On a cool morning in August, Stephen Payton stood at the edge of a dock in Seldovia, Alaska, dragging a fine, conical net at the end of a pole through the rippling ocean water. Screaming crows and gulls wheeled above us in the damp air, as the long-limbed 30-year-old watched his ghostly net wend its way underneath the surface. A small plastic bottle at the net’s narrow end captured and concentrated particles from the water. When Payton pulled the contraption up, he detached the bottle, added drops of iodine preservative to the wet muddle inside, labeled the sample and handed it to me. We climbed into his big white truck and drove a mile to Seldovia’s gravel airstrip, where I scrambled onboard a cramped, six-seater propeller plane. Organisms within the bottle could deteriorate within hours, so time was of the essence.