The SUSiE Chronicles: Life Aboard An Exploration Science Expedition

The SUSiE Chronicles: Jumping Off The Cataraman
The SUSiE Chronicles: Jumping Off The Cataraman

My name is Mallory Morgan and I recently graduated from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California. This past July I joined the Science Under Sail Institute for Exploration (or SUSiE) as a SEAmbassador.

Welcome to this series of articles from my time with SUSiE – The SUSiE Chronicles!

You can read more, during the course of this week, by clicking here.

Life Aboard An Exploration Science Expedition

“OFF THE GRID – THE PLACE TO BE” – SUSiE Fellow Connor Zink

SUSiE expeditions run each summer aboard a 50’ catamaran sailing throughout the Exuma archipelago in the Bahamas. The focus? Coral reef research. In-tow? Eight undergraduate and gradute students from around the United States and the Bahamas eager to soak up as much sun, salt, and science as they can in three weeks. Students vary in age, personality, and background. It’s a recipe for the synergy of a common goal and a shared dream.

Sure, science coupled with tourism is not a new concept. There are already countless volunteer, study abroad, and ecotourism opportunities abound. I myself have been abroad through programs such as this, so I went aboard SUSiE Expedition 2015 for one week to discover, what sets SUSiE apart?

This young, new organization offers a wide diversity of skills and expertise in each 18-day leg of the summer expedition. Students not only learn, but are completely immersed in all aspects of sailing, scientific research, journaling, marketing, and self-discovery. Students are tasked with responsibility for not only themselves, but the well being of the entire team. Life aboard is challenging and all encompassing, which ultimately creates a much more rewarding experience. In fact, “boat life” was a common response from most students when asked about their favorite part of the program.

One day you are in charge of navigating and plotting the course for the captain, responsible for the safe and reliable direction of the 50’ catamaran. The next day you may be the executive or sous chef, responsible for cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the expedition’s 12 members. Other duties include skipper, first mate, chief science officer, and journalist. Tasks and responsibilities rotate daily. Even if you have traveled on a sailboat before, I assure you there is nothing quite like functioning as the guest, the crew, and the scientist all at once.

The SUSiE Chronicles: in the galley
The SUSiE Chronicles: in the galley

I’d like to reinforce this is more than a scientific expedition. Jerah Coviello, Co-Founder & COO, tasked with marketing and mentorship directives, makes sure Fellows are primed to become the next generation of ocean leaders while aboard and beyond, captured via the hashtag #igofurther on SUSiE’s social channels. This experience seeks to develop leadership skills, mental toughness, and an expansion of awareness. Self-reflection and creativity is facilitated by prompts in a daily journal, typically fulfilled by the journalist of the day. For example, one thought in question is “fix the world in five minutes or less”. Students are encouraged to reflect on the state of our oceans, the negative impacts we are having on the environment around us, and come up with feasible solutions. This daily reflection exercise in such a beautiful place enables one to be truly creative and plants a seed of inspiration to carry into the future. Some examples of how we can “fix the world in five minutes or less” include packing personal lunches, not using straws, using reusable water bottles and shopping bags, and boldly, reducing global population.

Another journal exercise is SUSiE’s “survivor tip of the day” in a 140-character tweet format. For example, ‘BUY SKIN SO SOFT. Deet does not work for no see-ums and they’re real!’ Other advice includes:

  • Pack less
  • Bring a cooling towel
  • Bring turkey jerky for bait to catch dinner
  • Keep your phone tucked away, out of sight and out of mind

Although the bugs may be relentless at times, accommodation is not so shabby. Several choose to cast a hammock topside under the stars, swaying to and fro into deep sleep amidst the warm Caribbean breeze. Bathing is done in the ocean with biodegradable sea soap and a quick rinse with warm freshwater off the stern. It is an unforgettable feeling to bathe with concern for sharks swimming beneath you under the moonlight.

The SUSiE Chronicles: morning yoga on the trampoline
The SUSiE Chronicles: morning yoga on the trampoline

Several unique games and activities are employed to bond, enhance group dynamics, and provide a forum for full-disclosure. For example, there is a nightly ritual of “yik-yak”. Yik yak is an anonymous box of comments, thoughts, and feelings accumulated throughout the day. Yik yaks can be a funny moment from the day, or serve as a venting avenue. Each night students anonymously put as many comments as they wish into the mystery yik yak box. After supper the group reads each comment aloud one-by-one and laughter ensues. These are essentially recorded inside jokes the group will carry with them forever. Yik yaks include comments such as “this shirt smells like I feel”, or, “who else boo booed on boo boo hill?”, or, “I think the smell is coming from jack sparrows moustache”. Unless you are a trusted member of the expedition, you will never know the meaning and memory behind such a seemingly harmless string of words.

Media skills are developed through vlogging, or video blogging, by documenting the trip on GoPro’s. Segments include “SUSiE Cribs” where students interview each other in their individual living spaces. Another is the “meal time” series surrounding the topic of food waste. Although most meals are Wise Company’s ‘emergency food’ which simply requires the addition of boiling water, space and supplies are limited in the galley so careful coordination is needed. I was actually quite delighted how delicious, healthy, and filling these meals were. One student told me, “this trip made me feel healthier and more mindful of my body. I will probably have a lifestyle change for the better when I return home. I have been inspired.”

The SUSiE Chronicles: Food
The SUSiE Chronicles: Food

A subject personally close to home as a southern Californian where we are facing historical drought, is the value of freshwater. This year’s expedition catamaran, a ‘Catana 50’, holds 200 gallons of freshwater at a time. Each student is rationed 1gallon of freshwater each day. Salty ocean baths are followed with a quick rinse under a single bowl of freshwater. Both laundry and dishes are also washed in the ocean, again with only a quick rinse of freshwater. In exit interviews, many commented on their surprise and newfound awareness of the amount of freshwater they use each day. Again, the journey creates a ripple effect of raised awareness into the future, beyond the time horizon of the expedition.

Discovering new places, suffering bugs and heat, and going off the grid together has made these 8 strangers lifelong family. With courage and determination, these bright young leaders of the future leave the expedition having mastered sailing, conducting marine science in the field, and having had the ultimate summer vacation. Beyond SUSiE they stay together as crew in a private online digital community created for SUSiE alumni. An important piece of SUSiE’s mission is to carry the Fellows beyond the expedition, together, to make change for the world’s coral reefs. You too can go beyond.

Visit SUSiE’s site here to learn more.

You can read more, during the course of this week, by clicking here.

Mallory Morgan
Mallory Morgan grew up in the warm Atlantic waters on the east coast of Florida where she worked as an ocean lifeguard, surf instructor, and a manager at a sea turtle hatchery. She first started diving in preparation for a summer internship in Fiji studying marine protected areas and was instantly addicted. Upon graduation from college at Florida State University, Mallory traveled to Australia, and later Bali, where she spent one year earning her PADI Divemaster. She knew this was the perfect career for her, and decided to earn her Instructor rating. She worked as an Instructor in the Catalina Islands of Costa Rica, and then in the cool waters of sunny San Diego, California. Mallory now volunteers as a scientific diver at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography where she recently earned a master’s degree in marine biodiversity and conservation. She currently works at the San Diego Foundation, a community philanthropy organization working to safeguard San Diego from drought, wildfire, sea level rise, increased heat waves, and other climate change impacts.

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