Sunday was a big day. We had our first sail, set up the molecular lab on board, did a practice plankton tow, and met the rest of the workshop participants (more on the workshop in the next post). We were picked up early in the morning and taken out to the pier to board a transfer boat to the Tocorimé. At 120 feet, she is a bit too big to dock there during low tide so they keep her parked by a picturesque island just offshore. She is a beautiful ship, made by hand in the Amazon by Markus Lehmann and colleagues. The story of the Tocorimé is absolutely fantastic and I encourage visiting their website and learning more.
After enjoying ourselves for on deck for a while and talking with the crew and several local persons who were invited to come along, Karen and I went below deck to set up our little molecular lab. It is quite simple and can take up very little space aboard the ship. A thermocycler that can hold 20 samples is used to control the temperature of the samples. It heats, then cools, then heats, then cools, etc for many cycles. A set of pipettes, with disposable pipette tips, to measure liquids. A minicentrifuge spins the samples up to 6000 rpm. This is used during the DNA extraction part of the process to separate the heavier “junk” in the mix to the bottom, leaving the DNA floating in the water above it. Other supplies include a slip mat to put equipment on to help keep things in place, several tubes and chemical reagents for DNA extraction and PCR, gloves to reduce contamination, a styrofaom box to keep samples and reagents cold, and twine to tie down equipment in case of rough weather.
Simon did a demonstration plankton tow. I was busy helping him a bit with it and forgot to take pictures. I’m sure some will show up somewhere. Plankton are easy, inexpensive and loads of fun. It is basically a net that cinches down to a small opening with a bottle at the end of it. Any small stuff will get caught in the net and forced into the bottle. After a few minutes the bottle can be teeming with life! Simon brought a small USB microscope to look at the plankton. Lots of copepods, a couple polychaetes, ostracods, a fish larvae, and one or two amphipods were in the sample. It wasn’t a great sample because of the time of day. Sampling at night is much better to get a greater diversity of small plankton and larvae.
The first sail was a success. Captain Michal (called Captain Romance by Markus) did a great job. I helped to raise sail (it is no wonder sailors are so fit!) and had a fantastic time with a very personable crew. Karen even got up and climbed the rigging!
After we got back to port, we were treated to lunch and Karen, Simon and I headed to the conference center to prepare ourselves for the arriving participants in the workshop. We have delegates from Chile, Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil in addition to us, from the UK and USA. A wide variety of taxa are studied between us all, from several different types of fish to polychaetes and worm-like snail called Caenogastropods to phytoplankton and bacteria.