Emilisa Saunders: A Desert Dweller Goes to Sea, April 30, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emilisa Saunders
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 14 – 30, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Spring Plankton Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Personal Log

Hello, and welcome to my blog! My name is Emilisa, but you can call me Emmi. I’m about to go on the adventure of a lifetime, and I’m so glad you’ve decided to join me.

Annular Eclipse
Standing in the light of an annular eclipse at the Springs Preserve.

For six years now, I’ve worked at the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I have the best job: I’m a Naturalist, which means I get to teach kids and their families about nature. Some of you may know me from the Nature Exchange, which is a natural item trading center where kids bring items they’ve collected from nature – rocks, fossils, sea creatures, dead bugs, plant parts, etc. – to learn about those objects and trade them for other natural items from all over the world. This program is so much fun, more than 8000 kids have signed up to trade in the past six years. It’s a ton of fun for me, too. Every day I soak up whatever knowledge I can about the natural world so that I can show kids all that there is to love about nature, science and learning.

Last Fall, I heard about a program that lets teachers explore nature and science in the most amazing way: the teachers help scientists study sea creatures from aboard an actual research ship at sea! This program is called Teacher at Sea, and it is offered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. NOAA is in charge of studying the weather, climate, oceans and shores. They share what they learn with all of us, and help to protect our environment and natural resources. Through the Teacher at Sea program, NOAA chooses 25-30 teachers each year to spend several weeks aboard ships, learning about how NOAA scientists study amazing ocean environments, about the jobs that people do at sea, and about how teachers can use science skills to study the natural world.

As soon as I heard about the Teacher at Sea program, I knew I had to apply. What an amazing opportunity! I sent my application and waited very impatiently for a couple of months. I checked my email every day, even when I knew it was far too early to find out. Finally, I got the email I had been waiting for: I had been chosen for the program! On May 14th, I’ll be heading out to sea to study plankton in the Gulf of Mexico on the NOAA ship Oregon II!

NOAA Ship Oregon II
NOAA Ship Oregon II, courtesy of NOAA

The Oregon II is like a floating science lab. It sails out of Pascagoula, Mississippi, and is 170 feet long, which is more than half the length of a football field. On the ship, scientists collect samples of living creatures from the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean, so that they can study how healthy the oceans are. There are labs right on board the ship, and the scientists bring samples back to be studied in labs on shore, too.

You can actually track the ship while it’s at sea to see where we are in the Gulf! Just click here and select the Oregon II: NOAA Ship Tracker

The Narrows
Hiking the Narrows at Zion National Park with my husband, Doug.

Now, I love adventures that let me spend time in nature. I love to hike and go for long runs, and I’m even learning to SCUBA dive with my husband, Doug. Even so, this is going to be a very new experience for me. I grew up in the tiny state of Vermont, which has lots of mountains and snow, but no oceans. I spent my summers swimming in lakes and ponds and only traveled to the Atlantic Ocean a few times. I spent just a few hours here and there on whale watching boats, and that’s it! Then, nine years ago, I moved even farther away from the ocean to Las Vegas, in the middle of the Mojave Desert, where I fell completely in love with the hot, dry land and the tough creatures, large and small, that survive here.  I love to take trips to the ocean as often as possible, but I definitely spend most of my time landlocked!

When I’m on the Oregon II, I’ll be seeing, doing and learning things I never have before. I’ll get to know what it’s like to eat, sleep, work and live on a ship, and I’ll meet all the people who work hard to make the ship run. For the first time, I’ll also get to work with scientists and learn about the skills and tools they use to study creatures in the ocean. I can’t wait to meet all of these people who work at sea!

On this cruise, we’ll be collecting and studying plankton, which are the tiny plants and animals that drift in the ocean currents. Some of them are so small that we can’t see them without a microscope, but the entire ocean depends on them for food, and the whole world depends on them for the oxygen that we breathe. The plankton that we’ll be looking at the most closely are bluefin tuna eggs and larvae; larvae are very young fish. I still have a lot to learn about plankton, but I came across this amazing video; it’s beautiful to watch and is very interesting, too!

But there is one thing that I’ve learned by studying nature and teaching kids about the environment: everything is connected. Even though I’ll be travelling far away and studying ocean life, I’ll be able to come back to Las Vegas and teach families all about how our actions here in the desert affect other habitats all over the world. I am so excited that being a Teacher at Sea will help me show the kids I meet at the Springs Preserve all about how healthy oceans keep our desert healthy, too, and how they can grow up to be the scientists or ship crewmembers who protect our oceans.

I hope you check back on this blog from time to time to learn more about NOAA, plankton, and life at sea! I can’t wait to get started!

14 Replies to “Emilisa Saunders: A Desert Dweller Goes to Sea, April 30, 2013”

  1. This just really sounds so awesome and so much fun! Have fun, Emmi! I’ll be looking forward to your updates.

    1. Thanks, Isabella! Keep an eye on the Nature Exchange and my traders for me while I’m gone!

  2. Just checking up on you today with Aaron looking over my shoulder. Look forward to future postings.

    1. Hi, Bonnie and Aaron! Thanks for checking in. I’ll have another post up soon. Thank you both for holding down the fort! 🙂

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