NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard R/V Tommy Munro
July 19 – 27, 2022
Mission: Gulf of Mexico Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 24, 2022
In the prior blog post, I focused my attention on the ship that I would be sailing on during Leg 1 of the Summer SEAMAP Groundfish Survey and then took you on a virtual tour of the various compartments and areas of the R/V Tommy Munro. The ship is an enclosed, confined space and thus I found myself spending much of my time in most of the compartments and areas of the ship during my time on the cruise. In this post, I would like to describe what life was like on the ship as a member of the science team.
My primary role as a Teacher at Sea was to participate in the research process for this cruise – Summer Groundfish Survey. The detailed step-by-step description of the preparation, collecting, measuring, and analysis of sampling specimens of marine life will be covered in the following blog post. However, regarding the work conducted on the ship, research is ongoing continuously on a 24-hour schedule. The science research team was grouped into two teams with each team working a 12-hour shift. The two teams worked either the AM shift (12:00 am Midnight – 12:00 pm Noon) or the PM shift (12:00 pm Noon – 12:00 am Midnight), seven days a week. I was assigned the PM shift, which took a little getting used to but after the first full shift, the schedule became a routine schedule.
Small living quarters
One of things I should have packed prior to the cruise was a football helmet. Why you might ask? In the prior post as I took you on a tour of the R/V Tommy Munro, I showed pictures of my living quarters on the ship and my bed which provided limited space. If you will recall, my bed was the bottom bunk to the left in the photo below.
In fact, as I retired to my bed on the first night, I bumped my head. I then got up to go to the bathroom and I bumped my head. Returning to the bed and positioning myself under the covers, I bumped my head yet again. After bumping my head an additional 1,374 times (not really but it seemed like an accurate enough number), I wish I had thought to pack a football helmet but I was not the only one having trouble moving in my bed without bumping my head. My bunkmates experienced the same thing – apparently a normal occurrence in life at sea.
One thing to note that while aboard the ship, I never… and I mean never… found myself hungry. There were all sorts of food to accommodate all tastes for all workers at all hours of the day and night. The cook on board the R/V Tommy Munro, John Z., was an amazing cook and continuously worked his magic in the kitchen to prepare three square meals for the crew and research staff. The three meals were breakfast at 5:30 am, lunch at 11:30 am, and dinner at 5:30 pm. One of my many pleasant memories after working one of my shifts and getting to bed by 1:30 am was being awoken by the smell of bacon wafting through the ship. Although I was going on 4 hours of sleep and was dead tired, the bacon was calling… no, scratch that… screaming my name and I was dressed and had a seat at the dining table within 15 minutes. Because of the long shifts often involving hard, strenuous work, many of the crew would sleep through a meal or two. However, leftovers of the prior meal were always available to those sleeping in to be heated up and enjoyed later. Lunch was the one meal that could be enjoyed by the PM crew before starting their shift and be the AM crew as they completed their shift on their way to bed. Some examples of meals that I enjoyed during my time on the R/V Tommy Munro is shown in the collage below.
DO NOT Touch that Fish but… Bon Appétit!
As an educator interested in any and all things science, I would always look forward to the end of the sampling process and the emptying of the nets to survey our catch – a grab bag of a variety of different types of marine life and species. I had seen images of several types of marine life contained within the nets and recognized even fewer numbers by their name, but again this was an opportunity to learn and every sampling increased my library of marine science knowledge. During one such sampling (as shown in the photo below), I noted a multitude of one species of fish that were unique in their presence and I quickly understood them to be a species of lionfish.
I was somewhat familiar with lionfish and knew them to be an invasive species, detrimental to marine ecosystems. For those interested in learning more about lionfish, please review the two graphics below:
and access the Invasive Lionfish Web portal at:
Lionfish adversely impact coral reefs by feeding on herbivores which in turn feed on and keep a check of algae growth as well as pose a danger to any organism that comes in direct contact with them. They carry venomous spines which contain a deadly poison that can initiate a severe and painful allergic reaction in humans and can be fatal when in contact with other marine species. This is exactly why I was warned several times to avoid touching the lionfish… orders I followed to a T. When the sampling was brought into the wet lab for analysis, I asked Andre D. and my team members Kyle A. and Jacob G. questions about lionfish to find out more information about this interesting species of fish. We were discussing its detrimental impact to marine ecosystems, and the efforts currently underway to curtail the population of lionfish, when the ship’s cook, John Z., mentioned that they are very delicious and often served in seafood dishes like fish tacos. He went on to explain that one strategy to control the population of lionfish was to see if they could be eaten and if people would find it palatable. It turned out that this was the case for lionfish. I did not know that lionfish could be eaten and expressed surprise. He waited until the analysis of the sampling was over and then took two lionfish to the kitchen, cooked them, and brought the prepared fish to us in the wet lab to taste. I did and John Z. was right – it was very delicious!
During the Orientation webinar for all Teacher at Sea educators who would be sailing this season, the topic of seasickness came up and it was strongly suggested to have Dramamine on hand to relieve the unpleasant symptoms of motion sickness. Nawww, I’ll be OK. It would be one less thing to worry about during packing. My wife thought differently and urged me to take some with me…just to have on hand. So, I did pack some Dramamine just in case I need it. Well, on the first night of my cruise, it turned out that I needed it. As much as I thought I would be OK once the ship set sail, my stomach thought otherwise and experienced a mild case of nausea. I did take some Dramamine and allowed me to get some restful sleep and everything was fine. Dramamine did come in handy a couple of other times, particularly when the waters became more choppier than usual, but for the most part, I feel that I adjusted to life at sea quite well. Nevertheless, I was glad I had Dramamine with me.
As a science teacher engaged in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like Teacher at Sea, I am particularly excited about sharing my experiences…as they happen in real time. However, updating blog posts, uploading photos to Facebook, or engaging followers through social media can only happen if Wi-Fi is available. The NOAA fleet of research vessels are equipped with Wi-Fi which as I was reminded on frequent occasions can be weak and intermittent. However, the R/V Tommy Munro was not part of NOAA and had no Wi-Fi. It was not possible for me to communicate my observations, my photos, and my narratives as a Teacher at Sea while it was happening. It just meant I would have to wait until the end of the cruise to begin sharing my experience.
On Deck scenic views
Although many might think that the lack of Wi-Fi would be a major inconvenience, I actually found it to be refreshing, offering me opportunities to simply relax. After a long shift and getting some rest, I would often go up to the top deck and just look gaze all around. At what you are probably wondering? Enjoy a sample of the breathtaking views I enjoyed from my perch atop the deck of the R/V Tommy Munro.
In this installment of my exercise of the Ocean Literacy Framework, I would like to ask you to respond to three questions about the fourth essential principle:
The ocean made Earth habitable.
presented in a Padlet accessed by the following link:
Remember, there are no right or wrong answers – the questions serve not as an opportunity to answer yes or no, or to get answers right or wrong; rather, these questions serve as an opportunity not only to assess what you know or think about the scope of the principle but also to learn, explore, and investigate the demonstrated principle. If you have any questions or would like to discuss further, please indicate so in the blog and I would be glad to answer your questions and initiate a discussion.