Lesley Urasky: June 30, 2012, Goodbye Pisces

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 30, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 29.1215
Longitude: -78.9042

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Water Temperature:
Air Temperature: 32°C (90°F)
Wind Speed:  9 knots (10 mph), Beaufort scale:  3
Wind Direction: from W-SW
Relative Humidity: 61%
Barometric Pressure:   1,012.0 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (82°F)

Science and Technology Log

During our last night, I had the Third Assistant Engineer, Steve Clement, give me a tour of the engine room and fresh water system.  I can’t believe the engineers are able to work down there – the noise and heat (110°) is amazing!

Steve Clement, Third Assistant Engineer, explaining how things work in the engine room.

I’m not a mechanically oriented person, so Steve had to keep his explanations short; it was more of a show-and-tell tour.  The engine room, majority of equipment controlling the ship’s motion, and water treatment are located on the bottom deck of the ship.  The quantity of both electronic and mechanical equipment is mind-boggling; all the men who work in this capacity have to be proficient in so many areas so the ship can support the science missions.  Hats off to all those hard-working and talented men!

Computer screen showing the operations in the generation plant on the Pisces.

The operation of the ship can be monitored on the main distribution computer screen.  Levels of fluids and functioning of all the components are continually assessed and modifications to operation made from the control panel.

Computer screen showing current fuel consumption for each generator.

The ship uses lots of diesel fuel when it is operating at full steam (14.5 knots/hour) – around 2,500 gallons a day!  The Pisces has a tank capacity of 110,000 gallons; I’d hate to pay their fuel bill when it’s time to fill up! This quantity of fuel allows it to travel about 12,000 NM (nautical miles) or 13,800 miles; that’s a little over half-way around the Earth on one tank of fuel!

Two of the Pisces‘ generators: the one on the left is a 12-cylinder and an 8-cylinder on the right.

The propeller is located at the stern (back) of the ship.  I was able to look down through grating in the floor and see the drive shaft turning at 134 rpm.  It has a diameter of 14.1 feet; it has to be so large so that it can efficiently move the ship through the water.

Main shaft of the Pisces‘ propeller.

Lastly, I got to see the Pisces‘ water generation system.  This is as important as the ship’s engines because without fresh water, the scientists and crew members wouldn’t have drinking water as well as no water for washing or cooking.  The ship isn’t big enough to carry all the freshwater that it needs for a long cruise.  But with reverse osmosis technology, and the fact that we’re surrounded by nothing but water, fresh water is readily available.  The Pisces takes in seawater which is pumped through a reverse osmosis (RO) system.

Reverse osmosis (RO) system that creates fresh water for the Pisces.

In reverse osmosis, the salty water is forced (pumped) through membranes with very small openings.  These are so small that the ions making the water “salty” cannot pass through; the water is able to pass and after leaving the ions behind, becomes fresh water.  The RO system on the Pisces generates about 624 gallons per hour.  The tan “box” in the picture above contains all of the controls and gauges.  The long, white tube behind it contains the permeable membrane that the water is forced through.

Membrane filter in a reverse osmosis apparatus. (Source: Wikipedia)

Personal Log

It is with some sadness that my adventure as a NOAA Teacher at Sea has come to an end.  Today I said goodbye to the crew of the Pisces.  They are an amazing crew, and made my final portion of the cruise without the scientists interesting and fun.  I admit that I was a bit apprehensive about being without the scientists and seeing the ship under different circumstances (lacking a specific scientific objective), but the Pisces steamed forward with two goals in mind: retrieving the buoy (see my last posting on June 27), and arriving in Mayport in a timely manner to receive the next group of scientists as they embark on their cruise.  I’d like to invite you to continue to follow the Pisces and their new Teacher at Sea, Marsha Skoczek as she learns about Deep Sea Corals.

Pisces life preserver

On the afternoon of the 28th, we encountered a line of squalls generated by Tropical Depression Debby as she moved off the coast of Florida and into the Atlantic.  At one point, we had 40 knot (46 mph) winds and rain.  After the winds had died down a bit, I spent some time up on the bridge. Being up so high in the ship, coupled with 8-foot confused seas (waves coming in from different directions) began to make me feel seasick.  I took another meclazine (similar to Dramamine), had some saltine crackers and ginger ale, and sat on deck looking at the horizon for a while.  When even this failed to make me feel better, I crawled into bed.  I really must have been feeling poorly to miss dinner!

By next morning, the seas had calmed down dramatically, and I was feeling as good as new.  As this was our last full day at sea, I headed up to the bridge to do one last thing that the Commanding Officer told me I could do – drive the ship!  While the ship is underway, it is usually under “auto-pilot”.  A course can be entered into the computer and the ship doesn’t need anyone actively at the helm.  The Navigational Officer, Ensign Michael Doig, placed the Pisces under manual control and showed me how to steer the ship.  The Pisces is an incredibly responsive ship and can turn very quickly in just a few feet.  I was shown the current heading and the compass and tried to keep the ship on course – it was definitely much harder than it looks!  After zig-zagging back and forth, off course by about 10 degrees, I handed control back to Ensign Doig.

Lesley Urasky at the helm (aka “driving” the ship).

After this concentration zapping task, he had me plot our current position on the navigational chart and record the hourly weather information.  This included the ship’s current latitude and longitude, course heading, wind speed, air temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, and cloud cover.

These are some of the nautical charts the Pisces used while on our cruise: Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and East Coast of Florida: Approaches to St. Johns River

Lesley Urasky plotting the Pisces‘ current position

While many aspects of travel in the modern age have various computer based technologies to assist with navigation, the crew still needs to know how to find their location manually. I spent some time learning about navigation with Peter Langlois, 3rd Mate on the Pisces.  He showed me how they plot their course on a navigational chart.  Once a ship’s current location is determined, those crew members on watch will use dead reckoning to determine where they will be at a given point in time if all the current conditions remain the same (course and speed).  Peter also attempted to show me how to determine the time of sunrise/sunset for each specific location using our latitude, longitude, and an almanac.  For an interesting way to determine when sunrise/sunset (as well as moon rise/set) for your specific location, NOAA has a great website called Solar Calculator.  This site will also tell you when solar noon occurs (point where the sun is most directly overhead) and show you the path the sun takes across the sky.

Plotting our current position and using dead reckoning to project future positions.

Unfortunately, at that point in time, I wasn’t able to fully understand Peter’s directions as the seasickness was just beginning to hit me. The effects were compounded by being up on the bridge (almost the highest point on the ship) and trying to follow lines of small numbers in the almanac while the ship was being  buffeted by waves from all directions.

As my final day at sea came to a close, I spent quite a bit of time “prowling” the ship and taking pictures of all the little things that had become so “ordinary” to me.  After dinner, I climbed up to the flying deck and spent time watching the sunset with the Commanding Officer (CO), Peter Fischel.  It was a beautiful sight; one that I’ll always remember.

Sunset on the last night of the cruise.

Before I went to bed, I checked the ship’s information board to find out when we’d be arriving in Mayport, Florida.  The board holds important information and updates the crew needs to know as part of their jobs as well as other useful information.

Information board on the NOAA ship Pisces.

Last night when I went to bed, there was nothing but open ocean surrounding the ship.  When I woke up the next morning, the sun was rising and Mayport/Jacksonville, Florida could be seen along our port side (left).  It was a welcome sight after not seeing land for a few days.  However, I knew this view was also bringing my adventure to an end.  It was an amazing journey and full of wonderful experiences.  I met so many kind and knowledgeable people who I won’t soon forget.  A HUGE thank you to NOAA, the science team, and the crew members of the Pisces!

Panoramic view of the Mayport Harbor as we pull in at the end of our cruise.

Lesley Urasky: DART Buoy Rescue, June 27, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 27, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 24.6271
Longitude: -67.2819

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 32°C (90°F)
Wind Speed:   14 knots (16 mph), Beaufort scale:  4
Wind Direction: from SE
Relative Humidity: 70%
Barometric Pressure:   1,018.9 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (82°F)

Science and Technology Log

Today the Pisces had a mission that they don’t normally take on.  The goal for today was to recovery a Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis  (DART) transponder buoy that had come detached from its anchor and was drifting with the currents.  The buoy is an integral part of the U.S. early tsunami detection system.

Tsunami Factsheet (PDF)

The program began in 2001 with six buoys deployed along the U.S. coast.  These buoys were specifically located along regions that had been historically affected by tsunami.  By 2008, the program had expanded to 39 stations located along the East Coast, West Coast, Hawaii, and the Western Pacific Ocean.  It is a critical component of the NOAA Tsunami Program.

Map of original 6 buoy locations

Current DART buoy locations

“The Tsunami Program is part of a cooperative effort to save lives and protect property through hazard assessment, warning guidance, mitigation, research capabilities, and international coordination . . . It also includes the acquisition, operations and maintenance of observation systems required in support of tsunami warning such as DART®, local seismic networks, coastal, and coastal flooding detectors.” (National Data Buoy Center, 2011)

The hull buoy we were retrieving, 2.6D70 from DART station 41421, went adrift after 5/12/2012 01Z.  Since this type of equipment is very expensive to produce (around $60,000/buoy) and expensive to retrieve (another ~$20,000) it was the logical choice to swing a little out of our way to retrieve it on our journey back to Mayport.

The NOAA ship Pisces is primarily a fishing vessel; therefore, logistical planning is different for retrieval from this ship than it would be for a ship specifically designed for this type of equipment.  Once the buoy was sighted, the ship’s Commanding Officer (CO) Fischel; Junior Officer, Ensign Doig; Fisherman and Medical Officer, Ryan Harris; and Chris Zacharias, Junior Engineer, boarded the ship’s small boat and went to inspect the buoy.  Ensign Doig got in the water with a snorkel mask to see how much, if any, chain or cable was trailing the buoy.  Depending on what was attached, it would pose an additional concern when retrieving the buoy.

Drifting DART buoy 2.6D70 from station 41421

Pisces small boat towing the DART buoy to the ship for loading

Once the crew members were able to attach the buoy to a line, they towed it toward the Pisces where they attached the tow rope to the crane.  Retrieving the buoy proved to be a much easier endeavor than dropping the anchor.

Hauling the DART buoy onto the deck of the Pisces.

Once the buoy was on deck, it had to be strapped down to prevent it from rolling around and becoming a safety concern.  A couple of strong chains fit the bill.

DART buoy prior to being secured to the deck.

After is was secured, a couple of the deck hands set to work scraping off the organisms that had taken up residence on the submerged portion of the buoy.  It is much easier to do this while the buoy is still wet; after is dries, the algae and mollusks encrusted on the outside as well as the crabs and brittle stars hiding in the nooks and crannies would in essence, be cemented onto it.

Underside of the DART buoy coated with algae and small marine organisms.

Mollusks attached to the underwater portion of the DART buoy.

Personal Log

Once we arrived at the buoy, we took a bit of time to fish for our dinner.  In just a short period, we had caught enough for dinner.  We caught a few yellowfin tuna, a mahi-mahi, and a couple of rainbow runners.  The crew has been fantastic; Garet Urban, the Chief Engineer, allowed me to use his fishing rod so that I could try and catch a fish.  I got lucky and after only a couple of casts, I caught a rainbow runner!  I don’t think I’ve ever had such fresh fish for dinner; it was fantastic!

Here I am with the rainbow runner I caught.

Lesley Urasky: Goodbye science team, Hello, Puerto Rico! June 25, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 25, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 18.4607
Longitude: -66.0921

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 29°C (84°F)
Wind Speed:   17 knots (20 mph), Beaufort scale:  5
Wind Direction: from NE
Relative Humidity: 73%
Barometric Pressure:   1,014.2 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 29°C (84°F)

Personal Log
Today I said goodbye to the scientists.  They are either flying home today or early tomorrow morning.  This particular research cruise is over, although each of them have several cruises  in the upcoming months.  I am continuing on with the ship to their next port at Mayport, Florida.
Originally, the ship was going to be in port in San Juan, Puerto Rico for two days.  Now, because of a DART (Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis) buoy retrieval in the Atlantic, only one day is planned.  The crew members are planning a variety of activities for this one day that range from catching up on much needed sleep (many of the night crew will be transitioning back to day shift), shopping, and sightseeing/adventure tours.
We arrived in San Juan around 9:30 last night.  We had to wait at the sea buoy for a cruise ship to come out of the harbor before we could proceed to our berth.  We docked at Navy Frontier Pier, or pier 14.  The next morning, I set out to explore Old San Juan.  Because we had docked further down the harbor than initially expected, I had about a mile long walk to get to Old San Juan.  As I neared the town, the buildings began to change from modern to an older style.  The first sign I was approaching Old San Juan was sighting the Castillo San Cristóbal.  It is one of the two fortresses that make up the San Juan National Historic Site.

San Cirstobal guard house overlooking the ocean

The San Juan National Historic Site is managed by the United States National Park Service and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Due to its location on the western edge of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico was key to Spain’s West-Indies claim.  It is sometimes referred to as the “Gibraltar of the Caribbean”.  The larger fortress is called Castillo San Felipe del Morro.  If you’ve ever seen pictures of the San Juan and the fortress on the ocean, most likely, you’ve seen this one.  El Morro was designed to protect the city of San Juan from threats coming from the ocean, while San Cristóbal protected the city from land attacks.

Here I am at El Morro with San Juan in the background.

Drawing of a ship on the wall of the dungeon in San Cristobal

I spent some time touring San Cristóbal before walking along the remains of the fortified wall linking the two fortresses.  El Morro was very busy and the grounds were filled with kids at summer camp flying their kites on the grounds.    This, too, was a brief stop since I only had 4 hours to explore Old San Juan before my afternoon adventure.  After the fortresses, I was making my way down the hill to the town, and stopped to visit with a San Juan resident, Luis Serrano-Lugo.  He volunteered to show me his town and tell me some of the history; of course, who could refuse a local tour guide!?

Original ballast from Spanish ships make up the streets in Old San Juan

Old San Juan is a very colorful town – houses and buildings are painted in bright pinks, greens, yellows, and blues.  They are tall with ornate wrought iron balconies and heavy wooden doors and shutters.  The most interesting part to me, were the blue bricks making up the streets.  These bricks came over on Spanish ships as ballast (weight to keep the ship stable in the water and at the desired draft) and upon their return, when they were loaded with gold, they left the bricks behind.

Cemetery and houses of Old San Juan viewed from the battlements of San Cristobal

After my delightful tour with Luis, I headed off to my next adventure, ziplining in the rainforest!  The tour company I had booked for the tour picked me up at Plaza Colon in Old San Juan and off we headed to pick up other participants on our way to the rainforest.  The tour I took consisted of four components: a short kayak through a water lily laden lake, hiking through the rainforest, six canopy bridges, and five ziplines.  Along the way we saw termite mounds, birds, iguana, and my favorite – a millipede!  It was an unforgettable experience to be able to travel through the air looking at the surrounding rainforest.  There’s nothing like whizzing through the rain 205 feet above the ground to make you feel alive!

Iguana and bottle of Iguana-rid used to keep them off the canopy bridges and zipline platforms.

Here I am, coming in for a landing on the zipline in the rainforest outside of San Juan

Millipede in the rainforest

This evening, Kevin Rademacher, the Chief Scientist, and I went to dinner in Old San Juan at Raices for a traditional Puerto Rican dinner of mofongo.  This is a very traditional dish of green plantains fried up with lots of garlic and fried pork skin.  It is mashed together in a pilon (wooden mortar and pestle).  When the pestle is pulled out of the mortar, the depression left behind is filled with some type of meat, usually in a gravy sauce.  I had mine filled with shrimp in a mojo isleno style.  Again, thank you Kevin for helping me have such a memorable trip!

Mofongo served in a traditional pilon

After a short walk around Old San Juan to help digest our dinner, we headed back to the ship.  It was a jam-packed day with many new sights and experiences for me.  There’s only one way to sum up my experiences so far:

My thoughts exactly!

Lesley Urasky: Get that fish outta here! The invasive lionfish, June 24, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 24, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 19.8584
Longitude: -66.4717

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 29°C (84°F)
Wind Speed:   16 knots (18 mph), Beaufort scale:  4
Wind Direction: from SE
Relative Humidity: 76%
Barometric Pressure:   1,015.3 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (82°F)

Lionfish in its native habitat. ( Source: National Geographic; Photograph by Wolcott Henry)

Science and Technology Log

One of the species the scientists are continually scanning for in their videos is the appearance of the Lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles); this is one fish they’re hoping not to see.  It is not native to these waters and is what is known as an invasive or exotic  species.

An invasive species is one that is not indigenous (native) to an ecosystem or area.  Many times these organisms are able to exponentially increase their populations because they may have no natural predators, competition for resources, or they may be able to utilize those resources not used by native organisms.  Most invasions are caused by human actions.  This may involve intentional introduction (many invasive plant species were brought in to create a familiar environment or crop/foraging source), accidentally (rats travelling on ships to distant ports), or unintentionally (people releasing pets that they can no longer take care of). Invasive organisms are problematic because:

  • They can reduce natural biodiversity and native species.
    • Push other species to extinction
    • Interbreed, producing hybrids
  • Degrade or change ecosystem functions
  • Economically:
    • They can be expensive to manage
    • Affect locally produced products causing a decline in revenue (decline of honey bees due to a mite infestation which, in turn, decreases pollination rates)

Within its native habitat, the Indo-Pacific region, the Lionfish  (Pterois volitans/miles) is not a problem because that is where they evolved.  It is in the family Family Scorpaenidae (Scorpionfishes). They inhabit reef systems between depths of 10 m – 175 m.  During the day, they generally can be found within crevices along the reef; at night they emerge to forage in deeper waters, feeding upon smaller fish and crustaceans.

Native range of the Lionfish

Lionfish are venomous and when a person is “stung” by the spines on the dorsal fin, they experience extreme pain, nausea, and can have breathing difficulties.  However, a sting is rarely fatal.  Despite the hazards of the spines, Lionfish are a popular aquarium species.  The problem arises when pet owners irresponsibly get rid of the fish in their aquariums.  Instead of giving them away to pet shops, schools, organizations, or other fish enthusiasts, or contacting a local veterinarian about how to humanely dispose of them, they release them into a nearby marine body of water.  It’s important to realize that even the smallest, seemingly isolated act can have such large consequences.  Remember, if one person is doing it, chances are, others are too. The responsibility of owning an organism is also knowing how to manage it; we need to realize how to protect our marine habitats.

This is where the problem in the Atlantic began.  The occurrence of Lionfish was first noticed along the southeastern coast of Florida in 1985.  An invasive species is considered established when a breeding population develops.  Since their establishment in the waters off of Florida, they have rapidly spread throughout the Atlantic as far north as Rhode Island/Massachusetts , throughout the Caribbean, and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Animated map depicting the spread of the Lionfish

While on our cruise every sighting of a Lionfish was cause for further examination.  There was one Lionfish that exhibited a behavior that Kevin Rademacher (Chief Scientist) had never seen before.  The fish was on the bottom and moving himself along instead of freely swimming.  Videos like this are instrumental in helping scientists figure out Lionfish behavior in their “new” environment as well as their interactions with the surrounding organisms and environment.  Hopefully, as this database continues to grow, scientists will develop new understandings of the Lionfish and its effect on the waters of the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico.

Divers are encouraged to kill any Lionfish they encounter.  The only safe way to do this is from a distance (remember, their dorsal spines are venomous); usually, this is accomplished by using a spear gun.  The Commander of the Pisces, Peter Fischel,  was doing a final dive off the pier before we left St. Croix.  He saw three Lionfish, speared them, and brought them to the scientific crew for data collection.  These were frozen and placed in a Ziploc back for preservation.  They will be examined back at the lab in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Three Lionfish caught along the Frederickstad, St. Croix pier. (Notice the 6″ ruler for scale.)

Personal Log

The science portion of the cruise is coming to a close. Today was our last day of sampling.  As with yesterday, no fish were caught by the day crew, so we were able to begin cleaning and packing throughout the day instead of waiting until the end.  A few days after we arrive in Mayport, Florida, the Pisces will be going out on another cruise along the east coast.  On Sunday, July 1st, Joey Salisbury will be arriving in Mayport with a trailer to unload all the scientific equipment and personal gear from this research cruise.

Bandit reel with St. Thomas in the background

In addition to packing, the wet lab and deck have to be cleaned.  This entails scrubbing down the tables, coolers, and rails along the deck where we baited our hooks to remove all the fish “scum” that has accumulated over the past three weeks.  Between the four of us, we were able to make quick work of the job.  There is only one task left for me to do, and that is to take all of our leftover bait, Atlantic Mackerel, and throw it overboard once we are away from the islands.  (The bait has been used over the course of the past two years, and has essentially outlived its freshness.)

Day operations crew on the Pisces Caribbean Reef Fish Survey (left to right: Ariane Frappier, Kevin Rademacher (Chief Scientist), Joey Salisbury, and myself).


I want to thank all the scientists on the day operations crew and the deck hands for making me feel so welcome, being ever so patient as I learned how to bait hook, load the bandit reel, remove otoliths, sex  the fish, and answer every type of question I had.  They’re all amazing people and are passionate about their jobs.  Kevin was not only great at thoroughly answering any and all questions, but anticipated those I might have and brought interesting things to my attention.  Thank you everyone for an amazing experience that I’ll never forget!

Another incredible person that helped make my trip memorable is my roommate, NOAA Operations Officer, Kelly Schill.  She was very welcoming and made me feel immediately at home on the ship.  She gave me a thorough tour and introduced me to the crew.  I interviewed her briefly about her job in the NOAA Corps.

Kelly Schill, Operations Officer aboard the NOAA ship Pisces. (Source: http://www.noaacorps.noaa.gov)

LU: Kelly, what is your job title and what do you do?

KS: I am a Lieutenant junior grade in the NOAA Corps.  The NOAA Corps is one of the 7 uniformed services and I serve as the Operations Officer aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces.

LU: How long have you been working with NOAA?

KS: I have worked for NOAA a total of 4 years; 3 of which were aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces as a NOAA Corps Officer. My first year, I was a physical scientist and developed geospatial visualizations to assist in the generation of navigational warnings and maritime safety information for Dangers to Navigation for the NOAA and contractor surveys.  I assisted NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson in the field with the acquisition, converting and cleaning of multi-beam and side-scan sonar data.

Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces, my responsibility is to be the liaison between the ship’s crew and scientific party to ensure the mission is carried out smoothly and efficiently.  A big part of my job is to handle the logistics and transportation, such as project planning and setting up dockage at different ports from Texas to the Caribbean up to Massachusetts. Most importantly, to continue to learn the intricacies of the ship, effectively operate, and practice safe navigation at all times.

LU: What background and skills are necessary for your job?

KS:  A Bachelors Degree of sciences.  You must complete a year of chemistry, physics and calculus.  Geographic information System (GIS) is equally important. To be well-rounded, internships or field research experience is highly recommended.

Kelly Schill showing off the otolith she just extracted from a Red Hind.

LU: What type(s) of training have you been through for your job?

KS: Being in the uniform service, I was sent to Basic Officer Training Course (BOTC) to learn military etiquette, terrestrial and celestial navigation, safety aboard ships, search and rescue, fire prevention, hands on experience in driving small boats up to larger vessels, etc.  Once out of BOTC and on an assigned ship, I was able to attend further training:  hazardous material courses, dive school, rescue swimming, and medical. There are many more opportunities that were offered. I have only touched on a few.

LU: Have you worked on other ships not associated with scientific research?  If so, what was your job and what type of ship was it?

KS: No, all my experiences were on ships regarding scientific research:  NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson (hydrographic ship) and the NOAA Ship Pisces (fisheries ship).

LU: Does being on a science research ship bring any specific/different expectations than being on another type of merchant ship?

KS: I am unfamiliar with the expectations on a merchant ship.  Generally, the research vessels are used to support studies intended to increase the public’s understanding of the world’s oceans and climate. Research vessels are not set on a point A to point B system. Various operations are conducted from fisheries, bathymetry, oceanographic, to marine mammal data collection.   These various research projects dictate operation area.  Contrary to research vessels, merchant ships usually have a set destination, from point A to point B transporting cargo of one type or another.

LU:  We are in the middle of a huge ocean, and our destination – a specific sampling site – is a pinpoint on a map. What has to be considered to make sure you get to the exact location?

NOAA ship Pisces ECDIS map. This is a nautical map that is updated monthly.

Closeup of navigational maps showing the location of our sampling sites.

KS:  We use a number of tools: ECDIS, Rosepoint, paper charts, GPS, Dynamic Positioning, and of course manual operation. The scientists will provide a location where they want the ship to be for operations to take place. We use all navigational tools to navigate to that position by creating a route, based on a good GPS feed. Navigational tools include: ECDIS (shows an electronic vector chart), Rosepoint (shows an electronic raster chart), and paper charts.  Multiple navigational tools are for redundancy to ensure safe navigation.

All routes are created on the side of safety to avoid collision with shoals, wrecks, land, neighboring ships, platforms, buoys, obstructions, etc. Once, we are close to our sampling station, the ship is set up into the wind or the current (whichever force is stronger), reduce propulsion, turn rudder hard over to one side to assist in the reduction of propulsion and to line up on a heading in favor of wind or current. The bow thruster can assist in turns as well. Depending on how strict the mission is to hold an exact coordinate, the dynamic position is dialed in and activated.  Otherwise, the watch stander will manually control the engine speed, bow thruster, and rudder to maintain position utilizing outside forces, such as wind, swell, wave state, and currents.

The ship’s radar. The yellow objects at the bottom are St. Thomas and its surrounding small islands, while other vessels will appear in green.

LU: Once we reach a site, what do you need to do to maintain that position during the sampling process?

KS: Every ship has its perks and not all are the same in maintaining a position during the sampling process. Our ship has dynamic positioning (DPS) which uses the rudder, propulsion, and a bow thruster simultaneously to hold position. However, just like any software system, it only works as well as the operator.  The parameters have to be just right to accomplish this goal.  Parameters are set up based on wind speed, swells, sea state, and currents.  All must jive for a positive outcome. Our ship works more efficiently facing into the wind or current; whichever force is the strongest. If both are strong, we split the difference. Should either the bow thruster, main engine, or steering fail, the dynamic position will not properly compensate.

Dynamic Positioning System (DPS) screen. This instrument helps hold the ship at a precise location.

Kelly, thanks for the interview as well as being a great role model for women!  Remember, girls, if you want it, go get it!

Lesley Urasky: Do You See What the Pisces “Hears”?, June 22, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 22, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 18.5472
Longitude: -65.1325

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 28.6°C (83.5°F)
Wind Speed:  9 knots (10.5 mph), Beaufort scale: 3
Wind Direction: from SE
Relative Humidity: 77%
Barometric Pressure: 1,014.80  mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28.1°C (82.6°F)

Science and Technology Log

Another aspect (much more technical) of the scientific research conducted on this cruise is the collection of acoustic data.  This field is continually evolving as the detection resolution improves allowing scientists to more precisely identify fish.  This has been used with more success in fisheries farther north because the schools of fish are more likely to be monospecific (a single species).  However, the technique still needs improvement in warmer waters where the fish assemblages tend to be multi-specific (having a much greater variety of fish).

General idea behind an acoustic sounder being used to detect fish. (Source: www.biosonicinc.com)

This field of study is called Hydroacoustics (hydro- means water, and acoustics refers to sound).   It is the science of  how sound moves through water. Leonardo da Vinci noticed how sound travels through water in 1490.  He noticed that, “If you cause your ship to stop and place the head of a long tube in the water and place the outer extremity to your ear, you will hear ships at a great distance from you.” (Urick, Robert J. Principles of Underwater Sound, 3rd Edition. New York. McGraw-Hill, 1983.)  World War I helped promote innovation in the field, especially with the need for anti-submarine detection devices (Wood, A. B., From the Board of Invention and Research to the Royal Naval Scientific Service, Journal of the Royal Naval Scientific Service Vol 20, No 4, pp 1-100 (185-284)).

Hydroacoustic instruments utilize SOund Navigation and Ranging, more commonly referred to as SONAR.  The ship Pisces is equipped with a system located on the center board; this is a flat structure that can be raised/lowered through the water column beneath the center of the ship.

Line drawing of the NOAA ship Pisces showing the location of the center board.

The system used is a sonar beam that is split into quadrants.  This instrument is used to assist in determining fish abundance and distribution.  The premise is relatively simple: an echo sounder transmits a pulse of energy waves (sound), when the pulse strikes an object, it is reflected (bounced) back to the transducer.  The echo sounder is then processed and sent to a video display.  This is the same general process behind the recreationally available fishfinder.

Acoustic beam split into quadrants (Source: http://www.htisonar.com

A short burst of energy is focused into a narrow beam.  When this beam encounters an object such as a fish, a school of fish, plankton, or other object, some of the energy bounces back up through the water to the transducer.   It is the detection of these reflections that allow scientists to determine location, size, and abundance of fish.  These reflections show up on our video monitor.  These measurements are combined with groundtruthed data (for example, fish collected in the field, camera images).

One of the difficulties in data interpretation is that often, the signals that appear on the computer monitor have false readings.  This is a result of the sound wave bouncing multiple times.  It travels to the bottom from the transducer, strikes an object, returns to the ship, bounces off the ship back toward the bottom, strikes another object, and is detected yet again.

Real-time annotated echogram at sampling site.

The Pisces is actually home to one of six multi-beam acoustic instruments in the world.  Of the six in existence, NOAA has five of them.  The benefit of running a multi-beam instrument is that each beam can be set to measure a different frequency (kHz), thus enabling detection of many more features (different species of fish, etc.)

Scientific multibeam echo sounder (Source: www. simrad.com)

Personal Log

Last night the crew of the Pisces carried out a task that they don’t normally perform.  The Pisces was created for fisheries research projects – it focuses on collecting fish samples either by bandit reel, longline, or trawling.  This particular operation was to deploy the anchor for a buoy that will be attached at a later date.  When the buoy is ready to be attached, another vessel will bring it out to the site and divers will go down to the anchor to make the final attachment.

The anchor consists of a huge rebar-reinforced concrete block with a very long chain that has marker floats attached at the end.  Logistically, this took some planning; the A-frame had to be raised and the anchor lifted with the Gilson winch with a 1″ spectra line (has an enormous tensile strength).  The gate to the ship’s ramp was lowered and the A-frame (or as the deck hands call it, the “Tuna Tower”)  repositioned so the anchor was hanging over the water.  The rope holding the anchor, chain, and float was cut through, and the anchor plunged to the ocean bottom.  Again, the crew made the operation go smoothly and demonstrated their ability to complete unexpectedly assigned tasks.

Today was a slow fishing day – no fish at all.  Without any fish to “work up” (collect samples from), the day goes more slowly and we have more down time.  With the extra time, I had a chance to interview Kevin Rademacher, the Chief Scientist on the cruise.

LU: What is your official job title and what are your job duties?

KR: I’m a Research Fisheries Biologist.  I work for the Reef Fish Unit at the NOAA Fisheries Lab in Pascagoula, MS.  I am the Senior Tape Reader/Reviewer, in charge of the readers that analyze  the video data we collect from Reef Fish Surveys.  I also help plan, organize, and run the surveys.  Additionally, I participate in trawl surveys and anything else the lab needs done.

LU: When did you first become interested in the ocean and marine sciences?

KR: I guess that would have been when I was really young.  There is a photo from the Panama City, Florida newspaper, two weeks after I was born with my parents pulling me in a homemade wagon along the beach!  I knew in junior high school that I wanted to be a cross between Jacques Cousteau and Marlin Perkins of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

LU: It’s such a broad field; how did you narrow your focus down to what you’re currently doing?

KR: I got lucky and kind of fell into reading underwater videos at the initial stages of the project and fell in love with being the proverbial “fly on the wall”! It has allowed me to see the fish in their natural  habitat, different color phases, behavior, etc.

LU: If you were to go into another area of ocean research, what would it be?

KR: Marine Mammal Studies.  After college I trained dolphins and sea lions and put on shows with them for a local Oceanarium on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

LU: What is the biggest challenge in your job?

KR: Communicating with people and writing papers.

Ariane Frappier and Kevin Rademacher reviewing a dichotomous key in order to determine the species of a fish we caught.

LU: What do you think is the biggest issue of contention in your field?

KR: The impression that commercial fishermen have regarding the work we do to regulate the fisheries they work in.

LU: What are some effects of climate change that you’ve witnessed during your career in fisheries research?

KR: The decline of coral reefs and overfishing of some species.

LU: In what areas of marine science do you foresee a lot of career paths and job opportunities?

KR: Ecosystem management and data modelers.  There has also been a decline in taxonomists over the past few decades.

LU: How would you explain your work to a layperson?

KR: I use underwater cameras to help assess populations of reef fish, especially snappers and groupers.  The data collected is used to manage those fisheries.

LU: If a high school student wanted to go into your field of study/marine science in general, what kinds of courses would you recommend they take?

KR: Math, Biology, Chemistry, and any other science courses available.

LU: Do you recommend students interested in your field pursue original research as high school students or undergraduates?  If so, what kind?

KR: Most definitely! Whatever they are interested in would be beneficial.

Well, only two more days left with the scientists before we pull into San Juan, Puerto Rico.  We have 17 more daytime sites to sample and then this survey will be over.  The scientific crew will be flying home on the 25th, and once home, their work will really begin.  Back in the lab, they will be analyzing the data and reviewing the video.  Some of them will be going back out on other cruises.  Kevin Rademacher will be going out on another reef fish survey in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.  It is currently delayed because of the potential formation of tropical storm Debby.  Joey Salisbury has a couple more; he will be going on a longline cruise and then another reef fish survey, both of which will be in the Gulf of Mexico.  Arian Frappier will be heading off to begin a masters program in marine systems and coastal studies at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

After a day’s shore leave in San Juan, I’ll continue on to Mayport on the Pisces.  During this time, I’ll focus on the crew members and their jobs.  The cruise will definitely take on a different feel at this point, but it will give me an opportunity to explore other ocean related careers.

Lesley Urasky: Smile and say, “Squid!”, June 20, 2012

 NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

 Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 20, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 18.1937
Longitude: -64.7737

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 28°C (83°F)
Wind Speed:  19 knots (22 mph), Beaufort scale: 5
Wind Direction: from N
Relative Humidity: 80%
Barometric Pressure: 1,014.90  mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (83°F)

Science and Technology Log

The cameras are a very important aspect of the abundance survey the cruise is conducting.  Since catching fish is an iffy prospect (you may catch some, you may not) the cameras are extremely important in determining the abundance and variety of reef fish.  At every site sampled during daylight hours, we deploy the camera array.  The cameras can only be utilized during the daytime because there are no lights – video relies on the ambient light filtering down from the surface.

Camera array – the lens of one of the cameras is facing forward.

Deployment of the array at a site begins once the Bridge verifies we are over the sampling site. The camera array is turned on and is raised over the rail of the ship and lowered to the water’s surface on a line from a winch that has a ‘quick release’ attached to the array.  Once over the surface, a deck hand pulls on the line to the quick release allowing the array to free fall to the bottom of the ocean. Attached to the array is enough line with buoys attached. The buoys mark the array at the surface and give the deck hands something to aim for with the grappling hook when it is time for the array to be retrieved.  Once the buoys are on deck, a hydraulic pot hauler is used to raise the array from the sea floor to the side of the ship.  From there,  another winch is used to bring the array on board.

Vic, Jordan, Joey, and Joe deploying the camera array.

When the array is deployed, a scientist starts a computer program that collects the time, position and depth the array was dropped at. The array is allowed to “soak” on the bottom for about 38 minutes. The initial 3-5 minutes are for the cameras to power up and allow any sediment or debris on the bottom to settle after the array displaces it. The cameras are only actually recording for 25 of those minutes. The final 3-5 minutes are when the computers are powering down.  At one point in time, the cameras on the array were actual video cameras sealed in waterproof, seawater-rated cases. With this system, after each deployment, every individual case had to be physically removed from the array, opened up, and the DV tape switched out.  With the new system, there are a series of four digital cameras that communicate wirelessly with the computers inside the dry lab.

We did have a short-lived problem with one of the digital cameras — it quit working and the electronics technician that takes care of the cameras, Kenny Wilkinson, took a couple of nights to trouble shoot and repair it.  During this time period, we reverted back to the original standard video camera.  Throughout the cruise, Kenny uploads the videos taken during the day and repairs the cameras at night so they will be ready for the next day’s deployments.

Squid (before being cut into pieces) used for bait on the camera array

Besides the structure of the camera array which is designed to attract reef fish, the array is baited with squid.  A bag of frozen, cut squid hangs down near the middle.  The squid is replaced at every site.

Adding bait to the camera array.

In addition to the bait bag, a Temperature Depth  Recorder (TDR) is attached near the center, hanging downward near the bottom third of the array. The purpose of the TDR is to measure the temperature of the water at various depths.  It is also used to verify that the depth where the camera comes to rest on the ocean bottom and is roughly equivalent to what the acoustic sounding reports at the site.  This is important because the camera generally doesn’t settle directly beneath the ship.  Its location is ultimately determined by the drift as it falls through the water column and current.  The actual TDR instrument is very small and is attached to the array near the bait bag.  After retrieving the array at each site, the TDR is removed from the array and brought inside to download the information.  To download, there is a small magnet that is used to tap the instrument (once) and then a stylus attached to the computer is used to read a flash of light emitted by an LED.  The magnet is then tapped four times on the instrument to clear the previous run’s data.  The data actually records the pressure exerted by the overlying water column in pounds per square inch (psi) which is then converted to a depth.

TDR instrument

Computer screen showing the data downloaded from the TDR.

The video from each day is uploaded to the computer system during the night shift.  The following day, Kevin Rademacher (chief scientist), views the videos and quickly annotates the “highlights”.  The following things are noted:  visual clarity (turbidity [cloudiness due to suspended materials], what the lighting is like [backlit], and possible focusing issues), substrate (what the bottom is made of), commercially viable fish, fish with specific management plans, presence of lionfish (an invasive species), and fish behavior.  Of the four cameras, the one with the best available image is noted for later viewing.

Computer data entry form for camera array image logs

Once back at the lab, the videos are more completely analyzed.  A typical 20-minute video will take anywhere from 30 minutes to three days to complete. This is highly dependent upon density and diversity of fish species seen; the greater the density and diversity, the longer or more viewing events it will take.  The experience of the reader is also an important factor. Depending upon the level of expertise, a review system is in place to “back read” or verify species identification. The resulting data is entered into a database which is then used to assign yearly data points for trend analysis. The final database is submitted to the various management councils.  From there, management or fisheries rebuilding plans are developed and hopefully, implemented.

Spotted moray eel viewed from the camera array.  He’s well camouflaged; can you find him?

Coney with a parasitic isopod attached below its eye.

Two Lionfish – an invasive species

Personal Log

Today, we are off the coast of St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  We traveled from the southern coast of  St. Croix, went around the western tip of the island and across the straight.  When I woke up I could see not only St. Thomas and St. John, but a host of smaller islands located off their coastline.

Map of the Virgin Islands. St. Croix and St. Thomas are separated by 35 miles of ocean. It took us about 3 hours to cross to our next set of sampling sites.

Around dinner time last night we had an interesting event happen on board.  They announced over the radio system that there was a leak in the water line and asked  us not to use the heads (toilets).  A while later, they announced no unnecessary use of water (showers, etc.); following that they shut off all water.  It didn’t take long for the repairs to occur, and soon the water was returned.  However, when I went to dinner, I discovered that the stateroom I’m sharing with Kelly Schill, the Ops Officer, had flooded.  Fortunately, the effects of the flooding were not nearly as bad as I had feared.  Only a small portion of the room had been affected.  The crew did a great job of rapidly assessing the problem and fixing it in a timely manner.  After this, I have absolutely no fear about any problems on board because I know the crew will react swiftly, maintain safety, and be professional all the while.

Last night was the first sunset I’ve seen since I’ve been on board.  Up until this point, it has been too hazy and cloudy.  The current haze is caused by dust/sand storms in the Sahara Desert blowing minute particles across the Atlantic Ocean.

St. Thomas sunset

Today has been a slow day with almost nary a fish caught.  We did catch one fish, but by default.  It was near the surface and hooked onto our bait.  We immediately reeled in the line and extracted it.  It was necessary to remove it because it would have skewed our data since it was caught at the surface and not near the reef.  This fish was a really exciting one for me to see, because it was a Shark Sucker (Echeneis naucrates).  These are the fish you may have seen that hang on to sharks waiting for tasty tidbits to float by.  They are always on the lookout for a free meal.

Shark sucker on measuring board

One of the most interesting aspects of the shark sucker is that they have a suction device called laminae on top of their heads that looks a little like a grooved Venetian blind system.  In order to attach to the shark (or other organism), they “open the blinds” and then close them creating a suction-like connection.

The “sucker” structure on the Shark Sucker. Don’t they look like Venetian blinds?

I got to not only see and feel this structure on the fish, but also let it attach itself to my arm!  It was the neatest feeling ever! The laminae are actually a modified dorsal spines; these spines are needed because of the roughness of shark’s skin. When the shark sucker detached itself from me, it left a red, slightly irritated mark on my arm that disappeared after a couple of hours.

Look, Ma, No Hands! Shark sucker attached to my arm.

Tomorrow we’ll be helping place a buoy in between St. Croix and St. Thomas.  It will be interesting to see the process and how the anchor is attached.

With all the weird and wonderful animals we’re retrieving, I can’t wait to see what another day of fishing brings.

Lesley Urasky: Fish, fish, where are all the fish? June 18, 2012

 NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

 

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 18, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 17.6568
Longitude: -64.9281

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 28.5°C (83.3°F)
Wind Speed:  17.1 knots (19.7 mph), Beaufort scale: 5
Wind Direction: from SE
Relative Humidity: 75%
Barometric Pressure:   1,014.80 mb
Surface Water Temperature:28.97 °C (84.1°F)

Science and Technology Log

Alright, so I’ve promised to talk about the fish.  Throughout the science portions of the cruise, the scientists have not been catching the anticipated quantities of fish.  There are several lines of thought as to why: maybe the region has experienced overfishing; possibly the sampling sites are too shallow and deeper water fish may be more likely to bite; or they might not like the bait (North Atlantic mackerel) since it is not an endemic species/prey they would normally eat.

So far, the night shift has caught more fish than the day shift that I’m on.  Today, we have caught five and a half fish. The half fish was exactly that – we retrieved only the head and it looked like the rest of the body had been consumed by a barracuda!  These fish were in the grouper family and the snapper family.

Coney (Cephalopholis fulvus)

Blackfin snapper (Lutjanus buccanella). This little guy was wily enough to sneak into the camera array and steal some squid out of the bait bag! The contents of his stomach – cut up squid – can be seen to the left between the forceps and his head.

Once the fish have been caught, there are several measurements that must be made.  To begin, the fish is weighed to the nearest thousandth (three decimal places) of a kilogram. In order to make sure the weight of the fish is accurate, the scale must be periodically calibrated.

Then there are several length measurements that are made: standard length (SL), total length (TL) and depending on the type of fish, fork length (FL).  To make these measurements, the fish is laid so that it facing toward the left and placed on a fish board.  The board is simply a long plank with a tape measure running down the center.  It insures that the fish is laid out flat and allows for consistent measurement.

Standard length does not measure the caudal fin, or tail.  It is measured from the tip of the fish’s head and stops at the end of the last vertebra; in other words, if the fish is laying on its side, and you were to lift the tail up slightly, a crease will form at the base of the backbone.  This is where the standard length measurement would end.  Total length is just as it sounds – it is a measurement of the entire length (straight line)  of the fish.  Fork length is only measured if the type of fish caught has a forked tail.  If it does, the measurement begins at the fish’s snout and ends at the v-notch in the tail.

How to measure the three types of lengths: standard, fork, and total. (Source: Australian Government: Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population, and Communities)

Red hind (Epinephelus guttatus) on the fish board being measured for standard length. Ariane’s thumb is on the crease marking the end of its backbone.

Once the physical measurements are made, the otoliths must be extracted and the fish sexed.  You’re probably anxious to learn if you selected the right answer on the previous post’s poll – “What do you think an otolith is?”  An otolith can be thought of as a fish’s “ear bone”.  It is actually a structure composed of calcium carbonate and located within the inner ear.  All vertebrates (organisms with backbones) have similar structures.  They function as gravity, balance, movement, and directional indicators.  Their presence helps a fish sense changes in horizontal motion and acceleration.

In order to extract the otoliths, the fish must be killed.  Once the fish has been killed, the brain case is exposed and peeled back.  The otoliths are in little slits located in the underside of the brain.  It takes a delicate touch to remove them with a pair of forceps (tweezers) because they can easily break or slip beyond the “point of no return” (drop into the brain cavity where they cannot be extracted).

Otoliths are important scientifically because they can tell many important things about a fish’s life.  Their age and growth throughout the first year of life can be determined.  Otoliths record this information just like tree ring record summer/winter cycles. More complex measurements can be used to determine the date of hatch, once there are a collected series of measurements, spawning times can be calculated.

A cross-section of an otolith under a microscope. The rings are used to determine age and other life events. Source: Otolith Research Laboratory, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Because they are composed of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), the oxygen component of the chemical compound can be used to measure stable oxygen isotopes; this is useful for reconstructing temperatures of the waters the fish has lived in.  Scientists are also able to look at other trace elements and isotopes to determine various environmental factors.

Extracted otoliths. Often they are around 1 cm long, although the larger the fish, the slightly larger the otolith.

The final step we take in measurement/data collection is determining the sex and maturity of the fish.  To do this, the fish is slit open just as if you were going to clean the fish to filet and eat it.  The air bladder must be deflated if it isn’t already and the intestines moved out of the way.  Then we begin to search for the gonads (ovaries and testes).  Once the gonads are found, we know if it is female or male and the next step is to determine its stage or maturity.  This is quite a process, especially since groupers can be hermaphroditic.  The maturity 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)

Ovaries of a coney (grouper family). These are the pair of flesh colored tubular structures running down the center of the fish.

Personal Log

Today is my birthday, and I can’t think of a better place to spend it!  What a treat to be having such an adventure in the Caribbean!  This morning, we were on our first bandit reel survey of the day, and the captain came on over the radio system, announced my birthday and sang Happy Birthday to me.  Unbeknownst to me, my husband, Dave, had emailed the CO of the Pisces asking him to wish me a happy birthday.

We’ve had a very successful day (compared to the past two days) and have caught many more fish – 5 1/2 to be exact.  The most exciting part was that I caught two fish on my bandit reel!  They were a red hind and blackfin snapper (see the photos above).  What a great birthday present!

Father’s Day surf and turf dinner

My birthday fish! The blackfin snapper is on the left and the red hind on the right.

I even got a birthday kiss from the red hind!

Last night (6/17) for Father’s Day, we had an amazing dinner: filet mignon, lobster, asparagus, sweet plantains, and sweet potato pie for dessert!  Since it was my birthday the following day (6/18), and one of the scientists doesn’t like lobster, I had two tails!  What a treat!

Our best catch of the day came on the last bandit reel cast.  Joey Salisbury (one of the scientists) caught 5 fish: 4 blackfin snapper and 1 almaco jack; while Ariane Frappier (another scientist) caught 3 – 2 blackfin and 1 almaco jack.  This happened right before dinner, so we developed a pretty good assembly line system to work them up in time to eat.

Dinner was a nice Chinese meal, but between the ship beginning to travel to the South coast of St. Thomas and working on the computer, I began to feel a touch seasick (not the best feeling after a large meal!).  I took a couple of meclazine (motion sickness medication) and still felt unwell (most likely because you’re supposed to take it before the motion begins). My roommate, Kelly Schill, the Operations Officer, made me go to bed (I’m in the top bunk – yikes!), gave me a plastic bag (just in case!), and some saltine crackers. After 10 hours of sleep, I felt much, much better!

I had some time in between running bandit reels, baiting the hooks, and entering data into the computers,to interview a member of the science team that joined us at the  last-minute from St. Croix.  Roy Pemberton, Jr. is the Director of Fish and Wildlife for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The following is a snippet of our conversation:

LU: What are your job duties as the Director of Fish and Wildlife?

RP: I manage fisheries/wildlife resources and try to educate the population on how to better manage these resources to preserve them for future generations of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

LU: When did you first become interested in oceanography?

RP: I’m not really an oceanographer, but more of a marine scientist and wildlife biologist.  I got interested in this around 5-6 years old when I learned to swim and then snorkel for the first time.  I really enjoyed observing the marine environment and my interest prompted me to want to see and learn more about it.

LU: It’s such a broad field, how did you narrow your focus down to what you’re currently doing?

RP: I took a marine science class in high school and I enjoyed it tremendously.  It made me seek it out as a career by pursuing a degree in Marine Science at Hampton University.

LU:  If you were to go into another area of ocean research, what would it be?

RP: Oceanography – Marine Spatial Planning

Roy Pemberton holding a recently caught coney.

LU: What is the biggest challenge in your job?

RP: It is a challenge to manage fisheries and wildlife resources with respect to the socioeconomic and cultural nuances of the people.

LU: What do you think is the biggest issue of contention in your field, and how do you imagine it will resolve?

RP: Fisheries and coral reef management.  We need to have enough time to see if the federal management efforts work to ensure healthier ecosystems for future generations.

LU: What are some effects of climate change that you’ve witnessed in the reef systems of the U.S. Virgin Islands?

RP: Temperatures have become warmer and the prevalence of disease among corals has increased.

LU: In what areas of Marine Science do you foresee a lot of a career paths and job opportunities?

RP: Fisheries management, ecosystem management, coral reef diseases, and the study of coral reef restoration.

LU: Is there an area of Marine Science that you think is currently being overlooked, and why?

RP: Marine Science management that takes into account cultural and economic issues.

LU: What are some ideas a layperson could take from your work?

RP: One tries to balance resource protection and management with the cultural and heritage needs of the population in the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

LU: If a high school student wanted to go into the fish/wildlife division of planning and natural resources, what kinds of courses would you recommend they take?

RP: Biology, Marine Science, History, Botany, and Math

LU: Do you recommend students interested in your field pursue original research as high school students or undergraduate students?  If so, what kind?

RP: I would suggest they study a variety of life sciences so they can see what they want to pursue.  Then they can do an internship in a particular life science they find interesting to determine if they would like to pursue it as a career.

Too many interesting people on the ship and so little time!  I’m going to interview scientists as we continue on to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Once they leave, I’m continuing on to Mayport, Florida with the ship.  During this time, I’ll explore other careers with NOAA.