Carmen Andrews: The People and Places Aboard the R/V Savannah, July 19, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Fernandina Beach, Florida
Date: July 17, 2012

Latitude:      30 ° 28.53   N
Longitude:   80 ° 11.73’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 27.6° C (81.68°F)
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wind Direction: from the Southwest
Surface Water Temperature: 27.88 °C (82.18°F)
Weather conditions: Overcast

Science and Technology Log

There are 16 people aboard this fisheries survey cruise. There are seven crew members and nine scientists, including me. The work can be difficult, and at times it is dangerous. The accommodations aren’t spacious and the work schedules can be long: 12 hours on and 12 hours off for the scientists. The boat’s crew has 4- hour on and off work schedules. Two men at a time are on watch for each of six 4- hour shifts.

I got to know everyone on the R/V Savannah during my time on the survey cruise. Here are some interviews that I conducted with scientists and crew. Their jobs — and the life choices that led them to do these jobs — are equally impressive.

The Scientists

Shelly Falk

Shelly making modifications to a fish trap

Marine technician Shelly Falk, making modifications to a fish trap

1. What is your job title and what do you do?

I work as a Marine Technician at MARMAP. It is part of  the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. On this cruise I catch fish and work them up in the wet lab. In the past, I have worked with video technology – setting it up and maintaining it. I usually work with something called an SCS program, which collects time, location and depth of fish sites.

2. Where are you from originally?

I’m from Ilion, New York. It’s a little town upstate.

3. Where do you live now?

I live in Charleston, South Carolina.

4. What background and skills are needed for your job?

After high school I took my core academic classes at Herkimer Community College in Herkimer, New York. Then I transferred to Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, near Myrtle Beach. That’s where I earned my B.S. degree in Marine Science. There were many field experiences. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources requires a bachelor’s degree for this work. I needed experience dissecting fish. Learning to gather video data is a new skill that requires on the job training.

5. Can you remember any math and science courses that were helpful in preparing you for this job?

Marine science gave me an overview of physical oceanography.  At Coastal Carolina I took courses in Marine Chemistry, Marine Biology and Marine Mammals. These courses also gave me an overview of these fields. My favorite class was Biology of Sharks, because I went to Bimini in the Bahamas for ten days as part of this course. That was the best experience leading up to this job.

6. What do you like best about your job?

I like the field experience and the hands on tasks of being at sea. I also like the variety of this kind of work and not knowing what I’ll find every day. Every day is a new experience. It’s never the same.

David Berrane

Fisheries Biologist David Berrane

Fisheries biologist David Berrane, on the rear deck of the R/V Savannah

1.  What is your job title and what do you do?

I am a Fisheries Biologist and contractor for NOAA, in Beaufort, North Carolina. On this cruise I do fish survey work and dissection. That’s known as conducting field sampling exercises. The samples I dissect are sent to MARMAP in Charleston, SC. Back in my Beaufort lab I analyze collected samples using video. One of my most important responsibilities is maintaining equipment and supplies. I am also responsible for purchasing supplies.

2.  Where are you from originally?

I’m from Yorktown, Virginia.

3.  Where do you live now?

I live in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.

4.  What background and skills are needed for your job?

A person doing this job needs to be interested in being outside in the wild world and nature. It’s difficult and challenging work. You need experience operating in strenuous conditions. I spent my youngest years in Poquoson, Virginia — living near the water — crabbing and fishing. I’ve been handling wildlife since I was old enough to catch it. I went to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. I majored in Environmental Studies. Before working in this position I was a camp counselor and assistant park ranger.

5.  Can you remember any math and science courses that were helpful in preparing you for this job?

I had a good teacher for algebra. He would put a problem on the board every Monday. He gave us extra credit if we could solve it by Friday. I got interested in science when I finally came around to realizing science is the world around us. I had started college as a business administration major and found I didn’t like it. I changed my major to environmental science after visiting Puerto Rico and seeing a scientist working in the rainforest. I decided that I wanted to do that.

6.  What do you like best about your job?

I like going out and doing the field work. I like being on a team of good people and having fun. Seeing the traps come up and seeing new fish is like being a kid on the canal bank again, catching fish. I’m still interested in seeing new kinds of fish – the polka dot batfish were some fish that I saw for the first time on this trip.

Polka Dot Batfish

Polka Dot Batfish

The Crew

Mike Kruitwagen

Marine chef, Mike Kruitwagen in the galley

Marine chef, Mike Kruitwagen in the galley

1. What is your job title and what do you do?

I am a Marine Chef. I create good food to make everyone happy. My goal is to provide healthy, diverse meals. I boost morale, and give the scientists and crew something to look forward to. My kitchen is limited on this boat, but I try to make everything from scratch.

2.  Where are you from originally?

I grew up in Bridgeton, New Jersey.

3. Where do you live now?

I live in Houston, Texas.

4.  What background and skills are needed for your job?

Someone needs a passion for cooking and boats to do this job. You need to be able to adapt. I got my training in culinary arts from the San Diego Culinary Institute in San Diego, California. I have been preparing meals on boats for six years. Before that I worked as a caterer and personal chef.

5.  Can you remember any math and science courses that were helpful in preparing you for this job?

I didn’t realize back in school that measuring and converting amounts would be so important to my work. Multiplication and division are very important to increasing and decreasing servings for the number of people that I prepare meals for. I also needed to learn about chemistry of cooking – how acids and bases affect cooking – like when to use baking soda or baking powder.

6.  What do you like best about your job?

The best part of my job is all the travel. I’ve been to Hawaii, Southeast Asia, San Diego to Seattle and places in between. I started in New Jersey and now I’m in Savannah, Georgia. I like meeting new people and having new experiences. Every day is a learning experience.

Raymond Sweatte

R/V Savannah Captain Raymond Sweatte making a log entry

R/V Savannah Captain Raymond Sweatte making a log entry

1. What is your job title and what do you do?

I am the Marine Supervisor and Captain of the R/V Savannah. I begin preparing for a cruise like this by communicating with the chief scientist. We discuss the equipment that will be loaded – bait, ice, freezers. We also discuss the objectives of the cruise and the locations of fish traps. I make sure that provisions, fuel and potable water is aboard. Very importantly, I check to be sure all safety equipment is aboard and in good working order. The top priority of every cruise is safety, and then I focus on the science objectives being met. I try to serve the scientists as much as possible, by making sure that the boat’s crew is available to support the science project.

2.  Where are you from originally?

I’m from Beaufort, South Carolina.

3.  Where do you live now?

I live on Wilmington Island, Georgia.

4.  What background and skills are needed for your job?

There is more than one way to be a captain – one way is to attend a Merchant Mariners’ Academy, and then going to sea to get experience in all areas of seamanship. My route involved working on a boat and then going to the Maritime Professional Academy in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I have a USCG 1600 Ton Masters License. The Coast Guard licenses mates and captains to operate vessels. The licensing goes from OUPV or Operator of Uninspected Power Vessel, who can take up to six people on a vessel, up to an Unlimited License , which would license a person to captain a vessel like an ocean liner or super tanker.

5. Can you remember any math and science courses that were helpful in preparing you for this job?

I enjoyed marine science courses. I always loved math and find that I need algebra and geometry. I liked science too.  I had to learn how a compass works. The boat has many simple machines like pulleys – they are called blocks on a boat. I have to understand mechanical advantage. There are also hydraulic levers called A-frames and J-frames to move loads in and out of the boat. I have to do stability calculations to balance loads with respect to the center of gravity, so the boat isn’t top heavy. I also have to calculate be sure there isn’t too much weight at the front or back of the boat.

6. What do you like best about your job?

I like being out at sea. I enjoy the peacefulness of the sea. Everyone works together with the same goal – that’s the only way to manage. We sometimes spend more time with crew than our families. We need lots of give and take. I’m also able to meet many scientific groups with missions that will hopefully help environmental conditions. I like the idea of being involved with these projects.

Pete Casserleigh

First Mate Pete Casserleigh piloting the R/V Savannah

First Mate Pete Casserleigh piloting the R/V Savannah

 1. What is your job title and what do you do?

I am the first mate of the R/V Savannah. I maintain records of safety inspections and deck equipment maintenance. I have about ten binders on a shelf that store the information that I have to read and record. John Bichy, the marine tech and I do this work together. I also manage the fueling system that runs the twin diesel engines.These engines power the boat.

2.  Where are you from originally?

I’m from Metairie, Louisiana. I moved to Dallas, Texas in high school.

3.  Where do you live now?

I live in Guyton, Georgia. It’s 30 miles west of Savannah

4.  What background and skills are needed for your job?

Even though I would still like to eventually finish college, in the marine industry you don’t need a college degree. Licenses are the qualifications that are needed.

After high school I went to Delgado Community College in New Orleans. I was attending college with a general studies major when we were attacked on September 11, 2001. I left college and  joined the Coast Guard because of 9/11. I was stationed in Kauai, Hawaii.  I served as a boatswains mate on the cutter, Kittiwake for three years. I was also quartermaster of the watch, assistant rescue and survival petty officer, and I did some other assignments that dealt with rescue and safety. When I was transferred to Savannah I was the boarding officer, which is a law enforcement position. I got my captain’s license in the Coast Guard. The sea time allowed me to get a 100 ton masters license. Since leaving the coast guard, I’ve worked for ferry services that ran out of Savannah to surrounding islands. I also worked as a ships safety inspector before taking the job I have now. My safety training and experience have led this job.

5.  Can you remember any math and science courses that were helpful in preparing you for this job?

In school, math and science were the courses I enjoyed the most. I liked biology too. Math plays an important role in chart plotting, conversions, and navigation. For example, fueling is measured in inches. I have to use measurements in the metric system and the conventional measuring system. Depths can be measured in meters and fathoms. Algebraic reasoning is essential to pass certification and licensing tests.

6.  What do you like best about your job?

Being on the water is something I have always wanted to do – I love being out on the water. My office is a boat. I enjoy all the fringe benefits of being on the ocean – the sunsets, the fishing — and knowing that working on a research vessel is going to a good cause. The tough part is leaving my family.

The R/V Savannah’s Other Science Work Area

There are two laboratories on board. The wet lab activities were described in the previous post.

The dry lab contains numerous technological tools that give constant information on several screens. One of these shows CTD data – water conductivity, salinity, temperature, in addition to several other readings. There screens that show the boat’s position and course settings. Others show current velocities in the ocean column. And very importantly, there are screens that show weather conditions around the boat. This data includes wind speed and direction, air temperature, among other weather data. The dry lab also stores many the video cameras that get submerged when the traps are deployed to the ocean bottom. There are battery charges and data card readers on the lab benches.

Dry lab showing video gear

Dry lab with video gear

Video captured near fish trap

Monitor showing video captured near fish trap

Monitor showing depth and current velocities in the water column

Monitor showing depth and current velocities in the water column

Personal Log

Here are some pictures that show what my life was like aboard the R/V Savannah for two weeks:

My bunk

My bunk

The science head a.k.a bathroom

One of the two science heads a.k.a bathrooms

My state room, shared with two other female scientists

My state room, shared with two other female scientists

Gag grouper and meatloaf dinner

Gag grouper and meatloaf dinner

Wahoo dinner

Wahoo dinner

Black sea bass and stuff pork roast dinner
Black sea bass and stuff pork roast dinner
My favorite pic of me

My favorite pic of me (courtesy of Pete) — after setting the autopilot for the homeward course, and pushing the throttles forward to power up the twin Caterpillar diesels, I was feeling really good sitting in the captain’s seat.

Carmen Andrews: Transforming Fish into Data, July 15, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida
Date: July 15, 2012

Latitude:      28 ° 50.28   N
Longitude:   80 ° 26.26’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 28.6° C (83.48°F)
Wind Speed: 18 knots
Wind Direction: from the Southeast
Surface Water Temperature: 27.6 °C (81.68°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and Fair

Science and Technology Log

How are fish catches transformed into data? How can scientists use data derived from fish to help conserve threatened fish species?

The goal of the Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey or SEFIS is to monitor and research reef fish in southeast continental shelf waters.  Marine and fisheries scientists have developed sophisticated protocols and procedures to ensure the best possible sampling of these important natural resources, and to develop fisheries management recommendations for present and future sustainability.

During the cruise, important commercial fish in the snapper and grouper families are caught over as wide an area as possible; they are also taken in large enough numbers that they can be worked up into statistically reliable metrics. In addition to counts and measurements, biological samples are also taken at sea for future analysis in land-based research labs.

Gag grouper ready for its work up

Gag grouper ready for its work-up

Scientists strive to render an informative snapshot of reef fish stocks in a given time interval. Reports that analyze and summarize the data are submitted to policy-makers and legislators to set fisheries rules, restrictions and possible quotas for commercial and sports fishermen.

After fish are caught and put on ice, processing includes several kinds of measurement that occur on deck. This data is referred to as ‘Length Frequency’. Tag information from the trap follows the fish through all processing.  Aggregate weight measurements for all the fish of one species caught in a trap are made and recorded in kilograms.

David is weighing the gag grouper, with Adam P. looking on

David is weighing the gag grouper, with Adam P. looking on

The length for each fish in the trap is noted, using a metrically scaled fish board. Not all fish are kept for further processing.

David measuring the length of the gag grouper

David measuring the length of the gag grouper

Species-specific tally sheets randomly assign which fish from the catch are kept and which ones are tossed back into the ocean. These forms, which specify percentages of fish identified as ‘keepers’, are closely consulted by the data recorder and the information is shared with the scientist who is measuring the catch.

Shelly is recording length frequency measurement data

Shelly is recording length frequency measurement data

Length frequency data entries

Length frequency data entries

Red Porgy keep/toss percentage sheet

Red Porgy keep/toss percentage sheet

Kept fish are put in a seawater and ice slurry. The others are thrown over the side of the boat.

Age and reproductive sampling are done next in the wet lab.

Small yellow envelopes are prepared before fish work up can begin. Each envelope is labeled with cruise information, catch number, fish number, and the taxonomical name of the fish, using  binomial nomenclature of genus and species.

Adam P. and Shelly labeling envelopes and plastic specimen containers

Adam P. and Shelly labeling envelopes and plastic specimen containers

A small color-coded plastic container (the color indicates fish species tissue origin), with the fish’s source information riveted at the top, is also prepared. This container will store fish tissue samples.

The fish trap catch number is documented on another data form, along with boat and science team identification, collection method and other important information about the circumstances surrounding the fish catch.  Each species’ data is separately grouped on the data form, as individual fish in a catch are sequentially numbered down the form.

Me, transcribing fish weight & length data

Me, transcribing fish weight & length data

Each fish is weighed, and the weight is noted in grams. The scale is periodically calibrated to be sure the fish is weighed accurately.

Vermilion snappers and scamp, labeled and  ready for dissection

Vermilion snappers and scamp, labeled and ready for dissection

Three length measurements that are made: standard length (SL), total length (TL), and if the fish species has a fork tail — fork length (FL). The fish is laid, facing left on a fish board. The board is long wooden plank with a metric measuring scale running down the center.

Standard length does not include the caudal fin or tail. It begins at the tip of the fish’s head; then the fish measurer lifts the tail up slightly to form a crease where the backbone ends. Standard length measurement includes the fish’s head to end of backbone dimension only. Total length is the entire length of the fish, including the caudal fin. In fork-tailed species, the fork length measurement begins at the fish’s snout and ends at the v-notch in the tail.

Fish length measurements

Fish length measurements

Source: Australian Government – Department of Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Part of the dissection of every fish (except gray triggerfish) is the extraction of  otoliths from the fish’s head. An otolith is a bone-like structure made of calcium carbonate and located in the inner ear of fish. All vertebrates have similar structures that function as gravity, balance, movement, and directional indicators. Otoliths help fish sense changes in horizontal motion and acceleration.

To extract the otoliths, the scientist makes a deep cut behind the fish’s head and pulls it away from the body. The left and right otoliths are found in small slits below the brain. They must be removed carefully, one at a time with forceps. They can easily break or slip into the brain cavity.

Red snapper with removed otolith

Red snapper with removed otolith

Otoliths reveal many things about a fish’s life. Its age and growth throughout the first year of its life can be determined. Otoliths have concentric rings that are deposited over time. The information they show is analogous tree ring growth patterns that record winter and summer cycles. Other otolith measurements can determine when the fish hatched, as well as helping to calculate spawning times in the fish’s life.

The oxygen atoms in calcium carbonate (CaCO3) can be used to assay oxygen isotopes. Scientists can use these markers to reconstruct temperatures of the waters the fish has lived in. Scientists also look for other trace elements and isotopes to determine various environmental factors.

Each pair of otoliths is put into the small labeled yellow envelope.

The otoliths on the gray triggerfish are too small to be studied, so the spine from its back is collected for age and growth analysis.

Spine removed from a gray triggerfish

Spine removed from a gray triggerfish

The last step standard data collection is determining the sex and maturity of the fish. The fish is cut open at the belly, similar to preparing the fish as a filet to eat it.

Making a cut into a vermilion snapper

Making a cut into a vermilion snapper

If the fish is big, the air bladder must be deflated. The intestines are moved or cut out of the way. The gonads (ovaries and testes) are found, and the fish can be identified as a male or female. (Groupers can be hermaphroditic.) The fish’s stage of maturity can also be determined this way.  Maturational stages can be classified with a series of codes:

U = undetermined

1 = immature virgin (gonads are barely visible)

2 = resting (empty gonads – in between reproductive events)

3 = enlarging/developing (eggs/sperm are beginning to be produced)

4 = running ripe (gonads are full of eggs/sperm and are ready to spawn)

5 = spent (spawning has already occurred)

Dissected gonad specimens are removed from the fish and placed in a plastic containers, snapped shut and stored in a formalin jar to preserve them. These preserved samples will be analyzed later by histology scientists. Histology is the science of organ tissue analysis.

Dissected fish gonads

Dissected fish gonads

Red snappers have their fins clipped to provide a DNA sample. They may also have their stomachs removed and the contents studied to better understand their diets.

Video data from the underwater cameras is downloaded in the dry lab. This data will be analyzed once scientists return to their labs on land.

Personal Log

Many different kinds of echinoderms and other invertebrates have been pulled up in the fish traps. Several are species that I’ve never seen before:

Basket Star

I am holding a basket star. It is a type of brittle star in the echinoderm phylum.

A red sea star

A red sea star

Spikey sea star

Spikey sea star

Small crab, covered in seaweed, shell and sand

Small crab, covered in seaweed, shell and sand

We also catch many unusual large and small fish in the traps and on hooks. Several of these have been tropical species that I’ve only seen in salt water aquariums.

Lizardfish

Lizardfish

Sargassumfish

Sargassumfish

Hooked blacktip shark

Hooked blacktip shark

Scrawld Filefish

Scrawld Filefish

Spotted butterflyfish

Spotted butterflyfish

Jack knife fish

Jack knife fish

Carmen Andrews: A Fishing Expedition in the Atlantic, Continued, July 13, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Daytona Beach, Florida
Date: July 13, 2012

Latitude:      29 ° 19.10   N
Longitude:   80
° 24.31’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 28.3° C (82.94°F)
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Wind Direction: from Southeast
Surface Water Temperature: 27.48 °C (81.46°F)

Weather conditions: Sunny and Fair

Science and Technology Log

Catching bottom fish at the reef

As the fish trap lies at the bottom of the ocean at the reef site, fish can enter and exit freely through the opening.

Red snapper swimming near a fish trap

Red snapper swimming near a sunken fish trap

 

At the end of approximately 90 minutes, the R/V Savannah returns to the drop site and begins the process of raising the trap with whatever fish remain inside. The six traps are pulled up in the order in which they were dropped.

Scientists and crew waiting to arrive at a trap location

Scientists and crew waiting to arrive at a trap location

The crew member on watch in the wheelhouse will maneuver the boat toward the paired poly ball buoys at a speed of about 5 knots. The boat draws alongside each pair on the starboard side.

R/V Savannah approaching poly ball buoys on the starboard side

R/V Savannah approaching poly ball buoys on the starboard side

One of the scientists throws a grappling hook toward the line that links the  poly balls.

Throwing the grappling hook to secure buoys

Throwing the grappling hook to secure buoys

The line is hauled in and passed to a waiting scientists, who pull the poly balls on deck. There is substantial hazard associated with this step. Undersea currents can be very powerful near the bottom where traps are set. As scientists are pulling in the cable by hand, unexpected current force can yank the trap cable, rope and buoys out of their hands and off the deck in an instant. If personnel on deck aren’t mindful and quick to react, the speeding rope can cause serious rope burn injury.

Nate is pulling poly balls and rigging onto the deck, as Adam P. gets ready to take the line

Nate is pulling poly balls and rigging onto the deck, as Adam P. gets ready to take the line

The cable connecting the fish trap and the poly balls is pulled in and threaded through the pulley system of a pot hauler. The pot hauler is an automated lifting tool that is operated by the second crew member on watch. At this time the first crew member on watch has left the wheel house and is piloting the boat from a small cab on deck above the pot hauler, so he can monitor the action below.

Pot hauler hoisting the fish trap to the boat

Pot hauler hoisting the fish trap to the boat

The pot hauler makes a distinctive clicking sound as it draws the trap toward the surface at an angle. It can take one to five minutes to raise the trap to the deck, depending on the depth of the water.

Tight cable raising submerged fish trap

Tight cable raising submerged fish trap

As the fish trap becomes visible, shimmering rapidly changing shapes can be seen as  fishes’ bodies catch and reflect sunlight.

Fish trap breaking the surface of the water

Fish trap breaking the surface of the water

The trap clears the water and gets pulled aboard.

Grabbing the fish trap

Grabbing the fish trap and pulling it aboard

Very quickly, and with two scientists holding each side, the trap is upended onto its nose and suspended above the deck. A third scientist opens the trap door at the bottom and the fish are shaken into a plastic bin.

Orienting the fish traps to ready them for dumping into bins

Orienting a fish trap to ready it for dumping the catch into a bin

Freshly caught red snapper and black sea bass

Freshly caught red snapper and black sea bass

 

Ice pellets are shoveled onto the fish and a cover is snapped on the bin. If the catch is small, fish may be placed in a bucket or tub and cover with ice.

Fish are covered in ice before the bin cover is snapped on

Fish are covered in ice before the bin cover is snapped on

A numbered tag is removed from the trap and tied onto the bin to identify specimens from each catch. The containers holding the day’s catch are set aside for later processing.

Every so often, unexpected sea life is brought up in the traps. The catch has included sea stars, sea urchins, several kinds of tropical fish and many moray eels.

Moray eel slithering on the deck.

Moray eel slithering on the deck. A moray’s bite can be very severe.

Video cameras are also removed from the top of the trap. Their data cards will be downloaded. Fish behavior and surrounding habitat videos will be analyzed, along with anatomical specimens and size data taken from the fish themselves in the wet lab.

Personal Log

Every day brings more wildlife encounters and sightings. I am dazzled by the many fascinating organisms I’ve been able to see up close. Sometimes I am quick enough to grab my camera and put the animal into my view finder, focusing clearly enough to catch a great image. Here are a few of those images (including some new friends from the cruise):

Adam P. holding a barracuda

Adam P. holding a barracuda

Daniel with a wahoo

Daniel with a wahoo

Trolling with a hooked dolphinfish

Trolling with a hooked dolphinfish

Sea stars

Sea stars

A sheerwater -- bird found in open water

A sheerwater — bird found in open water

Sheerwaters dive beneathe the surface to catch fish.

Sheerwaters dive beneath the surface of the water to catch fish. This bird is consuming a fish with its wings open to balance itself on the water.

Other times I have to capture a memory. Last night I tried reef fishing. I have no experience fishing. At all. Adam P. handed me his own rod and reel. The hook was baited and the line was already lowered to the bottom, down at around 40 meters (more than 120 feet).

Shortly after I took it, the tip of the rod began to bend downward and pull. I asked Adam if that meant something had been hooked.  He said, “Go ahead. Reel it in.” That’s when I discovered that even recreational fishing is tough work – particularly this unfamiliar technique of holding the rod with the right hand and reeling in with the left. Neophyte to fishing is me.

When the fish got to the surface, Adam took the big, beautiful black sea bass off the hook for me. On the deck it splayed out the spines of its dorsal, caudal and pectoral fins defensively. I was concerned because the fish’s air bladder was hanging out of its mouth from its rapid ascent to the surface. Adam punctured the air bladder to deflate it. He threw the fish back into the sea at my request, and assured me that the fish will go on with its life.  I’m optimistic it will.

Carmen Andrews: A Fishing Expedition in the Atlantic, July 11, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – July 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida
Date: July 11, 2012

Latitude: 29 ° 55.96’   N
Longitude: 80 ° 31.29’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 27.6°C (81.7°F)
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: from S
Surface Water Temperature: 28.12 °C (82.6°F)
Weather conditions: Fair

Science and Technology Log

Catching bottom fish at the reef

Pulling in a successful catch of reef fish provides scientists with an important sampling source of fish numbers and species diversity.

A good catch of scamp and gray triggerfish

A good catch of scamp and gray triggerfish

The process requires a systematic and complex capture protocol. As with any well-designed science investigation, the equipment needs to be robust and the sequence of steps in the process of fish takings must be followed with consistency. The methods and materials are kept as similar as possible in multiple sites over a wide area.

The area to be sampled is mapped out in advance with electronic navigation tools.

Nobeltech Map

Electronic Nobeltech Map display used to plan sampling sites for the reef fish survey

This habitat is where the targeted fish species – red and vermillion snapper, gray triggerfish, black sea bass, red porgy, scamp, squirrelfish, almaco jack and amberjack, among others – are most likely found.

Chevron fish traps are used to trap fish for scientific study. Fish trapping using these devices is not permitted by sport or commercial fishermen. When the traps are received from manufacturers, they are not rigged sufficiently to withstand the rigors of trapping fish near undersea ledge formations.

Traps are sometimes snagged on nearby ledges as they are hoisted toward the boat. The side where the cable is attached must be reinforced using a rebar rod to avoid deforming and possibly rupturing the trap.

David and Shelly attaching rebar to side of trap

David and Shelly attaching rebar to the side of a trap

Heavy metal ballast weights are fixed to the bottom of the traps and cable attachments are added on the reinforced side.

David and Adam P. are attaching cable hook ups to the side of a trap

David and Adam P. are attaching cable hook ups to the side of a trap

The trap’s wire lattice is cut at the top to create small openings for stringers (cords with attached wooden blocks) that dangle bait fish inside the trap. A larger opening is cut on one side of the trap to function as an escape hatch for trapped fish if the trap becomes unretrievably wedged at the bottom.

Shelly affixing zinc pop-ups

Shelly is affixing zinc pop-ups to the lost trap fish exit

Four stringers, each with four menhaden bait fish are tied and suspended into each trap’s quadrants, and attached to the trap bottom with a clasp. Additional menhaden are scattered on the floor of each trap.

Menhaden bait fish

Menhaden bait fish

Underwater video cameras are attached above the entrance of the trap and on the opposite side. The entrance camera monitors fish that may be entering the trap. The other camera allows scientists examine the habitat near the trap and to note other species in the vicinity.

Nate and Shelly are mounting underwater video cameras

Nate and Shelly are mounting underwater video cameras

The traps are readied for deployment on the stern of the R/V Savannah. A horn blast from the wheel house signals when the boat is positioned over the reef coordinates.

Nate Bacheler and Capt. Sweatte

Captain Sweatte, at left is piloting the R/V Savannah, while Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler signals to the stern when to drop a fish trap.

The trap is pushed off the back deck and sinks to the bottom.

Shelly and me dropping a fish trap from the stern of the R/V Savannah

Shelly and I are dropping a fish trap from the stern of the R/V Savannah

Two floating numbered “poly balls” are clipped to each trap. They are released one by one after the trap goes down. Six pairs of poly balls function as buoys to mark the pick-up location of each trap.

Poly ball buoys marking location of fish traps

Poly ball buoys marking location of fish traps

After all the traps are in place, a CTD is lowered over the side of the boat to determine conductivity, temperature and depth, as well as salinity, of the fish sampling site. CTD data is transmitted and stored electronically in the dry lab.

CTD submerging

CTD is being lowered to measure conductivity, temperature and salinity of the area where fish traps have been set

Ninety minutes after they are dropped, the fish traps are raised in the order in which they were laid.

Personal Log

Last night scientists and crew were line fishing for reef fish to supplement the trapped specimens. There were some amazing fish catches using the rods and reels off the stern of the R/V Savannah. I didn’t catch any fish, but I did manage to catch some amazing nighttime pictures of the activity with my camera.

Adam L. reeling in a hammerhead shark

Adam L. reeling in a hammerhead shark

Hammerhead being reeled to the surface

Hammerhead being reeled to the surface

Hammerhead shark breaking the surface of the water

Hammerhead shark breaking the surface of the water

Hammerhead being cut from fishing line for release

Hammerhead being cut from fishing line for release

Scientists and boat crew fishing the reef

Scientists and boat crew fishing the reef

First mate Pete holding a red snapper he just caught

First mate Pete holding a red snapper he just caught

Carmen Andrews: News from Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean off the Coast of Georgia, July 9, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – July 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coasts of Georgia and Florida
Date: July 9, 2012

Location Data:
Latitude: 30 ° 54.55’   N
Longitude: 80 ° 37.36’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 28.5°C (approx. 84°F)
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wind Direction: from SW
Surface Water Temperature: 28.16 °C (approx. 83°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log

Purpose of the research cruise and background information

The Research Vessel, or R/V Savannah is currently sampling several species of fish that live in the bottom or benthic habitats off the coasts of Georgia and Florida.

Reef fish study area

The coastal zone of Georgia and Florida and the Atlantic Ocean area where the R/V Savannah is currently surveying reef fish

These important reef habitats are a series of rocky areas that are referred to as hard bottom or “live” bottom areas by marine scientists. The reef area includes ledges or cliff-like formations that occur near the continental shelf of the southeast coast. They are called ‘reefs’ because of their topography – not because they are formed by large coral colonies, as in warmer waters. These zones can be envisioned as strings of rocky undersea islands that lie between softer areas of silt and sand. They are highly productive areas that are rich in marine organism diversity. Several species of snapper, grouper, sea bass, porgy, as well as moray eels, and other fish inhabit this hard benthic habitat.

Reef fish

Hard bottom of reef habitat, showing benthic fish — black sea bass is on left and gray trigger fish is on right side of image.

It is also home to many invertebrate species of coral, bryozoans, echinoderms, arthropods and mollusks.

Bottom organisms pulled up with fish traps

Bottom-dwelling organisms, pulled up with fish traps deployed in the reef zone.

The rock material, or substrate of the sea bottom, is thought to be limestone — similar to that found in most of Florida. There are places where ancient rivers once flowed to a more distant ocean shoreline than now. Scientists think that these are remnants of old coastlines that are now submerged beneath the Atlantic Ocean. Researchers still have much to discover about this little known ocean region that lies so close to where so many people live and work.

The biological research of this voyage focuses primarily on two kinds of popular fish – snappers and groupers. These are generic terms for a number of species that are sought by commercial and sports fishing interests. The two varieties of fish are so popular with consumers who purchase them in supermarkets, fish markets and restaurants, that their populations may be in decline.

Red snapper close up

Red snapper in its reef habitat

At this time, all red snapper fishing is banned in the southeast Atlantic fishery because the fish populations, also known as stocks, are so low.

How the fish are collected for study

The fish are caught in wire chevron traps. Six baited traps are dropped, one by one from the stern of the R/V Savannah. The traps are laid in water depths ranging from 40 to 250 feet in designated reef areas. Each trap is equipped with a high definition underwater video camera to monitor and record the comings and goings of fish around and within the traps, as well as a second camera that records the adjacent habitat.

Chevron fish trap

Fish swimming in and out of a chevron fish trap

I will provide the details of the fish trapping and data capture methods in a future blog.

Who is doing the research?

When not at sea, the R/V Savannah is docked at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SKIO)on Skidaway Island, south of Savannah, Georgia. The institute is part of the University of Georgia. The SKIO complex is also the headquarters of the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The facility there has a small aquarium and the regional NOAA office.

The fisheries research being done on this cruise is a cooperative effort between federal and state agencies. The reef fish survey is one of several that are done annually as part of SEFIS, the Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey. The people who work to conduct this survey are located in Beaufort, North Carolina. SEFIS is part of NOAA.

The other members of the research team are from MARMAP, the Marine Research Monitoring Assessment and Prediction agency, which is part of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources . This team is from Charleston, South Carolina.

Carmen, suited up to retrieve fish from traps

Mrs. Andrews, on deck near the stern of the R/V Savannah, getting ready to unload fish traps

NOAA also allows “civilians” like me — one of the Teachers at Sea– as well as university undergraduate and graduate students to actively participate in this research.

Carmen Andrews: Introduction June 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 6 – 18, 2012

Carmen Andrews

Carmen Andrews

Hello! 

Happy Summer Solstice Day! I am Carmen Andrews.  I work as a science specialist at  Six to Six Interdistrict Magnet School in Bridgeport, CT.  I have just finished my 5th year at this school.  I create science curriculum for grades pre-K through 8. I also teach many classes to help teachers improve their understanding of science concepts and inquiry methods.

Six to Six Magnet School

Six to Six Interdistrict Magnet School, Bridgeport, CT

Our school has a unique academic program that incorporates partnerships with the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT and the Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden, CT.  Our students visit many other places, including the Yale Peabody Museum and Yale Leitner Family Planetarium and Observatory in New Haven. We also allow our students to remotely operate the Gold Apple Valley Radio Telescope in California. My favorite places to teach classes are the unspoiled outdoor sites in Connecticut where we take our students for field studies.

4th Grade Marsh Field Study

4th Graders on a Marsh Field Study

Kindergarteners Investigating Invertebrates

Kindergarteners Investigating Marine Invertebrates

Sixth Graders

6th Graders Counting Intertidal Organisms Using a Quadrat

I love research!

One of my passions as an educator is creating opportunities for students to investigate real world problems using science inquiry. This year my 6th and 7th graders took on a big environmental research project. They were asked to research bioremediation and to develop a creative solution to a major problem in their community  — toxic oil spills. The work was funded by a NSTA/Toyota Tapestry Grant award, which enabled us to find out about blue and gray oyster mushrooms’ ability to metabolize oil spills in soil. Our project is called Going Green in Brownfields: A New Diet for Mushrooms. You can see our blog here: mushroomdiet.info 

Mushroom Harvest

A 7th Grader Massing Blue Oyster Mushrooms Grown in Motor Oil

My Teacher at Sea Adventure

The NOAA Teacher at Sea program was created to provide teachers with experiences in science research. We share our knowledge with our school communities using blogs, teaching and writing articles when we return from our Teacher at Sea assignment. I am very excited to learn about the work of NOAA in monitoring fisheries in U.S. coastal waters. I am eager to share this  scientific research with students. I also want to expose students to the variety of maritime and marine science careers that they can consider pursuing in later life.

I will be departing on the R/V Savannah in about 2 weeks to participate in a reef fish survey.  The next time I write, I will most likely be somewhere near Skidaway Island, GA.  My target audience for my blogs while I am at sea, are students, colleagues and friends of all ages. Please feel free to post your comments and questions about this important science research.