going to bring the team back to Puerto Montt had been delayed by a week.

So while the technical team had to deal with an additional issue, Vreni Häussermann and a scientific research assistant went SCUBA diving in the nearby vicinity to collect sea anemones for genetic studies and to take underwater footages of the picturesque marine environment in Canal Messier (Fig. 4).

Fig. 3. The team is preparing for a new ROV launch. Photos: Mette Schiønning

Fig. 4.  Hydrocorals (Errina antarctica) are often used as substratum by basket stars (Gorgonocephalus chilensis). Sea anemones (Metridium senile lobatum) are dominating in most shallow areas. Photos: Vreni Häussermann.

With a highly compromised ROV, the scientific team eventually managed to carry out two more ROV dives in Canal Messier, including a 499 m dive where they discovered deep-sea sharks, the closely related chimaera, precious coral banks and colourful sea fans. Although, the expedition did not proceed as expected, the Huinay team did not leave empty handed. They still managed to cover a large area through SCUBA diving and launched the ROV on a few locations that have never been explored before.

ith a highly compromised ROV, the scientific team eventually managed to carry out two more ROV dives in Canal Messier, including a 499 m dive where they discovered deep-sea sharks, the closely related chimaera, precious coral banks and colourful sea fans. Although, the expedition did not proceed as expected, the Huinay team did not leave empty handed. They still managed to cover a large area through SCUBA diving and launched the ROV on a few locations that have never been explored before.

Fig. 5. The Huinay team is closely monitoring the marine life and the bathymetry in the deep parts of Canal Messier. Photos: Mette Schiønning.

Take-Home Message from Vreni Häussermann: 

“The take-home message from this trip is unquestionably regardless of how well prepared you are for any expedition, Patagonia is and remains extremely challenging for scientific research. Its harsh climate, the limited days of decent weather, the intricate fjords and the travel time needed to get from a to b. These are only a fraction of all the factors that have to be taken into account in order to conduct marine research in Patagonia. However, this is also what makes this region so special. It is one of the last untouched areas on earth which reveals an incredible biodiversity and a multitude of animals in a pristine environment, which is important to protect so it can be explored and enjoyed by future generations to come.” 

The entire team from Huinay would like to express their sincere gratitude for the all the support received from Greg, Keri and Aliro from Puerto Eden and their great readiness and professionalism.

Pitipalena Fjord is a Paradise of Unexplored Gems and Treasures

Pitipalena Fjord is a Paradise of Unexplored Gems and Treasures

Fig. 1: View from the jetty at Añihue Marine Reserve.
Photo credit: Francisco Izquierdo.

In February, divers and scientists from Huinay Scientific Field Station successfully transected an underwater area longer than 1.5km, they discovered a remarkable coral bank on 60m depth, sampled interesting sea life in a marine lake and mapped large parts of the sea floor.

For the second time in a year, the scientific team of Huinay Scientific Field Station (HSFS) visited the Pitipalena fjord in Añihue, as a part of a larger inter-disciplinary marine project, involving scientists from all over the world, including Chile, Scotland and Germany. The purpose of the project is to assess the non-living components (abiotic factors) in the environment influencing living organisms in three different fjords in order to create a baseline for large-scale rapid assessments of benthic communities and to increase awareness on diversity of marine benthic assemblages of Chilean Patagonia.

Discovery of a deep-water coral bank. 
Shortly after the arrival at Añihue Marine Reserve, the team assembled the remote operated vehicle (ROV), a special-made underwater robot that can dive down to 500m depth (Fig. 1). It was also with this device during an exploration of the deeper parts of the fjord that the scientific team discovered the impressive coral bank. Vreni Häussermann, the Scientific Director of the field station, explains: “We are extremely thrilled to have discovered the deep-sea coral bank in such a shallow depth. Further research is definitely needed to investigate if there are more of these unknown wonders of nature out there.”

Exploration of the Pitipalena fjord.
During the week-long expedition, the team worked both night and day to keep their tight schedule. A fellow scientist and cartographer, with expertise in sea floor mapping, also known as bathymetry mapping, was covering large areas of the fjord 24 hours around the clock with a sonar to locate important habitats later to be explored by the ROV team. Whereas the deeper parts of the fjord were video transected by the ROV, the shallower depths were explored by a group of divers. On four different sites, clearly distinct from each other, divers conducted photo transects between 0 and 21 m depth to record the biodiversity and to understand the distribution of marine benthic fauna in the shallow region.

Fig. 2: The team is getting ready to launch the first dive with the station’s ROV in Pitipalena fjord. Photo credit: Mette Schiønning.

Santo Domingo lake
On one of the final days, the team also went to the marine lake Santo Domingo which is only connected through a small river to the ocean (Fig. 2). In the crystal clear water, the team sampled a number of extraordinary fauna to find out if the species differ from the species found in the ocean. “It is going to be very exciting to see if any new species have evolved within the lake. When we return to the station, we will start analysing the data to find answers to our many questions,” Vreni said.

Fig. 3: Drone image from Santo Domingo Lake. Photo credit: Francisco Izquierdo.

Fig. 4: (from left to right) A small colony of sea cucumbers, a jellyfish and sea anemone
Photo credit: Francisco Izquierdo.
The group of scientists cheerfully called the expedition a great success, who also wanted to take the opportunity to thank the entire team of Añihue Marine Reserve for their great help and support during their visit.

If you want to see more from this year´s expedition in Añihue, watch the following short video made by Francisco Izquierdo, an external assistant of Huinay, experienced diver and doctor.

The glaciologists from Bristol

The glaciologists from Bristol

In February 2018 we had the pleasure to welcome back Professor Jemma Wadham and Dr Jonathan Hawkings, this time they were accompanied by their master’s student Anna Covey. They are all part of the terrestrial team of the PISCES project (Patagonian Ice field Shrinkage impacts on Coastal and fjord Ecosystems).

This project aims to investigatewhether melting of the

Patagonian ice fields (group of glaciers connected together) is having an impact on the bugs and fish that live in the fjord next door to them. There is different teams of researchers both from Chile and UK that are working on particular part of the project. Find out more about the project PISCES project here.

There are two main sites of investigation in Patagonia, one is the Steffan Glacier and its

proglacial lake which constitute the glaciated field site, while the other one is the Comau Fjord that is a former glaciated site and constitute the deglaciated field site. The terrestrial team is working on the biogeochemistry of the rivers, and fjord connected or not to a glacier to study the inputs of sediment and nutriment into the fjord.

This is the second year the UK scientists have come to Huinay to study the Comau Fjord, and – as last time – they put sensors instruments in the river next to the foundation. That way they can have high resolution river monitoring during the couple of weeks they are staying. The sensors they put into the river are monitoring the pH, the turbidity

(quantity of sediments in the water), the Environmental Conductivity ((EC) dissolved element in the water), the temperatures of the air and the water and the amount of sunlight the river gets. They also put gauging stations that will stay in the water throughout the year and that will record the water level.

Jonathan Hawkings installing the gauge station

Every day Anna and Jemma visited the river, recorded the data from the sensors and sampled the water to study the amount of ions, sediments, nutrients and dissolved oxygen (DO) of the river.

Jemma Wadham extracting the data from the sensors.

Anna Covey sampling the water from the river.

In addition to that daily work, they sampled water from other local rivers and from a hot spring to quantify different nutrient sources of the Comau fjord. They also took ocean water samples within the fjord using CTDs and Niskin bottles up to 300m of depth.

After two weeks, Jonathan and a team of Chileans researchers went south to study the Steffan Glacier while Jemma and Anna stayed longer at Huinay. They said it was to study the river longer but between us, they chose to stay because they loved the place and

the food! They loved it so much that they will be back this winter and brave the rain…

From left to right: Research Assistant Mette Schiønning, Volunteer Camille Meline, Professor Jemma Wadham, Database Manager Stacy Ballyram and Msc student Anna Covey.

World of the Myofauna

The research station of Fundación Huinay in the Comau fjord (Lakes Region) delves deep into the unknowns of marine life in Patagonia. While scientists at the station continue to see and categorize potential new species, visiting scientists Dr. Andreas Rhaesa (Universitӓt Hamburg, Germany) and Matthew Lee (Universidad de Los Lagos, Chile) seek to explore and understand those creatures which cannot easily be seen. Each are experts in the little known world of the Meiofauna, the vast and incredibly diverse range of multicellular animals which occupy a murky, ubiquitous zone of life. Meiofauna are larger than simple cellular life, but are animals so complex and yet so small one can hardly conceive of their existence.

During a five day stay at the labs, the researchers collaborated to sample sediments from various environments in Comau fjord and extract the interstitial fluids in the sediment to observe life within these confided spaces. The interstitial space is the water moving between microscopic gaps in the sediment grains and it’s a habitat thoroughly occupied and utilized by a unique assemblage of Meiofauna. Describing these tiny creatures can be a daunting task, requiring delicate, tedious labor in the labs. Even one 50mL sample may take days or more of dedicated laboratory work to process. There are 20 known phyla branches in the Meiofauna group and just one, Nematodes, may be as diverse as all insect life. Examining the species living in the upper sediment means observing minute details, as well as careful handling of the fragile, often translucent organisms.

Dr. Rhaesa is particularly interested in discovering new species and observing what known species are present in the sediment, while Dr. Lee will focus on the ecological community of Meiofauna, such as dominant groups or community structure between different environments. Their range of taxonomic and ecological understanding provides a holistic approach to studying Meiofauna diversity. Together, their visit has started new partnerships and cracked open the door to an unseen world in Huinay. The researchers will study samples collected in the Comau fjord as well as in other parts of Chile; the discoveries they make are only limited to the diversity and strangeness of the Meiofauna studied.

What is more interesting, the world you see or the one you don’t see?

What is more interesting, the world you see or the one you don’t see?

The group of scientist visiting Huinay at the moment to conduct their research would choose the latter. Eduardo Castro-Nallar, assistant professor for bio-informatics and integrative biology at the University of Andrés Bello, and his colleagues are taking a look at the microbial communities that live in the Leptepu fjord. As they already collected samples last year at two different depths (closer to the surface at 5 meters and at 20 meters) they can now compare their results to this year’s samples (one sample is about 40l each) and see how the microbial communities have been developing over time. The group of scientist set out to find the effects the changing of the seasons, varying temperatures and the salmon production that is widely spread in the fjord, have on these basic live forms.

Processing the water samples through different filters, they extract algae, bacteria and viruses. They are working with a standardized process, which can be very boring and lengthy, sometimes until late in the night. But so far they are very happy with the lab equipment, the location of the station, that offers access to a very unique and remote ecosystem, and the food (which is obviously the most important thing). They even went so far as to call Huinay a “Research-Resort”, a complement we gracefully accepted.

On their first trip to Huinay they were surprised that these microbes are completely unique and therefore have not yet been studied. That is also the reason why Guus Martjn Teunisse, a M.Sc Student of Biology and Bioinformatics at the University of Amsterdam, is part of the team. He is developing a system to categorize bacteria, viruses and genes to shorten the identification process for microbes and to offer the full picture of different ecosystems.

They could confirm a decline in total biomass compared to the samples from 2016, which could be a consequence from seasonal changes in the ecosystem. But more important than this, is the possible effect the solmoneras  have on the microbial communities with their excessive use of antibiotics. For the last 20 years, the salmon production in Chile has been growing 42% per annum, making it the 2nd largest salmon producer after Norway. The lack of regulation of the industry has permitted salmon farms to use higher quantities of antibiotics, including medicine that is also used for fighting human diseases.

 

And that’s exactly the heart of the project; finding out if or how antibiotics affect the ecosystem, microbial communities and human beings.

Eduardo and his team plan to come back next year to observe the sea lions and to determine if they or other animals in the food chain have been affected by the input of antibiotics in the aquaculture pens. Regarding the development of the bacteria, they are going to travel down south into fjords that are not affected by salmoneras to obtain more data for future comparisons.

CORFO: Madre de Dios Archipelago – July 2016

CORFO: Madre de Dios Archipelago – July 2016

A beautiful video that was filmed during the expedition by Geográfica Producciones.

A glance at the diving expedition carried out at the Madre de Dios Archipelago in July 2016 for the CORFO INNOVA – CEQUA – SERNATUR Aysén / Magallanes Project about developing underwater tourism in cold water regions.
Director: Ernesto Davis
Biologist: Mathias Hüne
Audiovisual: Fernando Luchsinger

Acknowledgements: Expedición Fitz Roy and to M/N Forrest
Fundación Huinay: Francine Beaujot – Rodrigo Sánchez

A Family of Explorers

A Family of Explorers

Overall the expedition is a huge success, both for the oceanographic team and for the divers! We return to Punta Arenas with big smiles and incredible memories.

Swimming Amongst the ´Bergs

Swimming Amongst the ´Bergs

We are lucky enough to be able to approach two glacier on the expedition, Amalia Glacier and Rengo Glacier and we can’t resist putting our drysuits on the go for a dip in the icy water.

A Job Well Done

A Job Well Done

We celebrate being done with our work in Canal Copihue and enjoy the sights. We were happy to step foot on land to assist with some freshwater collections.