Marian Wagner: Deep in the Work, August 20, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marian Wagner
Aboard R/V Savannah
August 16 — 26, 2011

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean (Off the Georgia and Florida Coasts)
Date: Saturday, August 20, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge (the wheelhouse, where the controls of the ship are)
E-SE Wind at 5 knots (wind is travelling 5 nautical miles per hour, 1.15 statute miles = 1 nautical mile)
Sea depth at 12:42 pm was 51.2 meters
Water Temperature 29.62 Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Research aboard the R/V Savannah has commenced and is at full throttle.  Scientists and crew are well-trained and everyone knows their jobs thoroughly.  All work is moving along with great efficiency!  Now that I have learned and experienced the details this research, I’ll explain it here:

As a reminder, our mission is to survey the population of commercially-important species to inform stock assessments, or, put another way, we study how many fish there are and where they exist, and we provide information to help fisheries managers set a sustainable harvest (so we don’t run out of fish). We conduct our research by dropping chevron fish traps onto the ocean floor to catch samples of fish we can use to estimate a population and report important biological measures (for example, age, length, weight, feeding habits, and genetics). The method of using chevron traps to catch live biological samples doesn’t work well for all species, so another way of estimating abundance is by recording the activity that is happening around the traps with video cameras.

We cannot begin dropping fish traps until one hour after sunrise because the cameras need natural light to record the habitat and the activity (if we were to use artificial light it would change everything: sometimes fish are attracted to artificial light, other fish avoid it, so our research would be compromised, or messed up, if we used artificial light). So, the crew that works the shift from midnight to noon gets the first traps ready, and they start deploying them around 8:00 am.  Here’s what it looks like to drop traps off the boat:

Cameras rolling, we are almost at the target spot to drop the trap.

The traps stay down on the ocean floor for 90 minutes.  We usually deposit 6 traps at a time in the same general area (each a mile or less apart), and we pick them up in the same order we dropped them.  To pull the traps out of the water, we use a hydraulic pot hauler (that was made in Seattle, WA!) and a team effort of coordinated and careful action.  If we were not extremely careful doing this work on the deck, not only could the science data be useless, but people could easily be hurt.  This is what we look like in action:

Pulling up trap, excited to see what we caught

I get up in the morning around 9AM, I have breakfast and relax during the few hours I have off before my shift begins.  I like to talk to people, visit the bridge for weather and information on our direction, and when I can get on the single computer, I sometimes do so before my shift begins.

My shift begins at noon, when I suit up to work on the deck of the stern (the back).  We work dropping traps, picking them up, and processing fish that we catch.  The work is very carefully conducted, with everyone having specific roles but also helping each other in every way so we can do our best job.  The amount of teamwork is incredible.

I am extremely impressed with how well each scientist and crewman clearly thinks of the team first, and his/her individual needs second.  Everyone (I mean EVERYone) works hard (I mean VERY hard), is very thoughtful and conscientious of the “big picture”, is fun to laugh with and be around, and, in general, everyone is just easy to live with.  Doing field science research like this would be really tough if scientists did not also get along well as a member of a team.  Because conducting this research depends upon teamwork, being able to live and work well together is perhaps as important as one’s research skills.

This door is charming yet inconvenient during a middle-of-the-night bathroom run, but esential in case of emergency.

Personal Log

Living on a ship has so many opportunities for adventure!  I mean…going to the head (bathroom) is still an adventure for me!  Walking through two watertight doors to get to the bathroom is an adventure.  Keeping my balance in a rocking shower, a place where I am often most relaxed, is a new adventure.  Being constantly aware of the amount of water I am using so we don’t run out of running water (and knowing everyone else is doing the same) is a reality, and an adventure of sorts.  Not being able to get away from the strangers-who-are-now-family is an adventure.  And there are all the work-related adventures…wrestling with a moray eel against its gaping teeth (which could have infected and killed the muscles in my arm for life) was a foolish adventure (I should have let it get out of the tub and slither away instead of wrestling it), but I successfully made it through to tell about it with no injury.  There are so many adventures.  I am remembering how much I love learning by immersing myself in new experiences.  I really believe the most powerful way to learn about another way of life is to live it.

After being iced for 30 minutes to take data on him, this moray was still fighting but with much less vigor. I threw him off the ship after this photo. He's alive.

Also, I love being in the unique environment of the pelagic ocean, the part of the ocean that is not near land. It is another experience of immersion to be around this environment for a length of time, and really get to live within it. I can feel the changes of the rocking motion of the ship when the seas are rougher, I can see when the clouds spell rain, I know the phase of the moon and the smell of the ocean air.  I know this environment now just as well as I know my own neighborhood.

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2 Replies to “Marian Wagner: Deep in the Work, August 20, 2011”

  1. Dear Marian, Our Grandmother lives in Georgia and they are going to have a hurricane. Are you near the hurricane? That eel is scary!
    Elliot and Ruby (and Beth)

  2. Very cool and informative blog about your experience, Marian. Great photos!
    Fishery stock research is very important work to maintain a sustainable fishing industry, which is already very exploited. Thanks to you and the rest of the team for all the work they do.
    Watch out for the hurricane! Although I’m pretty sure you are in very good hands.
    Ciao, Carlo

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