4 August 2007
Location:off Sugarloaf Key
Today the scientists are assembling and trying to troubleshoot the plankton-imaging-system (PIS - unfortunate acronym) that takes pictures of plankton in the water. Dr. Bob Cowen's version is called ISIIS for In Situ Ichythyoplankton Imaging System. Which means not only can you take pictures of the fish plankton right in the water but it can count and potentially identify the organisms as well. This is huge. If you have learned anything from these pages, you've learned that we are collecting a lot of plankton samples. Which means there is a tremendous load of work to accomplish back in the lab processing these samples, i.e., sorting, counting and identifying species. This requires a small army of graduates, undergraduates and lab technicians. The emergence of PIS can greatly reduce sample processing time. But more that this, it means that scientists not only collect information on the abundance and distribution of plankton but also learn about their behavior without disturbing them. Since 1887 when Victor Hensen retrieved the 1st plankton net sample, scientists have asked some basic questions about ocean plankton: what species, how many, and does species composition change over time (Oceanography 2007 p.172-187). Scientists continue to examine these questions but improved technology sure helps. There are many amazing PIS designs and each is somewhat unique. What would be neat is if the scientists collaborate and share their information and come up with a really smart system.
I took advantage of staying at anchor today to start interviewing some of the scientists. PhD. student Joel Llopiz is writing up his thesis on larval feeding. He conducted an ambitious study of billfish, tuna and reef fish larvae and their trophic (feeding) environments. Using a tiny scapel and a microscope to study their guts, he discovered that fish larvae are picky eaters eg,. billfish eat copepods and cladocerans, tuna eat other larval fish when they are only 5mm, and reef fish eat tiny copepod nauplii. Studying the food web, he found an interesting link between marine bacteria and higher fish in the form of a pelagic tunicate. He may continue this research with Dr. Cowen as a post doctoral student. Joel went to Eckerd College in Florida as an undergraduate and would also like to teach at a small college. For exercise, he bikes vigorously on the foredeck until sunset yet doesn't move an inch.
Captain Sean shared some neat pictures of a traditional schooner he sailed in the Caribbean. It was constructed of fine woodwork and even equipped with cannons. He also had photos of the Dry Tortugas National Park that we may visit. The Sail Tall Ships book he pulled out was a goldmine of traditional sailing vessels evoking another era.
Well, it looks like we won't be moving today. In spite of working diligently all day, Bob and Cedric weren't able to work the bugs out of ISIIS so that problem will be solved another day.