The R/V Apalachee, , a 63-foot research vessel moored at FSU Coastal and Marine Laboratory, at sea. (Courtesy of FSU Coastal and Marine Laboratory)

When Florida State University researcher Dean Grubbs wants to collect data, he takes to the sea. It’s there, in the Gulf of Mexico, and sometimes more than a mile underwater, that he can find the information he needs for his research on sharks, rays and other marine animals.

The work would not be possible without the R/V Apalachee, a 63-foot research vessel docked at FSU’s Coastal and Marine Laboratory in St. Teresa, Fla., and the largest vessel in the laboratory’s fleet. The vessel is the largest research vessel between the Tampa Bay area and Mobile, Alabama, making it an important tool for anyone wishing to research the northern Gulf.

Researchers at work aboard the R/V Apalachee.  (Courtesy of Dean Grubbs)
Researchers at work aboard the R/V Apalachee. (Courtesy of Dean Grubbs

“The Apalachee has proven indispensable in our research, particularly in our efforts to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on deep-sea ecosystems,” Grubbs said. “These cruises have led to 10 peer-reviewed papers so far, and we have been able to document over 100 species of large deep-sea sharks and bony fish, including species that have never been seen in the Gulf. from Mexico and even some who were new to science.

Aboard the ship, scientists like Grubbs can undertake week-long research cruises to gather information crucial to understanding the Gulf’s ecosystem. Research made possible by the ship informs policies that help keep the gulf healthy. Surveys of groupers, sharks and other marine wildlife are used by state and federal fisheries managers to help set catch quotas and provide other important management information.

“The R/V Apalachee is a terrific resource for FSU’s Coastal and Marine Laboratory,” said Joel Trexler, Director of the Marine Laboratory. “This gives us the opportunity to extend the reach of our scientific work beyond the immediate coastal waters accessible by smaller vessels. It also allows us to do types of work that simply cannot be done on a smaller platform. »

The environment for this work ranges from submarine canyons to shallow coastal waters. The ship’s shallow draft allows Captain Matt Edwards to navigate a wide range of environments where scientists might want to work. The ship is a versatile workhorse.

For example, several recent research cruises have led scientists to collect data on flat and burrowing sea urchins commonly known as sand dollars. It would have been possible to reach the field sites on a smaller ship, but the Apalachee offers a better resource for the job. The ship’s dive platform allows researchers easy access to the water and to gather the information they need.

The vessel also accommodates students undergoing university diving training. It can accommodate a class of two dozen students and instructors, along with their equipment. Students typically visit former military towers to practice the skills they need to perform underwater academic work.

“They’re diving in and taking measurements, and that’s a really cool thing because those towers are full of fish all year round,” Edwards said. “There are barracuda, amberjack, snapper, groupers – all sorts of things. These students are lucky enough to be able to jump in the water and see great things like this. They can achieve this goal safely on the Apalachee.

In addition to FSU researchers and students, the vessel is also a resource for outside research groups wishing to investigate the Gulf. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, United States Geological Survey, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium and others have chartered the vessel for research projects. Companies also charter the vessel for research.

“The Apalachee really helps fill a gap here to provide information for managing our natural resources in this area of ​​Florida,” Trexler said. “If he wasn’t available, it would be a real disadvantage for resource managers.

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