By Beatriz Vinha
In the months prior to iMirabilis2, I spent time navigating through the literature in an attempt to create a mental image of the area we would be exploring. As scientific literature on the deep-sea of Cabo Verde is scarce, I immersed myself in Cabo Verde’s coastal marine biodiversity, oceanography and geology. An important part of my PhD research is focused on characterizing and mapping the deep-sea mega benthic communities of Cabo Verde. To prepare myself for this work, I dedicated a lot of my pre-cruise time to investigating described deep-sea mega benthic species from both nearby seamounts and other Macaronesia regions. From this I compiled my very own predicted cold-water corals species list I hoped to find during the ROV dives of iMirabilis2. For inspiration, I read Charles Darwin’s first chapter of “The Voyage of the Beagle”, where he describes the mesmerizing geological landscape of the archipelago, and I created a playlist of Cabo Verdean music. My expectations coming into the cruise were very high and I was so looking forward to feel the well-known Morabeza* of the Cabo Verde Archipelago, even if I knew that I would only experience it at sea.
Fast forwarding in time, the day of our first ROV dive arrived. I would finally be able to unveil Cabo Verde’s deep-sea mysteries! Every ROV dive of iMirabilis2 was different. Our first dive was on Fogo Continental shelf and we were able to see a very typical Macaronesia deep-sea benthic habitat. However, it was our first dive in Cadamosto seamount (southwest of Brava Island) that I will never forget as it was so different from everything I had expected to find! It was the first time we got to contemplate the big pillow lavas and amazing volcanic features of the seamount. When we reached the summit, we were fascinated to find red hydrothermally altered rocks with a very high density of organisms in the shape of white sticks, which everybody on board still wonders what they could be (there are different bets on sponges, polychaete tubes and even bryozoans have been mentioned). Through all dives, we saw a clear change with depth in species composition, and the northern part of Cadamosto is very different from the south, being especially characterized by large coral gardens, composed mainly by Enallopsammia sp. and Metallogorgia sp., as well as dense sponge aggregations.
After finishing ROV dive 10, I looked back at my pre-cruise species list and I realized we had found most of the cold-water coral species I hoped to find. If I already had a lot of questions before the cruise, now, after exploring the deep-sea of Cabo Verde, I have so many new and exciting questions that I hope to answer during the next years of my PhD.
There is no doubt that the amazement I felt while exploring Cabo Verde’s deep-sea corals and sponges for the first time is one of my favourite memories from iMirabilis2. However, since this is my first research cruise, iMirabilis2 has been very special on so many different levels. I started my PhD during the ongoing pandemic and, as a consequence, hadn’t had the chance to meet my two co-supervisors in person. Therefore, one of my personal highlights of this cruise was the opportunity to work on board with my supervisors, Cova Orejas and Veerle Huvenne, and to be able to discuss face-to-face exciting scientific ideas and plans. Through working with them, I also got a close look into all the logistics involved with cruise leadership and planning. I feel very grateful for their mentorship. Another personal highlight was being able to learn and work with Andreia, António, Bruno, Miguel and Renato from EMEPC’s ROV Luso team. On board iMirabilis2, I got to experience the importance of good planning and communication between the ROV pilots and the scientific team and received great insights into many technical details about the ROV that will surely be very useful once I start analysing the videos. Even though I am Portuguese, during the past years, I have been working and living in other countries, so it certainly felt extra special to work with the Portuguese Luso team and talk in my native language in a deep-sea research environment.
Now that we are preparing to start the transit from Cabo Verde to Las Palmas, I can say iMirabilis2 was everything I expected… and more! I am leaving Cabo Verde with my scientific sample “wishlist” fulfilled and with exciting data that provides new scientific information on an Atlantic deep-sea unexplored area, but, above all, with great memories, new friends and, certainly, a lot of sodade** of the life on board Sarmiento de Gamboa.
*Morabeza is a word used in Cabo Verdean Creole to describe the hospitality and friendliness of the Cabo Verde archipelago and its people.
**Sodade means “Saudade” in Cabo Verdean Creole, a Portuguese word that stands for the feeling of longing something/somebody.