NOAA Teacher at Sea
Soon to be Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6 – 19, 2012
Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of Florida
Date: June 5, 2012
Greetings from Olathe, Kansas! My name is Marsha Skoczek and I am an instructor in the Geoscience Program at Olathe North High School. High school students from all over Olathe apply to be a part of the Geoscience Program because they have a passion for the earth sciences. Many of my students want to become a marine biologist or some type of ocean research scientist. I teach Marine Biology and Oceanography, yes from the middle of the country, so in order to have a better understanding of the material I teach I applied to and was accepted for the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. I am fortunate enough to be preparing to set sail aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces as part of a research team investigating the Marine Protected Areas (MPA) off the Southeastern Atlantic states.
In 2009 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) established eight Marine Protected Areas to protect the spawning grounds for several species of Grouper, Snapper, and Tilefish. These reef dwelling species are slow growing fish often not spawning until they are four or five years old. Some species such as the Yellowedge Grouper can live to be as much as 80 years old! Several other species such as the Snowy Grouper and the Speckled Hind Grouper are all born as females and do not change into males until they are older, making it a high priority that we protect their habitat so these species can live long enough to reproduce.
As fish are being harvested from the water beyond many of the species’ maximum sustainable yield, it is imperative that the natural habitats of these species are protected, not only so the fish populations can continue to thrive, but also so that scientists can have the time to research the life cycles of these fish in order to establish yearly limits based on scientific data before they are fished to extinction.
I am fortunate enough to be a part of a research expedition doing just that, we will be studying the habitat and fish population of five Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to see if closing these areas to bottom fishing is a beneficial step in preventing the extinction of these species.
The team I will be working with is made up of scientists from the Panama City NOAA Fisheries Lab, the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, University of North Carolina Wilmington, and the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. Preparations for this research expedition began over a year ago when the scientists had to begin writing their proposal to fund this trip. As you can imagine, working with scientists from multiple institutions takes time and careful planning. Conference calls were made with the crew of the Pisces so details could be discussed about the operations needed to be performed, as well as other long distance communications with the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) pilots and the mapping scientist from Charleston, South Carolina.
Data on our expedition will be collected by ROV to capture on video the fish and invertebrate populations in each MPA; water column data on temperature, pressure and conductivity will be collected by CTD profiling; and night time sonar mapping will be used to determine the most beneficial areas to launch the ROV on the following day.
As you can see, there is a lot of work to do during our two weeks at sea. I am anxiously awaiting our departure next month so that I can witness first hand real ocean research. This information will be invaluable as I prepare my students for their future careers as marine biologist and oceanographers! Please follow along as we set sail on this most important adventure!