Kainoa Higgins: Preparing to Set Sail! June 15, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kainoa Higgins

(Almost) Aboard the R/V Ocean Starr

June 18 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Coast

Date: June 15, 2014

Personal Log

Aloha from the great Pacific Northwest!  My name is Kainoa Higgins and although I was born and raised on the island of O’ahu, Hawai’i, I have spent the last 10 years calling Tacoma, Washington home.  I am incredibly excited to have been selected as a 2014 NOAA Teacher at Sea and can’t wait to climb aboard the R/V Ocean Starr in a matter of hours!  I will be participating in two legs of research during my two and half weeks on ship.

During the first leg, I will be assisting scientists with conducting a Juvenile Rockfish Survey as they examine groundfish populations off the coast of the Western Seaboard of the North America.  Though I have been attempting to get caught up to speed, I currently only understand the program at a general level.  There are many species of rockfish, all of which are commercially valuable, and keeping track of their populations and distributions is essential for conscious management.  Having spoken with my Chief Scientist for this leg, Ric Brodeur, on several occasions leading up to my departure, I understand that my job will entail any, some or all of the following: mammal/bird observational surveys and plankton analysis by day followed by sorting of trawled collections analysis of the catch in the wet lab by night.  I’ll be able to share more as the adventure unfolds.

In the second leg, I will connect with Laurie Weitkamp who will take over as chief scientist with a fresh research team and research focus.  In a recent e-mail Laurie explained that this leg will be “experimental”.  In short, we will be trying a variety of modifications to a marine mammal excluder device to see how it fishes and influences the catch.  I’m not sure, exactly, how the MMED is used, but I would be willing to take a guess at it’s purpose.  I imagine it has something to do with an attempt to maintain commercial fishing operations without the interruption of marine mammals (dolphins, porpoises, seals, whales, etc.) in close proximity.  Through some sort of “deflection”, its goal would also be reduce unintentional by-catch.  Once again, I’ll know more concretely a bit further down the road.  According to Laurie, in addition to help work up the catch, I will be helping with “marine mammal watch” before and during fishing.  Since we will use a surface trawl during the day, it is possible that we could catch a marine mammal (e.g., seals and dolphins). To minimize this risk, I will help serve as a lookout  before we set and when the trawl is out, and are required to immediately stop fishing if any are spotted nearby.  I look forward to spending some time on the bow scanning the horizon for marine mammals.

One of my favorite pics of marine diatoms (phytoplankton) from the Puget Sound. Taken with iphone camera though microscope eyepiece.

A bit more about myself and the school I represent.  I grew up loving the ocean.  Much of my life as a child was spend in or around it.  Whether snorkeling, surfing or fishing my brother and I were raised to respect and appreciate all that the ocean had to offer.  After all, my name, Kainoa, means “free as the sea”.  There is a saying in the islands, Malama ‘aina, Malama i ke kai, meaning ‘to care for the land and care for the ocean’.  After graduating from Punahou School  in Honolulu, Hawaii I headed for the great Northwest to attend the University of Puget Sound.  I participated in Athletics, Lu’au, Senior Theatre Festival and even Greek Life.  I studied Biology and spent a semester abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Even though I took Marine Biology in one of the most amazing diverse systems in the world, my favorite class had to be “The Diversity of Algae”.  It opened my eyes up to the beauty and importance of micro life for the first time.  This led to my passion for – and borderline obsession with – plankton.

After earning a Master’s in the Arts of Teaching from UPS, I began my career at the Tacoma School of the Arts teaching entry level biology.  After my second year, I was asked to join our recently founded sister school, the Tacoma Science and Math Institute (SAMI) located in Point Defiance Park on the North Tacoma peninsula.  SAMI  is built around a particular vision: we believe that students make the most of their learning when they take ownership of their education—when students intentionally choose to take on the challenge real learning entails. We further believe that this ownership most naturally develops within a learning community, encouraged by others who share that commitment.  We theme our curriculum around the math and science and emphasis the integration of disciplines and staff collaboration all the while perpetuating the pillars on which the schools were founded: community, empathy, thinking and balance.  SAMI has allowed me to pursue my passion for marine science.  We are a two minute walk to the waterfront which makes the learning opportunities for myself as students invaluable.  Between this field resource and collaborations with the University of Washington in the High School program and the University’s School of Oceanography I am in a position to offer my students a world-class learning experience.

I think it is important that teachers are always looking for opportunities to improve their practice and better educate themselves in ways that will better prepare their students for the world ahead of them.  The Teacher at Sea opportunity is an incredible way to engage myself as a life-long learner and will help me to better engage and inspire my students.  I look forward to designing and offering lessons derived from real-time science and experiences.  I am very grateful for this opportunity and can’t wait to share it with you.

See you soon,



SAMI Students
SAMI Students reflecting on a trip to Dungeness Spit, WA.
The men of the house in my absence
A relationship founded on respect


6 Replies to “Kainoa Higgins: Preparing to Set Sail! June 15, 2014”

  1. whats it like? to be the man! Looks like some interesting science your indulging in, especially using MMED’s to prevent by catch. I wonder how those things work/ if they are effective.. Anyways enjoy your seafaring adventures and stay away from pirates.

  2. Impressed that you could m benthic infauna research and boxcorer sound fun! Also wanted to note you look like your uncle Kevin in the yellow construction hat, but younger. Love the way you write about your experiences, makes me feel like I am there. Love auntie Shari

  3. Hey Kainoa,
    Great opening report on what you are about to take on, who you are, and the importance of your own professional development. Sounds like a victory at sea to me, because you certainly persevered to get there. Bon Voyage!

Leave a Reply