Anne Marie Wotkyns, July 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Marie Wotkyns
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 7 – 13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Anne Marie Wotkyns
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Monday, July 12, 2010
Latitude: 28⁰33.5532 N
Longitude: 089⁰44.8634 W

Weather Data from the Bridge

Air Temperature: 30.6⁰C
Water Temperature: 30.54⁰C
Wind: 9 knots
Other Weather Features:
Humidity: 69 %
Cloud cover 15%
Swell height: .5 meter
Wave height: .3meter
Science and Technology Log

The Pisces is the newest ship in NOAA’s fleet and she utilizes some of the newest technology available. On Sunday, Liz and I were given a tour of the engine rooms and much of Decks 2 and 3 (below the main deck) where the propulsion, cooling, plumbing, winches, and other mechanical and engineering systems are located. The Pisces has an integrated diesel electric drive system with two propulsion motors that generate 1,500 horsepower each.

Propulsion Motor

Propulsion Motor

There are 4 generators on board, two 16 cylinder and two 14 cylinder, which power the motors and the “hotel load” as Chief Engineer Garret Urban calls the systems that keep us comfortable on the ship -electrical, cooling, etc…A really cool thing about the Pisces is that it was designed to be quieter than many other vessels, especially important for a fisheries research ship because noise can influence how ocean animals behave and can limit what the scientists are able to study. The International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES) established standards to improve the noise onboard research vessels and the Pisces was designed to meet those standards.

Generators

Generators

Motors

Motors

Throughout the engineering room there are giant electrical boards and computers that are constantly kept cool by the ship’s strong air conditioning system. An interesting aspect of the air conditioning system is that ship’s interior rooms are kept cool using cold water running through a closed system of pipes. The water is cooled using a Freon system located in the engine room. The labs and common rooms were kept so cool that we wore long sleeves most of the time indoors, but then took them off when going outside. On the days we did the fish survey activities, this meant pulling a sweatshirt on and off over 20 times a day!

Electrical Board

Electrical Board

The technology that keeps the Pieces running smoothly is amazing!

When we entered the lowest deck of the ship we were given earplugs for protection from the engine noise. The earplugs were dispensed from a machine that looked like a candy machine! Garret showed us that if the bridge ever lost power that there is a secondary way to steer. The crew steers using a hydraulic steering system rather than the electrical one on the bridge. The crew uses a hand telephone to communicate with the bridge during any power outages (or drills).

One very important piece of the engineering deck is the freshwater system. The ship pulls in sea water and uses heat from the engines to make freshwater through distillation. The sea water is heated and the steam and water vapor is contained and collected as fresh water. There are two distillers on board and they can make 1,850 gallons a day. When we were down there we witnessed Junior Engineer Steve repairing the blown diaphragm that had interfered with the water system. When we are in the area that NOAA has labeled as a 95% uncertainty zone regarding the presence of oil, the ship does not take in water as it could be contaminated and damage the system. This is why on the first two days and the last two of the cruise we were asked to conserve water.

The saltwater-freshwater conversion system

Chief Engineer Garrett with the rudder angle indicator system – this showed the angle of degrees of the rudder which determines the direction the ship sails.

Today while we were working in the dry lab, a “Steering Drill” was announced. The simulation was that the bridge had lost control of the ship’s steering so she would need to be steered using the secondary system in the engine room. The captain then announced that the “teachers” should head down so we could steer! Thanks to our earlier tour, Liz and I knew just where to go. And because we had already steered the ship from the bridge, now we understood how the secondary system operated. Instead of a steering wheel, there are two joysticks with rubber buttons at the top that you push down to change the angle of the rudder. Each button steers the ship either left or right. However, the left hand button steered to the right and the right hand button steered to the left – got that?

Steering the ship using the secondary system.


The rudder angle indicator and course heading display

Monday was our last day at sea and since the Pisces was heading back towards Mississippi everyone was busy with computer work and clean –up duties. Scientist Kevin generously made us a DVD of camera pictures, resources, and information we will take back to our classrooms. We cleaned up the lab, packed our bags, took pictures, exchanged emails, and hurried to finish our last log entries. The crew spent time checking over the ship, inside and out, looking for any problems that needed to be addresses or equipment that needed maintenance or repair. Because a ship is constantly exposed to corrosive sea air and salt water, cleaning, painting, and repairs are always ongoing.

Tomorrow, the recordings from the camera drops and the red snappers we caught (now in the lab freezer) will be offloaded and taken to the NOAA labs for further analysis.

Personal Log

I find it very interesting how doing scientific research at sea seems so different than doing research on land. On land, many researchers work steadily in a lab, 8 hours a day. Out here, the last 3 days were 13+ hour “work days,” with the main work only occurring every 45 min or so when the camera array was deployed or retrieved, and the 4 different times during the day when the chevron fish trap or bandit reel fishing line were “dropped” or brought back in. The timing was crucial because the research protocols regarding “soak time” (time in the water) needed to be followed to the minute to ensure collected data was accurate. So we alternated short bursts of slightly hectic work with longer periods of computer work, reading fish identification books, taking walks around the outer decks, checking on the Ron and Scott, the bird observers working up on the topmost deck, and eating. Let me tell you about the food…

Kevin calls living onboard being “lovingly incarcerated” because you are stuck here, but you are well taken care of. The Chief Steward, Jessie Stiggins, prides himself in keeping everyone well fed. Every morning he posted the meal menus in the mess, and we were always curious to see what he had planned for us. We learned from C.O. Adams that food on the ship is very important and is actually a part of the crew’s union contract. For example, in the contract it states that, “lunch and dinner must include a prepared dessert. Plain cake shall not constitute a prepared dessert, but a cake with icing shall,” and “Liver and onions can only be served once a month. Turkey must be served once a week.” We have had dessert every lunch and dinner, and last night’s turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and yams were delicious! Some of the desserts have been coconut crème pie, French silk pie, white cake with fluffy whipped cream frosting and strawberries, cookies, and pecan pie to name a few. Plus there is a freezer full of ice cream, great for late night snack. Liz is in seafood heaven-there has been halibut, calamari, catfish, the amberjack Deckhand Ryan caught the other night, and even lobster! Me, the non-seafood eater, has enjoyed stuffed chicken breasts, filet mignon, a taco bar, and pulled pork. And even out here, in the middle of the ocean, we’ve had been raspberries, blueberries, watermelon, cherries and a great salad bar! Jessie is saving the menus for us so we can show them off when we get back. And I’m already planning on visiting the gym daily as soon as I’m back home!

Pascy wants a bite of Liz’s amberjack with orange sauce and almonds – the same fish he saw Ryan catch the other night!

Chief Steward Jessie serves his lobster tails.

Pascy toured the engine room with us and this is what he saw.

Lot and lots of computers help keep the Pisces running smoothly!

The teachers got to wear these soft foam earplug that came out of a cool dispenser that looked like a candy machine.

Pascy liked “chilling” on the cold water pipes of the air conditioning system!

I cannot begin to express my thanks and appreciation to the wonderful officers, the science team and the crew of the Pisces, as well as the Teacher At Sea staff who made this trip possible. Going to sea is a magical experience and I hope I can convey this to my students, as well as use my new science knowledge to revise and invigorate my science curriculum. I can’t wait to share more about this experience with my family, friends, colleagues, and students. I think teachers must be lifelong learners if they want to be effective educators, and Teacher at Sea is a wonderful way to improve science teaching through hands-on research experiences.

Crew of the Pisces

Crew of the Pisces

Scientists on my cruise

Scientists on my cruise

THANK YOU EVERYONE!!!
The science team – special thanks to Chief Scientist Kevin Rademacher and Field Party Watch Leader Joey Salisbury.

Oil Rigs

Oil Rigs

Sunset

Sunset

Everyone should be so lucky to experience sunset out on the open water!

Captain Jerry says the “Teachers can stay till we get tired of them” – We’d LOVE to stay longer!!

Pascy reluctantly packed his bags and said goodbye too! His next adventure? Travel with Anne Marie on the Swedish icebreaker Oden from Chile to Antarctica in December and January – stay tuned for his next adventures! Maybe he’ll get to see his long-lost cousins!

Anne Marie Wotkyns, July 10-11, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Marie Wotkyns
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 7 – 13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Anne Marie Wotkyns
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Saturday July 10, Sunday, July 11, 2010
Latitude: Saturday 27⁰54.8057 N Sunday 27⁰51.098 N
Longitude: Saturday 093⁰18.2990 W Sunday 093⁰04.100 W

Weather Data from the Bridge

Air Temperature: Saturday 30.3⁰C Sunday 30.4⁰C
Water Temperature: Saturday 30.5⁰C Sunday 30.35⁰C
Wind: Saturday 2.55 knots Sunday 1 knot
Other Weather Features:
Saturday 62% humidity, cloud cover 20% Sunday 67% humidity, cloud cover 35%
Saturday Swell Height .2 meter Sunday .4 meter
Saturday Wave Height .05 meter Sunday .25meter

Science and Technology Log

Temperature Depth Recorder

Temperature Depth Recorder

Temperature Depth Recorder

Temperature Depth Recorder

There are several types of sensing equipment we have been using on this cruise. Each time we drop the camera array at a site attached to the array is a little device called a Temperature Depth Recorder or a TDR. As the camera array sinks to the bottom, the TDR records the temperature and depth. When the camera array is brought back on board the ship one of the scientists, or one of us teachers, unclips it and brings it into the lab. To get the information off you hit it once with a magnet that communicates with the chip inside telling it you want to download the information. Then you place a stylus on the device and it downloads the information to the computer. The data is saved under the name of the site and then the information is entered into a spreadsheet that converts the information from the psi(pounds per square inch) to meters of depth. To clear the TDR you hit it four times with the magnet and when it flashes red it is clear! Liz and I learned to do this the first day we did stations and we usually took turns entering the information. This was done 8 times on Saturday and 7 times on Sunday.

At every station, a CTD is also dropped into the water. A CTD (Conductivity Temperature Recorder) gives a hydrographic profile of the water column. The CTD is attached to the bottom of a rosette or carousel that also contains water sampling bottles. Attached to the rosette is a conductive wire that sends information to the lab. Mike, the survey technician, comes into the lab after every camera array is dropped and runs the CTD process. The CTD is placed in the water and allowed to acclimate for 3 minutes before they begin taking readings. The CTD is dropped to the bottom of the seafloor and then raised again. Mike monitors this from the dry lab. Once a week he uses the water bottles to take water samples. To take a sample he uses a remote from inside the dry lab to trigger the bottles at a given depth to close them. The CTD can also be programmed to close different bottles at different depths. It was very interesting to watch the EK60 echo sounder screen as the CTD lowered and raised.

Data from CTD

Data from CTD

CTD

CTD

Each morning, Chief Scientist Kevin goes through the video footage from the previous day. For each site he identifies what the bottom substrate was (“sandy flat bottom”, “coralline algal bottom”, “malacanthus mounds,” etc) and then he identifies briefly any fish that he sees. When he is doing this, he will call us over and explain how he can tell what the species is or what behavior a fish is exhibiting.

Video footage

Video footage

Video footage

Video footage

Saturday, we dropped the camera array at 8 different stations on Bright Bank sites. The two chevron fish traps brought up NO FISH! On the bandit reel we caught one fish. It was a sand tile fish, Malacanthus pulmieri, a “banana shaped” bottom dweller that lives in large rock-covered mounds. Wearing rubber gloves, I weighed and measured him quickly and then we threw him back alive. He was 494 mm (49.4 cm) long and weighed .550 kg. I’m not very comfortable touching the fish or the bait we’ve been using, so I was quite proud of myself!

Sand-tile fish

Sand-tile fish

Measuring

Measuring

Weighing

Weighing

Frustrated Kevin

Frustrated Kevin

That was the only fish we caught all day! Today was a little frustrating. It even got Kevin a little down!

Sunday brought our last day of work on the reef survey. The Pisces was on the north half of Geyer Bank, still off the coast of Louisiana. I was determined to fully participate in all aspects of the science, so I bravely donned my gloves and baited the bandit reel’s 10 hooks with chunks of mackerel. We were positive we would catch more fish today!

Baiting the bandit reel

Baiting the bandit reel


The camera cage came up with some interesting “hitchhikers” aboard. One was a round sponge, about the size of a softball. At first we thought it was a rock, but when I grabbed it, it was soft and squishy. Sponges are filter feeders which draw in water through many small , incurrent pores. Food and oxygen are filtered out and then exit through one or more larger excurrent openings.

In the fish lab, Kevin found a large cymothoid isopod, a crustacean that attaches to fish using its hook-like legs and scavenges food as the fish feeds. It reminded me of a cockroach more than a “rolly-polly”, the land isopod found in our gardens.

Cymothoid isopod

Round sponge

Cymothoid isopod

Cymothoid isopod

The day continued with seven camera drops, the bandit reel deployment, and two chevron fish traps. Despite positive thinking and Liz doing her “fish dance,” both fish traps came up empty. So the 2nd bandit reel was our last chance for fish. We were excited to see the “fishing pole” part of the reel bouncing up and down. It was reeled in and here’s what we caught!

Barracuda

Barracuda

Barracuda

Barracuda

It was a great barracuda, Sphyraena barracuda, 939 mm (93.9 cm) long and weighing 3.49 kg. Joey measured and weighed it, carefully avoiding its sharp teeth. He released the large predator and our last catch quickly swam away.

An interesting souvenir I will be taking home are some fish otoliths. Otoliths are fish earbones. Bony fish lay down layers of bone on their otoliths as they age, similar to the rings on a tree. Scientists use the otoliths to determine the age of a fish. Kevin collected the otoliths from a yellowedge grouper one of the crew caught and gave one each to Liz and I. Then he helped me remove the otoliths from a red porgy – quite a messy procedure, but very rewarding to cut open the skull and see the earbones!

Otoliths

Otoliths

In tomorrow’s log, I’ll share what we learned on our tour of the engine room, and about the different job opportunities on the ship.

Personal Log

Two nights ago, the ship’s captain (Commanding Officer Jerry Adams) had invited Liz and I up to the bridge to help “steer” the ship. He explained that we were driving a 52 million dollar vessel with 30 lives on board, so we were feeling pretty nervous! The Pisces was moving to the next day’s work area so the bridge crew would be driving all night. I got to steer first, my hands tightly gripping the wheel Captain Jerry and Ensign Kelly Schill explained how to drive and the proper language to use. When steering, you are following a set course using a gyroscopic compass as well as a digital heading read out. You are steering the rudder by degrees. The heading is stated in single digits so 173 would be one seven three.

We were sailing at night, so all the bridge lights were kept turned off to better see the lights of other boats and oil rigs. The bridge crew even had red flashlights so they wouldn’t ruin their night vision. Liz and I both got a chance to steer the ship in circles. I even did a Williamson turn, which is done when there is a man overboard. You turn 60⁰ in one direction and then turn the other direction so you are back on your reciprocal course to pick up the person who is overboard. While I was doing this, the ETA (estimated time of arrival to our next destination) display changed from “ 6:10 am” to “NEVER.” We both laughed pretty hard about that!

The Dynamic Positioning system (similar to an automatic pilot system) is called Betty. She can talk to the crew on the bridge and is reportedly extremely polite. I find is amazing how the ship can maintain such a steady course, with the computers adjusting for the constant changes in current, wind, and other factors which affect the ship’s steering. The DP also keeps the Pisces in one place when we are at a science station. The Captain promised to show us more about the DP on our next bridge visit. Everything on the bridge is electronic. You can click a button and see how much fresh water is on board, how much fuel, which engines are working and even wake someone up! The technology is truly amazing. I keep thinking about my grandfather who sailed in the Swedish Merchant Marines in the 1930’s. What would he have thought all this?

Where has Pascy the penguin been in the last 2 days? Check out his pictures!


Pascy helps me write my log entry out on the back deck at sunset!

Safety is very important! Pascy wears his hardhat whenever he works out on the deck with equipment.


On the lookout for other ships and oil rigs!


Pascy helps with the Pisces’ navigation. He’s double checking the computer’s course.


Pascy in the captain’s chair on the bridge.


Pascy at the helm of this $52 million dollar ship!

Anne Marie Wotkyns, July 9, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Marie Wotkyns
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 7 – 13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Anne Marie Wotkyns
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, July 9, 2010
Latitude: 27⁰51.20
Longitude: 91⁰48.60

Weather Data from the Bridge

Air Temperature: 29.6 ⁰ C
Water Temperature: 30.5⁰C
Wind: 2 knots
Other Weather Features:
70% humidity, approx. 30% cloud cover
Swell Height: .3 meter
Wave Height: .2 meter

Science and Technology Log

Friday started bright and early as we met in the dry lab on the Pisces to plan our day. Today would be the first day of work on the SEAMAP reef fish survey, the main purpose of our cruise.

The Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP) is a long term survey of offshore reef fish designed to provide an index of the relative abundance of fish species associated with topographic features such as banks and ledges located on the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico in the area from Brownsville, Texas to the Dry Tortugas, Florida. For this cruise, the sampling occurred off the coast of Louisiana.

The SEAMAP offshore reef fish survey began in 1992. Bathymetric mapping (as was conducted yesterday on the Pisces) provided scientists with contour maps of the ocean floor, then sampling sites measuring 10 nautical miles by 10 nautical miles (“blocks”) were selected in areas with known topographic features. Within each “block”, specific sampling sites are chosen randomly.

The main equipment used in the survey are 4 camera units housed in a special metal “cage”. Each camera unit holds two black and white still cameras and a digital video camera, for a total of 8 still cameras and 4 video cameras which download images to a 1ZTB GB hard drive. The camera pod is lowered to the bottom and left for 45 minutes. The cameras record for 25 minutes of bottom time. Each night the images and videos are downloaded onto another external hard drive, then later recorded onto blue ray discs. Scientists view the video to identify and count all fish observed.

Camera Array

Camera Array

Close up of they camera array

Close up of they camera array

Capturing video from camera Array

Capturing video from camera Array

During a sampling day, some sites are randomly chosen to collect fish for measurement and sampling. One method used is a chevron fish trap, a large wire cage which is baited with squid, lowered to the bottom, and left for 60 minutes. Another collection method is the bandit reel, which deploys a vertical line strung with 10 hooks baited with mackerel pieces. This line is lowered over the side until the bottom weight touches the substrate and left for 10 minutes, then reeled back in.

Chevron Trap

Bandit Reel

Bait

Bait

When fish are caught in the chevron trap or on the bandit reel, they are identified, measured, weighed, and gender is determined. Then if the fish is a species commercially or recreationally fished, it is frozen and returned to the NOAA National Seafood Inspection Lab to be available for further analysis.

Holding a Red Snapper

Holding a Red Snapper

Measuring a red snapper

Measuring a red snapper

So now that I’ve explained the science behind the reef fish survey, here’s a description of our first day assisting Chief Scientist Kevin Rademacher and Joey Salisbury, Field Party Watch Leader. Liz and I arrived in the dry lab (headquarters for the surveying and sampling activities) at 7:00 am, excited to begin working. The Pisces arrived at the first site and the camera array was lowered at 7:17 am (one hour after sunrise.) The camera “cage” was lowered using a hydraulic A-frame which extended over the starboard side of the ship. For the first “drop” we watched through windows from inside the lab, as well as on a video monitor. Then as the camera “soaked” for 45 minutes, the crew deployed a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth recorder.)More about the CTD in the next journal entry!

By the second site, or “station” we were outfitted with a hard hat and PFD (personal flotation device), required attire when working on deck. As the day went on, we learned to reset the cameras after each station, assist with fish collection and measurement, and enter data collected from the TDR (temperature-depth recorder) into the computer. Throughout the day, we followed a routine of

1) deploy cameras

2) deploy and retrieve CTD

3) on selected stations, move to second site and drop chevron fish trap

4) return to first site, retrieve cameras

5) on selected stations, use the bandit reel to deploy a vertical fishing line

We repeated this process for 7 stations.

No fish were caught in the chevron traps, however, fish were caught both times the bandit reel was used. Each reel station brought in a red snapper Lutjanus campechanus and a red porgy Pagrus pagrus. Liz measured and weighed the fish and Joey determined the sex of the fish. The snapper were frozen to be taken back to NOAA’s National Seafood Inspection Lab.

When there was no work to do on deck, we spent time reading fish identification books, learning about other aspects of the reef fish survey, visiting the bridge, checking in with the bird observers, and watching for dolphin or whales. On one break we took turns using a handline to fish off the side – I caught 2 blue runners, Caranx crysos and Liz caught one. We worked until approximately 7:15 pm. The cameras do not use any artificial light, so the work stopped as dusk fell. We’ll see what tomorrow’s stations bring!

Personal Log

After the first night’s rough seas, I was thrilled to wake up to calm seas on Friday, with the crew promising even smoother seas to come. I really enjoyed the variety of work we assisted with. We were initially disappointed after the first fish trap came up empty. After waiting for an hour while the trap soaked, then donning our hard hats and PFD’s, when the empty trap emerged from the dark depths, we compared it to being “all dressed up with no place to go!” But Kevin reminded us that “The hardest thing to learn about science is that ‘0’s are numbers too!”

I am somewhat “technologically challenged” so I was happily surprised how quickly I learned to log the TDR (temperature depth recorder) data. I was also happy that I remembered much of the physical oceanography I learned years ago.

Liz and I are becoming familiar with the ship-the lab and galley are on the main deck, our cabin is on the 01 deck, other cabins are on deck 02, the bridge is the 03 deck, and above the bridge is the 04 deck. And there are decks 2, 3, and 4 below the main deck, Each deck can be accessed by indoor or outdoor ladders (not stairs!) that are much steeper than your stairs at home. The interior doors are heavy and it’s hard to remember whether to push or pull, this has been a source of much amusement for us! The hatches (doors to outside decks) are very heavy and secured with a wheel that often takes two hands and a lot of muscle to open or close. And don’t forget to step up over the approximate 13” step. There are many reasons we only wear closed-toe shoes!

Hatch

Hatch

Opening hatch

Opening hatch

Ladder

Ladder

After we finished with our fish survey work, Liz and I went out to the back deck with our laptops to work on our journals. Some of the crew started fishing with fishing rods off the side of the ship. Within a few minutes they had caught a small mahi-mahi and a few other fish when one of the deck hands slowly started reeling in something big. Of course, our computers were put aside so we could watch as he slowly hauled in a 55+pound greater amberjack – it was huge!!!Lots of excitement and picture taking followed! Then he caught another one – just a bit smaller! Another rod brought in a large yellowedge grouper. I have never seen such large fish! It was very exciting to watch! We thought maybe since we didn’t catch much during the day, we saved our fishing “luck” for the evening! The fishing ended around 9:00 for the night as the ship needed to start moving to tomorrow’s location. We headed up to the bridge to take the CO up on his offer to steer the ship. More on this in the next journal entry!

55 lb greater amberjack

55 lb greater amberjack

Holding the amberjack

Holding the amberjack

Even Pascy the Penguin agreed this was one big fish!

amberjack and yellow-edge grouper

Amberjack and yellow-edge grouper

While I’ve been working with the science team, Pascy has been exploring the Pisces. Look at all the places he’s been!


This was the only thing we caught in the fish trap today!


This was the only thing we caught in the fish trap today! Pascy wants to ride on the block when they raise the large A-frame on the back deck.


In case of emergency, report to your life raft station!


Which flags are we flying today, Pascy?


I’m the KING OF THE WORLD!!

Anne Marie Wotkyns, July 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Marie Wotkyns
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 7-13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Anne Marie Wotkyns
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Thursday, July 8, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Wind: 7-9 mph
Other Weather Features:
Sunny, scattered light clouds
Waves 1’; Swells 3-4’
Location: 28.37.2 N
089.33 W

Science and Technology Log

Hello, my name is Anne Marie Wotkyns and I am participating in the NOAA Teacher at Sea program. I teach 4th grade at J.B. Monlux Magnet School in North Hollywood, California. I joined the NOAA ship Pisces on the evening of July 6 to begin a 6 day cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. I will be posting logs to share the information I learn and the experience of working aboard a scientific research vessel. We will be working on the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey of Offshore Banks, a project which provides information about the relative abundance of fish species associated with geographic features such as banks and ledges on the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll be explaining this project more in my next log entry.

Me in front of the Pisces

Me in front of the Pisces

After meeting the other Teacher at Sea, Liz Warren and bird expert Scott Mills, at the Gulfport Mississippi Airport, we were driven to the NOAA docks in Pascagoula, Mississippi. It was quite late when we boarded the Pisces, so we found the cabin Liz and I would share, explored the ship a bit, and turned in for the night.

Wednesday, July 7 found us eager to get started on our TAS adventure. We started the day at the NOAA office and lab building, adjacent to the ship docks. There we met Kevin Rademacher, Chief Scientist for the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) offshore reef fish survey which we will be participating in on our cruise. He showed us around the NOAA facilities, which house the Southeast Marine Fisheries Offices, Seafood Inspection, and Documentation Approval and Supply Services. The fisheries division deals with resources surveys, harvesting, and engineering related to commercial fishing. The seafood inspection division deals with issues related to seafood safety and chemical and microbiological analysis of seafood. These labs can help determine if the “red snapper” your favorite restaurant serves is really red snapper or a different type of fish! This division will also be testing some of the fish we collect on our cruise for baseline data on fish from areas outside the oil spill for possible later comparison to fish collected within the spill zone.

Me in Front of the Southwest Fisheries Building

Me in Front of the Southwest Fisheries Building

Now a little more about the Pisces, my home away from home for the next 6 days. The Pisces was commissioned in 2009 and is one of NOAA’s newest ships. She is 63.8 meters (209 feet) long, 15 meters (49.2 feet) wide, and has a draft of 6 meters (19.4 feet.) Her cruising speed is 14.5 knots and she can stay out to sea for 40 days if necessary. On this cruise there are 22 crew comprised of a commanding officer, deck officers, engineering officers, deck hands, engineers, stewards, and survey and electronic technicians. There are 6 on our science team and 2 bird observers conducting surveys of pelagic seabirds possibly affected by the oil spill.

NOAA Ship Pisces

NOAA Ship Pisces

After we set sail on Tuesday afternoon, we spent much of the late afternoon up on the flying bridge, the highest deck on the ship. We observed a wide variety of boats and ships in the channels around Pascagoula Bay. Scott and Ron, the bird observers, helped us identify the bird species we saw, including Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, and Sandwich Terns. We also saw several Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin swimming near the ship. Soon the seas grew rougher and after dinner and a short welcome meeting, we retired to our cabins for the night.

Wednesday morning brought calmer seas, and the start of “science “ on board the Pisces. Before we reached the areas selected for the SEAMAP fish surveys, Chief Scientist Kevin Rademacher wanted to conduct bathymetric mapping of an area called Sackett Bank, off the coast of Lousiana. This involves sailing the ship in a series of overlapping transects 1.6 miles long, .05 miles apart, similar to “mowing your lawn” at home. The ME70 multibeam acoustic system covers a swath of 120 degrees using 27 beams which can detect and map features on the sea floor down to .5 meters in size. This will allow NOAA to produce highly accurate nautical charts of the region. The charts will eventually be available to commercial and sport fishermen, sailors, shipping companies, and anyone else who is interested.

Mapping Sackett Bank

Mapping Sackett Bank

When a ship is conducting activities like this bathymetric mapping or other “Restricted Mobility and Manuevers” work, they hoist a nylon “Ball-Diamond-Ball” to notify other ships in the area that it is restricted in its movement so the other ships can change their course. This message is also sent electronically by VHF radio signal. I happened to be on the bridge while they prepared to start the first transect, so Commanding Officer (CO) Jeremy Adams let me hoist the ball-diamond-ball.

Hoisting the ball-diamond-ball

Ball-diamond-ball

    Hoisting the ball-diamond-ball

Hoisting the ball-diamond-ball

Transect Lines

Transect Lines

In this photo, the green boat indicates the position of the Pisces as we conduct the mapping transects.

Tomorrow the plans are to begin the SEAMAP reef fish surveys, “one hour after sunrise” – looks like we’ll be working from about 7 am to 7 pm with the fish! Bring it on!!

Personal Log

After submitting Teacher at Sea applications for 3 years (the first 2 years I was not selected) I am thrilled to be here! The opportunity to participate in a cruise like this on such an amazing ship is truly a once in a lifetime experience!

Here are a few more pictures of life aboard the Pisces.

Stateroom

Stateroom

Desk

Desk

Galley

Galley

Our cabin is a little small, but very clean and functional. Liz volunteered to take the top bunk, so I have the bottom. I love the little curtains that can enclose the bunk – makes a dark little “cave” for me! And the reading lamp lets me read late at night! We have a flatscreen TV, but so far we have only been able to watch the USA network – one channel only. But we don’t spend much time in the cabin anyway. The bathroom is very similar to a cruise ship bathroom, and the shower has great water pressure – however the ship is under water conservation so showers need to be quick. Notice we’re eating on paper plates with plastic utensils. No dishwashing either! After the ship moves farther from the oil spill they will able to use their salt water to fresh water conversion process and we’ll be able to use water more freely.

Pascy chooses his dinner in the “mess” – sorry – no fish!

In Pascagoula I purchased a small stuffed penguin and named him “Pascy” (for Pasacagoula.) Pascy has been exploring the Pisces so here are some shots of him around the ship!

Pascy helps check off each transect in the acoustics lab.

A little coffee is always good in the morning.

The cookies here are great!

Another big event today was the fire drill and abandon ship drill. We were assigned “muster stations”, places we would go to in event of an emergency. Part of the drill was to practice donning our “survival suits” – one piece insulated buoyant suits that would keep us afloat and warm if we ever had to abandon ship. The hardest part of the drill was getting the awkward suit on and off – they seem to be one-size-fits all and I seem to be smaller than most sailors!

Even Pascy got to participate in the drill! I don’t think he need to worry about staying afloat or warm in the water! Good thing, because that lifejacket looks a little big!

Immersion suit

Immersion suit

Me in my Gumby Suit

Me in my Gumby Suit