Christopher Tait: “Water, Water, Everywhere. Nor any drop to drink.” April 8, 2017


 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christopher Tait

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

March 21 – April 7, 2017

Mission: Spring Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from San Diego, CA to San Francisco, CA

Date: April 8, 2017

Science and Technology Log

“Water, Water, Everywhere. Nor any drop to drink.”

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Sunrise somewhere over the Pacific Ocean

If you think about a famous quote about the ocean, this one might be one of the first you would think of.  It is from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  I don’t know the first time I heard that quote, but it gave me a view of the ocean as a foreboding place. People like to use quotes to capture a thought or a feeling or an idea that someone else said near perfect. It is a way of remembering ideas of others and being remembered. It is also a way to communicate a deep truth in a memorable fashion. If said well, the quote rings in someone’s head.

The greatest technology a scientist has is their ability to communicate to the public their science. All the measurements in the world, the most exacting procedures, and the best control of variables die on the hard drive if they are not effectively communicated and shared with others. Said well, it will ring in the head of the recipient.

Scientist Profile:

“We are what we do repeatedly. Excellence therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”

Aristotle * see footnote

                If you have a career or are retired, you can think back to the path that took you to one of the most important aspect of your life. The people, opportunities, experiences, dreams, or something else that inspired you to take the career you chose. If you are in school, you are being exposed to influential people, ideas, and values that will shape your life. I have to say, the best aspect of this fisheries expedition has been the amazing and inspirational people I have met along the way.  The group of people that were on the Reuben Lasker cover a large span of skill sets that are critical to run a long term research trip.  From the NOAA Corps, to the ship operations, to maintaining the complex systems of the ship, to deploying the scientific equipment from the deck, to the planning, conducting, and evaluating the results of the science, everyone brings to the table their invaluable contributions.  I have not thus far been associated with such an endeavor and I thank everyone for sharing their expertise with me.  I asked the scientists I worked with three simple questions to get an understanding of the events that took them down the path to their career with NOAA.  I’m sure you can relate to these stories and have stories of your own that have brought you to your career.  If you still have many big decisions ahead of you, maybe you can use this as a sign post to reflect upon as you move along your path.  Below is a picture of the scientists I had the privilege to learn from, work with, and share an amazing experience.

 Figure 1:

 

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Scientist (left to right) Dave Griffith, Kevin Stierhoff, Bev, Lenora, Bill Watson, Sue Manion, Chris Tait (Teacher at Sea) & Megan Human

Dave Griffith

How did you become a NOAA scientist?

I was working at Hubbs Marine Research as a laboratory manager prior to coming to NOAA.  A group of us had started what turned out to be a long term project combining aquaculture and natural population enhancement known as OREHAP. One of the aspects of the OREHAP project was describing the micro-habitats of Mission Bay and San Diego Bay.  Many days were spent in the field sampling the various habitats of each bay. One of the scientists that would join us on occasion was Sharon Kramer. At the time Sharon was working on her PhD from Scripps and was also an employee of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Sharon alerted me of an opening at the center working for the Coastal Fisheries Resources Division headed up by Rich Charter, one of the best supervisors she had known, and I agree. The rest is history. I’ve now been with NOAA for 27 years; most of them spent at sea and have experienced sights that many people may only read about. No regrets whatsoever.

What do you like best about your career?

This is probably one of the easier questions. What I like and cherish most about my career is the people I have had the privilege to know and work with.  Not only some of the best scientists in the world but just good people. The world of marine science, especially fishery science, is a relatively small community. They become your family. Throw into the mix that I also get to do something that I have wanted to do since high school and I realize that it wasn’t a bad choice.

What advice would you give to a student who would like to follow a similar career path?

In your early academic life, keep an open mind. There are so many aspects to science that you may not realize until you begin your formal education. Take a look at everything. I spent a short time at a city college exploring various avenues before making my commitment to a four year university. If you can, volunteer. It is definitely not time wasted.  For a career in science, earn the highest degree or degrees you possibly can. And lastly, a major component of a career in science is being able to communicate. Learn to write well. I have found that an excellent way to improve your writing is to read. Read everything. Read novels, magazines, journals, newspapers, whatever you can get your hands on and never stop.               

Lanora

How did you become a NOAA scientist?

Growing up, I loved mysteries and figuring out why things worked the way they did. I was also fascinated by the marine environment.  Having learned about NOAA and its missions from relatives, I participated in a co-op program while in college where I worked at a NOAA Fisheries lab.  That work experience helped me realize that this was a field I would like to make a career.

What do you like best about your career?

I would definitely have to say the challenge of the work.  The marine environment is so dynamic and ever changing and evolving.  Working with so many amazing scientists to better understand this environment and the organisms in it is very fulfilling.

What advice would you give to a student who would like to follow a similar career path?

If this is a career path a student is interested in, I recommend looking into volunteer and internship positions.  These experiences help get an understanding of the work in this career and if it’s a right fit for you.  It also helps to build your experience and make contacts in this field.

Sue Manion

How did you become a NOAA scientist?

I graduated from Michigan State University with a BS in Fisheries Biology. After graduation, I joined Peace Corps and worked for 3 years on the aquaculture program in the Dominican Republic. Upon my return to the states, I applied for and was accepted as a sea-going technician for NOAA at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in San Diego.  I have been an employee here since 1989.

What do you like best about your career?

What I like best about my job is the variety of tasks I perform. I was looking for a career where my job was outdoors and physical.  I spend 1/3 of the year working on fisheries research vessels.  I process trawl catches and assist in oceanographic sampling.  In the past, I have been a marine mammal observer on a tuna boat, and have tagged sharks.

The rest of the time I work in an office processing data and prepping gear for our next research survey.

What advice would you give to a student who would like to follow a similar career path?

My advice for someone who would like to follow a similar career path would be to go beyond a BS and get a Master’s.  I recommend taking all the math classes, computer classes and writing classes that are available to supplement whatever field of Science one chooses.

Bill Watson

How did you become a NOAA scientist?

After receiving undergraduate degrees in oceanography and zoology from the University of Washington I went to the University of Hawaii to do a master’s degree working on distributional ecology of fish eggs and larvae. While at UH I visited the larval fish laboratory at the NMFS Southwest Fisheries Center in La Jolla, California, to meet the staff and learn what I could to improve my skill in identifying fish eggs and larvae. I subsequently stayed in touch with the SWC larval fish lab while working first at UH, then for North Carolina State University doing biological monitoring studies at a coastal nuclear power plant as well as ecological studies of fish and shrimp larvae in an estuary and adjacent salt marshes, and then in southern California for a consulting company doing a wide variety of mainly coastal biological studies. While at the consulting company I received a call from the supervisor of the SWC larval fish group letting me know that a vacancy was coming up in the group and to keep an eye out for the job announcement if I was interested. When the announcement came out I applied, and got the job. Interestingly, the person I replaced was the person I started my larval fish career with in Hawaii 20 years earlier.

What do you like best about your career?

I like fish larvae, so having the opportunity to go to sea to collect samples, and being able to spend part of my time in the laboratory looking at fish eggs and larvae through a microscope often are as much entertainment as work.  In addition to the routine sample processing that we do in support of biomass estimations for commercially important fishes, we regularly conduct analyses to look at how the California Current ecosystem functions from a fish perspective. We can do this because most fish species in our area have planktonic larval stages, so with one set of samples we can look at fish assemblages ranging from deep-sea meso- and bathypelagic fishes to rocky reef and shorefishes. In recent years we have added genetic tools to improve our taxonomic resolution, and have added squids to our repertoire. Most of the studies done in my lab are group efforts, in many cases in cooperation with universities and other NOAA Fisheries labs.

What advice would you give to a student who would like to follow a similar career path?

I always tell student interns in our lab that if they plan to be scientists, they need to pay attention in English classes. Research isn’t really done until it’s published, and if a manuscript is poorly written the likelihood is that it will be rejected by scientific journals. Writing is actually one of the more important skills to develop for someone interested in a career in science. Beyond paying attention in English classes, a postgraduate degree is almost a requirement these days to have any chance at doing independent research. Getting some real world work experience between undergrad and graduate school can be useful to help in setting a career course that you will be happy with, for example when I graduated from UW I planned to specialize in algology, but during a postgraduate internship working on the effects of tritium exposure on early development of rainbow trout, I discovered that I liked fish better and have been doing that ever since.

Megan Human

How did you become a NOAA scientist?

My career path with NOAA began during my junior year in college. I had been volunteering at the Seattle Aquarium for several years and decided to apply for an internship opportunity that was collaboration between the University of Washington and the NWFSC working with phytoplankton. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work with plankton, but I ended up loving it and was offered a contracting position when my internship was up. In 2014 I ended up moving to San Diego, and thanks to some connections I had from the NWFSC I was referred to a position working with ichthyoplankton (larval stage of fishes).

What do you like best about your career?

I love getting to work with fish and see all the diversity the ocean has to offer. I‘ve also had the opportunity to conduct an egg rearing experiment where I get to raise fish eggs to larvae at sea and in the lab. While it presents many challenges, it is such a great feeling to be able to do hands research in the field. Once you start working on one question, you realize there are so many unknowns out there and it is exciting to get to be a part of a team that is trying to find the answers.

What advice would you give to a student who would like to follow a similar career path?

The best advice I could give to someone who wants to get into a career with marine sciences is to volunteer. There are usually many opportunities associated with local aquariums, NOAA or University vessels, and research laboratories. These are a great way to experience the different avenues of marine science and provide a lot of valuable experiences and connections with individuals in the field. It is also a great way to find what areas you are most passionate about as well as discovering what fields aren’t the best fits.

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Contemplating a successful fishing voyage as we sail under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Personal Log

As the boat motors under the Golden Gate Bridge and into the port of San Francisco, I think about how this experience will impact me.  How can I take what I have learned and effectively communicate to my students the importance of researching how our planet functions? How will the planet change in the face of growing stressors from impacts of human population growth?  How can I motivate others around me to be mindful of our impacts and to work towards a more sustainable future?  Well, with any great study, you generally end up with more questions than answers.  I thank my friends from the Reuben Lasker for helping me communicate to others about the ocean, their science careers, and marine sciences in general.

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Arrival to port at the Exploratorium in San Francisco!

For hope and encouragement I turned to my students for quotes of their own.

What quote would you use to describe your perspective on the world as you finish up school?

“For me, this class helped me decide to go into environmental studies. I always cared about the environment, but I realized that the more I know, the more empowered I will be to make a difference.” Abi Brown NFHS ‘17

“I am going into the heath field so it was very interesting knowing about all of the toxins that are having consequences on our health.” Ashley Parkinson NFHS ‘17

“This class really opened my eyes to the environmental issues I wasn’t all that aware of. I knew that climate change was occurring but I didn’t know all the contributing factors in my daily life could build up and add to global warming. Just being aware has made me change my lifestyle drastically.”  Courtney Surovy NFHS ‘17

“Taking this class taught me how large of an impact humans have on the environment. It is hard to believe that just one person can make a change, but the more you know, the more you can take action to save the environment.” Emily Glueck NFHS ‘17

“After taking this class, I found myself constantly going home and sharing with my family what I learned. I wanted them to become as passionate as I became. This class has sparked my interest and motivated me to be more conscious of my actions and look at how all possible results can impact the Earth.”  Maya Scocozza NFHS ‘17

“This class has given me a newfound love for the world that I live in, inspiring me to help improve the quality of the environment for current and future generations by doing even simple things such as recycling.” Olivia Hanisch NFHS ‘17

“As an incoming freshman to UConn’s MEM program, a dual business and engineering major, this class will forever impact my actions in the product design industry. Every step I take in my career will include consideration on how to engineer a product that is both marketable as well as environmentally sustainable.” Hailey Altobelli NFHS ‘17

“Taking AP Environmental Science allowed me to evaluate the destructive choices humans, including myself, make on a daily basis and how it amounts to significant impacts on our global climate and the surrounding ecosystems. Even something as little as leaving your lights on in an empty room or leaving water running while brushing your teeth can cause negative impacts on the environment. When individuals refuse to change their smaller habits on smaller issues, it becomes difficult for widespread change to occur. The class opened my eyes to how little changes make a big impact.”                 Matt Trewartha NFHS ‘17

“I will be pursuing a Mechanical Engineering degree via Rensselaer. A successful career to me will be one in which I have assisted in progressing the world environmentally and technologically.”  Matt Sousa NFHS ‘17

“By taking this class, I have realized how much everything impacts the environment. From the cosmetics we use to the food we purchase, we greatly impact the earth’s land and its resources. By working on making sustainable choices, we can make a big impact on the earth.” Hadley Starr NFHS ‘18

“When environmentally friendly energy options become economically beneficial to large corporations and industry, global sustainability will become a tangible goal.”                Kyle Van Vlack NFHS ‘17

“One thing I learned from this class is that little thing you do has an effect. Every bottle you throw out and every shower you take does affects the environment.”                      Leah Anderson NFHS ’17

“As someone who is interested in the field of policy making, this class greatly informed me regarding the hidden dangers in our treatment of the planet. I feel like I am much better educated about the harmful consequences of climate change, pollution, and many other topics.” Matt Rossi NFHS ‘17

“By taking AP Environmental Science, I have become more aware of the destructive effect humanity has on the planet, and thus the necessity of advocating for sustainability. If we wish to preserve the environment, we all must educate ourselves about the severity of climate change and do whatever we can to minimize the negative impact of our lifestyle; even the actions of one person can help make a difference. By becoming catalysts for positive change, we as a society will be one step closer to achieving harmony between humans and the environment.” Nicole Cennamo ‘17

“This class has helped me develop an understanding of the natural world which we live in, and as I move towards studying Biology in college, I believe I have the resources necessary to be successful and have an impact in the world.” Josh Sproule NFHS ‘17

“As a future Political Science major, learning about the massive environmental destruction caused by humans has taught me that fixing the environment should not be politicized, and we should all be committed to doing what is right for the environment.” Mike DaSilva NFHS ‘17

“After this class, I have grown to be able to be more conscientious about my actions and how I affect the world. I care more for the animals and their environment and now have a passion for protecting them as much as I can.” Emily O’Toole NFHS ‘17

“This class has encouraged me to take responsibility in helping to save our planet. I learned that everyday things such as long, hot showers or leaving the lights on actually contribute to the global problems we see today. Taking this class this year has definitely inspired me to take action in helping our planet survive.” – Jackson Lathrop NFHS ’17

“I have gained a lot of knowledge through this class that has helped me to fully understand the impact humans have on the environment, and how to prevent further harm to our world. As I plan to become a business major, this knowledge I now have will impact the choices I will make and influence how I live and go about my daily life, always keeping in mind my environmental footprint.” – Noah Alviti NFHS ’17

*footnote: This quote is actually a misquote of Aristotle.  It was used by Matt Light of the New England Patriots at his retirement speech.  Will Durant deserves the actual quote from his book “Ethics and the Nature of Happiness” where he paraphrased Aristotle’s words from “Nicomachaen Ethics.” 

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