Extracting life from the sea

(2016-02-04) Low winds can bring the morale down because they extend our time to reach land. However, they also give the crew on Rahiti a scientific scenario. Plankton, species that are transported by the ocean currents, is everywhere on our path. The Pacific might look empty, but a careful eye will soon find out that the blue hides secrets. We try to unveil some of them.

During a regular night watch the observer can get attracted to bioluminiscent organisms in the sea. These are animals and plants that generate light when perturbed by the raft. One of our activities is to collect them. We are equipped with a net that has a very small grid. When the wind is weak, we don't move very fast. This is the ideal condition to deploy the net so that it doesn't brake from pulling too much. Also the specimens inside do not get crushed by a strong pulling raft. After an hour of patience we can collect the surface plankton sample. In a lab, we will be able to analyze them under the microscope.

We also filter out of the water the organisms that are capable of using the sun to generate their own food, the phytoplankton. They give us an idea of how much oxygen is produced and how much the pelagic ecosystem can produce; they are the basis of the food web. Finally, we extract DNA out of the water. The sea is a soup of cells and bacteria. They represent a library of genes available in the ocean. It is there in the blue, but we can't see it with our eyes.

While Tupaq extracts macrofauna, dorados, to eat them, we extract microflora and fauna from the sea to study them. In the first picture, you can see a greenish circle in the filter. This is condensed evidence that we are surrounded and outnumbered in the middle of the Pacific. The net is one of the tools provided by NIVA to help us better understand our environment. The photographic material is a courtesy of Evgenij Orlov.

By: Pedro De La Torre