Alex Miller: A Sailor’s Life is a Life for Me (for the Next 15 Days), May 26, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Soon to Be Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015


Representing the Teacher At Sea program
Representing the Teacher At Sea program

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Personal Log

Ahoy! Alex Miller, Teacher At Sea, here reporting to you from Newport, OR where in just under 24 hours NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada will be underway for 15 DAS (days at sea) which will be filled with fisheries research, seabird surveys and other oceanographic endeavors that I will do my best to report faithfully and in vivid detail. For all images and video, click for a larger view.


Preparing for Sea

My adventure started with my arrival into PDX, the airport in Portland, OR, yesterday afternoon around 2:00PM. I was lucky enough to have the generous Amanda Gladics, a biologist from Oregon State University, pick me up and give me a place to stay before our trip down to the coast this morning. Apparently no one told either of us that we were going to have plenty of time onboard the ship to get to know each other because, after grabbing some snacks to make it through those upcoming night shifts, we sat up in her living room and talked until both of us looked around wondering why it was suddenly dark outside and we were both starving.

We set out at 0700 this morning in order to be in Newport by 1000. (NOAA and other maritime organizations use the 24-hour clock, which begins at midnight and counts up, so from here on out I will be using that format for time keeping). Amanda and I drove (well, she drove, I talked) down this morning so that she could attend a lab meeting with other scientists to prepare for her time onboard the Shimada.

A view from the front seat along Route 34.
A view from the front seat along Route 20.

As we drove in along Route 20 and through the Yaquina Valley, all I could see for miles were forests of Douglas Firs. Timber is a major industry in the Pacific Northwest and the timberlands out here cycle through periods of harvest, planting and new growth. Amanda remembers a section that was planted when she moved away from Newport just 6 years ago and those trees look to be almost 40 feet tall already! So for most of the 2.5 hours from Portland to Newport, our landscape was uninterrupted green, and then we came around a bend in the road and the tree line abruptly stopped, giving way to the steely gray ocean and my future home for the next two weeks.

Crossing the Yaquina Bay Bridge to reach the Hatfield Marine Science Center, I learned just how unskilled I am at taking pictures in a moving car, so after I met NOAA researcher, Ric Brodeur, Chief Scientist of our cruise, I took a hike up a nearby dune (which I later learned is affectionately called “Mount NOAA” because it is the sand that was dug out to make room for the large NOAA ships to dock without getting stuck on the bottom of the bay) to try and capture some images that actually do justice to this beautiful place. Later today Ric will take me to make sure I have all the waterproof gear I’ll need and then we’ll load up all the equipment and either have dinner onboard the ship or maybe get a chance to explore a seaside restaurant. No matter what we do for our last meal before launch, last night was my last night on land. I’ll sleep onboard the Shimada tonight to be ready for launch at 0800 tomorrow.

Once the cruise is underway, the researchers onboard have several goals they hope to accomplish during their time at sea. When NOAA ships go to sea, they have a mission statement that describes their main purpose for heading out; often however, other researchers can benefit from being at sea as well and will join the cruise but have other research goals in mind. Ric Brodeur and other researchers from Oregon State University plan to use these 15 DAS (Days at Sea) to characterize the plankton groups found just off the coast. Essentially, I’ll be helping them find and net samples to figure out what these groups are like. They’re paying special attention to young–referred to as larval or juvenile depending on age and development level–pelagicmeaning they are found near the surface of or in the first 10-30 m of ocean–rockfish and plankton. I’ll keep you informed of the goals of the other scientists I meet onboard the ship.

From atop Mount NOAA, the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. It's 208 ft. long!
From atop Mount NOAA, the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. It’s 208 ft. long!


A Bit About Me

Back in Chicago, I am a member of the Village Leadership Academy family of schools. As the science teacher at the Upper School, I aim to bring my students relevant content that will prepare them to be informed leaders that are capable of confronting future challenges. Our school teaches a social justice focused curriculum so my goal as an educator is to instill a love of learning about the natural world, but also a sense of stewardship and responsibility to the other creatures that share our home. Social justice and environmental justice are inextricably linked and too often, the most vulnerable populations, human and animal alike, bear the brunt of the abuses of the environment.

Me and several of my younger students canoeing at the forest preserve.
Me and several of my younger students canoeing at the forest preserve. Photo credit: Silvia Gonzalez

I believe education and awareness are part of the biggest reasons ocean conservation is not a hot-topic issue for all Americans. Just look at how much of the country is inland! While my students and I may take a field trip to the wonderful Shedd Aquarium every now and then, the ocean, and the life within it, cannot help but remain an abstract concept for someone who has never seen it. I wish I could take them all on the ship, but for now, I hope that my experiences as a Teacher at Sea will help to open eyes to the reality of the oceans and shed more light on the importance of maintaining their health and creating a more environmentally-just future, not just for marine life, but for all life on this planet.


Signing Off

That’s all for now! Stay tuned over the next two weeks as the Shimada travels up and down the coast between Flint Rock Head, CA and Gray’s Head, OR, trawling for young rockfish and keeping its eyes peeled for seabirds and marine mammals.

Commercial fishing boats are docked for the night, with the Yaquina Bay Bridge in the distance.
Commercial fishing boats are docked for the night, with the Yaquina Bay Bridge in the distance.


Did You Know?

The NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States of America. This means there is a chain of command, with the Executive Officer or XO in charge of overseeing all operations and issuing orders to maintain those operations onboard each NOAA ship. I’ll be sure to follow orders and do my part to make the cruise run smoothly!

Prints found atop Mount NOAA. Comment if you think you know what animal left these behind.
Prints found atop Mount NOAA. Comment if you think you know what animal left these behind.
Newport, OR, USA

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: