Hello again! My name is Charles Golightly.
I’m currently an undergraduate intern in Heather’s lab. You may remember me from the Bioluminescence Project research cruise blogs last summer if you’ve visited the lab’s website before. Well, I’m back at it again; this time participating on a research cruise into the Florida Straits for the “Topics in Biodiversity” class taught here at FIU. These cruises are excellent learning experiences for anyone interested in Marine Biology, or research in any kind of Biology. One unique thing about this class is its emphasis on placing a lot of the cruise work in the hands of the students. From the get-go, you’re responsible for developing an experiment to conduct on the boat, and developing the methods necessary to collect and gather the data for that experiment. It really places you in the position of a researcher, and can help you get a feel for what you can expect in a field work environment.
Besides that, it’s just a whole lot of fun. For us, the cruise began in Key West…..KEY WEST!!! Setting sail from Bight Marina, we spent the first night traveling out into the Florida Straits. Our boat, the R.V. Bellows, was a modest 75 ft in length. That means there really was no such thing as “calm seas.” We were rockin’ and rollin’! I fell asleep in the harbor, and awoke to the unmistakable sensation of waves tossing our small boat in every-which direction. Thankfully, I brought with me a stash of Dramamine…
Once we reached our first trawl site, business began. We were trawling for crustaceans; deep water shrimp, amphipods, and whatever other strange creatures we could find. Our first trawl came up a success! The net was hauled in and dropped on the deck, and the canister at its end (the cod-end) was emptied into a large bucket. We quickly began sorting through its contents. The most obvious specimens were the strange fishes – Hatchet fish, with their strange flat, silver bodies; Viper fish, with their gaping mouths filled with dagger-like teeth; and others with their smooth reflective skin.
After sorting out the fish, closer examination revealed the almost completely transparent shrimps we were searching for. They numbered in the dozens, ranging in size from a few inches in length to only a few millimeters. We collected a range of species as well, each with its own unique - and sometimes odd - morphologies. In the confined lab area, everyone was squeezing in wherever they could to see which strange creatures they could find.
After the shrimp, came my personal favorites; the amphipods. When the shrimp were sorted out, looking even closer in each of the trays, even small yet were these tiny, inconspicuous organisms darting around back and forth. Next to the larger, more obvious fish and shrimps, one might overlook these little organisms, but to me they are truly fascinating. There were Streetsia, whose head consisted entirely of these strange elongated eye structures; Scinids, with long pairs of horn-like, bioluminescent antennae; what I think to be Platyscelids, with their large round eye structures dominating the anterior region of their bodies; and other stranger amphipods whose identities I couldn’t even begin to guess. But the gem of all them all was the enormous (by amphipod terms) Phronimas. Said to have inspired the concept for the alien in the “Alien” movies, known to kill salps (gelatinous organisms), molding their carcasses into barrel-like homes for shelter, and growing upwards in size similar to that of an American silver dollar, they are truly unique and fascinating creatures. We caught one large Phronima still alive and inside its salp barrel. Holding it in your hand you could see its many hooked / clawed legs waving through the air; its mantis-like head staring back at you.
All of this, and it was only our first trawl…
Each trawl brought more and more strange creatures, always seeming to out-do the trawl before it. We worked through the first day and night, sorting and recording what was caught, but we were lost in wonder at what we were finding. Each day merged into the next, until finally the last day of the trip arrived. We were set to conduct a few more trawls, but with the threat of bad weather approaching, we were forced to move into shallower waters. Unable to trawl, we “reluctantly” decided that we had to continue sciencing, and the only way to do that was to jump in the water and look for crustaceans ourselves. Yes, that’s right….We forced ourselves to jump into the beautiful waters of the Florida Keys, and we absolutely were not just going for a swim to have fun….
With that, we concluded our trip….errr…..I mean “research cruise,” and returned to port shortly after sunset. Without a doubt, this cruise provided me with some of the most exciting experiences I’ve had as a marine biologist. The lessons learned and the experience gained are second-to-none, and it’s entirely due to the hands-on nature of the course, and the emphasis it places on allowing the students to control largely how the cruise unfolds. I can’t help but recommend this course to anyone who’s interested in research, or anything to do with marine biology. There’s nothing quite like being out in the middle of the ocean, exploring its strange and fascinating depths.
--- Charles Golightly
Javier A. V. Diaz
May 02, 2017
For the topics of biodiversity class we prepared to go on a research cruise to learn the different
methods of sampling at different depths.
1530: Arrived at bight Marina to start locating the R/V Bellows. It came to as a surprise when notified that we had to pay for parking for the duration of the trip.
1715: As we finished loading our gears on the research vessel I realized that I did not have my shoes with me which was required on deck. But the problem was easily resolved by heading over to a store nearby for cheap shoes.
1830: We have yet to depart. We were notified that the seas were too rough for the vessel to operate smoothly. The weather was going to be reviewed at 4am and a decision would be made about heading out. In the meantime we received a tour of the vessel and were told about the regulations set in place. Patrick, who was the cook for the vessel, was a very interesting fellow. Afterwards we all hanged out and talked until we went to bed.
May 03, 2017
0400: I woke up in the morning to get some water and got startled by Heather as I opened the door to get on deck. After replenishing on some H2O I went back to bed.
0630: There will never be a better way to wake up then to the smell of bacon for breakfast. It was funny to hear that I wasn’t the only one with the same feeling. We vessel has been moving for an hour already, meaning that we got the greenlight to continue with the trip. I went back to bed since it would take some time to reach the first site.
1045: I woke up to help with out with the deployment of the tucker trawl. After the tucker trawl was dropped we prepared the lab area to receive samples collected. A big jar of Ethan (EtOH) was set in place to have easy access. Whirl packs of Small, Medium and Large were placed in cups and copied the function a bin of cleaning wipes would have. A variety sorting trays were placed and seawater were cooled in the fridge to keep some samples alive during processing.
1245: After some time has passed the tucker trawl was hauled in after running for two hours. Everyone had their life vests and shoes on when working on the back deck. Once the tucker trawl was hauled in the cod end was taken off and placed in a bucket. While in the bucket it the samples were placed in the bucket and seawater in a bottle was used to gently spray them of the netting. While a team was busy doing that, the rest of the team would go through the rest of the tucker trawl netting to pick anything that might be stuck in it. The samples were brought inside the lab for processing. The samples were identified, counted and placed in the database on the laptop. Certain samples were preserved in bag with ethanol for later research. The whole process was an awesome experience. When sifting through organisms you find decent sized ones, but some of them were very small, luckily we had the compound microscope. After going through everything we had lunch and the vessel moved into position for the second trawl.
1430: We arrived at the position for the second trawl. I was able to help Billy (Crew) deploy the tucker trawl and had a nice chat with him. The lab was already prepped, so it felt more like a waiting game. Some went to bed and others just chilled on deck.
1800: The trawl was pulled up and samples were processed. Everything was running smoother now that everyone got accustomed to the process. After processing, dinner was served. After dinner I went to bed since we were deploying the night trawl at 22:30.
2230: The tucker trawl was deployed and everyone went back to bed. Sleeping on a boat is very nice, as the vessel move left and right on the waves it feels as if you are being swayed to sleep, I enjoyed it.
May 04, 2017
0030: Everyone woke up to help with the hauling of the tucker trawl. It was cool to out working at night. When looking around all you see is pitch black darkness with only the spotlight of the vessel as a light, it was a nice feeling. I was told that a swordfish was spotted, but I did not get to see it. The waves were a little bit more choppy than usual, but nothing I wasn’t accustomed to. The trawl was retrieved and sifted through. This haul had a lot more shrimps than the previous two trawls. The night trawl was done in more shallow waters.
0300: We were finally done with all the samples. There were a lot of bilobed euphausiids, a type of krill, and they are all so small my eyes were hurting from focusing so much. After cleaning up we all went to bed. Heather asked me if I could ask Billy in the morning to deploy the haul as soon as he can, since she was tired and was going to skip breakfast to catch up on some sleep.
0645 I woke up to eat breakfast and notified Billy about the tucker trawl. The tucker trawl was deployed for two hours.
~~~~: After the tucker trawl was pulled up the samples were processed. Since we were in shallower water we deployed the otter trawl to see what we would catch. After 10 minutes the otter trawl was hauled and all that was caught were a lot of brittle stars and one sea star. A second trawl was done, but as we were still busy with the brittle starts you could feel the vessel being tugged. Not 5 minutes later Billy said that the net probably broke since the buoy at the end of the trawl popped up on the surface. The otter trawl was pulled back in and all that was found was half of the next and some sponges. The sponges were collected and looked through, and a few samples collected. The other half of the otter trawl was retrieved and also had a few sponges. While dealing with the broken net, a bucket tied to a rope was used to collect some sargassum that were floating around to see if anything of interest could be found. Some shrimps and tiny swimmer crabs were found in between. With the otter trawl being broken our day was cut short. We went to a spot to swim and afterwards start heading back to the dock since a storm was heading our way. When we reached Key West we had to dock at a different marina, since there was no spots open at the bight marina.