Sailing and Science in Costa Rica

Pelican of London in calm tropical waters

Our six Seas Your Future Scientists in Residence in Costa Rica have sailed the Pacific Coast off Puerto Rico for a few days now.

You might imagine their work to be a breeze, more of a holiday really, sailing tropical seas in great weather… and surely, the sun shines and watching dolphins riding the bow waves amidst bioluminescent plankton at midnight is magical and an experience nobody will ever forget.

Costa Rican language students relax while having a break from watch duty.
Costa Rican language students relax on the poop deck while having a break from watch duty. Their mates on watch are in the background, sailing the ship!

But anyone who has ever been to sea will know that there are always challenges to overcome. As sailors, we see challenges as opportunities for growth and strengthen our resilience, and setting up new scientific work aboard the Pelican of London did not disappoint in that respect. With patience, ingenuity, help from the ship’s crew and a support from afar (what would I do without WhatsApp and zoom?), they’re now doing brilliantly.

After a few days waiting for delayed luggage with equipment, Hannah Gibbs and Megan Derrick investigated a bloom of marine algae the ship was sailing through. The ‘red tide’ coloured patches of water dark read to brown and examination of surface water samples under the microscope revealed it to be Trichodesmium species, often called a blue-green algae, but actually a cyanobacterium that, as algae do, uses sunlight and carbon dioxide as ‘food’ source to build their cells and multiply.

Meanwhile, Thomas Stone, in collaboration with cetacean specialist Frank Garita, has undertaken hours and hours of dedicated marine mammal surveys and deployed a directional hydrophone (underwater microphone) from the ship’s RIB to locate humpback whales, for which this area is an important breeding and calving ground. Apart from whales, they encountered a range of fauna, including Olive Ridley sea turtles and pantropical spotted dolphins.

Hannah is also interested in macro- and microplastics in the sea and along the shoreline and when she helps Thomas with whale watching, she also notes any floating marine debris.

Sari Ponnet puts the Chelsea Technologies Ltd. TriLUX instrument to the test – measuring turbidity and the algae pigments chlorophyll a and phycoerythrin in the water, along with a range of oceanographic measurements, such as salinity, pH (a measure of water alkalinity or acidity) and temperature. Working in collaboration with Sari, Emily Murphy-Gray uses measurements of these parameters to assess the status of the Costa Rican sea surface with respect to ocean acidification and how this may affect the health of the coastal ecosystems.

Jeremy DeMoss is Duty Director of Marine Operations at Fleetwater Group LLC and on the Pelican to install an autonomous weather observation system onboard, as well as undertake meteorological observations to study the weather patterns in the region. For Jeremy, the voyage is as much about personal experience as it is about establishing how direct weather observations compare with model predictions of weather for Fleetwater. You can continue to follow the company’s perspective of the voyage here: https://my.yb.tl/tspelican.

The voyage will soon come to an end and we will report on the scientific outcomes of each of the projects when we processed and analysed the data and are able to interpret it in the context of the environmental conditions and literature.

Featured Image: Pelican of London in calm tropical waters off Costa Rica. (c) Seas Your Future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: