There is no real-life account of people’s sailing stories happening around these days. However, a Northeastern University student, Ashley Cryan, is one real-life sailor. Sailors usually also have tattoos – and Cryan has one too. According to folklore, the animals are supposed to be protecting the sailors from vanishing into the sea and the shipwreck. Cryan, therefore, got her tattoos of a chicken and a pig as a symbol of her surviving a shipwreck. These tattoos, for her, depict strength and survival. And as for these qualities, they are also important for environmental studies which Cryan graduated in.
Cryan, unsurprisingly, won the award for 2013 Research, Innovation, and Scholarship Expo for her work of studying and analysing the impact of climate change. She studied this in the light of the toxic species of algae called Alexandrium fundyense. Cryan’s one of the big concerns was when a massive red tide (a common name for algal blooms) shut the shellfisheries along the coastline of the Gulf of Maine for around two months. Alexandrium is also responsible for producing saxitoxin, which is one of the powerful neurotoxins on Earth. These algae are consumed by shellfishes, which stays in their bodies, thus making them unsafe for human consumption. As there is no cure for such a paralytic experience due to shellfishes, the blooms are compulsorily shut down during the bloom time.
This not only puts a financial burden on fishers but also makes Alexandrium a harmful, unhealthy public concern. Cryan learned about Alexandrium while working at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts co-op. “The focus of many recent studies of the dynamics of the Alexandrium population is on finding ways to prevent, control, or mitigate blooms,” she said. “We need to look at applying this knowledge to blooms in the context of climate change in the future.”
The WHOI annual cruise saw Cryan measuring cyst quantity in the Gulf of Maine’s bloom of bed before. And now, this talented sailor is deciding to spend the summer researching and analysing about these toxic algae with WHOI. She will be now setting her sail to California, where she will continue researching further on marine ecosystems, doing what she loves together – saving humanity and sailing!