Scientists get closer look at Great Lakes research boat

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Scientists from all over the world got an opportunity this week in Detroit to tour the largest research vessel for the Great Lakes.

The Lake Guardian, the research vessel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency opened for three days of tours during the International Association for Great Lakes Research conference at Cobo Center, was docked outside the Port Authority along the Detroit River. About 300 people boarded the vessel for a tour, said Maxwell Morgan, head marine technician.

“We like to bring the scientists out,” Morgan said before leading a group of about 20 through the 180-foot-long vessel. The tour included views of the sampling equipment, laboratories, sleeping quarters and the pilot house.

EPA scientist Beth Murphy shows Celest Irambona of Montreal the layout of the ship during a tour of the Lake Guardian.

The Lake Guardian sails across the five Great Lakes for a wide range of research about the physical, chemical and biological conditions of the Great Lakes, according to Considered a floating laboratory, it’s used to collect samples including air, water, sediment and plankton.

Sampling season for 2017 kicked off March 25 and the ship sails the Great Lakes through early October, according to

“The work of these scientists has generated baseline and historical data sets, as well as highlighted emerging issues, all leading to a better understanding of the dynamics of the lakes,” the website said, all of which helps determine decisions about the health of the lakes’ ecosystem.

Morgan said one of the main focuses is looking at little critters at the bottom of the food supply chain. It’s an indicator of water quality.

“We want to make sure the Great Lakes are safe for the fishing industry, recreation,” Morgan said.

The ship has 14 full-time crew members, Morgan said. There can be as many as 20 scientists working in the tight quarters at any given time.

Equipment used on the ship ranges from two simple plankton collecting nets to the high-tech samplers known as the Rosette and the Sea-Bird.

The Rosette captured the attention of Patricia Thompson, a biological science technician with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services substation in Waterford Township.

Head marine technician Maxwell Morgan, left wearing navy, explains the Rosette, equipment on the Lake Guardian used to take samples from the Great Lakes. The boat is docked at the Detroit riverfront.

“I’ve heard about it before and it’s kind of a unique sampling device,” said Thompson, who focuses on fisheries.

Staffing on the vessel stood out for Janine Lajavic, also a biological science technician for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

“I was surprised by the amount of people that work on there,” she said.

Thompson said she found the ship tour to be a great opportunity for her during the conference.

“It’s nice to see how collaborative everything is,” she said. “Everyone is working together for the betterment of the Great Lakes.”

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