By: Maya Thomas – BIMS Member
This year, the ICB blog and BIMS, Black in Marine Science, has been collaborating to highlight scientists from the BIMS organization. We hope this collaboration will further foster connecting a phenomenal network of colleagues in marine bio and inform our readers about BIMS research as well as their continued work to not only create a network but also a safe space for their members.
This month Maya Thomas of BIMS shares with us about the coolest office in the world.
“Most people would just be bragging when they say they have the coolest office in the world, but for me, it just might be true. My office just happens to be in Antarctica—the coldest continent on Earth!
I am currently a graduate student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, William & Mary, and even as I enter the third year of my PhD program it still surprises me how far I have come.
I grew up in a land-locked state but was always completely fascinated with the ocean and its animals, dolphins and penguins were always my favorite, but never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined how exciting and fulfilling marine science could be as a career path.
Out of all the topics I could study I have chosen to focus on Antarctic zooplankton (small aquatic animals that cannot swim against a current and my new favorite animals), and I was lucky enough to finally visit the frozen continent in November 2021.
We boarded the research vessel that would become our home over the next two months and set sail from Punta Arenas, Chile. We left from the western coast of the South American continent and sailed for about a day, surrounded by Chilean peaks and accompanied by birds and the occasional seal. After months of preparation and days of “hurry up and wait” before we departed, it felt surreal and almost overwhelming to know that we were finally on our way! Spirits were high and all of us—scientists and crew—were more than happy to be on the water.
…Until we hit the Drake Passage, best known for being some of the roughest seas on the planet. I don’t know if any of the first-timers knew how to properly prepare for the intensity of the waves, especially compared to the nearly flat straits we had just come out of. Personally, I made it through with a lot of sleep and seasickness medicine. By the end of the week, we all developed our own special methods of making sure our mattress wouldn’t move in our bed frame or how to exactly time when (and more importantly when NOT) to take that last step when walking up the stairs.
After what felt like forever, we were there. I remember waking up after four days of rocking back and forth and knowing something was off, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Then it hit me—we weren’t moving! Since we were still on the ship we also weren’t completely still, and there was still the constant rocking that I had gotten quite used to over the past week, but we weren’t actively going anywhere. We had made it to Antarctica! It seemed like it should have been obvious since we had been counting down the days since we left when we would finally make it, but now it had happened! Just like when we left, it felt almost too good to be true.
I hurriedly woke up my roommate and we both rushed outside to get our first real look at the continent. It was different than I had imagined, better. I realized I could have never prepared myself for actually being there, breathing in the crisp, cold air and seeing a place so few people have ever been before.
And it only got better! The ship was buzzing, all of us had gotten up early to eat a quick breakfast and help unload materials and set up camp for the on-shore party. The hum of anticipation was in the air as we were all eager to step onto the continent, a first for the majority of the science party. We took a Zodiac inflatable boat from the ship and after a pretty inelegant landing on my part, we were off and that was the moment it finally hit me that I was in Antarctica—I was freezing! The chilly combination of wind and waves was somehow hitting just right to reach every part of my body that I thought was perfectly covered.
Once we stopped, just like that, I was on the Antarctic continent, wet and cold but as happy as can be. Most importantly, it wasn’t just me, the 22-year-old graduate student that made it to Antarctica—the little black girl who grew up loving dolphins and the oceans made it too. I could’ve never known where that fascination and child-like wonder would’ve taken me and now I am here, and both of us were ecstatic to be there.
If you want to follow my adventures when I go back to Antarctica this winter, follow me on Twitter @GotMayattention.”
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