Nautilus aLIVE

How did I spend my last two weeks of classes this semester? In the Gulf of Mexico. Abducted by pirates.

jk. This was the closest I came to seeing pirates.

pirates or boatmen

Not sure why, but this boat with some fishermen sailed right next to the ship and didn’t say anything, then sailed away.

Anyway, I was replacing someone from the USGS, who had to attend a different cruise last minute. I worked with Jennie, a researcher from the USGS, processing sediment cores for macrofauna and meiofauna analyses (basically, we were collecting mud to look for microscopic animal composition).

We left out of Gulfport, MS…

port of gulfport sign

nautilus better view

The first day, I explored the ship.

back of deck day

The deck


The bow


The control vancontrol van

The dining area

dining area

The lounge

lounge pic

The upper deck outsideupper deck outdoor other vew upper deck outdoor seating

We were pretty close to oil rigs.

oil rig farAbove is an oil rig. In some locations, oil rigs glittered the horizon.

While the ship sailed to our first dive location, we spent learning about safety and doing fire drills. We also had a science meeting to discuss what was going to take place during the upcoming dives.

safety suit

That’s a picture of one of the captains in a safety suit. Looks pretty sweet.

The main purposes – from my simple-minded understanding – of each dive was too: image corals, collect sediment core samples, and collect samples of coral.

What I mean by “dive” refers to the dive of ROVs (remotely operated vehicles), deploying to depths of up to 1800m (they can go much deeper than needed for this cruise). ROVs can be used to collect samples, take pictures, and film the deep sea, while it is operated on the surface by pilots and directed by scientists.

On the E/V Nautilus, two ROVs are deployed at the same time each dive.


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and Hercules

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Hercules’s job was to traverse the seafloor, collect samples, and take images of coral with the “beast” cam. aka Hercules did all of the flashy stuff.

Argus’s job was to absorb the wave action of the water column and hover above Hercules with a camera so the pilots could better visualize how to move Herc – (Hercules is called “Herc” for short). Below is a view of Herc from Argus during a dive.

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The names “Argus” and “Hercules” were taken from mythology. In Greek mythology, Argus is a 100-eyed giant, protector of heifer-nymph lo – which sort of relates to how Argus kind of protects Herc. Hercules was named from the Greek hero Heracles, who had ten labors to carry out – similar to how Herc performs the tasks of the dive.

Here’s what Herc looked like as it surfaced at night. Some scientists joked it looked like aliens emerging.

glowing herc

Anyway, the majority of people’s schedules on the ship revolved around their watch time. I don’t mean the time on their watch. I mean the time that they take part in monitoring the ROV dives. Being on watch means sitting in the control van and recording observations, taking images, controlling the cameras, navigating, or piloting the ROVs, depending on your role. Below is an image of what being on watch looked like for this cruise.

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Watch schedules were four hour shifts twice a day. My watch shifts were 4am-8am and 4P-8P. The other ones were 12-4 and 8-12.

You only had to be on watch when the ROVs were in the water. Thankfully, I only had to wake up once for the 4am-8am watch. However, one time I woke up for my shift at 4am, but the ROVs were surfacing earlier than expected. They were pretty much on deck by the time I woke up so right away Jenny and I started processing samples.

Processing sediment samples typically went like this:

Step 1. direct pilot in taking push cores at end of dive, which looked like this

getting push cores

getting push cores pt 2

getting push cores part 3

Step 2. retrieve push cores from Herc

push core better view
Step 3 get cores out of quivers


push core out of quiver

Step 4 push core visual profile. Jenny would use a tape measure and describe the different layers of sediment in the core, as I recorded her observations on a sheet. I’d also take a picture of the core.

push core visual check

taking pics of cores

Step 5: remove top water, place core on “push-pop,” and begin slicing the different sections. This was the most time consuming part of the process.

me n jenny sediment

I’m holding up the sediment core while Jenny uses a fence and slicer (idk what it’s actually called) to collect sediment in three different fractions: 0-2, 2-5, and 5-10cm. After each slicing, the sediment is stored in Nalgene bottles.

me n jennyEvery little speck of mud could contain hundreds of meiofauna so cleaning off the sediment between each slice took a while. In the picture above, I was looking at my glove to make sure I didn’t have any sediment on my fingers.

push core 44

In the picture above, the “slicer” is in my left hand.

push core wet lab viewAbove is a picture of the wet lab we worked in. Sam and Styles on the right were preparing coral samples for shipping.

Step 6: sediment chemistry. Only one of the five cores was used for this. Another collaborator of the cruise wanted a sample from the top five cm of sediment for carbon dating. We had to section the sediment into 1cm increments for this researcher. That took forever. Sediment chem also involved measuring the sediment’s salinity at each layer (0-2cm, 2-5, 5-10) and the overall redox value of the core.

Measuring salinity was my favorite part of the process. You would take a blob of mud and put it in a syringe and squeeze the mud through filter paper so that only the water would leak through onto the refractometer. Sometimes the mud was so thick I didn’t think any water was in it, but there always was. I loved seeing the clear water come out of a thick clay.

Anyway, when all the macrofauna processing was done for four of the cores, and sediment chem done for the one, I would was the cores to prep for the next dive, while Jenny topped the nalgene bottles of sediment off with formalin, then seawater. We then would invert the bottles over and over to make sure the formalin penetrated the sample. Finally, we would tape up and parafilm the caps so nothing would leak out and put them away in an action packer – an exciting term for a storage tub.

At one point in the cruise, we pretty much had to switch to doing sediment chem for 6 push cores – which took so so so long. Usually, not every core made it to the top successfully so it wasn’t that long every time.

We played music a lot and talked and time went really fast!

Coral Imaging: Most of the coral imaged on this cruise had been imaged in previous years. The purpose of taking photos is to track damage and recovery of coral impacted by the oil spill. Damage was looked at by comparing photos of the coral from each year to the next. This meant that the pictures must be taken in the same location and angle as the previous pictures.

You might wonder, how the heck do coral eat in the deep? Marine snow. Fluffy snowflakes, each unique, float down from ski mountains…jk. Marine snow – the specks of white organic material that floats from the surface to the deep. This organic material can be bits of fish flesh or balls of phytoplankton which stick together as they sink.

marine snowThose white specks aren’t dust on the camera. They’re marine snow. However, the big white thing in the picture is a deep sea urchin.

This is also a picture of a typical coral found in the deep, hugged by several brittle stars.

The pictures of the coral were taken with a “beast cam” – really really really high quality camera – that’s screen was visualized on the surface. For the first week or so, my laptop was the only computer which allowed the camera program to run.

fanny imaging

Above is Fanny taking pictures of the coral with Dr. Fisher.

imgaigng sam

Above is Sam focusing the camera onto the coral with a multi-focus grid.

my lap top is famousThis is a pic of people figuring out where the next coral is located. You can see the back of laptop covered in stickers.

hydroidss noColonization of coral by hydroids is a sign of damage. Above is a coral colony (tan-ish color) whose left side is colonized by hydroids – the bright yellow stuff.

The coral images are looked at for progression or retreat of hydroids over the years.

Coral Sample Collection: Sam and Carlos’s work involved collecting coral samples for various analyses back on land so their time was spent preserving the coral samples. Here’s some pictures of their work.

carlos imageing

paramuricea with ophiorois

paramuricae with brittle star

carlos liquid nitrogen


Overall, the weather on the cruise was pretty pleasant. We had one rainy day, which many of us spent watching Life Aquatic.

life aquatic

There were some critter visitors on the surface: sharks, dolphins, birds.

better dolphin bow pic


People would throw meat into the sea and the sharks would come flocking.

For the last dinner, there was a big bbq celebration.

bbq last night

And it ended with a beautiful sunset.

sunset 1

sunset 3

All the sunsets and sunrises were beautiful. My photostream was 90% sunsets and sunrises by the end of the trip.

sunset 2

The only thing more beautiful than the sunsets was the blueness of the water. I never saw water so blue.

blue blue bleu water

This picture doesn’t even do it justice.


Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus

Yep, that’s what SCUBA stands for.  This past week I became NAUI Advanced Certified!

How does this relate to marine conservation?

SCUBA diving is a great way to explore and better appreciate and understand our oceans. However, if you’re not alert, SCUBA diving can also be very damaging to the ocean.

While I was diving this past week, a father and son would stand on perfectly healthy coral colonies and kick their flippers, ripping up the beautiful creatures. It broke my heart. Those kind of people don’t respect the ocean enough to even dive, but “respect” is not a requirement to get certified. Hopefully, it will be soon.

When I got the materials for my Advanced certification, I received multiple stickers. One of them was of the NAUI Green Diver Initiative. I had no idea it existed before.


NAUI Green Diver Initiative formed in 2010 in association with the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.  If you visit the website, you can learn of multiple ways to dive “green.”

You can join the initiative and partake in the Trashy Divers Contest, which includes categories from “Most Unique” piece of trash to “Most Amount” of trash.  Prizes include dive gear.

Other ways to protect the ocean through diving are participating in coral reef surveys and submitting your data to organizations such as REEF ( and CoralWatch (

Blue and green New Year’s Resolutions

I know, I know. I’m 4 days late.  Better late than never, right?

Making environmentally conscious decisions can sometimes be a little inconvenient, but COMPLETELY worth it. To add that extra push and make those choices habits, why not make them part of your New Year’s Resolutions?  Below are some suggestions. Many ideas taken from the Huffington Post (thank you!!).

1. BUY A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE.  I had a roommate who claimed to care about the environment but would buy case loads of water bottles.


Her excuse was that the tap water at our school was gross.

I’m sure you’ve heard statistics about lining up all the plastic water bottles used annually end to end and circling the Earth and that they don’t biodegrade for like 1000 year yada, yada – it’s TRUE.  And on top of that, it takes about 4 oz. of oil to make a single Aquafina bottle.  That sucks.  You might contest that the tap water in your area is gross, just like my roommate said. But I’ll be 100% honest with you, only 25% of bottled water comes from places different than tap water.  You might not like the taste at first, but grow some balls and start drinking tap. You’ll get used to it – I promise! Or buy a filtered water bottle if that helps put your mind at ease. Just PLEASE start using a re-usable water bottle if you don’t already. You’ll make a HUGE imapct.

2. USE RE-USABLE SHOPPING BAGS. On the same note as the water bottle saga, REDUCE, REUSE – and then worst case scenario – recycle.  I have been meaning to make using my re-usable ones a habit, but I keep forgetting. So this is a big one on my list.  If you’re like my family, we are filled to the brim with plastic grocery bags.  We keep them to pick up dog waste, but we don’t need a dozen a week for that!


Thankfully, plastic shopping bags are now recyclable and many stores are offering paper bags, but the first R in the three Rs of recycling is REDUCE. So if you can reduce the need for new bags, less will be produced and less energy consumed to recycle old plastic ones and less trees chopped down to make paper bags.  So yeah, this is a pretty sweet resolution to pick up.

3. CARPOOL or BIKE. Cars are like the worst.  They consume fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow and emit chemicals you can’t even pronounce – let alone want to inhale.  Reducing car use also reduces gas money, so it’s a win-win. Plus, it’s a chance to be social.  I’ve made unlikely friends with people just because I had to ride in the same car as them without a choice. So worth it.

4. BUY WITH EARTH IN MIND.  Yeah, sometimes the “green” version is a little pricey, but think of the cost Mother Nature is experiencing for your cheap ass.  Just spend the extra bit.  Karma will make up for the difference.

5. ADVOCATE – when possible.  I took an Ecology of Climate Change course this past semester and learned about all the false information politicians and scientists funded by oil companies are spreading to prevent action to be taken to stop climate change. It’s infuriating.  They claim that carbon dioxide is good for the planet bc it’s good for plants. REALLY?  Thankfully there are people like you reading this article understand what’s actually going on.  Anyway, this is my favorite resolution. You don’t have to join the Green Peace or protest in DC. But just spread the word to your friends.  Tweet about it.  Facebook about it. Whatever it is you do, use your platform to get the word out.  Even celebrities are using social media to bring attention to the environment. Leonardo DiCaprio is a major actor and environmentalist. He Instagrams about the environment and I fall more in love with him every post.  The more we get people to stop and think about the environment. The closer we are to finding peace with nature.


Species Spotlight: Narwhal (Monodon monoceros)



Scientific name: Monodon monoceros

Common name: Narwhal

Size: 13ft-20ft, 3500lbs

Dat tusk tho.

The tusk starts grow from the upper lip of the narwhal.  The male’s tusk grows up to 8ft long, but the female’s is a lot smaller.  It likely exists for sexual reasons, but no one’s really sure. ;]

Their squad is usually about 15-20 deep.  But they know how to rage – being spotted in groups of 1000s.  I wish I had that many friends.

Unfortunately, they are threatened – only nearly threatened, but that doesn’t mean the tipping point could be soon.  SO BE CAREFUL. Climate change and hunting seem to be the main bad guys.

If you want to support narwhals go here:

Side note: Narwhals are also spotlighted in Elf because they’re so awesome!


Gifts That Save the Ocean

I know it’s not Thanksgiving yet, but it’s close enough!  If you’re fishing around for gifts for your friends, here’s some links to gifts that help save the ocean and other charitable causes!

1. Pura Vida –

Pura Vida is a bracelet company that started in San Diego/Costa Rica.  The bracelets are made by artisans in Costa Rica.  Different bracelets donate to different charities.  The variety of causes range from cervical cancer research to the U. S. Air Force.  Many donate to marine causes, such as Sailors for the Sea and Sanctuary for Sharks.  My personal favorite is Save the Orcas: Anti-captivity.  Most bracelets are only $5 and they often come with a discount.  I got 7 bracelets for $24. Anyway, buying bracelets through Pura Vida is a great way to give a gift to a bunch of friends that makes a difference!

save orcas anticaptyiviy bracelet

This is the Save the Orcas: Anti-captivity bracelet




2. Ocean Conservancy Winter Cap –;jsessionid=13FB13F51078D8A367EA6A657ECD1749.app261b?idb=1717801057&df_id=6321&6321.donation=form1&s_src=14WAXAXXXX&s_subsrc=14FYEWO1&Level=9223

ocean conservancy winter beanine

When you donate $15 or more to the Ocean Conservancy, you receive an Ocean Conservancy Winter Cap.




3. Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics –,en_US,pd.html#start=2

When you purchase Lush’s New Charity Pot body lotion, 100% of the price goes to grassroots foundations.  It comes in two sizes, 1.7 oz ($6.95) and 8.4 oz ($29.95).

lush new charity pot

Just like mom: if corals aren’t happy, nobody’s happy

Reef-building coral species are pretty doggone important. They’re like the tropical rain forests of the sea. They’re like the trees in the tropical rain forests of the sea.

zzzz5 - Coral Reef Fish

To put in perspective: they’re the coffee to a college student, the minivan to a soccer mom, the Beyoncé to music, the Walt Disney to Disney World

Why?, you ask. Here’s why:

1. They’re the biggest European youth hostel on the planet. And by that, I mean coral reefs house the most amount of species than any other ecosystem (second to tropical rain forests). Nearly anyone everyone who can breathe in water gets a bed and food at the Coral Reef Inn.

2. Coral reefs give the middle finger to hurricanes and tropical storms.  They help reduce the forcefulness of waves from eroding the shore. Without coral reefs, some hurricanes could be in higher categories and put Hurricane Katrina to shame.

z coral reef buffer

3. They’re the Wolf of Wall Street of the coast. Coral reefs rake in cash for coastal areas like no other: tourism, food, recreation, etc.

4. Coral reefs are pretty much a landmine of drugs. They have many compounds that are used in medicines.

5. The mood of a coral reef reflects the mood of the ocean. Because many coral species are sensitive to changes in temperature, acidity, and turbidity, coral health is a great indicator of water quality and the effects climate change.

Sadly, global coral coverage has declined by ~50% since 1950.

coral coverage]

That graphic is from Mission Blue – btw.

It’s not too late to reverse this trend. For ways to help save coral reefs view this site from the Nature Conservancy.

Mission Blue

On Friday, August 15th, Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue premiered on Netflix.

mission blue pic

Oh. my. gosh.  This film is so inspiring.  Mission Blue discusses marine conservation issues through the life of marine scientist Dr. Sylvia Earle.  Anyone and everyone should see this!  The film explains the issues in a way that even non-science lovers can grasp.  Though I had been aware of many of these problems, I walked away from the film with a deeper  understanding and a stronger conviction to help save the ocean.  

While Mission Blue abounds in information, the sequence and cinematography captivates your attention.  Instead of feeling lectured and guilty about the human race’s damage to the ocean, you feel a sense of urgency and inspiration to change the destructive course

mission blue corall

(Above: a scene from Mission Blue)

What stood out to me most from Mission Blue is how the ocean only began to be significantly explored within the past thirty years.  While we were landing on the moon, we had only just developed technology to explore the deep ocean.  It amazes me how little we know about the ocean, in our backyard, compared to what we know about space features lightyears away.  I’m excited to see what is discovered about the ocean as time passes.

In addition to highlighting marine conservation issues, Mission Blue centers on the life of Dr. Sylvia Earle.  She is one of the most influential marine conservationists around, even referred to as “Her Deepness” by National Geographic.  Mission Blue lays out her goals and hopes for the future of mankind’s relationship with the ocean.

sylvia earle mission blue

(Above is Dr. Sylvia Earle)

She is teeming with knowledge and passion about the ocean.  To help save the ocean, watch Mission Blue and visit to find out how you can contribute.

I’ll end this post with some quotes by her I find particularly inspiring.

“No water, no life, no blue, no green”

“Even if you never have the chance to see or touch the ocean, the ocean touches you with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, every bite you consume”

“More than half of the world is ocean, the blue heart of the planet. You decide: How much of your heart do you need to stay alive?”