There was no shortage in challenges and hurdles during this campaign: Technical and logistical hurdles, loss of important equipment, challenges with waves and currents. To make our list complete we can now add some solid diplomatic hurdles to that.
We had counted on RRS James Cook to help us recover our mesocosms and moorings. For this we had been granted 5 days of ship time with her through the international barter agreement for exchange of ship time between member states. Our team had prepared everything in advance for a smooth recovery of our KOSMOS experimental platform, so five days with RRS James Cook would give us plenty of time to “clean off” our experimental playground in Gando Bay and get all our equipment back on land. At least that was the plan.
RRS James Cook waiting for diplomatic clearance to work in Gnado Bay
You would think that from an administrative side this must be a no-brainer. The same ship that deployed our mesocosms, perfectly capable to do the job safely and securely, loaded with our equipment in Las Palmas harbour, ready to recover our mesocosms. What followed was a nerve-racking five days of diplomatic logjam. Both the ship managing office on the British side and our - as always - helpful hosts at PLOCAN tried their best to resolve the diplomatic deadlock. Nonetheless, the five days of ship time quickly slipped through our fingers, while RRS James Cook was pausing at sea outside the 12-mile zone waiting for diplomatic clearance to work in Spanish waters. Rumour says that some diplomatic squabbling between Britain and Spain over a Spanish research vessel operating in waters around Gibraltar may have generated some high level tension.
Whatever the cause for this unfortunate denial of clearance, it meant that five days of ship time with a high-tech research vessel were wasted. And it meant that we had to come up with a plan B very quickly. Getting a large enough ship on such a short notice to recover our mesocosms and moorings was impossible. But at least we managed to charter a small vessel from a company in Las Palmas that could help us take out the mesocosm bags and the deep-water collector, leaving only the floating frames and the moorings. Without those long bags, which can generate a heavy draught in the strong currents of Gando Bay, the naked floating frames are quite sturdy and resistant to waves and currents. Another Las Palmas company was contracted to be on alert and step in should anything unexpected happen to our experimental platform during our absence over Christmas and New Years.
RRS James Cook will still be in the area in the coming weeks and available to recover the remainder of our equipment if clearance is granted early next year. Let’s wait and see. For the time being I’d like to extend a big thank-you to our friends and colleagues at PLOCAN for helping us deal with a remarkable sequence of unforeseen challenges and above all to the members of the KOSMOS core team for their tireless effort in finishing off a unforgettable field campaign. Merry Christmas.
Recovery of the mesocosm bags (photo source: Felix Rossbach)