Environmental Science Field School, Part 4

Niagara arrived at Put-in-Bay just before a storm and just after the mayflies.

The sky was clouding over when the ship docked, and the wind was picking up. Thunder boomed; “If that’s not motivation,” the captain told the crew, “I don’t know what is.” As if anyone needed more encouragement to work fast, eerie cloud formations loomed just overhead.

“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” a student said, glancing up at the sky while she put chafe gear on the tripled-up dock lines.

“I have,” one of the professional crew members said, a little shortly. “Finish that up quick, okay?”

The storm just barely passed Niagara by, leaving behind a brief burst of rain, and the trainees were rushed off to  listen to a speaker at Stone Lab on Gibraltar Island, which serves as Ohio State’s campus on Lake Erie.

But no sooner had the skies cleared than the mayflies descended. The science professors assured everyone that mayflies were a sign of a healthy ecosystem, but it was hard to get too excited about the good news with mayflies swarming the deck, the dock, and every line and surface on the ship. Mayflies clung to shirts and hair. Stepping on them produced an audible popping noise, and after a few hours, it was difficult to walk off the ship to the dock without slipping on a carpet of squished mayflies.

The ship was open for tours the next day, so the division in charge of the morning deck watch spent hours trying to scrub the mayfly carcasses away. While some of the crew got the ship ready for tours and others, given the day off, began exploring Put-in-Bay, the science students headed to Stone Lab in Cutter 8. They spent the day taking water samples and catching fish to study and dissect.

Once tours closed for the day and the scientists returned to the ship, there was chance to go shopping, grab something to eat or drink, wander around town, and—most importantly—to stop by the showers and de-mayfly.


The U.S. Brig NIAGARA, seen from Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial. (Photo credit: Cecilia Weissert.)

Up next: Painting, day-sailing, and saying goodbye to Gibraltar Island.

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