Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Getting Into It

Students sort plastics from Sargassum 
Today we shoved off from Bermuda into the deep blue sea - the Sargasso Sea to be exact and the only sea without land boarders.  The Portuguese name Sargasso so given by Christopher Columbus when he first encountered the free-floating weed and it made him think of miniature grapes.  The plant is very important to the North Atlantic marine life and today our students learned why.  

When we sample the open-ocean for plastics, we often times collect the Sargassum weed as well, and that's because they both can float and are impacted similarly by the same ocean dynamics.  So when the ocean is really rough, a lot of the Sargassum gets broken up and washed down into the water column as do the plastics.  When there is a convergence zone, the Sargassum will accumulate on the surface and ditto the plastics.  Usually this means that when there is a lot of Sargassum, we will find a lot of plastic.  But today, we were stumped.  Of the three samples we took, only the first one filled our sampling net.  The other two had very little weed in them yet both had more plastics than the first.

Angela Tomassini observing Sargassum biota

Angela Tomassini from Eckard College in St. Petersburg, FL, a visiting student at BIOS. She is a Marine Science major with a concentration in Biology, minoring in Environmental Studies and Spanish.  She chose to give up a birding trip she had planned in order to take this cruise to work with scientists.  She said she didn't expect to have the opportunity to observe marine biology since most of the science research on this cruise leans toward chemistry.  She was pleasantly surprised because it isn't just the weed and plastics that we find.  A myriad of marine life lives in the weed.  Thanks to JP Skinner, BIOS, who provided us with a fish tank, we could save some of the marine biota that  ends up in our samples.  By doing so, we were able to illustrate to the students the complexity of the Sargassum ecosystem that provides food for larger fish, birds, and sea turtles.  Angela recommends students take up any opportunity to participate in hands-on experiences.  She learned so much and it's only the first day!  But she does have one question and we're hoping someone respond to this blog, "Are the blue copepods bio luminescent?  

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