NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
March 31 – April 12, 2008
Mission: Reef Fish Ecological Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pulley Ridge and the West Florida Shelf, Gulf of Mexico
Date: April 10, 2008
Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 12 miles
Wind Direction: 120 degrees
Wind Speed: 16 knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 foot
Swell Wave Height: 3-4 foot
Seawater Temp.: 22.1 degrees C.
Present Weather: Partly Cloudy
Science and Technology Log
Today we made three ROV dives on the West Florida Shelf, roughly 100 miles off the west coast of Florida. After making our usual CTD profile (see Ship’s Log, April 4, 2008) at about 0730, we lowered the ROV to a depth of 262 feet and followed a transect bearing southwest. The object was to conduct a fish survey with respect to species presence and abundance as a function of bottom habitat types. Essentially, we were looking for good hard-bottom fish habitats within an area being proposed to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council as a new Marine Protected Area (MPA).
Each of the video transects revealed a mix of sand and hard bottom, with fish most abundant in areas having some topographic relief. Numerous hard rock outcrops offered attractive habitat for a wide variety of reef fish, such as scamp (Mycteroperca phenax), red porgy (Pagrus pagrus), red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), almaco jack (Seriola rivoliana) greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili), short bigeye (Pristigenys alta), bank butterflyfish (Chaetodon aya), great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda), red grouper (Epinephelus morio), blue angelfish (Holacanthus bermudensis), creolefish (Paranthias furcifer) saddle bass (Serranus notospilus) bank sea bass (Centropristis ocyurus) and many others. The sand flats in between ridges and reef outcroppings provided a stark contrast in terms of fish abundance. Over these areas the ROV would glide for minutes at a time without revealing many fish. But even in these less productive bottom habitats we would see the occasional fish dart into its hole as we passed over.
The quality and abundance of food on the GORDON GUNTER is remarkable, and I find it impossible to resist (especially the deserts). I’d rather not return home ten pounds heavier than when I left, so I’ve been trying to visit the weight room whenever I can find the time. During my first few sessions on the treadmill I had to hang on for dear life due to the rocking motion of the ship. It was pretty comical. Now, though, I am getting fairly good at going no-handed while compensating for the ship’s motion. It requires some dexterity, but it’s great practice for getting your sea legs. We also saw other common sea creatures, such as gorgonians, wire coral, basket stars, sea stars, feather sea pens, sea urchins, sponges and snails.