Post by Riley Farbstein (Colgate '24)
Before embarking on our trip to the Gulf of Mexico, I found myself a bit nervous. I worried about being on a boat for up to 12 hours a day with a group that I barely knew. Little did I know this experience would be one of the best choices I have made during my undergraduate career. I loved being on the boat all day; the work was engaging and fascinating. Although getting up at 5:45 AM to depart the dock at 7:00 AM was definitely a struggle for me, I was eager to get out of bed and explore what each day had to offer. The early mornings also became easier as the trip went on. I looked forward to the early morning boat rides to our sites in Louisiana. Every morning, my lab partners and I sat at the front of the boat and enjoyed the company of dolphins. The dolphins always seemed to strangely appreciate our presence in the channel and, almost every day, were found riding the vessel's wake.
Each site that we visited offered different and exciting finds. Whether it was the number of live clams we observed, other sea life, or the diversity of shelled species, each site had a unique experience to offer. My favorite job on the boat involved sorting through shells that were collected using a box core. With the help of the crew from each marine lab, sediments and other materials on the seafloor (around 20 m deep) became accessible to us. I found multiple shark teeth in Louisiana, which was my favorite find. With each tiny live clam found, joy and excitement fueled my body, encouraging me to continue sorting through the biomineralized material.
In Alabama, one of my favorite moments working offshore was the once-in-a-lifetime experience of dipping into the Gulf of Mexico. On this day, I was exhausted due to the extreme heat and humidity. After joking with Grant, one of the crew members, about taking a swim off the boat, Grant shockingly replied, “Well, why don’t you jump in!” In the corner of my eyes, I saw Paul look over in horror, shaking his head. After negotiating with Paul, and further discussing logistics with Grant, we were allowed to jump into the Gulf IF we wore life preservers and held on to a rope attached to the boat. To relieve ourselves from the heat, Marie, Mary Thomas, Ryan, and I jumped off the ship and enjoyed the refreshing waters of the Gulf. Although a bit unnerving, being unable to see land and feeling people accidentally rub against me in the sea, it was a moment I will never forget. After the “studes” jumped into the Gulf, our goal was to get Paul in the water. He agreed after various negotiations and agreements regarding how much work we needed to accomplish. Despite this, Paul never jumped in due to changing weather conditions and safety concerns regarding the waves.
I am genuinely thankful for my experience and found the work engaging and scientifically significant. As a rising senior, the samples we collected offshore will be used for my senior thesis research. As a hands-on learner, I found it beneficial to physically process and understand the methods involved in collecting these specimens. Through my engagement with the sampling process, I better understand the material that I will be analyzing and working with next school year. Additionally, this experience opened up my interest in possible career paths in the future. Although I am still determining what I would like to do in the future, this trip has taught me that I could see myself working or studying marine biology, paleontology, and/or conservation. I would love to thank my fantastic advisor, Professor Paul Harnik, for suggesting the research experience. His optimism, bad taste in music, dad jokes, and humor motivated the group and encouraged a positive work environment. I also thank my fellow classmates and researchers for the endless laughs and fun brought about by working and living together. Finally, this research trip would not be possible without the help and work of the crew members at LUMCON (Louisiana) and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (Alabama).