Anna Levy: What Tummies Tell Us, July 15, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anna Levy

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 10 – 20, 2017

 

Mission: Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 15, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Scattered, mild storms continue, causing some delays in our fishing. However, they do lead to beautiful sunsets!

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Beautiful Gulf of Mexico sunset

Latitude: 29 18.790 N

Longitude: 84 52.358 W

 

Air temp: 28.7 C

Water temp: 29.7 C

Wind direction: light and variable

Wind speed: light and variable

Wave height: 0.3 meter

Sky: 80% cloud cover, no rain

 

Science and Technology Log

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TAS Anna Levy removes the stomach of a red snapper.

Data about the number and size of individual organisms can tell us a lot about the health of an overall population of a species. However, it doesn’t tell us much about the role that species plays in its community. If we want to understand that better, we need to know more about how it fits into its food web – what it eats and what eats it. If you were trying to collect information about what a fish eats, where would you look first? Its stomach!

So, after we measure certain species, we dissect them and remove their stomachs. We place each stomach in its own tiny bag, with a bar code that identifies which individual fish it belonged to. Back at a lab on land, scientists will carefully examine the contents of the stomachs to better understand what each species was eating.

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The bar codes that we use to label specimens.

 

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This map shows the native range of lionfish. Credit: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish-facts.html

For example, one of the fish currently under investigation in the Gulf of Mexico is the lionfish. This is an invasive species, which means that it is not native to the area. Its natural habitat is in parts of southern Pacific and Indian oceans, but it was first spotted in the Atlantic, off the coast of North Carolina, in 2002. Lionfish were most likely introduced to this area by humans, when they no longer wanted the fish as an aquarium pet. By 2010, its range had expanded to include the Gulf. And, with no natural predators in this area and rapid rates of reproduction, its numbers have increased exponentially.

Early dietary studies, which were focused on the lionfish in the Atlantic, show that the lionfish is a generalist. This means that, while it prefers to eat small reef fish, it is able to eat a wide variety of organisms including benthic invertebrates (like crabs) and other fish. This flexibility makes lionfish even more resilient and able to spread. These studies also found that lionfish stomachs were rarely empty, suggesting that they are highly successful predators, able to out-compete other top predators for food.

This has wildlife experts concerned about the impact lionfish will have on natural ecosystems. It is possible that lionfish will over-consume native species, causing native ecosystems to collapse. It is also possible that lionfish will out-compete and displace native, high level predators, like snapper and grouper. Scientists are working now to develop methods to try to manage this invasion.

Because ecosystems here are different from those in the Atlantic, scientists are now turning their attention to studying the lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico. The work that we did on the boat today should help them do just that!

To see the results of one such study, completed in 2014, see:

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0105852

For more information and photos about the lionfish, please see:

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/stories/lionfish/lion02_invade.html

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish-facts.html

http://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/mediacenter/2015/05/21_05.html

 

Personal Log

Often times, we teachers struggle to convince our students that, while all of the modern technology we have is great, they also need to understand how to solve problems without relying on it. (Most of us have probably been on at least one side of the old, “no, you don’t need a calculator to multiply by 10!” argument at some point in life.)   Well, in the past couple of days, I’ve seen two great examples of this onboard the ship.

The first relates directly to our survey work. Our CTD, the equipment mentioned in last post, has two sensors that both detect how much dissolved oxygen is in the water. Having two instruments collecting the same information (sometimes called redundancy) is important, not only so that there is a back-up in case one breaks, but also so that we can tell if they are measuring accurately.

The two oxygen sensors have been reading differently – one was about 0.7 mg/L lower than the other. This is an indication that one needs to be calibrated – but which one? To find out, Alonzo Hamilton, one of the senior NOAA scientists, used a classical chemical analysis technique called titration.

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This is the titration equipment found in the chemical lab on board the ship.

In a chemical titration, one substance is slowly added to another, while the scientist watches for a chemical reaction to occur. If you know how the two substances react, you can determine how much of the second substance is present, based on how much of the first was added to make the reaction happen.

Based on the results of his titration, Alonzo was able to determine which of the oxygen sensors was reading accurately. So, it definitely goes to show that there are important applications for that classic high school chemistry!

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The binnacle that houses the ship’s magnetic compass.

The other example relates more to the ability to navigate the ship. NOAA Ship Oregon II is equipped with advanced electronic navigation software, Gyro compass, radar, and GPS systems. However, when I was exploring the top deck (flying bridge) of the ship, I came upon this strangely low-tech looking instrument. I asked ENS Chelsea Parrish, a NOAA Corps Officer and member of the wardroom, about it. She explained that it is called a “binnacle,” a safeguard that houses a magnetic compass! The magnetic compass is the same type of technology used by mariners back in the 1300’s. It is critical to have in case of a power outage or other disruption to the ship’s electronic navigation technology.

 

 

Did You Know?

While they typically live in cold waters, there is one pod of orca whales (aka killer whales) that resides, year-round, in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s rare to see them, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled!

Dolphins, on the other hand, seem to be everywhere out here. I’ve caught at least a glimpse of them every day so far. In fact, a group of them swam up to investigate our CTD today as it was being lowered into the water.

 

Questions to Consider:

Research: Some other famous invasive species in our oceans include the green crab (Carcinus maenas), killer algae (Caulerpa taxifolia), a jellyfish-like animal called a sea walnut (Mnemiopsis leidyi), a marine snail called rapa whelk (Rapana venosa), and the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha). Where did each of these originate? How did they come to inhabit their invaded areas? What impact are they having?

Brainstorm: What measures could you imagine taking to manage some of these species?

Research: The specific type of titration used to determine the amount of dissolved oxygen in water is called the Winkler method. How does the Winkler method work?

 

 

 

Anna Levy: First Day of Fishing! July 12, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anna Levy

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 10 – 20, 2017

 

Mission: Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 12, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

We’re traveling through some mild rainstorms. Nothing extreme, but we do feel a little more side to side rocking motion in the boat (which makes me feel sleepy!)

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Mild rainstorms on the horizon

Latitude: 29 degrees, 56.2 minutes North

Longitude: 86 degrees, 20.6 minutes West

Air temp: 24.7 degrees Celsius

Water temp: 30.1 degrees Celsius

Wind direction: light and variable

Wind speed: light and variable

Wave height: 1 foot (about 0.3 meters)

Sky: overcast with light rain

 

Science and Technology Log

Today I completed my first shift on the science team and we surveyed 3 complete stations. At each station, we carried out a multi-step protocol (or procedure). Here are the steps:

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The Depth Contour Output graph displays data collected from one station.

Before we begin fishing, the ship conducts a transect (or cross-section) of the survey area, using multiple pieces of equipment to observe the ocean floor. This tells us if it is safe (for both ship operations and for fragile coral that may exist) to trawl here. If a coral reef or other large obstacle was present, we would see significant variation in the depth of the ocean floor. This “depth contour output” graph shows the data we collected at one station. How deep is the water at this station? Is it safe to trawl here?

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The CTD collects information about water chemistry

We also use a collection of instruments called a “CTD” to collect information about the chemistry of water itself at different depths. This information is called the water’s “profile.” For fisheries studies, we are most interested in the amount of dissolved oxygen and the temperature at different depths. Why might this information be relevant for understanding the health of fish populations?

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Forel-Ule color scale

We also measure the water color using the Forel-Ule color scale by matching it to the samples shown in this photo. This gives scientists an indication of the amount of particulates, chlorophyll, and nutrients are in the water.

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Trawl Net being lowered into water

Once we determine it is safe to trawl, the ship returns to the starting location. We will trawl along the same path that we observed. Here’s the trawl net before it is lowered into the water. It will be pulled just along the bottom of the survey area, using tickler chains to agitate the ocean floor for benthic organisms for 30 minutes, and collecting whatever crosses its path!

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The catch is emptied into baskets

Once the trawl is finished, the deck crew uses a large crane to pull the trawl on board. We all help to empty the net and place everything into baskets. Most of what we catch are biological organisms, but small amounts of non-living material (like shells, dead coral, and even trash) come up as well.

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The Wet Lab

We then bring the baskets into the wet lab.

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Baskets are emptied into a long trough with a conveyor belt

We dump the baskets into a long metal trough that has a conveyor belt at the bottom.

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The catch is sorted into baskets by species

Next we sort the catch. Each species gets its own basket and we count the number of individuals for each species.

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Identifying organisms

Then, it’s time for the tough part (for me at least) – every organism has to be identified by its scientific name. That’s a lot of Latin! Fortunately, Andre and the senior scientists are very patient and happy to help those of us who are new. It’s amazing how many species these experienced scientists recognize off the top of their heads.

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Field Guides

We also have many field guides, which are books containing photos and descriptions of species, to help us.

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For each species, we record the total number of individuals and total mass

We are interested in how much of each species are present, so we record both the total number of individuals and total mass of each species.

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TAS Anna Levy measures the length of a flatfish using the Limnoterra Board

We also measure the length and mass of a sample of individuals. A handy device called a Limnoterra Electronic Measuring Board makes this process easy.  We place the mouth of the fish on one end of this board and then touch its tail fin with a pen-like magnetic wand. The board then automatically sends the fish’s length to the computer to be recorded.  We use an electronic balance that is also connected to the computer to measure and record mass.

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A computer screen displays FSCS software

All of the information is recorded in a database, using software called FSCS (pronounced “fiscus”).

Many of the specimens we collect are saved for use in further research on land.   Scientists at NOAA and other research institutions can request that we “bag and tag” species that they want. Those samples are then frozen and given to the scientists when we return to shore.

Any organisms or other material that remains is returned to the sea, where it can be eaten or continue its natural cycle through the ecosystem. The conveyor belt, conveniently, travels to a chute that empties back into the ocean. Now all that’s left is to clean the lab and wait for the process to begin again at the next station!

Our goal is to complete this process 48 times, at the 48 remaining stations, while at sea. 3 down, 45 to go!

Personal Log

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Sometimes the work is high-paced…

This work has real highs and lows for me, personally. There are dramatic, hold your breath, moments like when equipment is lifted off the deck with cranes and lowered into the water. There is the excitement of anticipating what data or species we will find. My favorite moment is when we dump the buckets and all of the different species become visible. I’m amazed at the diversity and beauty of organisms that we continue to see. It reminds me of all of the stereotypical “under the sea” images you might see in a Disney movie.

The more challenging part is the pace of the work. Sometimes there are many different things going on, so it’s easy to keep busy and focus on learning new things, so time passes quickly. Other times, though, things get repetitive. For example, once we start entering all of the data about the individual fish, one person calls out the length and mass of a fish, while the other enters it into the computer – over and over until we’ve worked through all of the fish.

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… but sometimes the work even stops altogether, especially when whether interferes.

Sometimes, the work even stops altogether, especially when the weather interferes. There have been mild rainstorms coming and going continually. It is not safe to have people on deck to deploy the CTD and trawling equipment when there is lightning in the area, so there is nothing for the science team to do but wait during these times.

Because the pace of the work is constantly changing, it’s difficult to get into a groove, so I found myself getting really tired at the end of the shift. However, an important part of collecting data out in the field is being flexible and adapting to the surroundings. There is a lot to accomplish in a limited amount of time so I keep reminding myself to focus on the work and do my best to contribute!

Did You Know?

When working at sea, scientists must use special balances that are able to compensate for the movement of the ship in order to get accurate measurements of mass.

To ensure that we are accurately identifying species, we save 1 individual from each species caught at a randomly selected station. We will freeze those individuals and take them back to NOAA’s lab in Pascagoula, where other scientists will confirm that we identified the species correctly!

Questions to Consider:

Review: Look at the “depth contour output” graph above: How deep is the water at this station? Is it safe to trawl here?

Research: What does “CTD” stand for?

Research: For fisheries studies, we are most interested in the amount of dissolved oxygen and the temperature at different depths. Why might this information be relevant for understanding the health of fish populations?

Reflect: Why might scientists decide to use three different pieces of equipment to collect the same data about the ocean floor? And, why might they have several different scientists independently identify the species name of the same individuals?

Anna Levy, Getting Underway! July 11, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anna Levy

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 10 – 20, 2017

 

Mission: Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 11, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

The weather and waves have been pretty calm as we head down the Pascagoula River out to the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Latitude: 30.37 degrees North

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Today’s sky!

Longitude: 88.54 degrees West

Air temp: 30.0 degrees Celsius

Wind direction: light and variable

Wind speed: light and variable

Wave height: 1 foot (about 0.3 meters)

Sky: clear

 

Science and Technology Log

NOAA scientists and staff waved from the dock as we got underway this afternoon!

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NOAA scientists and staff see us off.

While we motored out of port in Pasgacoula, Mississippi, Andre DeBose, the chief scientist met with the science team to give us more details about our mission. We will be visiting the 48 remaining survey stations, all of which are in the eastern Gulf, off the west coast of Florida. The survey protocol is a little different in this area than it was in the western Gulf. Each station will take longer because, before we can begin trawling, we will use several different pieces of equipment to observe the ocean floor to avoid disrupting the sensitive coral reefs which are more widely spread in this area. So, we will not cover as much distance as other legs of the survey have.

In the meantime, we have 12 hours of “steaming,” or traveling, before we reach our first sampling location. There’s not much for us on the science team to do during this time, so I’ve been trying to get to know others on my team. Besides Andre, there are three other senior scientists aboard from NOAA. The rest of the science team is composed of volunteers, most of who are graduate students (including one from Australia and another from Brazil.) Some of them are collecting samples for their own projects and I’m looking forward to learning more about the research that each of them conducts.

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The ship’s crew

Also on board are 1 Civilian Master and 4 NOAA corps officers who navigate and command the ship, 5 engineers who keep the engines and ship running smoothly, 6 experienced deckhands / fishermen who operate all of the fishing gear and equipment on deck (like the trawl we will be using), 2 stewards who cook all meals and help to make everyone on board comfortable, and 1 electronic technician to make sure scientific equipment and ship electronics are in working order.

I’m struck by the way in which all of these individuals, and their diverse skill sets, come together to make this work happen. There were so many details to consider to bring this group together – we each had travel arrangements, medical and security clearances, berthing (rooming) assignments, shift schedules, emergency roles, safety trainings, and more to consider. Each state we will be passing through had to grant permission to work in their waters and all laws restricting fishing and protecting endangered species had to be followed. When I think about what it’s like to be a scientist, I usually imagine a person spending a lot of time thinking about the science involved in project itself, but a huge part of the work of any scientist is logistics – working to bring together all of the right people and materials are in the right place at the right time!

 

Personal Log

I arrived Monday evening and spent last night on the boat. It was nice to have the time to get settled and look around before most of the rest of the crew and science team arrived today. I was told that one or two crew members were aboard, but I did not bump into them, so it felt a little strange to be there mostly alone. I took my motion sickness medicine and then passed the time reading and calling home to talk to my family. My room and bunk are small, so I was a little worried that things might feel claustrophobic, but the time was surprisingly peaceful. It reminded me of being in a tent while camping.

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The stateroom my roommate and I share.

In fact, I’m amazed at how homey the whole ship feels. There are three levels (decks) of inside living space, most of which is berthing (crew rooms, bathrooms, showers, etc.). There is even a set of full size washing and drying machines. The inside space also includes a galley (kitchen/dining area) that seats 12 and a lounge which seats about 8. The lounge is a nice area – it contains a large TV and a binder of about 800 movies (including movies currently in theatres, courtesy of the US Navy!). There is also 1 main level of outside work space, plus a flying bridge (an outdoor area above the bridge) that is the highest deck on the ship. There is exercise equipment scattered in nooks throughout the ship. It’s amazing how efficiently space is used!

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The ship’s lounge.

Everyone is free to move about the ship. The only restrictions are that non-essential persons cannot be on the bridge during busy times or weather and cannot go down to the engine room. However, even with all the freedom, there is always someone sleeping, and most of the outside areas are jam-packed with scientific and fishing equipment, and it is very easy to unintentionally disturb or get in the way of others.  We all have to be constantly aware to keep ourselves safe and be considerate of the people around us. Fortunately, everybody I’ve met is so friendly and thoughtful – there’s definitely a feeling that we’re all on the same team.

The science team and some crew on the ship work either the day shift (from noon until midnight) or the night shift (from midnight to noon). I lucked out to be on day shift, so I won’t need to alter my sleeping schedule drastically.

The tight space and 24 hour schedule does make it a

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The ship operates on military time.

bit difficult to know what to do with oneself during down time, especially since your roommate is typically sleeping while you’re awake. I’m finding that I really enjoy standing outside, along the side of the ship and looking out at the open water, or holing up in a corner of the lounge with my computer or book. Once I start my first shift, I’m sure I’ll be glad to have the time just to rest. There aren’t too many opportunities for socializing as everyone is either working or sleeping most of the time, but everyone seems to laugh and joke around when they are able.

I’m feeling great (no seasickness so far!) and am looking forward to getting into a daily routine. I just ate my first meal – a delicious dinner of fish, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and peach cobbler. There is also a salad bar with each meal and snacks and ice cream available 24/7. (We will definitely not go hungry.)

Tomorrow, I’ll start my first shift and should see some fish!

 

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Did You Know?

It’s amazing how self-sufficient and self-contained Oregon II is. For example:

The freshwater used aboard for drinking, showering, etc. is drawn directly from the ocean. The saltwater is filtered with equipment using a process called reverse osmosis, where high pressure separates particles resulting in freshwater.

Several of the fishing crew and officers are also trained MPIC’s (medical person in charge). They are medically trained to respond and provide emergency care. In the event of a more serious illness or injury, they are able to contact doctors on land and implement their instructions.

All sewage on board is broken down by bacteria. Once processed through a marine sanitation device (MSD), this treated water is safer for the environment. Following the appropriate maritime regulations, it can then be released into the ocean.

 

Questions to Consider:

Reflect: Scientific fieldwork, even work on land, often requires travel and adapting to unusual circumstances. How would you handle living and working in unusual, sometimes extreme, conditions?

 

Anna Levy: Preparing to Embark! July 7, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anna Levy

Soon to be Aboard the Oregon II

July 10-20, 2017

Mission: Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 7, 2016

 

Weather Data

I’m currently at home in Broomfield, Colorado (a suburb of Denver and Boulder). It’s a typical, hot and dry summer day at 27 degrees C (81 degrees F) at 10:30am. I’m about 1,400 miles away from Pascagoula, Mississippi, where I will be joining the team on our ship, The Oregon II, in just a few days!

 

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The Oregon II Photo Credit: NOAA

Latitude: 39.9919 N
Longitude: 105.266 W
Elevation: 1624 meters (5,328 feet) above sea level
Air temp: 27 C (81 F)
Water temp: N/A
Wind direction: From Northeast to Southwest
Wind speed: 7 knots (8 mph)
Wave height: N/A
Sky: Clear

 

Science and Technology Log

Once on board, I will be assisting with the third and final leg of the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey.

SEAMAP stands for the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program. Since this program began in 1981, scientists from NOAA and other organizations have been collecting data about the number, types, and health of fish and other marine organisms, as well as the characteristics of the water in of their ocean homes throughout the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and parts of the Atlantic Ocean. This information helps us not only to understand how these ecosystems are changing over time, but also to make informed decisions about how we humans are using valuable ocean resources.

As you can imagine, the ocean is a large and complex environment, so collecting all of that information is a big task! To make it more manageable, SEAMAP is broken down into many smaller projects, each of which focuses on specific regions or aspects of the area. The Groundfish Survey focuses on monitoring fish and other organisms that live near the ocean floor. (This includes some species that we humans catch and eat, like shrimp, halibut, cod, and flounder.)

The Oregon II is equipped with a variety of scientific and fishing equipment.   Because our mission is focused on groundfish, I expect that we will be using a lot of the Oregon II’s fishing gear, especially its trawls. A trawl is a type of weighted net that can be pulled along the floor of the ocean. (Check out this video of how a bottom trawl works.)

After we bring our catch aboard, I imagine that most of my time will be spent helping to identify, describe, count, and catalogue all of the fish and other marine species that we encounter. I can’t wait to get on board, see some new species, and learn more about the methods we will use to collect all of this data in a scientifically rigorous way.

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Teacher at Sea, Melissa Barker, measures a fish on a recent groundfish surveyPhoto Credit: Melissa Barker

I will be the third Teacher at Sea to work on the SEAMAP Summer Goundfish Survey this year, so I have been lucky to learn a lot from the two teachers who have already been to sea. Check out their blogs to see how the project is going so far:

  • Chris Murdock from Iowa City, Iowa was on the first leg (June 7 to 20, 2017).
  • Melissa Barker from Lafayette, Colorado was on the second leg (June 22 to July 6, 2017).

 

 

 

Personal Log

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The school where I teach in Broomfield, Colorado.  Photo Credit: Prospect Ridge Academy

I am honored to have been accepted into the Teacher at Sea program. It was my love of learning that led me to a career in teaching in the first place, so I really appreciate the opportunity immerse myself in a new scientific adventure, and I can’t wait to share the experience with my 9th grade biology students when I get home. I hope that they will be as inspired as I am by the real work that scientists do. There is so much still to learn about the world around us, especially in new frontiers like our oceans – the skills and concepts we learn in class are only the beginning!

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In class with two of my former students.  Photo Credit: Prospect Ridge Academy

Like most of my students, I have always lived in landlocked states. I’ve visited a few beaches, collected some shells, and splashed in the waves, but have very little experience with the ocean beyond that. I’ve definitely never been on a ship like the Oregon II before, so I’m curious to see what challenges await aboard. I think the most difficult part will be adjusting to the sounds, smells and motion of a fisheries ship. I’m expecting tight quarters, loud engines and fishing equipment, stinky fish, and probably some seasickness. We’ll see if that turns out to be true…

Back home in Colorado, I enjoy hiking, biking, gardening, cooking and exploring the amazing outdoors with my wonderful husband, Mike, and our hilarious two-year old daughter, Evie.

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My family out for a hike in the beautiful Colorado mountains

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Me, My husband, Mike, and our daughter, Evie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Know?

The SEAMAP program has been going on for over 35 years and makes all of the data it collects freely available to other scientists, government agencies, the fishing industry, and the general public.

The Teacher at Sea program was established in 1990 and has sent over 700 teachers to sea!

 

Questions to Consider:

Research: How has all of the data collected over the years through SEAMAP been used?

Reflect: What might have happened if this data was not available?

Predict: What types of things do you think we will do while on the Oregon II to make sure that our data is collected in a “scientifically rigorous” way?