Miriam Hlawatsch, July 29, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Miriam Hlawatsch
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 29 – August 10, 2007

Mission: Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina
Date: July 29 – August 1, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Miriam Hlawatsch, dons a survival suit
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Miriam Hlawatsch, dons a survival suit

Day 0

Personal Log

I report to the NANCY FOSTER a day early and find all is quiet. Tim Olsen, Chief Engineer and Lt. Sarah Mrozek, Officer of Operations were the first to greet me. Sarah and Tim help me to my stateroom where I stow my gear and settle in for my adventure. Later in the evening I meet several other shipmates, including Lt. Stephen Meador, the ship’s Executive Officer, or XO.

Day 1

Personal Log

I’m awake and dressed by 0600 hours. The ship is still quiet but not for long. The scientists come aboard early and we are underway by 0930 hours. At 1000 hours, Chief Scientist, Paula Whitfield, conducts a science briefing for the eleven-scientists/research divers involved in the lionfish mission. Additionally, Lt. Sarah Mrozek, Operations Officer and Lt. Stephen Meador, XO, brief the scientists on ship procedures and safety. During the Abandon Ship drill everyone aboard must put on a survival suit. The suits are all the same size and it was quite comical to see me, at 5 ft, wearing the same suit as someone who is 6’2” tall.  After lunch the NANCY FOSTER reaches the first dive site located in Onslow Bay, approximately 19 nautical miles, S/SE of the Beaufort Inlet. It’s exciting to watch the divers ready themselves and deploy to sea.

Divers from the NANCY FOSTER ready themselves for the first dive of the mission.
Divers from the NANCY FOSTER ready themselves for the first dive of the mission.

Day 2

Personal Log 

I thought I had the seasick thing beat because I wore the anti-seasick wristbands my student, Troy Wilkens, gave me. Unfortunately, at about 1800 hours, I became sick while discussing the mission with Paula. On her advice I took some medication and went to bed. I did not find my “sea legs” until this evening at about 1900 hours. Apparently, sleep is the best remedy but I lost most of the day. I feel well enough to begin my work so I spend what is left of the evening viewing underwater video shot during today’s dives. Divers today visited two sites at 210 Rock, 27 miles almost due south of Beaufort Inlet.

Day 3

Divers take a small boat to the dive site.
Divers take a small boat to the dive site.

Personal Log

While discussing the mission with Paula I realize that, unlike similar missions in the past, her 2007 research is multi-faceted. I will elaborate on the facets when I better understand how they all relate. At the moment I am feeling a bit overwhelmed…  Today’s dive site is located 24 nautical miles S/SE of Beaufort Inlet.

Scientific Log: What are Lionfish? 

Common name:  Lionfish, Red lionfish, and turkey fish. Scientific Name: Pterois volitans (Pisces: Scorpaenidae). Lionfish are identified by their distinctive red, maroon and white stripes; fleshy tentacles above the eyes and below the mouth; fan-like pectoral fin and long separated dorsal spines. These tropical fish can grow to approximately 17 in. / 38.0 cm or more. Native to Indo-Pacific waters, the scope of their territory is huge. They can be found from western Australia and Malaysia, to southern Japan and southern Korea, as well as throughout Micronesia.

A lionfish swims in the Atlantic Ocean, not its native habitat
A lionfish swims in the Atlantic Ocean, not its native habitat

Why Research Lionfish in North Carolina?  

Non-native (meaning invasive) to waters along the southeastern United States Coast lionfish are now established and reproducing along the continental shelf from Florida to North Carolina. Since 2000, lionfish have been primarily found in water depths greater than 130fsw (feet sea water) due to warmer water temperatures created, year round, by the Gulf Stream. Now, there is evidence the lionfish population is increasing and surviving closer to shore than researchers originally thought.

Why is the Invasion of Lionfish a Problem? 

There are several reasons lionfish are a potential problem.

  • Lionfish are members of the Scorpion fish family and known for their venomous spines. Although there have been no known fatalities caused by lionfish stings, they are reported to be extremely painful. As they increase in numbers, and move closer to shore, there is a greater risk of encounters with humans.
  • Lionfish have no known natural predators in the Atlantic. They are voracious feeders and may compete with native species for food that would be disruptive to the ecosystem. They also may pose a threat to the commercial fishing industry.

Leave a Reply