Melissa Fye, April 6, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melissa Fye
Onboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
April 4 – 25, 2005

Mission: Coral Reef Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Northwest Hawaiian Island
Date: April 6, 2005

Location: Latitude: 28.5 N, Longitude: 49.3 W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: 42
Wind Speed: 16 kts
Sea Wave Height: 3 feet
Swell Wave Height: 3-4 feet
Sea Water Temperature: N/A
Sea Level Pressure: 1021 mb
Cloud Cover: 3/8 SC, AS, Ci

Mapping the islands
Mapping the islands

Science and Technology Log

Today’s plan involved running sonar survey lines in a westerly direction en route to Necker Island (14.5 hours). Run at sea speed.  CTD casts were conducted as needed, and I attended one at 1230. The senior surveyor informed me that CTDs are usually cast at least every 12 hours. I also spent the day interviewing various persons onboard to include the senior survey scientist, a deck hand/surveyor/, and the chief medical officer.  At 1530, we arrived at our first point of reference, Necker Island, and the proceeded to continue survey lines westerly towards the French Frigate shoals for the next 9.5 hours.

The scientists on board are creating benthic habitat maps to support the Coral Reef Ecosystem Integrated Observing System under the direction of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Basically, several different plans have been laid out to determine fishing and no fishing zones around the island chain. The additional data collected on this cruise will hope those organizations determine the best plan for unrestricted and restricted fishing areas. Mapping boundaries may help to decide what fathoms (depths) to fish at or a longitudinal system may be used.  Currently, lobster fishing is not allowed at all because they were all but wiped out in the past.  The area around Necker, Brooks Bank, the French Frigate Shoals may eventually be entirely closed to fishing because evidence collected leads scientists to believe that that area may be a genetic gateway for species to the south.

Personal Log

I woke up around 6:30 am and proceeded to eat breakfast and to establish some times to interview people for the day, in between observing CTD casts and popping into the dry lab. Soon after lunch I interviewed the Chief Medical Officer and got a tour of the on board hospital which is equipped to handle many kinds of emergencies. The chief medical officer is LTJG Mike Futch.  While on board he is in charge of handling any emergencies that may occur. Most common emergencies include sea sickness and if someone needs treated for that he can prescribe medication, administer shots, and treat dehydration that may occur from people regurgitating.  He likened sea sickness to the feeling you would get if you were stuck on an elevator going up and down continuously until you got sick. LTJG Futch is authorized to do any lifesaving technique, but he is also in charge of handling medical questionnaires for members of the ship, weekly sanitation and safety checks, and handling inventory in the medical lab. Proximity to a port determines if a ship is assigned a medical officer (if more than 2 days from a port, then a med. officer is assigned), otherwise other members of the ship are trained for medical emergencies as well.

Working in the lab
Working in the lab

LTJG Futch recommends anyone who would like a job like his to major in chemistry or biology in college, attend physician’s assistant school, and specialize in emergency programs.  He is an employee of the United States Public Health Service (the Surgeon General is the leader of this group) which deploys medical personnel to all federal agencies including NOAA, Coast Guard, prison system, Indian affairs, to just name a few. He will spend roughly 200 days at sea this year and he comments that the best part of his job is getting see parts of the world that many others don’t see, the pay is good, and you get to function almost like your own boss because there is usually only one or two at most medical officers assigned to a ship.

I then proceeded to the science lab to get a first hand look at the computer system where data is filtered into from the onboard sonar systems.  The senior surveyor and another surveyor spoke to me about the details aforementioned.  I next interviewed Joyce Miller, Senior Survey Scientist, about her background and duties.  Her job is to plan surveys, train new surveyors, and process data.  She is at sea for 60-150 days a year depending on the projects she is working on. She comments that her most important piece of equipment is the computer and that any students who might be interested in this type of career should study oceanography (physics, biology, chemistry, geology) and heavily concentrate in computers.  She feels a surveyor should be flexible, because things often don’t go according to plan, and that this job offers a lot of challenges and movement.

Eventually I attended the launch of another CTD cast and ate lunch. The ship hasn’t stopped, except for the occasional CTD cast for 30-40 minutes, because our late start has put us behind and there are 2 contractors aboard who need to be dropped off by a certain date at one of the islands to catch a plane. The afternoon was spent writing logs and lesson plans.  Finally, I will go up on the bridge to interview the Operations officer and other officers employed by NOAA so I can give my fourth grade students a sense of the various jobs and people needed aboard a research ship to make it run smoothly. I am happy to report I don’t seem to be sea sick at all, which makes me very happy, because many of the people on board are still trying to get their “sea legs!” To this point the seas have not been very rough though!

QUESTION OF THE DAY for my fourth grade students:  The scientists on board are compiling data to create benthic habitat maps.  What does the word benthic mean? What could maps like these be used for in the future?


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