Jennifer Dean: Scientists and Surveys, May 16, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jennifer Dean

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 12 – May 24, 2018

Mission: Conduct ROV and multibeam sonar surveys inside and outside six marine protected areas (MPAs) and the Oculina Experimental Closed Area (OECA) to assess the efficacy of this management tool to protect species of the snapper grouper complex and Oculina coral

Geographic Area of Cruise: Continental shelf edge of the South Atlantic Bight between Port Canaveral, FL and Cape Hatteras, NC

Date: May 16th, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 32° 05.2647’ N
Longitude: 79°13.2777’ W
Sea Wave Height: 1-3 feet
Wind Speed:  9.2 knots
Wind Direction: 166.61°
Visibility: 7-8 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 21.7 °C
Sky:  Overcast, rainy and lightning

Science and Technology Log
Scientists- A Team of Diverse Skills:

Swiftia exerta

Swiftia exerta identified and photographed prior to collection by the ROV

After the ocean floor has been mapped with multibeam sonar, ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) dives are made to ground truth the maps and to describe the benthic habitat and fauna and flora.  In order to identify the taxonomy of what we see in the video and photos, we often need to sample the macrobiota.  Many species of sponges, gorgonians and black corals are very difficult to identify from photos alone, and some are even new species.  Taxonomist, specializing in deep-coral ecology, Professor John Reed, works in this field of science that involves an understanding of organisms by using a variety of features both on the macroscopic and microscopic level for identification.   The red arrow in the picture is pointing to one of the target species in these dives, the gorgonian coral, Swiftia exerta.  Gorgonian octocorals are often called by their common names of sea fans and sea whips.  They are characterized generally by being sessile (attached to the bottom), colonial (composed of hundreds of individual animals called polyps) and belonging to the phylum Cnidaria. For more information about corals see the link below.
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral01_intro.html

ROV collects coral

Manipulator used to sample the Swiftia before depositing into a sampling bottle or drawer.

Once the coral is identified through visual inspection with the ROV’s high-definition video, Andrew David uses the robotic arm (called the “manipulator”) to get the sample into a collection bin. The ROV brings the sample to the surface to be processed by the scientists.  And yes — this picture with the red arrow pointing at a book below the monitor screen is for my students — they still use field guides!

Field guides help in confirming identification and to confirm key features on those species that may be spotted that are less common- or for science teachers who are trying to do a quick cram study.

Field Guide

Scientists still use field guides!

 

The calyces contain many calcareous sclerites that can interfere with the PCR reaction.  PCR selectively can amplify codes of DNA that then can be sequenced and its DNA compared in a nucleotide database program like BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool).  These samples will serve as an outgroup for phylogenetic analysis of Swiftia in the Gulf of Mexico. The captions of the pictures explain the actions of each of the scientific team members seen in the images and a listing below gives their names, titles, associated organization and a very brief description of a portion of their skill sets brought for this expedition at sea.

Stephanie Farrington, biological research specialist from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University. She not only has ability to identify the marine biota but also manages, analyzes and tracks the enormous amounts of data collected during the trip.

Elizabeth Gugliotti, graduate student at the University of Charleston.
She collects and processes the coral samples for future phylogenetic analysis. Her thesis advisor is Dr. Peter Etnoyer, a marine biologist and lead scientist for NOAA’s Deep Sea Coral Ecology Lab. In addition, on this adventure, she is my state room bunk mate.

Jason White, ROV technician, to be featured in the next blog.  University of North Carolina Wilmington Undersea Vehicles Program.  Piloting the ROV underwater to capture photo/video images and samples, bringing the ROV on and off the ship using a winch and pulleys.

Eric Glidden, ROV technician, University of North Carolina Wilmington Undersea Vehicles Program.  Piloting the ROV underwater to capture photo/video images and samples, bringing the ROV on and off the ship using a winch and pulleys.

Stacey Harter, research ecologist, NOAA National Marine Fishery Service, Panama City Laboratory.  See her featured in earlier blog under What’s My Story.

Andrew David, research fisheries biologist at Panama City Lab in Panama City, Florida.
He makes a running commentary on habitat and species recording with the live video footage, as well as operating the robotic arm to collect samples.

John Reed, Research Professor at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, featured below.  He specializes in taxonomy of invertebrate and deep-sea coral ecology.  Featured below in What’s My Story.

LT Felicia Drummond, research scientist and NOAA corps member.  She assists in fish identification and brought the additional bonus skill set as a yoga instructor and volunteered to lead us in yoga on the Skybridge on breaks.

Personal Log

I am enjoying my crash course in fish and invertebrate identification.  LT Drummond in this image offered to identify species out loud for my benefit, filling the background noise of habitat readings and descriptions with shout-outs about Spotted Goatfish and Graysby.  My favorite, so far, has to be the Sharpnose Puffer.

Sharpnose Puffer

Sharpnose Puffer

Everyone on board Pisces is extremely helpful and friendly.  I can’t overstate this point enough, I continue to feel welcome and included in all aspects of the operations of this expedition.

Learning common names

LT Drummond teaching me the common names of a variety of fish species during live video stream during ROV dive

It is interesting to watch how many mini-lessons occur between the crew to help each other. From the database tutorial between a graduate student and the data manager to explanations by the ROV operator to the fisheries biologist on how to operate the joystick and other control buttons on the video equipment.

I could not have possibly anticipated moments like today, May 15th, when Prof. John Reed shared a video made about a deep dive in a manned submersible.  Witnessing the creatures of the deep from people who captured this footage themselves and are making novel discoveries in both the past and present continues to amaze me.

Morning view

Morning view from the porthole of my stateroom on Pisces

 I’m also surprised at the ease to which I am able to sleep on a bunkbed on the Pisces rocking in the Atlantic Ocean.  There is something calming at night about the motion or maybe it is my exhaustion after a full day of activity.  Whichever it might be, my basic needs have been met and exceeded for shelter, food and sleep.  I do miss my family and friends–and even my nonbiological kids (aka my students). I am thankful for my oldest daughter sending me emails that keep me in touch with the happenings at home.   There is so much to tell and words/photos don’t do justice to the experiences I am having.

Did You Know?
Certain species of Scamp or Mycteroperca phenax, have a coloration differential that distinguishes the dominant male in the group from lesser males and females.  And if the dominant male dies or is fished from the group, the most dominant female within 2 months can change sex and become the new leader for the school of females.  For the extra curious read about the research on this phenomenon, authored by R. Grant Gilmore and Robert S. Jones, Color Variation and Associated Behavior in the Epinepheline Groupers, Mycteroperca microlepis (Goode and Bean) and M. Phenax Jordan and Swain in the Bulletin of Marine Science  51(1): 83-103,1992.

Fact or Fiction?
A majority of corals reproduce by asexual reproduction and are considered r-strategist.
To learn more about their reproductive habits of sending out a larval form called a planula (after egg and sperm combine) visit NOAA’s link below.
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral06_reproduction.html

What’s My Story? Professor John Reed
The following section of the blog is dedicated to explaining the story of one crew member on Pisces.

What is your specific title and job description on this mission?  Research Professor, Deep Sea Coral Program at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute

How long have you worked for Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and in this field?  42 years

What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job? Favorite part is going to sea and all parts of fieldwork, whether it is on land or sea.  His least favorite is the administrative paperwork and bureaucratic forms and processes that go along with the job.

When did you first become interested in this career and why?  He always knew he wanted to do something outside, and in middle school was interested in careers of such as a forest ranger or archaeologist.  In high school he started watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau TV series and began following the travels of this family in the documentary type series as they visited underwater coral reefs and original marine habitat never explored and shared with the public before.  After that he was hooked.

What science classes or other opportunities would you recommend to high school students who are interested in preparing for this sort of career? He commented that students should take their basic STEM curriculum, but emphasized it is equally important to have a broad background of the arts, civics and humanities and studies outside the STEM focus.  In high school and undergraduate school students will need to develop their basic foundations of essential understandings of biology, chemistry, genetics, and mathematics including statistics, , and in his field to learn some basic anatomy/physiology of organisms.

What is one of the most interesting places you have visited?  He is by far a world traveler with 60 expeditions around the world, visiting 50 different countries and he considers himself extremely fortunate to have the opportunities to go down to 3000 feet deep in a submersible to see things that have never been seen before. He mentioned Papua New Guinea as one of his favorites, and that during one submersible dive off Granada, they accidentally dropped down into a volcano and then subsequently got blown out by the hot water plume.  In another exciting submersible dive in the Florida Keys, they were the first to dive into giant sink holes, 1000 ft deep and some ½ mile in diameter. On one of the sink hole dives, they got attacked by an eight foot swordfish which hit the plexiglass sphere in which they were sitting in the Johnson-Sea-Link submersible, which was rather unnerving. So in a pitch black environment, except for the lights provided by the sub he said it feels a bit like being in a fish bowl with a 380 degree field of view.

Do you have a typical day or skills and tasks you perform? A typical year involves 2-3 months at sea or in the field and then a return to the lab or office, where his work involves primarily computer work.  Following a typical 2 week cruise an additional 2-3 months is required to analyze the ROV photos and videos, to proof all the notes and data that has been recorded, and then write up the cruise report.  After that, then trying to publish manuscripts and write grants to do the fieldwork takes up the remainder of a typical year.  100% “soft” money is used to support this sort of research. “Soft” money means that they must get grants to support all aspects of the study, paying the principle investigator salary and his/her team, and 48% or more overhead is typically paid to the investigators home institution.

What are some other careers or divisions of study at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute? The engineering division is developing AUVs (Automated Underwater Vehicles), and wave gliders, equipment used on submersibles, acoustics, and software the is used for tracking on the ROV.  Another division is their biomedical unit where chemists are looking at bioactive products from the sponges and other creatures found in the marine environment.  Their aquaculture program is developing a closed circulation system, trying to address the pollution created by some aquaculture programs.. And the division that Prof. Reed works for is the Deep Coral Biology Program that studies corals and fishes, and is  also studying  the genetics and bioinformatics of marine systems.

Why does your research matter?  He views his primary mission in the realm of basic science, discovering and researching new reefs and then trying to protect them.  His research and discoveries resulted in the first deep-water coral Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the world, the Oculina Coral Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC) in 1984; and in 2010, a 16,000 sq. mile Deep-water Coral HAPC which extends from Florida to North Carolina. He is asking scientific questions such as, what kind of fish community do you see on a high relief vs. low relief bottom? How well are the MPAs working–are they providing spawning and breeding grounds, protecting from destructive fishing procedures?  How does the dive footage compare outside and inside the MPA area for human impacts?  In the long run he views his research helping the fishing community and providing protections for sustaining these habitats and food webs for future generations.

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Leah Johnson: Fish Identification & Pisces Farewell, August 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Saturday, August 1, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:13 PM
Latitude 033.995650
Longitude -077.348710
Water Temperature 24.37 °C
Salinity 36.179 ppt
Air Temperature 27.4 °C
Relative Humidity 83 %
Wind Speed 15.95 knots
Wind Direction 189.45 degrees
Air Pressure 1012.3 mbar

Science and Technology Log:
I am still amazed at the wealth of data collected aboard the Pisces on this survey cruise. I am getting better at identifying the fish as they are hauled up in the traps, as well as when I see these fish on video. Because of light attenuation, many fish look very different in color when they are underwater. Light attenuation refers to the gradual loss of visible light that can penetrate water with increasing depth. Red light has the longest wavelength on the visible light spectrum, and violet has the shortest wavelength. In water, light with the shortest wavelength is absorbed first. Therefore, with increasing depth, red light is absorbed, followed by orange, then yellow. Fish that appear red in color at the surface will not appear red when they are several meters below the sea surface where they are captured on camera.

For example, we hauled in some blackfin snapper earlier this week. At the surface, its color is a distinct red like many other types of snappers, and it has a black spot near the base of its pectoral fin. When I looked at the videos from the trap site, I did not realize that all of the fish swimming around with yellow-looking tails were the very same blackfin snappers that appeared in the traps! When I remembered that red light is quickly absorbed in ocean water and noticed the black spot on the pectoral fin and shape of the dorsal fin, it made more sense.

Top: Blackfin snapper collected from trap.
Bottom: Video still of blackfin snappers swimming near trap.

I tell my geology students every year that when identifying minerals, color is the least reliable property. I realize now that this can also apply to fish identification. Therefore, I am trying to pay closer attention to the shape of the different fins, slope of the head, and relative proportions of different features. The adult scamp grouper, for example, has a distinct, unevenly serrated caudal fin (tail) with tips that extend beyond the fin membrane. The tip of the anal fin is elongated as well.

scamp grouper

Scamp grouper

Another tricky aspect of fish identification is that some fish change color and pattern over time. Some groups of fish, like wrasses, parrotfish, and grouper, exhibit sequential hermaphroditism. This means that these fish change sex at some point in their lifespan. These fish are associated with different colors and patterns as they progress through the juvenile phase, the initial phase, and finally the terminal phase. Some fish exhibit fleeting changes in appearance that can be caught on camera. This could be as subtle as a slight darkening of the face.

The slight shape variations among groupers can also lead groups of scientists to gather around the computer screen and debate which species it is. If the trap lands in an area where there are some rocky outcrops, a fish may be partially concealed, adding another challenge to the identification process. This is no easy task! Yet, everyone on board is excited about the videos, and we make a point to call others over when something different pops up on the screen.

warsaw grouper

We were all impressed by this large Warsaw grouper, which is not a common sight.

I have seen many more types of fish and invertebrates come up in the traps over the past week. Here are a few new specimens that were not featured in my last “fish” post:

Did You Know?

Fish eyes are very similar to those of terrestrial vertebrates, but their lenses that are more spherical.

lens from fish eye

Lens from fish eye

Personal Log:

I love being surrounded by people who are enthusiastic about and dedicated to what they do. Everyone makes an extra effort to show me things that they think I will be interested to see – which I am, of course! If an interesting fish is pulled up in the trap and I have stepped out of the wet lab, someone will grab my camera and take a picture for me. I continue to be touched by everyone’s thoughtfulness, and willingness to let me try something new, even if I slow down the process.

me, standing on the deck at the stern

Me, on the deck of the ship. We just deployed the traps off the stern.

As our cruise comes to an end, I want to thank everyone on board for letting me share their work and living space for two weeks. To the NOAA Corps officers, scientists, technicians, engineers, deckhands, and stewards, thank you for everything you do. The data collection that takes place on NOAA fishery survey cruises is critical for the management and protection of our marine resources. I am grateful that the Teacher at Sea program allowed me this experience of a lifetime. Finally, thank you, readers! I sincerely appreciate your continued support. I am excited to share more of what I have learned when I am back on land and in the classroom. Farewell, Pisces!