Jamie Morris: Successful Dives and a Mystery Visitor, April 27, 2014


NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Sunday, April 27, 2014

 

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 6-8 nautical miles
Wind: 12 knots
Swell Waves: 0-1 feet
Air Temperature: 71.1ºF
Seawater Temperature: 70.2ºF
 

Science and Technology Log

The dive operations on the Nancy Foster have continued to progress.  The Fish Telemetry Project has been very successful.  All the receivers that needed replacing have been replaced and Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman has downloaded the data.  She has run into a small delay in identifying many of the fish because the database with the microchip numbers has not been updated.  Right now we know that there have been several mystery visitors to GRNMS.  Hopefully the identities of these fish will be revealed soon.  It is exciting to see where these fish have traveled from.  The dive team continues to work on this project by servicing the other receivers in the water.  They dive to the receivers and try to clean off any organism growing on receivers as well as make sure that the receivers are still securely attached to their anchors.  There are currently 18 receivers in GRNMS.  The receivers are replaced every 4 to 6 months, depending on the location.

Jared Halonen and Richard LaPalme replace the receiver. Photo: Sarah Webb

Jared Halonen and Richard LaPalme replace the receiver.
Photo: Sarah Webb

The Fish Acoustics project is also progressing very well.  Lauren Hessemann is the team’s fish ID expert.  She continues to make about 4 dives a day to six specific sites.  She needs to record each site twice.  The ship than travels to these sites and records the acoustics (fish noises).  Lauren is always accompanied by a second diver who is tasked with filming the fish.  A scientist will use Lauren’s data and the video to compare it to the acoustics that were recorded from these sites.

The divers have reported seeing many interesting animals.  The team has observed seven sea turtles, all floating at the surface.  Many curious black seabass have been seen.  These fish like to investigate and will swim very close to the divers.  The divers have reported that if you look behind you while swimming, many times a small school of black seabass are following.  Some usual sightings have included several guitarfish and many Jackknife fish.  So far there have not been any Lionfish sightings.  It is believed that the cold winter has prevented their migration to GRNMS.

Sea turtle resting at the surface of the water

Sea turtle resting at the surface of the water Photo: Amy Rath

An Oyster Toadfish hides in a hole.

An Oyster Toadfish hides in a hole. Photo: Richard LaPalme

I have been able to go out on two different dive boats.  I am not able to get in the water, but I have been able to assist from the surface.  At the surface I help the divers get in and out of the boat, keep the dive and projects logs, as well as assist with the site markers.  Site markers are small anchors attached to a buoy with a long rope.  These markers need to be dropped at precise GPS locations.  They are used by the divers to find the specific location for the assigned tasks.  It is very important to have accurate drops.  Many times divers are looking for specific objects or very precise locations.  The marker is what they use to find these items.

Lauren Hessemann prepares to drop the dive marker.

Lauren Hessemann prepares to drop the dive marker.

An excellent placement of the dive marker. Photo: Hampton Harbin

An excellent placement of the dive marker.
Photo: Hampton Harbin

I have had the opportunity to sail with two different coxswains.  A Coxswain is a person who is in charge or steers a boat.  Yesterday I was with coxswain Jim Pontz.  Jim is an Able Seaman on the Nancy Foster.  Today I was with Junior Officer ENS Carmen DeFazio.  Carmen has been a NOAA Corps member for a year and a half.  Both Jim and Carmen explained the role of the coxswain during dives.  The coxswain will drive the divers out to their dive site, but their role does not end there.  They need to accurately place the dive marker.  They then assist the divers getting into the water.  Once the divers are in the water, the coxswains must be extremely vigilant.  They need to keep a constant eye on the diver marker buoy.  This lets the coxswain know the general area that the divers will be located in.  If it is a calm day with small waves and low currents, this part is easy.  However, most days there is a current or there are waves which cause the dive boat to drift making it difficult to stay in a specific location.  The coxswain needs to also keep constant watch of the divers.  You are able to “see” where the divers are based on the air bubbles that reach the surface.  By tracking the bubbles, you know the path of the divers.  The coxswain needs to make sure the boat is close to the divers, but not on top of the divers.  While the divers are in the water, the coxswain serves the important role of being the diver’s lookout and ultimately their protection at the surface.  They need to stand watch for any hazards such as other boats or dangerous wildlife and they need to be ready to get the divers out of the water in the event of an emergency.

Coxswain Carmen DeFazio drives to the dive site as Jared Halonen  wraps up the stern line

Coxswain Carmen DeFazio drives to the dive site as Jared Halonen wraps up the stern line

Coxswain Jim Pontz and Chief Scientist returning to the Nancy Foster after a successful dive

Coxswain Jim Pontz and Chief Scientist returning to the Nancy Foster after a successful dive

The dives all have gone very well and the team has been progressing.  Tomorrow they will finish the receiver dives and will begin the Marine Debris Surveys.  The purpose of these surveys is to analyze the types of debris in GRNMS as well as the location of the debris.  There are nine sites that have been marked for debris surveys.  The sites have been marked with metal pins.  The survey will occur over a 50 meter distance.  The divers will swim the 50 meters and will look 2 meters to the right and left of the line.  As the divers swim they will be recording the types, amount, and the specific locations of the debris.  The normal types of debris found in GRNMS are fishing line, beer bottles, and cans.  Hopefully the divers will not see a lot of debris.

 

Did You Know?

In order to dive on a NOAA mission, divers must be NOAA Dive Certified.  This is a lengthily process that includes having a minimum of 25 previous open water dives, completing NOAA diving coursework and passing a series of tests.  NOAA has different classes of divers.  There are scientific divers and working divers.  Scientific divers can perform only scientific tasks including making observations and collecting data.  Working divers can complete construction and troubleshooting tasks under the water.

 

Personal Log

Life on the ship is always interesting.  I am constantly learning and am having a great time.  Today was particularly exciting.  At lunch time one of the dive boats was brought to the side of the Nancy Foster and was raised to the hip (the side of the ship, even with the deck, but not onboard).  The boat was being held out of the water by the crane.  Junior Officer ENS Carmen DeFazio NOAA Corps Officer with GRNMS Jared Halonen were in the boat while Sarah Fangman and I were standing on the Nancy Foster.  We were loading the dive boat with our equipment when someone spotted a large dorsal fin right next to the Nancy Foster.  The fin belonged to a shark that we estimate to be 14 feet long.  We are not certain of the species.  You can see the photo below.  It was shot through polarized sunglasses, so there is a bit of a glare.  People on the ship are guessing that it is a Great White or Bull Shark.  Photos have been sent to fish experts and we are waiting for confirmation.

The shark who decided to swim along the ship.  We are still trying to identify it.

The shark who decided to swim along the ship. We are still trying to identify it.

Commanding Officer LCDR Nick Chrobak, Sarah Fangman, Jared Halonen, and Amy Rath use books and the internet to try to identify the shark

Commanding Officer LCDR Nick Chrobak, Jared Halonen, Sarah Fangman, and Amy Rath use books and the internet to try to identify the shark

Our shark friend decided to stay next to the ship, swimming back and forth hovering many times under the dive boat.  He was at the surface for about 10 minutes when it was decided to move the Nancy Foster so that the dive boat could safely be deployed.  Once we were away from the shark, the dive boat was deployed.  The four of us set off to our dive site.  We made it to the site and dropped the dive marker.  We were leaving that site to drop a second marker when we noticed a dorsal fin heading toward the first marker.  We drove toward the dorsal fin to get a better look at the shark.  It was an 8 foot long hammerhead.  After some discussion the divers, Sarah and Jared, did get into the water.  They had safe dives and did not see any more sharks.  The initial sightings of the two different sharks was exciting.

 

Sarah and Jared prepare to dive after spotting a hammerhead shark.

Sarah and Jared prepare to dive after spotting a hammerhead shark.

Additional Photos

 

Jamie Morris, Lauren Heesemann, and Sarah Fangman Photo: Amy Rath

Jamie Morris, Lauren Heesemann, and Sarah Fangman
Photo: Amy Rath

Richard LaPalme returns safely to the surface after a successful dive. Photo: Sarah Webb

Richard LaPalme returns safely to the surface after a successful dive.
Photo: Sarah Webb

Approaching the Nancy Foster after a dive.

Approaching the Nancy Foster after a dive.

 

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