Jennifer Petro: Oh the Places We Will Go… July 4, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Petro
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 1 — 14, 2013 

Mission: Marine Protected Area Surveys
Geographic area of cruise: Southern Atlantic
Date: July, 4, 2013

Weather Data
Air temperature: 27.5°C (81.5°F)
Barometer: 1021.30 mb
Humidity: 83%
Wind direction: 141°
Wind speed: 17 knots
Water temp: 26.3° C (79.3°F)
Latitude: 32.38537 N
Longitude: 79.044 W

Science and Technology Log

Happy Independence Day!  In this log we find ourselves off the coast of South Carolina.  We have traveled quite a few miles since we left Mayport and have conducted 10 dives so far.  Several of these sites are return trips and data has been collected since 2004.  During this cruise we will also survey several proposed sites which will be voted on inclusion to the MPA program at a later date.  There is quite a lot of science going on here on the Pisces!  In this post I am going to focus on the benthic invertebrate study and I will highlight the other science in following posts.

I have had the pleasure to work along side John Reed and Stephanie Farrington from Harbor Branch Oceanograhic Institute at Florida Atlantic University in Fort Pierce, Florida.  During this cruise they are focusing on gathering data on benthic marine invertebrates.  They are particularly interested in deep water coral species.

“Our coral reefs are a barometer of the Earth’s health, and nowhere else on earth is biodiversity greater than in our coral reefs and rain forests. Coral reefs provide food, tourism revenue, coastal protection, and the potential for new medicines for increasingly resistant diseases. Both our shallow and deep water coral reefs face a time of crisis, not only in the Caribbean, Florida, and the Bahamas, but worldwide. Threats to shallow and deep coral reefs are many, including pollution, elevated temperatures resulting in coral bleaching and mortality, coral disease, and destructive fishing practices.”  HBOI

There are two words that you are going to see a lot during these blog posts:  (1) Communication and (2) Technology.  Fortunately due to the advancement in technology the only thing getting wet during the dives is the ROV.  When the ROV descends, we are transported to a world that few folks get to see.  The average depth of our dives has been 60 m (196 ft) so SCUBA diving would be difficult.  Additionally, in the Florida MPA and Proposed MPA sites, the current was very fast and without the ROV the survey would be almost impossible to conduct.  So we are surrounded by technology…computers, monitors, and programmed key pads.  While the ROV driver maneuvers the vehicle through the water (all the while communicating with the bridge and deck) we are all glued to one of several monitors identifying species.  It is very quick paced and often it feels like you are on a roller coaster ride.  After several dives I was able to better focus on what I was looking for and have become pretty good at my invertebrate identification.

Stephanie Farrington and I recording benthic marine invertebrates species inside the proposed Fernadina MPA.

Stephanie Farrington and I recording benthic marine invertebrates species inside the proposed Fernandina MPA.

The purpose of this research is to characterize the species diversity of the hard bottom both inside and outside the proposed Marine Protected Areas and to compare the health of the hard bottom communities as it relates to the number of fish species present.  Of particular interest are hard coral species, such as Oculina, soft coral gorgonians and sponges.  During there trips is when the data is collected and then it is quantified back at the lab.  These are wonderful people and they are great teachers as well!

John Reed, Stephanie Farrington and I in the dry lab aboard the NOAA vessel "Pisces".

John Reed, Stephanie Farrington and I in the dry lab aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces.

Bushy Black Coral seen in the St Augustine MPA

Bushy Black Coral seen in the St Augustine MPA

Vase sponge and black coral (the cork screw) seen in the St. Augustine MPA

Vase sponge and black coral (the cork screw) seen in the St. Augustine MPA

Deep water "Occulina" coral as seen in the proposed Fernandina MPA.

Deep water “Oculina” coral as seen in the proposed Fernandina MPA.

Personal Log

Well so far so good.  We have been at sea for 5 days and we have a pretty steady routine going.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner so I quite literally am at the mercy of my stomach.  The food is wonderful!  Eggs cooked to order, grilled cheese, salmon, scallops, steak and dessert twice a day.  I have been told that the food would be good and I have yet to be disappointed.  We are in the lab from about 08:00 to 17:00.  Afterwards I have been so tired I have climbed into my bunk and have read.  The ship has a very comfortable lounge where you can read, watch a movie or use the computer.  I managed to get through an entire movie last night!  I have been doing okay seasickness wise.  Last night was pretty rough but I managed okay.  I ventured up to the bridge yesterday and I am hoping that the calmer seas will allow me to spend some time with the captain today.

Fair weather and calm seas.


Did You Know?

A coral is a type of animal called a polyp.

Carmen Andrews: News from Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean off the Coast of Georgia, July 9, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – July 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coasts of Georgia and Florida
Date: July 9, 2012

Location Data:
Latitude: 30 ° 54.55’   N
Longitude: 80 ° 37.36’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 28.5°C (approx. 84°F)
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wind Direction: from SW
Surface Water Temperature: 28.16 °C (approx. 83°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log

Purpose of the research cruise and background information

The Research Vessel, or R/V Savannah is currently sampling several species of fish that live in the bottom or benthic habitats off the coasts of Georgia and Florida.

Reef fish study area

The coastal zone of Georgia and Florida and the Atlantic Ocean area where the R/V Savannah is currently surveying reef fish

These important reef habitats are a series of rocky areas that are referred to as hard bottom or “live” bottom areas by marine scientists. The reef area includes ledges or cliff-like formations that occur near the continental shelf of the southeast coast. They are called ‘reefs’ because of their topography – not because they are formed by large coral colonies, as in warmer waters. These zones can be envisioned as strings of rocky undersea islands that lie between softer areas of silt and sand. They are highly productive areas that are rich in marine organism diversity. Several species of snapper, grouper, sea bass, porgy, as well as moray eels, and other fish inhabit this hard benthic habitat.

Reef fish

Hard bottom of reef habitat, showing benthic fish — black sea bass is on left and gray trigger fish is on right side of image.

It is also home to many invertebrate species of coral, bryozoans, echinoderms, arthropods and mollusks.

Bottom organisms pulled up with fish traps

Bottom-dwelling organisms, pulled up with fish traps deployed in the reef zone.

The rock material, or substrate of the sea bottom, is thought to be limestone — similar to that found in most of Florida. There are places where ancient rivers once flowed to a more distant ocean shoreline than now. Scientists think that these are remnants of old coastlines that are now submerged beneath the Atlantic Ocean. Researchers still have much to discover about this little known ocean region that lies so close to where so many people live and work.

The biological research of this voyage focuses primarily on two kinds of popular fish – snappers and groupers. These are generic terms for a number of species that are sought by commercial and sports fishing interests. The two varieties of fish are so popular with consumers who purchase them in supermarkets, fish markets and restaurants, that their populations may be in decline.

Red snapper close up

Red snapper in its reef habitat

At this time, all red snapper fishing is banned in the southeast Atlantic fishery because the fish populations, also known as stocks, are so low.

How the fish are collected for study

The fish are caught in wire chevron traps. Six baited traps are dropped, one by one from the stern of the R/V Savannah. The traps are laid in water depths ranging from 40 to 250 feet in designated reef areas. Each trap is equipped with a high definition underwater video camera to monitor and record the comings and goings of fish around and within the traps, as well as a second camera that records the adjacent habitat.

Chevron fish trap

Fish swimming in and out of a chevron fish trap

I will provide the details of the fish trapping and data capture methods in a future blog.

Who is doing the research?

When not at sea, the R/V Savannah is docked at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SKIO)on Skidaway Island, south of Savannah, Georgia. The institute is part of the University of Georgia. The SKIO complex is also the headquarters of the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The facility there has a small aquarium and the regional NOAA office.

The fisheries research being done on this cruise is a cooperative effort between federal and state agencies. The reef fish survey is one of several that are done annually as part of SEFIS, the Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey. The people who work to conduct this survey are located in Beaufort, North Carolina. SEFIS is part of NOAA.

The other members of the research team are from MARMAP, the Marine Research Monitoring Assessment and Prediction agency, which is part of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources . This team is from Charleston, South Carolina.

Carmen, suited up to retrieve fish from traps

Mrs. Andrews, on deck near the stern of the R/V Savannah, getting ready to unload fish traps

NOAA also allows “civilians” like me — one of the Teachers at Sea– as well as university undergraduate and graduate students to actively participate in this research.