5 August 2007
Started reading some of Scientist Bob Cowen's research papers to get some background on this research project. Basically, the first couple papers I read dispel the long held notion that plankton are passive wanderers that move at the mercy of the currents. In fact, the word plankton (Greek planktos) means wanderer so this notion has been held for a long time. Their research has demonstrated that fish plankton not only may not move all that far but that many members of the fish plankton actively swim up and down in the water column. When they reach a layer of current that moves onshore, the larval fish may actually travel back fairly close to the reefs where they spawned or started off in the first place. So plankton are not passive and usually not dispersing over long distances. All sorts of interesting questions arise. Just how far do marine larvae travel? Since most marine species living in coastal waters don't travel far once they are adults, the larval phase is their chance to disperse. So the question remains how far do they go, they have the potential to travel far - but do they? A management question could be, do they repopulate the reefs downstream from where they spawn or do they largely repopulate the same reef areas? And why do we care? We all know that fisheries have declined worldwide. If we can identify areas critical to restoring populations, then those would be important areas to conserve as marine reserves. This research paper is based on mathematical models and uses equations to make predictions. But scientists are the first to admit that the predictions are only as good as the information used in the models. So a lot of effort goes into constructing the model and collecting the data. Put in inaccurate or incomplete information and you get incomplete or inaccurate information coming out. The old adage 'garbage in garbage out'. So be aware of the limits and always collect your information (data) with care. It is important to test these predictions with real data collected in the field (ocean) and that is just what we are doing. Ten minutes to the next station gotta go...
This will be a long day as we plan to take regular plankton samples by the reef with the MOCNESS until midnight. Since it is the quarter moon tonight, we just might catch the fish larvae that are heading ashore to settle on the reefs.
Today has been packed, but had a chance to ask graduate student Martha Hauff a few questions. She will be writing her thesis proposal on larval fish ecology this fall. Her PhD. research is also supported by this grant and involves looking at the condition (health) of fish larvae. On board she is busy picking out reef fish larvae and quickly freezing them for analysis later. Even though she grew up in Colorado, she developed an interest in marine biology during visits to Bermuda. She went to Claremont College near Los Angeles as an undergraduate. For fun she runs 10K and marathon races.