Crystal Davis, When Science Goes Wrong, July 6 2014

Preserving Plankton

Preserving Plankton

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Crystal Davis

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 23 – July 7, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Sunday July 6, 2014

Weather: Clear and Sunny

Waves: 1-2 feet

Science and Technology Log:

The title of this post should actually be, “when science doesn’t go exactly as planned,” but that doesn’t sound quite as dramatic.

If you have ever written a lab report, you know that there is a section for procedures (what you did). The procedures need to be explicit so that they can be replicated by another individual who will obtain the same results. If your experiment cannot be replicated, your experiment is not valid and is useless. While it is okay for your hypothesis to be different than your expected outcomes, you always have to follow your procedure.

But . . . what if you’re in the middle of the ocean potentially hundreds of miles away from shore and on a deadline? You can’t go back to shore. There are at least thirty people on your boat and a lot of money invested in this data collection. Yet you still have to come up with a way to complete your survey. The events that follow are incidents that occurred on the Oregon II from July 26-July 6 and how the scientists coped with these situations.

Sharks 

Juvenile Hammerhead Shark

Hammerhead Shark, Courtesy of Robin Gropp

In August, NOAA conducts a Longline Survey surveying sharks. Sharks are captured, identified and many are tagged with tracking devices to monitor the location and population density of sharks. Other sharks are sampled to determine age, analyze growth, sexual maturity and study stomach contents.

When sharks are captured in the trawl net on the Groundfish Survey, Robin (the intern) has been releasing them back into the Gulf after collecting data. However, not all of the sharks survive being pulled up in the net. The picture to the left is of a juvenile Hammerhead that did not survive. While this saddens me, he has been frozen and will be used to educate students in the outreach programs that NOAA participates in.

Nature vs Science

Waves crashing on the bow of the Oregon II

Waves crashing on the bow of the Oregon II. This picture was not taken on my survey, but this is what the weather felt like to me.

Sometimes mother nature interferes with the survey and things don’t go exactly as planned. For the first week of my trip we ran into some bad weather. There was a series of storms that came off the coast bringing rain, thunder, lightning and waves that were five to seven feet high. The weather conditions were so bad that the day shift couldn’t immediately collect data at a number of stations. They spent a lot of time waiting for the squalls to pass until it was safe to collect data. In fact, the weather in the Fall Groundfish Survey is so bad that there are a few extra days built in to run from hurricanes.

 

This morning we were trawling off the mouth of the Mississippi River and brought up a net full of sargassum (seaweed). The entire net, all 42 feet of it, was completely full of sargassum and very little marine life. No one on the boat had seen this much sargassum in the net before. This catch had to be thrown back overboard because the data is not usable. Basically, with that much sargassum in the net, the scientists are not sure if the trawl was fished properly. There is the possibility that because the net was so heavy, it was bogged down, uneven or not scraping the bottom of the ocean floor evenly.

 

Formalin

Plankton preserved in Formalin

Plankton preserved in Formalin

On the Oregon II, plankton samples are preserved in Formalin (40% Formaldehyde). Formalin is a clear substance that stops cells from breaking down. A few days ago we noticed that the Formalin was no longer clear, it was in fact opaque. You can see this in the picture on the left. My night shift crew was worried that it was no longer useful and that we could not bring planktons samples back to the lab in Pascagoula. However, our chief scientist assured us that we could still use the Formalin and that it would be effective. The color change indicated that the base in the mixture was breaking down but since we only have a couple more days of plankton sampling, that it will be fine.

Personal Log:

I arrived back home last night and let me tell you it is strange to be back on land. I was never seasick on the Oregon II, but I am 100% landsick now. I find myself swaying from side to side anytime I’m standing still (Dock Rock is the official term). And when I woke up last night to get a glass of water, I fell over because I was swaying so much. It’s actually pretty funny but I will be glad once this goes away.

I’m still taking in my experience from the last two weeks but I am so grateful for the people I met and was able to work with. Everyone on the Oregon II was helpful, accommodating, friendly and made me feel at home. They took time out of their day to answer my questions, give me tours, tell me stories about their history and adventures on board, go over their research and they were genuinely interested in what I do in my classroom. XO (Executive Officer) LCDR Eric Johnson spent a good chunk of his time telling me about the NOAA Corps and made me want to sign up. Although I’m not too old to apply, (I have too many attachments at home to do so) if I could do the last ten years over I would apply to their program. I will definitely make sure my students know that the NOAA Corps is an option for them and am hoping to make a trip down to San Diego to take them on one of the boats next year.

I’m particularly grateful to the Chief Scientist Andre DeBose and Watch Leader Taniya Wallace who made sure I knew I was not going to die at sea. As the boat was leaving Galveston I could not stop crying because I was 100% certain I was never coming back ( I may have watched The Perfect Storm too many times). Andre and Taniya were so reassuring and comforting and I can never thank them enough for that.

I’m looking forward to using the knowledge, pictures and data from this trip in my classroom next year. I’m also excited because I heard that I can apply to be a volunteer on a NOAA cruise and am looking forward to this in the future.

 

Crystal Davis, Female, Male? How do you tell? July 2, 2014

Common Octopus

This Common Octopus was found in a 7-Up can.

NOAA Teacher at Sea The fish board that measures the length of marine organisms

Crystal Davis

Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II

June 23-July 7, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Wednesday July 2, 2014

Weather: Clear and sunny with isolated showers and thunderstorms

Winds:   5-10 knots

Waves:   2-3 feet

Science and Technology Log:

Shortly after boarding the Oregon II, the science crew had orientation with the Operations Officer LTJG Thomas reviewing  basic procedures for emergencies on board. But what stuck out for me the most, was when Operations Officer LTJG Thomas said we were on a S.A.D. boat. It turns out that S.A.D. means no sex, alcohol or drugs are allowed on the Oregon II. This ensures that the boat is safe and reduces the number of accidents on board. This is the opposite of SAD and makes me feel much safer on board. But luckily for KISS fans, rock and roll is still allowed and is on consistently. Sometimes there’s so much rocking and rolling that I fall on the floor, but that’s happening less frequently as I’ve found my sea legs.

In the Groundfish Survey, after the organisms are separated by species, they are sexed. Overall, this gives the scientists an idea of what future generations will look like. Although all the organisms vary in the way you differentiate their gender, the following are some of the most common organisms found in the groundfish survey.

Sexing Shrimp

Brown Shrimp Female (top) Male (bottom)

Paneaus Aztecas Shrimp Female (top) Male (bottom)

As shown in the pictures on the left, male shrimp have a set of claspers (they look like an extra set of legs) called the petasma that is the equivalent of a penis. Females do not have a petasma.

In young (juvenile) shrimp, it can be difficult to identify the males from females as the petasma is very small and not easily visible. At this age they can easily be confused for females. When this is suspected, they are input into the computer as unknown so as not to generate inaccurate data.

Sexing Crabs

When you pick up a crab you have to be very careful to stay away their claws (cheliped). I have found that they like to grab onto you as soon as you pick them up. My roommate had a large blue crab grab her finger that would not let go and she still has bruises from it.

Shame Faced Crab

Shame Faced Crab

Mature female crabs are called a “Sook” and have a dome or bell shaped abdomen.  This is shown in the top row and looks like the U.S. Capitol Building.

Male crabs are called a “Jimmy” and have a T-shaped abdomen that looks like the shape of the Washington Monument.

To mate, the male crab will carry the female until her shell softens and she is able to mate. During mating, the female stores the males sperm to fertilize her eggs later. Once her shell hardens, the male releases her and she will fertilize her eggs later.

Female Lesser Blue Crab with eggs

Female Lesser Blue Crab with eggs

After fertilization, the eggs are stored outside the female’s abdominal area and look like a sponge. They’re very squishy when you touch them. Although this shows orange eggs, they can also be a gray or black color. I have been told that the darker the egg color, the closer to hatching the offspring are. I am not sure that this is scientifically valid and am still trying to verify this.

 

 

 

Sexing Flatfish

Photos courtesy of Robin Gropp

Photos courtesy of Robin Gropp

Flatfish include fish such as flounder, halibut and turbot. These fish begin their life swimming vertically in the water. However, as they get older they sink to the bottom and their eyes move to one side of their body. They then spend the rest of their life on the bottom of the ocean floor. Luckily their top half matches the ocean floor and they are easily camouflaged from predators. The bottom half of the flounder on the ocean floor is clear or white.

The easiest way to sex a flatfish is to hold them up to a bright light. When doing this you will see that the female has a long curved gonad while the male does not.

A Confused Flounder

A Confused Flounder (right) Normal Flounder (bottom left)

This Flounder is very confused. He should be a clear or light white on the bottom but as you can see his bottom half matches his top half. This could be due to a mutation but no one on the boat is exactly sure why he looks this way. This is one of the most interesting things I have seen so far. In fact, no one on the boat had seen this before.

 

 

 

 

Sea Jellies

Sea Jellies

Sea Jellies

Sea Jellies differ from most of the other marine organisms discussed so far. Sea jellies reproduce both sexually and asexually depending on what stage of life they are in. In an early stage of life sea jellies are called a polyp and they attach to a rock. The polyps reproduce asexually by cloning themselves and breaking off (budding). Imagine 300 people that came from you and look exactly like you. It’s actually pretty creepy.  But back to the sea jellies. Eventually the sea jelly will develop into an adult (medusa) that reproduces sexually with sperm and egg.

 

Personal Log:

I have a three day backpacking trip to Mt. Silliman scheduled almost immediately after my NOAA trip is over. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t worry, but after spending two weeks not hiking or training, I’m a little concerned. Luckily there are weights and a rowing and elliptical machine on board, so I have been able to do a bit of training. Being on a ship that’s moving has made working out even more intense. I have to stabilize every time the boat moves, so I don’t fall over. But even if I did, or have, how could I complain with this view.

Boat Personnel of the Day

Holland waiting for a trawl to come in

Holland on the stern

Holland McCandless-Lamier

Holland is my roommate on the Oregon II and is a member of the scientific party. She was contracted by Riverside in response to the Deep Water Horizon (BP) blowout in 2010. She attended the University of Mississippi and majored in marine biology. During college, Holland had an internship in Florida where she led students (from 4th grade to college) in marine science activities. This included snorkeling, visiting coral reefs and other hands on activities.

After college, Holland met an individual from the NOAA Corps at a job fair. They put her in touch with NOAA FIsheries MSLabs Groundfish Unit, where she began volunteering as a participant on surveys. This hands on experience led to her current job. Holland currently spends most of her time in the NOAA South East Fishery Science Center (SEFSC) Pascagoula lab where she works with plankton. Her current project is updating decapod (crustacean) taxonomy.

Did You Know?

A female sunfish can lay 300 million eggs each year. Each egg is smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.

Crystal Davis, Bottom Trawl for Shrimp, June 27, 2014

Bringing in a trawl

Bringing in a trawl

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Crystal Davis

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 23 – July 7, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Friday June 27, 2014

Weather: Partly cloudy

Winds:  15-20 knots

Waves:  5-6 feet

 

 

Science and Technology Log: Bottom Trawling

The Oregon II is a participant and contributor to SEAMAP (The Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) which monitors the biodiversity of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. The primary way the Oregon II assists SEAMAP is by conducting bottom trawls with a 42 foot semi-balloon shrimp trawl net.The net is slowly lowered into the ocean until it reaches the bottom and is then dragged along the ocean floor for thirty minutes. The net has a tickler chain between the doors which scrapes the bottom of the ocean floor and flicks objects into the net. The net is then brought to the surface and all of the organisms inside are put into baskets (see video above). The total weight of the catch is massed on scales on the deck. If the catch is large (over 20 kilos), it is dumped onto a conveyor belt and a random sub-sample (smaller) is kept, along with any unique species while the rest of the catch is dumped overboard.

Shrimp Net

Shrimp Net

Once the sample has been selected, the marine organisms are sorted by species and put into baskets. Each species is then massed and counted while the data is recorded into a system called FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System). To obtain a random sampling, every fifth individual of the species (up to twenty) is measured, massed and sexed (more on this later). Once the data has been verified by the watch manager, the marine organisms are put back into the ocean. The following are pictures of a sample on the conveyor belt and the organisms divided into a few species.

The sorting process for shrimp (white, brown and pink) differs slightly from that of the other marine organisms. Every shrimp (up to 200 of each species), is massed, measured and sexed.This data is then used by various government agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, etc… to determine the length of the shrimping season and to set quotas on the amount that can be caught by each issued license. States will not open the shrimping season until SEAMAP reports back with their findings from NOAA’s shrimp survey.

Types of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico

Types of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico

The shrimp trawl net used on the Oregon II differs from a shrimp net used on a commercial boat in two main ways. Commercial shrimping boats have BRD’s (Bycatch Reduction Devices) and TED’s (Turtle Excluder Devices). BRD’s and TED’s are federally required in the U.S. to reduce the amount of bycatch (unintentionally caught organisms) and sea turtles. Shrimping boats typically trawl for hours and turtles cannot survive that long without air. TED’s provide turtles and other large marine organisms an escape hatch so that they do not drown (see the video below). Unfortunately, larger turtles such as Loggerheads are too big to fit through the bars in a TED. Additionally, TED’s may become ineffective if they are clogged with sea debris, kelp or are purposefully altered.

     

Boat Personnel of the Week:

Warren Brown:

Warren Brown

Warren Brown

Warren is a gear specialist who is working as a member of the scientific party. He is contracted by Riverside for NOAA.  While aboard the Oregon II, Warren designs, builds and repairs gear that is needed on the boat. Unfortunately, on this leg of the trip either sharks or dolphins have been chewing holes in the nets to eat the fish inside. This means Warren has spent a large chunk of his time repairing nets.

Warren is not a crew member of the Oregon II  and actually works at the Netshed in Pascagoula where he spends his time working with TED’s. He has law enforcement training and will go out with government agencies (such as the Coast Guard or Fish and Wildlife Service) to monitor TED’s on shrimping boats. He also participates in outreach programs educating fishermen in measuring their nets for TED’s, installing them. Warren will bring TED’s and nets to make sure that every everyone at the training has a hands on experience installing them. While he regularly does outreach in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, his work has also taken him as far as Brazil.

Robin Gropp:

Robin playing his mandolin

Robin playing his mandolin

Robin will be a junior at Lewis & Clark College in the Fall. He is currently an intern aboard the Oregon II. Robin received a diversity internship through the Northern Gulf Institute and is one of eight interns for NOAA. For the first two weeks Robin worked at the NOAA lab participating in outreach at elementary school science fairs. He brought sea turtle shells and a shrimp net with a TED installed. The students were very excited to pretend to be sea turtle and run through the TED. They proclaimed, “we love sea turtles.”  After leaving the Oregon II, Robin will return to the NOAA lab to study the DNA of sharks.

 

Personal Log:

Overall I have had a hard time processing and accepting the groundfish survey portion of the trip. I am a vegetarian that does not eat meat, including fish, for ethical and environmental reasons. Yet here I find myself on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico surveying groundfish so that others can eat shrimp. A large part of me feels that I should be protesting the survey rather than assisting. Because of this I spent a lot of time talking to the other scientists on my watch and Chief Scientist Andre Debose. After many discussions (some still ongoing) I do realize how important the groundfish survey is. Without it, there would be no limits placed on the fishing industry and it is likely that many populations of marine organisms would be hunted to extinction more rapidly than they are now. This survey actually gives the shrimp species a chance at survival.

Did You Know?

Countries that do not use TED’s are banned from selling their shrimp to the U.S.

Crystal Davis, Day Three at Sea, June 25, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Crystal Davis

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 23 – July 7, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Wednesday June 25, 2014

Weather: Overcast and Cloudy

Waves:1.5 meters

Science and Technology Log:

Getting ready to lower the CTD

Getting ready to lower the CTD

CTD with Niskin Bottles and instument panels

CTD with Niskin Bottles and instrument panels

The Oregon II carries an instrument called a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) that is lowered into the ocean by a crane. On the bottom of the CTD are sensors that detect and relay information back to a computer onboard the Oregon II. On top of the sensors are Niskin (gray) bottles that are manually opened before the CTD is lowered into the water, and are tripped by the Watchleader (closing and trapping water inside) when it reaches the desired depth. Data from the CTD is sent to the ship where it is recorded and stored. After the CTD is back on board, the water from the Niskin bottles is used to check the amount of dissolved oxygen. This data is then combined with numerous stations/stops and used to create a real time map of the dissolved oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Real Time Dissolved Oxygen Map from the Oregon II

Real Time Dissolved Oxygen Map from the Oregon II

One of the missions of the SEAMAP cruise is to measure the amount of dissolved oxygen (DO) in the Gulf of Mexico. Dissolved oxygen is the amount of oxygen that is present in the water and is available for marine life. When the dissolved oxygen content drops below 2mg/L, the water is considered to be hypoxic and the area may be called a dead zone. Basically, what this means is that marine life cannot survive because they do not have enough oxygen.

If you can imagine living at the top of Mt. Everest without an oxygen tank, that is what living in hypoxia would be like to a fish.  While the majority of organisms cannot survive in a dead zone, those organisms that do survive have been found to have permanent changes in their reproductive systems, such as smaller ovaries and fewer eggs in female fish. Dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico are due to runoff from Nitrates and Phosphates that come from fertilizers, detergents and human/animal waste. Because of hypoxia, phosphate detergents have been banned in the Great Lakes and you may even notice that some of your household detergents say “phosphate free”.

Personal Log:

Overall I’m pretty exhausted both mentally and physically. While I have taught my Environmental Students about some of the things I am doing, it’s my first time putting these into practice myself. Although I am grateful for the experience, it is a bit much to take it all in and I feel slightly overwhelmed. Luckily, I will have the chance to perform these tasks over and over before the Oregon II returns to shore. And more importantly, I am working with an amazing team of scientists who are happy to answer all of my questions and walk me through procedures multiple times.

I’m slowly adjusting to being in a different time zone, but am definitely feeling the time change. I am on the night shift which means I start work at midnight and finish at noon. This is unusual for me since I like to be in bed by ten every night. On the bright side, my night shift means I get to beat the heat during the middle of the day when the temperatures are in the eighties.

Immersion Suit

Finally in my Survival Suit

 

Yesterday we had an emergency abandon ship drill where we had to don survival suits. You put them on as though you were getting into a sleeping bag. This meant a lot of rolling around on the floor for me, but I like to think I entertained the crew while I was doing it. My dad thinks I look like Sebastian from the Little Mermaid in my suit, but I’m confident that I will be a warm lobster until rescue arrives in the unlikely event I have to abandon ship.

 

 

Did You Know?

Male seahorses, not female seahorses, carry fertilized eggs and give birth to their young. They will also eat any of their offspring that don’t swim away quickly enough. It pays to be a female seahorse!

Crystal Davis, Introduction, June 1, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Crystal Davis

(Almost) Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 23 – July 6, 2014

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey 
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 1, 2014

Personal Log

Hello from gorgeous and sunny Southern California. My name is Crystal Davis and I am finishing my tenth year of teaching and my fifth year at Hawthorne Math and Science Academy. I currently teach Advanced Placement Environmental Science, Anatomy and Physiology and Biology.

Backpacking in the Sierras

Backpacking in the Sierras

As an environmental science teacher it is important that I make connections between the classroom and current events that are occurring on our planet. For this reason I chose to apply to become a NOAA Teacher at Sea. My students spend a significant portion of their year studying the ocean and atmosphere and the various ways humans impact these systems. I want to bring current research into my classroom and encourage my students to develop an interest in pursuing careers in research as they deepen their understanding of their actions on our planet.

I am excited to begin my cruise in three weeks when I set sail on June 22nd on NOAA Ship Oregon II. We will be conducting bottom trawls to survey the abundance and distribution of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico.  This method of sampling is something I teach in class and I am so happy to take part in the action and get an up front view of what it entails.

Being onboard a ship will be a significant difference from a normal day of rock climbing and backpacking with my friends in WTC and hiking with my two chihuahuas (Comet and Dasher).

Dasher and Comet hiking Mount Wilson

Dasher and Comet hiking Mount Wilson