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Sea Voyage Provides Learning Experience For FL Tech Students

A recent collaboration between Sebastian Inlet Sportfishing Association and FL Tech took place aboard the 85 ft. Thunderforce. WFIT’s Terri Wright and Michelle Walker were along for the outing. Here, in part two of our look at this excursion, we explore the role of FL Tech faculty and students.

Dr. George Maul, head of the Marine and Environmental Systems department, part of the College of Engineering at FL Tech, says that the main purpose of this trip is to survey for the potential location of artificial reef additions in the next few years. The vessel, trolling a side-scan sonar device, navigates along a series of transects gathering data. Maul says the device is basically making a map of the sea floor.

Once this information is combined with position coordinates from GPS, it can be used to inform the planning and application process for the addition of the reefs.

Along with this research, Maul and his students are also measuring the layers of currents from the sea floor.

“Yesterday we had two dives and we put in the water 3 systems that will measure the currents from the sea floor up to the surface,” says Maul.

In particular, this part of the research is for a doctoral dissertation to investigate a phenomenon called upwelling, where the surface water gets blown off shore and water from deep underneath the Gulf Stream creeps up along the shelf into the coastal zone.

“Divers have reported this for many, many years,” he says. “They go down and all the sudden, they say it’s like putting your hands in a bucket of ice water. That big of a difference.”

Maul adds that the water probably comes from 25 to 35 miles off-shore, underneath the Gulf Stream. He says it changes what’s in the water - the concentration of nutrients.

According to Maul there’s one other very important objective of this expedition: to get the students hands-on experience. Namely, to get them to understand how a ship works; how to speak nautical language; how to have a true ‘in the field’ experience.

Summing this up, Maul adds, “From getting wet and dirty to sitting back, having a good supper at night.”

Next, I caught up with some of the students down in the galley of Thunderforce.

Holly Sweat, department of Marine and Environmental Systems doctoral student, is playing the role of teaching assistant by helping the students collect their data.

She tells me about another bit of ongoing research during this four-day cruise: a series of zooplankton sample collections. Specifically, the students will be looking at the difference between the daytime plankton, and what’s in the water at after dark.

“So we’re gonna be looking at…everything that grows up starting in the plankton, before they settle out to the bottom and become whatever we recognize as crabs and fish in their adult forms,” she explains.

Rebekah Borgeit and Noelle Destefano, both oceanography majors, are two of the students doing the data and sample collecting.

Destefano says she switched to Oceanography from Chemistry because she hopes to do work that counteracts the negative impacts humans have on the environment.

“I guess, what I would like to do when I graduate is look at the fate and transport of hydrocarbons as it relates to oil that’s leaking into the environment, and how it’s effecting the environment,” she explains.

As for how they’ll be graded on all this work, the students say there’s always a paper.

A very special thanks to Captain Bill and his crew for hosting us onboard the Thunderforce. Check out our first-ever blog entry, about this adventure at sea.