Sailing with Science: Local student explores life as a Mariner

Savannah Chastain
Jacqueline Kroeger took the helm March 25, during her voyage across the equator with SEA Semester.

College student, Jacqueline Kroeger is living her dream. Currently voyaging through the Pacific Ocean aboard a scientific research sailboat, the SSV Robert C. Seamans, Kroeger is studying the oceans and climate with SEA Semester and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Maryland.

Born and raised in Destin, Kroeger first discovered her love for marine science from seventh grade science teacher, Paula Farland at Destin Middle School.

“One of the projects that we do focuses on the many different kinds of scientists,” said Farland. “Jackie’s project was on Sylvia Earle, and it was then that she realized, ‘I could actually do something with my love for water.’”

Jackie’s mother, Patricia Kroeger, also remembers the moment it all clicked with her daughter.

 “Paula helped her find her passion through a project she did on a scientist, Sylvia Earle, an explorer-in-residence with National Geographic,” she said. “That project was a turning point for Jackie. She had found her passion and role model all at the same time.”

When Kroeger found out that she would be sailing aboard the SEA semester ship, she immediately contacted Farland to set up a correspondence with her current seventh grade science classes.

“Jackie wanted to help Paula's students connect to a real research situation and has been given special permission to blog with Paula's seventh grade science students while she conducts her research aboard the ship,” said Patricia.

Jackie visited Mrs. Farland’s class in January and again in March before launching out with the program on March 22.

“Before she left, all of the students came together and asked her questions,” said Farland. “She’s sent us two emails since then through her professor, and we also follow her blog.”

Some of the student’s questions pertained to ship life and others the scientific work she is involved in.

Lauren Tasillo had a hygiene question, “How many bathrooms are there, and how much fresh water is used?”

The class was appalled to find out that crew members only get to shower every three days, but found it interesting that the crew uses reverse osmosis to convert sea water into fresh water.

Isiah Hazelette asked, “What is the weirdest thing you’ve caught behind the boat?” The answer was not all that absurd to a Destin resident, as the only thing caught in the running net so far was a Mahi Mahi.

However, Kroeger’s true reason for speaking to the seventh grade class was to encourage students to follow their dreams.

“She told us to try something that you love, and don’t get disappointed if it doesn’t work out the first time,” said Hazelette. 

Cameron Farrah was one student who took special interest to Kroeger’s endeavors, as she is also interested in pursuing a career in marine biology and oceanography.

“She made me realize how many different kinds of science there are, and that you can focus on just one creature, and I think that is really cool,” she said.

“I really like biology, but I’d rather work with bigger animals like whales and narwhals,” said Axel Strynar.

After this statement, Mrs. Farland reminded the class that Kroeger’s original interest was also to study marine mammals, however, she pointed out that science is a collaborative, interconnected field.

“She’d rather be on a ship learning about whales and sharks, but her professor told her that they had to focus on a specific area,” said Farland.

Kroeger’s current research is on ocean water salinity, Ph levels and currents and her specific focus is on sea snails and their reaction to acidity in the water. However, she will soon get the opportunity to delve into her love of sea mammals as this summer she will be participating in an internship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researching Northwest Atlantic Harbor Porpoises.

“She will come full circle,” said Patricia Kroeger. “Sylvia Earle is part of a panel that will meet on May 29, and Jackie will be there.”