RV MBA Sepia

A versatile platform for marine and coastal research

Vessel overview

RV MBA Sepia, a custom built 15.45 m Category 2 Coded Workboat, is a versatile research platform for exploring river, estuarine and coastal environments, up to 60 miles off shore.

RV MBA Sepia, a custom built 15.45 m Category 2 Coded Workboat, is a versatile research platform for exploring river, estuarine and coastal environments, up to 60 miles off shore.

Specifications:

Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) Category 2 workboat, able to operate up to 60 miles from a safe haven

  • Length: 15.45 m
  • Draft: 1.4 m
  • Beam: 5 m
  • Gross tonnage: 34.2
  • Accommodating up to 12 passengers
  • Service speed: 9 knots

For more information about MBA Sepia, download the vessel specification sheet (PDF, 541 KB).

MBA Sepia has a wide scope of operational capacity, with stabilising bilge keels and 5m beam the vessel provides a large and stable deck area to work from. Equipped with a 2.5 tonne winch and hydraulic A-frame a range of marine instrumentation and fishing gear can be deployed from the vessel. Internally there is dry laboratory space with a minimum of six workstations serviced by a 240 V power supply.

Current and previous survey work has included; otter and beam trawl fish surveys, plankton and zooplankton sampling, benthic infauna sampling and instrument deployment/recovery. We are also able to assist with survey design.

MBA Sepia provides an excellent platform for field based learning, giving students the opportunity to obtain practical experience in a range of boat based survey skills. We offer tailor made programs, typically for University level students, specific to course needs. Please contact racbri@MBA.ac.uk to discuss your program.

Education and training

The MBA Sepia team maintains a collection of locally caught and preserved fish specimens. This resource is available for provision of training on species identification and taxonomy. A full catalogue of fish species is available on request please contact racbri@MBA.ac.uk for further information.

Fish catalogue

The MBA has over 100 years of experience in marine flora and fauna specimen collection from the local Plymouth area. In accordance with local and national legislation, a range of specimens can be provided for scientific research. The MBA also offers research aquarium facilities that can support a wide range of experiments, please contact racbri@MBA.ac.uk for more information. 

Specimen collection

MBA Sepia has been involved in a number of media projects for film, television and radio. Projects have included BBC Spotlight News, BBC One Show, BBC Inside Out and Radio 4’s Today Programme. Please contact our communications officer for any media related enquiries guba@MBA.ac.ukPlease contact our communications officer.

Filming
Research at sea

Since 1888, central to delivering the MBA’s long-term science have been its Research Vessels (RVs). The MBA Sepia and crew contribute to NERC National Capability, which includes The Western Channel Observatory and MBA’s long-term research programmes for:

Long-term Monitoring

The MBA Sepia and crew contribute to NERC National Capability, which includes The Western Channel Observatory and MBA’s long-term research programmes for;

  • Phytoplankton,
  • Zooplankton,
  • Young Fish Eggs and Larvae and
  • Demersal Fish

Long-term fish data

The MBA Sepia team contribute to and maintain the MBA’s long term demersal fish database. This time-series sampling commenced in 1911 and is one of the earliest fisheries independent surveys to take place in Europe and is one of the oldest dataset of its kind in the world. There is compelling evidence that European marine fish assemblages have undergone extensive changes over the last century and MBA’s long-term data can help us to understand changes such as species distribution and species abundance, over time in our local fish populations.

Current Research Projects

Sea DNA

Using marine environmental DNA (eDNA) to characterise the abundance of fish assemblages in UK coastal and open-ocean habitats. MBA Sepia has been collecting and processing water samples frequently for eDNA analysis at sites L4, L5 and E1 in the Western Channel Observatory. This alongside MBA’s on-going long-term time series of zooplankton, larval fish and demersal fish may provide important advances in the field of eDNA and marine biodiversity research.

Follow SeaDNA project on Twitter for more details (https://twitter.com/SeaDNAproject)

Fish Tracking

For nearly a decade, local adult skate species (Raja spp.) have been tracked to try to achieve a better understanding of their habitat preferences, movements and behaviours. Skate captured in inshore waters of the Western English Channel between Whitsand Bay and Bigbury Bay, were then tagged using data storage tags (DST) and acoustic tags. With this data, researchers at the MBA have gained important insight into movements, behaviour and habitat use of local skate species.

Recent publications

Humphries, N.E., Simpson, S.J., Sims, D.W. (2017) Diel vertical migration and central place foraging in benthic predators. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 582:163-180. DOI: 10.3354/meps12324

Humphries, N.E., Simpson, S.J., Wearmouth, V.J., & Sims, D.W. (2016). Two’s company, three’s a crowd: fine-scale habitat partitioning by depth among sympatric species of marine mesopredator. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 561, 173-187. DOI: 10.3354/meps11937

Sealife Survey

MBA Sepia regularly contributes observations of marine megafauna such as dolphins and whales to the Sealife Survey.

For more information please visit: http://www.mba.ac.uk/recording/about

Historic RVs

The MBA’s Research Vessels (RVs) and their Crew have been an integral part of the long-term investigations carried out in the Western English Channel ecosystem, supporting a wide range of research at the MBA’s since 1896. Each of these historic RVs has a history of its own.

The first fully-decked and reliable steamboat owned by the MBA, was purchased in 1896 and used for teaching courses as well as conducting research, including some of the first fisheries-independent surveys in European waters as well as preliminary work on mackerel, Scomber scombrus (Garstang, 1898). The first fully-decked and reliable steamboat owned by the MBA, was purchased in 1896 and used for teaching courses as well as conducting research.
Busy Bee 60 ft. 1896 - 1901
This ocean-going steam yacht, along with Huxley, carried out exploratory surveys of the Southern North Sea, the English Channel, and the continental shelf west of Plymouth. During World War I (1914-1918), the Royal Navy requisitioned the vessel and scientific sampling temporarily ceased but she was returned to the MBA in April 1919. In 1922, the Oithona was sold for £775 to Professor G. Gilson to carry out fishery and biological investigations for the Belgian government.
Oithona (83 ft.) 1902 – 1921
The ship, formally called Khedive, was purchased by Dr Bidder and leased to the MBA and renamed Huxley in honour of the first Director of the MBA. The ship was based at Lowestoft where another laboratory was set up in rented accommodation in 1902.  Huxley was built especially for commercial steam trawling in the North Sea and she was equipped with various fish trawls, plankton nets, young-fish trawl and the hydrographic instruments of the international commission.
Huxley was built especially for commercial steam trawling in the North Sea and she was equipped with various fish trawls, plankton nets
Huxley (115 ft.) 1903 – 1909
This ex-Naval vessel fitted out as steam trawler and served as a replacement for the Oithona.
A remark by Dr L.H.N. Cooper about Salpa: “‘powerful for her time she may have been, but uncomfortable she certainly was, to an extent which those who work our present vessels may find it hard to understand”. Nevertheless, it was with Salpa that work resumed on the plankton and hydrography of the Western Channel after the long interval since 1909. Sampling work was once again halted during World War II (1939 – 1945) as Salpa was taken out of commission, pending requisition by the Navy.
Salpa (88ft.) 1921 – 1939
Sabella was a motor fishing vessel leased from the Navy and after equipping the ship for trawling and water sampling was brought into service in time for the first post-war visiting physiologists who required supplies of squid. Sabella began investigations off West Cornwall in the hard winter of 1946/47, and in subsequent years sampling of water and plankton was extended across the continental shelf to the west and south-west, the region now called the Celtic sea. Sabella lacked the instrumentation required for the precision station-keeping that was needed for newer research and was disposed of in 1946.
Sabella (90ft.) 1946 – 1953
A partly-completed Admiralty-pattern motor fishing vessel purchased and fitted out entered service as Sula in 1948. She carried out the MBA’s Standard Hauls. Use of Sula inshore allowed Sabella to go on longer voyages. A partly-completed Admiralty-pattern motor fishing vessel purchased and fitted out entered service as Sula in 1948. She carried out the MBA’s Standard Hauls. Use of Sula inshore allowed Sabella to go on longer voyages.A partly-completed Admiralty-pattern motor fishing vessel purchased and fitted out entered service as Sula in 1948. 
Sula (60 ft.) 1948 – 1972
The preliminary plans for a new ship were first announced in 1947 and planning continued through 1949 and 1950. Construction of the Sarsia began in the autumn of 1952 at Dartmouth, south Devon. Sarsia came into service in late 1953 and at 128ft overall, she was the largest vessel ever formally owned by the MBA. A basic feature of Sarsia’s design was the ability to operate close inshore and from smaller ports in the south-west, should financial stringency ever call for disposal of the 60ft inshore vessel Sula. By 1955/56 she was working at full-operational status conducting survey all over the Celtic sea and out into deep waters of the Atlantic. During her 28 year service to the MBA she extended operations from the north coast of Spain to the Sognefjord in Norway, and from the entrance to the Baltic out to the ocean far west of Ireland.
Sarsia (128 ft.) 1953 – 1981
This converted trawler replaced the Sarsia, but it was taken over by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and converted to general oceanographic research in 1982 and was not available for time series work off Plymouth afterward. This converted trawler replaced the Sarsia, but it was taken over by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and converted to general oceanographic research in 1982 and was not available for time series work off Plymouth afterward.  This converted trawler replaced the Sarsia, but it was taken over by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and converted to general oceanographic research in 1982 and was not ava This converted trawler replaced the Sarsia, but it was taken over by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and converted to general oceanographic research
Fredrick Russell (143 ft.) 1981 – 1982
The steel-hulled vessel called Squilla entered service in 1973 to replace the Sula. She was designed for stern trawling and for catching and carrying live fish and squid in tanks with a circulating seawater system fitted below deck. Due to the MBA’s facilities and specific experience of the local fishery a co-operative squid fishing programme between the MBA and White Fish Authority (WFA) was mounted aboard Squilla from September to December 1977. The WFA assessed trawling and seining performances, the feasibility of jigging for squid at night using light attraction techniques, to compare the use of different lights and monitor squid response during jigging operations amongst other aims. The MBA intended to conduct biological investigations on squid including the capture and release of tagged squid which would provide information on growth rates and migrations patterns in local waters.

Squilla (60 ft.) 1973 – 2003

As early as 1965 it had been noticed that the plankton off Plymouth was changing in character, with young stages of bottom-living fishes becoming abundant again, and by 1970 the change was confirmed as affecting many aspects of life in the sea, including phytoplankton and fish. Development of the sea-going facilities at Plymouth and enabling the MBA to collect samples at sea was accelerated with help from NERC. A long-planned twin screw motor launch called Sepia was brought into commission in 1967. The new vessel was fast enough to bring back delicate living material from as far out as the Eddystone, yet handy enough to trawl close inshore and in the Tamar estuary. As early as 1965 it had been noticed that the plankton off Plymouth was changing in character, with young stages of bottom-living fishes becoming abundant again, and by 1970 the change was confirmed.
Sepia (42 ft.) 1968 – 2004
As early as 1965 it had been noticed that the plankton off Plymouth was changing in character, with young stages of bottom-living fishes becoming abundant again, and by 1970 the change was confirmed as affecting many aspects of life in the sea, including phytoplankton and fish.
Development of the sea-going facilities at Plymouth and enabling the MBA to collect samples at sea was accelerated with help from NERC. A long-planned twin screw motor launch called Sepia was brought into commission in 1967. The new vessel was fast enough to bring back delicate living material from as far out as the Eddystone, yet handy enough to trawl close inshore and in the Tamar estuary.

MBA Sepia (50 ft.) 2004 – present

Anton Dohrn(s) 1903 
A succession of various sailing dinghies that were named after Professor Anton Dohrn of the Zoological Station at Naples.
Gammarus (25ft) 1923
Was a specially designed inshore motor-launch to replaced Anton Dohrn. Skippered by Bill Searle.

(New) Gammarus (34ft) 1970
The new Gammarus replaced the older ship with the same name. Used for inshore or river surveys. The new Gammarus replaced the older ship with the same name. Used for inshore or river surveys.
Others
Crew

MBA Sepia’s highly trained crew has expertise in a wide range of marine survey techniques and can support a variety of research activities at sea. ​

Rachel Brittain

Research Vessel Manager

racbri@mba.ac.uk 

+44(0)1752 426256

See profile

John Readman

Sea-going Research Technician

jonrea@mba.ac.uk

01752 426256

See profile

Sean McTierney

Skipper MBA Sepia

seamct@mba.ac.uk

+44(0)1752 426256

See profile

Phil Yates

RV Sepia Crew member

phiyat@mba.ac.uk

+44 (0)1752 426256

Contact

Rachel Brittain

Research Vessel Manager

racbri@mba.ac.uk 

+44(0)1752 426256