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USF welcomes its most technologically advanced ship into the Florida Institute of Oceanography

The Western Flyer, which is parked at USF's St. Pete campus, is expected to create new opportunities for students.

The Florida Institute of Oceanography is an association operating out of USF dedicated to supporting oceanographic research and education. With a new ship recently inducted into their fleet, the organization will be able to offer more hands-on learning opportunities for students to experience.

The 117-foot ship, called the Western Flyer, took a 4,000 mile trek through the Panama Canal to end up at St. Petersburg. It came all the way from California and made its way to the east coast as a grant from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

While it will join two other ships at FIO, it is considered distinctively stable because of its width, which allows it to go out on the furthest expeditions. The ship can travel well past the Gulf of Mexico, capable of operating all the way to the North Caribbean Sea.

Along with increased travel distances, the ship also features state-of-the-art technology. The Western Flyer has a remotely operated vehicle, which gives researchers the ability to view the deepest and darkest parts of the ocean.

The ship has already completed over 500 voyages and contributed a plethora of research to its area, including identifying over 200 new species, finding a new coral garden, and mapping the seafloor of Monterey Canyon. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute sent the ship to FIO, hoping that its list of accomplishments will continue in its new chapter as a "floating classroom."

The new capabilities offered by this ship, as well as diversity initiatives, opens a door of opportunities for USF students.

FIO is using the ship as a vessel for increased development opportunities in their new mentor-based program. The Peerside programs aim at increasing career development in individuals who need it, as well as increasing diverse ocean science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics participation throughout broad backgrounds and experiences.

The program, which begins this summer, takes students aboard the Western Flyer for a week-long oceanographic research experience.

“The Western Flyer will provide new real-world opportunities for students, help us fill the talent pipeline to meet workforce needs and expand our research capabilities,” USF President Rhea Law said.

The ship, alongside the Peerside programs, provides an optimistic opportunity for both new research and increased STEAM diversity.