NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 10 – June 22, 2023
Mission: 2023 Summer Acoustic-Trawl Survey of Walleye Pollock in the Gulf of Alaska
Geographic Area of Cruise: Islands of Four Mountains area, to Shumagin Islands area
Location (in port, Kodiak Island): 57o 47.0200′ N, 152o 25.5543′ W
Date: June 22, 2023
I’m wrapping up my time on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. There was so much that went in to getting out to sea for this expedition, and so many people that did so much work pulling for me and coordinating all the logistics before I joined Dyson (starting in 2020!), during my time at sea, and I’m sure after I leave the ship. Thank you to the wonderful people in the NOAA Teacher At Sea Office (Jennifer, Emily, Britta) and for giving me an opportunity to sail as a Teacher At Sea Alumna in 2023.
While waiting to board Oscar Dyson in 2022 during my first trip to Alaska, I prepared several blog posts that provided a background to NOAA, NOAA Fisheries, fisheries surveys, etc. With my undergraduate students in mind as my audience, I wanted to start the posts at the broadest scale and have the content easily utilized in multiple courses that I teach. As I authored these posts from Alaskan hotel rooms in 2022 and in 2023 and not while on the ship, they do not contain personal logs. Again, I thank the Teacher At Sea Program for giving me this flexibility in having one post that captures my personal log from the shortened expedition and keeping the “academic” focus for the prior content.
I’m trained as a geoscientist. During and after my studies in marine geology and geophysics, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in fieldwork in expeditions that have lasted hours to days to weeks to months. Although I think I know what it takes to live/work at sea, I’m reminded of new challenges on new ships in new ocean basins. It is so important as an educator that I take advantage of opportunities to get out to sea for my own professional development and to remind myself of what to share with students and community members when I present the story of what we did during our time at sea. I know I sound like a broken record – I’ve written these same words before. But that doesn’t mean these points are less important!
First topic of reflection – the people
This expedition had 32 people on board, which included the science party, bridge crew, stewards, engineering, deck, electronics technicians, and survey. The people on Oscar Dyson were born/raised and live in parts across the United States. Some people were sailing on a NOAA ship for the first time, and a few people were working for their first time on the ocean! We all have different backgrounds and training and personalities. In a way, I feel like stepping on to Oscar Dyson was like joining a game of Yahtzee – put all of these people together, shake us up (by sending us out to sea), and see what rolls out. Fortunately, during this “game”, everybody was a winner. On this 208.6-foot long ship, everyone has a purpose and function, and we must all work together to accomplish our research goals and the mission of the expedition. And to be successful, this group was supportive, understanding, respectful, took the time to listen, and made sure to laugh and smile through everything we faced.
Next topic – the work
The schedule is very different than one I keep as an instructor. At home, I know the days/times I’m teaching, and I have a calendar to organize meetings and personal appointments. I’m pretty much in charge and in control of my own schedule. At sea, it’s not “me” but “we” when it comes to all day, each and every day. There are no weekends or holidays off. We work 12-hour shifts (mine was 4AM to 4PM) during the entire expedition. Once you leave your room at the start of your shift, you can’t go back to your room until your shift is over (you are sharing a room with someone that works a different shift than you, so the room is theirs during your work time).
But you are plenty busy during your 12 hours! There can be downtime as the ship transits to a site to begin data collection, and the weather can cause a change of plans for where you are headed and what work you can do. High winds, rainstorms, cold air temperatures, the ship rolling and heaving… we faced it all during our 13 days at sea.
And this work is hard! It is a balance of the physical demands faced by the deck crew setting the trawl net, and those working in the fish lab to furiously and accurately process the catch brought on board, and everyone ensuring that safety is a top priority at all times. The Chief Scientist working in the ship’s acoustics laboratory and all the NOAA Corps Officers working on the bridge must balance the scientific mission with the realities of our present situation – is there too much ship traffic to “go fishing” and set out the trawl net? Are there whales or other marine mammals in the vicinity? Is the wind speed too high for us to operate safely?
Everything on Oscar Dyson operates at a different pace and schedule from back home. Fortunately, we are able to balance out our time in the laboratories with taking short breaks to view beautiful sunrises and do some whale watching. Again, it is the amazing group of people on this ship, from the seasoned sailors to those doing fisheries work for the first time, that come together to mentor and support one another. They all make the work not seem like “work” but instead a really enjoyable and exciting time, knowing our efforts are making a difference for sustainable fisheries.
Final topic – what comes next
My time on Oscar Dyson has provided me an amazing opportunity and wealth of information about a field where I have had no training. Now that Leg 1 of the 2023 Summer Survey has wrapped up, I’m reminded of a popular saying from one of my graduate school faculty members – “so what?”
“So what?” stands for a family of questions or an attitude that leads to consideration of the broader significance of specific studies. These kinds of questions are particularly useful in descriptive research because, often, one can get so absorbed in collecting, organizing, and analyzing observations one forgets to consider the implications of the results. — Ginsburg (1982), Seeking Answers; suggestions for students
This “so what” piece is something I will spend even more time in the future thinking about. The “so what” of the survey is clear – NOAA does an excellent job explaining what sustainable fisheries are and why it matters (see my previous blog posts). But I still need to do a better job of figuring out how to connect the dots – the endpoints being what we do on the water (and the data we collect) to the production of the annual Status of Stocks and other products NOAA uses to inform the ecosystem management. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the primary law that governs marine fisheries management in federal waters, is also something I want to get up to speed on.
In addition, I need to think about defining the “so what” for the various audiences I will be sharing my at-sea experience. I have more NOAA resources to explore, such as The NOAA Fisheries Distribution Mapping and Analysis Portal (DisMAP) and The Fisheries One Stop Shop (FOSS) Public Data Portal. I will certainly be looking for other resources to pull in to my materials for students and presentations to the public, ranging from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to episodes of The Fisheries Podcast. I also look forward to exploring more resources on diversity and representation in fisheries science, with articles catching my eye: Women Leaders Are Essential for Tackling Ocean Sustainability Challenges (Fisheries Magazine, 2023) and Examining Diversity Inequities in Fisheries Science: A Call to Action (BioScience, 2016).
So my learning is not done! The sharing of my adventure and new knowledge is only beginning, and I look forward to sharing my pollock survey stories to not only positively impact the ocean literacy of my audiences, but to show how NOAA’s fishery work helps us address the Ocean Decade Challenges (part of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development).