My Experience with Ocean Drifters
I have done many things with ocean drifters, and it all started in eighth grade at the R.A. Nock Middle school where I was a part of a Drifters pilot project. At the Nock, seven other students and I were asked to construct four drifters using canvas sails and two-by-fours. We learned that drifters follow tides to track currents in the ocean. Once our drifters were deployed, we received the tracking information from the satellite transmitter on top, and we learned they do even more. One of the drifters helped to track a red tide bloom. “Red tide” is a harmful alga bloom that is toxic to marine life and especially shellfish. The drifter showed us what organisms were affected by the red tide. The data is beneficial to us because people won’t make the mistake of eating these shellfish.
As a freshman at the GOMI summer conference in Nova Scotia, I was a part of the drifter's theme team. First, we made a mini-drifter using materials that we thought would allow it to float and have a well-designed center of gravity when tested. Ocean drifters don't have a specific design but just need to be able to float and move with the tide. When we built the two drifters in Nova Scotia, we used metal poles instead of wood to see if they would be more durable. We deployed the drifters into the Bay of Fundy which has the highest recorded tides in the world, and I watched it quickly float away from the boat.
Ocean drifters have the potential to help us discover almost anything about the ocean. Drifters could help us measure temperature, salinity, climate change and even record data on marine life and invasive species. For example, I went to Cape Cod this year with GOMI to rescue sea turtles that wash up on shore from cold shock. I learned how drifters are used to finding where they are beached. If an ocean drifter follows the same tide as the cold-stunned turtles, then the drifter can track the wind and wave patterns that will lead us to them. One group found a beached Loggerhead turtle in Wellfleet, Massachusetts during the search. It was rehabilitated at the Boston aquarium because we found it with the help of drifter data. In the future, it might even be possible to track the North Atlantic gyre that sea turtles follow by attaching a small transmitter to a turtle’s shell. I have enjoyed my experience with ocean drifters so far because there are infinite possibilities to what drifters could help us accomplish now and in the future.
Andrea Samuelson is a member of the GOMI Newburyport team, and a graduated with honors from Newburyport High School, class of 2018. Andrea has been involved with GOMI in the NOAA Ocean Drifters Project since middle school.