As we are getting to the end of our time in Egypt and the others are wrapping up the loose ends of their projects, I feel as though mine is still unwinding before me. It has been a rollercoaster ride from day 1, with many a turbulent day on the trusty speedy, mounting waves so high you could be on a ride in an amusement park. Except there are gorilla tape patches on the RIB, no seatbelts, and one half blind Captain steering through the petrol fumes at the back of the boat. Figuratively, as well as literally, seas are rarely calm. I hold my breath each time I launch the dear 3D camera over the side of the boat and hurtling down to depths of up to 80 metres, attached to a rig lovingly stitched together on a measly student budget of PVC piping, gorilla tape and industrial cable ties on the end of a long bit of rope. Needless to say, there’s never a dull day on the camera drop project.
After orientating myself with the GPS and getting familiar with the selected site north of Quseir harbour, the first week was spent un-rigging, re-jigging, de-weighting and pre-empting worst-case scenarios to fashion a structure fit to avoid any catastrophic losses. Re-enforced and ready for action, the rig was christened R2-3D after it’s likeness to a Star Wars droid and 3D capabilities. It was soon upgraded to C-deepEO with an extra 50 metres of rope added to extend its range, taking us to the mysterious depths that are the stimulus for my project; MCE’s or Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems. At 80 metres C-deepEO is able to capture footage of fish inhabiting these deep reefs, as of yet entirely unexplored in the Red Sea.
Three days of data were proudly collected before the first weight broke and the whole team was banished from the sea by high winds and rough currents. The second week passed with a few tricky drops and weathered frustration. The third saw battles with drop-technique logistics and boat permissions. The fourth a broken boat engine. We rallied. Now at the end of the fifth week I have completed over 100 drops, only one of which was myself over the side of the boat. Despite the trials and tribulations, spirits have remained high and the project is in full throttle.
I get to have each team member rotate in as my buddy to take on the formidable task of holding on to my legs to stop me plunging overboard while I stick the top half of my body over the wide of the boat turn on and focus the camera and depth gauge under the water as well as help record GPS co-ordinates and drop times. Luckily they are easily enticed by the high chance of seeing dolphins, dugongs, turtles or even eagle rays mating (or fighting – difficult to tell) at the surface while we out in the field.
With one week to go, I am full-speedy-ahead to get through my last chunk of data collection and footage analysis. In the lab I review the data to identify and quantify fish communities at varying depths. When back in Glasgow I will be using some snazzy software to calculate biomass to add to the picture. It has been quite the ride so far; not always smooth sailing but highly exhilarating and rewarding. A perfect example of the unforeseen challenges and unexpected rewards of fieldwork in such a wild, diverse and unique place.