Kimberly Lewis, July 19, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Kimberly Lewis
NOAA Ship: Oregon II
July 1 -July  16 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, July 19, 2010

Home Sweet Home

One of the sharks we caught in our trawls.

One of the sharks we caught in our trawls.

I am still working on ‘decompressing’ from such an awesome experience aboard the NOAA ship, the Oregon II. When I hit the bed Saturday night I think I was out within 5 minutes. And to think, the crew and scientists aboard NOAA ships do this job over 200 days a year.Thursday night before we arrived in Mississippi I woke up at 2100 hrs (9:00 pm) and thought I would take a look outside. The waters were still and looked like black glass. A crescent moon was shining over the gulf, and the stars were so abundant and bright. It was the most beautiful night I had seen since my July 1 voyage began.

Oil rig

Oil rig

Friday night was my last night on ship and I tried to stay awake to see the glow from the fires of the Deep Water Horizon….. but my body gave out to sleep. However, each night and day I could see oil rigs all along the voyage, especially Friday when we were traveling through “oil rig alley”. I could not get over how many rigs were out there, which you can find many maps online that show where oil rigs are located.

Ship Colors

Ship Colors

Part of the science team.

Part of the science team.

Saturday at 0400 hrs (4:00 am) I woke up, I could feel the ship not moving. We were sitting outside of Pascagoula waiting until daybreak when we could start moving into shore. When a ship is going to dock all of her colors will fly. When out to sea the only flags on the masts are the MS flag, the NOAA flag, and the US flag.

Once we docked everyone was busy, I didn’t get a chance to get a photo with the entire scientific party. We had 17 days together but we working so much a photo op didn’t cross our minds. In this photo is Geoff and Sean from the NE labs, me, Bruce the other TAS, and Abbey – my roommate and a senior at the University of MN.

I hope to keep in touch with the entire bunch, you never know when another collaboration will surface.

Kimberly Lewis, July 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Kimberly Lewis
NOAA Ship: Oregon II
July 1 -July 16, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, July 15, 2010

One more day for me, many more days for the scientist who monitor our seas

Birds, Sharks, Fish, Water Chemistry……. Everything needs to be monitored for the ‘big picture’

Date: Wednesday July 14, 2010Weather Data from the Bridge 
Time: 1115 (11:15 AM)
Position: Latitude 28.59.313 N, Longitude 94.28.958 W
Present Weather: partly cloudy
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 11.21 kts
Wave Height: 3 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.7 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 30.1 degrees Celsius; Wet bulb = 26.3
Barometric Pressure: 1017.50 mbScience and Technology Log 
(this log is a little lengthy, but very important concepts)Southeast Fishery Bulletin released a statement on July 12, 2010 regarding the Shrimp Fishery to re-open on July 15, 2010 off the coast of Texas. Data that we have been collecting on board the Oregon II is sent daily to the regional office for review. From our data over the past week and data collected by the Texas parks and Wildlife Dept, the NOAA Fisheries Service has announced the size of the brown shrimp have reached a mark that allows the trawling to re-open from 9 to 200 nautical miles off Texas.

The shrimp fishery is closed annually off Texas to allow brown shrimp to reach a larger and more valuable size prior to harvest, and to prevent waste of brown shrimp that might otherwise be discarded due to their small size. http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/bulletins/fishery_bulletins.htm

During our sampling I have personally seen many sizes of shrimp. The past few days the brown shrimp have been very large. Personally, I have not seen shrimp this large before…… but living in Ohio most of our shrimp comes frozen and already beheaded.
When sexing shrimp the larger shrimp are usually female. This is the case with many species of organisms. As we are counting through the first 200 shrimp for data collecting, you can almost guess before looking what the sex of some shrimp will be just based on their size.

Tuesday the idea of whole ecosystem-based management was addressed.

An article by Hughes (2009) shows a relationship between species of seagrass and the species that they provide with habitat and/or food source. The data shows the importance of an ecosystem-based mgmt approach that incorporates interdependencies and facilitation among species (Hughes et al. 2009). This is the concept that is taking place by the US National Marine Fisheries Service (which is a department within NOAA) in relation to the “essential fish habitat” which approaches the protection of sea-grasses (Hughes et al. 2009).

What about the IUNC (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List? As of now, threats to biodiversity are often listen on a species-by species basis (Hughes et al. 2009). The research in the Hughes (2009) article suggests looking at connections between threatened species and their habitats…… ecosystem-based conservation. Again, the NOAA fisheries have already started this trend.

Some things that are done on the NOAA fisheries ships to maintain low variables throughout the years of sampling are keeping the same gear and using the same sampling methods. As far as site selection, the stations are random stratified. An example of this would be not going to the same station year after year, but sampling 20 stations in Area A. So the following year it may be another random 20 stations in Area A.

Habitat quality also plays a role in sampling. Commercial fishermen may question why NOAA chooses to sample in a place that has low or no fish, but it is important to monitor all areas. As the high quality habitat looses fish due to the fishing industry, fish from another area will move in. At first glance it may seem like the populations are fine, but if the other areas are being depleted because fish are moving into the prime area you start to see a shift in an ecosystem.

Here in the gulf we are not seeing any invasive species in our sampling areas, which is great news. A few years back some Australian jellyfish were making their way in, but you mainly see those closer to the coast. We have had good catches while we have been out, in other words a good proportion of organisms based on the depth of the water.

“Sorting the Catch”

So finally what can I say about ecosystem management? Hooray for the US Nat’l Marine Fisheries!

Works Cited: 

Hughes, R. Williams, S. Duarte, C. Heck, K. Waycott, M. 2009. Associations of concern: declining seagrasses and threatened dependent species. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment: Vol. 7, No. 5, pp. 242-246.

“Shrimp, eels, various fish, etc.”

Personal Blog:

We have finished up our Texas stations and we are headed to the Louisiana west delta. I have been scrambling around to get some good photos of the lab, the sea, etc. because it has hit me that I only have two more days on the boat.

Usually journaling and photo taking come easy for me on my summer expeditions, but this one has really been a lot of work. With 12 hour shifts and trawling happening all throughout the night, there is not much down time. Which is probably fine b/c you are in the middle of the sea on a boat. What else would you do? This isn’t a Carnival cruise line. Hahaha.

I have really adjusted to sea life and night shift. Each day when I get off of my shift I hit the bed hard…… and don’t wake up until 10pm!

Chefs Walter and Paul have continued to feed us all well, too good at times. Everyone on the ship has kept their day 1 attitude and hospitality toward me and the other volunteers. It can be tough living in a small place, but it seems to work well on the Oregon II.

Kimberly Lewis, July 14, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Kimberly Lewis
NOAA Ship: Oregon II
July 1 -July  16 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, July 14, 2010

Wed July 14, 2010 : the nightshift is running smooth

Sunrise

Sunrise

The sunrise is here and we are caught up on processing our catches. I may go try to grab a bite to eat before we get to the next station. I will be setting the CTD for a DO (dissolved oxygen) sample to do a titration. Hopefully when the boat is still and the CTD is down I will get a cool photo.

Kimberly Lewis, July 13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Kimberly Lewis
NOAA Ship: Oregon II
July 1 -July  16 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, July 13, 2010

Ecosystem Conservation and some of the people who monitor it

Me holding a skate.

Me holding a skate.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Time: 1130 (11:30 AM)
Position: Latitude = 28.57.59 N;
Longitude = 94.49.73 W
Present Weather: Clear
Visibility: 8-10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 14.97 knots
Wave Height: 4 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.1 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 31.4 C; Wet bulb = 27.0 C
Barometric Pressure: 1013.77 mb

Science and Technology Log

“IT’S ALL CONNECTED.” Everything in an ecosystem is connected to everything else. This is a guiding principle of studying and managing ecosystems. This past spring in one of my online communities we were discussing whole ecosystem monitoring for conservation rather than the traditional ‘save one species at a time”.

I’m seeing it now in the Gulf of Mexico. Obviously, the ocean environment is connected to human activities – the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill makes that abundantly clear. But there are also countless natural connections, and much less obvious human impacts, that must be understood and assessed if the Gulf ecosystem is to be protected. Commercial fish and shrimp stocks can only be sustained through a careful understanding of the human impact and natural connections in the Gulf.

That’s why we identify and count every organism we bring up in a trawl. Sometimes we get 50 or more different species in one catch, and we don’t just count the commercially important ones like red snapper and shrimp. We count the catfish, eel, sea stars, sea squirts and even jellyfish we haul in. Why? Because even though these organisms might seem “unimportant” to us, they might be important to the red snapper and shrimp. They also might be important to the organisms the red snapper and shrimp depend on. And even if they’re not directly important, studying them might tell us important things about the health of the Gulf.

Brittany

Brittany on the deck

Bruce and I are learning a lot about this from the incredibly knowledgeable marine biologists in the science party. Brittany Palm is a Research Fishery Biologist from NOAA’s Southeast Fishery Science Center (SEFSC) in Pascagoula, MS, and leader of the day watch on this leg of the Oregon II’s Summer Groundfish Survey. Brittany is working on her M.S. on a fish called croaker, Micropogonias undulatus, studying its stomach contents to better understand its position in the food web. Croaker is not an economically important species, but it lives in the same shallow sea floor habitat as shrimp so shrimpers end up hauling in a huge amount of croaker as bycatch. So, when the shrimping industry declined in 2003-2004, the croaker population exploded. Since croaker are closely associated with shrimp habitat and the shrimp fishery, we might gain important insights by studying croaker population and understanding what they eat, and what eats them.

Alonzo

Alonzo helping to dissect a fish

Alonzo Hamilton is another NOAA Fishery Biologist from the SEFSC. Alonzo explained that there’s a lot to be learned by looking at the whole ecosystem, not just the 23 commercial species that are managed in the Gulf. For example, many of the crabs we commonly catch in our trawls are in the genus Portunas, known as “swimming crabs.”

Portunas spinicarpus

Portunas spinicarpus

Portunas species normally live on the sea floor, but when severe hypoxia sets in, Portunas crabs can be found at the surface, trying to escape the more severe oxygen depletion that typically takes place at the bottom of the water column.

Sean

Sean on the deck

Geoff on the deck

Geoff on the deck

Sean Lucey and Geoff Schook are Research Fishery Biologists from NOAA’s Northeast Fishery Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. They are working on the Oregon II right now to support the SEFSC because of huge manpower effort demanded by the oil spill. The NEFSC has been conducting their groundfish survey annually since 1963, making it the longest-running study of its kind. Originally the survey only looked at groundfish population, but as our understanding of ecosystem dynamics increased over time, more and more factors were analyzed. Now NEFSC looks at sex, age, stomach contents and many other species besides groundfish to obtain a more complete picture of the food web and the abiotic factors that affect groundfish. NEFSC even measures primary production in the marine ecosystem as one tool to estimate the potential biomass of groundfish and other species at higher trophic levels.

Fisheries biologist Andre DeBose
Andre DeBose is a NOAA Fishery Biologist from the SEFSC and the Field Party Chief for the Summer Groundfish Survey. In addition to leading the science team on the Oregon II, Andre is conducting research on Rough Scad, Trachurus lathami, an important food species for red snapper and important bait fish for red snapper fisherman. By gaining a better understanding of the relationship between Red Snapper and its prey we can better understand, and better manage, the ecosystem as a whole.

There’s a lot of information to be learned beyond just counting fish. By taking a wide look at the marine environment we can better understand how the whole ecosystem functions. This enables us not only to be more informed in setting sustainable catch levels, but also enables us to identify and respond to things that contribute to hypoxia and other problems that degrade habitat and reduce populations. It’s all connected.

Personal Log

Everyone in the scientific party has been working very hard to gather data. A 12 hour shift can be long at times, and other times fly by. Today Andre told us we will start cleaning up Thursday morning. It doesn’t seem possible that my 17 days with the Oregon II will soon be over. Part of me is excited to get back home to see my family and sleep in a bed that isn’t affected by the Gulf waves. The other part of me is sad due to the fact I will not longer be working with some remarkable people and worked with ongoing scientific research. It is very hard work, but very exciting to see what goes on at sea. I am sure I will call on some of them in the future for collaboration.

Chef Walter made some great meals over the past few days. Crab cakes, roasted buffalo, chicken curry, and quail, not to mention those great breakfasts. Based on my first two days of sea not able to keep anything down and not wanting to eat, I thought for sure I would go back to Ohio 15 pounds lighter. But the sea sickness wore off and I am enjoying food and adjusting to boat life.

Kimberly Lewis, July 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Kimberly Lewis
NOAA Ship: Oregon II
July 1 -July  16 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, July 19, 2010

National Seafood Inspection Lab

doors up

doors up

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 0730 (7:30 am)
Position: Latitude 28.18.6 N; Longitude 95.19.4 W
Present Weather: party cloudy
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 12.35 knots
Wave Height: 2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 28.9 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 29.1 degrees Celsius; Wet bulb = 25.4 C
Barometric Pressure: 1014.30 mb

Science and Technology Log

What is science technology? One simple definition can be ‘tools to help humans do science’. We have talked about some of the tools used aboard the Oregon II, like FSCS and CTD, but what are some other tools used that are not high tech?
Believe it or not, a shovel is an important tool on the ground fish survey. When a catch comes in, the net hovers over empty baskets and the catch is slowly released to fill the baskets. Once all of the catch has been emptied from the net, shovels are used to pick up the rest of the catch from the deck that fell out during emptying. In the wet lab we use scrappers to move the catch along the tray where we sort the organisms. When it comes to identification paperback field guides and laminated posters can help with ID.

So what do we do with the organisms we collect data on and identify?
It was mentioned that the SEAMAP survey collects data for many different agencies, but during the data collection we also save specimens for scientist from universities and other research groups. If a scientist is doing research on a particular species of batfish for example, once we collect data on the batfish we print a label for that scientist, bag the fish in zip loc baggies, and then put the specimens in the freezer below deck.

Station Board

Station Board

Station board – stations with a star beside them are NSIL stations. Stations with a “B” are stations where we drop the bongo nets (mentioned in an earlier log).

For commercial seafood we bag specimens to go to NSIL (National Seafood Inspection Lab). Not every station we drop the nets for is a NSIL station, but when we do have a NSIL station we follow a similar sample saving protocol to the one used for research scientists. These samples get labeled, placed in zip-loc baggies, and then they’re sent on to the freezer. However, because of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the gulf, the way we saved some of the samples for NSIL was different, because these samples are going to be sensory tested. In other words ‘sniff’ tested. For this test, the specimens had to be wrapped in foil to help contain any scents so that the ‘sniff testers’ (people trained to pick up petroleum scent at an amazing 100 ppm) can identify if petroleum products are present. For leg II the focus is on chemical sampling for petroleum. However, protocols can change daily when you are sampling during a disaster.

Foiling

Wrapping brown ship in foil to go to NSIL

Packed for NSIL

Packed for NSIL

Wrapped in foil, tagged, and ready for the freezer.

A few days ago our new protocol called for storing NSIL samples first to ensure we have enough freezer space, then other requesters samples may be saved if time permits.

Here is a CNN video clip about seafood safety.

We have a long list of the scientific names of seafood that need to be collected for NSIL but here is a list of more popular common names of seafood that you may recognize.

Some Common Commercial seafood for the Gulf Region for our groundfish survey 5-60 fathoms: Brown, White, and Pink Shrimp, Red Snapper, Gray triggerfish, crevalle jack, sand seatrout, silver seatrout, yellowedge grouper, snowy grouper, lane snapper, butterfish, wenchman, cobia, vermillion snapper, amberjack, shoal flounder, dusky flounder, and swimming crab.

Snapper on deck

Snapper on deck

Red Snapper freshly caught

Red Snapper in a fish taco, mmmm.

Personal Log:

Well the seas have been calm which is allowing me to get in a good 8-9 hrs of sleep each day. That is much better than the rockin’ and rollin’ I had been experiencing in bed. It is hard to sleep when you are sliding a few inches from head to foot of the bed, and side to side. It also creates an uneasy stomach as all of your stomach contents get mixed around.

Yesterday was a beautiful day as we could see for 10 miles (as mentioned above). One thing about night shift is that we only have 5 hours of daylight. This can be good or bad. Good part is that we have a cooler working environment and I don’t need as much sunscreen. (But believe me we still get stinky from all of the shrimp and fish juice!). The bad part about night shift is we can’t see into the sea as well. So 12 hours of collecting organisms we probably miss a lot of the other interesting things that are swimming near our boat when we haul up a catch.

4 days of fishing to go, then we will be cleaning the lab and heading to Mississippi.

Kimberly Lewis, July 10, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Kimberly Lewis
NOAA Ship: Oregon II
July 1 -July  16 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, July 10, 2010

My moon in the Gulf

Holding Fish

Holding Fish

One of my favorite fish – Moon Fish (Selenesetapinnus)Had a pretty good sleep tonight, still not able to sleep straight thru. I usually wake up around 1700 hrs, so I went ahead and jumped out of bed and had some clam chowder in the galley. Yummy.It is now 0300 hrs and I can hear the crane warming up to bring in our next catch.
The other day we were non-stop working and someone said, “I hope this next catch is low”. Then we all looked at each other and realized what was said. If we hope for a low catch that means less work, however, that also means a poor ecosystem. So we really should hope for large catches…… funny when you think about what you wish for sometimes when you are tired.See ya later,

Kimberly Lewis, July 9, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Kimberly Lewis
NOAA Ship: Oregon II
July 1 -July  16 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, July 9, 2010

Scientist first, Teacher at Sea second

Kim with members of the science team

Here I am with two other volunteers working the FSCS station. I am measuring shrimp. You can see the other two identifying one of the many species we caught.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Time: 1630 (4:30 pm)
Position: Latitude = 28.20.93 N; Longitude = 095.58.98 W
Present Weather: Could cover 100%
Visibility: 4-6 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 18 knots
Wave Height: 6-8 feet
Sea Water Temp: 28.9 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 27.2 C; Wet bulb = 25.3 C
Barometric Pressure: 1011.56 mb

Science and Technology Log

As you can tell from our previous blogs, we spend a lot of our time on the Oregon II counting, measuring and weighing our catch and loading the data into FSCS. These data are critical to NOAA and the states in managing fish stocks and the Gulf ecosystem. In addition to knowing population size, weights, and lengths of individuals it’s also important to know the sex of the organisms. Information on the male:female ratio helps NOAA and the states assess the ability of the population to reproduce, and to establish sustainable catch levels.

But how do you determine the sex of marine organisms? For most fish and invertebrates you can only tell the sex by internal anatomy, which of course requires cutting the animal open. This is time consuming and not always practical when we have a large catch to process and other tasks take priority, such as preparing samples to be analyzed for contamination from the oil spill which is our top priority right now.

For some organisms, however, sex can be determined externally. One of the things we’ve learned in the past week is how to determine the sex of shrimp, flatfish, crabs, sharks, skates and rays. Here’s how:

Shrimp: the males have a pair of claspers (called petasma) on their first set of legs. The petasma are absent in females. The males use the petasma during mating to grasp the female and transfer the sperm sac.

Male – arrows show the petasma

Female – petasma are absent

Crabs: On most crab species females have wide plates curving around the rear of the abdomen, while males have a long narrow plate or plates. On females, the eggs develop under the curved plate.

Male

Female

Female with eggs

Flatfish: When you hold a flatfish up to the light you can see through it, which enables you to do an internal examination without cutting it open. On female flatfish, the gonad extends in a dark red, curved wedge which is absent in the male.

Male

Female

Personal log:Thursday was slow for the scientists on board as the waves continued to rock the boat too much to drop our nets. The rest of the crew followed their normal duty schedule. It is hard going from night shift to day shift for meetings and then back to nights. I feel like I have spent too many hours in my bunk trying to get back on schedule. Trying to do Yoga on a ship doesn’t work so well, I will be glad to get back to that when I get home.Chef Walter did another fine job with dinner. Prime Rib and scalloped potatoes. I am usually not a prime rib person, but this was excellent. I also found where the ice cream drumsticks are stored…mmmmm.

One of the scientists I work with on night shift said, “we think of you guys as scientific volunteers first, then teachers at sea second”. I will say that is the job I feel like I have been doing. The first few days I barely got my camera out b/c we were so busy. We collected a sea horse one night and I missed taking the photo before the catch was dumped. I was in the next room doing a titration and forgot to tell the rest of the shift to save it for me. 😦 Since then I have kept my camera close by in a drawer in the wetlab. I am learning and seeing many new things…….. if anyone is a zoology teacher this is the trip for you!