Marsha Lenz: In Honor of the Seafarer, June 27, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Marsha Lenz

Aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson

 June 8-28, 2017

Appropriate attire is important for fishing.

Mission: MACE Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 27, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge


Sorting fish requires teamwork.

Latitude: 55 42.0 N

Longitude: 156 16.4 W

Time: 1000

Visibility: 6 Nautical Miles

Wind Direction: 199

Wind Speed: 11 Knots

Sea Wave Height: 3-4 foot swell

Barometric Pressure: 1002.4 Millibars

Sea Water Temperature: 9.4°C

Air Temperature: 10°C

Science and Technology Log

For the science/technology part of the blog, I usually focus on one part of the sciences that we are participating in every day, a piece of technology on the boat, or one specific career that one of the 31 people on board have. Today, however, I’d like to share the big picture of how the science, the careers, and the technology all interact and intersect with each other. I have spent countless hours in the Acoustics lab, in the Fish lab, on the Bridge, and in the Chem lab with a diverse group of extremely skilled and talented people. Here’s what I have witnessed over and over again: They is constantly troubleshooting, coding, and then creating a product/outcome.

For example, let’s just take a look at the Fish lab. (Almost) everything in the lab was designed and created by the NOAA team of scientists for the specific purpose of collecting data on pollock populations. They did not buy the software anywhere. They created it. Over the past three weeks, I have witnessed, on an on-going basis, the scientists in the lab, create, refine, and test their codes for the various programs that they use for their data entry and end of survey reports.

Abigail created a code to illustrate how many otoliths were caught on each transect.

Just yesterday, Abigail created a new code to create a chart that shows how many otoliths were collected from each transect line. This part of the program had not yet been made, so she did it. This is something that happens throughout the day, all day long.


When the team needed a quick way to measure and record the lengths of the fish (using a ruler and writing down every length on a piece of paper and then recording that into the computer database took a long time!), they designed AND created the Ichthystick. This records the length of each fish electronically, and then it enters that data directly into the database. It saves a lot of time. They even put my name into the system as one of the scientists!

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The list of things that the scientists create goes on and on: from charts, to computer programs, to the equipment that they use to collect the data. It was a really important reminder for me of how essential teaching coding and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) is in the classroom. Unfortunately, with budget cuts, it’s often hard for schools, especially very rural ones, to integrate these topics into the daily classroom routine. I really want to ensure that my students have the skills and knowledge to continue in the sciences so that they, too, can have careers that allow them to use their creativity and intelligence, meet great people, and use these abilities to help protect and care for the planet we live on.

Personal Log

Though there were some gray days, the views still brought everyone outside.

We are now on our transit home. I have very mixed feelings about being back on land and heading back to Humboldt County. I will be back in the comfort of my living room in 2 days. Of course, I am very excited to see my kids, visit with my friends, and take walks in the forests. Yet, there is a part of me that is already feeling a bit nostalgic for the friendships that I have built on board and the soothing rolling of the ocean. Though we worked 12 hour days, the people that I worked with made the time go by fast. Though the thought of spending three weeks on a boat with 30 total strangers might seem like an uncomfortable eternity, the days quickly blended together into a memorable event that I will not forget for a long time. We laughed at the littlest things, ate 3 meals a days together (excellent meals, I might add. Thank you so much Kimrie and Lenette!), made fun of bad movies, shared personal stories of struggles or hardships, showed off pictures of our children, and took moments to exercise (bring on the Plank Challenge!). We played cards, drew silly pictures, savored chocolate and fancy cheese, discussed the challenges that future generations face, and lengthed A LOT of fish. It is not often that one has an opportunity to spend 12 hours a day with the same people (total strangers, I might add), for 3 weeks straight, in a confined space.

Team Plank Oscar Dyson found ways to practice planking  in between hauls.

My only regret is not having made the time to sit and down and have an “interview” with every single person on the ship. It was through my interviews with people that I was struck by the unique story that each person has. I felt that it was not only important to listen to their history, but also to share it. I only intended to interview a few people on the ship, but once I got started, I felt like I couldn’t stop. The life of a seafaring person is under appreciated in our society. Yet, we rely on fishermen/women to provide the nation with all of the seafood that is eaten. We also rely on marine scientists, survey technicians, NOAA Corps, stewards, observers, NOAA Engineers, and deck hands to help us with this and to give us valuable information about the health of our oceans and marine life.

Through my conversations and interviews, I have learned that the life of a seafarer requires a lot of sacrifice. Life at sea has many challenges. Much of the crew spends many months at a time away from their families. They spend 24/7 rolling around on the ocean, in very small spaces. Most of time, the ocean is yielding and the gentle rocking of the boat can soothe one into a deep slumber. Yet, there are also times, when she roars her head a bit and reminds us that we are just a speck in the vastness of her depth and power.

Being a survey technician requires a lot of hard work.

The life of a seafarer, even a part-time one, is not for everyone.   They can’t just go to the store to go shopping, visit the dentist for a toothache, or go to the movies with a friend. They may miss important milestone events, such as their kid’s graduation or their parent’s 75th birthday. It can be trying to be separated from the daily musings of friends and family. There are days when all they see is gray sky and gray ocean. The Internet connection on a vessel is hit or miss (if you have one at all!) so they can’t easily stay connected with loved ones. It can begin to feel lonely and isolated.   I am grateful for all the seafarers, in whatever capacity they serve, who sacrifice so much, in the name of science, sustainable fishing, and the well being of our oceans.

In addition to the seafarers, I would also like to acknowledge the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Before embarking on my adventure as a Teacher At Sea, I had very little idea of what NOAA was and even less of an idea as to what they did. I knew that they gave me my weather forecast and that they studied the oceans and the atmosphere. I now know that NOAA is so much more than just that. In my first blog out at sea, I looked online to see what NOAA does. I wrote, “Its mission is to ‘understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources’. This is easily condensed into three words: Science, Service and Stewardship.” This makes so much more sense to me now. Without NOAA and its close to 12,000 scientists, engineers, and staff who work for them, we would not be able to study and monitor specific areas of our earth. It is through NOAA that we can continue to be informed and make the correct choices to be responsible stewards of this delicate planet.

Rick Towler designs many of the fishing  data programs and equipment that are used on the Oscar Dyson.

I know that I will continue to reflect on these last three weeks as I settle back into my own routine on land. As I become reacquainted with these routines, I know that my time as a Teacher At Sea will slowly settle further and further back into my bank of life- changing experiences and will become one of the endless memories that help make me who I am. I do hope though to keep some of the insights that I have gained on this research cruise in the forefront of my educational teachings. I look forward to sharing what I learned with my future fifth graders. Let us all continue to be good stewards and tread lightly.

I would like to thank everyone on the Oscar Dyson. Everyone including the CO, the XO, and all of the NOAA Corps officers, the Engineers, the deck crew, the survey technicians, the observers, the stewards, and the science team all made me feel very welcome and at home. Everyone was patient with me as I learned the ways of the seafarer and the ins and outs of the Oscar Dyson. I also want to thank everyone with the NOAA Teacher At Sea program for allowing this opportunity to happen for me and publishing my blog posts. I am eternally grateful.

Did You Know?

The Oscar Dyson has six onboard laboratories: a wet lab, dry lab, electronics/computer lab, bio lab, acoustics lab and hydrographics lab. The ship carries a multibeam echo sounder that collects information about the sea floor and the contents of the water column.

I even  found a Pi joke!


Interview with Bruce Mokiao

Lead Fisherman

Bruce’s smile and positive attitude were contagious.

What is your position here on the Oscar Dyson?

I am the lead fisherman on the boat.

How long have you been doing this?

I have been doing this for 16 years.

What got you interested in living your life on the sea?

Well, it was a couple of things. First, it was the Conservation Corps. That, and fishing. I didn’t know about NOAA until I was fishing commercially.   The person who picked up the fish that we brought back was a NOAA employee. I learned a lot about NOAA from him. I thought that it would be a good way to make a living and support my family.

What is your favorite part of the job?

My favorite part of the job is fishing, of course. I also like the data. It is all very interesting. I like science. I love this ship. I also really like the people that I work with. The crew makes a big difference in your day to day duties.

What is your job description?

I run the night shift. I supervise some of the other deck hands and I am the assistant to the chief botswain. I also mop and do general maintenance of things on the ship. I fix nets. I am basically in charge of running the fishing side of things.

 What are your hours?

I work from 2315 (11:15 pm) to 1145. I like running the night shift.

What are some of the challenges with your job?

Well, the environment is challenging. I am still getting used to living in Alaska. I am from Hawaii, so it is a big change for me. Alaska gets cold. I miss being with my family. That is also hard for me. And then, decision-making is hard. I have to think things through to make sure that the decisions I make on the ship will not have negative consequences. There is a lot of responsibility in my hands.

What motivates you every day?

My family. When my days get hard, I think about my family. My kids give my energy. I have 3. One is about to get married. I also think of the Chinese word for power, Yo Jer. I remind myself that I am “Yo jer” and that gives me the power to keep going.

Do you have any advice for my students?

Yes! Go to school. Go to a lot of school. Do what you can do to find opportunities. Find something that you love to do and things will fall into place. Live life to its fullest. Life does get hard sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that you should give up.


Thank you to EVERYONE that helped make this happen!

The sunrise next to Mt. Pavlof was a memorable event.

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