As well as the routine, monthly tows, Continuous Plankton Recorders are also included in collaborative research projects, often involving many different countries and partners. Last month, the latest CPR tow hit the water as part of the EU funded AtlantECO project, and successfully carried out its first tow, collecting important plankton data from Brazil to South Africa.
Organising new tows like this one, and importantly, ensuring they are successful, involves an incredible amount of work and goodwill from people all over the world. Here, CPR Survey Operations Manager, Lance Gregory shares the story of this latest tow, and the many steps involved in achieving a successful tow.
“With the CPR’s involvement with the AtlantECO project, the Operations team at the CPR Survey in Plymouth, UK, were asked to set up a route from Brazil to South Africa. Looking back over the last 25 years this has been one of the most challenging routes we have ever been tasked to set up. Through our contacts, we originally obtained all the necessary permissions to use a vessel called the LOUIS S, unfortunately, this vessel changed management and charterer. However, after lots of communications we learned that the ship had been renamed the LODUR and was operated by Ernst Russ AG who, after discussions, kindly agreed to co-operate with the project.
The next steps involved the design, manufacture, installation and testing of a tow davit on the ship (from where the CPR would be towed from). On the day of installation, we were fortunate that internal travel was permitted in South Africa (due to Covid-19 restrictions) and we were able to get permission for our South African partner, Dr Marco Worship, to be on board. With the aid of WhatsApp video calling and some “out the box” thinking we were able to ascertain the optimum positioning of the davit on the stern mooring deck.
With Covid-19 pandemic and travel restrictions in place the next challenge was to get the CPRs on board; our first hurdle to overcome was the impacts of the civil unrest seen in Durban back in July. Unfortunately, with lots of the transport infrastructure targeted by the rioters, despite our best efforts we couldn’t get our equipment moved on this ship’s rotation.
Eventually the situation eased and order was restored. Working with Marco we managed to get the CPRs on board the LODUR and we achieved our first South Atlantic transit in October. This transect was one of our longest ever tows, and the first ever tow to happen in this region.
Initially when we were setting up this route, the vessel was due to call at Cape Town where our partner Marco and his team planned to visit the ship and service the equipment. Unfortunately, due to changes to trade and transport, the vessel altered its itinerary and now calls at Durban instead. To further complicate the issue, it is common for vessels to wait several days at Durban before they are allocated a berth. Alongside this, the distance between the two cities and with pandemic restrictions it was clear we needed to set up a network of local supporters in Durban, as we have in many other ports around the world. These networks are the unsung heroes of our Survey. The normal procedure is to get our boxes delivered commercially to the port gate. Some of these ports are immense in size, towns within towns. They have several layers of security from the main gate to the ship’s berth. Our volunteers oversee the movement of the CPRs ensuring they arrive at correct berth at the designated time to meet the Ship of Opportunity on a regular basis, enabling the CPR time series to function.
This tow was the first of many planned as part of the AtlantECO project. During my time in Durban, We were able to obtain the support of Pedro Ferreira of DORMAC engineering, who will be instrumental in subsequent CPR tows. He will receive our box of equipment, transport it to the ship on her arrival in Durban and post tow retrieve the box and hold it securely free of charge until we can arrange for a transport company to collect it and move it commercially to Cape Town. Contacts like Pedro are invaluable to the success of individual CPR tows and the Survey as a whole - the final piece of the jigsaw was in place!
We like to think of CPR operations as an inverted hierarchal pyramid with our small team here at Citadel Hill working with hundreds of volunteers across the globe to achieve what we do. It is an essential part of our jobs to travel to ports and sell the story of the CPR to new and potential partners and supporters. We can only go so far in asking people to donate their time and facilities for free to support the Survey through electronic communications. The value of face-to-face meetings and being seen to make the effort to visit, goes a long way. It has to be important to us for it to matter to others!
It is always a privilege to be able to travel to interesting places and meet and encourage people who are willing to participate in our Survey. Durban was the third African port I have travelled to with the Survey and as we expand I hope there may be further opportunities.”