After just a few days of sailing and getting into the routine of being underway, all of the crew is reminded once again of the infectious joy of being at sea. Our first few days were spent sailing south from St. Croix in hopes to find the blob of Sargassum that is perceived to be out in the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt. With the guidance of our passionate chief scientist Schelly, we headed south to find the Sargassum. To no one's surprise, the waters just a few dozen nautical miles south of St. Croix were decorated with thick windrows as far as the eye could see. We have yet to discover the massive blob that the news reports would like to believe is out there, but the abundance of Sargassum we saw cannot be understated. In the three Neuston tows completed during our southern sargassum search, we collected a total of 11,523 grams of Sargassum! For context, we typically tow these nets at a speed of two knots for thirty minutes in order to sample a one nautical mile transect. All three of our tows were pulled out before swimming for even 15 minutes because of the volume of Sargassum collected.
This cruise is different than most we sail at SEA, as our student crew are not sailing for academic credit. Rather, our students on board are all either alumni or friends/family of an alumnus. With that in mind, the goals and purpose for this trip mean something very different to each person on board. For some, it is a chance to be a student again and experience life at sea the way they remember it to be decades ago. For others, it is an opportunity to finally understand and put into context all of the sea stories they have heard from their loved ones over the years. For me in particular, this cruise track sailing from the Caribbean Sea back to Woods Hole very closely resembles my student trip. So many meaningful and formative experiences came from my time sailing on this boat as a student just a few years ago.
Recently, those memories have come flooding back to me, as I'm sure they have for many of my shipmates on board. One of the most impactful experiences that I gained from my student trip was being around so many passionate people dedicated to doing impactful science for a purpose. I have been reminded once again what that feels like these past few days at sea. Our scientific mission to find the "blob" of Sargassum has felt relevant and meaningful. In the weeks leading up to this trip, I'd been seeing more and more news articles about this massive blob heading to engulf the Caribbean. While this narrative isn't entirely far off, it is much exaggerated from what we have seen thus far. The sargassum we saw was accumulated in thick windrows spaced apart every dozen meters or so. There were the occasional mats seen, which were rounder and occupied more surface area.
Now that we have entered foreign waters, we won't be continuing our sampling of Sargassum for the next few days, but we have all become citizen scientists by observing the Sargassum around us!
Cam Ragland, Deckhand