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On Board the OSV BOLD: Setting Sail in the Name of Science

2009 February 10
For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

February 9, 2009 – 9:00 am (Day 1)

About the author: Doug Pabst is the chief scientist for the OSV BOLD’s Puerto Rico voyage. He leads the dredging, sediments and oceans team in EPA Region 2, comprising New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

After weeks of arduous planning, we are excited to be kicking off our Caribbean voyage on EPA’s ocean-going vessel, the OSV BOLD. We’ve got a full boat, no pun intended, of people – University of Puerto Rico researchers, teachers, students and EPA scientists – and several missions.

Our adventure begins today in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where we will be towing nets offshore during the day to collect marine debris (basically anything that floats or remains suspended in the water near the surface). At night, we will switch operations to collect side scan sonar data from the seafloor offshore of San Juan Harbor. The side scan sonar survey will produce detailed images of the sediment that covers the sea bottom.

We will be back in port on February 12 and open for public and school group tours. Survey operations begin again on February 13, as we resume marine debris sampling enroute to Jobos Bay on the south side of Puerto Rico. We will again conduct side scan sonar during the evening off Jobos Bay as part of a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

On February 15 and 16, we will be conducting water quality measurements with the University of Puerto Rico offshore of La Parguera. On the 17th and 18th, we will be collecting bottom samples around the coral reefs of La Parguera to catalog the types and number of living organisms. We are scheduled to arrive next in Mayaguez on February 19 for public and school group tours. The last leg of the mission has us leaving Mayaguez on the evening of the 19th to conduct more marine debris investigations on our way back to San Juan.

Hoping for fair winds and following seas!

February 10, 2009 – 1:00 pm (Day 2)

About the Author: Beth Totman is a press officer in Region 2, New York City. She covers Superfund, Emergency Response and Pesticides. She’s been with EPA since June 2007.

As you can see from Doug’s blog post above, we were hoping for smooth sailing…but that all changed when EPA got a call from the office of the Governor of Puerto Rico yesterday asking for assistance after a small plane went down off the northwest coast of Puerto Rico. It has been reported that six passengers were on that plane, and now EPA has been asked to utilize the state-of-the-art technology that we have on The OSV BOLD to help in search and recovery efforts. This is by all means a major tragedy, and EPA is here to help in whatever way we can. The OSV BOLD has side scan sonar technology that will be employed to scan the bottom of the ocean floor for plane debris.

When I woke up yesterday in my small apartment in the East Village in New York City, I knew that I was in for a life experience that would open my eyes to areas of the Agency that I have not been privy to in my year and a half with EPA. Twenty four hours later, I woke up on a 224 foot long ship, The OSV BOLD, and already our mission has morphed from conducting a series of scientific studies aimed at protecting and improving the Caribbean environment, to aiding local, state and federal agencies in this search and recovery mission. Staff from the BOLD will provide updates on the search and recovery operations on this blog as they become available.

The seas are anything but smooth, and the weather is not ideal for what we were tasked to do. I was told when I first got on board that we are beholden to the desires of the sea. Anything can happen and I need to keep an open mind on this ship. Just because the itinerary is air tight, doesn’t mean unexpected changes won’t occur. At a time like this, those words cannot be truer.

Editor’s note:  Click here to read an interesting news article describing the OSV Bold mission in the Caribbean Sea.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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3 Responses leave one →
  1. Joe Flood permalink
    February 10, 2009

    This is great. I’m sure most people don’t know that EPA has an ocean survey vessel and helps out in other ways too, like search and rescue.

  2. Debris in OUR waterways permalink
    February 11, 2009

    It’s admirable to be collecting debris in Caribbean waters, but we’d get “more bang for the buck” in U.S. waterways. We sailed up the Potomac last May and had to be on “flotsam alert” almost the whole way. Not only the usual suspects of plastic water bottles and plastic bags, but huge chunks of wood (some with the diameter of telephone poles) were lurking in the river.

    What can we do to clean up our rivers?

  3. Keeping it Straight permalink
    February 12, 2009

    U.S. waterways include coastal zones (at least 3 miles from shore) and Puerto Rico (Commonwealth) and U.S. Virgin Islands (Territory) are part of the U.S. (as are several islands in the Pacific).
    I think its great for an ocean-going vessel to be working in the coastal zone … and it sounds like this is a survey to better understand how much debris is out there (hopefully for future action!).

    Like you I hate the debris in our freshwater systems, too. Your state department of environmental protection should be in charge of that I think. Maybe you could also contact a local Riverkeepers to find out how they work.

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