Crossing the Gulf Stream - Sailors for the Sea

Crossing the Gulf Stream

 May 18, 2017  | By: Oceana

Read our OBR, Anna’s firsthand account about how her adventure on SEA Semester’s tall ship SSV Corwith Cramer is going. She is crossing the Gulf Stream researching the floating seaweed, Sargassum along the way. 

tall ship, gulf stream, marine science

Stay Golden: Dancing Scientists

One may be wondering at this point, how does research work with 16 students and 5 scientists on a 134ft. tall ship sailing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? It’s complicated. The lab is ~12 x 20 square feet that comfortably fits a whopping total of 3 people; however, you may find 5-7 students doing any number of things from extracting gDNA, pipetting buffers and primers, or identifying species under the microscope all at the same time. To make this possible, we have to turn from scientists to dancers.

The lab dance is truly an art that requires all of one’s patience, concentration, and, most importantly, balance. You haven’t truly pipetted until your feet are an arm’s length apart, knees slightly bent, elbows braced on the counter, samples held still by a small piece of non-skid, and at least one person is trying to slide behind you to get to the microscope all while the ship is rolling and pitching. Luckily, we all understand how difficult is it to work in tight spaces and have certainly gained an appreciation of times when other groups can be flexible. The lab dance may not be graceful or elegant, but other than a few stubbed toes and flying clipboards, we’ve made it work this far!

tall ship, marine science

There are four research groups that participate in this lab dance, and you may not have known it because I’ve only talked about Sargassum up until now. The three other research groups are studying hydroids, mobile fauna, and leptocephali (“Leptos”). In order to briefly explain these projects, I recruited a member of each group to help.

Team Hydroids:

The hydroids group is studying the geographic distribution of A. latecarinata on clumps of different Sargassum species. Before this project, I had never heard of hydroids, but Maggie, from the group, offers an apt description of the organisms, “[They have] little tiny mouths, little tiny polyps, little tiny tentacles, and they look like plant jellyfish.”

Team Mobile Fauna:

Mobile fauna studies the critters that live on Sargassum such as: shrimp, crabs, snails, amphipods, nudibranchs, and worms. They are researching the trophic interactions in mobile fauna communities in relation to Sargassum clump size and are focusing on the structure and connectivity of the slender Sargassum shrimp, which Vanessa has observed are “either pregnant or have parasites, some have both.”

Team Leptocephali:

The Lepto group is the only group that is not directly using Sargassum for their project. This group is researching family distribution over geographic region and moon phase, along with genetic subpopulations of the Man Tooth Conger Eel larvae. On the Cramer, we actually send meter nets down to 200m in order to retrieve leptos at midnight. Yage finds this very interesting because leptos live that deep in the ocean and come to the surface at night to eat! Woah!

tall ship, marine science, dna, boat lab

I’m constantly amazed about how much we have all learned in such a short amount of time. We have reached the point where the students are running the lab! Yikes! Here’s a huge thanks to our chief scientist, Laura, and our assistant scientists Maia, Kelsey, Grayson, and Kata. At first you may seem skeptical just like I was, but as Grayson explained to me, “We put the trust [in the students] because we know you’re more than capable.” As for now, we are through the Gulf Stream and in a molecular work frenzy in order to finish up our work on the boat before we reach New York!

tall ship, marine science

Stay Golden,


Stay tuned for more updates from our Onboard Reporter, Anna!

In collaboration with Sea Education Association (SEA), Sailors for the Sea is offering an award for a SEA Semester student to become an Onboard Reporter. SEA is an internationally recognized leader in undergraduate ocean education through their study abroad program. As a recipient of the new Sailors for the Sea Onboard Reporter award, Anna Brodmerkel is chronicling ocean health issues observed during her voyage aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer, one of SEA’s tall sailing ship research vessels, in the Atlantic Ocean. Anna is a University of North Carolina Chapel Hill double majoring in Public Policy and Environmental Studies with a minor in marine science.