Marsha Skoczek: There’s No Place Like Home, July 17, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6-19, 2012

Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise:  Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of Florida.
Date:  July 17, 2012

Location:
Latitude:  30.4587N
Longitude:  80.1243W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature:  26.8C (80.24 F)
Wind Speed:  10.8 knots (12.43 mph)
Wind Direction:  From the SE
Relative Humidity: 79 %
Barometric Pressure:  1017
Surface Water Temperature:  28.9C (84 F)

Science and Technology Log

South Atlantic MPAs

During the thirteen days we have been out to sea doing research, we have sent the ROV down both inside and outside of five different MPAs  from Florida to North Carolina and back again.  This allows the scientists to compare fish populations and densities both inside and outside of the MPAs.  Since we left Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, Florida, we have been averaging a distance from shore of between 50 and 70 nautical miles.  It will be fourteen days until we see land once again.  From this distance, the ocean seems to stretch on forever.  Gazing at the beautiful blue water, it is easy to forget an entire other world lies beneath us.  Not all of the ocean floor is flat, there is a small percentage that does have some elevation and structure.  The type of structures on the ocean floor determine what types of species will live there.

For this mission, we have mainly been studying areas within the mesophotic zone of the ocean ranging from 40 to 150 meters (130 – 500 feet) below the surface.  Temperatures here range from 12 – 23 degrees Celsius (50-70 F). Very little sunlight reaches the mesophotic zone, but zooxanthallae are still able to photosynthesize at this depth.  Corals and sponges will also filter feed using the abundant particulate organic matter drifting in the water column they will filter out and eat the plankton.

Tomtates hide in crevices.

The multibeam images help the scientists determine where to launch the ROV.  Areas with a change in elevation tend to indicate that there are rock structures below the surface.  It is around these rocks that the majority of fish prefer to live, so these are often the areas at which the scientists chose to collect data.

The ridges we have seen range in height from 1 meter to 5 meters.  The fish really like areas in the rock that have cracks, crevices and overhangs for them to hide.  Many times as the ROV approached the fish, they would scurry into a nearby hiding place.  I can’t help but imagine that the ROV with its bright lights and unnatural features must seem like an alien spacecraft to these fish that have never had contact with humans before.  But ROVs aren’t the only thing that these fish need to hide from.  I noticed that the larger fish that are toward the top of the food chain were not as skittish as the smaller reef fish.  Sometimes amberjacks and scamp would even follow the ROV as if curious about we were doing.  And lionfish never budged as the ROV passed unless it happened to be sitting in the ROV’s path.

Lobster hiding in rock. Notice how his coloring resembles the reef behind him.

Eel hiding under sponge

Scorpionfish against Diodogorgia

The fish are not the only living things that like these rocky habitats.  Usually when there are rocky surfaces, we find sponges, corals, hydroids and algae growing on top.  These creatures not only give the reef its beautiful appearance, but they also help to provide habitat as well.

Notice how the flounder blends in with the sand?

Sand tilefish make their burrows in the rubble under the sand.

Spider crabs on sandy bottom

Species that live in the sandy bottom habitat have their own set of adaptations. Animals such as the flounder and sea cucumbers have skin colorations that match the speckled appearance of the sand itself.  Sand tilefish carve out burrows from the rubble beneath the sand.  The spider crabs have a carapace that mimics the texture of the rocks it lives near.  The stingrays, with their low profile, sit on the sandy bottom and use their mouth to scour the sand in search of crabs and clams to eat.

Lophelia at artificial reef

Anemone at artificial reef

artificial reef

Artificial habitats are also full of life.  At the shipwreck we visited, not only did we see fish living here, we also saw anemone, tube worms, Venus flytrap anemone, hermit crabs, eels, Lophelia coral to name a few.  Other man-made habitats can help rebuild coral reefs.  John Reed has placed reef balls on the Occulina Reef in an effort to rebuild the original reef damaged by bottom trawling. These reef balls provide a structure for the corals to anchor themselves to and give the fish places to hide. Even oil platforms can be considered as an artificial reef structure giving a wide variety of species a sturdy structure to call home.

 

Personal Log

The Science Party

While aboard the Pisces I have learned to identify well over 100 different species of fish and invertebrates.   Andy and Stacey quiz me as we are watching the live footage, and I think I finally can tell the difference between a reef butterfly and a bank butterfly.  John frequently hands me a text book and challenges me to look up the species we see on the ROV live feed.  I am extremely appreciative of everyone being so helpful and sharing their knowledge with me.  Each of the scientists have taken the time to answer all of the question that I have.  The crew of the Pisces has also been wonderful to work with.  Everyone has done their best to make me feel at home. This has been such an amazing experience, I am excited to bring it all back to the classroom this fall!  I will never forget my time on the Pisces.

Ocean Careers Interview

In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday.  Today I interviewed John Reed and Stephanie Farrington.

John Reed

Mr. Reed, What is your job title?  I am the Research Professor in the Robertson Coral Reef and Research Program at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) at Florida Atlantic University (FAU).

Why did you decide to become a marine biologist?  I always knew that I wanted a career where I could do my work outside.  My biggest influence came when I was around 13 – 14 years old, I remember watching “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” every Sunday night with my family and thinking that’s what I want to do!

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  Currently I am studying deep coral reefs as part of the Robertson Coral Reef and Research Program and several NOAA grants. My focus is primarily off the Florida coast and up through the Carolinas.  My objective is to protect and conserve deep sea coral ecosystems.  Around Florida alone, our group has discovered over 400 individual deep coral mounds some over 300 ft tall.  We have calculated that the area of these deep water reefs may exceed that of all the shallow water reefs in the United States combined.  These reefs habitats are incredibly diverse with hundreds of different species of bivalves, crustaceans and fish just to name a few.  Deep water hard corals grow very slowly, only about half an inch per year, core sampling has dated deep coral mounds at over 1,000,000 years old.  It is vital that we protect these deep reefs from destructive fishing methods such as bottom trawling or energy projects.

I also manage the archives for the biomedical marine division at Harbor Branch where we have over 35,000 deep and shallow marine specimens from around the world.  Each specimen has video footage of it in its natural habitat (in situ from the Johnson-Sea-Link submersible), still photos, museum samples as well as several smaller samples for our biomedical research.  We have discovered novel compounds from some of these marine organisms which may be future cures for cancer or other diseases.  Currently our chemists and biologists are working on the chemical compounds that we discovered in a deep water sponge that grows off Florida.  In the lab it is potent against pancreatic cancer which is a very deadly disease.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I earned my Bachelors Degree in chemistry and biology from University of Miami and my Masters Degree in marine ecology from Florida Atlantic University.  My Masters Thesis was on The Animal-Sediment Relationship s of Shallow Water Lagoons and took me four years to study and wrote.  While working on my thesis, the Smithsonian had a branch at HBOI, so I would ask the scientists there for help in identifying the animals in my study.  Working with these scientists helped me make the connections that eventually get my job with HBOI.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  I have been fortunate enough to travel the world visiting over 60 countries and collecting thousands of marine samples for biomedical research at HBOI.  I have been able to dive in the Johns0n-Sea-Link submersible to depths of 3000 ft and scuba dive to 300 ft.  My research on the deep water Oculina coral reefs off the east coast of Florida allowed me to use our submersibles as well as lock-out diving to study the growth rate and fauna associated with these deep water coral.  It is very humbling that my research on these reefs helped to establish the Oculina Marine Protected Area which was the first marine protected area in the world to protect deep sea corals, and more recently the 24,000 sq. mile deep sea coral habitat area of particular concern off the southeastern U.S.

What advice do you have for students wanting a career in marine biology?  Even if people tell you there are no jobs in marine biology, find a way to do it!  Follow what you are passionate about.  Get experiences as an undergrad, do internships, build your resume.  Make the effort!  Do things that are going to set you above everyone else.

When looking at graduate school, compare the course offerings of several universities.  Research the Principal Investigators (PIs) at those same schools and make contact with them.  Get a position as a Teaching Assistant or Lab Aide to build on your resume.  All of these things will help you to get the job you want once you graduate.

 

Stephanie Farrington

Ms. Farrington, What is your job title?  I am a biological scientist for John Reed at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  I accompany John on his research expeditions and help collect data.  When we return to HBOI, I analyze the data and program everything into GIS maps to give us a visual layout of the different habitats we saw and the species that live there.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I earned my Bachelors Degree in biology and marine science from the University of Tampa.  My Masters Degree is in marine biology from the NOVA Southeastern University Oceanographic Center.  My thesis was on the Biogeography of the Straights of Florida which gave me a solid background in the marine invertebrates of our region.  This is one of the reasons John hired me to work with him.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  I have been fortunate to travel in our Johnson-Sea-Link submersible six times, twice sitting up front in the bubble, one dive went down to 1700 feet below the surface.  I have also been on 8 research cruises since I started at HBOI two years ago.  I also had the opportunity to sail on the Okeanos Explorer for three weeks.

What advice do you have for students wanting a career in marine biology?  Marine biology is about collecting and analyzing data and doing research and there is so much cooler stuff in the ocean than just dolphins!

Marsha Skoczek: Plotting Our Course, July 15, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6-19, 2012

Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise:  Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of Georgia.
Date:  July 15, 2012

Location:
Latitude:  32.47618N
Longitude: 78.19054 W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature:  27.6C (81.7 F)
Wind Speed:  6 knots (6.9 mph)
Wind Direction:  From the SE
Relative Humidity: 75 %
Barometric Pressure:  1018.3
Surface Water Temperature:  28.4C (83.12 F)

Science and Technology Log

In order for the scientists to find the fish they are studying on this cruise, they need to know where the areas of favorable habitat are located.  Old nautical charts are not one hundred percent accurate–sometimes they can be hundreds of kilometers off. Early ocean floor mapping used long lines with a lead weight which was hung off the side of the ship.  As the ship moved forward through the water, the long lines would get behind the ship making it very difficult to get an exact reading.  It wasn’t until sonar came into general use during World War II, that it was discovered to be useful for bathymetric mapping.

Sonar works by sending a single sound wave to the ocean floor.  As it reflects back toward the ship, a hydrophone listens for the return sound.  The length of time it takes for that sound wave to return to the ship can be used to calculate the depth of the ocean in that location. The speed of sound in water travels at approximately 1,500 meters per sec (m/s) which is about five times faster than sound travels in air.  The problem with single beam sonar is that the data only plots the one single line beneath the ship.  It does not give the complete picture and gaps in data were often filled in using the readings taken around the area as an estimate.

Planned acoustic survey lines

So how is multibeam sonar different from single beam sonar?  With multibeam sonar, it is just as the name implies–multiple sound beams are sent toward the ocean bottom.  For the depths we are working on, the multibeam sonar on the Pisces sends out 70 beams of sound every .67 seconds.  Within a fraction of a second, these “pings” are reflected off of the ocean bottom and back to the transducer.  The time it takes for all 70 of those pings to return to the transducer determines the depth at each point.  The echogram screen illustrates the bottom features in real time and will even pick up large schools of fish in the water column.  As the ship continues to move up and down the survey lines, the raw data is collected.  The distance between the survey lines is determined by the depth of the area to be mapped.  To set the survey lines, we are using 1.5 times depth so, if the water depth averages 100 meters at the mapping location, the survey lines are set at 150 meters, (.08 nautical miles) apart.  Tonight, the ocean depth at our mapping location is about 60 m so the survey lines are set at 90 meters (.05 nm) apart.  The goal when laying out the survey lines is to overlap the previous lines by about 25%.  This will insure a more complete picture.

Echogram of ridge

It is not simple enough to just take the raw data from the return pings.  The temperature, salinity and depth of the ocean in the mapping area can create slight variations in the return speed.   Temperature, salinity and depth can influence the speed of the return signal, so we use the CTD to gather readings each morning as they are wrapping up the mapping for the night.  This information along with the information on the ship’s roll, pitch, and yawl from the Position and Orientation System for Marine Vessels (POSMV)  are plugged into software that helps process and clean up the data.  From there, the data is converted into a “geo tif” file where it can be  plugged into GIS mapping . The final product is a full color 3-dimensional image of the mapping area.

Completed multibeam image

Ideally the scientists would have multibeam information for each of the sites they want to study that day.  To make this happen, the night before the ROV dive the ship will make its way to the next day’s study area so the geographers can map all night.  The survey lines are selected using bathymetry maps as well as looking at the existing multibeam maps of the area to see if there are any gaps that need to be filled in.  The idea is to give the scientists as much information as possible so they can make informed decisions about where to study.  Time on the ship is extremely expensive and they want to make sure they take full advantage of that time by finding the best habitats to study.  Without the multibeam images, the scientists have to make a best guess as to where to map using old and possibly out of date information.

Personal Log

This is the engine monitoring station.

Today I took a tour of the  Pisces’ engine roomEngineer Steven Clement was nice enough to show me around and explain everything for me.  It is amazing to me how this ship is like its own little city.  The ship creates its own electricity using diesel-powered generators.  It takes four generators to power the ship at full speed which is about 15 knots.  The engines are so loud that I had on double ear protection and it was still extremely loud to walk past them. Using all four engines all day would burn up 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel.  The Pisces is capable of holding 100,000 gallons of fuel which should last the ship several months at sea.  The electricity that is left over from powering the engines is used as the power supply for all of the electronics on board.

Other ways that the Pisces reminds me of a small city is the water.  The ship creates its own drinking water with a reverse osmosis system complete with UV filter and is capable of producing 2.8 gallons per minute.  It also has two hot water heaters attached to a compressor to keep the hot water pumped up into the pipes of the ship.  I do have to say that the hot water on this ship is extremely hot!!  There is no need to wait for hot water, it comes out instantly when I turn on the faucet.  When I shower, I have the cold on full blast and just a smidge of hot water to get a normal temperature shower.  Even our waste water is cleaned up in the Pisces’ own waste water treatment facility which uses microbes to break down the waste products before it is released back out to sea.

Other than pulling into port occasionally for fuel and supplies, the Pisces is really a self-contained vessel capable of cruising at sea for long periods of time.

Ocean Careers Interview

In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday.  Today I interviewed Dr. Laura Kracker.

Dr. Laura Kracker

What is your job title?  I am a Geographer with NOAA National Ocean Service in Charleston, South Carolina.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job? Usually I work on projects using acoustics to map fish in the water column.  Using fisheries acoustics, we can map the distribution of fish in an area and detect large schools as well. On this mission, I am using multibeam to map seafloor habitats.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I earned my Associate’s Degree in agriculture from Alfred College in New York.  When my children were little, I stayed home with them.  While I was home with them I earned my Bachelors in Painting.  Then I went to work in a fisheries office for a couple of years before deciding to go back to college to get my Master’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Science from the University of Buffalo.  I then continued on to my PhD in Geography and GIS, also from the University of Buffalo.  My dissertation was on Using GIS to Apply Landscape Ecology to Fish Habitats.  So I have combined all of my experiences to get me to where I am today.

What are some of your best experiences have you had with this job?  I love being on a ship.  I spend as many as 55 days a year on ships, often at the request of other scientists that need help with multibeam sonar.  I love geography, it gives us  a framework to put everything together, you can layer more and more information onto a map to find a complete picture.

What advice do you have for students wanting a career in marine biology?  Get a broad foundation before you specialize.  You don’t have to take a direct route to where you want to go.  

Marsha Skoczek: The Remotely Operated Vehicle, Our Eyes at the Bottom of the Ocean, July 13, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6 – 19, 2012

 

Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise:  Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of North Carolina
Date:  July 13, 2012

Location:
Latitude:  33.26104N
Longitude:  76.54810W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature:  28.1C (82F)
Wind Speed:  4.5 knots (5.2mph)
Wind Direction:  From the SSE
Relative Humidity: 78 %
Barometric Pressure:  1021.1
Surface Water Temperature:  28.1C (82F)

Science and Technology Log

ROV with labels, photo credit UVP

Rather than fishing for multiple samples of each species from every Marine Protected Area (MPA) we stop at, the scientists opted to use a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to gather their data.  This also allows Stacey Harter and Andy David to get real time footage of the animals that inhabit each dive site as well as a more complete picture of the habitat itself.  Not only are we collecting data on the fish, but John Reed and Stephanie Farrington are taking data on all of the invertebrates we see such as sponges, corals, hydroids, crinoids, sea stars, urchins, and lobster. The ROV we are using for this expedition is called the Phantom S2.  It weighs about 300 pounds when out of the water with the dimensions of 24 inches in height, 55 inches in length and 33 inches in width.  The Phantom S2 uses the tether to power the two ½ horizontal horsepower electric motors and the two vertical 1/4 vertical horsepower motors and has a maximum speed of 2 knots (2.3mph) and because of the length of the tether, is limited to a depth of 1000 feet.  The ROV is equipped with a high resolution video camera with a 12x zoom as well as a digital still camera with strobe to collect high quality color images of anything the scientists need for their research.  On this cruise we are averaging about 450 still images and about seven hours of video daily.  Two lasers mounted at 10 cm wide help the scientists measure specimens without bringing them to the surface.

Setting up the ROV onboard the ship takes about a day.  This requires the ROV team of Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor from the Undersea Vehicles Program out of University of North Carolina Wilmington to arrive at least 24 hours in advance of departure so that they can have the ship’s crew load all of the ROV equipment with the crane.  From there they set up the components in the dry lab and begin running the tether cables from the ROV, which is located on the deck, to the computer, which is located in the dry lab.  We also have to run a line up to our GPS device  and our VHF radio that are both installed on the flying bridge, and yet another cable to transfer the digital images to the computer, and the power line for the ROV engines.  Once the research gets underway, it is not uncommon for Lance and Glenn to spend as many as 12 hours a day working on preparing for the dive, operating the equipment during the dive, and then processing all of the data after the dive.  It is hard work and takes great attention to detail.

The hydrophone gets lowered into the water while the ROV is on a dive.

In order to communicate with the ROV while it is underwater the operators deploy a Trackpoint hydrophone over the side of the ship which must be taller than the hull of the ship, which on the Pisces is over 28 feet tall.  This hydrophone picks up the X,Y,Z coordinates from the ROV then uses the data from antenna mounted on the fly bridge of the ship to create GPS coordinates for the ROV.

This information is plotted into the Hypack mapping system and is used by both the ROV driver as well as the bridge of the ship.  This helps the officer on deck know what heading the ship needs to be traveling so the ROV driver can maneuver the ROV to where the scientists want to go. Depth is calculated by the delay in time that it takes the hydrophone to get a signal from the ROV.

Lance Horn piloting the ROV

Driving the ROV takes great skill and concentration.  Not only do you have to watch the ROV display footage to make sure you don’t run into anything, but you also have to constantly be aware of your heading so you don’t get the ROV too far off course.  The tether keeping the ROV in communication with the ship also has to be monitored.  Getting the tether wrapped around a rock overhang or part of a mast on a shipwreck is of great concern.  If the tether is severed or becomes too entwined, the ROV could be lost.  The ROV driver is in constant contact with the crew on the back deck who are watching the tether line as well as the bridge so that any necessary course corrections can be made quickly and efficiently.  Having too much tether in the water can also lead to tangling, so the tether is marked in 50 foot increments, which allows the deck crew to know how much of the tether line to feed into the water.  On our cruise, the longest the ROV has been below the surface has been 3.5 hours. Because of the intense concentration it takes to drive the ROV, four consecutive hours is the limit that a driver can do in one sitting.  If the dive needs to be longer than four hours, Lance and Glenn would trade duties, so if Lance was driving, he would rotate out onto the deck to monitor the tether while Glenn takes over at the controls.

The ROV control console

The ROV requires three consoles of components to operate.  The first is the ROV control console.  This is where the driver controls the ROV itself.  On this panel are the two joysticks that control the movement of the ROV through the water.  The joystick on the left controls the up, down and side to side motion.  The joystick on the right controls the forward, reverse, as well as left and right.  There are also control switches to tilt the camera so that it is hanging vertically within the cage to take pictures of the ocean floor.

The scientists on this cruise want a “bottom” shot every two minutes.  This is their way of “collecting” random samples of the habitat while we are making our way along the transect line.  There are also controls switches to turn on and off the lights, turn on and off the laser, and to switch over from the video camera to the still camera so digital still pictures can be taken.  Directly above the control panel is a flat screen monitor showing the live footage from the ROV so the pilot can see where the ROV is below the surface.

A multibeam image with transect lines is loaded into the Hypack software so the ROV can be navigated to where the scientists need to collect their data.

The middle console has all of the navigation components.  There is a GPS unit displaying the coordinates of the ship at all times.   It also contains a Trackpoint acoustic tracking system that provides position data for the ROV.  This is not only helpful to the driver, but the scientists take waypoints throughout the operation to help them match up the data they recorded while watching the live video feed from the ROV with the still images, and the temperature and depth data taken by a small CTD attached to the ROV cage.

Also on this cabinet is a rackmount computer using Hypack software.  The scientists can load the multibeam sonar information and the transect coordinates into the navigation computer.  This software gathers and logs information from the ROV as well as other navigational electronics so the driver sees a real time image of where the ROV is in relation to the ship and features of interest on the sea floor.  This also gives both the driver and the scientists an idea of where we are in relation to the transect line.  If multibeam images were available and downloaded into the navigation computer, the chief scientist can use those to adjust our heading off the transect line if she feels the structures they need to study are on a different heading than originally plotted.

The ROV video console

The third console contains the controls for the digital still camera as well as the digital recording devices.  Steve Matthews, part of the science team, has been manning the still photography on this cruise.  When the scientists see something they want a close up picture of, they ask the driver to stop the ROV and position it so the still camera can be zoomed in for a close up shot.  This will help the scientists to make the proper identification of all of the different species we photographed while on this cruise.

For this research trip, video and still images are all the scientists need to assess the efficacy of the MPAs.  The Phantom S2 has other tools that can be used depending on how the scientist needs to collect their data.  The ROV can be fitted with a sonar device which can be used to located objects, such as ship wrecks or other lost items, at ranges farther away than the video can see.  Scientists can also elect to use the claw for sample collection, a plankton net to gather plankton, and a fish collection suction device.

Personal Log

Myself driving the ROV

We sent styrofoam cups to a depth of 250m. The cup on the right is the original size. As you can see my cup, at left, shrank by more than half.

The bottom of the ocean has such incredible diversity!  Before being invited to be a part of this research expedition, I had only read about all of the amazing things we have seen in text books.  The ROV has allowed us to travel to depths that are inaccessible to recreational scuba divers and to visit sites that not too many other people have been to.  Every day we see different species and habitats.  It is interesting to compare areas that are inside the MPAs with those that are outside of the MPAs.  Even though each day might seem like we are doing the same thing over and over again, I am anxiously awaiting a glimpse of something that I have never seen before.  For each depth we dive to, there is a new set of species and habitat to learn about.  The deepest dive we have been on so far this cruise was at the Snowy Wreck MPA at about 25 m (833 ft) below the surface.  This location was really cool because there is an old ship wreck here that is full of corals and anemones and all sorts of fish species.  We also had a little fun while at the depth and shrunk some styrofoam cups.  Stephanie Farrington is an amazing artist and designed these fabulous cups for us each to send down to shrink.

Ocean Careers Interview

In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday.  Today I interviewed Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor, ROV operators from University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW).

Lance Horn

Mr. Horn, what is your job title?  I am the operations director of the Undersea Vehicles Program at University of North Carolina Wilmington.  I started at UNCW in 1985 as part of NOAA’s Underwater Research Center (NURC)  as a hard hat diver.  In 1987, I joined UNCW’s scuba and ROV program which has now become the Undersea Vehicles Program.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  As director, I am in charge of lining up jobs for us, maintaining the budget, and finalizing the contracts from each project.  I also pilot and maintain the ROV itself.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I graduated from the Florida Institute of Technology with an Associate’s Degree in Underwater Technologies.  In this program, we studied compressors, hydraulics, welding, scuba and underwater photography.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  This job has allowed me to travel all over the world and to see some really cool things under the ocean’s surface.  My favorite ROV dive so far was when I went to Antarctica to map the trash dumped at the bottom of Winter Quarters Bay.  Before people realized what kind of impact indiscriminately dumping their trash overboard was doing to the habitats on the ocean floor, ships used to come into port at Winter Quarters Bay and dispose of their trash in the ocean.  This includes very large items such as 55 gallon drums, fire hoses, conex boxes, and even a bulldozer that fell through the ice!  My job was to use the ROV to create a map showing the location of the large objects so that it could be determined if it would be possible to recover these items for proper disposal.  As part of this project, we also had to take the ROV outside of the bay to have an undamaged habitat to use as a control variable for comparison with the bay.  Outside of the bay was amazing.  We were diving under six feet of ice and got to see an environment that not many others have seen, including purple worms, white sponges, and anemone.  It was beautiful.

What advice do you have for students wanting a career with ROVs?  Not every job requires a four year degree.  You can still find a good job doing something you love. I have been successful doing what I do with a two year Associate’s Degree.  Florida Institute of Technology was not an easy school.  I worked hard to earn my degree.

Glen Taylor

Mr. Taylor, what is your job title?  I am an ROV pilot and technician with the Undersea Vehicles Program and UNCW.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  In addition to piloting the ROV, my primary responsibilities are to maintain the three console units that house all of the digital equipment we need to control the ROV.  This includes any rewiring that needs to be done or the replacement of equipment either for repairing broken parts or upgrading to newer electronics.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I earned my Bachelors Degree from Clarkson College of Technology.  I went to work for General Electric in New York.  I was transferred to GE in Florida after which I decided to retire from GE and become a scuba dive master.  I went to work for NURC in St. Croix but was transferred to UNCW when the St. Croix office was closed.  This is where I hooked up with Lance in 1993 and learned to operate the ROV.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  I have also been fortunate enough to travel the world with the ROV.  Diving at the Edisto MPA this week is probably the highlight of my career in ROV operation.  The reef features were fantastic, the water was clear, we had hardly any current, the ship was able to remain on course.  It was perfect conditions.

What advice do you have for students wanting a career with ROVs?  First and foremost, follow your passion.  What do you get excited about?  I have been driving ROVs for almost ten years and I still love coming to work each day.  To be successful in this field, you need a strong background in computers and technology.  You can be trained to drive the ROV, but strong technology skills are essential.  Another good skill to have is problem solving and trouble shooting.  Things might go wrong in the middle of a dive, you have to be able to figure out a solution right there on the spot to keep the dive going.

 

Marsha Skoczek: Lionfish, Groupers, and Bigeye, Oh My! July 11, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6 – 19, 2012

Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise:  Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of South Carolina
Date:  July 11, 2012

Location:
Latitude:  32.2899N
Longitude:  78.5443W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature:  28.1C (82.4F)
Wind Speed:   9.75 knots ( 11.2 mph)
Wind Direction:  From the SSW
Relative Humidity: 86 %
Barometric Pressure:  1017
Surface Water Temperature:  27.7C (80.6F)

Science and Technology Log

Lionfish off the South Carolina coast.

Even though our mission focuses on the five species of grouper and the two species of tilefish that I have shared in earlier postings, something that has surprised us all is the sheer number of lionfish that have invaded these reef areas.  I sat down with Andy David, Co-Principal Investigator on our cruise, to get the full scoop on this  invasive species.

An invasive species is one that does not naturally occur in an area but was either deliberately or accidentally released into the wild and competes with native species.  Alien invasive species often have very few, if any, natural predators to help keep their populations in check. As a result, invasive species populations often explode.  These invasive species begin competing with the native inhabitants for the same food supply potentially starving out the native fish and forcing them to move out of that region in search of food.

Lionfish native habitat.
Credit NOAA

Lionfish are native to the western Pacific.  They were first observed in the Atlantic Ocean in 1992 on coral reefs off West Palm Beach, FL.  Since the water temperature and bottom habitat in the South Atlantic very closely resemble that of the lionfish’s native habitat, conditions were favorable for the population to spread very rapidly.  Unlike most fish in this region the lionfish spawns year round, so it does not have a normal spawning season.  A female lionfish can spawn every couple of days and each time can release up to 15,000 eggs.  These eggs were carried off by the current and spread to other parts of the east coast.  Since few of the native Atlantic predators eat lionfish, they were able to reach maturity and continue building their population.  So what the genetic analyses indicates started as six individual lionfish off West Palm Beach in 1992, now has spread all the way north to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina via the Gulf Stream, then on other currents across to Bermuda and down to the Bahamas, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands. And they have now made their way into the Gulf of Mexico and are moving along the coastal states in the Gulf. Check out this  animation demonstrating the spread of the lionfish.

Short bigeye with lionfish

Lionfish tend to live in the same rocky reef habitats as the grouper and short bigeye, so we see them together quite frequently on our ROV dives.  All of these reef fish are competing for the same food supply — small fish and crustaceans.  The grouper, short bigeye, and lionfish prefer to live in rocky overhangs or crevasses.  Lionfish are ambush predators and will wait for their prey to swim by and suck them into their mouths.  They also have a voracious appetite.

All of the lionfish we have seen are extremely fat and happy.  They are gobbling up the food supply just as fast as they can.  Often times we will see multiple lionfish using the same rock as shelter.  In fact, in a single three-hour dive covering about 1.5 nautical miles, we saw upwards of 150 lionfish!!  And that was only within the 6-10 foot wide field of view from the ROV camera.  There are plenty more that we were not able to document since they were out of view.  In one week alone we have seen nearly 700 lionfish! Imagine how much of the available food source a whole gaggle of lionfish can consume on the reef.  The concern is that the lionfish are using up all of the food available so that the commercially important fish such as grouper and snapper will no longer have anything to eat and will be forced to leave the area.  This could be devastating to the grouper population which could result in fewer fish being available for commercial and recreational fishermen as well as a blow to the species in general.

A gaggle of lionfish off the coast of South Carolina. Can you tell how many lionfish are in this picture?

So what can we do about this?  Agencies like NOAA are encouraging divers to hunt any lionfish they see and take them home to eatLionfish derbies are sponsored by local diving organizations, such as REEF,  to encourage divers to participate in these hunts.  But hunting lionfish with scuba divers will not solve the entire problem.

On this particular research cruise, we have seen lionfish down to depths of about 100 meters (330 feet).  This is well below the limits of recreational scuba diving.  Lionfish have been seen at depths of 300 meters (1,000 feet).  How can we control the spread of this invasive species at depth?  Some groups such as the Roatan Marine Park think that training sharks to prey on lionfish might be a solution.  This is a lengthy process and it is uncertain if the sharks would continue to hunt lionfish once they are out in nature on their own.  Some species of grouper and moray eels can also eat lionfish, but they prefer to just leave them alone rather than risk being the recipient of a sharp sting from those pesky poisonous fins.  The cornet fish might also prey upon juvenile lionfish by sneaking up on them from behind.  We have seen about a dozen cornetfish in this first week of ROV footage compared to the one per year that are seen normally.  Could the cornetfish be a partial solution to this invasion?  We can only hope.

There is also a concern with the push to make lionfish a commercial species.  Since they inhabit coral reefs, it is possible that lionfish, along with grouper and amberjacks, could become tainted with a toxin called ciguatera.  In a joint study between NOAA and the FDA in the seas surrounding the Lesser Antilles islands of St. Maarten, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, ciguatera was found in 26% of the lionfish sampled.  These larger reef fish prey upon the smaller herbivorous reef fish that have eaten the algae carrying the ciguatera toxin.  Through biomagnification, the lionfish, grouper, amberjacks and snapper carry enough of the toxin to make humans extremely ill.  Symptoms of ciguatera poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, muscle aches, and reversal of hot and cold sensation, just to name a few.  Symptoms can last for weeks to years depending on the individual.  This toxin cannot be removed from the fish by cooking, so the debate continues as to whether lionfish are safe enough to be marketed as a commercial fish in areas where ciguatera is present.

Personal Log

Here I am in the drylab counting lionfish from ROV images.

I am amazed at how quickly the lionfish have spread throughout the Western Atlantic region.  So what started out as six lionfish in 1992, now numbers over 10,000,000 just twenty years later.  Their coloring allows them to remain camouflaged so they are able to just sit and wait for food to come to them.  When we are looking at the ROV screen, it is not always easy to spot these invaders at first. Their prey probably don’t even realize that they are about to be eaten, they blend in that well.  Andy David says that with most invasive species, we see a spike in numbers initially, but eventually the numbers should come back down as the lionfish run out of food and as other predators learn how to eat them.  How long until we start to see a decline?  That remains to be seen.  Things may get worse before they get better, or we may already be seeing a decline in numbers.  More research needs to be done.

Ocean Careers Interview

Andy David

In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday.  Today I interviewed Andrew David, Co-Principal Investigator on this expedition.

What is your job title? I am a Research Fishery Biologist and the Chair of the NOAA Diving Control and Safety Board.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  As a fishery biologist for NOAA, I am currently conducting research on the commercial fish of the South Atlantic such as grouper and tilefish.  As part of my research, we also study the habitat that these fish live in which are the shelf edge and deep reefs.  The data that we collect on these species is used to help fishery managers determine where the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico MPAs should be placed and if they should be maintained.

As the Chairman of the NOAA Diving Control and Safety Board, I work with the diving officers of other NOAA programs to monitor the safety of the roughly 500 divers in the agency.  We do this by creating a set of standards that all divers in NOAA must adhere to, testing new diving equipment, and working with other diving organizations to ensure safe and effective procedures are followed.  Our safety record is very good. We normally make close to 15,000 dives a year with an incident rate of below 0.01 percent.

What type of education did you need to get this job? I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry and Biology from Stetson University in Deland, Florida.  My Master’s Degree is in Marine Science from the University of Southern Florida.  My Master’s work focused on the effects of genetically engineered bacteria in the marine environment. It wasn’t exactly what I thought I would study in graduate school, but it was an excellent opportunity that I could not pass up and it helped me to network with other scientists in the field.  This led to me getting my job with NOAA straight out of graduate school where I work on topics that have a greater interest to me.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  Working on these deep corals projects has been very rewarding.  We have discovered many things on these projects, such as a greater coverage of deep coral reefs than was previously thought, new species of crustaceans, and range and depth extensions for several species.  Plus I get to spend time at sea every year while we conduct our research.

What advice do you have for students wanting a career in marine biology?  You do not have to go straight into marine biology at a school near the coast as an undergraduate.  In fact, it is probably better if you major in a core science such as chemistry or biology for your Bachelor’s and then focus more on marine science when you start looking for a graduate school.  Send your applications out to professors at universities with good marine biology programs.  If you are offered a position working with a professor who offers you research support, you should strongly consider taking it even if the research topic is not your favorite.  Graduate school is about learning how to become a good scientist — you have plenty of time to specialize in an area of interest to you when you get out of school.

Also, take internship opportunities when you can find them!  That is how scientists in the field get to know you and what you are capable of.  Internships might lead you to your first job out of college.  For example, Stacey Harter, the Chief Scientist on our cruise, started with Andy David as an intern.  When she graduated from college, they offered her a job!  Get internships!

Marsha Skoczek: Who’s Driving this Ship, Anyway? July 9, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6 – 19, 2012

Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise:  Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of Georgia
Date:  July 9, 2012

Location:
Latitude:  31.30748N
Longitude:  79.43986W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature:  29.5C (84 F)
Wind Speed:   10.4 knots (11.9 mph)
Wind Direction:  From the SSW
Relative Humidity:  81%
Barometric Pressure:  1015.7
Surface Water Temperature:  27.88C (82.4F)

Science and Technology Log

Today, the current was too strong in the area we were going to send the ROV.  The boat and the ROV were not able to keep close enough to the assigned transect line, so the dives for today were cancelled.  Since we had some extra time until the Pisces was able to get us to our next location, I decided to spend some time on the bridge learning about how the Pisces works.

Myself and ENS Pawlishen working on the nautical charts.

Third Officer, Pete Langolis, was on duty when I got to the bridge, and he was nice enough to show me around.  After he let me ring the bell for the noon test of the master alarm system, we got started.  The Pisces is able to keep its course by using both a magnetic compass as well as a gyrocompass.  The magnetic compass has the potential for interference depending on the conditions around it such as the roof of the ship, the types of metals that make up the ship, etc.  To find the correct bearing for the Pisces to travel along, the officer on duty has to take into consideration four factors, where is true north, the variation from the compass rose on the nautical chart, where is magnetic north, and the deviation from magnetic north from the deviation card (this will be different from ship to ship).  This all calculates into the correct compass heading for the officer on the bridge to drive the ship.  Once the correct heading is calculated, it can be programmed into the ship’s tracking computers as well as the bow thruster which acts as an autopilot for the ship.  Every thirty minutes, the officer on deck has to verify with the paper nautical charts that the ship is still on the correct heading.  Any variations from the original heading can be corrected simply by changing the direction on the autopilot.  You can follow along with our current position using the NOAA Ship Tracker website.  Select Pisces from the box in the upper left.

When you are out in the middle of the open ocean, the last thing you want to do is run into another vessel.  The Pisces is equipped with two different radar systems that help look for other ships in the area.  The S-Band radar sends out a longer pulse signal which is good for locating ships that are further away and also seeing through dense fog.  The X Band radar sends out a short pulse signal which better helps to locate ships in closer proximity to the Pisces.

X band radar showing the location of ships near the Pisces

Both of these radars are tied to the Automated Information System (AIS) as well as the Global Positioning System (GPS).  The information about each ship identified on the radar screen can be pulled up and used to help steer the Pisces around other vessels such as cargo ships, commercial fishing vessels, or other military vessels. All targets located by the radar need to be visually confirmed by the officer on deck to insure that they are not on a course that will come too close to the Pisces.

Engine monitor screen on the bridge.

The Pisces has a single propeller  that is powered by two electric motors.  These motors are powered by four diesel generators.  Before we could leave port last Friday, we had to fuel up with 70,000 gallons of diesel fuel.  This took about six hours to complete.  This amount of fuel should last the Pisces several months at sea.  The whole propulsion system can be monitored electronically from the bridge to ensure that everything is running smoothly.

So, who actually drives the ship?  Three NOAA Corps officers share bridge watch in shifts of 4 hours on, 8 hours off.  This doesn’t mean they spend the other 8 hours sleeping. All of the officers on board Pisces have other responsibilities such as the Navigation Officer (NAV), the Operations Officer (OPS), Executive Officer (XO) and the Commanding Officer (CO).  Before a new junior ensign can be left on their own to be in charge of the bridge, not only do they complete a twenty-week training, they will also spend about six months shadowing a senior officer.  This lets them get hands on training and experience while still having someone watching over their shoulder double checking everything.  After all, the lives of everyone aboard the Pisces depend on them doing everything correctly.

Personal Log

Being out to sea away from land is not something I have ever done before.  I am struck by the vastness of the ocean.  Everywhere you

Lobate ctenophores are translucent and give off a bioluminescent glow. Bolinopsis infundibulum. Picture: OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP)
High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

look, there is nothing but blue water.  It is truly hypnotizing.  Also, knowing that there might not be another vessel within hundreds of miles of us is a little weird.  Last night I went out with my roommate, Stephanie, to see the stars.  There is no light pollution out here in the open ocean, so we were able to see every star in the sky, including the Milky Way Galaxy.  It was an incredible view.  We also could see the bioluminescent organisms as they were getting turned up in the ship’s wake, animals such as jellyfish, copepods, and ostracods.  It was really neat to see bioluminescence in action.

Ocean Careers Interview

In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday.  Today I interviewed NOAA Corps officers Ensign Michael Doig and Ensign Junior Officer Douglas Pawlishen.

Ensign Michael Doig

ENS Doig, what is your job title?  I am the Navigation Officer for the Pisces and an Ensign in the NOAA Corps.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  I am one of the officers that has bridge duty to steer the ship.  I also keep the nautical charts up to date, maintain the ship’s inventory, and train the new junior ensigns.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I have a Bachelors’ Degree in Zoology from University of Hawaii and a Masters’ Degree in Science Education.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico on board the Pisces.  One of the coolest things I have seen is a pod of orca whales trying to kill a baby sperm whale in the Gulf of Mexico.  The baby sent out a distress call and all of the adult sperm whales encircled the baby to protect it.  The baby sperm whale was saved.

How is the NOAA Corps different from other jobs?  First, when you apply for the NOAA Corps, they look at all of the math and science courses you have taken in college.  They are looking for students with strong background in those fields.  After you are accepted and make it through training, you are assigned to a NOAA ship for two years.  After those two years, you can apply for a land assignment, but that will probably only last for about three years before you have to go back out to sea on a new ship.  You work year round and are granted thirty days of personal leave for the year.

Since your time on the Pisces is almost finished, what land assignment are you applying for at the end of your two years?  I have applied to work in the Miami NOAA branch studying coral reef restoration.

What is your best advice for a student wanting to become a scientist?  Companies are always looking for employees with strong backgrounds in science. Don’t be afraid of those upper level physics classes or upper level math classes.  Get in there and do it!!

 

Junior Ensign Douglas Pawlishen

Ensign Pawlishen, what is your job title?  I am an Ensign Junior Officer aboard the Pisces.  This is my first ship assignment in the NOAA Corps and I just started on the ship last Thursday.

What type of job responsibilities do you have on this ship? To shadow Ensign Doig so he can train me about life aboard the Pisces.

Why did you decide to join the NOAA Corps?  I wanted a job where I wouldn’t be stuck in an office all day every day doing the same thing over and over again.  With my science background, I thought the NOAA Corps offered me the opportunity to do something more hands on and different every day.

What type of education do you need to get this job?  I have a Bachelors’ Degree from University of Massachusetts  Amherst in Natural Resources and  a minor in both Criminal Justice and Wildlife Management.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  Well, since I am brand new, I haven’t really been out to sea yet.  My best experience so far was aboard the Coast Guard Eagle, which is a massive sail boat confiscated in World War II from the Germans.  All of the NOAA Corps cadets along with the Coast Guard cadets have to spend two weeks on board sailing the Coast Guard Ship Eagle and developing our team work skills.

Marsha Skoczek: North Florida MPA, July 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6 – 19, 2012

Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise:  Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of Florida
Date:  July 7, 2012

Location:
Latitude:  30.262610N
Longitude:  80.12.403W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature:  29.2C (84.5F)
Wind Speed:  6.07 knots
Wind Direction:  from the SSW
Relative Humidity:  76%
Barometric Pressure:  1016.8
Surface Water Temperature:  30.82C (87F)

Science and Technology Log

North Florida MPA

Today we made our way about 50 nautical miles off shore to the North Florida Marine Protected Area (MPA) accompanied by dolphins and flying fish.  The North Florida MPAs were closed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to bottom fishing in order to sustain and repopulate the following species of fish:  snowy grouper, yellowedge grouper, Warsaw grouper, speckled hind grouper, misty grouper as well as golden and blueline tilefish.  A second part of our science team is looking at the benthic invertebrates such as corals and sponges as they provide a habitat for the grouper and tilefish to live in.  The types of corals and sponges we expect to see in this area include: black coral, whip coral, purple gorgonian, Tanacetipathes, and the stink sponge.

Pisces deck hands launch the ROV

We did three Remotely Operated Vehicle  (ROV) dives with the Phantom S II.  Each dive was between one and two hours long depending on the bottom conditions.  The winch from the Pisces would lower the ROV to the bottom of the ocean approximately 50-60 meters deep (164 to 196 feet).  The area in the MPA we were looking at had been mapped the night before using the ship’s Multibeam Sonar to give the scientists a better idea of where to look and what type of bottom features they will see.   The current at the bottom for a couple of the dives was about 1.5 knots.  This made it pretty difficult to spend quality time looking at the species.  The Scientists will take this data back to the lab where they can spend more time with each video to fully catalog each species we saw today.

Stephanie Farrington and myself are logging data.

Once the ROV’s cameras were rolling, the science team was able to begin logging all of the different species that they saw.  Each part of the transect line is carefully documented with a date and time stamp as well as a latitude, longitude and depth.  Also mounted on the ROV is a small CTD to collect the temperature and depth every 15 seconds.  This will help the scientists match up all of the details for each habitat that we saw with the video on the ROV.  While the ROV is at the bottom collecting data, there are several different stations going on in the lab at the time.

John Reed and Stephanie Farrington are looking mostly at the benthic invertebrates, Stacey Harter and Andy David are cataloging all of the fish they are able to see and identify, and Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor are manning the ROV.  There is also a fourth station where one of the scientists uses a microphone to annotate the video as it is being recorded onto a DVD.  Today John, Stacey and Andy all took turns at the video annotation station.  Basically they are verbally describing the bottom features and habitat they see as well as all the different species of fish and corals.  This will make it easier for the scientists when they get back into their home labs as they process their data.  For each one hour of video taken it will take Stacey between four and eight hours to catalog each fish found as the ROV passed by.  This information is compiled into a report that will be shared with the South Atlantic Council to show if the targeted species are actually making a comeback in these MPAs.

The snowy grouper is one of the targeted species. We found this one using the ROV swimming back into his burrow.

Today some of the species we saw include reef butterflyfish, vermillion snapper, filogena coral, blue angelfish, purple gorgonian,yellowtail reef fish, black corals, bigeye fish, squirrelfish, wire corals, scamp grouper, hogfish, ircinia sponges as well as a couple of lobsters and a loggerback sea turtle.

Tomorrow we will make several more dives at another site outside the North Florida MPA so we can compare this data with the data taken today inside the MPA.

Personal Log

As part of the abandon ship drill, we had to be able to don our immersion suit in less than three minutes.

Life on the ship is really different in some ways compared to life on land.  There is the constant rocking of the ship, which my inner ears are not very fond of. The bedrooms are not the biggest and we each share with one other person.  I am rooming with Stephanie Farrington and she is very easy to get along with.  The food has been great — it would be very easy to gain weight while working on the Pisces.  The stewards do a fantastic job preparing meals for everyone on the ship.  Meal times are the same each day, breakfast is from 7-8 am, lunch is from 11am to noon, and dinner is from 5-6pm.  If someone is working the night shift, they can request that a meal be set aside for them so they can eat later.

Ocean Careers Interview

Stacey Harter

In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday.  Today I interviewed Stacey Harter, the Chief  Scientist for this mission.

What is your job title?  I am a Research Ecologist at NOAA Fisheries Panama City Lab.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  My responsibilities are to acquire funding for my research, as well as plan the trips, go on the cruise to gather the data, and analyze the data when I get back.  I am also collaborating on other projects with NOAA Beaufort in North Carolina and St. Andrew Bay studying the juvenile snapper and grouper populations in the sea grass found at this location.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I got my Bachelors degree in Biology from Florida State University and my Masters degree in Marine Biology from University of Alabama.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  My best experience I’ve had was getting to go down in a manned submersible to a depth of 2,500 feet to study deep water corals and the fish that live there.

What is your best advice for a student wanting to become a marine biologist?  Do internships!  This is the best way to get your name out there and to make connections with people who might be able to get you a job after college.  I had an internship at the NOAA Panama City Lab while I was in graduate school which helped me to get my job with NOAA when I graduated.

Marsha Skoczek: Preparing to Set Sail Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces! June 5, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Soon to be Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6 – 19, 2012

Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise:  Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of Florida
Date:  June 5, 2012

Personal Log

touch tank picture

Me at our saltwater touch tank.

Greetings from Olathe, Kansas!  My name is Marsha Skoczek and I am an instructor in the Geoscience Program at Olathe North High School.  High school students from all over Olathe apply to be a part of the Geoscience Program because they have a passion for the earth sciences.  Many of my students want to become a marine biologist or some type of ocean research scientist.  I teach Marine Biology and Oceanography, yes from the middle of the country, so in order to have a better understanding of the material I teach I applied to and was accepted for the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program.  I am fortunate enough to be preparing to set sail aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces as part of a research team investigating the Marine Protected Areas (MPA) off the Southeastern Atlantic states.

In 2009 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) established eight Marine Protected Areas to protect the spawning grounds for several species of Grouper, Snapper, and Tilefish.  These reef dwelling species are slow growing fish often not spawning until they are four or five years old.  Some species such as the Yellowedge Grouper can live to be as much as 80 years old!  Several other species such as the Snowy Grouper and the Speckled Hind Grouper are all born as females and do not change into males until they are older, making it a high priority that we protect their habitat so these species can live long enough to reproduce.

As fish are being harvested from the water beyond many of the species’ maximum sustainable yield, it is imperative that the natural habitats of these species are protected, not only so the fish populations can continue to thrive, but also so that scientists can have the time to research the life cycles of these fish in order to establish yearly limits based on scientific data before they are fished to extinction.

I am fortunate enough to be a part of a research expedition doing just that, we will be studying the habitat and fish population of five Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to see if closing these areas to bottom fishing is a beneficial step in preventing the extinction of these species.

NOAA Ship Pisces

The team I will be working with is made up of scientists from the Panama City NOAA Fisheries Lab, the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, University of North Carolina Wilmington, and the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.  Preparations for this research expedition began over a year ago when the scientists had to begin writing their proposal to fund this trip.  As you can imagine, working with scientists from multiple institutions takes time and careful planning.  Conference calls were made with the crew of the Pisces so details could be discussed about the operations needed to be performed, as well as other long distance communications with the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) pilots and the mapping scientist from Charleston, South Carolina.

Data on our expedition will be collected by ROV to capture on video the fish and invertebrate populations in each MPA; water column data on temperature, pressure and conductivity will be collected by CTD profiling; and night time sonar mapping will be used to determine the most beneficial areas to launch the ROV on the following day.

As you can see, there is a lot of work to do during our two weeks at sea.  I am anxiously awaiting our departure next month so that I can witness first hand real ocean research.  This information will be invaluable as I prepare my students for their future careers as marine biologist and oceanographers!  Please follow along as we set sail on this most important adventure!