OCB 4205: Student Blog - Stormie Collins
The thought of being at sea for 5 days was both exhilarating and terrifying. I had no idea what to expect. I knew it would be a good experience, but never would I have imagined it being as amazing as it was.
The crew were wonderful. We were incredibly lucky to get such an easy-going, helpful crew! Jeff the Chef was amazing. For every meal, we were greeted by a variety of delicious food as we entered the mess deck. I think it’s safe to say that everyone gained a few pounds. The rest of the crew were also super cool. I enjoyed talking to them about their experiences at sea and on the R/V Weatherbird II. The weather was perfect. We could not have asked for calmer seas. It really made for an amazing experience.
When I had thought of the Dry Tortugas before boarding the ship, I thought it would be cool, but I NEVER could have imagined how wonderful it was. Waking up at sunrise and seeing the island approach from the distance was amazing. We traveled to the island via small boat. Once we arrived, we explored the fort a bit while we waited for the rest of our crew. Fort Jefferson was awesome and the views at the top of the fort were incredible. After exploring, we went snorkeling along the moat surrounding the fort. The corals were amazing, I had never seen so many Christmas Tree Worms in my life. We saw a HUGE lobster and even a Goliath Grouper! I didn’t think it could get much better than that. Boy, was I wrong. After returning to the ship, we then small-boated to Loggerhead Key. This was the most amazing place. There were only 2 houses and a lighthouse on the island. The water was the prettiest turquoise blue I’ve ever seen. We made our way to the beach and I was completely speechless. There were at least 3 different habitats, each extremely healthy. 12 foot coral heads and 30 inch fish surrounded us. It was like a dream. I had never seen such a healthy reef and seeing it left me feeling very bittersweet. It was incredible to see such healthy reefs, but my heart was filled with agony as I realized I may never get to see such a healthy reef again. Our private island adventure came to an end far before I was ready to leave.
One of our night trawls didn’t go as planned, but lead to a very gratifying experience. As we pulled up the trawl, we realized that it had gone too deep. When we emptied the cod end, we were amazed to find deep-sea critters that we were not at all expecting to see. Crazy fish with the brightest blue eyes. Creepy cool crusties that looked prehistoric. As the cruise went on, I became more confident in being able to pick out the Sergestids from our samples. I got some one-on-one with the shrimpies, and after learning about the different characters, I became able to identify our shrimp down to species. There were many creatures that we collected that were bioluminescing. Once again, this was incredible to see.
The views on the ocean were breathtaking. Regardless if the sun was rising or setting, it looked as though the sky had been set on fire. Waking up at 1:30am had its perks as the sky was FILLED with the brightest stars I’ve ever seen. I could see the milky way clear as day. Every single star shined as though it had never seen darkness. I was alone at the bow of the ship, in front of the bridge. As soon as everyone had left, I saw something flash to my left. I thought it was a bird, but it soon caught fire and I realized it was a shooting star. I felt so peaceful up there, alone with my thoughts, amazed by nature.
Being stuck on a ship in the middle of the ocean for 5 days really allows for one-on-one bonding. So many personal relationships developed during this trip, through moments I’ll never forget. Standing at the bow of the ship talking to Dr. Schweikert, snorkeling Loggerhead Key with Dr. Schweikert and Dr. DeLeo, teaching others how to locate a petasma, and picking Dr. BG’s head at 2am in the morning when we were all sleep deprived, and so many more. I learned so much through my encounters with each person on the cruise.
So many experiences on this cruise that were unexpected, but left me feeling so grateful. Overall, this was one of the most amazing opportunities, and I am so incredibly thankful that I got to experience it!