ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A Lake Ontario cruise was no summer vacation for several teachers who spent a week on board an Environmental Protection Agency ship, testing water quality on the lake. The voyage plays an important role in the future health of not just Lake Ontario, but all of the Great Lakes.

When Nate Drag walked along the dock at the Port of Rochester, he was headed toward a weeklong adventure on board the Lake Guardian. He wasn’t alone.

“It is very exciting,” said Drag, a Great Lakes literary specialist with the New York Sea Grant. “And there's so much to learn.”

The Lake Guardian is a science ship owned by the EPA. Fifteen teachers spent a week on board the research ship, taking water samples and collecting data.

“I’ve always been interested in science,” said Tucker Ruderman, a teacher at Rochester School of Inquiry #58. “And learning more about how authentic science happens in the world, and how scientists do their jobs."

During the Shipboard Science Workshop, teachers spent one week on the EPA research vessel, which goes out every spring and summer and does sampling across all five Great Lakes. One lake is featured every five years, on a rotating basis.

“I mean, they're all interconnected,” said Kristin TePas, of the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. “It's one big ecosystem.“

The work is important, say researchers. Data collected during the weeklong voyage will help determine policy, and could help scientists pinpoint at solve problems with water quality and issues like toxic algae blooms. 

“I’ve heard from teachers that it's like Space Camp for aquatic science teachers,” said TePas.

The research serves other purposes. Teachers will take what they learned and experienced back to their respective classrooms.

“I’m hoping that I can make some of that more relevant to my students,” said Tara Spitzer-List, a science teacher at Virtual Academy of Rochester. “So many kids grow up here in Rochester, they know the Genesee River or they know Charlotte Beach. But they really have no idea that the resources that we have.”

“I really hope to inspire kids, especially kids in the city, to kind of be able to dream of doing work like this,” said Ruderman. “Because it should be opportunities that everyone gets to do.”

Opportunities, in an ecosystem that’s critical in so many ways. With a ship full of teachers and scientists — making sure its future stays healthy.

“The Guardian has been going out for years,” said Drag. “We’ve been studying the Great Lakes for a long time but there's always more to learn. It’s so dynamic and complex. I just want to get people excited about the lakes, and excited about science, and share this opportunity.”