Sarah Raskin: Teacher at Sea Day 6, March 18, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sarah Raskin

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

March 13-18, 2015


Mission: Channel Islands Deep-Sea Coral Study

Geographic Area: Channel Islands, California

Date: March 18, 2015


Day 6: 3/18/15

7th and 8th grade students from Haydock Academy of Arts and Sciences in Oxnard, California, along with elementary students from South Carolina, decorated Styrofoam cups that Peter and I took with us on the Shimada. We brought these cups to show our students the amazing power of underwater pressure.  The depths at which the ROV and CTD Niskin Rosette traveled during the voyage were much further than a human body could physically handle without being in some sort of pressurized submersible.   Human bodies currently experience air pressure when we are at sea level, though we don’t feel the pressure because the fluids in our bodies are pressing outwards with the equal amount of force.  However, once you start traveling underwater, the greater the pressure of the water pushing down on your being.  As one NOAA website states: “For every 33 feet (10.06 meters) you go down, the pressure increases by 14.5 psi. In the deepest ocean, the pressure is equivalent to the weight of an elephant balanced on a postage stamp, or the equivalent of one person trying to support 50 jumbo jets!” (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/pressure.html)

cups on CTD rosette
Peter and I with the students’ cups tied to the CTD Niskin Rosette

To illustrate how powerful the water pressure is in the deep ocean, Peter and I used Styrofoam cups to demonstrate this concept.  First, we stuffed paper towels into the cups so that they would retain their shapes during a dive down to the bottom of the ocean floor.  Next, we attached the cups to the CTD Niskin rosette. The crew launched the CTD into the ocean and it plunged downwards to a depth of 550 meters. As the cups descended deeper and deeper, the increasing water pressure compressed the air out from between the Styrofoam beads that make up the cup.  What was left was a significantly shrunken version of our cups. Here are the before and after pictures:

cups before dive
The cups before the dive

The CTD Niskin rosette also collected data as it traveled downwards. Water filtered through the machine and sensors gathered information about temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, and dissolved oxygen levels. The tubes on the CTD could also be programmed to collect water samples at certain depths, which they did on the return trip to the surface. This allowed the scientists to collect the water to test for different water quality factors at a later date.

rosette and cups ready to go
The cups and CTD Niskin Rosette prepare to go overboard
reviewing the data
Peter and ST Gunter review the data that is being uploaded from CTD Niskin Rosette during its dive.

Media Day

Today, the scientists and Shimada team were joined by media crews from the LA times and the Santa Barbara Independent, along with some of NOAA’s education outreach specialists. The reporters took a tour around the Shimada and they interviewed the scientists about their important work.  From Peter Etnoyer, and his team’s work on Lophelia and ocean acidification, Branwen Williams’ research on deep-sea coral, Laura Kracker and team’s mapping of uncharted Sanctuary regions, to the MARE team’s innovative ROV technology, the media had quite a bit to report about! 

The reporters were even able to watch the ROV take its final dive of the trip to collect one last acanthogoria sample. One of Branwen’s and Peter’s goals is to be able to determine the ages of these beautiful organisms through the work they do. If they are able to create baseline data for how old an acanthogoria is, based on size and height, then there will be less of a need to collect these specimens in the future. Instead, they will be able to determine age based on looking at the footage during an ROV dive and using the laser measurements on the ROV camera to decide how old the coral is.

Chris Caldow
Chris Caldow, NOAA research coordinator and organizer of our expedition, speaks with the media.
media watching dive
The media crew watches the ROV’s final dive of the trip
Acanthagoria sample
Gathering around the Acanthogoria sample

Until next time….

My journey on the Shimada finally came to a close today. NOAA sent out their local research vessel, the Shearwater, to meet us in the waters off Santa Cruz Island. Many of the scientists, along with the MARE team and myself boarded the Shearwater and watched as the Shimada became smaller and smaller in the distance. It was very sad to say goodbye, but Chris Caldow and the sonar team will continue on the Shimada with their important mapping of the Sanctuary for the next several days.

Shearwater approach
The Shearwater makes its approach to bring us back to shore
Bell M. Shimada
Saying goodbye to the Bell M. Shimada

Our Backyard

Being able to explore the seldom-visited parts of our sanctuary with the scientists and NOAA crew was a once in a lifetime experience. The research these scientists are doing to uncover the hidden depths of the sanctuary is also helping to illustrate how our actions on land have a direct impact on our oceans.

When we learn more about these rarely seen regions of our Sanctuary and about the deep-sea organisms that make their home there, these places and creatures become something that we grow to love and care about. This exploratory research is so important, because as someone on the trip said; “we cannot protect what we don’t know is there.” This is especially relevant for myself and the students from Haydock, because the Channel Islands truly are our backyard; we can see the Islands and Sanctuary from the shores of our city of Oxnard.  When we feel a greater connection to a place such as the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, we are more likely to take part in the stewardship and protection of it for our future generations.

“Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children” (unknown)

To learn more about the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, click on the following link:

http://channelislands.noaa.gov/welcome.html

To learn more about MARE and the ROVs check out their website: http://www.maregroup.org/

For more information about Peter Etnoyer’s work, click the following link:

http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/edu/oceanage/03etnoyer/welcome.html

For more information about Branwen Williams work, use the following link:

https://sites.google.com/site/branwenw/home

sunset in Channel Islands NMS
Sunset in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

Sarah Raskin: Teacher at Sea Day 1, March 13, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sarah Raskin

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

March 13-18, 2015


Mission: Channel Islands Deep-Sea Coral Study

Geographic Area: Channel Islands, California

Date: Friday, March 13, 2015

Shimada
One of NOAA’s research ships: the Bell M. Shimada

NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada, my home away from home for the next six days!  

Science Log

Today marks my first official day aboard the Shimada as part of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program.  NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  My name is Sarah Raskin and I am an educator at Haydock Academy of Arts and Sciences, a public middle school in Oxnard, California.  For the next week, I have the opportunity to join NOAA scientists from across the United States on a deep-sea science expedition in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. I am hoping to bring back what I learn to the students at Haydock and to paint a picture of what it is like to work on real-life science out in the field.

Scientists group photo
The scientists starting from the left: Peter Etnoyer, Rick Botman, Branwen Williams, Andrew Shuler, Erin Weller, Will Sautter, Steve Holz, Leslie Wickes, Andy Lauermann, Chris Caldow, Dirk Rosen, Mike Annis, Laura Kracker.

The location for our expedition is in the waters off of the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in Southern California.  The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) covers 1,470 square miles of water surrounding Santa Barbara, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel Islands and is home to a large amount of diverse species.  On this expedition, scientists will use an ROV (a remotely operated underwater vehicle) to examine deep-sea coral and the water chemistry around those coral beds.  One of the most surprising facts for me before beginning this journey was to learn that coral grows in cold water deep-sea habitats, having only previously associated coral with warm water environments.  

During this expedition, scientists will also look at how the corals are affected by ocean acidification.  It will be interesting to see what their findings are:  how do our actions on land affect organisms, such as coral, that live in the deep sea?

Ventura County watershed
A Ventura County watershed: from the mountains to the sea.
Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island (Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary)

The scientists will collect live samples of the coral to take back to their labs for further ocean acidification testing.  Throughout this trip, scientists will also use sonar to map the ocean floor. The information gathered from the sonar will help provide direction for where to send our ROV.  The new images generated from the sonar could also be used to bring up-to-date sea floor maps of the Sanctuary, many of which have not been updated since they were created in the 1930s!  Another feature of the sonar is to map out locations and quantities of fish populations in the area.  This information is vital to sanctuaries and marine protected areas, as it contributes important information about why these areas are important to protect.

Science in the field is much different than science in a laboratory setting.  There are so many factors to take into account: weather, ocean conditions, the working conditions of the equipment and many more unforeseen circumstances.  The scientists and ship crew must each do their parts and work closely together as a team to make the research possible.  During the first day aboard the researchers have faced quite a few challenges…  Maybe because we set sail on Friday the 13th

The morning began with impromptu safety drills.  Similar to the fire drills that we have at our school, the ship also conducts regular drills.  Today we had both a fire drill and an abandon ship drill.  The abandon ship drill prepares the crew for an emergency event that would require us to leave the ship immediately.  It also involved donning a safety suit, a giant red neoprene wetsuit that is designed to keep you warm if you needed to jump into the ocean.

Fire drill on the ship
Fire drill on the ship
Sarah in survival suit
A picture of me in the survival suit

Later in the afternoon, the team took the ROV out for its first outing of the trip.  Chris Caldow (the expedition lead) and the scientists from Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE) chose a spot on the ocean floor that was sandy and flat with few physical features to snag on for its initial run.  The ROV, which is named the Beagle, is an amazing piece of machinery.  It is designed to be able to function in depths of down to 500 meters.  It is also equipped with a high definition video camera that will take footage of what is going on under the sea.  If the scientists see something of interest, the Beagle ROV has a manipulator arm to collect samples.  The arm feature is also used to deploy different types of sensors that will keep track of information, such as temperature, over a longer period of time.

MARE's Beagle ROV
MARE (Marine Applied Research and Exploration) Beagle ROV

The launch of the ROV was exciting.  Most of the crew gathered around to watch its release, and as it made it’s way down to the sea floor, it began streaming video footage to monitors inside of the laboratories on the ship.  It was pretty incredible to be able to see the bottom of the sea floor with such clarity.  So far, we have spotted multiple species of rockfish and an egg case of a skate.  I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!

ROV footage
Watching streaming video footage from the ROV

Back to one of our challenges: the key sonar machine is currently out of order.  When things break on a ship, it can be a bit tricky to fix.  It’s definitely not as simple as running to the nearest hardware store to pick up a new piece of equipment.  When something is not working out here, it can involve scuba diving under the ship to fix something or sailing back to the mainland if there is a real issue.  So tomorrow there will be a boat coming out to meet our ship and bringing with it equipment and a trained sonar technician to hopefully solve our problems.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Update: Science in the Field

The Beagle ROV journeyed into the depth once more last night.  This time the mission was to find deep-sea coral beds, in particular one species called Lophelia pertusa, and bubble gum coral. 

Lophelia pertusa
Lophelia pertusa

The MARE team (Dirk Rosen, Andy Lauermann, Steve Holz and Rick Botman) worked with scientists Peter Etnoyer, Leslie Wickes, Andrew Shuler and Branwen Williams to locate a coral bed that they had visited previously in 2010 and 2014.  Using GPS coordinates, the MARE team was able to locate the exact site of the coral bed that Peter and his team had worked with in earlier years.  There were quite a few high-fives and cheers of excitement in the lab when the ROV made its way to the familiar patch of bright red bubble gum coral. 

Branwen and Dirk
Branwen and Dirk scout the sea floor for coral beds

The team dropped a temperature gauge at that location that will take and record a temperature reading every five minutes for the next six months.  After that, Peter and his team will return on a second expedition to retrieve the device.  The temperature gauge is tied to a rope attached to a lead weight and a flotation device covered with bright reflective tape.  Andrew explained that the reflective tape would stand out in the headlights of the ROV, making it much easier to spot when they return for it half a year later.

Andrew temperature sensor
Andrew holds up one of the temperature sensors that will be deployed with the ROV

The Beagle also retrieved its first coral sample of Lophelia pertusa, which it brought to the surface.  Picking up samples from the deep in no easy feat.  Andy and Dirk control the ROV from the deck with controls that look similar to something you would find on a video game consul.  Sitting along side them, scientists Peter, Leslie and Branwen direct them to which coral specimens look the best for their sample.  Then using either the manipulator arm or a shovel like feature on the boat, the ROV controller works quickly to scoop the organism into a basket attached to the front of the machine.

Scientists watch footage
The scientists watch live video feed from the ROV

Once the ROV safely made it back on board, the scientists worked quickly to get the coral and its little inhabitants, such as deep-sea brittle stars and crabs, into cold water tanks as fast as possible.  While the coral doesn’t seem to mind the pressure difference between the deep-sea and surface, it does not handle the temperature differential as well.

Leslie removes coral for storage in the fresh water tanks
crab on coral
A deep-sea crab that hitched a ride up to the surface on the Lophelia

The team also took water samples from the water near the coral sites, which they will test later for pH.  They are hoping to find out whether coral changes the composition of the water surrounding it.  In order to collect the water samples, Branwen Williams (a scientist and professor from Keck Science Department at Claremont College), Leslie, and Andrew retrieved water samples using a CTD-Niskin rosette.  They took water samples at the depth of the coral beds (approx. 290 meters) and then every 25 meters up from there.   Once they filled bottles with the water, it was important to immediately “fix” the water samples.  This means putting a poison, such as mercuric chloride into the water sample to kill off any living organisms, such as zooplankton or phytoplankton, that might be photosynthesizing or respiring and changing the pH levels of the water samples.  This gives the scientists a snapshot of what the water chemistry is like at a particular place and time.

Chris Imhof, November 19, 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 19, 2009

Science Log

After 3 days and many hours in front of computer screens and monitors I almost forgot I was on a boat. Tonight is my last night on the Pisces, and although at times it has been rough, I have started to get used to the rocking of the ship and know every crew member by name. I ran about the ship when I have had a second, to take in things knowing I will have chance tomorrow . I will miss looking across the open sea and having opportunities to catch a glimpse of a shark fin near the side of the ship and a huge sea turtle making its way across the waves. I will miss talking to the crew and the scientists, and working with Jeannine Foucault the other Teacher at Sea. I’ll probably write another log tomorrow to sum up the experience, but its hard

to rally up for a science log when you are tired and many of have to pack to disembark at Jacksonville tomorrow morning. As for the Pisces and her crew, they will make their way back to Pascagoula for the Holidays.

Chris Imhof, November 18, 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 18, 2009

Science Log

NOAA’s mission is to “protect, restore and manage the use of coastal and ocean resources.” The way NOAA does this is through science – a voyage like this may seem like moving from point to point and placing a really cool piece of technology in the water to see what’s on the bottom – but these are all tools that are being used to be able to carry out the tenets of protect, restore and manage.

We have visited half our sites now and have surveyed different environments in and out of Marine Protected Areas. Different environments, yet with commonalities – all the sites are near exposed “hard-bottom” or exposed limestone on the shelf bottom. There may be miles of sand waves and algae – but theses exposed, complex and bio-encrusted features are “oasis’s” for all sorts of ocean life – especially fish. As the ROV maneuvers across the sandy waves, it is usually the glint of a school of fish or reflection of a fish eye that provides a beacon to a feature. If these features are “oasis” habitats then they should be protected. Granted, these limestone blocks can do more damage to fishing line and gear, evident in the amount of line found in the high relief areas – but in the case of some of the North Florida MPA, we encountered the fragile deep water Occulina Coral which is vulnerable especially when nets are being dragged across these areas.

Another commonality noticed is the growing presence of the beautiful Lion Fish (Pterois volitans) – this native of Pacific waters was released intentionally or unintentionally in the early 1990’s around Florida and have since spread to areas above North Carolina and south to the Caribbean, especially along reefs and rocky outcrops. They join an infamous ranks of other invasive species including the European Green Crab, Asian Eel and Zebra Mussel. The Lion-Fish, besides having an array of venomous spines. has a keen strategy of “corralling” prey with their fins and eating them in one gulp. This will impact the small fish and crustaceans in these habitats as well as the added competition with indigenous or native predators such as snappers and grouper fish – which are currently commercially fished. This is where “manage” comes in – here is a “new” invasive species in that is growing in population and spreading geographically, impacting the habitat by out-competing, in some cases, the established predators – how can it be managed.

Especially when the Lion-fish has few natural enemies. The Lion Fish is a tricky one – as an invasive species, missions like this one help to understand the long-term impact the Lion-Fish is having on these habitats. Using technology like multi-beam mapping and ROV technology can provide data for scientists and in turn give councils, commissions and government the knowledge to manage these areas through smart-solution-based policy.

References:

coastalscience.noaa.gov/documents/factsheet_lionfish.pdf

http://www.magazine.noaa.gov/stories/mag135.htm

Chris Imhof, November 17, 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 17, 2009

Science Log

We sailed last night to our first “station” – The North Florida Marine Protected Area – and by 7:00 am this morning the ROV pilots Lance Brown and Glenn Taylor were going through the “pre-flight” checklist on the ROV; Lance working the controls in the lab, Glenn outside taking care of the deployment and extraction of the vehicle on the starboard weather deck. Soon they were meeting with the Lead NOAA scientist Andy David to talk through the operations of the deployment and extraction and more specifically the methodology of what they were trying to accomplish at this site.

The North Florida MPA area has been protected since 2004 – meaning no sailing or fishing occurs in this area. Some of the area has been mapped by multi-beam sonar – so what scientist then do with ROV technology is “Ground-Truthing” in which after examining the multi-beam maps – choose features to explore and check visually how they compare with their maps. Since the ROV sends real time video feed to the lab, the scientist watch and note the features, the animals that are present or not present in the habitat. They also perform a down shot every 2 minutes, or stop the ROV – point the camera down and take a picture – later in the lab they quantify the habitat by gridding the photograph and counting the number of species. Todays North Florida site tested sites inside the Marine Protected Area as well as sites/features outside the MPA for comparison as well as to help make future decisions of extending possible areas into the protective zone or even species.

After the scientists met, the Pisces crew and captain Jeremy Adams met on the weather deck to talk through the operation – sync their communications and what if scenarios. In all, there were 3 ROV dives which went extremely smooth, mainly due to the organization and communication of everyone involved.

The highlights of the dive were the spectacular features of the exposed limestone near the drop offs and the amazing habitats – for all my preparation the diversity of fish was overwhelming – I could identify a few featured fish like the Lionfish, barracudas and Moray Eels – I was unprepared to see a real sea turtle hanging out by some rocks or a Goliath Grouper which came out of nowhere. I learned many new fish which I hope to be able to call out from the monitor tomorrow like the Reef Butterfly, Squirrel Fish, Amberjack, Scamp, Soldier fish, Purple and Yellow Tail Reef Fish. I was helpful in identifying some of the Occulina deep coral species, the sponges (which you couldn’t miss) as well as pick out old fish line, a bottle and and an old anchor jammed into the rocks near the edge.

I’ll let the pictures and video slices tell most of the story. We are cruising all night again to our most northern site Edisto – off South Carolina and then work back from there.

Jeannine Foucault, November 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeannine Foucault
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 16, 2009

Survival suit for safety
Survival suit for safety

Science Log

Today we were ported in Jacksonville, FL. It was load up and set up day for the additional scientists and the ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle).

The ROV is similar to a traveling robot that will be lowered down onto the ocean floor and will be remotely operated from the ship while recording ocean life at each MPA (Marine Protected Area) that we visit. Since PISCES is a brand new ship she wasn’t equipped for all the hardware and software needed for the ROV; therefore, all the engineers, deckhands, scientists, and crew were involved in a speedy setup. The scientists also loaded a fish trap just in case we need extra data in addition to the ROV.

We set off to our first MPA in North Florida to do our first ROV trial testing in the morning to get some live data. I am so anxious to see how the ROV works and what sort of data we will receive. I know I will sleep well tonight because I was working right along side everyone. Remember all those measurements I have you take and then convert them from English to metric units? That’s what I had to do today. We had to measure how far the equipment was in respect to the size of the ship, etc. You want to know how you will use what you learn in ‘real life’? Well, here it is!

I did see a dolphin today, but too quick for a pic! SRRY 🙂

Also, I was able to watch the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis.

Chris Imhof, November 16, 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 16, 2009

NOAA Ship Pisces in port
NOAA Ship Pisces in port

Science Log

We arrived late last night back in Jacksonville, Florida docking at the Atlantic Marine Docks – taking on 8 scientists who will leading the ROV operations – over the next few days. The next morning was a flurry of activity as the science crew began to unload their equipment and the crew of the Pisces operated the cranes and prepared the the sides of the ship and the winches for deployment of the ROV.

While Jeannine stayed aboard to help running cables and rigging the GPS equipment needed for pinpointing the position of the ROV relative to the ship – I chose to join the scouting party inland; myself, Lieutenant Dunsford, Engineer Tony Assouad and Lead Scientist Andy David made contact with local at the village of “Walmart” and acquired much needed supplies.

AtlantisGear was stowed and the equipment set up, the science party met for their safety briefing, followed by a larger conversation of what we will be accomplishing over the next couple of days. We plan to take the “Deep Ocean ROV” to at 3 sites – testing in and outside the MPA or “Marine Protected Area” about sites a day. We will be running mostly day time operations and transitioning to next station at night as well as doing some multibeam mapping – using the same type of technology I mentioned in yesterday’s blog. When the Pisces arrives in an area it will begin to “mow the lawn” – doing transects back and forth to create a map of the ocean floor below so the scientists can better choose targets or areas to avoid during the daytime ROV operation. For the most part we are assisting the scientists with the launching and retrieval of the ROV as well as monitoring what the ROV sees from a TV in the Dry Lab on the Pisces.

ROV equipment
ROV equipment

Like a lot of science the ROV will be recording a ton of data which will be more carefully evaluated over the next few months after the voyage. Many of the places we document in and out of the MPA will be explored again to see changes – so in a way this study sets a baseline for future missions. I am excited to see how they launch the ROV, which will give me some ideas for when my Innovation Technology Seminar launches their little rovers in a few weeks. The operator/pilot of the rover will be inside the dry lab talking through a headset to another rover scientist outside monitoring the 900 feet of cable – talking to a deck crew member operating a winch. We are hoping not only for calm waters on the surface for deployment-but quiet currents below so ROV has the opportunity to explore, rather than ride the current.

A few porpoises rolled along side the ship enough to enjoy, but too quick to get a good picture. Only the gray pelicans on the dock would stand still to pose. Before we pulled out of Jacksonville we climbed to the top of the Flying Deck to watch the Space Shuttle Atlantis launch in the distance. Even though we didn’t do much today it was still a pretty great day. 🙂

Jeannine Foucault, November 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeannine Foucault
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 15, 2009

Crew in safety gear
Crew in safety gear

Science Log

If you have been using the ship tracker you would be able to follow that last night we cruised around the bottom tip of Florida out of the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic Ocean. The waters were a bit rough with wind gusts up to 40 knots. It was a rocky night. Not to mention a very sleepless night with the greenish way I was feeling :)! Needless to say I haven’t had much to eat today except for some dry Captain Crunch cereal. The head chef on the mess deck suggested it would be a good stomach filler. We will see and I will let you know!

Once I got my sea legs back I was anxious to see what everyone else was doing. The crew as well as the scientists were very busy; therefore, I stayed pretty much out of their way for a while. The crew was trying to get us an arrival in Jacksonville, FL and the tech crew was busy trying to get us online since the internet signal went down. Talking to the captain he says that with a new boat there are always kinks that have to be ironed out …that’s why we call these sea trials.

Lab equipment aboard the ship
Lab equipment aboard the ship

The mammal scientists were working on their equipment trying to get their equipment calibrated correctly. They explained to me that PISCES is equiped with many sensors (transducers) and these sensors are connected to different pieces of equipment to help pickup the ocean ecosystem. For instance, the mammal scientists are using the echo sensors on the computers (see below) that operates seven echo sound frequencies. Then the scientists can use this realtime data for analysis of targets, concentrations, the layers of ocean, etc. This provides a broad scope of marine acoustic survey from plankton to large schools of fish.

While I was on deck watching the waves I noticed a bunch of birds that flew into the water but never came up. I watched a while longer and again, but this time these creatures came up from the water and flew across it into a huge dive back into the ocean. These were not birds…..these were ‘flying fish’! They are C.melanurus common to the Atlantic. They are silly little fish always flying from a predator under water.

Chris Imhof, November 15, 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 15, 2009

Science Log

Rough winds and big choppy waves coming around the Keys and into the Gulf Stream last night kept many awake and few of us with a taste of sea sickness. We make port in Jacksonville tonight and take on the ROV and more scientists. While making the first leg of this voyage it has been good to get to meet most of the crew and learn what they do and where they work on the Pisces; these include NOAA engineers, electrical and computer technicians, deck crew, stewards, and the NOAA Core officers. Since this is a maiden voyage, many of these people have worked on other NOAA ships – bringing their expertise and skills to get the Pisces up and working smoothly. Many of this crew will stay with the Pisces – operating the ship for NOAA scientists who come aboard to run experiments or do research in the months to come.

When I boarded the Pisces last Wednesday, the mammal scientists Tony Martinez and Lance Garrison were already on board testing equipment for an expedition this coming January – for detecting concentrations of sperm whale prey – from small fish to squid – acoustically and visually. Two pieces of technology they use are the EK60 Echosounder and ME70 Splitbeam:

1) The EK60 Simrad Echo-Sounder: This piece of technology uses a devices called a transducers that are located on the bottom of the Pisces to detect organisms. The Echo-Sounder operates on 4 frequencies – split beams of 200 and 120 khz (kilohertz) for shallow water detection – giving good data on zooplankton and small schools of fish, and the 18 and 38 khz frequencies which can detect fish, mammals and squid much deeper. The transducers issue a ping at each frequency every .5 seconds which bounce back creating a picture or vertical scatter. The scatter shown is a reflective signature – which the scientist use to identify what is below.

2) The ME70:  The ME70 is brand new technology that uses a single high frequency – but based on amplitude reverberates from 80 transducers in a fan or swath -like shining a spot light down the water column. This gives another kind of visual image of what is below – especially the characteristics of the concentrations of zooplankton and nekton or schools of fish.

Tools and technology like this help scientists conduct surveys of marine species in deep and shallow waters, they can improve the way we estimate fish stocks – and the more it is used and tested can be a passive way to identify species in their habitats through their acoustic signatures.

An interesting aspect of this technology is the growing study of “swarm behavior” – understanding why schools of fish glide in precise synchronous movement. This field of study is becoming more important as we learn that self-organizing coordinated systems like schools of fish are extremely resilient and efficient. Mammal studies conducted by Tony and Lance aboard the Pisces may have larger implications in the future when looking at the behavior of crowds, or traffic on a highway, or how people move in a work place.

Jeannine Foucault, November 14, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeannine Foucault
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 14, 2009

Science Log

Of the many things I have learned so far there are three things that are standing out in my mind right now that I can share…..1) there is so much ionization in the ocean (salinity) that if it’s not neutralized it can cause many rusting/electrical problems on the ship 2) water on the ship is purified by passing through a UV light before it is sent for drinking and using on the ship 3) plank owners are called the very first crew members on a new ship!

When I went on the tour of the engine room or should I say rooms. The engineer pointed to a sign that read “cathode”. Well, I know my physical science students remember that a cathode is an electrode where an electric current flows out of a polarized electrical device. Anyway, the ship has all this salt water flowing in (lots of NACL) that has an electric charge so it has to be neutralized using the cathode so the water doesn’t cause any high electrical charges that can be dangerous with so much high voltage already running on the ship. Cool, huh?

Then the engineer explained the process of making water. The ship goes through about 1800 gallons of water per day. Through the process of purifying the water at the final stage is a tiny box with a long rectangular tin attached to a long thick wire. Above this box water flows through another tube flowing across the rectangular box. It reads ‘CAUTION: UV radition light’. As the water flows across the UV light it is emitting short wavelengths of ionizing radiation to rid of any living microorganisms in the water making it suitable to drink.

Finally, another crew member discussed the aspect of the ‘plank owners’. This is an individual who was a member of the crew of a ship when that ship was placed in commission. So since PISCES was commission on November 6, 2009 and the entire crew that is with me now on the ship was a member of the crew then they are all the plank owners of PISCES and I am the office plank owner Teacher at Sea!

Chris Imhof, November 13, 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 13, 2009

Science Log

Safety is a priority aboard the Pisces – without a sense of safe operations and knowing what to do in a situation – it would be very hard to run effective science missions – everything from knowing where a safe place to stand, when and where to wear a hard hat and what to do in an event or situation. Within hours of leaving port we assembled with the science team for a briefing and learned where we would muster in case of a drill. A muster station is a place you have been assigned when there is an alarm and/or the ship’s horn is blown to communicate to the crew an emergency, situation or event. Once assembled in the designated area, an assigned person calls the bridge to inform that everyone in that station has been accounted for.

I would go to my muster station in the case of a man-over-board -this is communicated with 3 prolonged blasts of the ship’s horn. If I was on deck and saw a person go overboard- I would yell “man-over-board!” and point over the side until I was relieved by an officer – and at the same time be throwing everything under the sun that could float to leave a trail for the ship to follow as it slowed and turned around.

It wasn’t more than an hour after our meeting, while exploring the ship that a drill was issued. As we made our way up 3 decks to our mustering station, we passed crew skillfully and methodically going through the procedures of extinguishing an imaginary “fire” on the starboard deck.

After a few minutes the captain had everyone assemble on the deck where the drill took place and with the XO led a discussion of how it went. What was impressive was the nature of the discussion in which crew members in different departments brought their knowledge and experience to consider other dimensions of the situation – glass windows, machinery or nearby materials that could cause furthers complications or additional measures etc. This type of collaboration builds the cohesion of a ships’ crew as well as the security and safety aboard the ship.

Following the briefing the crew was dismissed and within a short amount of time the ship’s horn blared 6 short blasts and a single long blast – indicating an abandon ship – in this situation/drill we mustered on a side of the ship – bringing with us a life vest, hat and immersion suit. The Pisces is equipped with self-inflatable life rafts on each side of the ship – each sides’ rafts hold more than 60 crew – this is in case one side of the ship cannot be reached or rafts are unable to be used-all ships have this in place today largely due to the Titanic disaster. Following this we learned how to quickly and efficiently put on our immersion suits. This tight fitting, insulated survival suit protects you not only from the elements but the brightness alone increases your chance of rescue. The suit fits snug leaving very little of your skin exposed, it is equipped with an additional flotation device behind your neck and a whistle.

Safety is science – it is also such an important part of how the Pisces runs – how the officers, crew and scientist work, and how the ship is built, runs and operates – as a Teacher at Sea who is staying just a brief time, it has heightened my sense to be more aware of everything around me not just the sea and the science but also how things aboard the ship operate and how each person works and fits into the big picture.

Chris Imhof, November 12, 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 12, 2009

Science Log

After playing tourist in Jacksonville for a day I jumped at the chance to fly to Gulf Port Mississippi and join the Crew, Marine Mammal Scientists, and a fellow Teacher at Sea on the 3-day shakedown maiden voyage of the NOAA ship Pisces into the Gulf of Mexico up the Florida Strait back to Jacksonville. When I arrived Wednesday, most of the crew were gone enjoying the holiday before we would ship out. I stowed my gear in my stateroom and began to explore the ship. Fortunately, I ran into Christopher Flint, a Port Engineer who oversees the design, construction and refit of much of the NOAA fleet. Mr. Flint took me through the galley, weather deck, bridge, flying deck the winch and engine room, fish labs and even the ships’ sanitation area called the “Domestic Equipment Room” on a whirlwind tour that pretty much did me in for the night.

The Pisces is the 3rd of 4 new Fisheries Survey ships built for the NOAA Fleet – It is a beautiful state-of-the-art ship 208 feet long and 49.2 feet wide or breadth – it can travel a steady 14 knots. Each of the class of NOAA ships is built for different scientific purposes but all the ships of the fleet carry out a mission “to protect, restore and manage the use of living marine, coastal, and ocean resources through ecosystem management.”

When I woke early this morning, the crew were moving about in a well-practiced sequence of procedures to get the Pisces underway. I met more members of the crew on my aimless search through up/down ladders to the Main Deck where I knew contained the galley and thus coffee. The fact many of the crew have come on this maiden cruise from other NOAA ships and work efficiently and seamless was amazing.

The Pisces can carry a crew of 6 commissioned NOAA officers, 4 engineers, 11 crew and 15 scientists. Of the crew I talk to, many have spent over 10 to 20 years with NOAA and have served on many ships; many have fondness for a certain ship or area, all carry a sense of pride for what they contribute to the overall mission. Although I have spent little more than a day on the ship, the more I watch and talk to people aboard the Pisces – the crew, the officers, and the scientists- everyone knows that they need to depend, respect and trust each other to do a good job.

Making my way to smell of breakfast and coffee in the galley I finally meet Jeanine Foucault, another Teacher at Sea. Jeannine was accepted to the Teacher at Sea Program a few years ago – after she and her Seventh-grade students from Sacred Heart School in Southaven Mississippi were selected to name the newest NOAA ship the Pisces. Over the past couple of years Jeanine and her students have seen the keel laying ceremony and the launch of the Pisces. Her team of students are now juniors in different high schools, but still follow the progress of the Pisces – one student even attended the commissioning ceremony a week ago. Many cruises and types of work are offered to Teachers at Sea – from working in the Bering Sea to Hawaii or the Caribbean – Jeanine is just as excited as I am to be here and share this experience with her students – out of all the different adventures she could of have gone on – she has waited a long time to be just on the Pisces!

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. 🙂

Chris Imhof, November 8, 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 8, 2009

Science Log

Yesterday, at the Deep Sea Corals Briefing we took a trip to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences “Wet Lab.” This off-site lab -Prairie Ridge-was once a 38-acre cattle pasture – and is now being used by the museum to restore the original Piedmont ecosystem and for outdoor education. The “wet lab” is located on site and is where many of the samples collected by scientists studying the deep coral reef ecosytem – go to be “processed” and “curate” the research.

The lab contains microscopes, hand lenses, lots of jars, species identification field guides. Specimens – usually fish come to the lab where they are identified and classified- placed in jars of 70% ethanol for long-term storage. Some specimens however are stored in 95% ethanol for potential DNA research.

Why are keeping specimens important? – Specimens classified here are entered on a global data base so scientists have access to them from anywhere-global diversity. Scientists study the specimens to compare with other species, morphology (the branch of biology dealing with the form and structure of organisms), compare age and growth, and understand over time where animals lived and are living geographically.The oldest specimens of fish were collected in the 1840’s – this gives scientists a chance to tell how species have changed over the past 150 years. Scientists also use specimens to develop “dichotomous keys”-a key for the identifying organisms based on a series of choices between characteristics.

The lab itself was pretty cool – The collection here contains over 800,000 specimens – one of the top 5 in the US – like a warehouse though it felt like Raiders of the Lost Anchovy – and strangely like the beginning of every zombie movie. Like expeditions to the Amazon – nearly every trip to the deep water coral habitat scientists have discovered a new species – hopefully this voyage will add another piece to the global bio-diversity puzzle. 🙂

Chris Imhof, November 7, 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 7, 2009

Science Log

Today I attended the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences – NOAA workshop on Deep Water Corals a few blocks from the North Carolina State Capital. Scientists, Professors, Teachers, Museum personnel and Management specialists met to discuss research, current understanding, methodology, protection and management of the deep water coral reef which exists on the edges of the planets’ continental shelf and slopes. Most people are aware of the warm water shallow reefs that occur worldwide – most people however are unaware of the corals and the reefs that exist nearly 1000′ feet beneath the surface of the ocean. Actually, only with the availability and technology of submersibles and remote operated vehicles (ROV’s) in recent years have scientists really begun to understand this unique ecosystem and the potential threats.

Awareness of these corals – dominated by the species of deep stony corals (Class Anthozoa) Lophelia pertusa – was made primarily by fisherman who pulled these branching corals up with their nets. An interesting fact is the Lophelia species itself may have been classified by the creator of the system of classification himself – Carolus Linneus. It was easily a couple of hundred of years from the time of Linnaeus classification to the moment a human saw these corals in their natural habitat. One of the scientists at this meetings was Sandra Brooke – Director of the Coral Conservation Center – who discussed the differences between shallow and deep corals. Whereas many know about the significance and threats to shallow water corals – the need to recognize the significance of deep water corals is even more vital. This is what I hope to convey through this site and my trip. Deep water corals provide a diverse – if not more diverse ecosystem as shallow corals. Lophelia and other deep corals provide the eco-framework for thousands of species – essentially a rainforest of the deep sea. These corals have already begun to provide extracts to fight cancer, Alzheimers and viral infections. Since all things in the deep cold waters take so long to grow – Lophelia and other species can be hundreds to thousands of years old ( A Golden Coral colony recently harvested for jewelry was found to be 4000 years old).

Corals have growth rings not unlike trees, in the corals scientists can see a window into the ocean’s past – determine ocean temperatures, salinity, heavy metals and other trace elements in the corals can indicate volcanic eruptions and even Saharaan dust storms. So not only do these corals provide a home and place on the food chain for thousands of species-contain a potential wealth of medicines – like a Rainforest – they are like our Redwoods and Bristlecones and ice cores – providing a window into the planet’s paleoecology. I hope to discuss more about what I learned at this briefing to set the stage for my voyage next week- including the technology and methodology scientists use to explore the deep seas- what specimens and data scientists collects, what happens to these specimens and how and what scientists learn from these specimens. The species of animals that lives on the deep water reefs and how scientists, the government and private sector work together to manage these ecosystems into the future.

Clare Wagstaff, September 18, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Key West
Date: Saturday, September 18, 2009

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (information taken at 12 noon) 
Weather: Sunny Visibility (nautical miles): 10
Wind Speed (knots): 0 (in port)
Wave Height (feet): <1
Sea Water Temp (0C): 30.4
Air Temp (0C): 32

Science and Technology Log 

Right: Black-band Disease on Montastraea annularis. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley
Black-band Disease on Montastraea annularis. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley

With the last dive of the cruise over, the group has completed 175 dives, which equates to 7.5 days underwater! Most of the planned coral reef sites have been surveyed even with our lack of a third small boat. The weather has stayed relatively calm and has been surprisingly supportive of our cruise. The mad rush is now to input all the remaining data before we disembark the ship later today.

An area that I have only briefly referred to in previous logs, are the types of coral diseases present and being studied. Chief Scientist, Scott Donahue, commented to me that there has been a trend over the last decade of decreasing coral coverage. This is believed to be related to anthropogenic stresses such as water quality and climate change. By comparing spatial and temporal patterns against trends in coral reef disease, over different geographic regions and reef types, it is hoped that a greater understanding of how these patterns are related to different environmental conditions. The team was specifically looking at ten disease conditions affecting 16 species of Scleractinian corals and Gorgonian sea fans. Although I tried to identify some of the diseases, it was actually quite difficult to distinguish between individual diseases and also other causes of coral mortality.

White-band Disease on Acropora cervicornis. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley
White-band Disease on Acropora cervicornis. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley

Black-band Disease is a crescent shaped or circular band of blackish material that separates living material from white exposed skeleton. It is caused by a cyanobacteria in combination with a sulfide oxidizing bacteria and a sulfur reducing bacteria. White-band Disease displays a margin of white tissue decay. It can start at the base of a colony or in the middle. It affects branching corals and its cause is currently unknown. Corals have a pretty tough time living out in the ocean and have many problems to overcome. If its not a boat’s anchor crushing it could be any number of the following; a parrot fish (predator) eating it; deterioration of the water quality; a hurricane; an increase in major competitors like algae or tunicates, and to nicely top it all, it can always get a disease too!

Most of the scientists on the Nancy Foster are volunteers, giving up their own free time to be part of the trip. Kathy Morrow is a Ph.D. student who has extensively studied the ecology of cnidarians for the past 9 years. She is currently researching her dissertation on the community structure and stability of coral-algal-microbial associations based on studies conducted off the coast of Summerland Key, Florida and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. On one of the last dives of the trip Kathy takes time to collect mucus samples (she refers to this fondly as coral “snot”), from a site she has previously visited numerous times over the last few years. The objective is to collect mucus samples so that they can be studied later for their bacteria composition.

Morrow collecting coral mucus. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley.
Morrow collecting coral mucus. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley.

Once Kathy has collected these samples she must process them so that they can be stored until she has the opportunity back in the lab, to analyze them. Although I was not present when Kathy was collecting the samples, I did help her in the wet lab with the final stages of storing her collection of samples. Having collected multiple mucus samples from each of the preselected coral species in syringes, the samples were then placed into a centrifuge to extract the bacteria present. This material is denser, so sinks to the bottom ad forms a darker colored pellet. My job is then to remove the excess liquid, but preserve the bacteria pellet so that it can be frozen and stored for later analysis. Back in the lab at Auburn University, Kathy will chemically breakdown the bacteria to release their DNA. This DNA is then replicated and amplified allowing for Kathy to perform analysis on the bacteria to identify the types present in the corals. Kathy will spend the next year studying these bacteria samples and many more she has collected.

Personal Log 

Here I am helping Kathy Morrow preserving coral mucus specimens. Photo courtesy of Cory Walter
Here I am helping Kathy Morrow preserving coral mucus specimens. Photo courtesy of Cory Walter

So here we are back in port after an amazing time on the Nancy Foster. I was initially concerned about being out at sea with people I did not know, studying an area of science I really knew very little about, in an environment I knew would probably make me sick, but didn’t thank goodness! But everything turned out to be a thousand times better than I could have imagined. I have had seen so much and learnt an amazing amount that my head is spinning with all the ideas I have to use with my classes back at school. Yet, there are things that I just rang out of time to look more closely at and part of me wishes we had been out at sea longer. My second time as a Teacher At Sea, has left me with some wonderful memories of the most professional and dedicated scientists and crew you could wish for, but also of how amazing corals are and how much we still have to learn. Thank you everyone who was involved in making this a truly remarkable and memorable experience.

The 2009 coral research team and Teacher At Sea, Clare Wagstaff on board the Nancy
The 2009 coral research team and Teacher At Sea, Clare Wagstaff on board the Nancy Foster

Clare Wagstaff, September 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Dry Tortugas National Park
Date: Saturday, September 16, 2009

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (information taken at 12 noon) 
Weather: Sunny with scattered showers with thunder storms
Visibility (nautical miles): 10
Wind Speed (knots): 4
Wave Height (feet): 1
Sea Water Temp (0C): 30.6
Air Temp (0C): 30

Science and Technology Log 

Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) and numerous Sergeant Majors (Abudefduf  saxatilis)
Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) and numerous Sergeant Majors (Abudefduf saxatilis)

Today I am with a new survey group. As the days go by and each of the scientists gets more dives under their belts, there is some fatigue starting to set in. So on a rotation basis, the divers are taking rest days to catch-up on sleep, emails and data entry. This morning I am with Lauri, Lonny and Sarah. The first dive site is about 33  feet deep and although I can see the bottom from our small boat, the water is extremely green and doesn’t allow me to see anything in real detail when I snorkeled. A little disappointed at the clarity of the water, I am definitely perked up by the next site, CR03. At just 8 feet deep, I can see much more and the water appears less green.

A lobster hiding in the coral
A lobster hiding in the coral

This site was something special! Even from above the water, we could observe large and impressive Acropora palmata. It looked like a large underwater forest. There was a massive diversity of fish specie present that appeared to be supported by the micro-ecosystem that the Acropora palmata created by its large lobes that fan out across the ocean floor. They provide plenty of nooks for green moray eels and multiple lobsters I saw to hide in. This coral grows approximately 10cm a year, but as with all coral species, this growth can be affected by various factors including the most recent hurricanes.

We were surveying in an area known as a Sanctuary Preservation Area or commonly a “No Take Zone”, yet a small boat located within the marking buoys appeared to be spear fishing. The Coxswain on our boat noted that the group brought numerous fish up into their boat while we were underwater. Within a short distance we also observed two other lobster pot buoys located within this zone. Lauri, called this into the Nancy Foster and asked that the Chief Scientist report this to the Marine Law Enforcement office, so that they could send a patrol boat out to investigate. This activity is not permitted in this zoned area.

Coral identification 

Diploria strigosa
Diploria strigosa

Today, I tried to indentify all the different varieties of coral I had photographed. Dr. Joshua Voss, the ship’s expert of coral identification looked over my attempt at scientifically naming 30 different photos. Much to my delight, I got 28 correct! Now I just need to remember them when I am underwater! My greatest difficulty seems to be differentiating between Montastraea spp.annularis, faveolata and franksi, as they have quite similar morphotypes. I just have to keep practicing and asking for help when I’m not sure. What makes me feel a little better is sometimes even the pro’s have trouble distinguishing between certain corals, particularly if they are trying to identify a hybrid which is a mixture of two different species.

Personal Log 

Diploria clivosa
Diploria clivosa

I am always amazed at how resourceful divers can be. Somehow duct tape comes in useful wherever you are. Today was no exception! Geoff, who forgot his dive booties (a type of neoprene sock that you wear inside you fins) has made himself a pair out of another team member’s white socks and a few lengths of duct tape. He does look very entertaining, but they do seem to be working!

Acropora palmata
Acropora palmata

I am feeling very privileged to be surrounded by so many intelligent, passionate and brilliant people. Not only are most of people on the survey teams volunteers and so not getting paid, they are also embracing each part of the cruise with a great sense of humor and consistent high spirits. Even though they are all tired (to date they have accumulated 133 dives between them this cruise), they still banter back and forth with one another in a lighthearted way. All but myself and Mike Henley are returning for their third, fourth, even 13th time, to help collect this vital data. Even though diving has many hazards and is dangerous work, these folks are real experts and I truly feel lucky to be around such inspiring people. I have been diving for five years, but I don’t think I will ever look at a reef in the same way again. They have opened my eyes, and now my job is to go back to chilly Buffalo and develop a way to get this across to my 6th and 8th grade science classes. If I can inspire even just one child, like Joshua’s science teacher did for him as a teenager, then perhaps they too will go on to become a marine biologist, who study some of the smallest, yet most important creatures on our planet.

 Montastraea annularis
Montastraea annularis

As 7pm draws close, the science group gather on the front deck to watch the sunset. It is a beautiful sky, but just to make the evening more special, along come three dolphins riding the wake of the bow of the Nancy Foster. I leap up like a child and run to the edge of the ship to get a closer look, having never seen dolphins in the wild before! They are so graceful and as we all lean over and cheer as the breach the water and splash their fins, you start to wonder, if they are actually watching us as much as we are watching them. Such grace and natural beauty brings another day aboard the Nancy Foster to an end. I’m just not sure how each day keeps topping itself, and with two left to come, who knows what adventures may become this team!

“Animals Seen Today” 

Three bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncates) riding the wake of the Nancy Foster 

Bottlenose dolphins riding in the Foster’s wake
Bottlenose dolphins riding in the Foster’s wake

Clare Wagstaff, September 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Dry Tortugas National Park
Date: Saturday, September 15, 2009

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (information taken at 12 noon) 
Weather: Partially sunny, with scattered showers and thunder storms
Visibility (nautical miles): 10
Wind Speed (knots): 2
Wave Height (feet): 1
Sea Water Temp (0C): 30.6
Air Temp (0C): 30

Science and Technology Log 

I am starting to get used to the scientific names of the corals, but it is taking a while. I keep wanting to refer to them by their common name which is generally descriptive of their physical appearance, but makes little to no reference to which other coral it is more closely related to Dr. Joshua Voss, one of the scientists on board pointed out that the common names could vary depending on who is identifying them, yet the scientific name remains the same. Hence why the whole team refers to the scientific names when referring to the corals.

So what are corals? 

Parts of a coral (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/ corals/media/supp coral01a.html)
Parts of a coral

Corals are members of the Animal Kingdom and are classified in the Phylum Cnidaria. People often mistake    these creatures for plants, because they are attached to the rock, show little movement, and closely resemble plants. Corals consist of a polyp, which are a cup-shaped body with one opening, which is its mouth and anus.

Zooxanthellae (zoo-zan-thel-ee) are single cell plants (photosynthetic algae) that grow within the polyps’ tissue. It forms a mutalistic symbiotic relationship with the polyp. The algae gets a protected environment and the compounds it requires for photosynthesis, whilst the algae provides the polyp with the materials necessary to produce calcium carbonate, which is the hard “shell” that surrounds the polyp.

So why is this cruise surveying corals? 

Clare Wagstaff, Teacher At Sea, snorkeling
Clare Wagstaff, Teacher At Sea, snorkeling

There has been a decreasing trend in coral coverage over the last decade. One theory is that this is due to anthropogenic stress related to water quality and climate change.  Coral’s require certain environmental factors to be within sensitive boundaries, such as water temperature, salinity, clarity of water, and water movement. Although most species only grow a few centimeters each year, they are the backbone to a massive underwater ecosystem, hence their extreme importance to the success of our oceans. By studying the trends in species distribution, size and disease over various geographic regions, their corrolations can be desricbed in better detail.

Personal Log 

Palythoa spp. observed covering most of the reef at station RK02 and Watercress Alga (Halimeda opuntia). Polythoa is not a coral and in fact competes with coral for space in the reef.
Palythoa spp. observed covering most of the reef at station RK02 and Watercress Alga (Halimeda opuntia). Polythoa is not a coral and in fact competes with coral for space in the reef.

This morning I once again join Team C that composes of Dr. Joshua Voss, Kathy Morrow and Mike Henley to survey three dive sites called RK01, RK02 & RK03. We have now got into a comfortable routine and everyone seems to work well together. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for the boat, NF4! During our last dive on Monday, the boat started to leak oil and is now out of commission for the rest of the cruise. Instead we are on the much smaller and less luxurious, NF2, which also happens to be much slower! However, after the usual dive brief we set out for a day of adventures upon the open sea. The second dive site today proved to be the best for snorkeling and I was able to observe a large variety of plants and animals from on the surface.

“Did You Know?” 

Here I am pointing to the waterspout
Here I am pointing to the waterspout

Waterspouts are simply tornadoes over water. They are common in tropical areas where thunderstorms regularly occur, such as the Florida Keys! Today we saw a prime example of one within a few miles of the NANCY FOSTER.

“New Term/Phrase/Word” 

Anthropogenic – caused or produced by human activities such as industry, agriculture, mining, and construction.

The final survey site, RK03 was very shallow at around 8 ft. The dive team decided to make their observations snorkeling rather than diving. Unfortunately, Kathy was so engrossed in her work that she did not see a moon jellyfish swim right into her face! She put on a very brave front and we quickly returned to the NF2 and back to the NANCY FOSTER. The medial treatment for such a sting is to drench the area in vinegar, which neutralizes the nematocysts that may still be clinging to the skin. Luckily, Kathy made a quick recovery, even if she did smell a little like vinegar for the rest of the day!

Clare Wagstaff, September 13, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Dry Tortugas National Park
Date: Saturday, September 13, 2009

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (information taken at 12 noon) 
Weather: Sunny with scattered showers and thunderstorms
Visibility (nautical miles): 10
Wind Speed (knots): 14
Wave Height (feet): 1-2
Sea Water Temp (0C): 29.8
Air Temp (0C): 32

Science and Technology Log 

Hermit crabs at Fort Jefferson
Hermit crabs at Fort Jefferson

Today the dive plan was to survey some of the deeper sites in the FKNMS (Florida Keys National Marine Sancturay) Tortugas Ecological Reserve, referred to as Sherwood Forest. The dive depth varied between 65 to 80 feet. That meant that snorkeling would probably result in me observing very little. My slightly sunburned forehead, needing to get some of my logs composed in more detail, as well as the diving situation, gave me a prime opportunity to stay on the boat for the majority of the day.

So this morning after the dive brief I waved off the team and set out to do some exploring of the ship and do a little more research about what happens before the team actually gets into the water.

The survey teams are planning on making two separate dives on each site to complete the whole of the radial arc transect. The amount of gas each diver requires, depends on a number of variables, including depth, level of physical fitness and amount of activity undertaken in the water. Scuba diving is also limited by a number of factors such as available air, blood nitrogen level, etc.

What is scuba diving? 

Scuba is an acronym for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. The first commercially successful scuba was developed by Emile Gagnan and Jacques-Yves Cousteau, in 1943 and is now widely used around the world as a recreational sport. Sports divers are normally restricted to 130ft, where as technical deep divers can reach depths much greater. During this trip the maximum dive site depth will not exceed 80ft.

Dive brief – Safety First! 

The Wet Lab on the Nancy Foster
The Wet Lab on the Nancy Foster

Before each dive the cruise’s Dive Master, Sarah Fangman gives the scuba divers a brief run through of the priorities for today’s diving. As usual, this means safety is the top priority and Sarah highlights important factors, such as watching your air consumption and making sure that each diver returns with at least 500psi, that each team goes over their dive plan (how deep, for how long, what they will do during the dive), check that all equipment is functioning correctly, and that all the dive data is being recorded. This means prior to the divers getting into the water, their tanks air pressure, Nitrox percentage, name, and time of entry into the water must be logged. Once the dive has ended and the divers are back on the boat, they must once again record their tank air pressure (must be more than 500psi), their bottom depth and sometimes time in the water. Even after the dive is done, the whole team is responsible for each other and has to monitor everyone’s condition for at least the next 30 minutes.

What do the divers breath? 

The divers are breathing Nitrox. Regular scuba has a very specific ratio of nitrogen to oxygen; it tries to mimic the air found on the surface of the Earth as closely as possible. Nitrox diving, on the other hand, tweaks this mixture to maximize bottom time (i.e., the diver’s time spent underwater) and minimize surface intervals (i.e., the time the diver must stay on the surface before diving back in). Before each dive, the individual diver must check his or her own tank for the gases composition and record the oxygen content on their tank. This is because at depths oxygen can actually become toxic.

Science Data Processing 

wagstaff_log3b
A coral species count and bleaching data sheet showing the tally of Montastraea annularis

There are two main areas on the Nancy Foster designated for the science research, the wet lab and the dry lab. The dry lab is where the computers for data entry and processing are located. It is here that the survey team meetings happen every morning and afternoon to discuss which dives site will be surveyed and how the data entry process is going.

Lauri MacLaughlin is the ship’s resident expert on each dive site and gives a detailed map of each site. This includes compass bearings relating to certain underwater features and the GPS coordinates. The wet lab, is just as the name suggests, wet! This is where any experiments can be carried out and also where the scuba tanks are refilled with Nitrox.

Data entry 

wagstaff_log3cEach of the scientists has to transcribe all the data they observed at each dive site. Underwater, the two scientists that are recording data each have a clipboard with the relevant waterproof data forms attached. These forms have a standardised and detailed table, which they then write on using a regular pencil. The data collected on three sheets refers to coral disease, coral bleaching count (for quantity of each species and percentage of bleaching) and coral measurements.

Tally charts and acronyms are a plenty, making it difficult for me to understand the hand-jotted notes of the various scientist. Each of them describes the species of coral by its scientific name. However, my limited knowledge is based upon the common name for most species. I did help Lauri input some of her data today. The tally charts of the number of observed specie are simple enough that I can read and enter the data, along with the size of the first ten individuals of each species. However, after that, the real experts need to get involved! This data must be entered after each dive into a spreadsheet database so that all the information can be collaborated and processed by the end of the cruise.

Personal Log 

Geoff Cook entering data from his dive onto a central database in the dry lab.
Geoff Cook entering data from his dive onto a central database in the dry lab.

This evening our group had the chance to go for a night snorkel around the sea wall of Fort Jefferson. This use to be a fort during the civil war and in more recent years it has been a prison. The objective of the snorkel trip was to hopefully witness the coral spawn. Scientists’ observations indicate a strong connection between the coral spawn and seasonal lunar cycles. Though the polyp release cannot be guaranteed to happen on an exact date, approximately three to ten days after the full moon in late August, early September, the majority of corals in the Caribbean spawn in the late evening. Spawning is when the male and female polyps release their gametes (sperm and eggs). This synchronizing means that there is a greater chance of fertilization. Clues that spawning may take place are swelling that appears at the polyps mouth/anus, where the gametes are released from, as well as brittle stars and fire worms gathering in readiness for a feeding frenzy!

Clare Wagstaff barely visible behind two Caribbean Reef Squid. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley.
Clare Wagstaff barely visible behind two Caribbean Reef Squid. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley.

Unfortunately, we did not witness the spawning but we did observe a green moray eel, two Caribbean reef squid, a conch, a scorpion fish, and multiple sea urchins, sea stars, and moon jellyfish. Perhaps one of the most unusual sights of the night was witnessed on our way back to the dock after our snorkel. We observed a tree trunk covered in hundreds of hermit crabs, varying in size.  They made a horrible crunching sound as they climbed over each other on their way up the tree and as we accidentally stepped on them in the dark!

One of my lasting memories of the evening will be the night sky. It was the most brilliant picture I have ever seen. With no light pollution for miles and a clear evening sky, it made the most perfect picture. It looked like there wasn’t a clear inch in the sky for any more stars to fit in it. It was just beautiful and a great way to end the day!

 

Clare Wagstaff, September 12, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Dry Tortugas National Park
Date: Saturday, September 12, 2009

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (information taken at 12 noon) 
Weather: Sunny with scattered showers and thunderstorms
Visibility (nautical miles): 10
Wind Speed (knots): 10
Wave Height (feet): 2
Sea Water Temp (0C): 30
Air Temp (0C): 30

Science and Technology Log 

Mike Henley, Kathy Morrow and Dr. Joshua Voss, the survey team aboard NF4.
Mike Henley, Kathy Morrow and Dr. Joshua Voss, the survey team aboard NF4.

With another early start under our belts, the science team and I are up, breakfast eaten, briefed on today’s mission, and ready to embark on another day of coral surveying. The ship deployed three v-hulled small boats for us to reach our dive sites. The divers have been split up into three teams and I get to go along with Joshua, Kathy and Mike on the NF4. Out of the boats, this is the newest and fastest, much to the delight of our science team! Having done the practice run yesterday at the QA site, the divers seem keen and eager to get into the water and identify the coral.

So how do they actually survey the area? 

Each group works in a team of three, surveying a radial arc belt transect. Each of the sites has already been previously marked, normally with a large metal or PVC pipe inserted into the area to be surveyed.

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 11.57.12 AM

Mike is the line tender, which means that his job is to hold the ten meter line straight out from the post, just a few feet above the coral. He slowly moves the line around the pole in an arc. The line is marked at eight and ten meters. At each of these lengths a short marker hangs down to signal the two-meter survey area. The objective is then for Kathy and Joshua to observe the coral and note the number of species of coral present, their size and how they interact with each other, while also recording the presence of disease (type and percentage cover) within the 113.1m2 area.

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 11.58.01 AM

Chief Scientist, Scott Donahue showed me some of the months of paperwork that was required for this mission to happen. Scott stated that he started work on preparing for this trip nearly four years ago, first requesting time aboard the Nancy Foster and then proceeding with recruiting scientists and permits. Today we are required to have a ‘Scientific Research and Collecting Permit’ for the surveys in Dry Tortugas National Park.

Personal Log 

Survey team of Kathy Morrow (top, middle), Mike Henley (top, left) and Dr. Joshua Voss (bottom, right) surveying site LR6.
Survey team of Kathy Morrow (top, middle), Mike Henley (top, left) and Dr. Joshua Voss (bottom, right) surveying site LR6.

What a great day! I am starting to find my feet and get more comfortable with how the ship works, getting to know the science team, and learning more about the actual coral. I haven’t been sea sick, which seems pretty remarkable to me considering my past history with boats! The sun has been shining and the water is clear and reasonably warm at around 30 oC.

Even though the water may sound warm, I am still wearing my wetsuit, much to the amusement of some of the other divers who are complaining that they are too warm in the shorty wetsuits (only to the knee and elbow). I classify myself as part of the “wimp divers” association. I was quite content and comfortable in my 3mm, full body wetsuit and had hours of enjoyment snorkeling around. However, wearing a full wetsuit does let you forget that there are some parts of your body that still get exposed to sunlight. The tops of my hands are bright red and are nicely sunburned from being in the water most of the day with no sunscreen on them! Oh well, I’ll remember next time.

“Did You Know” 

Being a novice at coral identification, Blade Fire coral (Millepora complanta) looks similar to Fused Staghorn coral (Acropora prolifera). However, they are actually very different. Fire coral is a hydroid and is in fact more closely related to the Portuguese Man ‘O’ War than other classes of coral! Hydrozoans usually consist of small colonies of polyps that are packed with stinging cells called nematocysts on the tentacles of the polyps. Watch out though, it can give you a very nasty sting and rash!

For more information: http://www.reef.edu.au/asp_pages/secb.asp?FormNo=18 

“Animals Seen Today” 

Long-spined Urchin (Diadema antillarum) and Boulder star coral (Montastraea annularis)
Long-spined Urchin (Diadema antillarum) and Boulder star coral (Montastraea annularis)

The variety of marine wildlife observed was much greater today than previous dives. The dive sites were much shallower, which meant that as a snorkeler I could really observe much more and in more detail. At only eight to ten feet in depth and with good visibility, this made for a great and interesting dive. One of the science team commented that it was good to observe these echinoderms in the coral reefs. They eat algae that can negatively compete with the coral. So there presence is excellent news for the coral.

Clare Wagstaff, September 11, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Key West
Date: Saturday, September 11, 2009 (Day 1)

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (12 noon) 
Weather: Overcast early am and sunny pm
Visibility (nautical miles):  10
Wind Speed (knots):  2
Wave Height (feet): <1
Sea Water Temp (0C): 30.4
Air Temp (0C): 27.5

Science and Technology Log 

“The first few days are always a settling in period,” commented one of the scientists this morning. It seems as if there is so much to do and already there may not be enough time!  The majority of the science crew and I arrived yesterday afternoon into the warm and sunny Key West. A pleasant change to the cold, Autumnal weather I had been experiencing in Buffalo, NY. We boarded our new home for eight days, the NOAA ship Nancy Foster. The objective of the eight-day research cruise is to survey multiple preselected coral reef sites and study the coral for its condition and the presence of disease. The assessment of each dive site will be done by a group of NOAA qualified SCUBA divers who are also trained scientists, mainly marine biologists. This study has been performed for the last 13 years and has so far amassed a large quantity of data that has produced technical memorandums, peer review papers, and an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) publication based on the data from cruises 1997 through to 2002 cruises.

I have been kindly invited along as a Teacher At Sea to witness the science team in action and serve as part of the project’s outreach messaging service. The objective is to give the general public a broader understanding of the cruise’s mission.

The science team on board the Nancy Foster is made up of the following people:

Scott Donahue – Chief Scientist NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Interesting Fact: Scott’s main inspiration to study lobsters early on in his academic research, was partially based on the fact that he loves to eat them! Scott commented that there are always a few lobsters leftover after a study, but that they never go to waste!

Geoff Cook – Co-Principal Investigator George Mason University, Virginia. Interesting fact: Geoff is currently writing his dissertation for his Ph.D. on comparing bacterial communities associated with diseased and apparently healthy corals.

Lauri MacLaughlin – Co-Principal Investigator NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Interesting Fact: Lauri has close to 2,000 dives logged and has personally mapped the majority of the coral reef sites this cruise is studying. She has a special rapport with the ocean and corals, knowing individual coral heads and jokingly referring to them as her “babies!”

Josh Voss, Ph.D. – Co-Principal Investigator Robertson Coral Reef Program 

Lonny Anderson – Survey Team Member NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Florida. Interesting Fact: Lonny used to help his parents with their commercial spear fishing business, catching grouper and red snapper off Daytona Beach. Now Lonny is working to protect the things he used to kill!

Paul Chetirkin – Videographer Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary 

Mike Henley – Survey Team Member Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park, Washington D.C. Interesting Fact: Mike is interested in all invertebrates and will happily skip the panda bear exhibit at the zoo in preference to watching the cutle fish!

George Garrett – Survey Team Member City of Marathon 

Sarah Fangman – Cruise Dive Master and Survey Team Member NOAA’s Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary 

Interesting Fact: Originally from Minnesota, as a young child Sarah went to the Grand Cayman on vacation. She became so captivated with the underwater life there that even when she got extremely sunburned she still wanted to snorkel and was only allowed to fully clothed! Sarah has also ventured 10,000 ft down in the submersible ALVIN in the Gulf of Mexico.

Kathy Morrow – Survey Team Member Auburn University, Alabama. Interesting Fact: Kathy is actually studying coral “snot” as part of her Ph.D. program. Strangely enough, she is extremely passionate about it and has had a great interest in marine biology since she went to Sea Camp in 6th grade!

Cory Walter – Survey Team Member Mote Marine Laboratory’s Tropical Research Lab, Florida. 

Day one begins with a 7am breakfast followed by a gear check and a brief meeting with the science team. The ships Operations Officer and Chief Scientist go over the day’s dive plan. The objective today is to ensure that all the divers are identifying the correct species of coral, correctly estimating their size, and identify any coral disease present.

The dive teams quickly collected all the necessary dive gear and prepared to board two small boats borrowed from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. These take us from the Nancy Foster to the shallower dive sites. The first location today is set within the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary and is located near to one of the 5 lighthouses in the area that mark the shallow reefs. Certain areas have been marked off with buoys that signal a “No Take Zone”, where extractive activities are not allowed (e.g. fishing, collecting coral, catching lobsters).

Each of the dive sites that we will be surveying has a unique name. The sites to be surveyed were originally randomly generated by a computer program when the research first began in 1997. The first dive site we visit today is called Sand Key Reef also referred to as SK01. This is the location for QA/QC dive survey, which stands for quality assurance/quality control. The objective is for each diver to assess the same area of coral and identify each species over 10cm in diameter (except Agarica (all species) and Dichocoenia stokesii which are measured if they are over 5cm). This site is always used to establish a baseline in identification. Inter and intra quality assurance takes place, checking not only each diver against each other, but also against themselves by each diver repeating the surveying process of surveying this site twice.

Where are we? 

A map of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
A map of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

The Florida Keys is a chain of islands at the southern most tip of Florida. About 100,000 years ago the area was under the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and existed as a string of living coral reefs at the edge of the continental shelf. The sea level was 25 feet higher then than today. As the last glacier period (the Wisconsin) began, the ocean receded and the sea level dropped, exposing the coral reefs. The combination of various environmental factors killed the coral, but left bedrock of limestone exposed as land. As the climate and sea level changed over the preceding years, the lower elevation limestone has partially resubmerged and allowed living corals to attach and grow again, forming a new coral reef “highway”, 4 to 5 mile offshore. The science team will be surveying coral reef sites inside the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Dry Tortugas National Park.

Staghorn Coral (Acropora cervicornis), in the same family as the Elkhorn (Acropora palmata)
Staghorn Coral (Acropora cervicornis), in the same family as the Elkhorn (Acropora palmata)

On the third dive site for the day, Lauri MacLaughlin pointed out multiple Elkhorn Corals (Acropora palmata) whose appearance is just as its name suggests! Lauri noted that these were relatively young corals, perhaps just a few years old due to their size. She also stated that they had reproduced through sexual reproduction because there was no fragmentation of their flattened branches, which would happen in asexual reproduction. This coral is on the United States Endangered Species list and classified as threatened.

Because we departed early this morning on board the sanctuary boats, the science team missed the safety drills that are performed within 24 hours of each ship departing port. Instead the Operations Officer, Abigail Higgins gave us a run down of the safety procedures. We were also required to try on our survival emersion suits.

Personal Log 

The science team and Teacher at Sea, Clare Wagstaff (right) in their survival suits
The science team and Teacher at Sea, Clare Wagstaff in their survival suits

Well here I am at last! My second attempt at being a NOAA Teacher At Sea! In May of 2008 I was on board the JOHN COBB studying harbor seals when the engine crankshaft broke just a few days into the mission. The JOHN COBB was not only the smallest, but also the oldest ship in NOAA’s fleet. With a crew of just eight, everyone knew each other well and lived in very close proximity. However, the NANCY FOSTER is very different. At 187ft in length it is nearly doubles the size of the JOHN COBB. In fact, the NANCY FOSTER has it beaten on almost all fronts regarding scale. Built originally as a Navy yard torpedo test (YTT) craft, she was outfitted in 2001, to conduct a variety of oceanic studies along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts and within the Caribbean Sea. It is crewed by 21 people and can accommodate 15 scientists. It seems quite strange to be at sea again on a NOAA ship, but in such very different circumstances. I keep comparing it to the JOHN COBB and I still feel a little sad that I was on the JOHN COBB’s last mission before it was decommissioned.

I am sharing the smallest room with one of the ships crew, Jody Edmond.  Jody is a Mate in Training. It is a simple, yet comfortable room, with two bunks, a small wardrobe, a desk and a sink. However, for two people to both standup in the same space let a lone get dressed or brush your teeth, it is very difficult due to the cramped conditions! Jody is living on the boat full time and so has a lot more “stuff” than I, so I am trying very hard not to take up too much room. Because the ship needs to be constantly manned 24 hours a day, the crew on the bridge is on a shift system working 12-4 (am and pm), 4-8 (am and pm), or 8-12 (am and pm). Some of the crew even work a schedule of 12 hours on and then 12 hours off, a pretty long day! Jody is on the 12-4 shift, which means during the majority of the time I am a wake she is sleeping. This isn’t uncommon so everyone on the ship has to be respectful of the noise level and keep relatively quiet during all hours of the day near the sleeping berth areas.

One of the many barracuda that would circle around snorkelers
One of the many barracuda that would circle around snorkelers

Unfortunately, although I am a qualified NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) scuba diver, I am not certified by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to dive. This means that during the dives I will only be able to snorkel and so I must watch from above what the scientists are doing below. I thought this would lead to some frustration on my part, as I would love to be working side by side with the science team 30 feet below the surface.

However, while the divers survey the area, I snorkel around on the surface watching them. I am not alone though! I am surrounded by moon jellyfish and one rather large barracuda that seemed to take quite a liking to me. I am very careful to avoid swimming into the jellyfish, which can cause a nasty sting and keep my hands close to my body incase the barracuda thinks my fingers might be dinner!

“New Term/Phrase/Word” Hyperplasia – is a general term referring to the proliferation of cells within an organ or tissue beyond that which is ordinarily seen. This can be seen in coral species such as symmetrical brain coral (Diploria strigosa). Geoff Cook described this as a coral looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger or a coral having Botox!

A brain coral
A brain coral

Coral Mucus or “coral snot”– secreted by the coral. When too much dirt (sediment) collects on the sticky mucus layer, the coral sloughs it off and makes a new one, acting as a replaceable defense mechanism. Some corals also use it to catch food and it is loaded with microbes, not unlike our skin.

“Who are they?”

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary 
Established in 1990 it was done so to protect a spectacular marine ecosystem. It encompasses 2,800 square miles. It is the only sanctuary that completely surrounds a community, that of all the Florida Keys.

NOAA 
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Formed in 1970, it is a Federal agency focused on the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere. It encompasses, daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings and climate monitoring to fisheries management, coastal restoration and supporting marine commerce.

 “Did You Know?” Key West got its name after the Spanish conquistadores reportedly found a beach in the southern most islands stern with the bleached bones of the Native Americans. They called the key, Cayo Hueso (pronounced KY-o WAY-so) or “Island of bones”. Bahamian settlers pronounced the Spanish name as Key West!

Flamingo Tongue on a common sea fan (Gorgonia ventalina)
Flamingo Tongue on a common sea fan (Gorgonia ventalina)

“Animals Seen Today” 

Among many different species of coral and other animals, was a personal favorite of mine Flamingo Tongues. These are a variety of snail that are predators that feed on gorgonians (sea fans). 

Lynette Swiger, July 22, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lynette Swiger
Onboard NASA Ship Liberty Star
July 16 – August 23, 2008

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida
Date: July 22, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Air temperature: 84 degrees
Water temperature: 80 degrees
Barometer: 29.95
Wind: SW at 6.5 knots
Waves: South at 3 feet
Visibility: 3 miles

A small boat on the LIBERTY STAR had to be deployed to untwist the ROV cord from the ship's propeller.
A small boat on the LIBERTY STAR had to be deployed to untwist the ROV cord from the ship’s propeller.

Science and Technology Log 

Unless something unexpected happens, this will be my last journal entry. Our last day of operations is tomorrow morning, we have only one camera trap drop, and we will be doing basically the same activities that I’ve covered in previous journals. I will finish this science and technology section of my log with some general ideas and items that I’ve found of interest and that may not be known widely known. So here goes…..

The ROV is on the mending list, but isn’t yet fully recovered. It is able to dive and use the underwater video camera but the digital still camera is not responding to commands. However, it makes us all a little happier to see the little guy up and running. *Post journal entry: The ROV’s cable again became caught on the ship’s propeller. The cable was hopelessly twisted and had to be manually removed from the prop. The ROV is finished for this cruise and we are doing only video camera array recordings. 

  • Scientific projects almost always encounter glitches, but part of the process is learning to work around the glitch or to have a backup plan in place.
  • A project is not a failure simply because its results don’t support hypotheses. In fact, most statistical tests are designed to reject the hypothesis.
  • Replication of data over time is essential to authenticity of results.
  • We have observed no tilefish on any days of diving, although their habitat is muddy bottoms and we have focused on reef areas which grouper prefer.
  • Fish are not necessarily found everywhere in the ocean. Instead, life seems to teem around outcroppings, ledges, and drop-offs that can provide hiding places. These appear haphazardly and we must search with the ROV for these places in order to find a congregation of fish.
  • We have not seen a shark or octopus on this cruise though both inhabit these waters. We saw one or two piles of shells that could signal an octopus in the area because an octopus will eat shellfish and drop the shells in a pile near its hiding place.
  • Some species, such as grouper, shy away from the camera and scuttle to their hideyholes while others, such as the short bigeye seem to pose for the camera. They are reminiscent of people in that way.
  • The ROV is a technological wonder. It can travel faster, farther, and deeper than a diver and does not need to decompress. Though expensive, loss of an ROV is much better than loss of human life.
  • Good food in abundant amounts goes a long way toward keeping people happy.

Lynn (right) poses with some fellow crewmembers
Lynn (right) poses with some fellow crewmembers

Animals Seen 
In two dives covered this morning we saw about thirty lionfish. As I mentioned in previous journaling, lionfish are now a concern in the Atlantic Ocean. In the grouper/snapper complex, with which the lionfish competes, we saw porgy, soapfish, hogfish, white grunt, triggerfish, rock hind, graysby, and scamp. Outside the economically important fish groups we saw five types of angelfish, three types of butterflyfish, cubbyu, sunshine fish, pearly razorfish, and short and regular big-eye. Two interesting finds were a chain moray eel and several sea stars. That’s not the full extent of the list, but it’s a good beginning!  

Vocabulary 
Octopus, octopi, inhabit, replicate, and authenticity.

Career Connection 
For anyone interested in a career aboard a ship, I would like to introduce Dave. He is a staff person on this particular cruise because he is filling in for someone who is absent.  He has actually served as captain of this ship in the past and now has an office job on land where one of his tasks is trying to envision new programs for the future.

Dave knew that he wanted to work aboard a ship so he attended a maritime college in Massachusetts and received a Bachelor of Science degree in marine transportation. He also sat for and passed an examination for a U.S. Coast Guard license, and he received a naval reserve commission as an officer. People with these licenses can work on all types and sizes of ships from tugboats to cargo vessels to large cruise ships. They also have the wonderful opportunity to travel around the world as part of their job. Dave has worked in the oil fields on offshore supply boats. He’s worked in the Gulf of Mexico, off the New England coast and off Canada and California. In order to maintain his sailing skills and earn extra money, he currently works on a casino ship that sails out of Port Canaveral.

There is one federal maritime college at King’s Point in New York. There are also five state maritime colleges in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, and California. Degrees other than maritime transportation at maritime colleges include marine engineering, environmental protection, and oceanography. A person graduating from a maritime college doesn’t have to work on a ship. There are many options besides the water with maritime law being one possibility.

Question of the Day 
The areas we are monitoring are scheduled to become MPAs in 2008. However, we will also collect data from outside the scheduled MPAs.

  • What can we learn by comparing the two types of areas?
  • Why would scientists study an MPA before and after closing?

Educational Link 
In talking with Andy I have learned that scientists don’t necessarily accept the results of one project but wait to see if those results will be replicated over time. This is possibly something that I need to carry into the classroom – assign the same project to several groups and then allow students to compare and contrast the results to come up with a final theory.

A picture of the LIBERTY STAR with the space shuttle rocket boosters on her starboard side
A picture of the LIBERTY STAR with the space shuttle rocket boosters on her starboard side

Personal Log 

I am sailing aboard the Liberty Star and I would like to spend some time today telling about her job. The Liberty Star has a twin sister named the Freedom Star. They dock at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, belong to NASA, and actually tow the solid rocket boosters that detach from the space shuttle after blast-off. Each solid rocket booster can be used ten times, so it saves money to rescue and reuse them rather than let them sink into the ocean. Each time there is a scheduled blast-off, the Liberty Star and her crew leave 24 hours ahead of time and wait in the Atlantic Ocean three or four miles away from the scheduled drop zone. Two minutes after blast-off the shuttle drops the two solid rocket boosters. Each booster’s descent is slowed by three main parachutes. Each one is over 150 feet in diameter, and they are released when the nose cone pops open. After the rocket boosters enter the ocean, the Liberty Star goes into action.

When it hits the water at sixty miles per hour, the rocket booster begins to fill with water. It bobs upright in the ocean with only 20 ft of its top protruding above the water and 100 ft descending below. Divers from the ship go into the ocean, seal the bottom of the booster and begin to fill it with air. As the air goes in, the water comes out and the booster slowly begins to rise from the water until it is standing far above the waves. Eventually its size causes the booster to gently topple onto its side and float in the ocean. The parachutes are reeled in on special reels, and the booster begins its journey home by being towed behind the ship. The nose cone is secured on a special platform on the deck of the ship. As the Liberty Star nears land, the booster is secured alongside the right side of the ship and brought to the dock. The Freedom Star always carried her booster on the left side of the ship, and the Liberty Star carries hers on the right.

Before blast-off, the rocket boosters are packed with solid rocket fuel in Utah, shipped to Florida in pieces, and assembled at Cape Canaveral.  The huge external fuel tank is made in Shreveport, Louisiana. To transport it to Cape Canaveral the Liberty Star again saves the day. The external fuel tank is placed on a long cart and wheeled into an equally long covered barge. It is the ocean and space equivalent of a covered wagon, and it is the Liberty Star’s job to tow this mammoth barge to Cape Canaveral. The size difference between the Liberty Star and the barge is similar to the difference between a matchbox car and the real thing, but the Liberty and her crew are up to the task. After blast-off most of the external fuel burns up on its re-entry above the Indian Ocean and does not have to be recovered. I am so excited and honored to have been chosen as a NOAA Teacher at Sea, and having the opportunity to work on this special ship with her great crew has been my extra good fortune.

Lynn

Lynette Swiger, July 21, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lynette Swiger
Onboard NASA Ship Liberty Star
July 16 – August 23, 2008

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida
Date: July 21, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Winds: SW at 12 knots
Sea: SW at 2-4 ft.
Barometer: 29.90
Air Temperature: 80 degrees
Cloud Cover: 90%

Catch of the day
Catch of the day

Science and Technology Log 

It is now 8:30 am. We sailed to the targeted North Carolina sites overnight and got everything set up for the day. The ROV was launched and our day began. The water was clear and we saw several great sites, but there was a strong underwater current. About ten minutes into the dive, the monitoring screens went haywire, beepers went off, and Lance knew something had occurred underwater that injured the ROV. After raising the ROV we found that a cable had been completely severed after somehow becoming entangled with the props. The troubleshooting skills that Lance told me were essential for an ROV operator are now being put to good use as he splices the cable so that we can hopefully continue ROV dives tomorrow at the South Carolina sites. With this in mind, I will journal about our fishing day yesterday as I didn’t have space to include it in my journal last night.

Yesterday was a beautiful day. We had great ROV dives and the weather was wonderful. The temperature inside the ship is kept rather cool, so I often wear my fleece pullover. I don’t understand much about engines and other mechanical items, but I do know that without sufficient air conditioning, temperatures can quickly climb to over 100 degrees. So I have learned to appreciate the a/c. We work in the semi-darkness in order to better see the video screens, so it’s always a pleasant surprise to open the hatch, feel the caress of warm air, smell the salt breezes, and see brilliant sunshine.

We spent “in between” time yesterday fishing while the camera trap did its documentation work underwater. This fishing is actually important because Michelle and Stacey evaluate fish samples to gain valuable knowledge. Stacey measures the length and weight of each fish and analyzes the otoliths to gain knowledge about age at maturity, growth rate, etc. Otoliths are the ear bones of fish, and they are bony structures found just on top of the brain cavity. The otoliths have growth rings similar to trees and can be used to age fish in much the same way that a forester ages trees.

Michelle needs a core tissue sample of every fish to support a different research project. Based on a stable isotope analysis, scientists can identify where in the world a fish has been. This is because each area is unique and leaves its “signature” in the tissues of a fish. It is important to know where a fish has been in order to identify source populations, or places where they breed. This allows scientists to identify areas that need to be protected.

Animals Seen 

We hear conversations about sponges that are found in the ocean, but do you know whether they are plants or animals? How they eat? A sponge is an invertebrate. This means that it is an animal without a backbone. It attaches itself to rocks and other stationary objects, so it doesn’t move from place to place. Sponges come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They are supported by little spiracles made of calcium carbonate that hold them up. They feed by soaking up particles and nutrients from the surrounding water – thus the name sponge! Some sponges are now used in medical research for anti-cancer drugs. They have few predators, so they are free to “soak up” the underwater ocean beauty without much fear of joining a predator for lunch.

I was interested to learn that animals compose most of the sea life we have been viewing. Michelle explained that sunshine cannot reach our diving depths, so plants can’t receive sun energy for growth. Therefore, even though they may look like plants, the sea fans, the coral, the sea pens that look like pipe cleaners sticking up from the bottom, the sponges, etc. are all animals.

Weighing and measuring
Weighing and measuring

Vocabulary 

Sponge, predator, spiracle, calcium carbonate, particles, nutrients, breed, stable isotope analysis, supply and demand.

Career Connection 

Steve is our Fisheries Methods and Equipment Specialist. He is retired from the Navy, worked for awhile for Florida State University, and now works for NOAA. His job entails supporting the scientists with boat maintenance, diving, and shop work. That one sentence may not sound like much, but without his mechanical skills, the diving would be very difficult to maintain. He tinkered with engines and mechanics as he was growing up, and when he joined the Navy he became an engine room hand, an engine room supervisor, and began Navy diving. He admits that Lloyd Bridges in Seahunt provided his inspiration for learning to dive, but his Navy experiences provided him with many of the skills he uses today. For instance, he built the camera trap that NOAA uses for stationary videos. I asked if he has plans or blueprints for his projects, and he replied that he usually does not. Scientists give him the impetus of an idea and a vague description of what they need and he builds what he thinks will work. Sometimes his creations need revision or refinement, but that’s what keeps the job interesting.

Question of the Day 

Coral is alive. It is composed of numerous polyps that secrete a substance that creates a hard shell surrounding the organisms. Coral slowly builds on itself until a large reef is finally formed. Reef fish, grouper, and snapper are fish that live in and around coral reefs because they prefer a structural habitat with holes and crannies where they can hide. Since these are fish that taste great, people frequently “invite” them to dinner!

  • How would damage to a coral reef system affect the supply of these fish?
  • If fish supply declines, what will happen to the price of the fish at the grocery store?
  • How are the MPAs that protect coral reefs important to people?

Educational Link 

Teaching kids to work compatibly in a group is essential to success in the workplace. I see this with the science team as well as the crew members on the ship. Everyone has a job to do and every job, no matter how small, is important. Everyone understands his/her role whether it is directing, supporting, assisting, etc. One person must be a leader who directs, takes responsibility, includes everyone, and understands the entire scope of the project. Each person in a group should have a particular strength or ability that contributes to group success. Everyone is important but everyone must learn to listen to the leader when it is their turn to support, and to lead with wisdom when they are in charge.

Personal Log 

I have become used to the motion of the ship and actually find it very soothing while sleeping. It’s a sort of rocking motion similar to what a cradle probably feels like. Unless we run into stormy weather, it appears that all of those motion sickness remedies that I brought can be taken home unopened. What a relief! The ship is fascinating and is actually a self-contained hotel. Of course there’s the galley, but this ship also boasts a nice lounge with a large screen television and a varied selection of DVDs and a relaxed eating area that also has a nice flat-screen television and satellite reception. There is a laundry room, engine room, work room, and of course the bridge. This ship is actually a NASA ship which is off duty just now and thus able to take on other contracted jobs such as the one we are currently doing with NOAA. The job of the Liberty Star and her crew is a wonderful story that I hope to cover tomorrow in my science log because it deals directly with the shuttle program. I hope to report tomorrow that our little ROV’s injuries have healed and it is cleared to return to work!

Lynn

Lynette Swiger, July 20, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lynette Swiger
Onboard NASA Ship Liberty Star
July 16 – August 23, 2008

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida
Date: July 20, 2008

Crewmembers on the LIBTERY STAR ready the camera cage for a deep sea drop.
Crewmembers on the LIBTERY STAR ready the camera cage for a deep sea drop.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: SW 10 knots
Seas: 1-3 feet
Temperature: 86 F
Barometer: 29.94
Cloud Cover: 10%
Visibility: 8 miles

Science and Technology Log 
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) plans to establish eight Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) between North Carolina and the Florida Keys in late 2008. The goal of establishing these MPAs is to prevent over fishing of grouper and tilefish in these areas as well as to protect other fish and invertebrate species and the coral reef ecosystems. NOAA has been documenting these areas yearly since 2004 in order to identify populations and assess habitat both before and after closure to fishing. This long range project will improve understanding of the impact of fishing activities and compare coral reef and habitat in these areas. Our cruise is continuing this documentation, and the information collected will be compared to previous years’ data.

Knowing the plan, it is interesting to have the opportunity to assist with this cruise. This is our second day of diving, and we have so far completed a total of 8 dives, 4 camera drops, and 1 fish trap drop. We are especially looking for grouper and tilefish, but have so far seen no tilefish. This is not uncommon for tilefish as they are found further offshore in a deeper, muddy environment. Grouper, however, prefer a reef habitat such as the ones we have been exploring. Reefs provide nooks, crannies, and crevices for hiding as well as bait fish for grouper prey. It will be interesting so see if grouper populations increase after closure of the MPAs.

The presence of lionfish is another fact that’s interesting and provides some concern. We have seen numerous lionfish in both days of diving. Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean – not the Atlantic – and have no natural predators in the Atlantic Ocean. They may have been introduced to the Atlantic Ocean by people whose aquariums could no longer contain the eighteen inch long fish. Some may also have been introduced from destruction of commercial aquariums during Hurricane Andrew. However they were introduced, they live in the same habitat as grouper and eat the same prey. It is feared that they will affect grouper populations at a time when attempts are being made to protect the grouper.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Lynn Swiger, takes the controls of the ROV aboard the LIBERTY STAR
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Lynn Swiger, takes the controls of the ROV aboard the LIBERTY STAR

Animals Seen Today 

We saw an abundance of fish species today, but I would like to take the time to talk about two in particular. The short big-eye is a cute little fish that stations itself near individual hidey-holes. When a predator, or ROV, approaches, the big-eye quickly scampers into its hole. It’s sort of like the ocean version of prairie dogs!

Polychaete worms were another animal that I found particularly interesting. To me, these resemble coral, but Stacey and Michelle explained that they are worms which secrete a substance that surrounds them and creates a personal burrow. They build and colonize together and form clump-like structures. To feed, they extend their tentacles outside the burrow and collect ocean particles.

Vocabulary 
Lionfish, Indo-Pacific, species, population, tilefish, grouper, offshore, ecosystem, restricted.

Career Connection 
Andy, Stacey, and Michelle are what we would call marine scientists. They all have a four year college and graduate degrees. Stacey and Michelle began their careers at NOAA doing summer internships. An internship means you work for someone for little or no money, but are rewarded with a great experience and new knowledge that can later help you find a job. It’s difficult to precisely define the job of a marine scientist, but one aspect involves designing and implementing projects that involve research in the ocean with follow-up laboratory analysis of the collected data.

Marine scientists find careers with the federal government (such as NOAA), state governments, colleges and universities, and private companies. Marine scientists need to be proficient in math, science, and writing, Biology and chemistry classes provide a good science foundation, while calculus and statistics are important math skills. Marine scientists routinely write grant proposals, so a good writing ability with an emphasis on correct spelling and grammar is crucial. In addition to academic qualifications, employers want to hire marine scientists who exhibit a good work ethic, are self-motivated, show intellectual curiosity, and get along well with others. Could this be you?

Question of the Day 
MPA means “marine protected area”. This is an area where fishing is restricted in order to protect and preserve fish and their habitat. Why is it important to have protected areas? What could happen if there were no MPAs?

Educational Link 
Educators are often frustrated with the many requirements on our teaching day – the need to use more technology in the classroom being one of those requirements. However, the use of technology on this cruise is of critical importance, and has allowed me to see the increasingly vital part it will play in education, careers, and everyday life. As educators, we need to incorporate more technology into the classroom experience. This means not specific pieces of technology in isolation, but technology that is incorporated into a project and becomes an integral part of completing that project.

Personal Log 

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Lynn Swiger, takes the controls of the ROV aboard the LIBERTY STAR.
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Lynn Swiger, takes the controls of the ROV aboard the LIBERTY STAR.

The weather has been beautiful, the crew is so helpful, friendly, and interested in my part on this cruise as a teacher, and we’ve “dived” into some beautiful places in the Atlantic Ocean. I had my first experience at deep-sea fishing and found that it’s difficult to reel those fish up to the ship! I also had the opportunity to drive the ROV. It was quite an experience that required me to think in two or three directions at one time and actually reminded me of a sort of video game. I’ve learned about otiliths (which I will talk about tomorrow) and pestered Stacey and Michelle with an overabundance of questions which they very graciously answer. I have learned so much already. Of course, one person that keeps everyone energized and able to work is the Dragon, the cook. I must say that the food onboard ship is wonderful. I must constantly remind myself that I have a wedding to attend three weeks after I arrive home, and I’ve already purchased the “skinny” dress. So I need carefully monitor my intake. Dragon seems to potter carelessly about the galley, but come mealtime there’s a fabulous menu and I want to try it all! There are six kinds of fresh fruit each morning and fresh salads for every lunch and dinner. Omelets, eggs to order, sausage and bacon, beef stroganoff, creamed salmon, schnitzel and lasagna, desserts….the list goes on and so does my appetite.

Happy Sailing! Lynn 

Lynette Swiger, July 18, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lynette Swiger
Onboard NASA Ship Liberty Star
July 16 – August 23, 2008

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida
Date: July 18, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind SW at 9 knots
Seas SW at 2-3 feet
Air Temperature 83 F
Barometer 29.98
Cloud Cover 60%

Helping to load equipment
Helping to load equipment

Science and Technology Log 

Today was our first day of operations. We had planned to sail to the northernmost point of our cruise yesterday and then work our way south. However, due to a tropical depression occurring off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, we turned around and stayed near Jacksonville for our first day of operations and will then move to our most northern point to work backwards. After experiencing choppy seas of 7-8 feet during the late afternoon and evening yesterday, I heartily agree with the decision. I have learned that there is quite a difference between three foot waves and seven foot waves.

Today I will talk about the equipment that we will be using to conduct our survey. This is fascinating stuff and helps me to better understand the enormous impact that technology has on our lives now as well as the increasing impact that it will have in the future. One of the most important pieces of equipment that we are using is the Remote Operated Vehicle, or ROV. This is an unmanned vehicle that is tethered to the ship and remotely controlled to perform various tasks. On this cruise, the ROV takes video and still pictures of deep coral reefs and fish found in the Atlantic Ocean from North Carolina to Florida. The video and pictures are seen in bright color on a large screen television as well as two different monitors in the operations room. The ROV is operated through the use of two joysticks. One commands the ROV to move forward and back or right and left. The other joystick commands it to move up and down or crab to the right or left. Other switches will change cameras, pan and tilt, adjust light intensity, or change thruster speed. The operator is using all of the this apparatus at one time while watching two computer areas – one tracking our movement through GPS and compass, and one showing real-time and camera shots. The scientists are using the videos taken through the ROV to find fish and other underwater creatures in the area of our cruise, and the still pictures it takes are used to assess habitat.

Another important piece of equipment that we will use is the camera cage. It is a round cage with openings to insert four waterproof video cameras that are spaced 90 degrees apart. This means that when the cage is lowered into the water, the cameras, working together, will take pictures in a complete circle around one area for twenty minutes. This is different from the ROV because these cameras are stationary. The cage is not commercially available, but was made by Steve, the Fisheries Methods and Equipment Specialist, from simple drawings and descriptions that the scientists gave him. The cage securely holds and protects the cameras while they are underwater and is quite an impressive piece of equipment. One other piece of equipment slated for use on our cruise is the fish cage. This will be used to trap fish in particular areas. The fish will be analyzed for type, size, age, etc. All of this equipment combined will help the NOAA scientists understand the fish life and habitat that are in this area of the Atlantic Ocean. My next log will talk about the purpose and importance of this cruise.

Journal writing on deck
Journal writing on deck

Some Animals Seen Today from ROV 
Vermillion Snapper, Tom Tate Fish, Spot Fin Hogfish, Tattler Fish, Hermit Crab, Pencil Urchin, and Arrow Crab.  We also saw several lionfish. This fish is not native to the Atlantic Ocean and is becoming an overpopulated problem.

Coral, Etc. Seen Today from ROV 
Sea Whips, Gorgonian Soft Coral, Bushy Black Coral, Sponge, Sea Fan, and Sea Anemone. We also saw Oculina Coral which is coral found only in very deep areas of the ocean.

New Vocabulary  
Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV),  Marine Water (not referring to a member of the armed services), Freshwater (hint – the opposite of marine), and Marine Protected Area (MPA).

Crew/Career Interview 
I would like to take a few minutes in each log to talk about some of the different careers that combine to make a success of a cruise such as this. Since I am in a part of the world that is completely different from West Virginia, I thought that a discussion of ocean-related careers might be of special interest to those students interested in the ocean and its surroundings. I spoke earlier about the ROV and how we are using it to successfully complete our mission, so today I will talk about Lance and his career as an ROV operator.

An ROV is an unmanned vehicle that is tethered to the ship by an umbilical, and remotely controlled to perform various tasks. ROVs are used in many ways, both in freshwater and marine environments. ROVs are used for video documentation; for fisheries studies; by geologists to investigate underwater ridges, canyons, and pits; and by oil companies to maintain rigs, install equipment, and clean structures. Lance attended the Florida Institute of Technology for two years and specialized in underwater technology. ROV operators are in high demand and must have a good technical aptitude, possess the ability to troubleshoot, have some electronic skills, and be good at visual spacialization. Video games can provide good practice for some areas of this career. This career provides the opportunity to travel to many parts of the world, learn about a variety of subjects, be near the water, and meet and work with different people.

Question of the Day 
How can pollution in the Tygart River in Marion County, West Virginia affect fish habitat and populations in the Atlantic Ocean?

Personal Log 

I am learning to maneuver on a moving ship, and it’s quite an interesting process. I have learned that I should move slowly rather than quickly and purposefully as I am used to doing. I have also learned to know where hand rails are located and to use them often. When we went to bed on Thursday evening, the ship was still docked but was scheduled to leave at midnight. This means that I awoke on Friday morning to a gently rocking ship and I could not move in the same manner as when I went to bed the night before. I learned this quickly when I hopped out of bed and subsequently staggered across my stateroom. Before I could regain my balance, the ship changed motion and I staggered backward to my original starting point. As I reached the bathroom, hoping to remain quiet for the person sleeping in the adjoining stateroom, I let go of my hold on the door and reached for the bathroom handrail. The door slammed open and before I could grab for it, it changed direction and slammed closed. So much for being quiet! My wet soap bar shot off of the soap dish and across the room three times before I learned to nestle it in a paper towel, and all of my toiletries fell over in the cabinet before I learned to lay them on their sides.

Friday evening was interesting because we were sailing into a tropical depression, and the waves rose to seven feet. This was not pleasant and the 24-hour meclazine tablet I had taken at 9:00 am felt like its effectiveness had expired. I subsequently took another one at 5:00 pm and fell into a deep trancelike state from which I couldn’t awaken until 10:00 pm. I later found that most people on the ship also spent their time lying prone on their bunk beds as this was the safest place to be at that time, so I didn’t feel quite so guilty.

It is now 6:00 pm on Saturday. I have not taken motion sickness meds for more than 24 hours, and it seems that the crew’s prediction that my body would acclimate itself to the motion has come true. I hope this is true and that the six different motion sickness remedies I brought can be taken home and put on my medicine shelf.

Happy Sailing! Lynn