On-board Diary: Port engine

Author: Conchi de Pedro
Date: August 14, 2006

And at last that is how the Ranger's port engine roared once again, with a little piece of the Toftevaag, the Alnitak project ship; yes, you read correctly, one of our clutch discs was damaged and we were desperately trying to locate a machinist who could make one for us or a workshop that could help us solve the problem, and during a visit from Ricardo Sagarminaga, from the Spanish Association of Cetaceans (SEC), owner of the Toftevaag, while we were discussing the problem, he realised he had an engine very similar to ours put away and that maybe we could try to take the part we needed from there; no sooner said than done. Thank you so much Ricardo!!! A clutch disc transplant between two ships dedicated to marine conservation put the Ranger back in action, in less than 24 hours.

You will not believe this…but when Captain Jordi decided to warm up the engines in order to begin our work again, the alarms went off, and we didn't realise what had happened until Carlos discovered the problem…the oil level indicator was at 0. They opened the engine room and there it was! An oil line had broken and there was engine oil all over the room, right up to the bilge.

They quickly called Paco, the mechanic, and in just a few minutes the line was changed. The Ranger set sail, with its injuries healed, towards the Seco de los Olivos once again, with two exceptional guests aboard, Ana and Cristina, who came to experience, first hand, the strange sensation of viewing the submarine world thanks to the ROV. The slopes of the Seco de los Olivos fall to over 200 meters depth, but there are still a few rocky areas as you reach the top that harbour some "coral and gorgonia forests."At the top we also spotted many marine sponges on the seafloor, and we had the opportunity to see some species that inhabit the spaces between the sand and the rocks: Lobsters, Apron rays, Streaked gurnards, Anglerfish, Sea urchins…even a group of Pipefish. There were also various types of Gorgonias depending on the area: there were Whip Gorgonias (very amusing) and other more frequent types like the Tree Gorgonia along with other related species.

Thanks to the ROV's zoom lens (more precision at larger scales) we saw ascideans, skeleton shrimp and anemones incrusted in the rocks.

Before leaving the Seco, we immersed the CTD (a probe which allows us to measure levels of oxygen, salinity, temperature, chlorophyll…) to 120 meters depth in order to study the profile of this body of water. The results showed us that the surface layers were very hot, at more than 25 ºC, the thermocline layer, at more or less 20 meters depth, was also very hot and later decreased sharply in temperature to between 13 and 15 ºC.We also saw many variations in temperature ranges between different currents and bodies of water. The plankton stayed below the thermocline layer, at around 25 or 30 meters depth, on top of which we noticed an increase in oxygen that is precisely what phytoplankton emits (oxygen-rich water). After spending the day with the ROV and on our way back to port, we spotted an amusing dolphin playing with our bow, and an Ocean sunfish sleeping peacefully, but just as we were beginning to feel happy and satisfied about our day's work, we were devastated by the sight of a dead Pilot Whale, floating in the sea, with its stomach cut wide open (a sure sign that it was trapped by a drift net since the fishermen attempt to hide the massacres of dolphin, pilot whales and other protected species by cutting their stomachs open, sometimes even stuffing them with rocks, so they sink to the bottom). The poor pilot whale was even covered with a thick layer of oil. The next day, we set sail towards Roquetas, where we knew about the existence of a rich prairie of Cymodocea and other species which had been isolated by some artificial reefs in order to protect it from brutal trawl fishing.But…we could not believe our eyes…the fantastic prairie they said was so well protected had also been completely massacred and destroyed. There was only one small plant left, fighting for its life under the only part of the reef we could find…Where was the rest of the reef? Was it ever really planted? It is obvious that the measures taken to protect this area from disaster were insufficient, and now it is too late to do anything with the ashes left here.

So, the only thing we found there were the few species that had managed to survive: Octopus, Combers, Eels, Anemones, Gobies…

We thought we might return to the Seco de los Olivos but the strong winds, at 22 knots, made the manoeuvre quite difficult with the ROV, so we set sail towards Balanegra, where most species had disappeared almost completely. Only in the northern section were there areas which were more complete and dense, so we decided to focus our attention there, to study the density of these areas with the ROV. Finally, we left Almerimar, tired of the time spent in this port, maintaining our energy and hopes up as usual, but without our valuable collaborators Miquel, Chanchi (the ROV technicians) and, of course, without the robot, which is without a doubt a relief for those of us who work up on deck and especially for our divers Pili, Jorge, Juan and Thierry, who were beginning to feel too "dry" and stiff from not diving. We set sail towards Málaga, with winds at 30 knots and bow seas, we are only able to navigate at 3 knots/hour.