Walter Charuba: Red Skies at Night: July 21st, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Walter Charuba
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 18 — 29, 2011

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 21, 2011

Science and Technology Log

There is an old sailor’s proverb: “Red Sky at night, it will be bright” or “sailors take flight“ or something like that. I just know that I live by this saying and it has caused many a captain to throw away their weather charts. There was a beautiful red sunset last night and I stood at the bow or stern (I am down to two boat locations now) in complete admiration. However, when I started my shift in the morning there was a front moving in with rain clouds and lightning. I must admit I have been pretty calm most of the trip and this has not been due to the Dramamine. Seeing these clouds caused my imagination to get the better part of me, which of course would be the part that includes my brain.  I had images of “The Great Wave” by Hokausai racing in my head.  This outlook was ridiculous because there weren’t even white caps on the waves. The storm never hit us and the day turned out to be excellent.

Dolphins chasing flying fish at night

Another reason last night was special was because I was able to view some dolphins at a very close distance.  First Mate, Michael Richter, made it quite clear that no one was supposed to walk around the boat alone at night, especially the dark upper deck , and especially on the railings. So after daylight, we are limited to the lighted lower deck.  As I was reviewing my constellations, the light seemed to attract these flying fishes. I do not know if this is true, because correlation isn’t always causation, but it looked true.  As I was staring at the flying fishes, a large splash startled everyone. It was a spotted dolphin and a calf jumping for the flying fishes. The dolphins jumped around for about twenty minutes until we took off to our next destination. It was kind of like our own little Sea World, except natural. It was a perfect way to end the night.

Here I am (right) preparing to help with the trap collection

Morning was the time to not only see, but capture, new creatures. My last blog described the deployment of traps, but now I will write about the retrieval of traps. Science Watch Chief, David Berrane termed this “action time.”  The two flotation buoys we drop are significant because, after “soaking” a trap for 90 minutes, the boat returns to these devices and a crew member has to throw a grappling hook at a line between the buoys. We then quickly pull the buoys in next to the boat.  The buoys are lifted up, the line is connected to a “hauler,” and a trap is pulled on board. This may sound simple but it is actually a five person task. The task is very intense and focused because people may trip over the buoys or ropes, or the trap’s line can snap due to weight or current. Hopefully the trap will be filled with fish and the cameras will record useful data from depths ranging from 25 to 83 meters. As soon as the trap is brought on board, the fish are collected and the cameras are disconnected.

The cameras used on the fish traps

The video survey of the reef is just as important as capturing fish, as cameras can assess the population of species that do not go in traps. Zeb Schobernd, the video watch commander, and I do salute him, downloads all the data on board for further viewing during the off season. Imagine all the viewing that has to be done? For instance fifteen videos were taken in one day of our ten day cruise, and there are four or five missions a year. To avoid reef video insanity, the data is viewed in thirty second intervals which is still a great deal of work.

Fish brought on board are immediately classified to species, and then measured individually. Measurement data are called “length frequency,” and hundreds of fish could be measured from one trap. According to a random tally sheet, certain fish are kept to collect “age and growth” data. Again, this could be hundreds of fish. In the ship’s “wet lab,” fish are then dissected. Most fish have a pair of “otolith” bones (i.e., ear stones) in their head.  Otoliths are collected at sea, but sent to a lab where they will be examined under a microscope.  When otoliths are cut by a delicate saw, visible rings tell the age of a fish, similar to how the rings visible on a tree stump can tell the age of a tree. Fish are further dissected to check the condition of their reproductive systems.

In the next blog I will I write about the “CTD” device.

Walter Charuba: Trap Deployment, July 21st, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Walter Charuba
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 18 — 29, 2011

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 21, 2011

Science and Technology Log

Dear Blog Aficionados,

Cumulonimbus clouds on the horizon

Cumulonimbus clouds on the horizon

Today I saw two different types of sea turtles, a bunch of jelly fishes, dolphins, and the people on the boat. It has been a beautiful day and I am trying to rest up because it is going to be a long day and night of setting up traps and categorizing fish. The weather here is hot and somewhat clear. I believe there is a high pressure system over us at this time. However, when you look over the coast of Florida there are these extremely large rain clouds, which are cumulonimbus clouds, rising into the sky.  The sky is clear all around the boat and suddenly there is this large mass of clouds. Last night was very memorable when a lightning storm intermittently made this region glow. I stood at the bow, stern, port side, or starboard side in wonder of this spectacle. (Hopefully I will learn locations by the end of the trip.)

The last time I wrote about myself I was a bit nauseated, which does not do much for the self-esteem. My name is Walter Charuba and I have been teaching for a number of years. (This is code for not wanting to give you a specific number.) I am lucky to work for Grosse Pointe Schools at a great school called Brownell Middle School. I am also lucky to live in Grosse Pointe Farms and I actually live about a half a block from my school. This makes my carbon footprint sort of a toe print.

I have won numerous teaching awards such as Best Dressed Teacher, Youngest Looking Teacher (I hand out treats for this one.) and Teacher Who Lives Closest to School. After filling out the forms and passing the physical, and these examples from my wonderful resume, I was lucky enough to be chosen for the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. Seriously, I do feel very fortunate to be part of this program and learning from these scientists.

You now may be wondering what exactly am I doing on this wonderful boat called the Savannah?  (If you are not wondering about it, could you change your focus, because this concerns my next paragraph!)  I am assisting in a very large fisheries survey by setting up fish traps, deploying of fish traps, and collecting data about the fish. When laid flat, the fish traps are six by five feet across and two feet deep. In these traps we place 24 menhaden bait fish, which are a close relative to the herring, if that means anything to you.

Then 5 to 6 traps are dropped off the back of the boat with special cameras to record activity around the trap. These cameras take about ninety minutes of footage. The traps also have two buoys connected to them to assist in collection. The areas where the traps are dropped are designated by the Chief Scientist, Warren Mitchell. Using sonar, Warren has to consider depth, currents, distance, topography, and a time schedule. Not an easy decision.

Setting the fish traps with bait

Setting the fish traps with bait

Science Watch Chiefs, Sarah Goldman and David Berrane, have to make certain the drop offs go smoothly. They have to make certain there are enough bait in the traps, and if all materials are ready for a perfect drop. Trap and data collection are another major responsibility of the chief scientists, and this will be the topic of the next blog.

Thanks for reading,

Walt (Mr. Charuba to my students.)

We caught a shark

We caught a shark

 

Walter Charuba: Calmer Days at Sea, July 19th, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Walter Charuba
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 18 — 29, 2011

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 19, 2011

R/V Savannah

R/V Savannah

Science and Technology Log

Hopefully I will write more this time because the boat is much calmer today. After that day with 4 to 6 foot waves I will never use the expression “rollicking good time” again.

The reason the weather is so calm today is because the tropical storm Bert is Northwest of our boat and is going towards the middle of the Atlantic. Bert has created a nice high pressure system for us. The water seems much more calm and it is a beautiful day. I never thought I would be thankful for a tropical storm.

You may be wondering, and if you are not wondering, you should, what I am doing on a ship called Savannah? Why am I twenty to thirty miles off the coast of Florida? Why are we trying to catch fish? Why don’t I stop all these questions and get to the point?

Well the purpose of this mission is to gather data about the population and the condition of reef fishes off the coast of Florida and Georgia. The four species groups we are researching are Groupers, Sea Basses, Snappers, and Porgies. The reason we are doing this is not only important, but essential. We have to know the status of our fish population off our coastal waters. We need to know if we are over fishing or if we are improving in conservation.

Sorry for another question, but how do we count the population of fish, especially reef fish? It’s not like caribou or something where you can take a picture from a helicopter and count a herd. We can obviously never have a specific count but we get an idea by dropping traps with bait at the bottom of the reefs. These traps also have undersea digital cameras to view the surroundings and fish that are not caught. The fish that are caught are dissected to get an idea of their age and reproductive state. This is a very important job I am trying to avoid.

(This is the last question I promise.) Who are these scientists and engineers that participate in this great effort? Well, this is my blog and I really do not want to talk  about  them. I am selfish like that. Seriously they are great people and I will blog later about them. ( I find writing about this trip a battle because I feel I just want to start a new subject and just keep writing. I am trying to avoid that for your sake.) I would just like to tell you the scientists are all pretty intelligent, and in that case they will probably read this blog.

Personal Log

Here I am in my survival suit, often referred to as a Gumby suit, in case we ever have to abandon ship.

Here I am in my Gumby Suit

Here I am in my "Gumby" suit

Walter Charuba: Introductory Blog, July 17, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Walter Charuba
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 18 — 29, 2011

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 17, 2011

Personal Log

Hello, my name is Walter Charuba, Mr. Charuba to my students.  I am introducing my first blog. I am a sixth grade science teacher at Brownell Middle School in Grosse Pointe. The reason I am wriiting this blog is that I am out on the Atlantic, off the coast of Georgia and Florida, on the scientific reasearch vessel, Savannah. I was granted this opportunity with the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. I just embarked on this voyage this morning. (This is one time I used the word “voyage” and really meant it.)

The purpose of this excursion is to collect samples of reef fish off the coast of Florida.  I plan to get into greater details when I experience more of my surroundings. It is kind of like science class–it is best to learn by doing. Another reason I am keeping this short is the ship is rocking a bit and I think I will be better to handle the motion tomorrw.  Please keep reading in the future because I am truly excited to give details about this wonderful opportunity. If the email connection can handle it, I will also send some images.

Sincerely,

Mr. Charuba