Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Stay.

You can see the ankle bracelet on my right foot here. Simpson
Beach, outside Charleston, OR, 2013. Photo by Amy Gawry.
As many of you know, I wear ankle bracelets. Or at least I did. I collected them when traveling, and each bracelet symbolized something different to me - a memory, a moment, a person. I tied the bracelets on my ankles as a way to hold onto those moments, and when the bracelets wore out and fell off of their own accord, it was my signal that it was time to move on.

Most of the bracelets I had actually fell off during my last year in Oregon, but there was one that stayed. It was made from a scrap of rope given to me by a crew member on NOAA ship Nancy Foster in 2012. I was supposed to practice tying bowline knots in the rope, so I tied a series of bowlines and then secured the loop around my ankle with a figure-8. In 2015, I added a copper charm to the bracelet while on R/V Thomas Thompson (it was a bit of hardware meant to connect two ends of a metallic cord, which I had to use to fix the lander).

The white rope bracelet could have stuck around on my ankle for years. It was a durable, tight weave that didn't rip and barely frayed in the 5 years I wore it. And its presence would have been fitting, too. The white rope bracelet represented adventure. It stood for the courage it takes to leave home and explore a new part of the world. It symbolized movement, travel, and aderenaline-fueled exploration. It represented departure from all that is comfortable.

I took it off shortly after moving to Falmouth, without really knowing why. I just wanted it off. Sure, I could tell you that I was tired of setting off airport metal detectors with the copper charm (which is true) or that it was uncomfortable to wear under field boots (also true). But the real reason took me longer to figure out. I think my subconscious knew something at the time that my conscious mind had yet to realize, and the reason I took off my last bracelet is much more personal.

I've come to realize that everything the white rope represented - adventure, travel, exploration, leaving home - is no longer difficult for me. In fact, moving around the world has become my comfort zone. You know this, readers. Much of this blog has centered on what it feels like to arrive in a place and what it feels like to leave a place. I have spent years jet-setting, going wherever the science leads. I am comfortable in most parts of the world, and I greatly enjoy adding new cities to the list of places I call "home." I absolutely adore my mobile lifestyle, and while I will adamantly never cease traveling, maybe it's time to add another element to my life story.

Since moving to Woods Hole, I have fallen deeply, maddeningly in love with it. With the Cape, with the town, with the institution, with the shoreline and the beach and the colorful sky above me. If I had to design my ideal place to live, this would be it: a world-class, powerful institution in a well-to-do small town at temperate latitude, with four real seasons, right on the water but within reasonable distance of a major airport. This place is Heaven, or at least the closest earthly equivalent.

For the first time, I feel like I'm home. Not in an I-know-my-way-around-and-feel-comfortable-here way but in an I-truly-belong-here way. This place speaks to my soul. I find myself not dreaming about where I want to go or where I want to move next. I find myself fantasizing about returning here, investing in this community, building a lasting home. I have found a place that I want to stay in, and I have found someone who I want to stay with. I have never felt more like myself.

Don't get me wrong, friends, I will never stop traveling. I may even live in other parts of the world for short periods, but I have something now that I haven't had before: a true home base.

This time, I will have the courage to stay.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Shipping up to Boston

"I'm a sailor peg
And I've lost my leg
Climbing up the top sails
I lost my leg!
I'm shipping up to Boston
I'm shipping off to find my wooden leg"
- "Shipping up to Boston" by the Dropkick Murphys

Friends, I am headed home. This trip has been absolute insanity, but I am grateful for every moment of it. I have met with colleagues and visited with friends. I have picked up samples and searched for more. I have finished writing a scientific paper. Altogether, I have been in 7 countries in 3 weeks; I have had 4 different currencies in my wallet, and I have been at every latitude from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. I. Am. Exhausted.

Usually, when I walk through the international terminal of any major airport, I scan the possible destinations and think to myself "I'd like to go there," "Oh, I'd love to go there," and "Ooh, I wish I was going there." Then I'll arrive at my gate, read the name of some American city, and totally deflate. I'll exhale a long sigh and shrug, "Well, I guess I'm going there."

Not today. Today, when I scanned the monitor, I read the names of all the places I could fly and didn't react at all. Then when my eyes finally found Boston on the list, my heart jumped. "Yes, Boston," I thought, "My airport. Home."

I never expected to feel this way about Massachusetts. Actually, I don't know if I expected to ever feel this way about anywhere. I pride myself on my mobility, on my ability to turn any place into a home, but that talent also involves being totally uncommitted. You can literally drop me anywhere in the world, and I will make friends, learn the local culture, and make the place my own. But I've never found a place that I wanted to stay any longer than originally planned.

With Massachusetts, it's different. I don't have to try to feel at home - I just slide right in. It's like the state was always there, waiting for me, ready to accept me as one of its own.

I'm shipping up to Boston. Friends, I'm going home.

Kirkebakken reunion

Kirkebakkeners at dinner in Barcelona
For the last stop on my European Whirlwind Tour 2018, I went to Barcelona! The housemates I lived with in Stavanger, Norway, were getting together for a reunion, and when they found out I was going to be in Europe, they scheduled the event around my travels. I was so grateful for the chance to see them again! All the Kirkebakkeners from my era have since moved out of the house, but we've stayed in contact through social media. As soon as we were reunited, it was like we had never been apart at all. This group truly is my Norwegian family.

We chartered a sailboat and went swimming in the crystal-clear waters of the Mediterranean. We ate paella and drank sangria. We took walks through the city center and talked about our lives. It was an awesome weekend.

I spend a lot of time thinking about communities. In my career, I'm a community ecologist, so I study how animals interact with one another and how their communities change over time. But the idea of community also pervades my personal life. I am constantly observing how groups interact and how the group dynamics affect my emotions. I have been part of awesome, supportive communities, and I have been left feeling flat. In my mind, a great community has two essential elements:

Sailing with housemates in the Mediterranean
1) All members of the group must be immediately accepted, no matter who they are, and even if their self-definition changes. A strong sense of belonging pervades the group.

2) Community members must have the freedom to make their own choices and engage with other members to the extent that they desire. Members cannot shame others for choosing not to engage, and as a result, group membership is fluid.

Belonging and freedom - the two hallmarks of great communities, at least as I have observed them. My Kirkebakken housemates have both of these elements in excess. Each person is accepted as they are, and they have the freedom to engage with the rest of the group as much or as little as they choose. My housemates truly want nothing but the best for each other. What impresses me so much is that Kirkebakkeners are the single most eclectic group I have ever been a part of. We come from Europe, America, and Asia, and we span in age from early 20s to mid 50s. And yet, we get along incredibly well. Kirkebakken is one of the great highlights of my life as a traveling scientist. I am so grateful to be part of this community.

Friday, August 3, 2018

I Havnen (in the port)

Polarstern entering the port in Tromsø
I got to the port at 7:45 am. The water in the fjord was still, and the sun poked through a layer of cotton ball-like clouds. Out in the water, a giant ship moved slowly - almost imperceptibly - closer to the dock. I could see people leaning on the outer rails on several decks, but I could not yet recognize any of them. As the silent mammoth pulled alongside the pier, crew members on board tossed ropes to men on the dock. The ship was secured with massive, woven lines from the bow and from the stern.

My work station for the day (before everything got spread out)
A door opened on the starboard side, and I could see a woman stepping out onto one of the upper decks. I recognized her immediately - Miriam, a treasured German friend. She waved at me joyfully with both hands, and I did the same. I was very excited to see her!

The reason I came north to Tromsø was to meet a ship, the German icebreaker Polarstern, when she arrived in port after a research expedition in the Fram Strait. My collaborators from the Alfred Wegener Institute had collected samples for me during the expedition, but the samples needed to be sieved, processed, and packed. The task was complicated enough that I didn't want to burden anyone else with it, so I got permission to board the ship and do it myself.

Do you remember the larval traps I spent so much time building in Woods Hole? I constructed them myself out of PVC and laboratory sampling tubes, then shipped them off to Germany for deployment on Arctic moorings. Well, the larval traps I made in 2017 were deployed last summer and recovered this year. They have gone through their full life-cycle and yielded valuable samples!

With friends on Polarstern
I spent several hours camped out on the ship, with my samples and supplies spread around me like the toys of a disorganized child. All the labs were closed, having been cleaned and sealed at the end of the expedition, so I was on my own. Thankfully, I knew what I was getting into and came thoroughly prepared - I even brought my own trash bag. As I worked, Miriam kept me company. We talked about the project, about the expedition, about her upcoming dissertation. She's a great friend.

I actually got another surprise on board Polarstern. Two other young researchers who I had sailed with in years past were on board, and when they heard I was around, they stopped by to chat! One of them I had not seen since 2012, so it was heart-warming to catch up with her. I'm so grateful for the community of Arctic scientists.

By the end of the day, I had three giant boxes of samples and supplies ready to ship back to the U.S. I was glad to reconnect with friends and colleagues, and I can't wait to see what my results yield! It was a good day in the port.

Tromsø

He was leaning against the open door at the top of the stairs, wearing sandals, shorts, and an untucked shirt. His arms were crossed, and he was smiling. I smiled back. 

"Hi Paul." I climbed to the top of the stairs and followed him to his office. Once I had a chance to set down the box I was carrying, he gave me a warm hug. 

Friends, one of the great joys of my life as a traveling scientist is being welcomed by friends and colleagues across the world. Paul is an Arctic biologist who I collaborated with when I lived in Norway. I took his Arctic Benthic Ecology class at the University Centre in Svalbard in 2015, and he is a co-author on two chapters of my dissertation. He is a good scientist and a great mentor, and I was glad to see him again. 

Views like this are one of the many reasons I love this city.
The topography and the cloud cover make me keenly aware
of the 3D space around me.
I am currently in Tromsø, Norway, a city above the Arctic circle. I pass through here a lot on my way to research expeditions, but I've never stayed for long. Tromsø is an absolutely gorgeous place with mountains, a fjord, and top-notch research institutions, and it's a place that I very much enjoy being. This time, I came north to pick up samples that were collected for me on a research expedition, and I used the chance while I was in town to connect with collaborators. 

After bidding farewell to Paul, I headed to the University of Tromsø. A researcher whose work thematically overlaps with mine had recently taken a position there, and I was eager to meet her. I had been reading and citing her research papers for years, and when I found out she was in at UiT, I e-mailed to ask if she could meet. As it turns out, she had been reading my papers too. In fact, we discovered we had each independently begun researching the same scientific question about larval dispersal in Svalbard, but we were using different methods to do so. We agreed to share results and see if our studies showed similar patterns. I'm very excited to see what we find. 

I absolutely love the Arctic. There are so many critical and interesting research questions to be answered in the north, and I am grateful for the chance to maintain my connections with other Arctic researchers in Tromsø.
.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Meine Stadt

"Das hier ist meine Stadt, steig ein und ich nehm' dich   (This here is my city, get in and I'll take you)
Ein kleines Stückchen auf meinem Weg mit                    (A small piece of the way with me)   
Ich zeig' dir, was es hier zu sehen gibt                              (I'll show you what there is to see)
Das hier ist meine Stadt...                                                 (This here is my city)
Bremerhaven, ich hör' dich, ich fühl' dein Atem              (Bremerhaven, I hear you, I feel your breath)
Der Weg hallt durch deine Straßen                                   (The path echoes through your streets)
Und alles ist grau in den Gassen und Blocks meiner City" (And everything is gray in the alleys and 
- "Meine Stadt" by Moe Mitchell                                         blocks of my city)

Back when I lived here, a friend showed me the song quoted above. It's by an R&B artist from Bremerhaven, and it's the only song I'm aware of that mentions the city by name. I sympathize with a lot of the lyrics - the song talks about the wind along the waterfront and about the port, which is Bremerhaven's lifeblood. As the tide goes in and out, you can almost feel the city breathe.

In the old port in Bremerhaven, one of the most beautiful
parts of the city
I absolutely love this place. Bremerhaven is not just a place I used to live, it's a place that still feels like home. The best word to use is actually "Heimat," which is a German word for the place you come from, the place you love most, the place you feel most like yourself. Bremerhaven is for me a second Heimat. I left a large piece of my heart behind in the port city. In some ways, German Kirstin still lives here, and I get to visit her whenever I return.

I have spent a heart-warming and productive week here, seeing friends and meeting with colleagues at the AWI, finishing the analysis of deep-sea colonization from last summer, and discussing future directions. I'm grateful for my long-standing connection to the institution that allows me to come back here every few years. I am now headed to the next destination on my European whirlwind tour. I'll let you know once I get there!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Petra

I pushed the button to ring her doorbell. A few seconds later, I heard her voice through the speaker: “Hello?”

“It’s Kirstin Meyer,” I responded, and this time she answered immediately. The door swung open, and I walked through to the elevators. When I got to her floor, the apartment door was already open, waiting for me. She greeted me with a smile, an urge to come in, and a big hug.

I call Petra “my adopted German grandmother.” We met through my church in Bremerhaven when I lived here and bonded over music, travel, and faith. We’ve written letters back and forth for 6 years, and I stop by to see her whenever I’m in town. Petra is a retired opera singer and an absolutely fascinating woman. She has a huge, generous heart, a lifetime full of stories to share, and even at 78, she is incredibly active.

Petra in Jerusalem
I spent most of an evening listening about Petra’s recent trip to Israel. She showed me pictures of Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, and the church group she was traveling with. Just when I thought we had reached the end of her giant stack of photos, she pulled out another full box and continued her tale. No digitalization, and yet everything was documented on film. I listened in awe of her strenuous trip and positively dropped my jaw when she said she had done the whole thing with a fractured ankle.

The next night, she invited me to watch a production of Richard Wagner's Lohengrin on TV with her. I was eager to see the opera, especially with Petra, who had performed it years ago. She let me leaf through her copy of the opera's score as we watched, and at times, I could hear her singing along. She pointed out faces she recognized in the chorus - younger colleagues who were still performing. When a small group of women from the chorus came to the front of the stage for a solo part, she told that was her role back in the day.

Every time I see Petra, I learn something new - often multiple new things. I admire her tenacity and her artistry and her self-assured character. Guys, I want to be Petra when I grow up.

Der Probenlager

Anja is a ball of sunshine. At a mere 5 feet tall, she packs more energy into a little body than I have ever seen. As we make our way down the hall, she keeps a brisk pace both in travel and in conversation, and I'm reminded how much I enjoy working with her. 

The Probenlager
We grab the key for the Probenlager (sample storage room) and let ourselves inside. It’s cramped with shelves and boxes and bins, and it smells faintly of formaldehyde. Dead animals in jars – my favorite. Anja glances at her notes, scans the shelves, and then hops onto a wooden box to read a jar’s label on the top. We spent a good half hour in there, pulling boxes out, reading their labels, then opening them to peek inside. Jar after jar and box after box. There were even a few labels in my handwriting – trawl samples collected in the Fram Strait in 2012. We searched everything, but we still didn’t find the samples I wanted.

I’m currently at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany. As some of you may remember, I lived and worked here in 2011 – 2012, and I have collaborated with AWI scientists ever since. Last summer, they invited me to analyze recruitment panels as part of a long-term experiment. A metal frame with plastic and brick substrata that had been deployed on the seafloor in 1999 was recovered, and I counted and identified all the animals on the panels. Well, I'm visiting the AWI now to finish up that analysis with my collaborators. We're almost ready to submit our results for publication, but I wanted to take the chance while I was here and add an extra piece to the story. A few panels had been removed from the frame in 2003, and I was hoping to take a look at them. We know based on the ROV video that no animals were visible on the panels, but I thought there might be some foraminiferans – single-celled organisms – that were too small for the ROV camera to detect.

Alas, we may never know. I had seen the 2003 panels very briefly when I lived here back in 2011, but I had no clue at the time that I would end up being the one to complete the long-term experiment. The room where the panels were stored has since been cleaned out to make space for new data. Samples accumulate faster than you might expect, so removing old ones from storage is an accepted and even necessary practice. I was hoping that the 2003 panels had been moved into the new Probenlager, but it appears not. After almost a decade in storage, the old panels must have been thrown out. 

It was disappointing to find out the panels were gone, but it's ok. I have great data from the ROV video and from the panels that were collected last summer. Our analysis shows important patterns in Arctic deep-sea colonization, and I'm excited about the results that I have!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Riding the rails

When I was a kid - probably about 12 or so - my orchestra played a song called "Riding the Rails." I remember it had funky rhythms (well, for my 7th-grader's mind) and was performed very quickly to mimic a rattling train. The title stuck with me because was a phrase I had never heard before, and it wasn't until years later in U.S. history class that I found out the expression was used to describe men who rode freight trains cross-country during the Depression.

Got to admit, I feel a bit like a 1930s hobo this week, because I've spent an inordinate amount of time on trains. Since parting ways with Carl in Budapest, I have made it all the way to northern Germany, traveling some 1500 km entirely by train.

With Theresa and Jessi in Heidelberg
Thankfully, the trip was broken up by a visit with my friend, Theresa. We met when I was living in Bremerhaven, but she has since moved south, to a small town in the federal state of Rheinland-Pfalz. Because her current town is so small, Theresa suggested we meet up in Heidelberg, just a short distance away, to explore and spend time together.

Heidelberg is one of the most beautiful towns in Germany, and trust me, I've seen a lot of them. The old downtown is absolutely gorgeous everywhere you turn, and there's an interesting castle on the hill above. We strolled by the river, explored the city center, and rode the funicular up to the castle. Theresa's friend, Jessi, joined us, and I was glad for the chance to get to know another wanderluster.

One of the great benefits of my international life is having friends on multiple continents, like-minded travelers with whom I can explore and experience the world. I'm so glad I got to see Theresa!

Monday, July 23, 2018

The capitals


Right now, I am on a train somewhere in Hungary. I know we haven’t crossed the border into Austria yet because the place names are ones that I could never hope to pronounce. It is early morning, and low-hanging gray clouds cover the tops of the hills.

With Carl in Prague. The Danube River and Prague Castle
are in the background.
I have spent the last week exploring central Europe with Carl. We made it to Prague, Bratislava, Vienna, and Budapest. With our careers both being so tied to the ocean, we rarely get to see inland areas unless on vacation, so we took the chance while we were already in Europe and did just that. The trip was a much-needed reprieve for both of us, time away from the normal stressors of work and family.

Each of the central European capitals has its own unique highlights and is steeped in history. We visited Prague Castle, a centuries-old fortress that served as the capital of Bohemia, then Czechoslovakia, and now the modern Czech Republic. We explored the old city of Bratislava and walked the coronation route of ancient Moravian kings. We toured the Habsburg palace in Vienna and visited Mozart’s house. We climbed Gellért Hill in Budapest, toured the Hungarian History Museum, and drove to an artists’ town in the Pilis Mountains.

Devin Castle, overlooking the Danube and Morava Rivers
outside Bratislava
By far my favorite stop on this vacation was Devín Castle, just a short bus ride outside of Bratislava. The castle overlooks the confluence of the Morava and Danube Rivers, and it dates from the seventh century AD. The elevated, strategic site was first settled by Celts, then Romans, then the Moravian king in the 800s. It was further built up during the thirteenth century under the Hungarian empire and during the sixteenth century to stave off invasion by the Ottomans. Much of the castle was destroyed in 1809 by Napoleon’s retreating army, and during the 20th century, the castle overlooked the Iron Curtain, with the Danube and Morava Rivers separating communist Czechoslovakia from democratic Austria.

Whenever I travel, I try to imagine what it would be like to live in the place where I am, both in modern times and in the past. Standing atop the cliff in Devín, exposed to the wind and overlooking the rivers, it was easy to imagine ancient kings surveying their kingdom, but it was also easy to envision communist forces patrolling the Danube bank. The site was powerful to experience.

I’ve greatly enjoyed my week exploring and learning the history of central Europe with Carl. We parted ways in Budapest, and while he flies back to the U.S., I’m headed north to Germany for the work portion of this work/personal trip. I miss him terribly, but my time in Germany should be productive. I will keep you updated as my travels continue!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

My best friend’s wedding


Every time I return to Europe, I find myself lying in bed my first morning and enjoying the ambience. The sun rises earlier here in the summers, so there’s plenty of light coming in the window as I awaken. Sheer curtains cover the open, screenless window, and light traffic noise wafts in. There is something so bright and fresh about early mornings in European summer. The atmosphere relaxes me.

Me and Stefanie. Photo by Carl Kaiser.
I am now in Mühlhausen, Germany, the first stop on what will be a whirlwind European work/personal trip. If you’ve never heard of Mühlhausen, you’re not alone. It’s a small town in the center of Germany, not really notable for anything except for being the birthplace of Johann Röbling, the architect behind the Brooklyn Bridge. But Mühlhausen is significant to me: it is the hometown of my best friend, Stefanie.

The bride and groom emerging from the city hall.
I first visited Mühlhausen in 2011, shortly after meeting Steffi. We were both living in Bremerhaven, and she invited me for a weekend at her parents’ house. I remember the Medieval city wall and the extensive Tudor style architecture. I remember the giant Gothic cathedral in the center of town. But mostly I remember feeling welcomed, appreciated, and embraced. I’m the only German-speaking friend Stefanie has ever brought home, and my fluency alone was enough to make her parents adore me.

This weekend, I returned to Mühlhausen to witness my best friend marry the love of her life. I am so ridiculously happy for the both of them, and it was more than worth the transoceanic flight to be there.

Bride and groom sawing the log (while the bride's father
holds it in place). Photo by Carl Kaiser.
The ceremony was at Mühlhausen’s Rathaus (city hall), in the heart of the old city. We entered through an arched doorway and climbed a dark staircase to enter a large, domed hall with paintings of Renaissance-era mayors on the walls. Stefanie and André made their way to the front, where they sat sandwiched between their designated witnesses, facing the officiant. For all the time I’ve spent in this country, I’ve never attended a German wedding before, so I was curious how much it would resemble an American ceremony. There were vows, rings, and a “you may kiss the bride,” but one thing did catch me off-guard: when the officiant announced the bride and groom, she identified them each by full name, birth date, birthplace, and current address. It was a lot of personal information said aloud. I was reminded of my church back in Bremerhaven, where the pastor would announce deaths in the congregation by name and address – I guess Germans just identify each other by place of residence.
With new friends at the wedding

The other major difference was a fun one: as soon as we arrived at the reception, we found a log, about a meter long, sitting on a stand with a two-man saw leaned up against it. It’s tradition in Thüringen for newly-married couples to cut through a log together as a symbol of partnership. I must admit, it was quite amusing to watch the bride and groom don smocks over their nice clothes and set to work with a saw. They made it through in just a few minutes, and then the party began!

Stefanie is a fellow traveling scientist who’s actually lived in more countries than me. Friends came from far and wide to attend the wedding, and I was again reminded how much science is an international endeavor. I got to meet her colleagues from Canada, France, and the Netherlands, and of course re-connect with her German parents. It was an exercise in community and just a really awesome day.

Congratulations, Stefanie and André!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

In print

Friends, research is a lot of work, but it is also rewarding! I always take joy in seeing my work in print, and today, another article has been published as a result of my studies.

This paper concerns the swimming behavior of oyster larvae when they are competent to settle. I've been telling you about my analysis of oyster larvae swimming behavior for over a year. When I arrived at WHOI, I was given four datasets to analyze, and to do so, I had to learn how to code. I wrote scripts to identify larvae swimming down, swimming up, and swimming in helices, calculate the proportions of each, and find their average velocities. Working with my advisor and co-authors, I picked out which results were most meaningful and whittled them down into a coherent story. My co-authors and I revised our manuscript numerous times and even started over once. Our manuscript was submitted for publication and underwent review, after which it had to be overhauled again. It took a lot of time and a lot of work, but in the end, our paper turned out very well and was accepted for publication. I'm quite proud that I was able to contribute not just to mankind's knowledge of oyster larvae swimming behavior but also to developing data analysis methods that have been implemented by other students in my lab for their own experiments.

This paper represents a lot of work by myself and my co-authors. I'm glad to finally see it in print. You can find the manuscript here, in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series:
https://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v599/p93-106/

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Patriot day

Friends, it is a busy summer! I'm not sure if you're having any trouble keeping track of my projects this summer (there are several), so let's review!

There are lab experiments on oyster larvae swimming behavior;

I have an experiment hanging off the dock to see how limpets affect fouling fauna; and

I'm studying how larvae disperse among shipwrecks on Stellwagen Bank in order to stop the spread of an invasive species.

It is this latter project that brings me to the blog today. This weekend, I visited my third site on Stellwagen Bank to deploy samplers, and it was a very interesting trip!

My day began at 5:45 am. Carl and I had stayed in Beverly, MA, north of Boston, in preparation for our early morning dive. We made our way to the dock by 6:30 and discovered many of our fellow divers were already there. The regulars are all pretty hardcore morning people. We loaded our gear onto the Gauntlet and were off.

My larval traps and fouling panels adjacent to the
Patriot wreck. Photo by Heather Knowles. 
As I descended through the water, I kept one eye on Carl and one hand on the thick white mooring line. The water around me was green, but not quite soup - I could still see. The deeper I went, the dimmer it became, until the wreck began to emerge out of the darkness beneath me. I added gas to my buoyancy compensator, cleared my mask, and gave Carl the OK sign. We had arrived at the wreck of the Patriot.

My very first task on the dive was to deploy larval traps and fouling panels on the seafloor. I dropped down beside the wreck and noticed the sand was covered by sand dollars, just the like at the Josephine Marie. I pulled a larval trap out of the mesh bag I was carrying and pushed it into the seafloor, then grabbed a set of fouling panels from Carl and set about hammering it in. Carl picked up what I wanted very quickly, and within a few minutes, we had secured both sets of samplers in the sand.

Next, I pulled out a series of smaller tubes, taped together in rows of 5, and a metallic scraper. It was time to sample my target species, Didemnum albidum. However, after just a few minutes swimming around the wreck, I realized there was no Didemnum to be found. It simply wasn't there. The Patriot actually had stunningly low biodiversity compared to some of the other wrecks on Stellwagen Bank, as it was dominated only by two species (an anemone and a hydroid) and had only small numbers of sponges and sea stars. I was very surprised.

The complete absence of D. albidum from the Patriot wreck may sound like a failure for my experiment, but it's actually an answer to my scientific question all by itself. I started this experiment to figure out which direction an invasive species, D. vexillum, was most likely to invade Stellwagen Bank from, using its native sister species as a model. I thought D. vexillum could come from the north (the Patriot wreck) or the south (the Josephine Marie). Well, there are no Didemnum of either species on the Patriot, but D. albidum was all over the Josephine Marie, along with several other species. That makes the answer pretty clear to me: Didemnum is more likely to come from the south.

When I talked it over with the boat captain later, she agreed with my suspicion. She also noted that wrecks on the northern end of Stellwagen Bank are exposed to sand scour, to the point that their organisms can be blasted off by winter storms. If true, this phenomenon would explain the low biodiversity and the absence of D. albidum on the Patriot - only species that can survive the high-energy environment or recolonize quickly can survive here.

I'll return to each of my sites in August and September to collect my samplers and see what has changed on the wrecks. We'll see if my suspicions hold!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Limpet land: part 2

Friends, the summer of research continues! This week, I checked on my Crepidula fouling experiment I had begun in June. You know, the one where I put live limpets and glued shells on plastic fouling panels to see how the limpets affect recruitment of the organisms around them. After three weeks, the panels had been colonized by a variety of organisms - mostly ascidians and bryozoans - so I wanted to count them all and see if I could tell any difference between panels with limpets, panels with shells, and panels with neither.

Limpet shells overgrown by ascidians and bryozoans
It took me a whole two days to get through all 25 panels in my experiment. I was constantly running back and forth from the dock to the microscope. I pulled the panels off of their PVC backing one by one and examined them under the 'scope to identify all the organisms that were there.

I made a few interesting observations. First, the limpets were overgrown by other organisms, more so than I had expected. I saw some overgrowth last year, but only on very small individuals (I only got very small individuals on my panels last year). I wasn't sure how the larger adults would fare with overgrowth, but they seem just as susceptible to it as the younger limpets. The shells I had glued to the panels were completely covered in fauna, and the live individuals had plenty of colonists too. I was fascinated to see that they could still move around with such heavy fouling.

One of my fouling panels with live adult limpets. Notice
the large halo around the four individuals in the bottom
left corner.
Second, I noticed large halos of blank space on the panels with live limpets. I had observed this "bulldozing" last year and hypothesized it might have a significant impact on the fouling community. I still observed the halos this year, but when I counted all of the organisms on the panels, there weren't big differences in the number of organisms on panels with or without live snails. I think the amount of space left empty because of limpet bulldozing was not enough to affect the rest of the community beyond the limpet's immediate vicinity.

It may sound like my experiment disproves my hypothesis, and in the strictest sense, that is true. But like all things in biology, sometimes the result you get is a matter of scale. On the scale of a few square centimeters around the limpet, yes, the bulldozing does have a significant effect. On the scale of a whole panel, though, it does not. I'm thinking about ways to analyze my data to demonstrate this difference.

The last thing I noticed is that even though there were halos around each of the limpets, the empty space didn't stay empty for long. It was recolonized by new recruits that could eventually grow to cover the space. Limpet bulldozing may not be so much a matter of empty v. overgrown space, but rather the bulldozing allows for space to be cleared and recolonized over and over again. This turnover in the community will certainly have an effect as time goes on, especially as seasons change and new organisms become ready to recruit to empty space. I suspect limpet bulldozing may lead to more heterogenous communities.

After counting all the organisms on the panels, I reset the experiment. I replaced any limpets that had fallen off and returned all panels to their rightful places on the dock. I will return in a few more weeks to see how the community has changed!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

To settle

Friends, as I've mentioned, there are some experiments going on in my lab at WHOI right now to examine how oyster larvae behave in different environmental conditions. Students and interns in the Mullineaux lab have been working on oyster behavior for several years now, in an effort to understand how turbulence, light, and water chemistry affect the swimming behavior of oyster larvae.

This mess of tubes is channeling compressed gas into our
flasks of seawater. 
This year, our question is how ocean acidification influences the behavior of oyster larvae when they're ready to settle and begin adult life on the seafloor. Settlement is a critical stage in the life-cycle of marine animals, and swimming larvae use a variety of physical and chemical cues to select the best place on the seafloor to attach, metamorphose, and spend the rest of their life. However, as the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises, more and more CO2 is becoming dissolved in the ocean, and the average pH of the surface waters is dropping. This acidification (decrease in pH) could affect how oyster larvae interpret chemical settlement cues.

We gathered larvae from a local hatchery and exposed them to filtered seawater and a chemical settlement cue (basically, seawater that adult oysters had been soaking in), at both ambient and low pH. To control the pH, we bubbled different blends of gases through the water: air for ambient pH, and air enriched with CO2  to simulate ocean acidification conditions. The bubbling process involved feeding compressed gases into the liquid solutions. We had a mess of plastic tubes stretching between gas tanks, flow controllers, and the flasks of seawater. It took about an hour for the pH in the flasks to equilibrate, and then we were off!

Example frame grab from a video recording
with larvae swimming down into
an experimental flask
With the pH-equilibrated solutions in hand, we headed over to WHOI's Shore Lab, where the experiments were to be run. We used 5 replicate flasks for each treatment. One by one, the flasks received a pipet full of larvae, and we filmed the larvae swimming for 10 minutes. We used a near-infrared camera to illuminate the flasks from behind so that the larvae were not exposed to light in the visible spectrum (light can affect their behavior). We also kept the flasks in a temperature-controlled chamber so that no convective currents would form in the flasks to disrupt swimming behavior. We were very careful to control the conditions so that the only difference between treatments was pH and the presence or absence of a settlement cue.

When entering the flasks, most of the larvae swam straight to the bottom, and then some swam back up. We'll use the videos to calculate parameters like the proportion of larvae swimming back up or staying on bottom, the proportion of larvae swimming in helices, and their average velocity. Together, these metrics will help us discern how ocean acidification affects the swimming behavior of larvae when they're ready to settle. I look forward to seeing the results!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The hatchery

Friends, while I was out diving last week, other members of my lab were undertaking their own experiments. Some of you may remember the oyster research that has been conducted in the Mullineaux lab over the past few summers. When I first started here, I was responsible for analyzing some of the data from past oyster experiments, and I submitted a manuscript for publication based on that analysis. Then last summer, one of the interns conducted her own experiments to examine how oyster larvae behave in different environmental conditions. 
Algae tanks at the Aquacultural Research Corporation. Photo
by Brooke Torjman.

Well, this year, we're at it again, exposing oyster larvae to a range of conditions in the laboratory and observing how they respond. The first step in the experimental set-up is to obtain larvae, and for that, I was sent on an expedition of sorts - a field trip to the hatchery. The oyster larvae we use in laboratory experiments are supplied by the Aquacultural Resource Corporation in Dennis, MA, about an hour's drive down-Cape from Woods Hole. I gathered up a cooler for the larvae, a flask for the algae to feed them with, and a fellow lab member for company and headed out to the hatchery. 

Oyster larvae settling on bits of adult shell at ARC. Photo by
Brooke Torjman.
Truth be told, I had never been to an actual hatchery before. It's an operation of massive proportions, with tens of millions of larvae growing at once. Giant conical tanks billow with oyster babies, while floor-to-ceiling columns bubble with algae in various shades of green and brown. 

The hatchery staff were kind enough to show us around, and we were deeply impressed by their cultures. Larval cultures in a research lab usually involve just tens or maybe a hundred individuals in a dish, so the giant tanks at ARC were on a completely different scale. 

Once the larvae are competent to settle, they are transferred into still-water tanks and allowed to attach to ground-up bits of adult oyster shells. The shell bits looked almost like sand, and the larvae looked like darker sand grains on top. You would never guess that they were living creatures when just walking by!

With a cooler of larvae and a flask of algae safely stowed in the car, we bid the ARC employees farewell and headed back to the lab. It was very neat to see the hatchery!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The voyage of the Dawn Treader: part 4

I felt a tap on my knee and opened my eyes to see Evan standing in front of me. "We're about 30 minutes out from the next site," he told me. I nodded.

I was still a bit queasy, having gotten seasick after our last dive. Slowly, I pulled myself up and walked out on deck, keeping my eyes to the horizon the whole time. I actually felt more stable than I expected. I can do this, I thought.

We rolled over the side of the boat and made our way down the line to the seafloor. The first thing I noticed were the sand dollars. Hundreds, thousands of them were scattered on the sand all around me. I swam forward, following Evan, and found the shipwreck. The Josephine Marie is a fishing boat that capsized off of Provincetown, Massachusetts. It lies upside-down on the seafloor, "turtled" as divers call it. Evan immediately began driving my samplers into the sand near the wreck, and I swam up to the hull to start scraping off adult specimens of my study species.

I'm using Didemnum albidum, a species that's native to New England, as a model to understand how its invasive sister species, Didemnum vexillum, might spread among benthic habitats. I hypothesize that shipwrecks could serve as stepping-stones to facilitate the spread of D. vexillum to the Sponge Forest on Stellwagen Bank.

It was easy for me to locate D. albidum on the wreck - it was the only white encrusting species there. I pulled out a plastic scraper and empty sample tubes from the mesh bag I was carrying and set to work. Within minutes, I had 7 D. albidum samples in my tubes, so I rolled to my left to check Evan's progress. He was right next to me, having finished deploying the seafloor samplers. I handed him a set of tubes, and we set about scraping at double time.

I was surprised how quickly we got all the samples I needed - it only took 15 minutes. I had expected it to take much longer, so I actually laughed when we finished so quickly. We had planned a total of 30 minutes on the bottom, so we used our extra time to swim around and survey other species on the wreck. Most of the hull was covered in Metridium senile, the plumose anemone, which is very common on shipwrecks in New England. There were also plentiful finger sponges, hydroids, and sea stars. I loved seeing the biodiversity.

I gave Evan a 5-minute warning and started swimming back to the anchor line. As we reached the line, I saw Evan pick up two scallop shells off of the sand. I thought he was just collecting shells, but when we got back on the boat, he handed me a scallop on the half-shell. A raw celebratory delicacy!

The second dive of the day was immensely successful, and I was overjoyed. I got all the adults that I needed and got my samplers deployed to collect later in the summer. The steam back to the marina took about 4 hours, so I took some time to relax and revel in the moment. Once we got back, I still had to preserve my collected samples in the lab and rinse my dive gear. My day actually went until 10 pm - altogether a 17-hour workday. The day had its ups and downs and I was exhausted by the end, but I was very proud that I had lead a (mostly) successful trip and gotten what I needed. My project is officially begun!

The voyage of the Dawn Treader: part 3

"No one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast, it had whispered to her, 'Courage, dear heart,' and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan's, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face."
- C.S. Lewis in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader


My study sites and the Dawn Treader route.
White outline shows SBNMS. Base map
from Google Earth.
Friends, the day has finally come! The project that I have been preparing for so long has finally begun! All of the preparations, all of the dive training, and all of the practice deploying my samplers are finally paying off. I had a successful day out on the Dawn Treader and visited two out of my three study sites to set the project in motion.

My study sites for this project are in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, a marine protected area just offshore of Cape Cod. The area is best-known as a productive fishing ground and prime whale-watching site (we actually saw a juvenile humpback), but the benthic habitats are diverse and interesting as well. There are numerous shipwrecks in the Sanctuary, and there's also an area known as the Sponge Forest, where the seafloor is covered by large boulders and populated by a diverse community of benthic animals. The scientific question that I'm investigating for my project is actually whether shipwrecks could serve as stepping-stones to facilitate the spread of an invasive species, Didemnum vexillum, to the Sponge Forest. Didemnum vexillum is a nasty species - it's colonial, and it grows in thick mats on the seafloor and smothers other organisms. It's been found on Georges Bank and could be arriving on Stellwagen Bank soon.

My day started at 5 am. I drove to the marina where the Dawn Treader resides and found the boat's captain had already brought her to the dock. All of my gear had been loaded the night before, so I joined the captain, mate, and my dive buddy on board, and we were off. We steamed out of the marina, through the Cape Cod Canal, across Cape Cod Bay, and out to the Sponge Forest. It took about 4 hours altogether. By the time we arrived, I was anxious to get in the water.

Going through the Cape Cod Canal at 6 am
My dive buddy and I suited up, jumped in, and descended through the water column together. When we were about 70' below the surface, I could see the seafloor, and my heart sank. I was descending onto a flat plain of sand. My first thought was that I had gotten the location wrong, that I had given the captain the wrong coordinates. We were supposed to be in an area with boulders, but there were only small rocks to be found. By the time I landed on the sand, I was thoroughly frustrated - there was not a boulder as far as my eyes could see.

Evan, my dive buddy, started deploying the samplers he was carrying as I had instructed him, while I looked all around us for any sign of rock. He pulled out a set of fouling panels, like a flag attached to a rebar pole, and started pushing the rebar into the sand. It wouldn't go. He hammered on top of the rebar. No dice. So he moved the rebar over a foot or two and tried hammering again, and it finally went in. At least that worked, I told myself with a shrug.

With the samplers secured in the sediment, we swam up-current to continue the boulder search. There was mostly sand, but I did see a few small rocks. One of them had a few strands of hydroid on it, and another had a patch of crustose coralline algae and a sea star. That's strange, I thought to myself, crustose coralline algae never lives on isolated rocks, only on big boulder reefs. Swimming a bit further, I noticed soft white papillae emerging from the sand. Those look like papillae from a sponge, I thought, but a sponge wouldn't live buried in the sand. Weird.

I turned to Evan and signaled "Let's go back." The boulders we sought were just not there. As we made our way back to the samplers, though, my observations started to coalesce in a dawning realization. What if we hadn't missed the study site? What if the boulders were there, just buried under the sand? Slowly, everything started to make sense - the sponge papillae, the crustose coralline algae, the difficulty hammering rebar into the sand. The boulders were buried! They had to be!

Back on the boat, Evan and I talked it through. Massachusetts had a very stormy spring this year. There were 3 large nor'easters in a row in March, and the turbulent weather lasted well into June. Strong northeast winds must have redistributed sand on Stellwagen Bank, bringing sediment from offshore to cover the Sponge Forest boulders. It was the only plausible explanation.

I was sad to see such a beautiful habitat disappear and a bit uncertain of the fate of my project. After all, trying to stop invasive species from reaching the Sponge Forest seems a bit futile if the Sponge Forest is buried in sand. Right after the dive, I got seasick, so my mood declined even further. I settled back into a chair on deck and tried to stabilize myself as we steamed to the next site.

Stay tuned for the end of the story in the next post.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Limpet Land

Summer is quickly ramping up at WHOI, and that means experiments are starting! I set up an experiment on Friday to look at the effects of slipper shell limpets, Crepidula fornicata, on subtidal fouling communities. This work builds on the experiments I did last summer.

My experimental panels with live limpets or shells
Last year, I noticed that tiny slipper limpets settled on my panels along with the other sessile organisms. The limpets crawled around on the panels, each in the small area near where it had settled, and bulldozed recruits of other species as they went. The end result was that no sessile species could grow on the panel in a limpet-affected area, so there were halos around each of the limpets.

The halos were cleared by bulldozing limpets, but they didn't stay clear for long. One species of ascidian, Diplosoma listerianum, colonized all new space on the panels, including the halos, and it even grew over the limpet shells. It was a strange sight to see a limpet crawling around on the panel with an ascidian on its back.

Part of me thinks that the reason Diplosoma was so good at colonizing the limpet halos is because the limpet shells disrupted the flow of water over the panel and created turbulence that delivered their larvae to the substratum. I started to wonder about the net effect of limpets on the fouling community, and I wanted to try disentangling the halo effect and the turbulence effect.

I suspect that the physical structure created by limpet shells
may create turbulence that affects the community.
Hence my present experiment. I'm using large (adult female) and small (juvenile) limpets. On some panels, I kept them live (limpets tend to stay in place once on a panel), and on other panels, I glued down empty shells. I also left some panels blank as a control. Live limpets have the turbulence effect and can bulldoze halos, while shells alone will just create turbulence. I can compare the recruitment on panels in these treatments and the control to tell how bulldozing and turbulence affect recruitment. I can also contrast results from the two different sizes (large adults or small juveniles) to tell if the size of the limpet has any effect.

I got everything set up and hung my panels beneath a floating dock in Eel Pond. I'll revisit them in a couple of weeks to see what I get!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The voyage of the Dawn Treader: part 2

"My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise." - C.S. Lewis in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Friends, it's another weekend, and Carl and I were at it again - dive training, that is. We reprised our search for the wreck of the Corwin in Buzzards Bay, this time with much greater success. The Dawn Treader was smoke-free, so we made it to the wreck and had a wonderful hour-long dive.

Our day started at 6 am. The low tide was predicted to be around 10 and we wanted to dive when the current was slack (about 9:30 - 10:30), so we got ourselves up and moving in plenty of time. The catch? The Dawn Treader is parked on a mooring in a marina, out in the middle of the water, and the marina's shuttle service doesn't begin until 8:00. Long story short, our morning started with a very cold swim to the boat. Invigorating!

Dive gear, calm seas and sunshine on the Dawn Treader 
Once we had everything loaded, we headed out to the wreck. We had a trustworthy set of coordinates for the site from the boat's owner, but we still used the echosounder to make sure we had arrived. We drove over the site multiple times, and whenever we were right over the wreck, the echosounder would display a bump on the seafloor and a shallower depth in the read-out. Once we were sure of our position, we tossed a wreck hook (an anchor that attaches to the wreck) over the side and donned our dive gear.

The water was like pea soup. It was chock-full of algae and marine snow, so the whole dive, I could only see about 3 ft in front of my face. As we descended through the water column, the ambient color went from green to black, so I turned on my dive light and tried to stay close to Carl. The conditions actually made for a really challenging dive. I had to stay close enough to Carl to see his fins but far enough away not to get kicked. I had to swim within sight of the line he laid on the seafloor for navigation but far enough away not to get tangled in it. It was dark, there was some current, and closer we got to the wreck, the more things there were for me to run into. It felt like stumbling through a dark house on an alien planet in a space suit. I spent a lot of mental energy just trying to be in the right place.

When we got to the wreck, though, the experience was immensely rewarding. I was proud of us for finding it, and I got to gawk at all the beautiful benthic invertebrates. I wish I could show you pictures, but as I am currently bereft of underwater camera, descriptions will have to do. The Corwin had completely different fauna than the Poling, which I attribute to differences in geography (south versus north of Cape Cod) and water temperature (it's much warmer down here). There were yellow sponges, Halichondria (breadcrumb sponge) and Cliona (boring sponge - not because it's a snooze but because it bores into rocks), but the majority of the animals on the wreck were a species of small orange anemone. So far, I haven't been able to identify it, but the anemone lived in dense clumps and covered most of the shipwreck surface. It obviously thrives there!

We swam for a while over a destroyed part of the wreck - metallic rubble strewn across the seafloor - then turned and explored the more intact portion. Carl loves going inside shipwrecks, but I'm a bit more cautious (= less experienced), so when he disappeared through an opening in the metal, I stopped to consider whether I wanted to follow. I decided to swim through the opening, but once I did, I discovered I was not inside the wreck at all! Metal beams rose on both sides of me, but the top deck was gone. It was very much like swimming through a rib cage.

Eventually, I approached the safety limit of my gas supply, so we headed back to the Dawn Treader's anchor. We swam slowly back up the line until we were once more bobbing in the ocean swell. I was grateful for the chance to explore a new dive site and experience the biodiversity on another island-like habitat. It was a great trip.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Pilot

Friends, every scientific study requires funding. And very often, obtaining funding requires a proof of concept. Funding agencies want to know that the study they're investing in will produce good results, so they need to see a demonstration that your plan will work. It's like the old adage "You have to have money to make money" - in science, you have to have data to get funding to get more data. 

Slipper limpets on panels. I've marked one example of
each species. Can you tell the rest apart?
So we run pilot studies. If you've never heard the term, "pilot study" refers to a small, easy, preliminary study that a scientist undertakes in order to collect preliminary data, prove that their idea will work, and leverage those positive results into something bigger. You try things out in a small way before going for the big win. If you run a pilot study, things usually work out better for the real study.

One of my limpets with its egg mass, photographed through
the clear panel it was living on.
Today, I started a pilot study right off the dock in Woods Hole. I'm writing a proposal with collaborators at WHOI to study slipper limpets (Crepidula fornicata and C. plana), and I wanted to test out one of our methods before writing in the proposal that we were going to use it. The method is simple: pull a limpet off of its natural substratum (these guys usually live on shells or rocks), place it on a clear plastic panel, let it get comfortable there, and then come back to record when it does or does not have an egg mass. Sounds easy enough - except that there were multiple ways the plan could go wrong. What if I couldn't get the limpets off their original shells? Mollusks like limpets and snails have very strong, muscular feet and are experts at adhering to substrata. What if the limpets didn't take to the panels I put them on? What if the plastic was too thick for me to see the egg masses from the underside? 

Thankfully, none of my concerns were realized. I was able to pop the limpets off of the shell they were living on with just the strength of my fingers. I let them sit on the panels for about an hour, and all but one successfully adhered. And I was able to see the egg masses on a few individuals through the underside of the panel! 

The pilot study was a success! Now to write the proposal...

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Tears

"She usually cried at least once a day, not because she was sad but because the world was so beautiful and life was so short." - sign in a coffee shop

I am sitting on the couch, dressed in sweatpants and an old shirt. Sun streams into the living room from windows on three sides, and the storm door creaks open in the wind. To my right, a pile of clean laundry waits to be folded. At my feet is a plastic tarp strewn with dive gear, spread out and waiting to dry. Carl and I joke that our decorating style should be named "We lead full lives," and the mess in the living room today supports that theme. We had an incredible dive today, and I am as happy as I've ever been.

We left the house a few minutes before 5 am and headed up to Beverly, a small town on the North Shore. After loading our gear onto a 30' boat, we steamed out to a mooring about a half mile off the Massachusetts coast. We had reached the wreck of the Chester Poling.

The Poling was my first New England shipwreck, and the dive did not disappoint. I wore my drysuit, with dry gloves, and had two SCUBA tanks on my back. I needed all the protective garments I had brought with me to withstand the cold (the water was about 43 F) and both tanks to give me sufficient gas for a long, deep dive. We descended down the mooring line, a thick white rope, and arrived at the wreck, resting silently in 90' (27 m) of water. The visibility was surprisingly good, and the current was calm, so we could make our way around the sunken ship with ease.

The first thing I noticed were the hydroids. Thick clumps of what looked like rosebuds were abundant on the wreck. I recognized them instantly - Ectopleura crocea, the same species I had gotten on my fouling panels at the WHOI pier early last summer. As we swam around, I noticed other species inhabiting the metallic surface. Yellow, red, orange, and purple encrusting species, which I can only assume were sponges, bryozoans, or ascidians. Large plumose anemones dotted the wreck in some spots. There was one encrusting species that caught my eye, an amorphous white mat. I suspect it may be Didemnum albidum, a colonial sea squirt native to New England, and its presence is important to note because I may need to collect it for my project later this summer.

We swam around the side of the wreck and eventually made it to the mid-section of the ship. The Poling broke in half as it sank, so one end is left gaping, with ragged edges and dangling metal bars. I let gas out of my buoyancy compensator so I could sink and get a better look inside. The ship looked mangled, menacing - and yet, there was a dense colony of anemones just inside the hull. Resilient life in the midst of destruction.

If I had known how much I would come to enjoy SCUBA diving, I really would have started years ago. I suppose I should have guessed how much I would become obsessed with visiting the seafloor in person, just given how I reacted to my first Alvin dive. This practice, this sport, this hobby - whatever it is, diving is an adventure every time. It transports me to alien worlds, which are truly best experienced in person. There is no substitute for feeling dwarfed beside a large wreck, peering in the empty port holes in the hull, floating over stairs long rendered useless, getting as close as possible to the animals that inhabit it. May each of you use your precious time to explore the beauty of the world. For me, there is no more captivating place than the bottom of the ocean.