Jennifer Petro: Oh the Places We Will Go… July 4, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Petro
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 1 — 14, 2013 

Mission: Marine Protected Area Surveys
Geographic area of cruise: Southern Atlantic
Date: July, 4, 2013

Weather Data
Air temperature: 27.5°C (81.5°F)
Barometer: 1021.30 mb
Humidity: 83%
Wind direction: 141°
Wind speed: 17 knots
Water temp: 26.3° C (79.3°F)
Latitude: 32.38537 N
Longitude: 79.044 W

Science and Technology Log

Happy Independence Day!  In this log we find ourselves off the coast of South Carolina.  We have traveled quite a few miles since we left Mayport and have conducted 10 dives so far.  Several of these sites are return trips and data has been collected since 2004.  During this cruise we will also survey several proposed sites which will be voted on inclusion to the MPA program at a later date.  There is quite a lot of science going on here on the Pisces!  In this post I am going to focus on the benthic invertebrate study and I will highlight the other science in following posts.

I have had the pleasure to work along side John Reed and Stephanie Farrington from Harbor Branch Oceanograhic Institute at Florida Atlantic University in Fort Pierce, Florida.  During this cruise they are focusing on gathering data on benthic marine invertebrates.  They are particularly interested in deep water coral species.

“Our coral reefs are a barometer of the Earth’s health, and nowhere else on earth is biodiversity greater than in our coral reefs and rain forests. Coral reefs provide food, tourism revenue, coastal protection, and the potential for new medicines for increasingly resistant diseases. Both our shallow and deep water coral reefs face a time of crisis, not only in the Caribbean, Florida, and the Bahamas, but worldwide. Threats to shallow and deep coral reefs are many, including pollution, elevated temperatures resulting in coral bleaching and mortality, coral disease, and destructive fishing practices.”  HBOI

There are two words that you are going to see a lot during these blog posts:  (1) Communication and (2) Technology.  Fortunately due to the advancement in technology the only thing getting wet during the dives is the ROV.  When the ROV descends, we are transported to a world that few folks get to see.  The average depth of our dives has been 60 m (196 ft) so SCUBA diving would be difficult.  Additionally, in the Florida MPA and Proposed MPA sites, the current was very fast and without the ROV the survey would be almost impossible to conduct.  So we are surrounded by technology…computers, monitors, and programmed key pads.  While the ROV driver maneuvers the vehicle through the water (all the while communicating with the bridge and deck) we are all glued to one of several monitors identifying species.  It is very quick paced and often it feels like you are on a roller coaster ride.  After several dives I was able to better focus on what I was looking for and have become pretty good at my invertebrate identification.

Stephanie Farrington and I recording benthic marine invertebrates species inside the proposed Fernadina MPA.
Stephanie Farrington and I recording benthic marine invertebrates species inside the proposed Fernandina MPA.

The purpose of this research is to characterize the species diversity of the hard bottom both inside and outside the proposed Marine Protected Areas and to compare the health of the hard bottom communities as it relates to the number of fish species present.  Of particular interest are hard coral species, such as Oculina, soft coral gorgonians and sponges.  During there trips is when the data is collected and then it is quantified back at the lab.  These are wonderful people and they are great teachers as well!

John Reed, Stephanie Farrington and I in the dry lab aboard the NOAA vessel "Pisces".
John Reed, Stephanie Farrington and I in the dry lab aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces.
Bushy Black Coral seen in the St Augustine MPA
Bushy Black Coral seen in the St Augustine MPA
Vase sponge and black coral (the cork screw) seen in the St. Augustine MPA
Vase sponge and black coral (the cork screw) seen in the St. Augustine MPA
Deep water "Occulina" coral as seen in the proposed Fernandina MPA.
Deep water “Oculina” coral as seen in the proposed Fernandina MPA.

Personal Log

Well so far so good.  We have been at sea for 5 days and we have a pretty steady routine going.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner so I quite literally am at the mercy of my stomach.  The food is wonderful!  Eggs cooked to order, grilled cheese, salmon, scallops, steak and dessert twice a day.  I have been told that the food would be good and I have yet to be disappointed.  We are in the lab from about 08:00 to 17:00.  Afterwards I have been so tired I have climbed into my bunk and have read.  The ship has a very comfortable lounge where you can read, watch a movie or use the computer.  I managed to get through an entire movie last night!  I have been doing okay seasickness wise.  Last night was pretty rough but I managed okay.  I ventured up to the bridge yesterday and I am hoping that the calmer seas will allow me to spend some time with the captain today.

Fair weather and calm seas.


Did You Know?

A coral is a type of animal called a polyp.

15 Replies to “Jennifer Petro: Oh the Places We Will Go… July 4, 2013”

  1. What does NOAA do if they find that the biodiversity of several coral reefs in an area are out of balance?

    1. I am not quite certain Aubrey. I know on this trip we are gathering data to compare to past years’ surveys. There is a hierarchy at NOAA that determines actions on MPAs (which many of the reefs are designated as such). What we gather on this trip will help determine the efficacy of the designated areas.

  2. Very cool! Were you able to pilot the ROV? I had a bit of a problem accessing your blog at first. So glad that we are able to see this now. I look forward to more!!!

  3. I think this is such a fantastic opportunity for you.I enjoy reading what you have done and all the findings.It is quite fascinating!Keep up the good work!

    1. It was a bit terrifying at first. we were moving from one formation to another over the sand so I at least didn’t hit anything. After a few minutes you get the hang of it. The ROV guys have been doing this for many years and they indeed make it look easy.

  4. Thank you so much for your entry. My daughter is also aboard Pisces – 1C Coast Guard Cadet Maren Balke. I would love a photo of her on the ship if you get the opportunity. She is studying marine and environmental science at the academy and was very happy to get the opportunity to go aboard a science vessel. Fair winds and following seas! I hope your mission will continue to be a good one.

    1. I had such a lovely conversation on the bridge with her yesterday afternoon! I know you are so proud she is a remarkable young lady. I would be so happy to post a picture of her!

      1. Thank you so much for the information and I am looking forward to some more of your posts.

        All the best and what a wonderfully fast response!  Enjoy your voyage.  My husband is a teacher in Detroit – physics and robotics – he is enjoying a summer enrichment course at Michigan State (robotic engineering) and our son is also in the CG – currently in Honoulu.  It is tough to have an empty nest – but we are very proud of our Coasties.  I just hope she gets to do some of the science as well as boat duties.  I am sure that she enjoyed the conversation with you as well.

        Inga Balke  


  5. Jen! So great to see you in action! Kudos. We are looking forward to your posts and hope to see more pics. What is the most interesting/unusual invertebrate you have encountered so far?

    1. Hi there Scott! We have seen a whole bunch of different kinds of inverts. A few pycnogonids and free walking fire worms at 90 m. We have seen so much. There was a really cool sea anemone and tones of crinoids. I am looking forward to our deep dive off of SC on Tuesday since that promises to have some really cool stuff.

  6. Jennifer, thanks for sharing your work with all of us landlubbers…I feel like I’m right out there with you. I know that your next group of middle schoolers will be thrilled to hear what their teacher did on her summer vacation. What a great reminder that “the learning never ends!” Kudos, my friend! You’re a great role model…especially for the young females you teach.

  7. With a tropical storm possibly affecting your voyage, what are NOAA’s plans about your route?

    1. Looks like that will be a “yes” but we aren’t quite certain which day we will come in.

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