Blue Ocean Sails to host ‘Ocean Sampling Day’ June 21


Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve summer campers, local 4-H Marine Ecology Club members and St. Johns River State College students will be among the participants in Ocean Sampling Day 2016 taking place June 21.

The event was organized by Blue Ocean Sails (BOS) a new, St. Augustine-based entity recently launched by St. Augustine resident Mike Alyea with the goal of facilitating, assisting and supporting local marine science.

“In terms of local involvement, it has gotten wide support at all grade levels,” Alyea said. “That was exciting to see.”

BOS did not design the Ocean Sampling Day program, but coordination of the logistics for local participation in the event is right up its alley, according to Alyea. Ocean Sampling Day is a European-based initiative launched in 2014 whereby a simultaneous sampling of the world’s oceans takes place in order to provide insights into fundamental rules regarding microbial diversity and function.

A total of four teams will take water samples at five separate sample sites, with three of those teams conducting geographically specific sample sites along the First Coast from Mickler’s Landing south to Marineland. The fifth team will be comprised of Dr. Ed McGinley, assistant professor of natural sciences at Flagler College, and one of his marine science students. Alyea will take that team 10 to 20 miles offshore from St. Augustine June 21 aboard his 43-foot sailboat “Sea Breeze” to do their sampling in the offshore environment.

The students will then meet up with Alyea at the Conch House Marina to turn in their processed samples. Alyea, as part of BOS, will then freeze the samples and ship them to the Miami office of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which in turn will ship the collected samples to the organization spearheading the program.

Blue Ocean Sails

Ocean Sampling Day is just the first of many projects Alyea plans to organize with local students through BOS, for which Alyea hopes to secure nonprofit status. He and his wife, Cindy, relocated to the St. Augustine area last fall from their home near Atlanta.

Alyea purchased his sail boat in North Carolina, had some modifications made, and sailed the sail boat from North Carolina to St. Augustine in December. A retired Air Force pilot and current American Airlines pilot, Alyea was planning for his retirement when he developed the idea for BOS, which first germinated about two years ago.

Switching from sky to sea was not a random act. Prior to his career in aviation, Alyea began his college studies as a marine biologist. He also used to do a lot of SCUBA diving in his native Ocala, Florida. With the launching of a venture such as BOS, Alyea noted, he is coming full circle.

“Our goal is to support, assist and facilitate students, educators, citizen and research scientists in taking their marine science studies to the next level, in taking their science projects to the next level, in taking their ocean awareness to the next level and indeed taking their research to the next level,” he said.

Response to the BOS project has been enthusiastic.

“What I have found so far is that it’s almost taken on a life and energy of its own,” Alyea said. “Everyone I talk to, everyone is excited about it and supportive of the concept.”

Alyea has already met with the St. Johns County School District and two high school teachers from Nease and Ponte Vedra high schools, among other local operations, including Marineland.

Future projects

In the near future, Alyea plans to participate in the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Cooperative Shark Tagging Program (CSTP) and hopes to involve local high school students in the NOAA Global Drifter Program.

As part of that initiative, Alyea said, NOAA will ship BOS a global drifter buoy that he will deploy 75 to 100 miles off St. Augustine’s shore into the Gulf Stream waters this October. The buoys float in the ocean for a set amount of time and transmit meteorological and oceanographic data via satellites back to a large database. Alyea would like to explore ways the SJCSD could integrate the buoy deployment operation into its curriculum, especially since the project, is something that would support STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

“We’re not proposing to take a group of high school students 100 miles offshore, but they would have real-time involvement with our sailing vessel Sea Breeze at the docks,” Alyea said. “Because it is launched out of their local ocean waters, we just feel like that really could elevate their sense of involvement in marine science.”