Sandra Camp: Aloha from San Francisco! June 5, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sandra Camp
Soon to be aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
June 14 – 24, 2015


Mission: Main Hawaiian Islands Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands, North Pacific Ocean
Date: Friday, June 5, 2015


Personal Log

ocean and bay

The Golden Gate Bridge between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay

My name is Sandra Camp, and I teach math and science to 5th graders at Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary School in the Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco in northern California. San Francisco is located on a peninsula, which means it is surrounded by water on three sides. On the eastern part of the city lies San Francisco Bay. The western side is bordered by the Pacific Ocean. The famous Golden Gate Bridge spans the divide between these two large and important bodies of water.

 

tide pools

Me exploring tide pools

 

The Pacific is sometimes called the “Mother of all Oceans” because it is the largest ocean on our planet. Although we have many beautiful beaches here, in San Francisco the Pacific Ocean is much too cold for humans to swim in. Even though I can’t swim in it, I do love to go tide pooling along the Pacific Ocean, looking for tiny sea creatures when the tide goes out like sea stars, crabs, and anemones.

 

sea star

Sea star in tide pool

 

elephant seals

Elephant Seals

kelp forest

Kelp Forest – photo courtesy of NOAA

Being surrounded by so much water makes us care a great deal about the health of the world’s oceans and the plants and animals that live there. In our part of the Pacific Ocean, there are giant kelp forests. We are also home to many different kinds of marine animals, such as sea otters, harbor seals, elephant seals, crabs, sea lions, bat rays, and sharks. When there are healthy populations of these creatures living off the coast of northern California, it indicates that our part of the Pacific Ocean is healthy.

I am very excited, because in about a week I will be visiting a different part of the Pacific Ocean, a part where the ocean is warm enough to swim in! Hawaii is a chain of islands located in the northern Pacific Ocean.  Unlike San Francisco, islands are surrounded on all sides by water, and because the ocean water there is warmer, it allows coral reefs to grow.  I will be flying to Honolulu, Hawaii where I will board the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Ship Hi’ialakai at its home port in Pearl Harbor. Do any of you know what Pearl Harbor is famous for?  If so, write your answer to me in the comments section of this blog.  As a Teacher at Sea, I will spend 10 days aboard the ship while scientists conduct reef fish surveys around the main Hawaiian Islands. This means that they will be studying the fish that normally live in the coral reefs around the islands. If there are healthy populations of these fish in the reefs, then that means the coral reefs are healthy. If not, then that indicates the reefs are having problems. Here is a picture of the Hi’ialakai. Its name means “embracing pathways to the sea” in Hawaiian.

Hi'ialakai

The Hi’ialakai – photo courtesy of NOAA

It takes a lot of people to run a ship this big.  Stay tuned, because in addition to the scientists, I will introduce some of the people who work aboard the ship to you in my upcoming blogs.


Science and Technology Log

coral polyps

Coral Polyps – photo courtesy of NOAA

What exactly is a coral reef, anyway? Coral reefs are ecosystems located in warm, shallow ocean water that are home to a very diverse amount of sea creatures, including fish, crabs, turtles, octopus, sharks, eels, and shrimp. Reefs are structures that are made from the skeletons of colonies of tiny animals called coral. The individual animals that make up the colonies are called polyps.  Polyps usually have a cylindrical-shaped body with a mouth surrounded by tentacles at one end.  The polyps use these tentacles to catch tiny animals that drift by called zooplankton, which they eat for food.

 

coral reef

Coral Reef – photo courtesy of NOAA

 

The coral polyps have a symbiotic relationship with algae. The algae help corals build their skeletons, and the corals provide the algae with protection and compounds they need for photosynthesis. Coral reefs are the largest structures built by animals on Earth! Sadly, coral reefs around the world are in danger because of human factors like pollution, over-fishing, and global warming.

 

diver

Scientist Diving – photo courtesy of NOAA

Most of the scientific work aboard the Hi’ialakai will be conducted by scientists who are scuba diving. While they are under the water, scientists can take pictures of the ocean floor and the coral reefs, as well as count the number of reef fish they find. The information they gather will help them determine if the reefs around Hawaii are healthy places for animals to live. I will be sharing a lot more about the work they do with you in the blogs I write while I am aboard the Hi’ialakai.

 


Did You Know?

The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is over 1400 miles long! Even though coral reefs are the largest structures built by animals and are home to so many diverse species, they cover less than one percent of the ocean floor.


Important Words

peninsula – a body of land surrounded on three sides by water

symbiotic – a relationship between two different species that benefits them both

polyp – the individual body of a coral animal, which is shaped like a cylinder, and has a mouth surrounded by tentacles at one end

zooplankton – tiny aquatic animals

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.

Jennifer

Did You Know?

A coral is a type of animal called a polyp.

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: 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!

Robert Lovely, April 10, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Robert Lovely
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
March 31 – April 12, 2008

Mission: Reef Fish Ecological Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pulley Ridge and the West Florida Shelf, Gulf of Mexico
Date: April 10, 2008

A bank sea bass (Centropristis ocyurus) tucked in under one of the rock outcrops along the West Florida Shelf.

A bank sea bass (Centropristis ocyurus) tucked in under one of the rock outcrops along the West Florida Shelf.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility:  12 miles
Wind Direction:  120 degrees
Wind Speed:  16 knots
Sea Wave Height:  2-3 foot
Swell Wave Height:  3-4 foot
Seawater Temp.: 22.1 degrees C.
Present Weather:  Partly Cloudy

Science and Technology Log 

Today we made three ROV dives on the West Florida Shelf, roughly 100 miles off the west coast of Florida. After making our usual CTD profile (see Ship’s Log, April 4, 2008) at about 0730, we lowered the ROV to a depth of 262 feet and followed a transect bearing southwest.  The object was to conduct a fish survey with respect to species presence and abundance as a function of bottom habitat types. Essentially, we were looking for good hard-bottom fish habitats within an area being proposed to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council as a new Marine Protected Area (MPA).

A blue angelfish (Holacanthus bermudensis).

A blue angelfish (Holacanthus bermudensis).

Each of the video transects revealed a mix of sand and hard bottom, with fish most abundant in areas having some topographic relief. Numerous hard rock outcrops offered attractive habitat for a wide variety of reef fish, such as scamp (Mycteroperca phenax), red porgy (Pagrus pagrus), red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), almaco jack (Seriola rivoliana) greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili), short bigeye (Pristigenys alta), bank butterflyfish (Chaetodon aya), great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda), red grouper (Epinephelus morio), blue angelfish (Holacanthus bermudensis), creolefish (Paranthias furcifer) saddle bass (Serranus notospilus) bank sea bass (Centropristis ocyurus) and many others. The sand flats in between ridges and reef outcroppings provided a stark contrast in terms of fish abundance.  Over these areas the ROV would glide for minutes at a time without revealing many fish.  But even in these less productive bottom habitats we would see the occasional fish dart into its hole as we passed over.

A school of jackknife fish (Equetus lanceolatus) captured by the ROV over the West Florida Shelf.

A school of jackknife fish captured by the ROV over the West Florida Shelf.

A sea star (Class: Asteroidea) on the sand flats between reef outcroppings.

A sea star (Class: Asteroidea) on the sand
flats between reef outcroppings.

Personal Log 

The quality and abundance of food on the GORDON GUNTER is remarkable, and I find it impossible to resist (especially the deserts).  I’d rather not return home ten pounds heavier than when I left, so I’ve been trying to visit the weight room whenever I can find the time.  During my first few sessions on the treadmill I had to hang on for dear life due to the rocking motion of the ship. It was pretty comical.  Now, though, I am getting fairly good at going no-handed while compensating for the ship’s motion.  It requires some dexterity, but it’s great practice for getting your sea legs. We also saw other common sea creatures, such as gorgonians, wire coral, basket stars, sea stars, feather sea pens, sea urchins, sponges and snails.

A short bigeye (Pristigenys alta) ready to dart into his hole on the sand flats.

A short bigeye (Pristigenys alta) ready to dart into his hole on the sand flats.

Basket stars (Order: Phrynophiurida) spread their plankton nets near the top of a gorgonian.

Basket stars (Order: Phrynophiurida) spread their plankton nets near the top of a gorgonian.

Robert Lovely, April 5, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Robert Lovely
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
March 31 – April 12, 2008

Mission: Reef Fish Ecological Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pulley Ridge and the West Florida Shelf, Gulf of Mexico
Date: April 5, 2008

This sea anemone was part of a remarkably diverse community found on Pulley Ridge at a depth of about 212 feet.

This sea anemone was part of a remarkably diverse community on Pulley Ridge at about 212 feet.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility: 7-8 miles
Wind Direction:  140 degrees (SE)
Wind Speed:  13 knots
Sea Wave Height:  1-2 feet
Swell Wave Height:  2-3 feet
Seawater Temp.: 24.7 degrees C.
Present Weather:  Clear

Science and Technology Log 

Today we made three two-hour ROV dives on Pulley Ridge.  We documented an impressive amount of biodiversity along three transects at depths that ranged from about 190 to 225 feet. Downward still images of the bottom were taken at regular four minute intervals; forward facing still shots were taken whenever something of interest presented itself; and a continuous forward-looking video recording was made of the entire transect.

Agaricia sp., a hermatypic (reef-building) coral we found at about 215 feet.

Agaricia sp., reef-building coral we found at 215 feet.

The ideal cruising speed for the ROV video recording is a very slow one-half knot, which presents significant challenges for the people on the bridge. In fact the Commanding Officer, LCDR Brian Parker, remarked on how good a training exercise this cruise is for his team.  Upon our return to port, and for weeks afterwards, fishery biologist Stacey Harter will analyze the video to derive density estimates for the fishes observed.  She will determine the area covered by each video transect and count individuals of each species that intercepted our transect line.  Abundance estimates then can be extrapolated per unit area.  Others will use similar techniques to determine the aerial extent of living corals.  These data, in turn, will be useful to authorities responsible for managing the fisheries. Pulley Ridge is a drowned barrier island system that formed about 14,000 years ago, when sea levels were lower because a larger portion of the Earth’s water was locked up in glacial ice. While the presence of photosynthetic corals, such as Agaricia spp. was patchy on our dives, we did encounter large fields of green algae in relatively high densities.

The green algae, Anadyomene menziesii, dominated large areas in the southern portion of Pulley Ridge.

The green algae, Anadyomene menziesii, dominated large areas in the southern portion of Pulley Ridge.

This species no doubt is the Anadyomene menziesii described by Robert Halley and his group at the USGS. These striking seascapes resembled large fields of lettuce.  At the southern end of Pulley Ridge this green algae dominated the seabed.  As we moved northward from station to station, however, it occurred in much lower densities, and we began to see higher proportions of the calcareous green algae Halimeda spp. Various species of red coralline algae were also common on Pulley Ridge. Apart from the abundance of Anadyomene menziesii, the other striking observation one makes on this deep coral reef is the presence of conical-shaped mounds and pits.  These structures are almost certainly constructed by fish, such as the sand tilefish (Malacanthus plumieri) and red grouper (Epinephelus morio). Sand tilefish in particular burrow into the coral rubble and pile it up for cover. Red grouper are also industrious excavators.

 A red grouper (Epinephelus morio) at rest in a small pit on Pulley Ridge.


A red grouper at rest in a small pit on Pulley Ridge.

The mounds and pits introduce an element of topographic relief into an otherwise flat seascape along the top of Pulley Ridge.  Because so many other species of fish are attracted to these structures, I would suggest that (at least among the fish) sand tilefish and red grouper represent keystone species in this unique ecosystem.  The removal of these two species would have a significant impact on the rest of the community. Other fauna we observed today were typical of what one might encounter on a shallow-water reef, including sponges, tunicates, lobsters, bryozoans, amberjacks, angelfish, reef butterflyfish, snapper, barracuda, and a loggerhead turtle.

Personal Log 

My favorite place on the ship is the boatswain’s chair way up on the bow. No one else seems to know about it, for I have yet to find it occupied when I want to use it.  It is the quietest, most scenic spot on the ship.  Whenever I get a chance, I sneak up there to watch the flying fish. They are flushed by the ship, and some of them can remain in flight for long periods, perhaps 20 seconds or more. If I am especially lucky, I also get to watch dolphins riding our bow. This is a real treat because they seem so playful.

Our ROV disturbs the nap of a loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta).

Our ROV disturbs the nap of a loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta).

A pod of dolphins bow-riding the GORDON GUNTER.

A pod of dolphins bow-riding the ship. 

Robert Lovely, April 4, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Robert Lovely
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
March 31 – April 12, 2008

Mission: Reef Fish Ecological Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pulley Ridge and the West Florida Shelf, Gulf of Mexico
Date: April 4, 2008

A “rosette” is used to hold the instrumentation for the CTD.  Here we see the rosette being lowered down into the water column by way of a crane mounted on the GORDON GUNTER.

A “rosette” is used to hold the instrumentation for the CTD. Here it is lowered down into the water by way of a crane.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility:  12 miles
Wind Direction:  150° (SE)
Wind Speed:  18 knots
Sea Wave Height:  2-3 foot
Swell Wave Height:  1-2 foot
Seawater Temp: 24.4 degrees C.
Present Weather:  Clear

Science and Technology Log 

We begin and end each day by making a CTD profile of the water column at our sampling site.  CTD refers to conductivity, temperature, and depth, but other parameters, such as dissolved oxygen (DO), also may be measured.  Conductivity is an expression of salinity, which at our location on Pulley Ridge is pretty uniform throughout the water column.  As we see from the graph below, however, both DO and water temperature do vary with depth. Temperature is uniform in the top layer of water and then begins to drop steadily with increasing depth from about 20 meters down.  This portion of the water column, where temperature declines rapidly with depth, is called the thermocline.  The temperature profile on our graph shows that a subtle thermocline extends nearly to the bottom at Pulley Ridge. This may help explain why certain shallow-water organisms are able to survive in this relatively deep water. In other locations the same depth may be well below the thermocline and therefore in water too cold for shallow-water species to live.

Above is a graph of the CTD profiles generated at Pulley Ridge on April 4, 2008.  Software linked to the CTD instrumentation on the rosette generates salinity, temperature, depth and oxygen profiles of the water column.  Note that the double lines on the graph result from the roundtrip made by the rosette down to the bottom and back.

Graph of the CTD profiles from Pulley Ridge. Software linked to the CTD instrumentation on the rosette generates salinity, temperature, depth and oxygen profiles of the water. The double lines on the graph result from the roundtrip down to the bottom and back.

Dissolved oxygen is normally high at the surface due to the mixing effect of wave action. But oxygen concentrations can be high in the deeper thermocline as well simply because cold water can hold more oxygen than warm water.  Our graph above illustrates this relationship by exhibiting an increase in dissolved oxygen concentrations at depths between 20-45 meters.

This remotely operated vehicle (ROV) carries both a video camera and a still camera.  The yellow umbilical shown in the foreground supplies power and control signals from the GORDON GUNTER.

This remotely operated vehicle (ROV) carries both a video camera and a still camera. The yellow umbilical shown in the foreground supplies power and control signals

Marine scientists employ different types of underwater vehicles to collect data on deep coral reefs, and the different vehicle types may seem a bit confusing at first.  Three important underwater vehicles are Submersibles, AUVs, and ROVs.  Submersibles typically refer to human-occupied vehicles, where a pilot climbs inside and drives the vehicle around like a small submarine.  The most famous example is Alvin, a submarine operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. AUVs, in contrast, are Autonomous Underwater Vehicles that are programmed to perform specific functions, such as bathymetric mapping.  AUVs are robotic— they are completely independent, having no wires to the surface.  Finally, ROVs are Remotely Operated Vehicles, which are tethered to the ship by means of a cable and umbilical.  The ROV captures video and still images, and is driven by a pilot from a control room onboard the ship.  While utilizing bathymetric charts created during earlier cruises, our mission on Pulley Ridge and the West Florida Shelf employs only the ROV.

Rob finds out that it’s interesting, but difficult, driving the ROV.

Rob finds out that it’s interesting, but difficult, driving the ROV.

Today we made three video transects (dives) with the ROV, each lasting about two hours.  Each dive followed a predetermined course, as we began working our way north along Pulley Ridge.  The depth of our dives normally ranged between 200-230 feet, with the ROV gliding about three feet above the reef. The ship towed the ROV at speeds that typically ranged from .5 to 1.3 knots.  However, because of the slack in the tether, the ROV itself had a remarkable range of speeds. In fact, skilled pilots can bring the ROV to a dead stop (while the ship continues to move) in order to pause for nice steady close-up shots of bottom organisms.  I was very impressed by this flexibility of motion and the freedom it offered the pilot to search around the reef for organisms hiding in nooks and crannies.

Personal Log 

I was given the opportunity to take the helm of the ROV during one of our video transects. I found this experience to be fun and somewhat akin to playing a video game.  However, I also found driving the ROV to be much more difficult than it looks.  It gave me a greater appreciation for the skill of our veteran pilots, Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor.