Kathleen Gibson, Conservation: Progress and Sacrifice, August 6, 2015

 NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Gibson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 – August 8, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographic Area of the Cruise: Atlantic Ocean off the Florida and Carolina Coast
Date: Evening, Aug 6,2015

Coordinates:
LAT   3035.997   N
LONG   8105.5449 W 

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind speed (knots): 6.8
Sea Temp (deg C): 28.3
Air Temp (deg C):  28.9

I’ve now had the chance to see at least 9 different shark species, ranging from 1 kg to over 250 kg and I’ve placed tags on 4 of the larger sharks that we have caught.  These numbered tags are inserted below the shark’s skin, in the region of the dorsal fin.  A small piece from one of the smaller fins is also clipped off for DNA studies and we make sure to  record the tag number. If a shark happens to be recaptured in the future, the information gathered will be valuable for population and migration studies. The video below shows the process.

Tagging a Nurse Shark Photo: Ken Wilkinson

Tagging a nurse shark.
Photo: Ken Wilkinson

 

After checking that the tag is secure, I gave the shark a pat.  I agree with Tim Martin’s description that it’s skin feels like a roughed-up basketball.

 

We’ve had a busy couple of days.   The ship is further south now, just off the coast of Florida, and today we worked three stations. The high daytime temperatures and humidity make it pretty sticky on deck but there are others on board working in tougher conditions.

Many thanks to Jack Standfast for the engine room tour.

Many thanks to Jack Standfast for the engine room tour.

Yesterday, during a brief period of downtime, I took the opportunity to go down to the engine room. Temperatures routinely exceed 103 o F, and noise levels require hearing protection.  My inner Industrial Hygienist (my former occupation) kicked in and I found it fascinating; there is a lot going on is a small space.  My environmental science students won’t be surprised at my excitement learning

Here it is... The RO unit!

Here it is… The RO unit!

about the desalination unit (reverse osmosis) for fresh water generation and energy conversions propelling the vessel.

I know, I know… but it was really interesting.

 

Science and Technology – Conservation

Sustainability,  no matter what your  discipline is, refers to the wise use of resources with an eye toward the future. In environmental science we specifically talk about actively protecting the natural world through conservation of both species and habitat.   Each year when I prepare my syllabus for my AP Environmental Science course, I include the secondary title “Working Toward Sustainability”.  I see this as a positive phrase that establishes the potential for renewal while noting the effort required to effect change.

Sustainability is the major focus of NOAA Fisheries (National Marine Fisheries Service) as it is “responsible for the stewardship of the nation’s ocean resources and their habitat.”  I’m sure that most readers have some familiarity with the term endangered species or even the Endangered Species Act, but the idea that  protection extends to habitats and essential resources may be new.

Getting the hook out of the big ones is equally challenging.

Getting the hook out of the big ones is equally challenging.

Regulation of  U.S. Fisheries

Marine fisheries in the United States are primarily governed by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, initially passed in 1976. Significant reductions in key fish populations were observed at that time and the necessity for improved regulatory oversight was recognized.  This act relied heavily on scientific research and was intended to prevent overfishing, rebuild stocks, and increase the long-term biological and economic viability of marine fisheries. It was this regulation that extended U.S. waters out to 200 nautical miles from shore.  Previously, foreign fleets could fish as close as 12 nautical miles from U.S

Two sandbar sharks on the line.

Two spinner sharks on the line.

shores.

Under this fisheries act, Regional Fishery Management Councils develop Fishery Management Plans (FMP) for most species (those found in nearby regional waters) which outline sustainable and responsible practices such as harvest limits, seasonal parameters, size, and maturity parameters for different species. Regional councils rely heavily on research when drafting the FMP, so the work done by NOAA Fisheries scientists and other researchers around the country is critical to the process.  Drafting a Fishery Management Plan for highly migratory fish that do not remain in U.S. waters is challenging and enforcement even more so.  Recall from a previous blog that great hammerheads are an example of a highly migratory shark.

Threats to Shark Populations and Conservation Efforts

Shark populations around the globe suffered significantly between 1975 and 2000, and for many species (not all sharks and less in the USA) the decline continues. This decline is linked to a number of factors.  Improved technology and the development of factory fishing allows for increased harvest of target species and a subsequent increase in by-catch (capture of non-target fish). Efficient vessels and refined fishing techniques reduced fish stocks at all levels of the food web, predator and prey alike.

More significantly, the fin fishing industry specifically targets sharks and typical finning operations remove shark fins and throw the rest of the shark overboard.  These sharks are often still living and death results from predation or suffocation as they sink.  Shark fins are a desirable food product in Asian dishes such as shark fin soup, and are an ingredient in traditional medicines.  They bring a high price on the international market and sharks with big fins are particularly valuable.

A scalloped hammerhead in the cradle. This was the fist shark I tagged.

A scalloped hammerhead in the cradle. This was the fist shark I tagged.

Sandbar (Carcharhinus plumbeus) and great hammerheads (Sphyrna mokarran) and scalloped hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini) that we have seen have very large dorsal and pectoral fins, which are particularly desirable to fin fisherman.  There are many groups, international and domestic, working to reduce fin fishing, but the high price paid for fins makes enforcement difficult. The Shark Finning Prohibition Act implemented in 2000, in combination with the Shark Protection Act of 2010 sought to reduce this practice.  These acts amended Magnusen-Stevens (1976) to require that all sharks caught in U.S. waters have their fins intact when they reach the shore.  U.S. flagged vessels in international waters must also adhere to this ban, therefore no fins should be present on board that are not still naturally attached. The meat of many sharks is not desirable due to high ammonia levels, so the ban on fin removal has dramatically reduced the commercial shark fishing industry in the United States. (Read about some good news below in my interview with Trey Driggers )

The video below featuring the Northwest Atlantic Shark cooperative summarizes these threats to shark populations.

It must also be mentioned that in the 25 years after the release of the book and film “Jaws”, fear and misunderstanding fueled an increase in shark hunting for sport. The idea that sharks were focused human predators with vendettas led many to fear the ocean and ALL sharks. In his essay “Misunderstood Monsters,” author Peter Benchley laments the  limited research available about sharks 40 years ago,  even stating that he would not have been able to write the same book with what we now know.  He spoke publicly about the need for additional research and educational initiatives to spread knowledge about ocean ecology.

Close up of our first cradled sandbar shark.

Close up of our first cradled sandbar shark. This is one of my favorite pictures.

The United States is at the forefront of shark research, conservation and education and in the intervening years, with the help of NOAA Fisheries and many other scientists, we have learned much about shark ecology and marine ecosystems. It’s certain that marine food webs are complex, but that complexity is not always fully represented in general science textbooks. For example, texts often state that sharks are apex predators (top of the food chain).  This applies to many

This one is pretty big for an Atlantic sharpnose. Photo Credit: Kristin Hannan

This one is pretty big for an Atlantic sharpnose.
Photo Credit: Kristin Hannan

species including great white and tiger sharks, but it doesn’t represent all species.  In truth, many shark species are actually mesopredators (mid level), and are a food source for larger organisms.  Therefore conservation efforts need to extend through all levels of the food web.

The Atlantic sharpnose  (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) and Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) are examples of mesopredators.  It was not uncommon for us to find the remains of and small Atlantic sharpnose on the hook with a large shark that it had attracted.

Sandbar shark with Atlantic sharpnose also on the line.

Sandbar shark with Atlantic sharpnose also on the line.

 

William  (Trey) Driggers – Field Research Scientist – Shark Unit Leader ( is there a III?)

Its a beautiful day on the aft deck. William" Trey" Driggers is the Lead Scientist of the Shark Unit. Photo: Ian Davenport

Its a beautiful day on the aft deck. William” Trey” Driggers is the Lead Scientist of the Shark Unit.
Photo: Ian Davenport

Trey is a graduate of Clemson University and earned his Ph.D at the University of South Carolina.  He’s been with NOAA for over 10 years and is the Lead Scientist of the Shark Unit, headquartered in Pascagoula, MS. His responsibilities include establishing and modifying experimental protocols and general oversight of the annual Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey. Trey has authored numerous scientific articles related to his work with sharks and is considered an expert in his field.  He is a field biologist by training and makes it a point to participate in at least one leg of the this survey each year.

Sandbar shark ( Carcharhinus plumbeus)

Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus)

I asked Trey if analysis of the data from the annual surveys has revealed any significant trends among individual shark populations. He immediately cited the increased number of sandbar sharks and tied that to the closure of the fin fisheries. Approximately 20 years ago, the Sandbar shark population off of the Carolina and Florida coasts was declining. Trey spoke with an experienced fisherman who recalled times past when Sandbar sharks were abundant. At the time Trey was somewhat skeptical of the accuracy of the recollection — there was no data to support the claim.  Today the population of Sandbar sharks is robust by comparison to 1995 levels, and the fin removal legislation is likely a major factor.  Having the numbers to support this statement illustrates the value of a longitudinal study.

Trey notes that it’s important for the public to know of the positive trends like increases in Sandbar shark populations and to acknowledge that this increase has come at a cost.  The reduction and/or closure of fisheries have had radiating effects on individuals, families and communities.  Fishing is often a family legacy, passed down through the generations, and in most fishing communities there is not an easy replacement. In reporting rebounding populations we acknowledge the sacrifices made by these individuals and communities.

Personal Log- Last posting from sea. 

Thirty minutes before leaving Pascagoula we were informed that the V-Sat was not working and that we would likely have no internet for the duration of the cruise.

Pascagoula at night.

Pascagoula at night.

We had a few minutes to send word to our families and in my case, TAS followers. I think most of us were confident a fix would happen at some point, but we’re still here in the cone of silence. It’s been challenging for all on board and makes us all aware of how dependent we are on technology  for communication and support.  I’ve gotten a few texts, which has been a pleasant surprise. One tantalizing text on the first day said “off  to the hospital  (to give birth)”, and then no follow-up text for weeks.  That was quite a wait!  I can imagine how it was aboard ship in times past when such news was delayed by months—or longer.  I was looking forward to sharing photos along the way, so be prepared for lot of images all at once when we get to shore!  As for my students, while it would have been nice to share with you in real time, there is plenty to learn and plenty of time when we finally meet.

Captain Dave Nelson

Captain Dave Nelson

I’d like to thank Dave Nelson, the Captain of the Oregon II, who greeted me each day saying  “How’s it going Teach?” and for always making me feel welcome. Thank you also to all of those working in the Teacher at Sea Program office for making this experience possible.  Being a part of the Shark Longline Survey makes me feel like I won the TAS lottery.  I’m sure every TAS feels the same way about their experience.

Special thanks to Kristin Hannan, Field Party Chief Extraordinaire, for answering my endless questions (I really am a lifelong learner…), encouraging me to take on new challenges, and for her boundless energy which was infectious. Sharks are SOOO cool.

Here’s a final shout out to the day shift–12 pm-12 am–including the scientists, the Corps, deck crew and engineers for making a great experience for me.  Ian and Jim – It was great sitting out back talking. I learned so much from the two of you and I admire your work.

Ian Davenport, Jim Nienow and me relaxing on the aft deck between stations. Photo: Trey Driggers

Ian Davenport, Jim Nienow, and me relaxing on the aft deck between stations. Photo: Trey Driggers

And, to all on board the Oregon II, I admire your commitment to this important work and am humbled by the personal sacrifices you make to get it done.

Day shift operating like clockwork Photo Credit: Ian Davenport

Day shift operating like clockwork.
Photo Credit: Ian Davenport

Awesome day shift ops. Photo Credit: Ian Davenport

Awesome day shift ops. Getting it done!
Photo Credit: Ian Davenport

This has been one of the hardest and most worthwhile experiences I’ve ever had. It was exhilarating and exhausting, usually at the same time.  I often encourage my students to take on challenges and to look for unique opportunities, especially as they prepare for college.  In applying to the TAS program I took my own advice and, with the support of my family and friends, took a risk.  I couldn’t have done it without you all.  This experience has given me a heightened respect for the leaps my students have made over the years and a renewed commitment to encouraging them to do so.  Who knows, they may end up tagging sharks someday. Safe Sailing Everyone.

Sunset over over the Atlantic Ocean. August 5, 2015

Sunset over over the Atlantic Ocean. August 5, 2015

“Teach”

Learn more about what’s going on with Great White sharks by listening to the following NOAA podcast:
Hooked On Sharks

A few more photos…

The ones that got away...

The ones that got away…  It took something mighty big to bend the outer hooks.

 It took teamwork to get a hold of this silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis).

silkyondecksilky measuresilky hold

 

Sue Zupko: 17 Life on the Pisces

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Extreme Corals 2011; Study deep water coral and its habitat off the east coast of FL
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States from off Jacksonville, FL to Biscayne Bay, FL
Date: June 24, 2011

If you are just beginning this blog, you might wish to go back to post #1 and start reading there.

Before reading this post further, take the quiz.

Life at Sea

Red sunset within clouds over the ocean

Dusk on a limitless ocean

Life at sea is things in miniature—except the view.  The ocean seems to stretch on forever.  It’s easy to see why people in ancient times thought you would fall off the edge if you got too close.  Explorers ventured out to prove them wrong.  Mathematicians and astronomers also studied it to try to discover the truth.   We’ve come a long way in our understanding of the universe since then, but there is so much more to explore and learn.  The ocean is just one of those unexplored and undiscovered places.

Men exiting a gate with suitcases

ROV Guys departing

After the scientists disembarked in Ft. Lauderdale, I stayed aboard the Pisces to learn about the workings of the ship while it steamed back to its home port of Pascagoula, MS.  After all, how often does one get an opportunity like this?  I had a tour of engineering, discussions on the bridge, conversations with the crew in the mess,  and a lesson on bandwidth.  This post is an attempt to describe some everyday things you need to know about going to sea with NOAA.

Safety

Shortly after we boarded, we had a briefing in the conference room.  This was mostly to cover safety issues and things to help us understand procedures.  Of course, meal time hours were shared.  I made a mental note of those hours since I knew I wouldn’t want to miss any meals. The stewards’ reputation for good meals preceded them.

ENS Michael Doig began our briefing by drawing the following on the white board.

______________________________

_______      _________      _________

_____     _____     _____     _____     _____     _____     _____     __________________________________

Black submarine next to an orange tug in the center of the harbor

Nuclear Sub

I thought this was a clever way to introduce what he would later discuss—our alarm bell and whistle patterns.  Mike, a former high school teacher, brought this method of capturing the class’s attention to his work on the Pisces.  One of the first things we practiced after the briefing was the “fire” drill.  Mike explained that one long bell and whistle meant either fire, collision (I figured we would feel that as well), or security alert.  If we heard this, we were to bring our PFD (Personal Floatation Device—life preserver), located under our bunks, to the conference room, which was the mustering (gathering) station for the scientists.  Our chief scientist, Andy David, would take a head count and call 101 on the phone to report to the bridge our headcount.  Mike explained that fire is one of the big concerns on a ship.  It really needs to be taken seriously.  You can’t run out to the mailbox to gather as many families do for their emergency spot where everyone knows to go.  So, they gather the scientists together since we are more like guests and wouldn’t know the correct procedures to fight a fire.  Of course, for the first drill the alarm said the fire was near the conference room so we had to muster on the fantail (back-end of the ship).  It was interesting to watch the crew quickly go to their duty stations in full gear to fight the fire.

ENS Doig clasps face in alarm in front of fire alarm box

Oh, no! Ensign Doig poses in fake alarm.

During the course of our trip, I did hear alarms sound on the bridge from different locations.  Often it was something someone needed to check on.  None turned out to be real emergencies, but were alerts to the crew to check on something.  Thank goodness.  These were always attended to immediately—not just when the bridge crew finished what they were working on.  ENS Doig happened to be on duty when one of these alarms went off and I was on the bridge.  Knowing I was going to take a picture, he made a face full of alarm.  It’s good to have a sense of humor, especially since they had checked out the possibility of a fire and determined the cause for the alarm wasn’t a fire.

Sue posing in bulky orange body suit

Gumby survival suit

After we finished our fire drill (by the way, when the alarm sounds they always announce whether it is a drill or not), we were told we’d be practicing our abandon ship drill.  For this you must bring a hat, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, PFD, and your “Gumby suit” (survival suit) to your muster station.  The Gumby suit probably has some long special name, but no one calls it that.  It is located in one’s stateroom in an orange bag next to the door.  It has handles and even pictures and directions explaining how to put it on.  Those who hadn’t donned a suit recently, crew and scientists, had to put it on.  Never having been at sea, I, of course, had to put it on.  What a pain!  One hopes never to have to abandon ship, but it would be difficult to put that on in the water.  I am pretty sure I’d have it on within the required minute if we were doing the act of last resort and abandoning ship.  Easier putting it on aboard the ship than in the water.   The signal to abandon ship is  6 or more short bells and/or whistles followed by one long one.

The answer to the quiz is three short bells or whistles is the signal for man overboard.  Our mustering station was the conference room for this activity so a head count could be taken.

Sue in yellow helmet and orange PFD taking photograph with long lens

Get that shot!

When working with a crane or winch and lifting something over the side of the boat, you must wear a hard hat and PFD —even if you’re just watching.  My first experience with this was when I stepped out by the door to take a picture of the ROV being launched.  The fisherman standing nearby told me I had to get properly dressed.   They were just getting ready to launch and I needed to be ready.  Oops!  I went right in and put on my hard hat and PFD.  Stephanie Rogers captured that moment after I was properly attired.  I later learned that when entering or leaving a port, you had to wear a hard hat on the bow.   Lots of safety rules.

Stainless steel counters in long lab

Sliding doors at the far end of the wet lab close automatically.

If  there is a fire alarm, some doors automatically close and you must know about it so you won’t stand in the way if they start to close.  I think the door would win in a battle for possession of that space.  We have similar doors at the school which slam shut during fires.  Watch out!  In other words, on a ship, just as in school, safety is always on everyone’s mind.

Captain leaning over filing cabinet referring to book

Captain refers to book

On the bridge, someone is always assigned to watch.  The captain pulled out his book, COMDTINST M16672.2D: Navigation Rules (COLREGS), to show me the regulation which he had just quoted.  I’m telling you, there is a book for everything on the bridge and they use them.  Reading makes life so much easier.  The Inland Steering section, Rule 5, says the ship “must maintain proper look-out by sight and hearing”.  The watch officer cannot risk a collision.  There are two radar screens displayed prominently on the helm station.  What do you need to watch for?  Won’t the radar pick up the boats?  Well, no.  Large boats usually have a “black box” like airplanes, which have a transponder telling the ship’s name and what type of craft it is.

Small boat crossing in front of the Pisces' bow

Game of chicken

Small boats often don’t have this equipment and are a big threat.  I found that out the day after we left port.  Boaters don’t seem to realize that there might be someone besides them on the water.  Even in deep water small fishing boats would cut in front of us.   It often seemed like a game of “Chicken”.  Victor, an able-bodied seaman (special certification for those with extra training and skill) pointed out that whenever the winds pick up to 15 or 20 knots there are more than a few incidents of boaters getting in trouble and the Coast Guard alerts all ships to be aware and possibly assist in rescue.  Besides possibly tipping over, small boats cannot be seen in high swells until a large ship is almost upon them.  Many don’t have transponders or radios to contact anyone to communicate problems or questions.  Also, they often drink alcohol and drive.  Dumb!  I asked Victor what the Pisces would do if a small boat got too close.  Run ‘em down was not the answer.  Trying to radio them, calling to them with a loudspeaker, or blowing the horn usually gets their attention, he told me.

Grey sneakers with red short socks

Scott always had interesting socks.

You must wear shoes enclosed on the toes and heels.  It’s readily apparent why.  The stairs can be treacherous when you are flopping around.  In waves you could slide and hurt yourself, walk out of the shoes and twist an ankle, or slip on a wet deck.  I found out several reasons for the deck being wet: rain (no kidding), humidity (it’s amazing how quickly water vapor condenses on the deck and makes a pond that sloshes around), swabbing (cleaning), and potable water runoff.

Two pipes, one with blue valve the other with black valve on top

Fresh Water Overflow

The ship makes its own fresh water.  If there is too much in the potable (drinking) storage tank, the excess water will exit out a runoff valve onto the deck.  I discovered this one morning toward the beginning of the trip.  The engineer who explained it to me said that the people on the ship were conserving their water, most likely, and the excess from the tank drained off onto the deck.  I heard the captain make the same comment a week later about how the people on this research expedition were doing a good job conserving.  That made me feel really good.  Those short showers paid off.  Fun fact: it takes one gallon of diesel fuel to produce one gallon of fresh water on the ship.

Stuffed pelican sitting on rail in hall

Petey Pelican on handrail

“One hand for yourself, and one for the ship” is how you walk on a ship safely.  There are railings everywhere for you to hang on to.  It’s a challenge in choppy seas to carry something, such as a laptop, and successfully maneuver down the hall while holding on as well.  When the seas were about seven feet high I found it more than a little challenging to stand let alone walk.

Ship Tour

Looking down stairwell with white railings and black steps

Steep Stairs

Let me explain how a ship is laid out.  When I say there are a lot of stairs, I’m not kidding.  Before I knew anything about the ship, we took a tour of most of the places we’d be “living” and a few extras.  Of course it was all fascinating.  We started in the conference room on the deck right across from my stateroom.  That deck inside includes staterooms, the lounge and conference room, the dive locker (the ship has three divers who can inspect the propeller, rudder and underwater parts of the hull if there is a problem), and business office.  Outside is the rescue boat, a couple of winches, and the bow.

Two green oxygen tanks strapped to wall

Oxygen tanks at top of stairs on O-2 deck

We climbed some stairs and as we got there the guide told us that this was the O 2 deck.  At first I thought he was kidding since right in front of me were two oxygen tanks.  I asked for clarification and he said this is the deck with the staterooms of the NOAA officers, bosun, chief engineer, and chief scientist.  Hmmm…still didn’t make any sense to me.  What does that have to do with oxygen?  I kept my thoughts to myself.  Later I found a map of the ship.  I slept on the O-1 deck, the officers were on the O-2 deck, and the bridge was on the O-3 deck.  Hello!  It was the level name of the deck and had nothing to do with oxygen.  It was just a coincidence.  Too funny.

Climbing above the bridge was the “flying bridge” (I wonder if that’s because the flags are there).  It houses the radio towers and says, “Danger–Radiation Warning.”  We were told to let the bridge know when we were going up there.  It’s a great place to try to catch a cell phone signal or watch a sunrise.

Sue with feet up on base of wheeled watertight door

Had to throw my weight into this door leading to the exercise room.

Doors

On the Pisces, and I would assume on other ships, there are doors everywhere.  I was surprised at how much strength I needed to operate them.  When entering the lab from where the ROV was being piloted, which was the center of all the dive activity, I found that I had to “put my hip into it” to push it open.  As a matter of fact, I noticed I have a few door-pushing bruises.

There are doors for everything.  The fire and watertight doors are to keep you safe from fire and flood.  The refrigerator and freezer doors protect food from bacteria and keep them preserved until it’s time to eat.  There are doors to the bathroom (yeah), doors for lockers, doors for closets, doors for equipment, medicine cabinet doors, stateroom doors, doors, doors, doors.  Almost all doors have a latch at the ceiling behind them so they can be held open.  A swinging door is a real safety issue.  You either close it right after you use it or go through it, or you latch it open.  I found it a pain to have to keep closing my locker door.  It would swing with the waves and I didn’t want to have it wake anyone up.  The noise bugged me as well.  As you can see, I had a bit of trouble with the door leading to the exercise room down below the main deck.  The engineers could close it with one hand.  I was there for two weeks and, try as I might, it never got any easier.

Sue pushing into a door with a wheel

Wheeled water tight door with wind behind it

Close all watertight doors and fire doors, all the time.  Fire or flooding can lead to a rapid death.  The engineers and NOAA Corps constantly monitor for this.  Although it is a safety thing, opening and shutting doors was one of my biggest challenges on ship.  Good thing I have been working out with weights.  Opening those doors was often a very difficult—especially if there were a door or window open to the outside at the other end of the room.  I brought home several bruises on my hip for throwing my body into the door to get it open.  I once remarked that if someone ever opened the door to the ROV lab when I was pushing my way in from the other side, I’d go flying into the room.  Not cool since there is a counter right inside the door.  Think law of inertia.  Push hard against something (heavy door), it moves out of the way (someone opens it), you’re no longer stopped and off you fly (until you run into something).  Newton’s law of inertia….

Open door to a storage locker with ropes neatly coiled

Storage Locker

Exercise

Taking a walk on the ship for aerobic exercise isn’t easy.  The whole ship is only 209 feet long.  Well, you have to go through doors just about everywhere.  The only place I could have done this for any real length was to start near the wet lab, travel around to the right, over the fantail, up the stairs, up to the bow (front of ship), climb stairs to the bridge and turn around.  Can’t go farther since there are doors to enter the bridge.  When I needed to go just about anywhere inside the ship there were a minimum of two doors to open.  To get from my stateroom to the exercise room I had to go through three watertight or fire doors—and three to return.  When tired I’d pray for the door to open and someone to step through.

At night, make sure someone knows you are on deck.  ENS Doig told us to dial 101 and tell the bridge you’ll be outside in the dark.  Even better, take a buddy.  I also found it was good to carry a flashlight.  If you turn the flashlight off when on deck when you get where you are going, your eyes adjust and it seems almost as bright as day.  For this, you must extinguish (turn off) the flashlight.

Four white haired mops with buildings in the background

The Moppets

Politeness Counts

Living on a ship means if you want to make/keep friends, you are nice.  People are very close.  You can’t even walk two abreast down the hall.  If you enter a hallway and someone is half way down, wait for the other person to exit before entering yourself.  Same goes for the stairs.  If someone is coming down, or going up, don’t start until they pass you.  Not only is it polite, it’s just good common sense.

Jana on floor next to Sue in chair in stateroom

Buddies Jana and Sue

I was fortunate to have the Queen of Politeness, Jana Thoma, as a roommate.  She was always thinking of others and expressed thanks for everything they did–often several times.   I have thought of myself as pretty polite, but I don’t think I can even compare to Jana.  What a great example for me to follow.  She was always a patient teacher as she tried to help me learn about cnidarians.  Perhaps one of my students will work in her lab someday.

Ice machine, coffe pot, microwave, refrigerator

Drink station with juices, water, ice, coffee, etc

If someone drinks the last cup from a pot of coffee, he/she should make a fresh pot for the next folks.  Although I am not a coffee drinker, from the way this was stressed by the officers and stewards, it must be very frustrating for someone coming for a warm drink to not have it readily available.  They don’t have real long breaks.  Remember, they have a lot of doors to slow them down.  I think if they found out you took the last cup and didn’t refill the pot, you might be doing the Man Overboard drill as the victim (just kidding).

Clean up after yourself.  Seems like common sense.  The stewards are not your mother–they are busy working in the kitchen and cleaning.  They shouldn’t have to come and bus (clean) the tables.  You should take your dishes to the window, put the silverware in the water to soak, and put dishes, cups, bowls, and glasses in the plastic tub.  There are two trash cans.  One is for paper and plastic and a slop bucket for leftover food.  At Tremont food you don’t eat on your plate is called food waste.  If you take only what you’ll eat, this bucket has very little in it.  They separate the food from the other trash so it won’t get smelly.  They cover it with a lid and empty it when folks are all done eating for the day.

Jana peeking out from curtains in top bunk Sue peeking out from bottom bunk

Curtains were great for privacy

The ship runs 24 hours a day so someone is probably sleeping at any time.  Loved the curtains around the beds.  I could get up and not disturb Jana and vice versa.  Don’t slam doors.  This is not always easy, especially in rough seas.  I know I mumbled a couple of times “sorry” when the door slipped from my hands.  Locker doors and bathroom doors in staterooms also flop around and make a racket if left open.  I got in the habit of keeping these closed so they wouldn’t make noise.  Our bathroom door had a neat feature.  It had an automatic stay open fixture on it.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work in rough seas so we had to prop open.  I know if we had told the engineers they would have fixed it, but we kept forgetting to mention it.

The Pisces has an entertainment room for when you or the crew is off duty.  There is a selection of DVDs and home theatre chairs to lounge in.  My stateroom was right across the hall from this lounge.  I never noticed anyone playing the TV too loudly.  Movies also would feed into the staterooms.  You could put the DVD on a certain channel and go watch while lying in bed.  If you put a movie in, the rule was to let it play to the end.  Someone might be watching it in their room.  I am not sure how many movies can be played at the same time, but it is several.  I put one in one time and didn’t get to watch since I had to go do some work.  I figure I can watch movies at home, but will probably only be in this situation once.

The walls are really thin between staterooms.  Conversations can be heard as can loud TV.  Jana and I found that it’s easy to have a not so quiet discussion, especially if telling jokes, and tried to whisper.  We did have a lot of fun and had to think of any neighbors who might be sleeping.  Laura had hours opposite us and was our neighbor.   One rule of politeness is to use headphones when listening to music so as not to disturb others.  I used to work the midnight shift and went to school in the morning.  Only had a few hours to sleep before going back to work.  My upstairs neighbor got a new sound system and literally rocked me awake .  I had to go upstairs and remind them that I slept during the day.  Headphones would have let me sleep in peace.  On a ship this seems to be doubly important because walls are so thin.  The one exception to the headphone and music rule is in engineering.  When I was exercising it was nice to have some good music playing.  This happened a couple of times and it made the walking on the treadmill more enjoyable.  I’m glad they were there in the next room working with the music on.

White basket with condiments neatly arranged with Jesse in background

Putting things where they belong makes it easy for those who eat next.

Use paper if not eating during scheduled times.  The stewards have to keep the dishes washed and if someone put dirty dishes in the bin, they would have to clean it.  I noticed the crew was polite and used disposables after hours.

Conservation

Remember to shut off the water when just lathering up in the shower.  This limits water use to about two minutes.  I learned to do this during the power outage we had for 5 days in north Alabama after the tornadoes on April 27.  My husband and I limited the length of our showers and had warm water for many days.  Jana and I both said we loved how the shower on the ship works—it makes short showers possible.  It has a knob in the middle to turn the water on and off.  The knob on the right adjusts the temperature.  When you turn the shower back on after lathering, the temp is the same as when it was shut off.  Very neat.

Reuse your cup.  One of the scientists said that she loves to bring her coffee cup which has a lid.  It’s her way of staying in touch with home when on a ship and she always has a drink nearby.  The best part is she is reusing her cup and limiting waste.  That’s very smart.

Besides limiting water use and reusing cups, the crew recycles their aluminum cans just as we do at our school.  The money is put in a special fund for things such as deaths, births, and celebrations.

Tips

Jana learned on another ship that if you leave the heat lamp on in the head (bathroom), the water from the shower dries on the floor quicker.  I would think it would also inhibit mold growth.

Sue in sweatshirt looking up from microscope.  Diego in the background.

It was cold in this lab.

I learned that temperatures vary on a ship.  The acoustics lab, filled with computers, is freezing.  I used to work in a computer center on the midnight shift.  I brought an afghan to wrap up in when sitting at my station and had to wear pants (women didn’t usually wear pants to work in this office back then).  However, it wasn’t as cold as the chemical lab where the scientists photographed specimens, cataloged their data, and examined specimens under the microscope.  Then, go outside and it would be 82° F (about 28° C).   Jason Moeller writes in his blog that it is a lot colder.  Check that out.  He dresses in many layers–with good reason.

One thing I’ll remember is how bright the stars are.  What is really cool about being on a ship at night is that there are no trees to get in the way when viewing the stars.  There is very little light pollution too.  If I ever get to go to sea again, I’d like an astronomer with me to point out all the constellations.  I have a lot of trouble seeing them since there are so many stars which crowd out the major stars in constellations.

Engineering

Chief engineer standing at large console watching gauges

Watching gauges in engineering.

I didn’t see the engineers very often unless they were fixing something nearby or eating.  They stayed below most of the time working on keeping the equipment purring or doing preventive maintenance.  Often they were making something using the lathe or other tools.  There is always something going on with them in their sauna-like work spaces. I did learn that they watched for a few bad things: squirting fluids, smoke, strange sounds, and changes in their gauges.

The engineers have to be able to fix just about anything.  When you’re out at sea on a mission, you don’t just stop and run down to the boat repair shop to get things fixed.  They bring the boat repair shop with them.  In engineering there are milling machines, lathes, welding equipment, and so much more.  I was impressed.  At one point I saw Joe Jacovino making a frame to hold a light they were going to be adding outside.  Another engineer, Steve Clement, was nominated for an award on the mission for making a part to repair a piece of scientific gear.

Drill press

Lots of useful machines to help keep the ship operational

I was very interested in engineering.  There was so much to learn there.  I took more videos than I did photographs there since it was difficult to take notes and juggle all the stuff I had.  My students can put together something with all the video I took.  It was more  as a reference to remind me of the facts that Chief Engineer, Brent Jones, was teaching me.

All in all, it was a fabulous experience.  I hope more teachers will apply to learn about the work that NOAA is doing and pass this on to their students.  I am looking forward to learning from the other Teachers at Sea.  We will have lots of stories and lessons to share.

I took zillions of pictures (well, it seems like it).  If you’d like to see some more, click here.

Chris Imhof, November 10, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Imhof
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 10, 2009

Science Log

Ida has impacted things somewhat – the wave height at the offshore buoy at Pisces’ departing port rose to 18 to 22 feet in an hour – eventually the port was closed. The latest is the Pisces will go to sea in the next day or so. This will probably delay the arrival of the ship here by a day.

While waiting this out I’ve taken some walks along the St. John River, which runs through downtown Jacksonville to the ocean. Essentially it is a large estuary that mixes freshwater and sea – creating an environment for all sorts of interesting creatures including the Florida Manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris).

These creatures fall under the Order Sirenia – which goes back to Greek mythology and the Sirens – beautiful women who would lure sailors and ships onto the rocks and reefs with their songs – apparently after a long voyage across the Atlantic sailors mistook these creatures as beautiful women or mermaids and the name stuck – Maybe this explains the success of the Sturbucks logo. Even early scientists who first began to study the manatee saw them as a close relative to of the walrus – makes sense – actually the closest relative to the manatee is the elephant! One really wonders to connection to Ariel?

I asked around where I might see one of these creature here? I walked to an area away from main part of town – along the river where I was told manatees sometimes come to feed – the waves were choppy and murky so I could’nt see much, but no surprise manatees do spend 6 to 8 hours a day eating up to 200 pounds of vegetation along the bottom of these areas – grinding up grasses and other vegetation using 24 to 32 flat surface molars in the back of their mouths. Grinding that much ruffage a day has its toll, not just on one’s lower intestine – manatees have adapted by growing new teeth constantly – over a lifetime can grow up to 60 new teeth. Manatees take care of their teeth as well – after eating they clean their teeth using stiff grassy plants like a tooth brush – they even roll small rocks in the mouths to loosen plant debris.

Unfortuneatly, there are less than 2000 Florida manatees left – they are often the victims motorboats, cold water stress and destruction of habitat. While I was looking, people I talked to were proud to talk about the efforts to protect the manatee along the St. John River –

So today I didn’t see a manatee, but maybe my problem was – I was looking for that mermaid on the side of my Starbucks cup. 🙂

Scott Donnelly, April 27, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Scott Donnelly
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II
April 20-27, 2008

Mission: Assembly of Science Team and Movement of Science Gear/Equipment
Geographical Area: Coos Bay to Astoria, Oregon
Date: April 27, 2008

CTD getting a much needed rest

CTD getting a much needed rest

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Sunrise: 0620 Sunset: 2010
Wind: 10-15 kts
Seas: 2-3 ft
Light rain showers, dense fog, in port.

Science and Technology Log 

Coordinates for today’s measurements (two sampling stations) are 43O30’N, 124O23’W and 125O40’W, six and twenty miles from the coast at depths of 100m (330ft) and 400m (1,315ft) respectively in addition to measurements (three sampling stations) for coordinates 43O40’N, 124O16’W to 125O25’W, three to ten miles from the coast at depths of 80m (265ft) to 120m (395ft). Bob and I have become efficient pros at deploying and retrieving the four biological sampling nets. It takes us no more than 35 minutes to complete all the biological sampling and that includes the ten minute tow required for the Manta net to sample the surface.

Personal Log 

Today is the last day of the cruise. My final 4-hour early morning shift of the cruise went well. The last sampling station for the cruise was completed at ~0930. I spent the morning downloading data, adding information to my NOAA TAS logs, packing my personal gear, cleaning my sleeping area, and enjoying the last few hours on the open ocean from atop the flying bridge philosophically pondering its future and perhaps humanity’s future. In the meantime the NOAA crew was busy making preparations for docking in Coos Bay. For the last leg of the cruise into Coos Bay the science team assembled on the McARTHUR II flying bridge to enjoy the Oregon coastal scenery, relax, and take photos. Lots and lots of photos! I overheard one science team member say that he took 1.7 gigabits of photos during the cruise! Another took over 200 photos in one day alone. Wow! Thank goodness for digital cameras or else that would have been quite expensive to process if film had been used.

Entering the channel to Coos Bay, OR

Entering the channel to Coos Bay, OR

The cruise’s end was bittersweet. For ten days I had been away from my wife and two young children. I missed them even though I emailed them everyday from the ship. I can’t wait to see them. At the same time though the cruise was so enjoyable in so many ways it’s hard to pinpoint one or two that stand out head and shoulders above the rest. It was hard work no doubt about it and at times I thought I’d never get a decent sleep. But the science team assembled by Chief Scientist Steve Rumrill was from the beginning and to the end a well-oiled machine that understood the mission’s objectives and dealt with problems that came to light in a timely and professional manner. I’m not aware of any issues that arose during the cruise between the science team members themselves or between the science team and NOAA crew. If they existed, then they must have been dealt with and worked out immediately. To me it’s a testament to the professionalism shown by all- science team and NOAA crew- on the cruise and the leadership of those chosen to lead.

The Lorax

The Lorax

Over time I’ll likely forget most of the names of those I met on this cruise. Time and age tend to do that as I’ve already experienced even in my relatively young age. But it’s less likely that I’ll forget the faces, the natural scenes observed, and the conversations had. How could I forget the graceful albatross gliding without effort and with such skill inches above the water without ever flapping its wings? Or the bioluminescence of krill? Or the first time while on the bridge the bow of the ship sunk low in the trough of a wave, the horizon and sky disappearing.

And what’s to become of the world’s oceans? What’s for sure is that for the next twenty years humanity will continue to exert more pressure on the world’s oceans to feed its relentless population growth, satisfy its rapacious appetite for resources, and serve as the transportation conduit to keep the world’s consumer economies afloat (no pun intended). Throughout human history the marine world has always delivered but there are signs that it may be in trouble, too tired to keep up with the maddening pace that the modern world has set, too exhausted to give freely as its finite resources are an ever alarming rate.  I’m reminded of two small, unassuming but prophetic (and hence controversial) children’s books written by Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein almost forty years ago, The Lorax and The Giving Tree respectively. I’ve read them to my two children numerous times. After this cruise they make even more sense.

The Giving Tree

The Giving Tree

Without complaint the oceans have given much to humanity. In many ways the oceans are liquid gold. The history of human achievement is defined in large measure by our historical relationship with the marine world. It’s teeming with an abundance of life struggling to survive in the oceans’ harsh salt water environment. The current plight of the marine world represents a defining challenge humans must confront when planning for the future of our troubled planet. The historical narrative of the oceans is written in its sediments, water, and the genetic database of the million of organisms that call the ocean home. The future narrative is being written right now. What is its fate?

In conclusion, this cruise has given me a rarefied, first-hand look at the ocean world in which I live. To be sure our planet is misnamed. Rather than Earth, instead it should be named Oceanus, for our world is a water world that gives so much pleasure and asks for so little in return. What is its fate?

OCEANUS….what is its fate?

OCEANUS….what is its fate?

Thomas Nassif, July 24, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Thomas Nassif
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 15 – 24, 2005

Mission: Invasive Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast U.S.
Date: July 24, 2005

The SCUBA invention has extended the reaches of human exploration from land to the deep-sea.

The SCUBA invention has extended the reaches of human exploration from land to the deep-sea.

Weather Data

Latitude: 34°10’N
Longitude: 76°39’W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 34°
Wind speed: 13 kts
Sea wave height: 2′
Swell wave height: 2-3′
Sea water temperature: 30°C (86°F)
Sea level pressure: 1016.5 mb
Cloud cover: 2/8, cumulus, cirrus

Science and Technology Log 

The last dive of the research cruise couldn’t have been more exhilarating. Unfazed by the gusty winds, choppy seas, and ripping ocean currents, the divers explored one last shipwreck on the ocean floor. The Naeco was a U.S. tanker that was destroyed by a Nazi U-boat during WWII. The torpedo shattered the Naeco’s bow and stern into two pieces, sinking them to the ocean bottom nearly 7 miles apart. The divers returned to the surface with stories about the stern (back) of the Naeco and thrilling reports of lionfish of every size and number.

The more I think about my experiences aboard the Invasive Lionfish Cruise, the more I begin to see two parallel themes here: the deep-sea diver and the lionfish. Human action led to the introduction of lionfish into a foreign habitat, but at the same time, one person invented the SCUBA, which introduced humans to the mysteries of the deep-sea.

Thomas Nassif interviews Casey Coy on the dive deck for his video documentary on lionfish and deep-sea divers.

Thomas Nassif interviews Casey Coy on the dive deck for his video documentary on lionfish and deep-sea divers.

Lionfish can only swim so far north of their tropical paradise in the southeastern Atlantic before the temperature becomes too cold, whereas humans can only dive so deep before the pressure of the sea becomes too great. Lionfish have scales for protection, fins for locomotion, gills for respiration, and swim bladders for buoyancy. SCUBA gear makes it possible for humans to be like fish, even if it adds 200 lbs to your body! They include a BCD (buoyancy compensator device) to control buoyancy, wet suits for protection and insulation, fins for underwater movement, and regulators attached to tanks for respiration. But lionfish are different from most fish because of their venomous spines that make  them the “ultimate survivors” in their new habitat. Similarly, SCUBA divers are equipped with high-tech gear that may not be familiar to most people, yet it helps humans to survive and explore the underwater environment.

“The bow of the ship left traces of beautiful pigments on the sky’s canvas, an eternal embrace between the first ember of light and a lucid sky.”

“The bow of the ship left traces of beautiful pigments on the sky’s canvas, an eternal embrace between the first ember of light and a lucid sky.”

Yet there is one difference between lionfish and humans that became most apparent over the course of my cruise. Whereas lionfish may harm the local ecosystem by lowering the number and diversity of native fish in the Atlantic, deep-sea divers are in a unique position to help our society by increasing our knowledge and creating a better understanding of the importance of preserving native habitats.

Reflections…

On the final morning of the cruise my eyes met a resplendent sunrise that shot stars across the shimmering waters of an endless sea. As we headed to the east I grew quiet within… the bow of the ship almost seemed to leave traces of beautiful pigments on the sky’s canvas, an eternal embrace between the first ember of light and a lucid sky. Land  is but hours away, but the memories of this journey will never leave my mind.

Who could forget such a fascinating, diverse group of personalities; Paula the lionfish enthusiast, Doug underwater photographer extraordinaire, Jay and the underwater hunt, Casey and the underwater flex, Christine the lion queen, Roldan king of transect, and last but certainly not least, Joe and the quest for Choco-tacos.