Events & Media

Bren Student Boards Research Ship S/V Nautilus Bound for Galápagos

First-year Bren School master’s student Juan Mayorga (2016) is currently in the Galápagos Islands, where he is part of a large science team sailing aboard the E/V Nautilus, an exploration vehicle owned by Dr. Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreck of the Titanic.


Juan Mayorga

Dedicated to cutting-edge marine research, the 211-foot research vessel is fitted with the latest available technology to pursue research on physical oceanography, geology, biology, and archaeology. Two remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) can take high-definition video and gather marine specimens, and a hull-mounted multi-beam sonar system can map the seafloor at depths ranging from 10 meters to 6,000 meters. The ship is also equipped to provide live satellite video feeds to remote locations, including schools, land-based scientists, and the E/V Nautilus website.

The ship spent the past two years conducting research in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, but is now almost halfway through a six-month Pacific expedition. Qualified students have been a rotating part of the science team, and Mayorga, a Latin American Fishery Fellow at the Bren School, earned the right to join the expedition. He boarded the Nautilus as it set sail from Colón, on the Atlantic coast of Panama, to make its way through the Panama Canal en route to the Galápagos. The crew will spend six weeks exploring and mapping the Galápagos Rift and the site where the first hydrothermal vent was discovered in 1977.

Mayorga, who was born in Colombia and graduated from Universidad de Los Andes, Bogotá, is particularly interested in assessing the vulnerability of marine ecosystems to climatic and anthropogenic stressors, taking into account the intricate socio-economic dynamics of marine resource management. He is currently examining the biological and economic effects of rezoning the Galápagos Marine Reserve, focusing on the fishing and tourism sectors of the archipelago. He has previously collected and analyzed oceanographic data and samples aboard another sailing research vessel as part of a project to assess suitable tuna habitat in the Central Pacific Ocean.

Mayorga’s blog post below captures the excitement of a traveler’s first passage through the Panama Canal.

Read more about the E/V Nautilus expedition.

Juan Mayorga’s Blog Post

I joined the E/V Nautilus in Colón; a busy industrial port on the Atlantic coast of Panama. Upon my arrival I had little time to get to know the crew and to find my way around the ship; we were about to begin our transit through “the path between the seas.”


The E/V Nautilus is ushered through one of several locks on its way through the Panama Canal to the Pacific Ocean and the Galapágos.

At 5:30 p.m., two Panamanian pilots boarded the ship and guided us toward the entrance of the first set of locks of the canal. There, a dozen “line tenders” joined us and were in charge of securing the Nautilus to a couple of “electric mules” that controlled the sideways movement and guided the ship through the lock chambers. After three hours of careful operations, the three consecutive chambers filled and lifted Nautilus 85 feet up to the Gatun Lake.

We slowly transited the dark waters of the lake under a starless, humid night. Guided by the expert pilot and the navigation lights of other ships, we saw the next set of locks by midnight. After passing under the Centennial Bridge, the lonesome Pedro Miguel lock lowered the ship to small Mira Flores Lake, gateway to the last two locks separating the Nautilus from the Pacific. Light showers accompanied the effort of those who were still awake to see the final stretch, and little after 2 a.m. the Nautilus was navigating in the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

Crossing the Panama Canal on my first day aboard the Nautilus was an incredible experience. It is hard to describe the awe and wonder evoked by such an engineering feat — where men, water, and metal combine to gracefully move a 1200-ton-ship across the American continent. Throughout the ten hours it took to cross the canal, I couldn’t stop thinking about the people who witnessed its construction, the thousands of men who died in the process, and the vast implications it had for the entire world.

I am thrilled and honored to sail aboard the Nautilus and contribute to exploring and understanding the world’s oceans. I want to become a leader in marine science and conservation, and inspire young generations in the same way that Dr. Ballard and many other explorers and scientists have inspired me."

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