Amy Orchard: Days 9-13 – Conch, NOAA Corps, Seining, & Mission Stats, September 27, 2014


NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Conchs Surveys and Fish Seining
Geographical area of cruise: Marquesas Keys Wildlife Management Area
Date: September 22-26, 2014

Weather: September 25, 2014 17:00 hours
Latitude 24° 27 N
Longitude 82° 14 W
Broken clouds, Lightening, Funnel Clouds
Wind speed 7 knots.
Air Temperature: 28° Celsius (82.4° Fahrenheit)
Sea Water Temperature: 29.9° Celsius (85.8°Fahrenheit)

MONDAY

Typical Day

Today started as it has every other day – up at 5:15 am, a trip to the gym, 30 minutes of yoga under the stars on the “Steel Beach” on the top deck of the ship, a sunrise and a delicious breakfast by Lito & Bob.

Then science begins at 7:30 am and usually goes till 7:30 pm or later if I am writing, studying fish identification books or asking a million questions of the scientists!

Conch

Today I began with small boat trip to assist the conch scientists Bob and Einat (pronounced A KNOT)  Their surveys will be the same all week (in different locations)  They drop a weight tied to a rope with a bouy and dive flag on top.  They dive down the line and survey four transects, to the north, south, east then west.  Each transect is 30 meters by 1 meter.  They only count the Queen Conch within that defined area.  Then they come back up the line and move to the next site.  They have already made 270 dives this summer alone.  Einat told me they may dive up to 11 times a day!  I’m not sure Einat’s hair ever dries out.

measuring tool
This is the tool used to measure the lip (or the curled up front part of their shell) The largest slot would indicate a sexually mature adult, the middle; a young adult and the skinniest (TL stands for Thin Lip) for the youngest.
Einat on the transect line
Here you can see Einat as she glides along the measuring tape which marks the area of study. In her hand she holds a measuring caliper and her clipboard (which she can write on underwater!)
Einat measuring conch lip
Einat measuring a Queen Conch with her measuring tool.

NOAA Corps

While our coxswain ENS Conor Maginn and I waited for Bob and Einat, I asked lots of questions about the http://www.noaacorps.noaa.gov/about/about.html  As I have mentioned before, I am impressed with the character, quality and kindness of everyone on board.  I truly hope I am able adequately convey the experiences I have had to my Junior Docents and Earth Campers and perhaps inspire many of you to look into NOAA as a career option.  It’s very possible my career would have taken a different direction if I had known about the NOAA Corps earlier in my life.

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.  They are not trained for military action, but rather for positions of leadership and command in the operation of ships and aircraft which support scientific research.  Conor told me about his training which included leadership, 1st Aid and CPR, firefighting, navigation, seamanship and radar.   In addition to the 320 officers in the Corps, there are 12,000 civilian employees; some of these positions do not require an advanced college degree.

Seems like a wonderful agency to work for with great benefits such as seeing the world and supporting scientific data collection which leads to making the world a better place.

Stowaway

Stowaway
We had a stowaway today! It seemed really exhausted once it had finally caught up with the ship. Seems that a storm is blowing in, perhaps it got knocked off course. Can you identify what type of bird this is?

 

TUESDAY 

More on Conch

Einat was happy to have me out on the boat with them again.  She claims I am a lucky charm because the only time they have found conch on their surveys has been while I am aboard.  Perhaps I should become a conch whisperer.

really pink conch
I took this photo last week of a Queen Conch at Fort Jefferson. Bob was surprised how pink & purple it was. They get their color from the algae they eat.

Queen Conch have an average life span of 8-11 years, although some in the Bahamas have been aged up to 40 years old.  About the only way to age them is to date the corals which grow on their backs.  They are herbivores which graze mostly on red algae.  They are docile and Bob says “very sweet animals”.  Bob and Einat are surveying to collect more information about their population densities as they will not reproduce unless there are enough numbers in one location.  The Queen Conch is a candidate for the Endangered Species Act.  Harvesting of conch has been illegal in Florida and its adjoining waters since 1986.  This is a big deal because collecting conch for meat, fishing bait and their beautiful shells has been an important part of the Florida Keys since the early 19th century.

When all conditions are just right, a Queen Conch will lay 400,000 eggs at once, called an egg mass.  Only 1 in 8 million of these eggs will survive to adulthood.  Many efforts are being made to help their populations increase including raising for release into the wild.  Bob told me that they have even taught these captive-raised conch how to avoid predation so when they are released they can survive.

conch with egg mass
Bob and Einat were very excited to see Queen Conch laying egg masses. Understandably so since the eggs hatch 5 days after being laid, there is a very short time frame in which to see this in the wild.

I try to be as helpful on the small boats as I can be.  Here is a slide show of me working really hard to pull the weight dive flag back to the boat.

 

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WEDNESDAY 

Receiver Data Retrieval

Today the divers retrieved acoustic receivers from the ocean floor which have been out for a year in order to bring the data top side for analysis.

The work the FWC has been doing in this area has been vital to providing the data necessary to show that these reserves act as connected highways essential to numerous species of fish and to justify the creation of these large ecological reserves which closed 150 square miles to commercial and private fishing.  Their data shows an increase in both the abundance and size of at least 4 species of fish in the protected areas where there was a decrease or no change at all in the non-protected areas in the same region.

It has been fulfilling to give a hand in collecting this critical data.

THURSDAY

Seining

The small boat took us to the Marquesas Islands today for some seine netting.  The fish biologists were not sure what to find since they don’t have opportunities to get this far out.  They were especially pleased to see Lane Snapper since they rarely find them.  We also saw 17 other fish species.  These mangrove islands are crucial habitat for juvenile fish.  Many species will spend the beginning of their lives in the sea grass beds near the islands, seek refuge as they grow within the mangroves and then head out to deep waters to live their lives as large adults.

Best thing to happen today – I finally saw a sea turtle!  They surface only occasionally but then dive back down so quickly that it is really hard to get a photograph of them, therefore no photo to share, but it is certainly a wonderful memory I will keep with me forever.

Dominoes King

The game was on again at the end of the second week.  The science team lost its crown.  The Commanding Officer of our ship LCDR Jeff Shoup won the championship and thus the crown stays on the Nancy Foster – right where it is meant to be.

Dominoes King
Commanding Officer of our ship LCDR Jeff Shoup – reigning Mexican Train winner

FRIDAY

We pulled into Key West a day early, giving me plenty of time to finish up my writing and collect some statistics from our 13 day scientific cruise:

  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission personnel – 10
  • Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Personnel – 7
  • University of North Carolina at Wilmington Remotely Operated Vehicle Operators – 2
  • Nancy Foster Officers – 9
  • Nancy Foster Crew – 14
  • Teacher at Sea – 1
  • Media Reporter at Sea – 1
  • ROV Operations – 14 hours and 20 minutes underwater
  • ROV digital stills – 957
  • ROV longest dive – 4 hours and 10 minutes
  • ROV deepest dive – 128 meters (420 feet)
  • Multibeam seafloor mapping distance – 787.9 linear nautical miles
  • Dives – 167
  • Fish surgeries performed- 8
  • Acoustic Receivers exchanged – 6
  • New Acoustic Receivers Installed – 5
  • Reef Fish Visual Census (or fish counts) – 40 dives on 11 stations
  • Seine Net pulls – 5
  • Number of species of fish counted in seines – 18 species
  • Total fish counted during seining – 290
  • Conch surveys- 14
  • Conch measured – 57
  • Conch females laying eggs – 2
  • Egg masses – 1
  • Facebook Reach on the FKNMS Account with Cruise Posts as of 8:15 on 9/26/2014:  528,584
  • Laughs – lots!
  • Fun had – tons!
  • Days/Nights of sea sickness for Amy – 0
  • Number of accidents- 0

Mission was a success!

Challenge Your Observational Skills

Can you find the fish in this photo?  Hint, it is NOT yellow!

hide and seek
You will have to zoom in to find this itty, bitty fish. Good luck finding it!

NOTE:  Scott Donahue, Chief Scientist for this cruise, actually found TWO fish in this photo!  Can you find them both?  He has a good eye!

BONUS QUESTION:  Can you identify the fish in the photo once you find them?

Answer to the last blog’s question:  Goliath Grouper is no longer being considered for Endangered listing because their populations have recovered due to a fishing ban.

Definition of the word EXTIRPATED:  Completely removed from an area.

 

Sunset at port - Key West
Sunset at port – Key West

The sun has set on my adventure, now it’s back to Arizona.  I leave better educated, but with plenty of questions to still find answers to.  I leave more inspired.  I am a better scientist, educator and a better person because of my Teacher At Sea experience.

A heart-felt “Thank You!” goes out to each and every person who made it possible for me.

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