The day I learned how to de-goo a Bamboo Coral

Hello Everyone!

 

My name is Rebecca and I am a 3rd year PhD student from the Dauphin Island Sea Laboratory and the University of South Alabama in the USA. I call myself an aqueous geochemist by training, and I mean this is the truest way possible. I was invited on this cruise to work with radioactive silica and help with all things water chemistry- or so I thought…

 

I have spent the last 9 years of my educational career with my head in the sediments and water column, and avoided at all costs all things gooey, slimy, sticky or smelly. Yes, I work with algae, diatoms and sediments, but deep-sea biology is a world that I am completely lost and uncomfortable in. I have been on multiple research cruises, but they mostly focus on CTD cast after CTD cast, with samples coming from the water column and the sediments we collect along the way. But an ROV?! This is a whole new world full of spikey, spongey, living things that unfortunately must be cleaned, sorted and labeled when they arrive back on deck. As we hadn’t collected any new water samples for me to occupy my time with, I decided to help the biology team with its newest arrivals (this involved wearing as many layers as I could possibly manage, so I didn’t freeze in the cold room). I showed up to my new position and our fearless leader, Michelle, asked “How do you feel about goo?”. I guess my face said enough, because I was blessed with the task of de-gooing the meter-long bamboo coral (Isididae) that had just surfaced. Now this is not a task for the faint at heart, or those with a weak stomach…

 

The coral presented to me looked like a tree branch, roughly 4 feet long, but covered in a bumpy, slimy coating that had the consistency of something you would cough up when you are sick and a smell that I’m not sure I will ever forget. As I spent the next 20 minutes scraping off the goo and carefully collecting the gelatinous skin that this creature carefully created over its lifetime, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. Here I was, a lifelong marine scientist squirming at coral goo, but nevertheless taking the task in full stride. When it was all said and done I earned a passing grade with my de-gooing skills, but I also learned more than I ever thought I would about the creatures living at the bottom of the seafloor. As each new bucket was brought into the cold lab there were ooohs and ahhs of excitement. How do these sponges make such amazing structures? Where do these bright colors come from?  How do the marriage shrimp get trapped inside the sponge together- do they love each other??

 

As we all scurried around sorting the samples I also realized something else, perhaps the most important thing about research cruises is collaboration. As sediment geologists, water chemists, radioisotope chemists, physical oceanographers and biologists all huddled around these samples I realized that oceanographic discovery would not be possible if we did not work together. Science can become compartmentalized very quickly and often if you go into the lab next door, you don’t really know what’s going on. But on the open ocean you become a family of misfit skills and everyone lends a hand.

 

For now I’ll go back to my water samples but if anyone needs some epic de-gooing skills, let me know!

 

Rebecca Pickering

icy lab - pickering 1

“How do you feel about goo?” (Photo credit: James Williams)

icy-lab pickering 2

Bamboo coral collected in the Labrador Sea. (Photo credit: Rebecca Pickering)

 

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