Alicia Gillean: Introduction, April 29, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alicia Gillean
Soon to be aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 27 — July 8, 2012

Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: Sunday, April 29, 2012

Personal Log

Alicia Gillean
Alicia Gillean, 2012 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Hello from Oklahoma!  My name is Alicia Gillean and I am ecstatic that I was selected as a 2012 NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) Teacher at Sea!  I am passionate about adventure, lifelong learning, and the ocean.  I can’t wait to merge these three passions together for twelve days at sea this summer and to share my learning with all of my students and coworkers back in Oklahoma. I will be blogging about my adventure and learning while aboard the ship and you are invited to follow my journey and get involved by asking questions and posting comments. I’ll start by telling you a little bit about myself, then I’ll fill you in on the details of my Teacher at Sea adventure.

A Bit About Me

When I’m not pursuing adventure on the high seas, I am the school librarian (also known as a library media specialist) at Jenks West Intermediate School, a school of about 600 5th and 6th graders in the Jenks Public Schools District, near Tulsa, Oklahoma.  I might be a bit biased, but I believe that I have the best job in the school and that I work with some of the finest teachers and students in the world.

You are probably wondering, “How did a librarian from Oklahoma become part of an ocean research cruise?”  I’m glad you asked.  It just so happens that this blog entry answers that very question.

I’ll admit it; I was born and raised a landlubber. There just aren’t many opportunities to visit the ocean when you grow up in the Midwest.  Rumor has it that I touched the ocean once when I was about 3, but I didn’t touch it again until I was 21. More on that later.

My passion for the ocean began in high school when I took a Marine Biology class where my mind was blown by the diversity and beauty of life in the sea and the complex network of factors that impact the health of an ocean environment.  I took Marine Biology 2 and 3 the following years where I set up and maintained aquariums in elementary schools and taught ocean-related lessons for elementary students.

Aquarium newspaper photo
Alicia showing a shark jaw to a three year old at the Oklahoma Aquarium

I started to become a little obsessed with marine life, went to college to become a teacher, and did a happy dance when I learned that an aquarium was going to open in Jenks, Oklahoma.  I landed a job as a summer intern in the education department of the Oklahoma Aquarium and was overjoyed to be a part of the team that opened it in 2003.  When I graduated from college, the aquarium hired me as an education specialist, where I worked with learners of all ages to promote our mission of “conservation through education” through classes, camps, fishing clinics, sleepovers, animal interactions, crafts… the list goes on and on. 

In 2006, I became a 6th grade teacher in Jenks Public Schools, then I earned my Masters degree and became the school librarian in 2010.  I love to work with all the kiddos in my school as they learn to develop as thinkers, scientists, and citizens who have the power to impact the world.  They are just the kind of advocates that the environment needs and I want to help prepare them for this important role any way possible.  My experiences as a Teacher at Sea will certainly help!

Let’s go back to my actual experiences with the ocean for a moment.  After graduating from college and marrying my high school sweetheart David, I hightailed it to an ocean as fast as possible.  We honeymooned in Hawaii where we snorkeled, explored tidepools, went on a whale watch, and temporarily filled the ocean-shaped void in my heart.

Alicia in ocean
Alicia on a Maui Beach

I’ve been back to the ocean several times and each time I am reminded of the delicate balance that must be maintained for the fascinating world under the waves to survive and thrive.  It is critical we protect the oceans and that people realize that their actions impact the oceans.  Even in the landlocked state of Oklahoma, our actions matter.

So, that’s why a school librarian from Oklahoma will spend the summer of 2012 on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, counting sea scallops.  I can hardly wait for the adventure to begin!  Enough about me, let’s talk about the research cruise now.

Science and Technology Log

I’ll be participating in a sea scallop survey in the Atlantic Ocean, along the northeast coast of the United States, from Delaware to Massachusetts.  My adventure at sea will begin June 27, 2012 and end July 8, 2012.

What is a sea scallop?

A sea scallop is an animal that is in the same category as clams, oysters, and mussels. One way that sea scallops are different from other animals with two shells (bivalves) is that a sea scallop can move itself through the water by opening and closing its shells quickly.  How do you think this adaptation might help the sea scallop?  Watch these videos to see a sea scallop in action:


Importance of  Sea Scallops/Sea Scallop Survey

People like to eat scallops, so fishermen drag heavy-duty nets along the ocean floor (called dredging) to collect and sell them.  Most of them are harvested in the Atlantic Ocean along the northeastern coast of the United States. The United States sea scallop fishery is very important for the economy.

Sea Scallop Habitats
Map of sea scallop habitats from NOAA’s

The problem is that sometimes people can harvest too many scallops and the sea scallops can’t reproduce quickly enough before they are harvested again.  Eventually, this could lead to the depletion of the sea scallop population, which would be bad news for the ocean and for people.

This is where the NOAA Sea Scallop Survey comes in.  Every year, NOAA sends scientists out in a ship to count the number of Atlantic sea scallops (Placopecten magellanicus) in various parts of their habitat.  The sea scallops live in groups called beds on the ocean floor 100-300 feet deep, so scientists can’t just peer into the ocean and count them.  Instead, they have to dredge, just like the fisherman, to collect samples of scallops in numerous places.  The scientists record data about the number, size, and weight of sea scallops and other animals. Based on the data collected, decisions are made about what areas are okay for people to harvest scallops in and what areas need a break from harvesting for a while.  I’m considered a scientist on this cruise, so I’ll get to participate in this for 12 hours a day.  I hear it is messy, smelly, tiring, and fascinating.  Sounds like my type of adventure!  I think most good science is messy, don’t you?

The Ship

I’ll be sailing on the research vessel Hugh R Sharp. You can take a virtual tour of the ship here.  It was built in 2006, is 146 feet long (a little bit shorter than the width of a football field), and is used for lots of different scientific research expeditions. When I’m out at sea, you can see where I am on the journey and track the ship here.

RV Hugh R. Sharp
R/V Hugh R. Sharp; photo from NOAA Eastern Surveys Branch

What I hope to Learn

I’m very interested to experience what daily life is like on an ocean research vessel, how scientists use inquiry, data-collection, math, and other skills that we teach our students in a real-world setting.  Of course, I’m also hoping to see some fascinating ocean critters and get my hands dirty doing the work of a real scientist.

I’d love for you to join me on this adventure by following this blog and leaving your thoughts and questions in the comment section at the bottom of each blog entry.  Let’s make this a learning experience that we will all remember!

Lesley Urasky: Tropical Waters and New Discoveries!

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – June 26, 2012

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: April 30, 2012

Personal Log

Hello, everyone!  Greetings from Sinclair, Wyoming!  My name is Lesley Urasky, and I am a science teacher at Rawlins High School in Rawlins, Wyoming.  I’m currently teaching Geology/Astronomy, Principles of Biomedical Sciences, and Physical Science.  This upcoming year will be my eighth  at RHS, and my fifteenth year as a science teacher.  I began my teaching career at the Science Academy of South Texas in Mercedes, Texas;  SciTech is a science and engineering magnet school.

My love of exploring Earth’s natural wonders began at a very early age.  My parents took me to the mountains when I was only a few weeks old and were very instrumental in making sure I was able to explore through amazing family trips all over the United States.  I attribute my travel bug to my mother, who just “wants to go!”

A few years ago, I realized that there was an entirely amazing opportunity for teachers to travel to the far reaches of the world and bring these experiences back to their students. Teacher Research Experiences (TREs)  are designed to allow teachers to accompany research teams and share the amazing science being conducted to help understand how the Earth and its processes work.  TREs have been demonstrated to be highly effective programs (Silverstein, S.C., Dubner, J., Miller, J., Glied, S., & Loike, J.D. (2009). Teachers’ Participation in Research Programs Improves Their Students’ Achievement in Science. Science, 440-442.)

I first discovered these opportunities through a program called PolarTREC.  As a PolarTREC teacher I accompanied a team of scientists to Antarctica where we spent five weeks camped in the Central Transantarctic Mountains along the Beardmore Glacier.

Tasting Ancient Ice
Here I am tasting ice from the Last Glacial Maximum (last ice age). The ice is about 15,000-18,000 years old.

Now, I have the unique opportunity to bring a completely different region and type of science to students — I’ll be participating in another chance of a lifetime — sailing on the NOAA Ship Pisces!  I’ll be aboard the ship for Leg 2 of the Caribbean Reef Fish Survey.   Having been to the polar regions and seen first hand the changes occurring there, I feel it is extremely important to show how our changing climate is having an impact on the world’s oceans.  I’m excited to be able to participate in the reef fish survey (this is similar to what we’ll be doing, but in a different region) to learn about the health of reefs and their associated fauna.  I’m hoping to be able to make connections between the science I learn on the cruise with global changes.

NOAA Ship Pisces
NOAA Ship Pisces

To see a short video of what I may be doing on my cruise, see  the following video by NOAA’s Ocean Today.  

Kristy Weaver: Ms. Weaver Goes to Sea

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristy Weaver
Aboard R/V Savannah
May 23 – 31, 2012

Hello from Hillside, New Jersey! First, for any out-of-state readers, allow me to say that despite what you may have seen on “reality” television about this beautiful state, we do not all tease our hair and have VIP memberships to tanning salons.  (Okay, so I may tease it a little, but only for special occasions!  Yes, this is my attempt at humor; bear with me.)  All kidding aside,  thank you for visiting.  I am excited to tell you about the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program!

Perhaps I should introduce myself before I start making corny jokes.  I am Kristy Weaver and I am happy to say I have been a first grade teacher here at The A. P. Morris Early Childhood Center for the past 12 years.  Our building is home to every pre-k, kindergarten, and first grade classroom in the district, and we  are currently a community of 668 students.

Hillside is part of the Partnership for Systemic Change which is a collaboration between the Merck Institute for Science Education (MISE) and six other urban or semi-urban school districts.  Through this partnership I have been a part of the Academy for Leadership in Science Instruction, which is an intensive staff development series that takes place over the course of three years.  I have also been a Peer Teacher Workshop facilitator and have had the opportunity to discuss effective science instruction at length with my fellow science teachers and professionals from MISE and partner districts.

Here is a little video trailer my class helped make to tell everyone about my trip.  See if you can spot the cameo appearance from our beloved class pet, Jerry.  My students had the responsibility of casting him in this role and are all super excited that Jerry will now be “famous.”

The purpose of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program is to provide teachers with real life experiences with scientific research and for us to then share that knowledge with the community upon our return.  This will strengthen my own content knowledge and expose our students to scientific research and science careers while increasing environmental awareness.  I am passionate about the pedagogy behind effective science instruction and while I hope that this experience will be shared with many classes, it will definitely be utilized to its fullest potential in my district.  This opportunity already inspired an impromptu math lesson when I showed my class my ship,  the R/V Savannah.  In order to grasp how big the 92 foot vessel is, we used 60 inch measuring tapes and counted by fives until we got to 90 feet.  Then we estimated two feet to help us get a sense of the size of the R/V Savannah.

This is my class, 92 feet down the hall! Wow! The R/V Savannah is larger than we thought!

I love being a teacher, and it is definitely where my passion lies.   However,  when I was a child I never  felt that being a scientist was an option for me because I didn’t know where to begin.  I had an innate curiosity about the water, but didn’t know that I could have built a career around it.   It’s my job to make sure that my students are afforded every opportunity, know that their dreams are within their reach,  and feel as if the world is at their fingertips- because it is!

How Did I Hear About Teacher at Sea?

Two years ago I attended the National Science Teachers Association Convention in Philadelphia, PA.  One of the booths at the exhibition center was for NOAA‘s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Teacher at Sea Program.  It was fascinating to talk with teachers who had gone out to sea with NOAA in the past, and I immediately knew it was something I would pursue.  My whole life I had lived vicariously through scientists on various nature shows, and I was thrilled to learn that I even had the possibility to experience something like this first hand.

What the Research Says

So how is this going to help first graders?  In 2011 Microsoft Corp. commissioned two national surveys with Harris Interactive for parent and student opinions on how to motivate the next generation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professionals.

For most, the decision to study STEM started before college.

  • Nearly four in five STEM college students said they decided to study STEM in high school or earlier (78 percent). One in five (21 percent) decided in middle school or earlier.
  • More than half (57 percent) of STEM college students said that before going to college, a teacher or class got them interested in STEM.

This gives me, a first grade teacher, the opportunity to plant the seed early and expose children to STEM careers before they even reach the second grade.  If I can motivate just one child with this experience, or prove to them that they too should chase their dreams, then any amount of seasickness will be worthwhile.

Speaking of Motivation…Here is Mine:

Barnegat Lighthouse
“Old Barney”
Long Beach Island, NJ
Photo by Captain Al Kuebler

I have always been fascinated by the ocean and how something could be equally tranquil and ferocious.  As a child I never “sat still” and my boundless energy had me bouncing from one activity to the next with less than a heart beat in-between.  Yet, even as early as three years old, I can remember sitting on my grandfather’s lap in Long Beach Island and just staring out at the water for what seemed like hours.  In retrospect it may have only been 15 minutes, but regardless, just looking at the ocean had me calm, captivated, and thoroughly entertained in the silence of my own thoughts.

Feeding Sea Turtles at the Camden Aquarium

When I was young I always loved the underwater pieces in my parents’ National Geographic magazines, but it never crossed my mind that I could someday be a diver.  When I grew up a little I decided that it was something I would definitely do “someday.”  I finally realized that someday never comes unless you make your “someday” today.  I became a certified diver three years ago, and up until this point, it is one of the best things I have ever done.  As an adult, I have always watched nature shows, but never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I would someday have the opportunity to experience something like Teacher at Sea.  I think this helps send an important message to my students: You should always  go out and experience everything you want in life.  I did a shipwreck dive to 109 feet, have fed sea turtles, swam with sharks, flew a helicopter, , and have been on a trapeze in two different countries.  Yet somehow, I have a feeling that all of these things will pale in comparison to the adventure I am about to have.

Me at the Saltwater Marsh in Stone Harbor, NJ
Photo by Myron Weaver- Hi Dad 🙂

So What’s Next?

I am getting ready to head out to sea and my students and I are so excited.  The next time I write I will most likely be somewhere near Savannah, GA where I will be setting sail on the R/V Savannah for an 8 day reef fish survey.  While the first grade students are my target audience for my blogs while I am at sea, I encourage people of all ages to follow me along my journey.  I hope that everyone will be able to get something out of it, and that secondary teachers will be able to use this experience as a starting point for some of their lessons as well.

Please feel free to post your comments or questions, and I will do my best to bring back the information you are most curious about!

Maria Madrigal: Thank you for the Journey, April 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Maria Madrigal

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

April 2-18, 2012

Mission: Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods

Geographical area of cruise: Tutuila, American Samoa

Personal Log: April 20, 2012

As I sit at the airport eating my peanut m&ms, it reinforced the bitter sweetness of today. On Thursday, I could still feel the swaying of the boat as I woke up. The day seemed to go fast and slow at the same time. I finished packing my bags, did some final clean up of our stateroom and helped with minor cleaning around the ship and with the scientific equipment. I even got called to the bridge. As Officer Ellis made the announcement over the ship’s PA system (with great enunciation of my last name by the way); it made me feel like I was being called to the principal’s office. Thankfully I wasn’t in any trouble, the NOAA Corps officers were only honoring one of my wishes of taking a group photograph of them.

Soon enough, the good-byes began. While most of the staff will see and work with each other again on different missions, different ships or even in the same office, I was saying good-bye knowing in the back of my mind that I may never see any of these people again. Everyone on the ship was so welcoming and very generous with their time. Everyone involved made my journey a great one. I was intrigued by their career paths and now have plenty of information to share with my corpsmembers. Regrettably, I may not see them again but they will definitely receive e-mails from me, as my work is not done.

While I am happy to be home, I feel like a student on the cusp of graduation, wishing I could’ve done more and wondering whether I did enough. I look forward to creating a summary of my experience and developing two lesson plans in the next few months. I want to express my gratitude to everyone involved in making this opportunity come to fruition including all the NOAA Teacher at Sea staff, everyone on the ship and my co-workers for picking up the slack while I have been away.

Thank you for the journey!

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Sue Oltman: Mrs. Oltman Prepares to Set Sail!

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Oltman
Aboard R/V Melville
May 22 – June 6, 2012

Hi everyone! I’m a 6th grade science teacher in Georgia getting ready for an exciting time of learning and exploration – in a hemisphere I’ve never visited! I hope you’ll visit and comment on this blog often.

Originally, I’m from New York, but I have been in Atlanta since attending college at Georgia Tech. Before I was a teacher, I was an engineer, but I’ve always wanted to be a scientist!

A self portrait when I was 6 years old!

For 5 years, I’ve been thinking about applying to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program and am so honored to have been selected.  The ocean has always been a fascinating place to me – the waves, the sand, the shells, the life, the vastness. I’m a scuba diver and love boating. Many vacations have brought me to the ocean, but this time, my visit is not for leisure but joining in important research.

The research is about predicting climate change by observing ocean and lower atmosphere interactions. There is a lot I have to learn about this topic, and I hope to share as much as possible in future blogs. One new fact I learned when reading up on NOAA’s climate program, is that there are ocean floor features which can increase upwelling, which in turn decreases surface temperatures. On our cruise, the Melville will sail near some tectonically active areas – and that means the ocean floor may be changing, even as I sail above it!

I’ve memotioned I will visit the southern hemisphere: the Melville  sets sail from the port of Valparaiso, Chile and my next post will likely be from there! I need to pack for potentially cold weather, even as my students get ready for summer vacation. Can you help me decide what hat to wear?

Maria Madrigal: Highlighting the NOAA Corps, April 18, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Maria Madrigal

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

April 2-18, 2012

Mission: Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods

Geographical area of cruise: Tutuila, American Samoa

Science & Technology Log: April 18, 2012

One of the first individuals I met when I came on-board the Oscar Elton Sette was Operations Officer, Justin Keesee. Not only was he friendly but he also looked like he knew what he was doing. So, who is he and what does he do?

Lieutenant Justin Keesee
Lieutenant Justin Keesee

The NOAA research vessels are operated by commissioned officers that are part of the NOAA Corps. The NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States and is administered by the Department of Commerce. The other uniformed services are the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. “NOAA Officers can be found operating one of NOAA’s 19 ships or 12 aircraft to provide support to meet NOAA’s missions.”

Justin’s knowledge of the NOAA Corps didn’t come until after a few years of experience working in Alaska where he was a fisheries observer collecting data on Pollock and Pacific Cod. Periodically, he would travel back to NOAA’s Western Regional Center’s Sand Point Facility in Seattle, Washington for debriefing meetings with a FMA (Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis) staff member and thoroughly reviewing the data collected. He worked as an observer over the span of five years.

He learned about the NOAA Corps when he reconnected with a college friend that joined the NOAA Corps right after earning his undergraduate degree. Having a degree within the major fields of study “that align with NOAA’s scientific and technological activities” is one of the educational requirements to apply to the NOAA Corps. Justin studied marine biology and earned his degree from the Florida Institute of Technology. His interest in science and the appeal of working for a government agency drove his decision to apply.

Lt Justin Keesee on watch
Lt Justin Keesee on watch

He confided that he was more interested in the science aspect of the job and he didn’t really know what he was getting into until he began his basic training. He described it as an intensive course in piloting a ship; the training ranged from learning navigational rules to mastering his knot tying skills. After completing basic training, officers are assigned to a NOAA ship for three years and then are appointed to a shore assignment for two years, which varies from working in a laboratory to doing administrative work. Officers are then on a continual rotation between ship and shore assignments. NOAA Corps officers are eligible for all military benefits including the new GI bill which delivers military education benefits to not only veterans but also active duty personnel. Keesee is taking advantage of this opportunity and working towards earning a master’s degree in business administration from his undergraduate alma mater.

Officer Keesee was first assigned to the NOAA ship Oregon II  based out of Pascagoula, Mississipi.  Before arriving on the Oscar Elton Sette, he also completed his first shore assignment at the Panama City Lab which is one of the five laboratories that conducts research as part of the Southeast Fisheries Science Centers. He currently serves as the Operations Officer, which means he is responsible for communicating with the scientific staff and the ship’s crew to ensure all needs are met and procedures are carried out safely. He has two four-hour shifts on the bridge as the officer on watch. The bridge is basically the control room that has a clear view of the ship’s path and holds all the necessary equipment to safely navigate the ship including nautical charts and various radar screens. During this watch time, he is responsible for the overall safe navigation of the ship ensuring that the ship is maintaining a safe distance from other vessels, tracking any weather patterns, maintaining communication with any small boats that may be out on the water, and ensuring any scientific equipment isn’t damaged by other boats. One perk of his job, is that he has a great view from his office.

When asked “if you you only knew then, what you know now what advice would you give yourself” his response was “to relax a little and enjoy my time with NOAA.” He further explained that he sometimes takes things too seriously but it is only because he wants to do a great job. He communicates well with the scientific staff and holds the respect of the ship’s crew. I’m only a visitor on this ship but it is evident that Officer Keesee has a great work ethic and represents the caliber of the personnel that comprise the NOAA Corps.

NOAA Corps Officers
NOAA Corps Officers

There were a total of five NOAA Corps officers aboard the Oscar Elton Sette during the research cruise. The ship normally has four officers but due to the busy workload associated with the comparison study, LCDR Colin Little was added to the ship’s crew.

NOAA Corps Officers
NOAA Corps Officers, (Pictured from left to right): Lieutenant Commander Kurt Dreflak, Lieutenant Justin Keesee, Ensign Daniel Langis, Lieutenant Commander Colin Little & Chief Mate Richard Patana (front) Ensign Justin Ellis

Maria Madrigal: The Silliness of Science: April 10, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Maria Madrigal

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

April 2-18, 2012

Mission: Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods

Geographical area of cruise: Tutuila, American Samoa

Science & Technology Log: April 10, 2012

Whoever said science isn’t fun, didn’t spend a day with the BRUVS team made up of James Barlow, Jacob Asher and Marie Ferguson. Ben Saunders, Louise Giuseffi and Mills Dunlap make up the other equally charismatic BRUVS team. Every day the two teams depart from the NOAA research vessel, Oscar Elton Sette, onto the small boats to their predetermined locations to deploy the stereo-BRUVS (Baited Remote Underwater Video Stations). They deal with heat, humidity, rain, waves, currents and anything else you can imagine, even large floating debris. One would think that by the fifth or sixth consecutive day that they may be a little crabby, but on the contrary, their spirits are kept high with a little silliness that keeps their job from becoming grueling and monotonous.

BRUVS Data Sheet
Data Sheet of Science

I quickly learned the carefree attitude of the team as the term “no splashy” was used between James and Jacob to communicate with each other as Jacob carefully prepared the cameras “of science” and James positioned the boat at the site. This light-hearted repartee continued throughout the day.  Any tool used from the clipboard to the pencil was followed by the singsong term “of science.” On my first day out on the water, I became familiar with completing the data sheet “of science.” The data sheet “of science” keeps track of many important details including the site number, site location with GPS coordinates, depth, memory card identification number, time of deployment and time of retrieval just to name a few.  I also assisted with the stick “of science,” which is the baited arm that is attached to the BRUVS frame before being deployed and removed after retrieval. Amidst all the banter, safety and accuracy were always a priority.

Preparing the BRUVS camera
Preparing the BRUVS camera

On my second day out with the team, Marie thoroughly reviewed all the procedures with me from data tracking to preparing the cameras and the tricks of the trade for safely lowering and recovering the BRUVS. Reviewing video footage with them was exciting, as you never know what the cameras may capture. It was also entertaining as they add commentary; some may say they are just delirious from being in the sun all day. Delirium? Silliness? Call it what you want, it is still informative. Working with these intriguing individuals reminds me that science is alive and exciting. They not only shared their experience and knowledge but also involved me in the process.

Being out on the water, regardless of the weather conditions, was a treat for me. The day was filled with beautiful coral reefs visible through crystal clear blue waters, flying fish soaring above the water, turtles swimming and diving; it evoked the excitement of the child within me. The best thing is realizing you were learning and you were having fun. Learning that is guided by curiosity and the joy of discovery; this is the type of learning environment that I want to facilitate for the students that visit the SEA Lab and for my corpsmembers who are just embarking on their careers.

Meet the BRUVS team members!

BRUVS Team on SE-4
BRUVS Team: Ben Saunders, Mills Dunlap and Louise Guiseffe


Title: Research Associate

Organization: University of Western Australia

Education: Bachelor of Science in Marine & Freshwater Biology from University of Wales at Aberystwyth, PhD in Marine Ecology from University of Western Australia.

Duties: Manages a team of technicians that sample and analyze video footage.

When you were little what did you want to grow up to be? Fireman/Paleontologist/Marine Biologist

If you only knew then what you know now, what advice would you give yourself? Believe in yourself and others will believe in you, too.

Favorite thing about his job: Going to interesting and exotic places.


Title: Biological Technician

Organization: Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center

Education: Bachelor of Science in Biology from University of Hawaii at Manoa, Graduate Certificate in Ocean Policy from University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Duties: Create maps using fish data summaries and help with preparation for research cruises.

When you were little what did you want to grow up to be? Paleontologist

If you only knew then what you know now, what advice would you give yourself? Dream big. If you want something and you work at it, it will come your way.

Favorite thing about her job: Being out on the field and in the water.


Title: Skilled Fisherman

Organization: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Education: Associate in Applied Science in Marine Technology from Cape Fear Community College.

Duties: Assist with operations. Help scientists collect the data they need. Tasks vary from fishing to operating small boats.

When you were little what did you want to grow up to be? It changed all the time. Didn’t have one specific career in mind. He does remember wanting to be a pilot and an explorer.

If you only knew then what you know now, what advice would you give yourself? See the world. Travel more at an earlier age.

Favorite thing about his job: Fishing and getting paid to see the world.

BRUVS Team on SE-6
BRUVS Team: James Barlow, Marie Ferguson and Jacob Asher


Title: Biological Science Technician

Organization: Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC)

Education: Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from University of California at Santa Cruz.

Duties: Teaches day-to-day boat and safety program for PIFSC.

When you were little what did you want to grow up to be? I didn’t have a specific career in mind but was always interested in water activities. It wasn’t until he volunteered at UC Davis’ Bodega Marine Laboratory that he became focused on Marine Biology.

If you only knew then what you know now, what advice would you give yourself? When working with people on a daily basis or out on the field, know that there are a lot of things that come up that are not about you.

Favorite thing about his job: Having a successful boating operation program and working with really good people.


Title: Marine Ecosystem Research Specialist

Organization: Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research

Education: Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Science from University of California at Santa Barbara.

Duties: She is a CRED (Coral Reef Ecosystems Division) research diver whom conducts fish REA and towed-diver surveys as well as benthic-towed diver surveys. She additionally assists the Benthic Habitat Mapping and Characterization team.

When you were little, what did you want to go grow up to be? Marine Biologist.

Favorite thing about her job: Diving and seeing all the different marine habitats.

If you only knew then what you know now, what advice would you give yourself?  Set yourself up for success. Take advantage of any opportunity that may arise and try different things. If you are trying to figure out a career and field of profession, participate in internship programs even if you don’t know exactly what it is that you want to do (they’ll help you get some preliminary experience). And take the time to travel and see the world…it will open your eyes and broaden your perspective.


Title: Marine Ecosystem Research Supervisor

Organization: Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research

Education: Bachelor of Science in Biology from University of Michigan, Master of Science in Coastal Environmental Management from Duke University and will be pursuing PhD with the University of Western Australia.

Duties: He analyzes data, write grants and serves as a science liaison for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Marine Debris Program. He is also a diver and part of the Benthic Habitat Mapping and Characterization team.

When you were little, what did you want to go grow up to be? Marine Biologist.

If you only knew then what you know now, what advice would you give yourself?  Have fun but stay focused. Life is short. Figure out what you want to do and go after it. Success doesn’t come by luck; it comes if you really work for it. If you are going to do it, don’t do it half-way do it all the way.

Favorite thing about his job: It marries everything he loved when he was a kid; surfing, swimming, diving, etc.

Maria Madrigal: Understanding the Sampling Methods: April 4, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Maria Madrigal

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

April 2-18, 2012

Mission: Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods

Geographical area of cruise: Tutuila, American Samoa

Science & Technology Log: April 4, 2012

The goal of the study is to get a better picture of the coral reef fish assemblage using three different sampling methods. Two NOAA research vessels based in Honolulu, Hawaii (Oscar Elton Sette and Hi’ialakai) are working concurrently to assess coral reef fish assemblages around the island of Tutuila in American Samoa.

Three observational methods will be used to assess these reef fish assemblages; stationary point count divers (SPC), baited remote underwater video stations (BRUVS) and an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV).

In the shallower areas being sampled (0 – 30 meters), all three survey methods will be used. In the areas ranging from 30-100 meters, only the BRUVS and AUV systems will be used as the divers can not reach these depths. This study will allow for a comparison among all three methods in the shallow-water depth range. The use of the BRUVS and AUV in the 30-100 m depths will also allow comparisons to be made between the shallow and deeper portions of the reef ecosystem to see if the patterns apparent in the shallow areas are similar to or different than those found in deeper waters.

SE12-02 Tutuila Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods for Coral Reef Fish
SE12-02 Tutuila Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods for Coral Reef Fish

The Hi’ialakai will be the base for the SPC (Stationary Point Count) divers.  Teams of two divers will work side-by-side sampling across a 30-meter transect. One diver is centered at the 7.5 meter mark and the other diver is centered at the 22.5 meter mark. Each diver samples a cylinder with a radius of 7.5 meters. Each diver spends the first five minutes noting the fish species present within their cylinder. After noting what fish species are present, the diver keeps a tally of how many representatives of each species are within their cylinder. Divers must work systematically to record additional data including total fish length and habitat type.  For a more detailed description of the SPC method, you may read the procedure as provided by PIFSC.

The Oscar Elton Sette will be the base for the BRUVS (Baited Remote Underwater Video Stations) and the AUV(Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) operations.

BRUVS are deployed from small boats at predetermined locations previously sampled by the SPC divers. They are placed on the seafloor and are equipped with two cameras that allow for accurate measurement of the fish that come into view. The BRUVS are deployed at each site for 20-minutes without bait and again for 60-minutes either with or without bait. The video can be instantly reviewed to ensure successful recording at each site. Captured video is reviewed and analyzed at a later date. Final video processing and data analysis will take place once the scientists return to the lab.

The AUV, named Lucille, is designed to hover 2-4 meters above the seafloor. It is programmed to navigate a predetermined survey track before it is deployed. It is equipped with a pair of forward-looking stereo-video cameras, two still-image cameras, a CTD (Conductivity-Temperature-Depth) sensor and a SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging) unit. It can dive down to 1,500 meters and can go on missions that last up to eight hours. It is programmed to come back to the ocean’s surface at the end of its mission.  The video and still photographs are later reviewed and analyzed. All the data collected by the AUV allows scientists to get a better picture of the ocean floor, what lives there and how many organisms are living within that community.

Comparison of Survey Methods
Comparison of Survey Methods

Maria Madrigal: Meet the Scientists: April 1, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Maria Madrigal

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

April 2-18, 2012

Mission: Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods

Geographical area of cruise: Tutuila, American Samoa

Science & Technology Log: April 4, 2012

What do you picture when you think of a scientist? Do you imagine a lone individual working in a sterile laboratory,  dressed in a crisp white lab coat? The team of scientists involved in this project are far from that image. What does it take to be a scientist when your laboratory is beneath the ocean waves? Here are some brief bios of the scientists working on the comparative sampling method project to assess the populations of the shallow and deepwater coral reef fishes.

Meet the AUV Scientists

Meet the AUV Team! You’ll notice there is an animal next to each scientist. Each team member was asked to provide an animal that is part of the coral reef ecosystem that best represents who they are or how they contribute to the team.


Rock Mover Wrasse
Rock Mover Wrasse

Coral Reef Representative:

It is solitary and lives in semi exposed reef flats or lagoons. As juveniles, they resemble drifting pieces of algae not only in appearance but also in movement. Adults are wary and will dive into the sand if pursued. They have strong powerful jaws that allow them to turn over rocks in search of prey. Ben described them as little engineers that move and build things. Essentially, they get things done much like a chief scientist must do to successfully complete his/her mission.

Organization: Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC)

 Job Title: Research Fisheries Biologist

 Education: Bachelor of Arts in Marine Ecology & Photography from Hampshire College, Master of Science in Coral Reef Ecology from University of Hawaii at Manoa, PhD in Ecology & Zoogeography of Large Bodied Fishes from University of Hawaii at Manoa.

 Main Duties on this project: Experiment design and coordination of logistics and field operations in conjunction with Co-Chief Scientist.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? Explorer like Jacques Cousteau

If I only knew then what I know now, I would tell myself…Experience new cultures. Start traveling internationally at an earlier age.

Favorite thing about his job: Going to sea. Exploring new places. Coming up with interesting questions and figuring out the answers.



Coral Reef Representative:

John likes the octopus because it is versatile, clever, and always seems to have a Plan B and Plan C. If you catch one it will wriggle like crazy. If that doesn’t work, it’ll start crawling across your face or squirt ink and swim away. If you put a fish in an aquarium it stays. An octopus will crawl out. Ok… so maybe that’s not necessarily the smartest thing under the circumstances, but John admires the attitude.

Organization: Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR)

Job Title: Benthic Habitat Characterization Ecologist

Education: Bachelor of Science in Geology from Tulane University, Master of Science in Biological Oceanography from University of Hawaii, PhD in Coastal Geology from University of Hawaii.

Main Duties on this project: Helps with any tasks on deck including the launching and retrieval of the AUV. He is also part of the decision making process in setting mission priorities.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? Spy or Archeologist

If I only knew then what I know now, I would tell myself…Pursue what you are most passionate about and worry less on whether you can get a job doing it later.

Favorite thing about his job: He likes the trips, the diving and the people. One of his favorite projects involved researching more technical SCUBA diving techniques to be able to do deeper dives.


Yellow Boxfish
Yellow Boxfish

Coral Reef Representative:

Boxfishes do not have scales but rather have fused bony plates that give them their box-like appearance. They are slow swimmers and hover around the coral reef which gives them a “quirky” appearance which is how Liz describes herself. When it comes to science, being “quirky” or different is a good characteristic to possess. Scientists need to be able to think or see things differently. Quirkiness is ingenuity at its best.

Organization: Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC)

Job Title: Senior Scientist/Supervisory Research Fish Biologist

Education: Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences from University of California at Irvine, Master of Science in Fisheries Biology from University of Alaska at Fairbanks, PhD in Marine Biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Main Duties on this project: She originally created the  AUV team for the NWFSC. Currently, the NWFSC and the PIFSC jointly operate the AUV and support each other’s research missions.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? Nancy Drew

If I only knew then what I know now, I would tell myself… Aim higher. She realized she had low expectations for herself. She also would say to take a step back and take the time to explore what you are passionate about doing in life. Allow yourself the latitude to investigate what that passion is even if it slows you down for a little bit. You’ll find your pathway.

Favorite thing about her job: Going out to sea.


Chromodoris fidelis

Coral Reef Representative:

Nudibranchs are some of the most beautiful molluscs. Their bright coloration actually serves as a warning to its predators that they are toxic or distasteful. They lead secretive lives under and amongst the coral reefs. Jeremy likes that they are not the most common thing that people will look for in a coral reef. They are like diamonds in the rough. This relates to the hidden mastery that comes when writing the “script” (the driving instructions written in code) for the AUV.

Organization: Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR)

Job Title: Mapping Specialist

Education: Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from Cornell University with a double minor in Computer Science and Life Sciences

Main Duties on this project: Write the scripts to process the AUV data.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? Marine Biologist

If I only knew then what I know now, I would tell myself…Computer Science is the way to go.

Favorite thing about his job: He is constantly learning.


Black Triggerfish
Black Triggerfish

Coral Reef Representative:

Trigger fish get their name from their ability to lock their dorsal spine into position and “trigger” an adjacent spine. They have strong powerful jaws that allow them to squirt jets of water at sea urchins. They work tenaciously until they flip the sea urchin and expose its softer side. This tenacity reflects Erica’s work ethic. They also show parental care which demonstrates Erica’s caring nature as she has made me feel welcome right from the start of this journey.

Organization: Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC)

Job Title: Research Fisheries Biologist

Education: Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from Auburn University, Master of Science in Marine Resource Management with a focus on Commercial Fisheries from Oregon State University.

Main Duties on this project: To run and maintain vehicle.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? Dolphin Trainer at Sea World

If I only knew then what I know now, I would tell myself…Keep doing what you want to do. You can make a career with what you like. You don’t have to sit at a desk. There are lots of jobs that have outside components.

Favorite thing about her job: There is always something new everyday; different places and animals. You never know what may be coming up next.



Coral Reef Representative:

Curt chose the cuttlefish because he has always been impressed by their cryptic ability and voracious appetite. Its prey is paralyzed by poisonous saliva or crushed by the strong beak. Cuttlefish along with the other familiar cephalopods like the squid and octopus (head-footed molluscs) are believed to be the smartest invertebrates. It has a large brain that can process lots of information that aids in its speedy escape response and predatory tactics. Just like the cuttlefish, Curt has the ability to interpret plenty of data collected by the AUV.

Organization: Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC)

Job Title: Information Technology Specialist

Education: Bachelor of Science in Biology from Arizona State University, Master of Science in Marine Resource Management from Oregon State University and double minor in Fisheries & Wildlife and Earth Information Science & Technology (GIS)

Main Duties on this project: Technical support for the AUV

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? Fighter Pilot

If I only knew then what I know now, I would tell myself…Travel more

Favorite thing about his job: The variety and diversity of the projects that are assigned to him.


Yellowfin Tuna
Yellowfin Tuna

Coral Reef Representative:

Its body is designed for speed. It is a schooling fish and is frequently seen with other species of fish but also associates with dolphins. Allen’s father, Bell Shimada, made a distinctive mark in the study of Pacific tropical tuna stocks.  Allen chose the Tuna because he likes looking at the bigger picture. It is something he must do as his work is to represent and work with all six fisheries science centers.

Organization: NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service

Job Title: Fisheries Biologist (Management)

Education: Bachelor of Science in Biology from Northwestern University, Bachelor of Science in Fisheries from University of Washington, Master of Science in Marine Policy from University of Washington.

Main Duties on this project: Observational. He helps all six fisheries science centers get the resources they need to conduct their projects.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? Marine Biologist

If I only knew then what I know now, I would tell myself…Go straight to University of Washington and begin with fisheries

Favorite thing about his job: Going out to sea.

Maria Madrigal: My Teacher at Sea Adventure: March 31, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Maria Madrigal

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

April 2-16, 2012

Mission: Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods

Geographical area of cruise: Tutuila, American Samoa

Personal Log: March 31, 2012

Maria Madrigal, Teacher at Sea on Oscar Elton Sette
Maria Madrigal, Teacher at Sea on Oscar Elton Sette

My name is Maria Madrigal and I am one of the lucky few to be selected as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I am not a classroom teacher, and I have to admit that I stumbled upon my career. I actually graduated with a degree in Studio Arts. What was I going to do with an art degree? Good question.  I didn’t know myself.  So, I began a search for different AmeriCorps programs where I could gain some work experience.

Luckily, I found the SEA Lab. The SEA Lab is a small aquarium located in Redondo Beach managed by the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. My days were spent sharing “cool” and “interesting” facts about the marine animals housed at our facility.  The animals were our ambassadors as we relayed the importance of taking care of our environment to students throughout the Los Angeles area.  However, my teaching was lacking in that I had never explored the marine environment beyond the shoreline.

How can you truly relay the beauty and importance of a kelp forest if you have never explored it? I wanted to experience for myself what it would be like to swim through a kelp forest. It was then that I decided I would face my fears and learn how to swim. That’s right, I didn’t know how to swim but I wasn’t going to let that be an obstacle.

I took some swim lessons and a few months later with my heart racing I dove into the cold waters off Santa Cruz Island. It was a life-changing experience. Naturally, my teaching became greater from my personal experience. The excitement I used to teach was genuine and informed.  Being accepted into NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program is providing me with a similar experience. A teacher’s experience can truly enrich the learning of his/her students whether it is in a classroom setting or outdoors.

It is with that same mentality that I embark on this new adventure.

I am traveling to American Samoa where I will join a team of scientists aboard NOAA’s research vessel, the Oscar Elton Sette. I will be working alongside scientists that are assessing the fish populations that inhabit the shallow and deepwater coral reef environments around the island of Tutuila. The project is being lead by the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC)  which is one of the six regional science centers of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  Also aboard are scientists from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the University of Western Australia. Their work is basically to assess fish populations to ensure sustainable fisheries. The study will involve two of NOAA’s Hawaii-based research vessels , the Oscar Elton Sette and the Hi’ialakai.

It will undoubtedly be an enriching experience.  It will provide me with first-hand knowledge of current research that will help me develop new educational activities at the SEA Lab. I also look forward to gaining some insight on career paths to properly guide my current and future corpsmembers.

It has been twelve years since I started working at the SEA Lab. I am currently the Program Manager and my managerial responsibilities typically keep me behind a desk or sitting in traffic, so I’m thrilled to immerse myself again and explore what is beyond the shoreline. I hope you join me along the way. You can track the ship’s journey using NOAA’s ship tracker.

If you want to learn more about the overall mission plan, head over to the mission overview page. There’s one for the Oscar Elton Sette ( and another for the Hi’ialakai (