Amy Orchard: Headed Out to Sea! September 5, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
(Soon to Be) Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Fish Survey (Cubera Snapper and Black Grouper)
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: September 5, 2014

Pre-Trip Introduction

Greetings from the sunny Sonoran Desert.  My name is Amy Orchard and I live in Tucson, Arizona, USA.  This is a wonderful time of the year to be in the desert.  Although the day-time temperatures can soar into the 100’s (100 degrees F/37.8 degrees C) the monsoon rains are falling and the desert is lush with many hues of green.  Plants that appear to be dead most of the year have sprung alive with a bounty of leaves.  Below is a close up of one of my favorites, the Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)  If you look closely you can see that the stem itself has some green on it as well, this is how they photosynthesize when there isn’t enough water to support leaf growth.

Foquieria splendens - Ocotillo
Desert monsoon rains bring to life plants that appear to be dead the rest of the year. Zoom in to see the chlorophyll present in the STEM of the plant which allows it to photosynthesis when it is too dry to support leaf growth.

I am lucky enough to have my dream job!  Actually, I work two jobs, and both are dreamy.  On the side, for fun and for my personal growth, I teach yoga.  Most of my students are Middle School aged, but I teach K-adult as well.  Yoga is a great way to chill out, become strong and learn to be flexible (physically and mentally.)

My full-time job, the one that opened up this wonderful opportunity to be a Teacher At Sea with NOAA, is as an Education Specialist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  It is an amazing place that is all at once a museum, a zoo, a botanical garden, an art institute and an aquarium.  We only display plants and animals native to the Sonoran Desert Region.  This makes it a very unique place.  I work with live animals such as tarantulas, snakes, hawks, tortoises, toads, porcupines and skunks.


Mephitis macroura - Hooded Skunk
Do not worry! He is de-scented.

I also work closely with the wildest of all animals – teenagers!  I run the youth programs at the museum including our Earth Camp summer expeditions and the teen volunteer program – the Junior Docents.  I love working with students in middle school and high school.  They are so curious about the world around them and have a passion to work towards protecting it for the future.  They are eager to learn through my adventures on-board the Nancy Foster.  I will challenge them to increase their understanding of the natural world by providing a “Challenge Your Understanding” section at the end of my posts.  (Prizes for anyone who answers ALL of my questions while on board!)  Feel free to take the challenge questions yourself, even if you aren’t a wild teenager.

Earth Campers at Arches National Park
This rugged group of teens and I traveled the Western United States exploring the issue of water use. We hiked, backpacked, river rafted and drove many, many miles through the beautiful, open lands of Arizona and Utah.

I will miss my family while I am gone.  They are the coolest people on earth… well the Earth Campers and Junior Docents I have worked with over the last 15 years are superbly awesome as well, but my family takes the cake!  I’m not exactly sure that my daughters will miss me very much.  They are busy on their own adventures.  Sonora, my oldest, is in China for 4 months teaching English.  Naomi, a Junior in High School, is attending an Environmental Stewardship boarding school in Northern WI called Conserve School until Christmas.  I hope they will find time to follow my blogs!  And I hope my poor husband will get along without his three ladies to keep him entertained.

Orchard Family
We aren’t always this nicely dressed. We are most often found in biking, hiking or rafting gear.

I am thrilled to have been selected to be a Teacher At Sea.  There were nearly 200 applications this season and only 24 of us were chosen.  It seems like a miracle they picked me.  However it came about, I couldn’t be more honored.  I love learning new things and cannot imagine all the knowledge I will gather aboard my 14-day scientific cruise.  Even though I live in the desert, I am very interested in ocean acidification, sea level rise and melting glaciers.  I understand that the changes happening to our climate affect all of us, no matter how far in-land we live.  I look forward to understanding more about changes in fish populations and coral reef health from my time about the Nancy Foster using ROVs and multi-beam sonar to survey fish populations.  I will be eager to take my new knowledge back to Tucson and enhance the way we share our new aquarium and information about the oceans with the 50,000 visitors to our museum.

You may be wondering why we have an aquarium at a desert museum!  Check out the map below to understand that we have sharks and sea stars in our desert!  It is a part of our landscape, weather systems and culture.  That leads me into the my first Challenge-Your-Understanding question.

Sonoran Desert Region Map
The Sea of Cortez, or Gulf of California, is sandwiched right in the middle of our desert.

Challenge Your Understanding

(mark any that apply)

Bonus Points to anyone who adds a comment and defines the word ENDEMIC!

3 Replies to “Amy Orchard: Headed Out to Sea! September 5, 2014”

Leave a Reply