It’s not easy, but it’s exceptionally rewarding. Overall, that is how I feel about our monthly sampling of surface seawater marine microbes from Kāneʻohe Bay, Hawaiʻi. Leading up to the target date we scan our favorite websites for wind, wave, and weather forecasts, checking and double-checking for the most accurate report. Sometimes planning is easy and there are weeks of little wind- and wave-action. These past few winter months however, have not been so straightforward. Forecasts change quickly in Hawaiʻi and, often so do our sampling plans. Fortunately, we are based at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) on the island of Moku o Loʻe in the Southern portion of Kāneʻohe Bay, Oʻahu. HIMB is equipped with a boat fleet and quick access to this idyllic, coral-dominated tropical embayment; K-Bay as we lovingly refer to it.
Once we finally have sufficiently good weather, its time to get out and sample! You may be asking, “what and where exactly are we sampling?” We have a long list of samples to gather including collecting cells on filters to collect DNA and RNA from the microbial community, filtering water to collect the phytoplankton pigments and water samples for nutrient analysis. We also preserve samples for cultivation experiments, counting cells via flow cytometry, and single cell sorting. Lastly, let’s not forget those important in situ YSI measurements including dissolved oxygen, temperature, salinity, and pH. Overall, we focus on gathering these samples across the coastal to oceanic interface, and have 10 sampling sites total. These ten sites send us navigating between coral patches and over, between, and across oceanic swells, from the Southern portion of K-Bay to a parallel with Mokoliʻi (aka Chinaman’s hat) in the north of K-Bay.
The goal of the monthly sampling is to examine the population dynamics of marine microbes. This monthly sampling will occur for the next three years and ideally for much longer than that. Very few marine microbe-focused time-series are available for coastal environments and even fewer for tropical coastal systems. Thinking about the number of potential projects and information provided by this type of comprehensive dataset is overwhelmingly exciting. Almost as exciting as all of this field work that I am elated to be a part of.
Despite having less predictable weather these past few months, during our February monthly collection we were pleasantly surprised to be joined by a pod of humpback whales while collecting at our offshore sites. The peak of whale season in Hawai’i is from January to March, but I am hopeful for another encounter this coming month. Although, this wasn’t our first “wildlife sighting”; we often spot sea turtles and seabirds like brown boobies and occasionally spot manta rays or a Trichodesmium bloom in action; spotting whales while collecting microbes has made February my favorite sampling trip thus far. Thinking about life and its metabolic, evolutionary, and ecological mechanics at these two extremely different but interrelated scales is just astonishing. Who knows what excitement and surprises our field and lab work over the next three years will bring!
Contributed by Sarah Tucker, a graduate student in the Ph.D. program at in the Marine Biology department of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.