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New Research Vessel Docks In Pensacola For First Time

University of West Florida biology and environmental science students are getting the opportunity to work on board a new research vessel that docked in Pensacola for the first time this week.

The R/V W.T Hogarth is a 79-foot-long, 26-foot-wide ship that was christened in May 2017. The ship is operated by the Florida Institute of Oceanography and replaces the more-than-40-year-old R/V Bellows. The new ship will be in the Port of Pensacola until Sunday.

“This vessel, it’s been a long time in the making. It took us about 10 years to get built,” said Dr. Phil Kramer, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography. “We’re excited to finally have it on the water here, ready to go.”

UWF students in various research labs took trips on the vessel during the week to test the new ship’s capabilities. Their work included collecting water and sediment samples from artificial reefs in support of Dr. Jane Caffrey’s work. On Tuesday, students in Dr. Alexis Janosik’s laboratory collected water samples for environmental DNA fish metabarcoding to identify fish communities and also sampled looking for microplastics. Less than 5 millimeters in size, microplastics come from larger pieces of plastic debris that are broken down by chemicals and wave action, from microbeads, and from synthetic fabrics.

“I haven’t been on a research vessel with students before. So it was fun to see their enthusiasm,” said Tina Whitaker, Janosik’s post-doctoral research associate.

The Florida Institute of Oceanography is a consortium composed of 21 universities and nine other marine research-oriented organizations that operate one of the largest fleets of state-operated research vessels in the country, Kramer said.

“UWF was the second largest user of the R/V Bellows and contributed a significant amount to the construction cost of the W.T Hogarth,” said Dr. Wade Jeffrey, a distinguished University professor of biology who is the director of the Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation as well as director of the Reubin O'D. Askew Institute of Multidisciplinary Studies. He helped organize the trips and sailed with each group.

“Florida is one of the very few states where students enrolled in classes, and especially undergraduates, get the opportunity to go out to sea and learn and work on a real research vessel,” Jeffrey said. On Saturday and Sunday, students enrolled in Dr, Chris Pomory’s Marine Invertebrate Zoology course will use the ship to gain hands-on experience in sample collection and analyses. They will learn how to collect samples with trawls, nets, and dredges and get a taste of ship-board work.

The new research vessel has more laboratory space than the previous ship and also is equipped with a dynamic positioning system, which allows the vessel to maintain its position at sea, Jeffrey said.

“Equipment and work-wise, it’s designed to be flexible and adaptable,” Jeffrey said of the W.T Hogarth.

The ship can hold 14 people – a crew of four and 10 scientists.

“I’m really looking forward to getting students out on this and showcasing this vessel and what it can do in the next decades to come,” Kramer said. “We should be operating this vessel for at least the next 30 years.”

Richard Conn works as a staff writer for the Center for Research and Economic Opportunity at the University of West Florida.