The Nova Star cruise ferry’s daily crossing of the Gulf of Maine between Portland, Maine and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, is not only carrying tourists and commercial trucks, the ship also serves as a quasi-ocean research vessel for scientists from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay who have been conducting scientific studies of the region’s changing waters and marine life for the past 17 years.
This work, along with seabird marine surveys, was the inspiration for the establishment of a new ECO Program aboard Nova Star, where scientists share their experiences and findings with guests on board.
The new program, organized by researcher Tom Robben and Nova Star’s entertainment, cruise activities and event manager Pam Bragdon, is offered throughout the sailing season and includes presentations by scientists who explain various aspects of the water (temperature, salinity, acidity, plankton, depth and habitats).
Magnified images of freshly collected microscopic plankton are shown (along with a video), followed by a session on the upper deck to observe the weather, sea surface and currents, and to spot and identify marine species such as whales, dolphins, sea turtles, seabirds and fish. Speakers also share insights about “ecosystem services” and human activity on the Gulf of Maine including fishing, shipping, wind turbines and recreation. Guests are encouraged to ask questions for engaging, lively discussions. The next program will take place on the Sept. 23 Yarmouth-to-Portland crossing.
The Nova Star Cruises partnership with scientists began last season with scientists from the NASA-funded Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences project, GNATS (Gulf of Maine North Atlantic Time Series), coming on board monthly to continue their ongoing study (since the late 70s) of the Gulf of Maine waters. The 210-mile transect on the Nova Star offers the most effective and cost-efficient way to collect crucial data across the widest part of the Gulf of Maine and sync it with same-day satellite imagery, which shows its physical and biological characteristics. Other researchers are taking advantage of the ship’s crossing and its benefits to pursue science, i.e. to conduct organized marine bird and whale surveys on a regular seasonal basis.
Nova Star began its second season on June 1, departing from Portland every day at 8 p.m. and returning each following day at 6:30 p.m. through Oct. 13.
Nova Star accommodates up to 750 passengers and provides an entertaining travel experience that includes upscale dining, a casino, duty-free retail store, full-service spa, children’s play area and other amenities.