Scientists on weeklong Gulf research trip adjust to life at sea

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

Working on a boat can be tough, but life at sea also involves several conveniences for marine scientists researching post-hurricane water quality.

“One of the biggest benefits is we’re not going in and out all day,” said James Javaruski, a former Florida Gulf Coast University graduate student. “Normally, we’ll get on a small boat, 28 to 32 feet, and then you have to take two to three hours to get to your site, do as much science as you can before the daylight goes away, and then you have to come back again.”

With the Weatherbird, researchers don’t have that issue.

“Since we can do 24-hour ops, we can work around the clock,” Javaruski said.

The Weatherbird allows them to do more science, take more water and sediment samples and see what’s happening with our seas.

“A hurricane like Hurricane Ian, which is borderline Category 5, upper Category 4… it drastically changed everything,” said Cole Tillman, a graduate student in The Water School at FGCU.

This is Tillman’s third research cruise since Ian. He knows this floating laboratory also comes with an interesting set of obstacles.

“When the swell really kicks up, these glasswares up here, they tend to kind of fall, so we gotta strap those down,” Tillman said.

The close quarters, too, require some careful maneuvering.

“It gets pretty tricky when it’s two people and we’re trying to go from one place to another,” Tillman said. “But, overall, it’s not bad.”

For these FGCU undergraduate and graduate students, this seven-day trip through the Gulf of Mexico is what they have worked for, and a sneak peek into their future as environmental leaders.

“It’s really great to come on this to gain research and field experience that I can use in my career and in graduate school,” said Lexi Ludwig, an FGCU undergraduate research assistant.

And their research benefits all of us: It lets us better understand the Gulf and what’s happening on and under the water.

The Weatherbird is one of two research vessels operated by the state-funded Florida Institute of Oceanography, which supports marine science research in the state’s university system.

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