NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 9-22, 2022
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 20, 2022
Science and Technology Log
Allow me to provide a summary of the survey and what was accomplished on this leg. June 9, we departed from Galveston and made our way out to sea. The survey started the next day. We traveled 1,866.6 nautical miles (or 2,148.04 miles) along the continental shelf. That’s like driving from Florida to California! On this leg of the survey we (they) deployed 169 cameras, 22 CTDs, 13 bandit reels, and 12 XBTs (still don’t know what that is). We collected 15 eDNA samples (go Caroline!) and mapped 732 nautical miles. This year’s survey started in April, and this was the last leg. We’re making our way back to Pascagoula (yes, I can pronounce it now), a near 28 hour transit. We will be docking and unloading at the Gulf Marine Support Facility. The next survey on the Pisces starts next week, deploying Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs). The science never stops, folks.
The SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey began as a fish trap survey in 1980’s and transitioned to a video survey in 1991, and the technology continues to evolve year after year. This over thirty years of data provides abundance and distribution information on Gulf of Mexico reef fish. Reef fish abundance and size data are generated directly from the videos. So though the work feels slow, it is essential. An index of abundance for each species is determined as the maximum number of a fish in the field of view in a single video frame. Here are some snippets of the footage recording during our trip.
*NOTE: The tiger shark shot was not from our leg of the survey, but too cool not to include.
This survey combined with all research approaches (i.e. traps, bandit reels, eDNA) allows for a comprehensive stock assessment of the fish populations in the Gulf of Mexico. Stock assessments collect, analyze, and report demographic information to estimate abundance of fish, monitor responses to fishing, and predict future trends. This significant data is used in managing fish populations and preserving our oceans resources.
One of the scientific operations I have not yet mentioned is bathymetric mapping. Senior Survey Technician Todd Walsh works the night shift running the mapping show – multibeam echo-sounder hydrographic survey to be precise. An echo-sounder determines the depth of the seafloor by measuring the time taken for sound echoes to return. The technology is impressive. Todd is straight up 3D mapping the bottom of the ocean. He watches it come to life, line by line. That’s freaking cool. I see you, Todd.
Though mapping occurred overnight, Todd was sure to point out any interesting finds in the morning. The Pisces mapped an area south of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and found an impressive geological feature hosting two mud volcanoes. A mud volcano is a landform created by the eruption of mud or slurries, water and gases. Man, the ocean floor is like a whole other world. It was so interesting to watch the mapping unfold right before your eyes. Maybe the seafloor will be my next destination.
The long days take their toll. This crew has worked so hard and is ready to decompress. Some have been out here for months and are counting down the days. You really can’t blame them. You ask anyone out here, “how many days?” and you will hear “three days and a wake up.” “Two days and a wake up.” “One day and a wake up.” They have all earned some serious rest and recovery, and long awaited time with their families and friends. I mean, I’d like to call them friends, but I get it, you can have lots of friends.
I cannot believe it is already my last day out here. Though each day felt like 100 hours, somehow it still flew by. The last CTD hauled out of the water last night marked the end of the SEAMAP survey. I cheer and shout in solitude and run round giving high fives. Good work, everyone! They are all exhausted, but certainly excited and proud of the work they have accomplished. Listen guys, if you aren’t proud, let me remind you that you most certainly should be.
The last day is the first sunrise I didn’t catch – sleeping in was just too tempting. Friends at home have to literally drag me out of bed to catch a sunrise, but out here, it just feels right. We ease into our day and clean and prepare the working spaces and equipment for arrival. I mop. That’s about all I am good for. TAS card. I spend the day roaming as usual, this time reflecting on my arrival and experience at sea. Time slows down even more (if you can believe that) when it’s your last day. I do my best to take in every last moment. I balance the day with some relaxation, a nice game of “bugs” with my pals, a good deal of snacking, revisiting the views, and saying my goodbyes.
Though thrilled to be heading back, most everyone finds their way outside for the last sunset. I soak up every colorful ripple. Mother Nature does not disappoint in those last hours. Dolphins put on a show jumping out of the water at a distance. The stars start to appear, not a cloud in the sky. I stargaze for what felt like hours. We’re greeted by multiple shooting stars. These are the moments I live for – when I feel most at rest. I am overcome with humility and gratitude.
I consider myself lucky to have met and worked with the Pisces crew. Every person on this trip has left an impression on me. From day one, the crew has been so welcoming and willing to let me participate, committed to providing me an exceptional experience. For that, I am grateful. I had so much fun learning from each department and goofing off with the best of them. The work that goes in to the research is remarkable, from navigation, the science, to vessel operations. I learned much more than expected. It’s hard to summarize my experience, but here are some valuable takeaways, in no particular order.
- NOAA research is vital in protecting our most precious natural resource.
- Ocean conservation is the responsibility of every one of us.
- Remember why you do the job you do and the impact you have.
- Never pass up an opportunity to learn or do something new.
- Everyone should have the opportunity to connect to our natural world.
- You can never see too many sunsets.
- Expose your toes to the great outdoors.
I can’t express enough how grateful I am to have been selected for the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program and be a part of its mission. The experience was so much more than I could have even imagined. Participating in the research was so rewarding, and offered valuable insight into fisheries research and scientific operations. The questions never stopped coming. The novelty of the work kept me hooked. If there is one thing above all that I took away from this trip is – never stop learning. Continuous learning is what enhances our understanding of the world around us, in so many ways, and why I love what I do.
I look forward to sharing my experience with the many students I have the opportunity to work with, and hopefully inspiring them to continue to learn and grow, building a better understanding and appreciation for our planet. NOAA, your investment in me will not go unnoticed. The biggest THANK YOU to all involved in making this experience a reality.
We ride together, we die together. Pisces for life. – Junior