Most oceanographers' biggest dream is to have something named after them. That dream came true for me and just in time for my 22nd birthday. On this beautiful voyage from Tahiti to Hawaii, I am looking at concentrations of microplastics near corals reefs and comparing them to concentrations found in the open ocean. Maneuvering a phyto net around reefs can be quite the challenge, therefore we have created the Tiff Tow. It takes extreme endurance to swim for fifteen minutes at a minimum speed in order to calculate the water flow through the net.
Petri dish of microplastics and plankton from the first Tiff Tow
It is extremely exciting to be given the opportunity to conduct this research in such beautiful, remote locations. For miles around the ship, there are endless miles of lagoon ringed by and the tiniest of islands. It is exciting doing coral research in a place like this because the locals rely heavily on the reef for food and economic purposes. My first tow was taken on a reef located in the biggest lagoon in the world, Rangiroa. After I brought my sample back to the boat, I sat under a microscope until midnight searching for tiny microplastics. I am in my element here, especially when I have time to be in the lab or swimming on the reefs.
This trip has been beyond life changing for me so far and we are only a week in. Not only is my research project beyond opportunistic, but learning to sail a large vessel in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is simply an experience I cannot put into words. I love being surrounded by endless miles of beautiful blue oceans that go down thousands of meters deep. There is so much life in the oceans, and being on this boat experiencing every second of each day really puts it into perspective. My favorite times of the day are the brief moments when the sun sets and the moon rises, or vice versa. For a moment, as I stand on the bow, I watch as the moon says goodnight and the sun says hello. To be able to witness that special conversation and trade-off between the two is beyond special to me. I have always felt deeply connected to the sea. However, through this experience, I find myself not only more bonded to the sea, but also to the entire earth and stars above.
- Tiffany Croucher, B Watch, Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida
P.S. I spent my birthday on a ship, surrounded by a beautiful coral atoll, in a lab looking under a microscope. It doesn't get much better than that.