NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker
May 31 – June 11, 2018
Mission: Rockfish recruitment and ecosystem assessment survey
Geographic Range: California Coast
Date: June 29, 2018
*Update from previous blog*
I mentioned in my previous blog that one of our scientists was analyzing water samples for sea turtle eDNA. Here is what she added about her research…
“Kirsten Harper, a postdoctoral researcher with NOAA/AOML, collected water to analyze for environmental DNA (eDNA). This is DNA that might be left in the air, soil, or water from feces, mucus, or even shed skin of an organism. In her case, she is trying to detect the diurnal vertical migration of fish species, such as sardine, using eDNA. Additionally, she is using eDNA to detect the presence of leatherback turtles. Very little is known about leatherback turtles in the open ocean, as they are difficult to find and survey. eDNA could help solve this problem!”
I officially left the Reuben Lasker on the morning of June 11, 2018 via small boat transfer. While I was looking forward to getting back to family my students, I realized I wasn’t quite ready to leave the ship and the work behind. I finally felt integrated into the team and the work, and that quick it was over. I definitely wanted to stay!
The small boat transfer was fun; it was the fastest speed I traveled in over a week. We also spotted dolphins on the way into shore. Once on land, I had the opportunity to meet with Emily Susko, Program Specialist for NOAA TAS. I had almost a full day to spend on land, and [I believe] Emily knew I had only been to California once before for a very short visit. She was an awesome host and decided to show me some really cool attractions that were more first-time experiences for me.
The first place we visited was the Henry Cowell State Park, a well-known location for exploring redwood forests. I am not sure I ever knew the difference between the coastal redwoods and the giant sequoia redwoods; I now understand the coastal redwoods are the smaller of the two species. Nonetheless, there were still the biggest trees I think I’ve ever seen. I also had the chance to test some of my birding skills. I do not know Pacific coast species as well, but some calls sound similar to east coast species, and I feel pretty confident in saying I heard and saw chestnut-backed chickadees, a species we do not have in Philly.
The second place we visited was Natural Bridges State Beach. This was another equally exciting experience for me because, again, it was so different. On the east coast, the land is pretty flat along the ocean. Therefore, our coast is lined with salt marshes (another one of my favorite places). Being able to see the rocky coasts in Santa Cruz was cool because it’s something I’ve only seen in pictures. When we teach beach ecology, we use this coast as an example because the ecological boundaries are so visually obvious, and I saw it for the first time in person. We explored some of the tidal pools, and they were teeming with little organisms. Now the next time I teach about them in class, I can use my own pictures!
Long story short, I had a blast! I am so genuinely grateful for the opportunity to participate in something like this. As someone who started out in Marine Biology, it is near and dear to my heart. I like to think I knew a few things coming in, but I learn so much during this trip. I learned about how much has changed since the last time I did this type of research, like the importance of being able to read and write programming language to analyze data. I personally enjoyed working with people whose work has the potential to impact the environment and people alike. I also learned a lot about how many people it takes to get the work done. It included every individual on the ship, no matter his or her role.
It’s been a few weeks since I returned from my cruise. I had some time off to catch up with home life, and then had to get back in the office and prepare for the summer. Since our program is an out-of-school program, we are running programs and opportunities year-round. I have a group of Seniors who completed the program, the current 9th-11th grade students move up a grade, and we have a brand-new group of rising 9th grade students beginning the WINS journey. Everyone, from family to colleagues to students, has been asking to hear about my experience. I have a few dates in place to present what I’ve learned and how they too can get involved. I am looking forward to the next stage of the process, writing the activities based on my experience.
I especially want to thank everyone from the Science Team, all of the NOAA Corps. Officers, and the crew of the NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker. I truly enjoyed my time while aboard the ship, and appreciate that you all welcomed me and treated me with kindness. I hope this is not my only visit to the Reuben Lasker!