Sir Peter Blake Trust Ambassador Fenna Beets — Interconnectedness

The last few days have seen a smorgasbord of new experiences for me already.

Fenna Beets is one of the two recipients of the Sir Peter Blake Trust Marine Science Award. In her role as a Sir Peter Blake Trust Ambassador Fenna is currently on-board RV Tangaroa working alongside NIWA scientists  to survey New Zealand fisheries, biodiversity and seabed geology on the Chatham Rise.

The last few days have seen a smorgasbord of new experiences for me already. It was inspiring being out on the big blue ocean surrounded by nothing but a few sea birds patiently waiting for some sign of a tasty morsel to be ejected from the ship.

Interconnected people 

I have titled this particular entry ‘Interconnectedness’ as it is a theme that resonates throughout various aspects of this trip and will continue to do so. The first sign of interconnectedness is between the people on this ship. Communication aboard is paramount to the safe success of such an operation. The crew, including the engineers, Captain and first and second mate on the bridge, and deck hands all seem to communicate effectively and efficiently in everything they do, including gear deployment. This is an integral component to the success of the science and this interconnected group of people make it happen.

Interconnected foodwebs

Food webs are also highly interconnected and involve everything from what we term the ‘charismatic megafauna’, which is all the big awe inspiring animals such as whales and sharks right down to the tiniest organisms such as bacteria and phytoplankton. Each play a significant role in the interconnected food web.

This particular trip to the Chatham Rise is a brilliant one to be a part of. There is so much going on. The main theme is finding pieces to the puzzle of the food web. More specifically, we are looking at the middle trophic level organisms. This group is less understood than others and are important to survey so we can determine how energy is transferred from primary producers, such as phytoplankton, to important commercially fished species.

Mesopelagic trawl and sorting species 

We had a mesopelagic trawl this morning, which basically means dragging a net through the water at around 250m depth. This particular trawl brought up various species, all of which were relatively small. These then need to be sorted into their respective groups. I found that it’s easiest to first separate the most distinctive and abundant fish first. Some species look very similar so it is very important to keep a sharp eye out for distinct markings and the scientists on board are brilliant at helping with this.

Sorting what is left over 

Once all the fish, squid and arthropods (shrimps, crabs etc.) had been sorted I was left with a bucket of sloppy, indistinct seeming jelly. This also had to be sorted through. The whole lot looked the same and I wondered how this bucket of goop was even relevant, but I soon realised that just because it doesn’t have eyes or isn’t ‘cute’ doesn’t mean that it isn’t important. Once I started to sift through this jelly I was incredibly surprised by the diversity and distinct features I started to see, a timely reminder that you should never judge a book by its cover.


Sir Peter Blake Trust Ambassador Fenna Beets.