Kevin McMahon: NOAA Divers Rescue Ghost Trap, Goodbye Pisces, July 17, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kevin McMahon

Aboard NOAA ship Pisces

 July 5 – July 18, 2014

 

Mission: Southeast Fisheries- Independent Survey

Geographic area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina

Date: July 17, 2014

Weather Information from the Bridge

Air Temperature:             26.3 °C

Relative Humidity:           80 %

Wind Speed:                   20.1 knots

 

Science and Technology Log

Catching fish in hard bottom habitats is not without its risks. Sometimes, the traps can get caught on a ledge and the rope breaks when the ship tries to pull up the trap. This is what happened on Wednesday. When a trap is lost and stays in the water, it is sometimes called a “ghost trap.”

The first thing I thought about was the fish that were stuck in the trap. Oh no, how will they get out? The good news is that the trap was creatively designed. It has an escape door that is held shut by zinc clips. Zinc is a type of metal that deteriorates in salt water. In a few days, the zinc clip will break and the door will open so the fish can get in and out of the trap. Hooray for whomever thought of that design!

 

This clip is designed to deteriorate in salt water. It will break apart in a few days and an escape door will open so that fish may freely move in and out of the trap.

This clip is designed to deteriorate in salt water. It will break apart in a few days and an escape door will open so that fish may freely move in and out of the trap.

 

The second thing that I thought about was the two cameras. It would be sad if we could not use them again for future surveys. And, there could be some interesting observations to be made from the video footage.

 What Are The Next Steps?

The purpose of our mission was to collect data about fish populations for fish species that are important to humans, including grouper. Currently, there are limits in place for how many grouper can be caught each year.   These limits are in place so that there are grouper for future generations to enjoy.

We now have a lot of data from deploying over 200 traps, with each trap having video footage from two cameras. We caught 54 groupers. They included red grouper, scamp, gag, rock hind, and graysby.  In a quick glance at the video footage, we saw many grouper that decided not to go into the trap. It will take a lot of time to review all the video footage. But after all the video footage is analyzed and the MeanCount is determined, what happens next?

Take the poll below and vote on what type of grouper is in the middle of this photo.

Two scamp that did not enter the trap.

The next step is for our data to be added to the other data from all the other Southeast Fishery- Independent Survey cruises. Scientists will look at this data, along with other data from commercial fishermen, and make some conclusions about what they think is happening to the populations of these fish.

Based on these findings, policymakers will decide whether the current limits should be changed or stay in place.

In the end, the goal of everyone should be the same: making sure that groupers are here for a long, long time so future generations of people can enjoy them.

Personal Log

I have gotten used to life on a ship. Some things are harder to do, like exercising. Have you ever tried to run on a treadmill on a ship while it is rocking back and forth and side to side?   I was never very good at running on a treadmill on land. It is twice as hard when you are at sea.

The food has been fabulous. We eat meals three times a day.   We eat a lot of good fish, like fried grouper and fish tacos. Some of my non-fish favorites have been flank steak, barbeque chicken, pizza, meatball subs, and black bean burgers. And, no matter how rough the boat is rocking, I am still able to get to the dessert table for cookies, or ice cream, or cupcakes, even if my path is not a straight one.

 

This is a photo of the "galley." It is the name of the place on board where we eat our meals.

This is a where we eat on the Pisces.

We have been lucky with the weather too. We have only had one day where it rained most of the day. The waves have only been in the 4-6 foot range during the rough times.

I feel very fortunate to have been chosen to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea. I have learned so much about fishery research and ocean floor mapping. I am happy to have played a small role in collecting this important data.   I can’t wait to share this knowledge with my students.

I can’t thank enough Nate Bacheler and the other scientists on board for letting me share this adventure with them. I would also like to thank the crew of the Pisces. They were very knowledgeable and helpful.   I hope our paths cross again. Goodbye Pisces.

You may be wondering about the trap that we lost.  I have good news.  Ensigns Jim Europe and Hollis Johnson saved the day.  They are NOAA divers.  They are also part of the NOAA Corps-one of the seven uniformed services of the U.S. and the officers that drive the ship. They retrieved the lost trap and the cameras very carefully.  Great job, Jim and Hollis!  You can learn more about the NOAA Corps here:http://www.noaacorps.noaa.gov/

Jim and Hollis getting ready for their dive. Hollis is from Georgia.

Jim and Hollis getting ready for their dive. Hollis is from Georgia.

NOAA divers and support crew head to the location of the ghost trap.

NOAA divers and support crew head to the location of the ghost trap.

 

I would like to end this personal log with a few more of my photos that did not make it into earlier blog entries.

Kevin McMahon is adding bait to the trap. It looks yummy.

Kevin McMahon is adding bait to the trap. It looks yummy.

 

Rainbow as seen from the stern of the Pisces.

Rainbow as seen from the stern of the Pisces.

 

Beautiful sunset

Beautiful sunset

 

A tulip snail wandered into one of our traps.

A tulip snail wandered into one of our traps.

 

Two toadfish surprised us in the last trap of our survey.

Two toadfish surprised us in the last trap of our survey.

 

Kevin McMahon trying to figure out why this creature is called a squirrelfish. Credit: Adria McClain

Kevin McMahon trying to figure out why this creature is called a squirrelfish. Credit: Adria McClain

Did you know?

The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.

Can you think of a few ways that the ocean affects humans? Can you think of a few ways that humans affect the ocean?

Kevin McMahon: Midnight Mapping! July 13, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kevin McMahon

Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces

July 5 – July 18, 2014

 

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina

Date: July 13, 2014

Weather Information from the Bridge

Air Temperature:            27.6 °C

Relative Humidity:         73%

Wind Speed:                  5.04 knots

 

Science and Technology Log

Someone is always working on the Pisces. When Nate Bacheler and the other fishery scientists have finished their work for the day collecting fish, it is show time for the hydrographers, the scientists who map and study the ocean floor. Their job is to map the ocean floor to help Nate find the best places to find fish for the next day.  Warren, Laura, David and Matt were kind enough to let me join them and explained how they map the ocean floor while on board the Pisces.

People have learned over the years that some fish like to hang out where there is a hard bottom, not a sandy bottom. These hard bottom areas are where coral and sponges can grow and it also happens to be where we usually find the most fish.

Instead of using a camera to find these hard bottom habitats, the mapping scientists use multibeam sonar. Here is a simple explanation on how sonar works. The ship sends a sound wave to the bottom of the ocean. When the sound wave hits the bottom, the sound bounces back up to the ship.

Since scientists know how fast sound travels in water, they can figure out how far it is to the ocean floor. If the sound wave bounces back quickly, we are close to the ocean floor. If the sound wave takes longer, the ocean floor is farther away. They can use this data to make a map of what the ocean floor looks like beneath the ship.

The neat thing about the Pisces is that it does not send down one sound wave only. It sends 70 waves at once. This is called multibeam sonar.

Single Beam versus Multibeam sonar.  Can you see why scientists like to use multibeam sonar?

Single Beam versus Multibeam sonar. Can you see why hydrographers like to use multibeam sonar? Credit: NOAA

So, now you know how sonar works in simple terms.

But it gets a little more complicated. Did you know that sound speed can be affected by the water temperature, by how salty the water is (the “salinity”), by tides, and by the motion of the ship?  Computers make corrections for all of these factors to help get a better picture of the ocean floor. But, computers don’t know the physical properties of our part of the ocean (because these properties change all the time) so we need to find this information and give it to the computer.

To find the temperature of the ocean water, the mapping scientists launch an “XBT” into the water.  XBT stands for “expendable bathythermograph.”  The XBT records the changes in water temperature as it travels to the ocean floor.  It looks like a missile.  It gets put into a launcher and it has a firing pin. It sounds pretty dangerous, doesn’t it!  I was excited to be able to fire it into the water.  But, when I pulled out the firing pin, the XBT just gently slid out of the launcher, softly plopped into the ocean, and quietly collected data all the way to the ocean floor.

 

Kevin McMahon nervously holding the XBT Launcher and waiting for the order to fire.

Kevin McMahon nervously holding the XBT Launcher and waiting for the order to fire.

                 

Kevin McMahon watches as the XBT gently plops out of the launcher.

Kevin McMahon watches as the XBT gently plops out of the launcher.

 

With the new data on water temperature, the hydrographers were able to create this map of the ocean floor.

Example of an Ocean Floor Map

Example of an Ocean Floor Map

 

In the map above, blue indicates that part of the ocean floor that is the deepest. The green color indicates the part of the map that is the next deepest. The red indicates the area that is most shallow.

Nate talks to the hydrographers early in the morning and then predicts where the hard bottom habitats might be. In particular, Nate looks for areas that have a sudden change in elevation, indicating a ledge feature.  If you had Nate’s job, where would you drop the 6 traps to find the most fish?  Look at the map below to see where Nate decided to deploy the traps.

 

The green dots are the spots where Nate dropped the traps in hopes of finding fish.

The green dots are the spots where Nate dropped the traps in hopes of finding fish.

 

To find out more about using sound to see the ocean floor and to see an animation of how this works, click on this link:

 NOAA: Seeing the Ocean Floor

               

Personal Log

 

We have now gotten into a regular routine on the ship.   The best part of the day for me is when we are retrieving the traps. We never know what we will see. Sometimes we catch nothing. Sometimes we find some really amazing things.

 

Here are a few of my favorites:

 

Closer view of sharksucker on my arm

Closer view of sharksucker on my arm

 

Somebody is crabby.

Somebody is crabby.

 

Sea stars with beautiful navy blue colors

Sea stars with beautiful navy blue colors

 

A pair of butterflyfish

A pair of butterflyfish

 

Did you know?

The ocean is largely unexplored.  Maybe someday you will discover something new about the ocean!

 

Kevin McMahon: GoPro Science! July 11, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kevin McMahon

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

 July 5 – July 18, 2014

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina

Date: July 11, 2014

Weather Information from the Bridge

Air Temperature:           28.1 °C

Relative Humidity:         86%

Wind Speed:                 17.08 knots

 

Science and Technology Log

As mentioned earlier, we are trying to collect data about fish populations in the Atlantic Ocean, off the southeast coast of the United States. One way to do that is to catch fish in traps. But, wait. What if some of the fish don’t go in the trap?

To help get a better estimate of fish populations, scientists use technology used by skateboarders, surfers, and snowboarders – the GoPro camera.

GoPro Camera on Chevron Trap

GoPro Camera on Chevron Trap

 

There are two cameras mounted on the top of the trap. One is placed on the front of the trap. Another camera is placed on the back of the trap.

Because the video file is so large, I won’t be able to upload it to this blog. But here are some screenshots of what we see on the video.

 

GoPro Camera and Trap Heading into the Ocean

GoPro Camera and Trap Heading into the Ocean

 

This is what the camera sees as it is sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

This is what the camera sees as it is sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

 

Hello pufferfish!  This is a view of what we can see with the video camera.

Hello pufferfish! This is a view of what we can see with the video camera.

 

Sometimes the video helps explain why we do not have many fish in our trap.  In this photo, a tiger shark is swimming in front of the camera.

Sometimes the video helps explain why we do not have many fish in our trap. In this photo, a tiger shark is swimming in front of the camera.

 

So, how do you count fish on the video?  The fish can be very fast and they zoom in and out of view. The scientists use a procedure called MeanCount. They look at the video from minute 10 to minute 30. Every 30 seconds, they stop the camera and count the number of fish of each species that they are studying.  They then find the average number of those fish in this twenty-minute video segment.  This MeanCount allows them to better estimate the fish population of that species.

Spotlight on Ocean Careers

I have been fortunate to meet many interesting people while at sea. One of those people is Adria McClain, the survey technician on the Pisces. Listed below are her answers to questions that I asked about her job.

 

Adria McClain holding a spottail pinfish

Adria McClain holding a spottail pinfish

 

Tell us your name and where you grew up.

My name is Adria McClain and I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California.

 

What is your job title and could you explain what you do.

Survey Technician. I am responsible for collecting, checking, and managing the ship’s meteorological data (temperature, atmospheric pressure, relative humidity, wind speed/direction) and oceanographic data (water temperature, salinity, current speed/direction, speed of sound in water). Additionally, I am responsible for the ship’s scientific equipment (e.g. conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) sensor, scientific seawater system) and the ship’s scientific software. I also assist the visiting Fisheries Biologists with sorting and measuring fish.

 

What got you interested in doing this type of work?

I’ve always liked science and knew from an early age that I wanted to be a scientist. I studied Biology in college and Oceanography in graduate school – this job allows me to do work in both fields.

 

How can a student prepare to do this type of work?

Take lots of science and math classes in high school and in college. Take lots of English classes too! In the sciences, it is important to be able to communicate verbally and in writing. I would also recommend taking a basic seamanship course to learn about navigation, shipboard communication, tying knots, and safety at sea.

 

Why do you think it is important to study the ocean?

The reasons are many, but to name a few, the ocean influences Earth’s climate and weather patterns, the ocean harbors yet undiscovered species, and the ocean provides food for humans and countless other life forms.
What was your favorite subject or subjects in school, and why were they your favorite(s)?

All of them! I’ve always had a passion for learning. If I had to pick a favorite subject, it would be a tie between science and foreign languages. I liked science because I was always fascinated with the natural world and wanted to understand and be able to explain what I observed in nature. I liked foreign language study because I wanted to be able to communicate in more than one language.

 

What are your hobbies?

Reading, science, and travel.  I am also a Batman enthusiast and collect Batman comic books, movies, TV shows, as well as books about the mythology, philosophy, and psychology of Batman.

 

Tell us about what it was like when you were in 6th grade.

In my school district, elementary school included sixth grade. We stayed with the same teacher all day and the subjects we studied included social studies, math, science, reading, writing, music, and physical education.

“International Day” was one of my favorite days – once per year, each of the school’s 12 classrooms featured the food, art, and history of another country or culture. Each student received a “passport” and could choose which countries to visit that day.

What is your favorite sea creature?

The Smooth Lumpsucker (Aptocyclus ventricosus)

This cute blob is a Smooth Lumpsucker. Credit: Adria McClain

This cute blob is a Smooth Lumpsucker. Credit: Adria McClain

Adria explained to me that the Smooth Lumpsucker won’t be found on our current trip. Too bad. It looks pretty cool. She said that you can find it in much colder water, like the North Atlantic Ocean. To find out more about the Smooth Lumpsucker, you can click on this link:

Smooth lumpsucker

 

Personal Log

It has been fun and challenging living on a ship. It is VERY different from living on land.

My room is comfortable and I sleep on the top bunk.  The greatest part of all is when it is time to sleep. While you are lying down in bed, the waves will roll you gently from side to side. At the same time, the head of the bed will rise up and down too. And, if that wasn’t enough movement, we sometimes feel the ship slide left and right.

Because my room is on the bottom floor, the water from the waves will crash against the window. It makes a sloshing sound. With all the rocking and sloshing, I sometimes think that I am sleeping in a washing machine. So far, it has been a relaxing way to fall asleep.

I spend much of the day in the wet lab. Yes, you are right. It is wet in there. In the picture below, I am standing in the entrance to the wet lab.

 

This sharksucker can stick to humans too.

This sharksucker can stick to humans too.

 

This is where we collect data on the fish, like their weight and size. It is also where the scientists collect samples to help determine the age and reproductive health of certain species.

My favorite part of the wet lab is the fish waterslide. The fish that are returned to sea are dropped down a hole in the wet lab where they land on a jet stream of water and get launched back home.

Triggerfish returning to sea from the ship's  "waterside".

Triggerfish returning to sea from the ship’s “waterslide”.

We also have a dry lab. Yes, you are right again! No fish are allowed in here. This is where the scientists have their computers and where the video cameras are kept when they are not in their waterproof containers. Our chief scientist, Nate Bacheler, works on 5 computers at once when it comes time to decide where and when to drop the traps.

 

Nate Bacheler in the Dry Lab. Can you see the 5 computers that he uses?

Nate Bacheler in the Dry Lab. Can you see the 5 computers that he uses?

 

Did you know?

A team of 5 seventh graders from Sacred Heart School in South Haven, Mississippi named our ship the Pisces. They won a contest to name the ship by writing an essay and explaining why NOAA should choose the name that they selected.

 

Kevin McMahon: Fireworks, Red Grouper, and The Deepest Trap, July 7, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kevin McMahon

Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces

July 5 – July 18, 2014

Mission: Southeast Fisheries- Independent Survey

Geographic area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina

Date: July 8, 2014

Weather Information from the Bridge

Air Temperature:           26.6 ° C

Relative Humidity:         70%

Wind Speed:                 10.96 knots

 

You will notice that my blogs will now have two sections. The first section called “Science and Technology Log’” is where I will discuss our mission, the data that we are collecting and any other science-related news from our trip.

In the second section, called “Personal Log”, I will share about how it feels to be a part of this expedition and what it is like to live and work on the Pisces. I will also add a glossary at the end of each blog entry for some of the science and ship terms that might be unfamiliar to you.

Science and Technology Log

I am one of many people helping chief scientist, Nate Bacheler, collect data about the abundance of reef fish. Nate is a research fishery biologist and he coordinates the Southeast Fishery Independent Survey.

This work is exactly what you think it is. We are catching fish to collect data on how abundant the reef fish are off the southeast coast of the United States.

They use a trap called a chevron trap, to collect the fish. It gets its name from its unique shape.

 

Chevron Trap

Chevron Trap

 

Each time that the scientists deploy the fish traps, they use the same procedure. For instance, they use the same size of traps, the same number of traps, the same type of bait, the same amount of bait in each trap, and the same “soak time” in the ocean.

Most days, the traps will be deployed three times. Once the traps reach the surface, we sort the fish by species, measure their mass (in kg), and measure their length (in mm).

On some of the more important species that humans use for food, the scientists will take samples for other scientists to examine in order to determine how healthy a particular fish species is.  For example, scientists remove the ear bones, called otoliths, to determine the age of the fish that was caught. Determining the age of the fish from the otoliths is like counting rings on a tree because the otoliths form growth marks each year.

So far, we have caught fish of all different shapes and sizes. On one of our first traps, we caught a red grouper that weighed 11.67 kilograms and was 881 mm long.

 

Kevin McMahon with Red Grouper

Kevin McMahon with Red Grouper

 

Today, we sent a trap that went down 102.97 meters. That was the deepest that the Southeast Fishery Independent Survey has ever deployed! We caught a scamp (which is a type of grouper), many red porgy, and a blackfin snapper. This was the first blackfin snapper that Nate has seen.

Personal Log

Wow, I have just had an amazing few days.

The night before we set off on our cruise, I was able to watch the fireworks from the bow of the boat. Even though it was July 5, the fireworks were delayed one day because of Hurricane Arthur.

The best view of the Morehead City,NC  fireworks show was from the deck of the Pisces.

The best view of the Morehead City,NC fireworks show was from the deck of the Pisces.

The morning came quickly, and, we headed out to sea.

 

This is my last view of land for a while!

This is my last view of land for a while!

Here are some of my initial thoughts:

I am in awe over the vastness of our ocean. I wish that I was a poet because then I could describe it a lot better. To me, it seems like we are a million of miles from the coast. Everywhere you look, you see the most beautiful blue color. I think the Crayola crayon company should create a new color in honor the ocean and call it “ocean blue” if they haven’t already created a crayon this color.

Check out the color of the ocean  while the deck crew wait to deploy the next trap.

Check out the color of the ocean while the deck crew wait to deploy the next trap.

 

But, even though all I see is water in every direction, we are only 60.5 miles south, southeast off the coast from the Beaufort Inlet.

I also am impressed with all the collaboration that is necessary to make the mission a success.  For instance, there are two different groups of scientists on the boat. One group spends the night mapping the ocean floor using multibeam sonar. They share this information with the fishery scientists early in the morning so that they can decide where to place the traps for the next day. The scientists also have to coordinate with the crew of the ship. The scientists are constantly communicating with the crew and the crew are constantly communicating with the scientists. This work could not happen with out the help of everyone on board.

I also like how everyone is conscious about safety. At school we have fire drills and tornado drills in case of emergencies. On the ship, we also have fire drills and “abandon ship” drills. Check out the picture of me in my “gumby” suit during our “abandon ship” drill. I had to go to my lifeboat location and then put on my survival suit to protect me from hypothermia in case I fell in the water in the unlikely event that we had to abandon ship. We also needed to bring a hat, a long-sleeve shirt, and long pants for the “abandon ship” drill. Why do you think we need that?

 

Kevin McMahon in his survival suit

Kevin McMahon in his survival suit

 

GLOSSARY OF TERMS 

Bow – the front end of the ship.

Bridge – the part of the ship that is the command center. The officers navigate the ship from this location. 

Hypothermia- a dangerous condition when your body temperature drops too much, usually as a result of being exposed to cold temperatures for too long.

 

Kevin McMahon: Getting Ready, June 19, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kevin McMahon

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

 July 5 – July 18, 2014

 

Mission:  Southeast Fisheries- Independent Survey

Geographic area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean

Date:  June 19, 2014

Personal Log

Hi, my name is Kevin McMahon. I am a sixth grade science teacher at Renfroe Middle School in Decatur, Georgia.  I am excited to be a part of the 2014 Teacher at Sea program.

Ever since I was a kid, I have been fascinated with the ocean.  I spent many summers in Ocean City, Maryland.  I loved watching blue crabs and horseshoe crabs scurry across the bottom of the bay. I loved skimboarding on the thin film of water left behind by a retreating wave. And, I was amazed at how rough the surf could become when a storm was heading toward us.

My favorite shows on T.V. also had water themes.  Marine Boy was a cartoon about a boy who could stay underwater and breathe by chewing a special gum.  How cool is that? I also liked The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.  He was one of the first people to take a camera underwater and share his discoveries of life under the sea.

I recently celebrated my birthday.  My daughter Becky made me a birthday cake shaped like the earth. The cake has four layers to match the four layers of the earth. If you look closely, you might be able to see a picture of the NOAA ship, Pisces, in the Atlantic Ocean.  The Pisces is the research vessel that will be my home for two weeks. Thank you, Becky!

Kevin McMahon, Earth birthday cake

Kevin McMahon showing off the birthday cake made by his daughter, Becky.

Earth layer birthday cake

A birthday cake with 4 layers, just like our earth.

I won’t tell you how old I am, but I will give you this hint.  I have travelled around the sun 50 times since I was born!  How many times have you revolved around the sun?

In a few weeks I will have the opportunity to learn more about the ocean and share it with you.  I will be helping Nate Bacheler, a scientist with NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), collect data on important fish species in the Atlantic Ocean, like snapper and grouper.

Red Snapper

A red snapper at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. Credit: NOAA

Why are these fish “important”?  These fish are fish that humans like to catch and eat.  Part of our mission is to learn about the health of these fish populations and to learn whether or not they are being overfished.  If people catch too many of them, there might not be enough of these fish to help feed humans in the future.

You can find out more about the work by clicking this link:

Southeast Fisheries- Independent Survey

Our ship will be leaving from Morehead City, North Carolina.  As a college student, I spent a summer near Morehead City taking a marine biology class at Duke University’s marine lab in Beaufort, NC.  I have fond memories of my time on the coast of North Carolina and am looking forward to seeing how it has changed since I was there.

The next time that I write, I will be in the Atlantic Ocean. I am looking forward to sharing the science with you and sharing what I learn about the teamwork involved in making this scientific expedition safe and successful.