Jordan Findley: Another Teacher at Sea (Finally), June 5, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jordan Findley
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 9-22, 2022

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 5, 2022

Series of Events

In October of 2019, I learned of the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. Without hesitation – yep, sign me up, and applied in November. In January of 2020, I received the following message: 

Dear Applicant,

On behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Teacher at Sea Selection Committee, we are pleased to inform you that you were selected to be a finalist for the 2020 season! Now onto the next steps…

Stoked. Couldn’t be more thrilled. February 2020, medically cleared and ready for the more information call. 

(Insert Record Scratch Sound Effect)

January 2020, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirms the first U.S. laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19, and by March of 2020 the United States declares a nationwide emergency. On March 9, 2020, I was notified of the cancellation of the 2020 NOAA Teacher at Sea season in response to the pandemic. 

As for all of us, COVID put a screaming halt to my travel plans, but more importantly the world around us. As the pandemic progressed, the 2021 Teacher at Sea season was also canceled. No, this is not a blog about COVID, and I am in no way downplaying the impact of the pandemic, but it is a part of my story. I, much like all of us, have gained a great deal of perspective, patience, and gratitude (and maybe a few gray hairs) during the last two years, and the anticipation of this trip has made me that much more grateful and excited for the opportunity to participate this season.

Okay, back to the good stuff. March 2022, we are back in action and in April, I received the official cruise offer. NOW I can get excited. In just a few days, June 9-22, 2022, I will be participating in a Gulf SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey on NOAA Ship Pisces. The Pisces will conduct a survey of reef fish on the U.S. continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico using a custom built spherical stereo/video stationary camera systems and bandit reels. The ship’s EM 2040 multibeam system will be used to map predetermined targeted areas on a nightly basis to improve or increase the reef fish sample universe. A patch test of the EM 2040 multibeam echosounder….

You lost yet? Yea, me too. Looking forward to learning what this actually entails. I shall follow up in layman’s terms.

NOAA Ship Pisces at sea, viewed from above.
NOAA Ship Pisces (R-226). Photo courtesy of NOAA.


Oh, ahem. Let me introduce myself. Hi, I’m Jordan Findley.

My resume reads, “I am an environmental professional dedicated to demonstrating environmental advocacy and sustainability, while fostering a generation of future environmental stewards.” Professional is relative here. My professional background is in husbandry and environmental education. On a personal level, those who know me well might describe me as an educator, traveler, and outdoor enthusiast. My interests have always aligned with nature, wildlife, and the outdoors and I am continually astonished by our planet and passionate about protecting it.

I grew up in rural Indiana and spent all of my time outside. At an early age, I gained an appreciation for a simple life, a grand adventure, and the beauty of the natural world around me; and that is the essence of my being. I would simply describe myself as a bit of a wanderer with a thirst for life and motivation to inspire others. I’ve spent my entire existence chasing the next big opportunity, and because of that, life has afforded me some amazing opportunities. I often hear, “I live vicariously through you,” but that really isn’t my hope. My hope is that I inspire and empower others to have their own amazing experiences in life, do what they love, and be the best version of themselves.

“Professional” Profile

To be honest, my background is all over the place and true to myself. I hold a B.A. in Zoology and M.A. in Biology from Miami University (that’s Ohio). My education provided fundamental knowledge of animal, environmental, and social sciences and science education. I traveled to Mexico, Australia, and Kenya during graduate school to study human impact on the environment and community-based approaches to conservation. These experiences abroad vastly broadened my view of the world and the environmental challenges it faces.

I worked seasonally until hired as an educator at Tampa Bay Watch (TBW) in 2016. I will spare you all the details of me bouncing from job to job, but I will say it was then that I had some of the most unique experiences and learned of my passion for education. As much as I thought otherwise, I am an educator at heart, but I knew the classroom was never for me. And though I have mad, mad respect for formal educators (you are all saints), I knew that any facilitation I would be doing had to take place outside. Experiential education became my niche and has been such a rewarding job. I get to teach about what I love, be immersed in nature, and be a part of creating meaningful experiences.

As the Education Program Coordinator at Tampa Bay Watch, I coordinate and facilitate field trips and camps for students K-12 known as Estuary EDventures. Our programs hosted at the Auer Marine Education Center in Tierra Verde, FL focus on estuary ecology and conservation. Students are exposed to the wonders of our natural world through hands-on, marine science labs and immersive field experiences. Our most popular programs are otter trawling and seining. Why wouldn’t they be? We have so much fun collecting animals of the bay, learning about their unique adaptations, and connecting to the marine environment.

A typical trawl at Tampa Bay Watch finds crabs, seahorses, pufferfish, and other organisms [no sound].

Another view of organisms sampled in a trawl [no sound].

Ready for Sea

I cannot even describe how excited I am to be out at sea working with scientists, and learning something new. Let’s be real, I am not sure I really know what to expect, but I’m here for it.

My time at sea will be spent in my home waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I have so much to learn from this trip and such a great platform to share that knowledge thereafter. I am inspired by the students I see every day, some of whom experience a sea star or puffer fish for the first time. The spark in their eyes I will carry with me on this trip. I have been teaching marine science informally for nearly six years and it never ceases to amaze me. I mean, it’s pretty amazing, right? Our oceans are essential for life and home to millions of species, and its conservation is one of the greatest challenges our scientists face. 

I am so incredibly grateful to have been selected to participate in the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. The allure to this program was the opportunity to be immersed in the research, the hands-on, real-world experience at sea. The goal is to provide my students first-hand exposure to the exciting NOAA research projects at sea. Making their learning relevant through my experience will hopefully ignite a curiosity and excitement for science and build a better understanding and appreciation for our planet.

Let the fun begin!

Kathy Schroeder: Twice in a Lifetime Experience, September 12, 2019

shark tag

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kathy Schroeder

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15 – October 2, 2019

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: 9/12/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Current Location:  Naples, Florida

Latitude: 26° 17’ 45”
Longitude: 81° 34’ 40”
Temperature: 91° F
Wind Speeds: NNE 7 mph

Personal Log

Before I leave on my “Twice in a Lifetime Experience” I thought I’d let you know a little more about me.

In May of 2010, I participated in the NOAA TAS program.  The hardest part was leaving my 1 ½ year old son Jonah while I was gone for three weeks.  At the time I was teaching science at Key Biscayne K-8 School, which was located on an island off of Miami, Florida.  I wanted to have my students experience something new so I chose to go to Alaska aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.  The ship left out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska where the Deadliest Catch is filmed.  We spent the days and night doing neuston and bongo tows to study the walleye pollock (imitation crab meat).  I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and crew!  For more information you can look up my blog in the past season 2010.  I applied for the NOAA TAS Alumni position and now I’m happy to say I will be having a “Twice in a Lifetime Experience” with NOAA!  This time I will be on NOAA Ship Oregon II where we will be tagging and monitoring sharks and red snappers in the Gulf of Mexico.

I grew up in Louisville, KY where I spent most of my summers boating and skiing on the Ohio River.  When I was 10 years old my parents, sister and I got scuba certified.   I guess you could say this is when my love for the ocean began!  Our first trip was to Grand Cayman and we experienced things underwater that were even more beautiful than books and videos could ever show.  I have been back numerous times, but when I went back this past June you can obviously see the changes that are occurring in the ocean and the beaches.  I currently volunteer with Rookery Bay Estuarine Reserve and help with turtle patrol, shark tagging, and trawls.  The amount of garbage we collect is getting out of control.  Teaching the importance of this to my students is one of my top priorities. 

I currently teach AICE Marine and Marine Regular at Palmetto Ridge High School in Naples, Florida.  For the past 5 years I have grown the program into a class that is not just “inside” the classroom.  What better way to learn about marine species and water quality than taking care of your own aquarium?  Throughout the school there are 24 aquariums.  The tanks include saltwater, fresh water, and brackish water.  My students are taught how to properly maintain a tank, checking the water quality and salinity, as well as feeding and caring for their organisms.  In addition to the aquariums they have a quarterly enrichment grade that has them getting outside in our environment and learning about the canals, lakes, and ocean that are just miles from us.  We work with Keeping Collier Beautiful to do canal cleanups twice a year and they also visit Rookery Bay and the Conservancy for educational lessons.  Thanks to the science department at Collier County Public Schools we are also given the opportunity to go out into the estuaries.  Rookery Bay and FGCU Vester lab work with us to get the students out on the water to experience the ecology around them.  Even though we are only miles from the Gulf of Mexico some students have never been out on a boat.  This day trip gives them a hands on learning experience where we complete a trawl and water sampling.

As I leave this weekend I know my students will be in good hands and will be following my blog throughout my journey.  The value of what I am going to be sharing with them far outweighs my short time away.  My goal is to show them you are never too old to try something new and hopefully my experience will get more students into a career in marine sciences. 

Shout outs:  First one goes to my son Jonah (11), my parents Bud and Diane for taking care of him while I’m off having the time of my life, my boyfriend Michael who is currently deployed with the Air Force SFS, and his two kids Andrew (17) and Mackenna (10).  Thanks for your support. Love and miss you all!  <(((><

shark tag
Rookery Bay Shark Tagging in the estuaries
Gulf of Mexico alumni workshop
NOAA Gulf of Mexico TAS Alumni workshop
Jonah and lobster
My son Jonah’s first mini-lobster season
Keep Collier Beautiful
PRHS Keeping Collier Beautiful Canal Cleanup
Kathy and baby turtle
Rookery Bay Sea Turtle Patrol – rescued and released

Hayden Roberts: Playing Hide and Seek with Sonar, July 16, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Hayden Roberts

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 8-19, 2019

Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 16, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 28.51° N
Longitude: 84.40° W
Wave Height: 1 foot
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wind Direction: 115
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 30.8°C
Barometric Pressure: 1021 mb
Sky: Clear

Science Log

In my previous blog, I mentioned the challenges of doing survey work on the eastern side of the Gulf near Florida. I also mentioned the use of a probe to scan the sea floor in advance of trawling for fish samples. That probe is called the EdgeTech 4125 Side Scan Sonar. Since it plays a major role in the scientific research we have completed, I wanted to focus on it a bit more in this blog. Using a scanner such as this for a groundfish survey in the Gulf by NOAA is not typical. This system was added as a precaution in advance of trawling due to the uneven nature of the Gulf floor off the Florida Coast, which is not as much of a problem the further west one goes in the Gulf. Scanners such as these have been useful on other NOAA and marine conservation research cruises especially working to map and assess reefs in the Gulf.

deploying side scan
Preparing to put the side scan over board.

Having seen the side scanner used at a dozen different research stations on this cruise, I wanted to learn more about capabilities of this scientific instrument. From the manufacturer’s information, I have learned that it was designed for search and recovery and shallow water surveys. The side scanner provides higher resolution imagery. While the imagining sent to our computer monitors have been mostly sand and rock, one researcher in our crew said he has seen tanks, washing machines, and other junk clearly on the monitors during other research cruises.

This means that the side scanner provides fast survey results, but the accuracy of the results becomes the challenge. While EdgeTech praises the accuracy of its own technology, we have learned that accurate readings of data on the monitor can be more taxing. Certainly, the side scanner is great for defining large items or structures on the sea floor, but in areas where the contour of the floor is more subtle, picking out distinctions on the monitor can be harder to discern. On some scans, we have found the surface of the sea floor to be generally sandy and suitable for trawling, but then on another scan with similar data results, chunks of coral and rock have impeded our trawls and damaged the net.

Side scan readout
Sample scan from monitor in the computer lab. The light areas are sandy bottom. The dark is either seaweed or other plant material or rocks. The challenge is telling the difference.

Did You Know?

In 1906, American naval architect Lewis Nixon invented the first sonar-like listening device to detect icebergs. During World War I, a need to detect submarines increased interest in sonar. French physicist Paul Langévin constructed the first sonar set to detect submarines in 1915. Today, sonar has evolved into more sophisticated forms of digital imaging multibeam technology and side scan sonar (see for more information).

Personal Log

When I first arrived aboard Oregon II, the new environment was striking. I have never spent a significant amount of time on a trawling vessel or a research ship. Looking around, I took many pictures of the various features with an eye on the architectural elements of the ship. One of the most common fixtures throughout the vessel are posted signs. Lamented signs and stickers can be found all over the ship. At first, I was amused at the volume and redundancy, but then I realized that this ship is a communal space. Throughout the year, various individuals work and dwell on this vessel. The signs serve to direct and try to create consistency in the overall operation of the ship and the experience people have aboard it. Some call the ship “home” for extended periods of time such as most of the operational crew. Others, mostly those who are part of the science party, use the vessel for weeks at a time intermittently. Before I was allowed join the science party, I was required to complete an orientation. That orientation aligns with policies of NOAA and the expectation aboard Oregon II of its crew. From the training, I primarily learned that the most important policy is safety, which interestingly is emblazoned on the front of the ship just below the bridge.

Safety First!
Safety First!

The signs seem to be reflective of past experiences on the ship. Signs are not only reminders of important policies and protocols, but also remembrances of challenges confronted during past cruises. Like the additional equipment that has been added to Oregon II since its commission in 1967, the added signs illustrate the history the vessel has endured through hundreds of excursions.

Oregon II 1967
Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Ship Oregon II (1967), which was later transferred to NOAA when the administration was formed in 1970.
Oregon II 2017
NOAA Ship Oregon II in 2017 on its 50th Anniversary.

Examples of that history is latent in the location and wording of signs. Posted across from me in the computer lab are three instructional signs: “Do not mark or alter hard hats,” “Keep clear of sightglass do not secure gear to sightglass” (a sightglass is an oil gauge), and “(Notice) scientist are to clear freezers out after every survey.”

signs collage
A collage of four signs around NOAA Ship Oregon II
more signs
Another collage of four signs around NOAA Ship Oregon II
even more signs
Another collage of signs around NOAA Ship Oregon II

Author and journalist Daniel Pink talks about the importance of signs in our daily lives. His most recent work has focused on the emotional intelligence associated with signs. Emotional intelligence refers to the way we handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. He is all about the way signs are crafted and displayed, but signs should also be thought of in relation to how informative and symbolic they can be within the environment we exist. While the information is usually direct, the symbolism comes from the way we interpret the overall context of the signs in relation to or role they play in that environment.

Andria Keene: Awaiting Anchors Aweigh! September 26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Andria Keene

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

October 8 – 22, 2018


Mission: SEAMAP Fall Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 26, 2018


Weather Data for Tampa, Fl: 

Latitude: 27º56’38”N
Longitude: 82º30’12”W
Temperature: 33º Partly Cloudy
Winds Speed: S 4.34 knots
20% chance of rain


The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.

-Jacques Cousteau

first SCUBA gear
My first SCUBA gear! Age 3

My love for all things related to the ocean started at a very early age and grew into a passion by the time I graduated high school. As a young Floridian, exploring the beaches, boating through the intercoastal waterways, and visiting the Miami SeaQuarium were my way of life. When I was in elementary school, my family moved to Virginia and even though we spent the next ten years trading seahorses for Tennessee Walking horses, I still watched every rerun of Flipper and waited with anticipation for each Jacques Cousteau TV special. Then, when I was in high school, my grandparents moved from New Jersey to the Florida Keys and I was reunited once again with the beautiful underwater world that brought me such fascination. We spent our summers snorkeling, sailing, and fishing. In the evenings, we drove around searching for the elusive Key Deer. When we visited the Dolphin Research Center and the Turtle Hospital, I was shocked to learn that my beloved ocean was facing some serious threats.

Andria Age 5
Enjoying a day at the beach! Age 5


As I entered college, my interest transformed from a hobby to a lifestyle. I earned my first SCUBA certification, participated in my first coastal clean-up, and volunteered for restoration projects and turtle walks. I signed up for every life science course I could find. In my senior year at Stetson University, I registered for a class before I even knew what the title meant. Ornithology, with Dr. Stock. I found myself canoeing through alligator-infested waterways to investigate snowy egret rookeries, hiking through the forest at 5am to identify birds by only their calls, and conducting a post-mortem investigation on one of his road-kill specimens to determine its cause of death. Dr. Stock’s class was so different than anything I had experienced. I was in my element. I found myself constantly wanting to learn more. Not just about the organisms around me, but about how to fix the negative impacts we have on their environment. As I learned, I became motivated to teach others about what they could do to make a difference. My passion for teaching was born.

It is hard to believe that I have been teaching science in Hillsborough County for almost twenty years and that approximately 3,000 students have filled the chairs of my classroom. Years ago, I realized that even though we are located in west-central Florida, many of my students have little involvement with the ocean or our local beaches. I decided to change that fact by extending my classroom outside of my four walls.  In true Dr. Stock fashion, I attempt to bring the ocean to life for my students through field trips, restoration projects, and guest speakers. With the help of some amazing organizations like the Florida Aquarium, Tampa Bay Watch, and Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, we have participated in many activities to help us learn about the ocean and about how to remedy our impacts.



We also love to get out in nature and explore the splendor that awaits us. In the pictures below, students from Plant High enjoy a day at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center where we participated in fishing and kayaking clinics and learned about protecting our local estuarine species.

Plant High students
A day of adventure focused on the importance of our beautiful estuaries!

As I head out for two weeks on NOAA Ship Oregon II, I am leaving my classroom and students behind but I know that the value of what I will bring back to them far outweighs the short time I will be away. I hope through my experience my students will see that you are never too old to learn something new and that even the teacher can improve her knowledge.

I am eager to develop first-hand experience with the technology and research methods currently being used to study the ocean. I look forward to meeting the scientists and the crew of my ship and learning about all of the career opportunities that are available to my students through NOAA. I am ready to turn my NOAA education into lessons that will benefit my students and infuse my curriculum with new life.

I cannot wait to see the beautiful sunsets over the gulf and maybe I’ll even catch a few sunrises. I am hoping for the occasional visit from a whale, a dolphin, or a sea turtle. Who knows? Maybe I will even get a chance to see a few of my favorite ornithological species!

Counting down … 12 days to go.

Fair Winds! 

Today’s Shout Out: To Mr. Johnny Bush (Plant High School Principal), Mr. Larry Plank (SDHC Director of STEM), and Mr. Dan McFarland (SDHC Science Supervisor) for all of their support in making this trip possible for me.

Angela Hung: The First Day of Summer, June 12, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 19-July 5, 2018


Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 12, 2018


Weather Data from Prairie State College

Conditions at 1510

Latitude: 41.45° N

Longitude: 87.53° W

Temperature: 26° C

Wind Speed: S 6mph


Science and Technology Log

How did we decide that June 21 is the first day of summer? Is this the day the pool opens? Is it the hottest day of the year? The critical date when students have de-stressed from the last school year and the next still seems far away?

In fact, the first day of summer says a lot about planet Earth’s annual journey around the sun. June 21 (sometimes June 20) is also called the Summer Solstice—the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Because Earth rotates on a tilted axis, this is the day that the North Pole is most directly pointed at the sun. From our view on the ground in Chicago Heights, the sun appears farthest north in the sky.

The seasons are a result of the Earth's tilted axis as it travels around the sun. Summer Solstice occurs between June 20-22 when the North pole is tilted towards the sun.
The seasons are a result of the Earth’s tilted axis as it travels around the sun. Summer Solstice occurs between June 20-22 when the North pole is tilted towards the sun. Image credit: NOAA National Weather Service,

Conversely, winter begins on a solstice as well—the shortest day of the year when the planet is leaning away from the sun. In between, Spring and Fall correspond to “equinoxes”, the days when night and day are “equal” or roughly the same lengths.

It follows that in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are reversed. On June 21 while the North Pole is soaking in the sun, the South pole is in the shadows for the longest night of the year. A common misconception is that summer is when the entire Earth is close to the sun in an elliptical orbit and winter is when the planet is far away. If this was true, the Northern and Southern hemispheres would experience winter and summer at the same time. Actually, Earth’s orbit is fairly circular and the planet as a whole remains the same distance all year. Only the poles change their relative positions to the sun.


Introductory Personal Log

June 21 is a bittersweet day for me. As an avid gardener, the flip side of the Summer Solstice is that the days begin to get shorter and shorter until December 21. I start accounting foot by foot around the yard where “full sun” areas disappear and the infamous Chicago winter looms ahead. But this year, the Solstice brings a new excitement. Next week, Earth’s and my summer officially begins with a trip to Pascagoula, Mississippi to begin the second leg of the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) Summer Groundfish Survey aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II. Oregon II is a research ship that surveys various types of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. I can’t think of a better way to spend summer in these bodies of water.


How would I know about the Gulf, Atlantic and the Caribbean? I’ve lived in a few places around the U.S. My early childhood was spent in northern Virginia before moving to Florida where I stayed until I left for graduate school. That took me to New Mexico (truly enchanting!) and my current position brought me here to the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. My parents still live in Florida by the Indian River on a barrier island in the Atlantic Ocean. My bachelor’s degree is from New College of Florida which sits on a bay in the shimmering Gulf of Mexico. I haven’t had the pleasure of living in the Caribbean, but I have visited a couple of times.


[Break to answer the burning questions on everyone’s minds]

Florida its has drawbacks to beaches, such as the crushing summer humidity, hurricanes, mosquitoes, giant spiders–it’s not that hard to leave.

New Mexico is amazingly beautiful, boasting the best sunsets in the country. There are more plants, less oxygen and colder winters than you think. The elevation in Albuquerque is over 5,000 feet rising to 10,000 feet in the Sandias Mountains that border the city. I learned to ski here.

I like Chicago, the native wildflowers are the most impressive I’ve ever seen. The cold, dark winter, which aren’t terribly worse than Albuquerque, is balanced by fall leaves and an invigorating appreciation for spring as everything seems to rise from the dead. Hence the keen interest in solstices and equinoxes. Finally, Northeast Illinois is strongly nostalgic. The climate, plants and animals are very similar to Virginia so I actually often feel like a kid again.

I’m a biology professor at Prairie State College. We are a community college located 30 miles south of Chicago. While my educational background is in animal behavior and ecology, my graduate research spanned genetics, cell biology and immunology. Biologists often say they prefer cells or organismal biology over the other, but it is important to study the parts and the whole of any study organism, both of which respond to the ecological context. I typically teach Organismal Biology, which surveys the diversity of life on Earth with an introduction to ecology and evolution, and Environmental Biology. This fall, Cell and Molecular Biology will be added to my regular course rotation.

Community colleges are dedicated teaching institutions. However, Prairie State College supports faculty who engage with students outside of the classroom through research. I teach full time but I sometimes have the privilege of mentoring a research student. This past spring, my mentee won First Place in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Skyway Poster Competition! Community college students in the region present their original projects which are judged by scientist volunteers from Argonne National Lab.

Tylar tested different types of alternative plant growing systems such as hydroponics and aeroponics to grow lettuce. He is committed to developing and promoting practices that reduce the environmental impact of industrial agriculture while meeting the needs of a growing world population. My experience as a Teacher at Sea in the Gulf of Mexico is timely because agriculture in Illinois generates pollution that ultimately impacts the marine ecosystems of the Gulf. Additionally, his project is now a teaching tool that I can use in each of my classes along with what we learn on Oregon II.


Let’s get summer started!

Jennifer Dean: Sampling the Sea Floor, May 15, 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 15, 2018

Weather from the Bridge
Latitude: 32° 23.3070’ N
Longitude: 79°02.4555’ W
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 feet
Wind Speed:  10.7 knots
Wind Direction: 131.42°
Visibility:  10 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 25.1°C
Sky:  Scattered Cloud Cover

Science and Technology Log

Multibeam Bathymetry
Lieutenant Jamie Hart (seen on the bridge in the picture below) explained how sonar pings allow software to paint a picture of the ocean floor.

Communication between the bridge, the technicians and the scientists are continuous to keep the mission coordinated and progressing.

With GPS that determines the latitude and longitude, the sonar determines the last piece of information to gain a three-dimensional view.  Adjustments have to be made below deck by Mr. Todd Walsh, Hydrographic senior technician (see previous post for additional information). The echo of return waves are detected downstream and calibrated to adjust for time, salinity, depth and a host of other factors to create the images used by the scientist to choose a path for sampling.

Images like the ones above are being used to determine locations for the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) dives and to aid in navigation during the collection of samples and observations when running transects for inventory of the fish, coral and habitat.

Robotic Arms and Taking Samples of Coral and Sponges

Screen displays in front of the ROV operator, Eric Glidden, includes information on the sea floor gathered from the multibeam sonar technology. Other screens include information coming in from a still camera, cameras that are set to view the sampling bottles and drawers, as well as high definition images of the live ocean floor feed ahead of the ROV and images from cameras directly on the robotic arm.  The blue image in the picture is Pisces, another smaller red image not visible on this photo is the location of the ROV. The ROV operator ensures that there are no collisions, even if there is a loss of power or other malfunction, the ROV floats to the surface for recovery.

Two modes of sampling with ROV attachments visible in this image; on the left a suction hose and on the right is the robotic claw, used both to maneuver the hose and to grab samples for removal from the ocean floor by twisting and rotating the claw device. Using this arm reminds me a bit of those arcade area claws where one attempts to grab that coveted stuffed animal prize to have it ultimately not clasp or drop the treasure.  Unlike these games, the ROV operator and the claw expertly grasp and deposit coral and sponges with a 5 function arm system.

For a fun engineering activity that models these robotic systems visit this activity

After samples are recovered topside they are brought inside the wet lab for processing, barcoding, photographing and for those samples needing genetic analysis, placed in vials and test tubes filled with ethanol for longer term storage and preservation of the coral’s tissues.

John K. Reed (Biologist/Taxonomist) discusses the sampling of a recovered sponge with Felicia Drummond (LT NOAA Corps).  Dr. Reed explains to me the octagonal polyps to look for when identifying this particular type of coral.

Caribbean Spiny lobster
Caribbean Spiny lobster, Panulirus argus. One of the many biotic factors observed on this ROV dive.

Other highlights this day were observations of two sandbar sharks and a stout moray eel, spotted on May 14th dive, and May 13th respectively.

Personal Log

May 13th, day 2 on the ship, I had one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I found myself playing corn hole off the back of a ship in the Atlantic ocean with Navy officers, deckhands, stewards, engineers and scientists at sunset. For those of you that may not have heard of such a game, it involves throwing 4 bean bags at a hole.  Landing on the board seen in the pictures without sliding off, is a point.  Getting the bean bag into the hole is 3 points.  First team to 12 wins.  I enjoyed the additional challenge of being on a swaying ship, keeping one’s balance and making the toss, all at the same time.

This was a fun and an amazing day with a fire hose dose of information coming at me.  There are so many interesting directions of study pulling for my attention.  I am curious about the formation of the ocean floor that gives the appearance of ancient Mayan formations.  The evolution of these block-like limestone formations created from water erosion and the laying down of sediment layers makes for beautiful habitat for a diversity of creatures seen during the dives.  Yet the biotic factors are equally fascinating to study with their adaptations of form, corals with polyps that have 6 tentacles, belonging to a subclass of Hexacoralia to 8 tentacles, from another subclass Octacoralia.  What advantages and disadvantages do these differences in form provide to these creatures in their marine environment?  Some of these hard corals we are observing and collecting evolved back in the Miocene.  To learn more about coral and for ideas and activities for teaching about coral evolution visit this site:

Last, but not least, I was on this adventure during Mother’s Day, so I not only want to thank my own mother for helping to get my daughters to school and looking after pets and plants during my absence, but for being a constant and committed pillar of support for me growing up and now into my adult life.  I wouldn’t be living the dream without her guidance and not to mention those brutal critiques of my writing over the decades.  Thanks to my mom and all the others mom’s out there reading this blog!  Happy Belated Mother’s Day.

Did You Know?
Scientists make observations about not only a sponges’ appearance but also its texture and smell.  Some are very stinky giving off odors similar to that of a rotten egg and vomit while others can emit a spicy aroma!

Fact or Fiction?
Excretions from certain sponges are demonstrating pancreatic cancer fighting properties.  Additional information can be found at this link for the extra curious:

What’s My Story?  Stacey Harter
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?  Chief Scientist and Fisheries Ecologist

Stacey Harter
Stacey Harter, Chief Scientist and Fisheries Ecologist, posing after emergency training

How long have you worked for NOAA?  16 years

What path did you take to get to your current position?  Undergraduate at Florida State University with a degree in Biology;  As an undergraduate, she did an internship at the Panama City lab and fell in love with the research side of marine science. She got her Master’s degree in marine science at the University of South Alabama and at the end of her Master’s she took a position as a contractor for 5 years before becoming a staff member with NOAA as a federal employee.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job? She enjoys going to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meetings and giving them information on what they have learned about the MPAs and then seeing that data being used to make management decisions.
Reading all the ROV data is quite time consuming and can become monotonous at times.

When did you first become interested in this career and why? Even though Stacey grew up in landlocked New York, her passion for marine science started early on with visits to Sea World and watching the Discovery channel as a kid. In high school she realized that she could take this interest in the marine world and make a career out of it.

What science classes or other opportunities would you recommend to high school students who are interested in preparing for this sort of career?  She recommends as much math and science as one can take.  She highly recommends students participate in internships.  She has witnessed many times over the years that these internship opportunities later turn into long-term employment. In addition she recommends students volunteer in research labs and try to experience as many aspects of the different parts of the career as possible.

What is one of the most interesting places you have visited for work?Around 2009 she went down in a manned submersible and explored the unique deep ocean communities at 2500 feet. She was blown away by the incredible different and original biota found in this environment.

Do you have a typical day? Or tasks and skills that you perform routinely in this job? Her typical day involves identifying fish species on video footage collected during and after dives. Another task she regularly performs is using software programs like Access and Excel for data analysis. She shared that about every couple of years she communicates their research by attending both scientific meetings and delivering information to the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council.

Has technology impacted the way you do your job from when you first started to the present? Definitely.  When she first started, pad and paper were used for recording dive information and species observed which was later entered after a dive into Excel.  Now everything is done digitally and directly into computer software as the dive occurs.  In addition to the approach to data collection, media storage has changed with how video footage is stored into hard drives rather than on mini-DV tapes.

What is one misconception or scientific claim you hear about how the ocean and atmosphere works and/or NOAA’s mission that you wished the general public had a greater awareness of? She doesn’t spend all of her time on boats doing field work. While field work is a fun, it is actually a very small portion of the job. She actually spends about 90% of her time at a desk in front of her computer analyzing data and writing reports.



Melissa Barker: On to the Emerald Coast, July 4, 2017


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22-July 6

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 4, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 29 49.65 N

Longitude: 86 59.92 W

Air temp: 29.7 C

Water temp: 31.6 C

Wind direction: 337 degrees

Wind speed: 1.88 knots

Wave height: 0.5 meters

Sky: partly cloudy


Science and Technology Log

We are now off the coast of Western Florida. After completing many stations in East Texas and Louisiana, we headed over to the Emerald Coast. State agencies in Louisiana and Mississippi, who are SEAMAP partners, have already completed stations in their states using the same trawling protocol which allowed us to push on to Florida.

The change in species has been dramatic. We are now trawling in sandy bottom areas, which have also been shallower than most of our Texas trawls with muddy bottoms. Generally, the fish here in Florida have more coloration and our catches have been smaller with fewer, but often slightly larger fish. Below is a side by side comparison of fish diversity between a Texas trawl catch and a Florida trawl catch.

The increased coloration in the fish actually helps the fish hide better in the sandy bottomed blue waters, yet at the same time allowing potential mates to find each other more easily. In the murky bottom waters of Texas, the fish tend to blend in better with duller colors. Here are some of the interesting species we found in the Emerald Coast waters.

One new fish we have caught in Florida is the lionfish (Pterois volitans ). In less than 10 years, the Lionfish has become widely established as an invasive species in the US Southeast and Caribbean coastal waters. It is native to the Indo-Pacific region, but was introduced into this area of the Gulf.

It is believed that lionfish were introduced off the Florida coast in the mid-1980’s, then expanded their way up the east coast. By 2004, NOAA scientists confirmed breeding populations off the coast of North Carolina which then worked their way into the Gulf of Mexico by 2005-2008. Lionfish are a popular aquarium fish and it is hypothesized that people released them into the Atlantic when they no longer wanted them as aquarium pets. Their large eggs masses floated up the coast via the gulf steam allowing them to spread easily. According to the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Sciences, it is estimated that their population has reached roughly 1,000 per acre in some locations of the Gulf.

Lionfish are top predators which compete for food and habitat with native predators that have been overfished like snapper and grouper.

Lionfish Infographic by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS)

They consume over 50 species including some that are economically and ecologically important. For example, they can consume important algae-eating parrot fish, allowing for too much vegetation build in reef areas. They have no known predators and reproduce all year long. You have to be careful when handing lionfish because they can deliver a venomous sting with their spines that can cause pain, sweating and respiratory distress. There has been a push to encourage harvesting lionfish for consumption in an attempt to reduce their population, but unfortunately there is currently no known mechanism to control or eliminate the population. (Source: NOAA National Ocean Services)



Interviews with the People of the Oregon II- PART 2

I’ve spent some time talking with people who work on the ship from the different departments trying to understand their jobs and their desire to work at sea. I have posted three interviews in my previous blog and have three more to share with you here.


Commanding Officer Dave Nelson

Captain Dave Nelson in the captain’s chair

Captain Nelson’s number one responsibility is safety on board. He is also responsible for the operations, such as getting the data that the scientists need. Additionally, he has a significant teaching and mentoring role for the Ensigns, new Officers. He is one of only two civilian captains in the NOAA fleet and has been training junior officers for 15 years. In 2016, the Oregon II won NOAA Ship of the Year, partially due to the culture that Captain Nelson has cultivated on the ship. Since he worked his way up from the deck, he really can appreciate the role that each individual on the boat plays and says it is critical that everyone works together for the safety and the success of the science mission of the ship.

What did you do before working for NOAA?

After high school, I fished commercially and worked as crew on oil field supply boats. I captained a shrimp boat, but knew I wanted to find a career.

How did you get to where you are today?

I started as a deck hand and worked my way up to Third mate, then Operations Officer (OPS), Executive Officer (XO) and finally Commanding Officer (CO) over the course 25 years. I had all the nautical knowledge and NOAA gave me the opportunity to take the Master Captains License test. I had to go back to the books to study hard and then passed with flying colors.

 What do you enjoy most about working on the Oregon II?

I enjoy training the Junior Officers and seeing them make progress. And of course, the joy of going to sea.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for my students?

Set a goal and stick to it. Don’t let anyone get in your way. At 47, I had to go back to the books and study harder than I ever had for my Master Captains exam. There will be set backs and hard work will be required, but sticking with your goal is worth it in the end.


Science Field Party Chief Andre DeBose

Field Party Chief Andre DeBose holding a Sphoerodies pachygaster (Blunthead Puffer)

Andre has been working at the NOAA Mississippi Lab in Pascagoula as the education coordinator and a member of the trawl unit for 21 years. He has been working on the Oregon II for 19 years. When at the lab he coordinates the education interns, collects and compiles trawl data and compiles historical trawl protocols. He is also the foreign national coordinator and get them cleared for sea duty. I’ve worked closely with Andre on the boat and appreciate all his patience and willingness to share his knowledge and insight with me.

 What does it mean to be Science Field Party Chief?

I am the liaison between the lab and the ship and help mediate requests from both parties. On board, I supervise all scientific activities and personal.

 What did you do before working for NOAA?

My degree is in general biology, which I linked to aquaculture. Right out of college, I worked at the Sea Chick aquaculture plant raising large mouth and hybrid striped bass. The facility was trying to make farmed grown fish as important as farmed raised chicken.

How did you come to work for NOAA?

I was hired as a temporary scientist for a Groundfish survey for 40 days aboard NOAA Ship Chapman. After that, I worked with a Red Drum tagging crew aboard the R/V Caretta then was hired on permanently by NOAA and been working at the lab ever since.

Tell me about one challenging aspect of your job?

Being out at sea. I miss my family and my normal day to day life.

What do you enjoy most about working on the Oregon II?

Going to sea. Even though it is hard to be away, I love being out there and the work we do.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for my students?

The goals that you desire may become your livelihood, always make sure to make your work fun and it will never bore you.


Second Engineer Darnell Doe

Second Engineer Darnell Doe

Darnell has been the Second Engineer aboard the Oregon II for three years. His job is a critical one as he is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the engines and generators. We are typically running on one engine and one generator with a second of each for back up. He changes filters, checks oil sump levels and makes sure everything is running smoothly.

What did you do before working for NOAA?

I worked in the Navy for 20 years as an engineer doing repair as a machinist through three wars. Then I worked doing combat support for the military sea lift command.

Why work for NOAA?

A friend told me about a job opening on a NOAA ship. I applied and got it.

Tell me about one challenging aspect of your job?

I’m used to working on much bigger ships, so working on the Oregon II is like working on a lawn mower in comparison. I tackle problems in a routine way and solve them as they arise.

What do you enjoy most about working on the Oregon II?

Working on this ship is new and interesting, which I like. I’ve seen some weird stuff come out of that water and enjoy learning about the science that is happening onboard.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for my students?

If your mind is set on something, proceed on that road and keep persisting. Stick with your goal.


Personal Log

It’s the 4th of July and folks are getting patriotic on the Oregon II. The ship got a new flag today and we had festive lunch, which is typically the biggest meal on the ship due to the shift change. The day shift folks eat first and then start their shift, while the night shift folks end their shift, eat and head to bed.

Yesterday we saw land. It has been 10 days since I’ve seen hard ground which is a lot for this land lover. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I imagined we would be close enough to see land more often. However, it was strange to see beach hotels and condos at a distance today; we are between 3.5-8 miles off shore for a few of our stations. I’ve come to enjoy the endless sea view.

Tire pulled up in our trawl net

While trawling yesterday we caught a tire. We’ve actually found very little trash in our trawls, so the tire was a bit of a surprise. Then we caught another tire in the next trawl. Apparently, it is common for people to dump tires and other large trash items into the ocean and GPS the location. These items are used as fish aggregating devices. Vegetation will grow on them and attract small fish. Larger fish are then drawn to the area to feed. Using the GPS location, people will come back to fish this area. I guess it is helpful that we are picking up the tires.

It is hard to believe that I am almost at the end of my journey. We’ve finished our trawling and are making the trek back to Pascagoula, MS. It feels strange to be awake with no fish work to do, but I’m enjoying a little down time as it has been a busy two weeks full of fun and learning.

Did You Know?

The northwest coast of Florida from Pensacola Beach to Panama City Beach is referred to as the Emerald Coast, which is where we are now. According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, the term Emerald Coast was coined in 1983 by a junior high school student who won $50 in the contest for a new area slogan.

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

What is the coolest/craziest animal you found? (Alexa, Lorna, Blaine)

Lionfish (Pterois volitans)

Of all the fascinating new species I’ve seen, I think lionfish are the coolest and craziest organism of them all. I also find it interesting that a native species in one area of the world can be problematic and invasive in another part of the world.

Why do you think we only discovered/explored only 5% of the ocean? (Kale)

There are several reasons when we have explored so little of the ocean. One main reason is that ocean exploration is expensive, roughly $10,000 per day. Fish and other aquatic organisms are concentrated by the coast, so that is the area that is prioritized for exploration and where our major fisheries are located.

How many fish died for the research? (Mia, Bennett)

Most of the fish that come aboard end up dying for the purpose of science. I would estimate that in a typical trawl we have might pull in between 250 to 300 organisms. This is a pretty small amount when compared to the amount of fish removed by the commercial finishing industry and the unintended catch associated with the fishing industry. We often split the catch and end up sending half of the organisms back into the ocean fairly quickly. However, the ones we keep aboard give us important data that allow fisheries manager to assess the health of the fisheries in their states. We also keep and freeze certain species for other researchers who will use them off the boat. Ultimately the ones we don’t keep are returned to the ocean and will be eaten by larger fish and marine mammals.

Elizabeth Nyman: Tropical Storm Andrea Edition, June 6, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Nyman
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 28 – June 7, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 6, 2013

Weather Data:
Wind Speed: 19.97 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 27.78 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 28.40 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1010.40 mb

Science and Technology Log

The Pisces is on its way to port, having had to suspend operations in wake of the bad weather that has since become Tropical Storm Andrea. We were supposed to go into Mayport Naval Base, right outside of Jacksonville, FL, but due to the storm we have been redirected to Port Canaveral.

It’s been pretty rough out there! (Picture courtesy Ariane Frappier)

Despite all of this, we made the best of a bad situation. Even though we couldn’t do fishing or camera drops yesterday, we did still manage to get some data. We spent as much time as we could mapping the seafloor before we had to dodge the storm, and we took the time in the morning to do an XBT, an Expendable Bathythermograph.

You can use an XBT to get a temperature and depth reading for the water without having to actually stop the ship. A tube with a probe on it is attached to a launcher and is fired into the water. The probe has copper wire attached to it to send the data back to the ship.

So…you drop the probe, you get the readings, and at least you get some data even if you can’t stop the ship to send more delicate equipment down.

Launching probe…

Other than that, the past couple of days have been all about cleanup and dodging the storm. To a certain extent that makes the scientific posts a little quieter than usual, but it’s been a very interesting experience watching everyone work together to make sure that the scientists could get as much work done as possible without endangering the ship or its crew.

We didn’t get to do everything that we wanted to do on this leg of the trip, unfortunately. But we still got a lot accomplished, and I feel like it was just as interesting to see how everyone was able to react to the weather and still get their job done.

Personal Log

Whew! I didn’t imagine when I got on the Pisces in Tampa that I’d spend the last bit of the trip dodging the first named Tropical Storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. But I definitely have a greater appreciation that, with science as in all things, sometimes life does not go quite to plan.

If all goes to schedule, I will be leaving the Pisces tonight, for our detour into Port Canaveral. We had to stop working a day early, and we’ll end up arriving a day early and into a different port. My last day has mostly been spent trying to rearrange for my travel home from a new city and with assisting the science crew in cleaning up the lab spaces.

All data collection requires a certain amount of flexibility. I knew that already – social science data is notoriously difficult to collect – but the problems that I face in my work are quite different from these. When international relations scholars have trouble with data, it’s usually because of things like difficulties in getting governments and/or people to tell the truth, etc. But sometimes, as now, it’s because conditions make it unsafe to collect the data. We can’t send people into shooting wars to count casualties, and we can’t send scientists into a hurricane to count fish.

Science is a method, not a subject, and the scientific method is one wherein we all simply do our best with what we have. Science has been so profoundly influential because of the simple power of this process, testing over and over what we think to be true, so that we can learn if we are wrong. It’s true if you study fish, if you study policy, or if you study anything in between.

There are many things we’ve discovered about our oceans, and the fish and other creatures that inhabit them. But there are still many more things to learn. I’m glad that we have scientists like the ones I met on the Pisces out looking for our fish, and glad that NOAA, in conjunction with states and other government agencies like the Coast Guard, are looking out for our oceans.

My thanks go out to the entire crew of the Pisces, and the great people at the Teacher at Sea program, for letting me be a part of the process.

Did You Know?

NOAA is predicting a highly active hurricane season for the Atlantic this year. Stay safe!

Elizabeth Nyman: Introduction, May 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Nyman
Assigned to NOAA Ship Pisces
May 28 – June 7, 2013

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Florida
Date: May 21, 2013

Elizabeth Nyman
Me, with a map of Reykjavik, Iceland

Hi everyone! My name is Elizabeth Nyman, and I just finished my first year as an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. UL Lafayette is a public university with about 16,000 students, located in a region with twin claims to fame: a center for Acadiana/Cajun culture (and food!) and the heart of the Louisiana offshore oil industry. Ocean resources are very important to southwestern Louisiana, both living and mineral. My students and their families live near or in some cases on the water; their favorite places to vacation are the beaches on Florida’s panhandle.

I have been teaching undergraduates since 2007, mostly courses on international relations and comparative politics. All professors have to have their own areas of arcane specialization, and mine is international maritime law and conflict. I do research and teach about maritime piracy, island tourism and sustainable development, and international maritime treaties like the Safety of Life at Sea, written to protect future ship passengers after the sinking of the Titanic.

I tell people I have the best career in the world, and when they hear more about what I do, most people agree. I got my Ph.D. in political science from Florida State University, in Tallahassee, FL, about two hours drive from where I grew up in Jacksonville, FL. The first week of graduate school, I was supposed to find a topic for my First Year Paper, a sort of mini-thesis designed to throw us into the world of high level research. I sat through hours of my professors talking about what they did, and doodled in the margins of my notebook. One doodle said “international conflicts over oceans?” and that became the topic of my paper.

(See, I was paying attention! Honest!)

For my dissertation, I received a grant to study an international fishery dispute between the Caribbean island states of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. It wasn’t much money, but I was a grad student and thus very, very skilled at living on nothing. And I wanted to spend as much time in the Caribbean as possible. Other students were talking about their plans for dissertation research, visiting archives in major cities or traveling to presidential libraries. And strangely enough, people who had always wondered why anyone would care about international ocean politics suddenly wished they’d chosen that as a topic.

Dover Beach, Barbados
The fact that this was two blocks away from where I stayed had nothing to do with their change of opinion, I’m sure. 🙂

But make no mistake, ocean politics are serious business. I don’t need to convince my students of that – they know the economics behind offshore drilling, as well as what happens when things go wrong. They know how much the region known for its seafood depends on shrimp and other fisheries. The resources of the ocean are big business, and sustain livelihoods across the state and across America.

Thing is, fish don’t stay in one place, and today’s American fishing vessels compete with others around the world to catch fish as they dart in and out of national waters. Fish that are unfortunately running out, according to the FAO– about 30% of the world’s marine fish are being overfished, meaning that more are being caught than are being born to replace them. Another 57% are being caught at capacity, or about as many are caught as are born to replace them.

Fish, fish, everywhere...for now. (Picture courtesy of National Geographic)
Fish, fish, everywhere…for now. (Picture courtesy of National Geographic)

Now, I’m no biologist, and one of the things that has always been a mystery to me is how we know what we know about fish populations. We know that close to 90% of the world’s fish are being caught at or above capacity – but how do we know what “capacity” is? How do we know if a population is in decline?

I applied for the Teacher at Sea program because I wanted to be able to answer questions like this. My students are intelligent and curious, and I usually get asked about the science behind the policies at least once a semester. I talk to them about NOAA and the work they do, but I wanted the opportunity to experience it for myself. It’s one thing to read about research, and another thing to understand it by taking part in it. I am excited that I get the chance to have this experience, and will be able to better bridge the gap between understanding the science and understanding the policies.

I am fortunate enough to be assigned to the Pisces, a ship involved in fisheries research off the coast of my home state of Florida. The Atlantic and the Gulf are my waters, in a sense, where I have lived and worked for almost my entire life, and these are our fish. They belong to all of us, those who live on the coast and those who only come for a visit. I can’t wait to learn more about them, to finally fill in the scientific gaps in my knowledge.

Pisces, here I come!

NOAA Ship Pisces (picture courtesy of NOAA)
NOAA Ship Pisces (picture courtesy of NOAA)

Deb Novak: Introduction, August 8, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Soon to be Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of Survey: The East Coast of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 8, 2012


Hi! My name is Deb Novak and I am so excited about being a NOAA Teacher at Sea! NOAA is the acronym for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  NOAA studies the ocean, the atmosphere and the fish in the ocean. They are generous enough to invite a few lucky  teachers to come along each year and learn about the science that happens on NOAA vessels. Feel free to read other Teacher at Sea blogs to learn more!

Ms. Deb Novak with Dinos

As the Science Coordinator for Manzano Day School for the last five years, I have loved teaching science to pre-kindergarten through 5th grade students and working with teachers to develop science curriculum. Now, I’m excited about my new position, being named the new Chief of Education for the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. I will be sharing this blog with lots of people throughout the state of New Mexico, but the focus of this blog is all the wonderful students at Manzano Day School!  I’m hoping some of our graduates will also log in to share this adventure with me!  Since my new job is only a few short blocks away from Manzano, I will be sharing more of my experience in person when I get back to Albuquerque.

The Oregon II copyright NOAA

This is the ship I’ll be on the Oregon II. It was born the same year I was: 1967. You can find out more about the Oregon II by clicking on the picture. You can also view the path the Oregon II will be traveling during my visit. Once I am on the ship I will send out a blog photo tour of what the inside of the ship looks like. I know that I will be traveling with about 30 people who do lots of different amazing jobs. I will be sharing their stories via this blog as well. There will also be blog posts about the science of the Shark Longline Survey. WhooHooo, sharks! I was given this mission because Ms. Louise Junick’s Kindergarten class put in a special request and so I included sharks in my application. I’ve always been interested in sharks and can’t wait to learn about shark research on the Oregon II.

Whale Shark at the Georgia Aquarium

I had a cool opportunity to learn more about sharks this summer. I visited the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. They have the only whale sharks in an aquarium anywhere in the world.  And it got even better – I got to snorkel in the tank with the whale sharks! Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, but they have a really tiny mouth and eat little bitty critters called plankton. The Georgia Aquarium makes sure to keep the people safe from the animals in the tank, but even more important we had to learn how to keep the animals safe from us!  Some of the money I paid to swim with the whale sharks goes to a shark study that the aquarium is conducting. That is when I learned that whale sharks spend some time in the Gulf of Mexico! It would be great to see such an amazing and huge fish in the wild! With further research I found an article about whale sharks and the Gulf Oil Spill.  The map shows that I would be extremely lucky if I see one since I will be on the opposite side of the Gulf of Mexico from where they tend to spend their time.

Each day I get more and more excited about my opportunity to be a Teacher at Sea. I know that I will want to share lots and lots of exciting information with everyone reading this blog. I also know that I will be able to send  2 or 3 blogs per week, so I hope you will check in and see where I am and what I am up to working with the scientists on the Oregon II. Wish me a Bon Voyage! (Happy Travels !)

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

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

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

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

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

Science and Technology Log

Purpose of the research cruise and background information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red snapper close up
Red snapper in its reef habitat

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

How the fish are collected for study

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

Chevron fish trap
Fish swimming in and out of a chevron fish trap

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

Who is doing the research?

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

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

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

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

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

Kristy Weaver: One Stormy Week, May 27, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristy Weaver
Aboard R/V Savannah
May 23 — June 1, 2012

Mission:  Reef Fish Survey
Location:  Off the Coast of Vero Beach, Florida
Date: May 27, 2012

Current Weather: 73 Degrees, Windy and Rainy

Hello from Sunny Florida!

Storm clouds off the coast of Vero Beach, FL

Actually let’s change that to, “Hello from mostly cloudy Florida!”

When we learned about weather in our science kit we talked about how the weather is always changing and how we have to do different things or dress differently because of the weather. I have really been thinking about this for the past few days.  I wanted this post to be about all of the science that I am doing on this trip, but the weather has taken over!

Storm clouds off the stern (back) of the boat
about 20 miles off Vero Beach, FL

We were doing a lot of fishing off the coast of Georgia and our plan was to stay there for a few more days.  We had to move because there was a storm that was headed right towards us.   It has not rained that much.  The problem is the wind.  The wind makes it dangerous to work on the boat and can make large waves.  If we stayed where we were there would have been waves about 5-10 feet high.  Some would have been even higher.

The arrow points to where our boat is on this map of Florida

This would have been too rough to work in so we headed south to the water off Daytona Beach, Florida.  After a while the water got rough there too so we headed even further south.  Right now we are about 30 miles off the coast of Vero Beach, Florida.

The wind is about 20-25 miles per hour.  (That would definitely be a “2” on our wind scale  if we used our flags today!) That is the speed limit that cars can drive on our school’s street!   The waves are about 6 feet tall right now, which is taller than I am.  The boat is rocking back and forth a lot.  This makes it hard to walk, but it’s also pretty funny because I need to hold onto the walls wherever I go!

The boat was rocking a lot today.
Sometimes I had to hold on while we waited to drop the traps.

We are done fishing for the day because the wind is getting stronger, but we will start again in the morning.  We are going to go closer to the shore where the waves will not be as big.  When we get there the captain will set the anchor.  The anchor will grab onto the ocean floor and hold us in one spot for the night.  We will head back out to sea in the morning when the storm passes.

Clouds off the stern of the R/V Savannah
Part of Tropical Storm Beryl

Weather also affected the way I packed.   About three weeks ago I was on the beach with my mom and I was so cold!  I was nervous that I was going to be freezing on the boat because I knew I would be working outside until midnight.  So before I left for my trip I bought a whole bunch of really warm clothes to take with me.  I haven’t needed any of it!  It is a little more chilly on the water than it is on land, but I still haven’t needed more than a sweatshirt and shorts to stay warm.   I checked the weather in New Jersey, and I checked the weather in Georgia, but I didn’t believe it!  I should have trusted those meteorologists!

I can’t wait to tell you everything I have learned from the scientists on the ship!  I also have some GREAT pictures of dolphins for you.  They were jumping out of the water and put on quite a show for us yesterday.  Make sure you check back soon to see them!

(On a personal note:  I would like to wish my niece Maddie a very happy 9th birthday!  Aunt Kristy loves you!  Also,  congratulations to my parents on the purchase of their new home!  I’m sorry I couldn’t be there, but I know you understand:)

Dave Grant: The “River in the Ocean”, March 2, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: March 2, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26 degrees 19 minutes North Latitude & 79 degrees 55 minutes West Longitude
Windspeed: 14 knots
Wind Direction: South
Air Temperature: 25.4 deg C / 77.7 deg F
Water Temperature: 26.1 deg C / 79 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1014.7 mb
Water Depth: 242 m / 794 feet
Cloud Cover: none
Cloud Type: NA

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass,
it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

Henry Miller

My evenings looking through the microscope are a short course in invertebrate zoology. Every drop of water filtered through the plankton net reveals new and mystifying creatures. Perhaps 90% of marine invertebrates, like newly hatched mollusks and crustaceans, spend part of their life in a drifting stage – meroplankton; as opposed to holoplankton – organisms that are planktonic throughout their life cycle.




The lucky individuals that escape being eaten, and are near a suitable substrate at the right moment, settle out into a sedentary life far from their place of origin. For the long distance travelers swept up in the Gulf Stream, the most fortunate waifs of the sea that survive long enough might make it all the way to Bermuda. The only hope for the remainder is to attach to a piece of flotsam or jetsam, or an unnatural and unlikely refuge like the electronic picket fence of moorings the Ron Brown is servicing east of the Bahamas.

“The gaudy, babbling, and remorseful day,
Is crept into the bosom of the sea.”

A league and a half* of cable, sensors and a ton of anchor chain are wrestled on deck during a day-long operation in the tropical heat. (*A mariner’s league equals three nautical miles or 3041 fathoms [18,246 feet])

It is easy to be humbled by the immensity of the sea and the scope of the mooring project while observing miles of cable and buoys stretched towards the horizon, about to be set in place with a ton of anchor chain gingerly swung off the stern for its half-hour trip to the bosom of the sea.

Thanks to the hard labor and alert eyes of our British and French (“And Irish”) colleagues retrieving and deploying the attached temperature and salinity sensors, I am regularly directed to investigate “something crawling out of the gear” or to photograph bite marks from deep sea denizens on very expensive, but sturdy equipment.

A retrieved sensor with bite marks.
A retrieved sensor with bite marks.

To my surprise, other than teeth marks, very little evidence of marine life is present on the miles of lines and devices strung deeper than about 200 meters. This may be due in part to the materials of which they are constructed and protective coatings to prevent bio-fouling, but sunlight or more precisely, the attenuation of it as one goes deeper, is probably the most important factor.

Fireworm (Drawings and images by Dave Grant - NOAA Ron Brown)
(Drawings and images by Dave Grant – NOAA Ron Brown)

Handle with care! Close-up of worm spines
Handle with care! Close-up of worm spines

The first discovery I was directed to was a striking red bristle worm wiggling out of the crevice in a buoy.  It appears to be one of the reef-dwelling Amphinomids – the aptly-named fireworms that SCUBA divers in the Caribbean avoid because of their venomous spines; so I was cautious when handling it.  This proved to be the deepest-dwelling organism we found, along with some minute growths of stony and soft corals.

Five o’clock shadow” on a buoy – A year’s growth of fouling organisms – only an inch tall.

On shallower buoys and equipment, there are sparse growths of brown and blue-green algae, small numbers of goose barnacles, tiny coiled limey tubes of Serpulid worms like the Spirobis found on the floating gulfweed, some non-descript bivalves (Anomia?) covered with other fouling growth, skeleton shrimp creeping like inch-worms, and of course the ubiquitous Bryozoans. Searching through this depauperate community not as challenging as the plankton samples, but not surprising since our distance from land, reefs or upwelling areas – and especially clear water and lack of seabirds and fishes; are all indicators that this is a nutrient-deficient, less productive part of the ocean.


Bio-fouling – “on the half-shell.”                       Skeleton shrimp (Caprellidae)

The Ron Brown is the largest workhorse in the NOAA fleet and its labs and decks are intentionally cleared of equipment between cruises so that visiting scientists can bring aboard their own gear that is best suited to their specific project needs. NOAA’s physical oceanographers from Miami arrived with a truckload of crates holding Niskin water sampling bottles for the CTD and their chemistry equipment for DO (Dissolved Oxygen) and salinity measurements; and in a large shipping container (“Ship-tainer”) from England, the British and French (“and Irish”) scientists transported their own remote sensing gear, buoys, and (quite literally) tons of massive chain and cables to anchor their moorings. (I am surprised to learn from the “Brits” that the heavy chain is shipped all the way from England because it is increasingly hard to acquire. )

In the lab: Scores of sensors serviced and ready for deployment
In the lab: Scores of sensors serviced and ready for deployment

This is how most science is facilitated on the Brown and it requires many months of planning and pre-positioning of materials. I am lucky and can travel light – and with little advanced preparation. I am using simple methods to obtain plankton samples and images via a small portable microscope, digital camera and plankton net which I can cram into my backpack for any trips that involve large bodies of water. The little Swift* scope has three lens (4x, 10x, 40x) with a 10x ocular, and I get great resolution at 40x, and can get decent resolution to 100x. Using tips from Dave Bulloch (Handbook for the Marine Naturalist) I am able to push that somewhat with a simple Nikon Coolpix* point-and-shoot camera – but lose some of the sharpness with digital zoom.  As you might suspect, the ship’s movement and engine vibration can be a challenge when peering through the scope, but is satisfactory for some preliminary identification. (*These are not commercial endorsements, but I can be bought if either company is willing to fund my next cruise!)


Centric diatom - Coscinodiscus
Centric diatom – Coscinodiscus


Dinoflagellates –  Different Ceratium species


A Plankton précis

Collecting specimens would be much more difficult without the cooperation of the Brown’s crew and visiting scientists, and their assistance is always reliable and appreciated. The least effective method of collection has been by filtering the deep, cold bottom water brought up in the Niskin bottles. As mentioned earlier, no live specimens were recovered; only fragments of diatom and Silicoflagellate skeletons surviving the slow drift to the bottom, which I have been able to identify through deep sea core images posted at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership website.

Needless to say, the most indiscriminate method of collection and the most material collected is through the large neuston net. The greatest biomass observed on the trip is the millions of tons of Sargassum weed, which covers the surface in great slacks around us that are even visible in satellite images.

Although the continuous flow of ocean water pumped into the wet lab and through my plankton net is effective and the most convenient collection method, the most surprising finds are from the saltwater intake screens that the engineer directed me to. This includes bizarre crystal-clear, inch-long, and paper-thin Phylosoma – larvae of tropical lobsters – that I initially mistook for pieces of plastic.

Inch-long Phylosoma larvae on a glass slide. (One of the tropical lobsters.)
Inch-long Phylosoma larvae on a glass slide. (One of the tropical lobsters.)

“All the ingenious men, and all the scientific men, and all the fanciful men in the world …
…could never invent anything so curious and so ridiculous, as a lobster.”

Charles Kingsley -The Water-Babies

Plankton communities are noticeably different between the Gulf Stream, inshore, and offshore in the pelagic waters east of the Bahamas.  Near the coast, either the shallower Bahama Banks or the neritic waters over the continental shelf closer to Charleston, the plankton is larger, more familiar to me and less challenging to sort, including: copepods, mollusk larvae and diatoms. Steaming over the shelf waters at night, the ship’s wake is often phosphorescent, and dinoflagellates, including the “night-light” Noctiluca are common in those samples.

Dinoflagellate - Noctiluca
Dinoflagellate – Noctiluca

 The waters east of the Bahamas along the transect line are notable for their zooplankton, including great numbers and varieties of Foraminifera, and some striking amphipod shrimp. Compared to cooler waters I am familiar with, subtropical waters here have over a dozen species of Forams, and some astonishingly colorful shrimp that come up nightly from deeper water.

It’s not all work and no play on the Ron Brown, and there are entertaining moments like decorating foam cups with school logos to send down with the CTD to document the extreme pressure at the bottom. Brought back to class, these graphically illustrate to younger students the challenges of deep sea research.

Foam cup:  Before-and-after a trip to 5,000 meters
Foam cup: Before-and-after a trip to 5,000 meters

Navigating by Dead-reckoning

On calm days while we are being held on-station by the Brown’s powerful thrusters, I can measure current speeds using Sargassum clumps as Dutchman’s logs as they drift by. Long before modern navigation devices, sailors would have to use dead-reckoning techniques to estimate their progress.  One method used a float attached to a measured spool of knotted line (A log-line), trailing behind the moving vessel. The navigator counted the number of knots that passed through his hands as the line played out behind the ship to estimate the vessel’s speed (in knots). Since nothing is to be tossed off the Brown, I rely on a simpler method by following the progress of the Sargassum as it drifts by stem-to-stern while we are stationary at our sampling site. Since I know the length of the Brown at the waterline (~100-meters), I can estimate current speed by observing drifting Sargassum.

Watching sargassum, I wonder if a swimmer could keep pace with the currents in these waters. When in college
my brothers and would strive to cover a 100-meter race by swimming it in under a minute. Here is the data from east of the Bahamas. See if you can determine the current speed there and if a good swimmer could keep pace.


Data on currents:
Average of three measurements of Sargassum drifting  the length of the Ron Brown = 245 seconds.
Length of the Ron Brown – 100-meters.

1. How many meters per second is the current east of the Bahamas?
2. As a swimmer in college – with my best time in the 100-meters freestyle of one minute – could I have kept up with the Ron Brown… or been swept away towards the Bahamas?

For more on currents, visit my site at the college:


Other navigational exercises I try to include determining Latitude and Longitude. Latitude is easy as long as you can shoot the sun at midday or find the altitude of Polaris in the night sky; and sailors have done that for centuries. The ship’s navigator will get out the sextant for this, or, since the width of one’s fist is about 10-degrees of sky, I can estimate the height of both of these navigational beacons by counting the number of fists between the star and the horizon.


Night observation (Shooting the North Star) – Number of Fists from the Northern horizon to Polaris = 3
Day observation (Shooting the Sun) – Number of Fists from the Southern horizon to the Sun = 5.5

If the width of a fist is equal to about 10-degrees of horizon, our estimate of Latitude using Polaris is 30-degrees (3 x 10).
Not too bad an estimate on a rocking ship at night, compared to our actual location (See Data from the Bridge at the top.).

Shooting the Sun at its Zenith at 12:30 that day gives us its altitude as 55-degrees – which seems too high unless we consider the earth’s tilt (23.5-degrees). So if we deduct that (55 – 23.5) we get 31.5, which is closer to our actual position. And if we consult an Almanac, we know that the sun is still about six degrees below the Equator on its seasonal trip North; so by deducting that (31.5 – 6) we end up with an estimate of 25.5-degrees. This is an even better estimate of our Latitude.

Here is the dreaded word problem:

By shooting the Sun, our best estimate of Latitude is 25.5 degrees (25 degrees/30 minutes)
The actual Latitude of the ship using GPS is 26-degrees/19 minutes.
If there are 60 minutes to a degree of Latitude – each of those minutes representing a Nautical Mile – how many Nautical Miles off course does our estimate place us on the featureless sea?


Longitude is much harder to determine if you don’t have an accurate timepiece to compare local time with universal time (The time at Greenwich, England), and an accurate ship’s chronometer wasn’t in use until the mid-1700’s.
To understand the challenge of designing a precise timepiece that reliably will function at sea, I used two crucial clock mechanisms:  a pendulum and a spring. Finding a spring was easy, since “Doc” had a scale at Sick Bay. For the pendulum I fashioned a small weight swinging on a string)

Using the scale to observe the ship’s motion.
Using the scale to observe the ship’s motion.

Standing on the scale and swinging the pendulum even in calm weather quickly demonstrated three things:

First: I have developed my sea legs, and no longer notice the regular motion of the ship.
Second: Even when the sea feels calm, the scale’s spring mechanism swings back and forth under my weight; adding and deducting 20 pounds to my real weight and reflecting the ship’s rocking that I no longer notice.
Three: On rough days, even if I can hold still, the ship’s heaving, pitching and rolling alters my pendulum’s reliable swing – its movements reflecting the ship’s indicator in the lab. Experimenting helps me appreciate clock-maker John Harrison, and his massive, 65-pound No. 1 Ship’s Chronometer  he presented to the Royal Navy in 1728.

Ship movement as recorded by the computer
Ship movement as recorded by the computer

Doc: Always on duty -  Sick Bay on the Ron Brown
Doc: Always on duty – Sick Bay on the Ron Brown

Besides having very well-provisioned Sick Bays, NOAA ships have experienced and very competent medical officers.  Our “Doc” received his training at Yale, and served as a medic during the Gulf War.

Especially alert to anyone who exhibits even the mildest symptoms of sea-sickness, Christian is available 24-hours for emergencies – and in spite of the crew constantly wrestling with heavy equipment on a rocking deck, we’ve only experienced a few minor bumps and bruises. He has regular office hours every day, and is constantly on the move around the ship when not on duty there.

Besides keeping us healthy, he helps keep the ship humming by testing the drinking water supply (The Brown desalinates seawater when underway, but takes on local water while in port); surveys all departments for safety issues; and with the Captain, has the final word if-or-when a cruise is to be terminated if there is a medical emergency.

Since a storm pounding the Midwest will head out to sea and cross our path when we head north to Charleston, he is reminding everyone that remedies for sea sickness are always available at his office door, and thanks to NASA and the space program, if the motion sickness pills don’t work, he has available stronger medicine. So far we have been blessed with relatively calm weather and a resilient crew.

                          The warm  (Red) Gulf Stream waters viewed from a satellite iamge.
The warm (Red) Gulf Stream waters viewed from a satellite image.

 Contact: The edge of the Gulf Stream - Matthew Maury’s  River in the Ocean
Contact: The edge of the Gulf Stream – Matthew Maury’s River in the Ocean

Birdwatching on the Ron Brown

For the time being I take advantage of the calm seas to scrutinize what’s under the microscope, and when on break, look for seabirds. East of the Bahamas, as anticipated after consulting ornithologist Poul Jespersen’s map of Atlantic bird sightings, I only spotted two birds over a two-week stretch at sea (storm petrels). This is very much in contrast to the dozens of species and hundreds of seabirds spotted in the rich waters of the Humboldt Current off of Chile , where I joined the Brown in 2008.

Passing through Bahamian waters was no more rewarding, but now that we are west and in the Florida Straits there are several species of gulls during the day, and at night more storm petrels startled by the ship’s lights. One windy night a large disoriented bird (Shearwater?) suddenly fluttered out of the dark and brushed my head before bumping a deck light and careening back out into the darkness. Throughout the day a cohort of terns has taken up watch on the forward mast of the Brown and noisily, they juggle for the best positions at the bow – resting until the ship flushes a school of flying fishes, and then swooping down across the water trying and snatch one in mid-air.  Like most fishermen, they are successful only about 10% of the time.

Royal tern "on station" at the jack mast.
Caspian tern “on station” at the jack mast.

Royal tern "on station" at the jack mast.
Royal tern “on station” at the jack mast.



Despite the dreary forecast from the Captain, Wes and I are enthusiastic about all we have done on the cruise and formulated a list of why NOAA’s Teacher At Sea program is so rewarding.

Top Ten Reasons:
Why be a Teacher At Sea?

10. Fun and excitement exploring the oceans!

9. Meeting dedicated and diligent scientists and crew from around the world!

8. Bragging rights in the Teachers’ Room – and endless anecdotes!

7. Cool NOAA t-shirts, pins and hats from the Ship’s Store!

6. Great meals, three times a day…and FREE laundry!

5. Amazing sunsets, sunrises and star-watches!

4. Reporting on BIG science to students…and in real-time!

3. Outstanding and relevant knowledge brought back to students and colleagues!

2. First-hand experience that relates to your students’ career objectives!

1. Rewarding hours in the lab and fieldremembering why you love science and sharing it with students!

Shots from the deck and under the microscope

(Drawings and images by Dave Grant – NOAA Ron Brown)

Dave Grant: Fast, Flat and Flying Fishes, March 1, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Gulf Stream waters
Date: March 1, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: 26.30N Latitude – 79. 23W Longitude
Wind speed:  Calm
Wind direction: Calm
Air Temperature:  76E F
Atm Pressure: 1013. mb
Water Depth: 750 meters
Cloud Cover: 20%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Personal Log

Our most persistent travel companions on the cruise are the flying fish and today they are the most abundant in the entire trip. Sit at the bow while we are plunging into the swells and it is impossible not to be mesmerized by what issues from the sea surface when old Triton blows his wreathed horn.

Over the eons, fishes have experimented with many different avenues of escape from predators and competition, and soaring out of the water is arguably the most dramatic and effective. There are scores of species in the family Exocoetidae, which comes from Greek roots and refers to “sleeping outside” – which was logical to ancient mariners who believed the flying fishes left the ocean to sleep on the shoreline. I check the Ron Brown’s deck each morning, hoping one has inadvertently landed on it, but without luck so far.

We flush them from both sides of the ship while underway.  Like birds of a feather flocking together, some escaping groups are about a foot long with a wing span (Oversized pectoral fins to be exact) about the same spread. Juveniles in other schools look no larger than the silver dollar George Washington threw across the Delaware River(Or did he skip it for greater distance like these little fishes do off the crests of waves?).

Between the sky, sea and sunsets, I thought I had seen all the shades of blue on this cruise, up to the moment we had a perfect view of a flying fish that soared past the railing and then steered off towards the horizon. Flying fish exhibit all the colors of the near end of the spectrum as their attitude and altitude change in flight. Taking advantage of the mesoscale winds generated between swells, the fishes launch off wave crests and can soar farther than a football field; sustaining the flight time by sweeping their tail laterally in the water.

Flying fish are harvested throughout the warmer waters of the ocean by man and beast, and are an important staple to island cultures. Barbados – to our south – is called the  “land of the flying fish” and on the reverse side of a dollar coin that I kept after a Caribbean trip, one finds the fish in flight.  When we are closer to land, I hope to see one of their main aerial opponents flying out to meet us – frigate birds.

Impossible to photograph, for the time being, I’ll be content to admire their flights during the day, and at night, watch them dodge the attacks of mahi-mahi under the ship’s lights.

Flying fish off the bow!


Our British colleagues remembered to bring fishing poles and the mahi-mahi is the most sought after and elusive creature out here when the ship is “on-station” doing sampling. Fishes and squid routinely come to the surface and congregate under the stern lights, and occasionally a large mahi will lurk in the shadows and dart in close to us chasing prey.

Also called dolphin-fish, our fishermen have learned only that the Hawaiian name Mahi-Mahi (Many Polynesian words are repeated) means “strong” since the hooked fishes have broken their fishing lines and escaped.

Mahi is popular in restaurants and is a light, mild tasting fish. Swimming under the lights they look pale and eel-like, but when landed in a boat they exhibit a range of shades from blue and green that fades to golden – hence the Spanish name Dorado.

A Mahi rises to the surface alongside the Ron Brown

Fish ON!

Finally the fishermen had some luck and landed a jack – but without a fish guide, that’s as far as I can go in identifying it (Although the term “tuna” is loosely applied to most things that swim by.)  Fortunately, I was able to get off an email and photo to Jeff Dement of the American Littoral Society (

When not fishing, Jeff runs the largest independent fish tagging program in the country; distributing tags to recreational fishermen and analyzing their thousands of returns to document where fishes migrate to and how fast they grow.
His quick analysis directs us towards the lesser amberjack (Seriola fasciata) “based upon the shape of the snout, and the eye stripe length.”

Fast swimming and hard fighting, the amberjacks are popular gamefish on the line and in the skillet. Like most fish, they are tasty fried, broiled, baked, or grilled (I like fried…my doctor demands boiled, baked or grilled)

Like barracudas and some other apex predators of the reef, amberjacks are implicated in Ciguatera poisoning in humans. They acquire contaminants from eating herbivorous reef fishes that have ingested and accumulated Ciguatoxins produced by Dinoflagellates attached to marine algae they have been grazing upon. Harmless to the fishes, the poison is a neurotoxin in humans who are exposed to a concentrated dose from a top predator like the amberjack through the process called bioaccumulation. This is the same process that concentrates Mercury spewing into the atmosphere from coal-fired power plants, into the sea, then into plankton and forage fishes, and finally tuna.

An amberjack gets a close look at people before returning to the sea.

“You strange astonished-looking, angle-faced,
Dreary-mouthed, gaping wretches of the sea,
Gulping salt-water everlastingly,
Cold-blooded, though with red your blood be graced,
And mute, though dwellers in the roaring waste…
What is’t you do? what life lead? eh, dull goggles?
How do ye vary your dull days and nights?
How pass your Sundays? Are ye still but joggles,
In ceaseless wash? Still sought, but gapes and bites,
And drinks and stares, diversified with boggles.”

 (Leigh Hunt – The Man to the Fish)

It pays to be clear.

 For me, the catch of the day is a leptocephali – a larval fish as long as my index finger, that I almost overlooked in the samples.

A number of species go through this inconspicuous stage as zooplankton, and the most famous and intensely studied are the eels. American eels spend a year drifting to East Coast estuaries from their birthplace in the Sargasso Sea. The European species takes a more leisurely two-year tour of the North Atlantic on the Gulf Stream.

 (Images from the Ron Brown, by Dave Grant)

Wes Struble: Science Research in the Bahamas? Sign me up! February 27, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 27, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26 degrees 31 minutes North Latitude & 76 degrees 48 minutes West Longitude / 9 miles east of the Bahamas
Windspeed: 8 knots
Wind Direction: East by Southeast
Air Temperature: 24.8 deg C / 76.5 deg F
Water Temperature: 24.2 deg C / 75.5 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1025 mb
Water Depth: 3830 meters / 12,770 feet
Cloud Cover: Approximately 60%
Cloud Type: Some altostratus and cumulostratus

Science/Technology Log:

The temperature has become quite warm and it has been a delight to walk around the deck in the sunshine in a t-shirt and shorts (the current weather back home is between 10 and 20 deg F and snowing). As you can see from the photo below the weather continues to be clear with some fair weather cumulus clouds and a light breeze.

A view of the wide western Atlantic off the Ron Brown's bow from the weather deck several days after leaving the port of Charleston, SC

The Ron Brown's wake trailing off into the west as we head toward our first CTD station

NOAA research scientist, Dr. Molly Baringer, Chief Scientist during the cruise, catches up on some computer work and reading in the shade of the bridge on the "lifeguard chair" on the "steel beach" (the weather deck) of the NOAA research vessel Ronald H Brown

A drifter buoy arrives prepackaged and ready for deployment

Removing the plastic packaging and recording the coordinates and serial number of the drifter buoy before deployment

A drifter buoy ready for deployment by Dr. Aurelie Duchez

Dr. Aurelie Duchez tosses the drifter over the stern of the Ron Brown. This cruise is a continuation of a long period of study (over 30 years) of the Gulf Stream and the Western Boundary currents in and around the region of Florida and the Bahamas. This region is of particular interest because of the impact these currents have on the weather and climate patterns of the northeastern North America and Northern Europe. The Gulf Stream current helps transport large amounts of heat energy derived from the equatorial Atlantic to the northern latitudes of America and Europe. An image of the Gulf Stream current from space - NASA photo. The Gulf Stream is the orange colored current that passes on the east coast of Florida and flows north along the eastern seaboard of the US

This phenomenon helps to moderate the climates of those areas by producing milder temperatures than would normally occur at these latitudes. Changes in the characteristics of these currents could potentially have a profound affect on the climates of these regions and it would be of particular interest to understand in detail the nature and interaction of these mobile bodies of water. To study these currents a combination of techniques have been employed. We should all be familiar with the concept of induction – the process of producing a current in a conductor by moving it through an electromagnetic field. This was one of the more important discoveries of Michael Faraday and is one for which we should be very grateful since most of our modern world depends upon the application of this scientific discovery.

Michael Faraday - the great British Scientist

As an example think of what modern life would be like without electric motors or generators. Well, it just so happens there exist old communications cables on the seafloor under these very currents between south Florida and the Bahamas. These cables are affected by a combination of the earth’s magnetic field and the motion of the seawater (a solution composed primarily of dissolved ions, charged particles, of Na+ and Cl). This combination of charges, motion, and the earth’s magnetic field causes a weak electrical current to be induced in the cable – a current which researchers have been able to measure.

A schematic showings the induction of an electric current in the underwater cable by motion of the sea water current (NOAA Image)

The electric current in the cable can be related mathematically to the strength of the ocean currents flowing over them. In addition to the data produced by the cable, the NOAA scientists are also deploying moored buoys below the surface that measure the characteristics of the seawater (temperature, density, etc) and use an Acoustic Doppler array to measure the relative motion of the current.

ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler) and two other types of buoys - image from Grand Valley State University

An ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler) buoy - Image from SAIC

A buoy deployment operation on the Ron Brown. Notice the large orange spherical ADCP buoys in the right foreground on the deck of the ship

These two data acquisition systems (in addition to the drifter buoys and CTD sampling) provide the data used to analyze the dynamics of the currents. As more data is collected and analyzed the nature and impact of these currents is slowly unraveled. Consider visiting the following website for a more detailed explanation:

Elizabeth Bullock: Day 5, December 15, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Bullock
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
December 11-15, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: December 15, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 3:15pm
Air Temperature: 23.6 degrees C
Wind Speed: 15.8 knots
Relative Humidity: 56%

Science and Technology Log

Liz takes a water sample
Here I am taking a water sample from the CTD.

Let’s talk about the flurometer!  The flurometer is  a piece of equipment attached to the CTD which is being used on this cruise to measure the amount of chlorophyll (specifically chlorophyll_a) in the water being sampled.  It works by emitting different wavelengths of light into a water sample.  The phytoplankton in the sample absorb some of this light and reemit some of it.  The flurometer measures the fluorescence (or light that is emitted by the phytoplankton) and the computer attached to the CTD records the voltage of the fluorescence.

The flurometer can be used to measure other characteristics of water, but for this research cruise, we are measuring chlorophyll.  As you know, chlorophyll is an indicator of how much phytoplankton is in the water.  Phytoplankton makes up the base of the marine food web and it is an important indicator of the health of the surrounding ecosystem.

At the same time that our cruise is collecting this information, satellites are also examining these components of water quality.  The measurements taken by the scientific party can be compared to the measurements being taken by the satellite.  By making this comparison, the scientists can check their work.  They can also calibrate the satellite, constantly improving the data they receive.

Combined with all the other research I’ve written about in previous blogs, the scientists can make a comprehensive picture of the ecosystem with the flurometer.  They can ask: Is the water quality improving?  Degrading?  Are the organisms that live in this area thriving?  Suffering?

Nelson records data from the CTD
Nelson records data from the CTD.

Collecting data can help us make decisions about how better to protect our environment.  For example, this particular scientific party, led by Nelson Melo, was able to inform the government of Florida to allow more freshwater to flow into Florida Bay.  Nelson and his team observed extremely high salinity in Florida Bay, and they used the data they collected to inform policy makers.

Personal Log

Today is my last full day on the Walton Smith.  The week went by so fast!  I had an amazing time and I want to say thank you to the crew and scientific party on board.  They welcomed me and taught me so much in such a short time!

Thank you also to everyone who read my blog.  I hope you enjoyed catching a glimpse of science in action!

Answers to Poll Questions:

1)      In order to apply to the Teacher at Sea program, you must be currently employed, full-time, and employed in the same or similar capacity next year as

a. a K-12 teacher or administrator

b. a community college, college, or university teacher

c. a museum or aquarium educator

d. an adult education teacher

2)      The R/V Walton Smith holds 10,000 gallons of fuel.  By the way, the ship also holds 3,000 gallons of water (although the ship desalinates an additional 20-40 gallons of water an hour).

Elizabeth Bullock: Introduction, December 8, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Bullock
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
December 11-15, 2011


Hello! My name is Elizabeth (Liz) Bullock and I work for the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program (TAS).  Before I worked at NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)  I was in graduate school at Clark University in Worcester, MA studying Environmental Science and Policy.  As my final project, I created an environmental curriculum for the Global Youth Leadership Institute (GYLI).  Through this experience, I realized how much I love both science and educating others about the importance of the natural world.

I have been invited to take part in a research cruise on the R/V Walton Smith.  I will be participating in the Bimonthly Regional Survey / South Florida Program Cruise.  The researchers on this survey are  from NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanography and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) which is located in Miami, FL.

What will we be studying?  The scientists on this survey are very interested in knowing about the strength and health of the ecosystem.  They can judge how strong it is by looking at various indicators such as water clarity, salinity, and temperature.  They can also record information about the phytoplankton and zooplankton that live in the water.

Question for students: Why do you think it is important to learn about the phytoplankton and zooplankton?  What can they tell us about the ecosystem?  Please leave a reply with your answers below by clicking on “Comments.”

Here is a map of the route the R/V Walton Smith will be taking.

Research Map
The R/V Walton Smith will be leaving Miami, FL and traveling around the Florida Keys into the Gulf of Mexico.

I am so excited and I hope you will follow along with me on this journey of a lifetime!

Sue Zupko: 5 Patience is a Virtue

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Study deep water coral along the east coast of Florida
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States in deep water from off Mayport, FL to south of Key Biscayne, FL
Date: June 2, 2011
Time: 14:33

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position:30.4N  80.2W
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Surface Water Temperature: 27.33°
Air Temperature: 27.5°
Relative Humidity: 66%
Barometric Pressure: 1017.8
Water Depth: 71.53
Salinity: 36.44

The Pisces has embarked on an exploratory cruise.  Many cruises run like clockwork to accomplish their missions.  We have a schedule, but recognize that things don’t always work that way.  I do not have a set time I must be somewhere–except perhaps meals:)  Even then, I can grab a bowl of cereal or make a sandwich if I am not available due to conflicts.  Just an aside here, I try not to miss the great meals served in the galley.  So, we are, in a manner of speaking, charting the unknown, going where no man (or woman) might have gone before.

Good things come to those who wait.  I know we’re going to have some good things come to us.  Let’s see.  A computer broke in transit and we waited for parts before departure.  Well, it was a holiday and the parts didn’t get shipped on time to arrive early on Tuesday and we would have had to wait another day.  We left without that computer working.  I’m thinking it was a backup computer.  You must have backup equipment for the backup equipment when out at sea.  We left about 2 1/2 hours later than planned.  Gotta be flexible when working with technology and the ocean.

Next, the ROV worked fabulous on our test drive in shallow water.  We then ran over to our first deep water site and launched the ROV.  Oh, no!! First dive started then aborted due to a thunderstorm which brought lightning strikes close to the ship.  Fast current (although we planned for it) and the tether got a kink in it.  The ROV and peripheral equipment is very delicate.  The ocean, even on a good day, is a harsh environment.  You have to plan for problems to occur.  Well, problems happened.  We lost video even though the ROV was still running perfectly.  The whole point of the ROV is to take video and photographs.  If the video fiber is not functioning, no point in continuing.  We had to abort the mission and repair the tether cable which houses the fiber optic, data wire, and power cables.

The ROV crew is fabulous.  They work long hours as a well-oiled machine.  Problem solving seems to come naturally to them. They figured out the problem and within about 12 hours had the tether fixed.  A morning dive was planned.  Things didn’t line up exactly as planned so we launched later than scheduled.  Remember, patience is a virtue.  Every time we plan to launch, we must dress in our life jackets and hard helmets, gather everyone who has a part in that, and wait.  Well, right after getting in the water, an electrical leak was detected. Back up came the ROV.  Now, many things on a ship, except meals and the crew watch schedules, do not come as scheduled.  Again, ocean and technology.  Plan on delays.  Patience is a virtue and I’m trying to be a virtuous woman.

Although frustrated, the science and ROV teams have done very well being patient.  They are always ready for a dive–even hours before it happens.  The scientists can’t do their jobs until the ROV runs so that has to be frustrating for them.  You wouldn’t know it, however, from their attitudes.  It reminds me of the 90/10 principle.  We can’t control 10% of what happens to us.  Equipment breaks.  Weather gets stormy.  Currents are too strong.  People get sick.  We can control the other 90% which is our attitude toward these challenges.  Andy David, our chief scientist, didn’t jump up and down and scream and yell when things didn’t go according to schedule.  What would that accomplish?  Although probably frustrated by the forces of nature working on us, mail service, or the equipment issues due to nature, Andy was very cool and supportive.  He found other jobs we could be doing while we waited.  He wasn’t the only one. The ROV crew just jumped in and worked out bugs and kinks.

Captain standing at the stern side of ship fishing.
Even the Captain has to relax.

The scientists worked on research, papers, etc.  Some of us worked on the blog, downloading pictures from our dive and cataloguing information, etc.  It was a good time to go fishing off the stern.  Someone sighted Mahi and the poles came out. Fresh fish is good.  One has to find time to relax and when there are limiting factors in the mission you can’t do anything about, take a break.

Remember the last quiz?  Were you patient waiting to find out what it is?  Here is an enlargement of the photo.

Cylander with a yellow hose-like cable wrapped around it sitting on the deck.
ROV Tether

That’s right.  It is the tether for the ROV.  It was good being patient to find out the answer.

Sue Zupko: 3 On the Pisces

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Study deep water coral, Lophelia, in the Gulf Stream
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States in Gulf Stream from off Mayport, FL to south of St. Lucie Inlet, FL
Date: May 31, 2011
Weather Data from the Bridge
Clouds: Partly Cloudy
Wind Speed: 8 knots
Wind Direction: 020
Visibility:10 nautical miles (n.m.)
Swells: 3-4′
Barometric Pressure: 1018.4mb
Salinity: 126.9
Dry/Wet Bulb: 26.8/24

I am finally here on the Pisces.  The weather is perfect.  Puffy clouds, nice breeze.  I love being in the harbor.  There are ships all around us and there is always something going on.  We are berthed (parked) literally next to a missile cruiser.  Instead of having a gangway (walkway) directly onto our ship, we must climb up some metal stairs (no kidding–you have to be able to pull yourself up about two feet to get started), board this cruiser, then cut across to another gangway to go to the Pisces.

Walkway made of metal with holes and raised slats

Although we have shown ID at the gate, and the entrance to the pier, we must show it again to get onto this ship.  There are a lot of guards.  The gangway is not the easiest thing to walk on even though there are railings on both sides.  The floor has slats that stick up and are easy to trip on.  I really had to watch my step.  Try carrying heavy gear while maneuvering on this.  We had to unload our cars and trucks and carry just about everything across these two gangways.  Thank goodness one of the crew was there to help me.  Would have been a struggle to get my duffel up those first few steps.

Looks like two aluminum pie pans stuck with the wide sides together
What is this?

What is this?  Vote using the survey on what this is a picture of.  It is an important object on our ship.



This is an eye wash.  Scientists often use chemicals in their work and if something splashes, they can step on a pedal and it opens up the top of this “waffle iron” and water eye-width apart rinses the chemical from their eyes.  It’s a handy safety device.

Mark Silverman, June 12, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark Silverman
Onboard NASA Ship Freedom Star
June 7 – 14, 2006

Mission: Pre-closure evaluation of habitat and fish assemblages in five proposed no fishing zones in the South Atlantic.
Geographical Area: South Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 12, 2006

FREEDOM STAR back in port at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station under the dark, glowering skies of tropical storm Alberto.
Back in port at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station under the dark, glowering skies of tropical storm Alberto.

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: Fair to Poor
Wind direction: ESE
Average wind speed: 7 knots and building during day
Wave height: 1-2’ knots and building during day
Air temperature: 75 oF
Sea temperature: 79 oF
Cloud cover: 100%
Barometric pressure: 1014 mb

Personal Log 

This morning I overslept and woke up about 0815. Everyone was just hanging out as we ran for port so it was not an issue. I had a light breakfast, as breakfast was officially over (Patrick “Cookie” Downey, the cook, kindly left out some food for late risers).  After breakfast I went up to the bridge to work on this, my final log. The weather outside is deteriorating and the sky is dark with light rain.  The bridge crew is in good cheer and we bantered a bit.  The launch towers of Cape Canaveral are barely visible to the west through the overcast.  On radar I can clearly see the shape of the Cape and our path around it. We are about 1-2 hours from the entrance, a bit more to docking, as we have to pass through the lock.  The FREEDOM STAR should dock at Port Canaveral Air Force Station today around 1200.  The operations were curtailed 48 hrs. early due to impending tropical storm Alberto.  Alberto is currently just off the west coast of Florida around Steinahatchee.  About 0100 we passed through the Port Canaveral inlet as a number of the crew and team stood on the bridge joking, talking, and looking through binoculars. I felt quite privileged to be part of this retinue as people on shore and in other boats observed our entrance into port.  As we steamed into port, Tim Freely, Chief Engineer, gave us a tour of the one part of the ship we hadn’t entered yet, the Engine Room. Due to the dangers involved we could only enter with an engineer.  It was fascinating! FREEDOM STAR has 6 diesel engines.  Two for propulsion, two for thrusters, and two for generators.

Several shots from our tour of the engine room: From left, Mark and Tim pose, Tim proudly shows Nancy and Steve the major components of the engine room, one BIG Detroit diesel that turns one of the propellers. Note the ear muffs that are necessary due to the high noise level.
Several shots from our tour of the engine room: From left, Mark and Tim pose, Tim proudly shows Nancy and Steve the major components of the engine room, one BIG Detroit diesel that turns one of the propellers. Note the ear muffs that are necessary due to the high noise level.

Andy managed to change my flight for this evening to get me out before the storm, so I did laundry, packed my things, took a few more pictures and got ready to debark.  Nancy and the ROV team will be flying out this evening as well.  The science team and a few of the crew got together one last time at a Port Canaveral restaurant to say goodbye.  Overall, it’s been a fantastic time and I’m sad that it’s over, but I have lots of great memories and learned a lot too.  Everyone I got to know, the crew, and the science team, were super and made me feel like I belonged.  I hope I can participate in Teacher at Sea again someday and highly recommend it to anyone out there reading this and thinking about it. Hasta luego, Mark

Signal flags.
Signal flags.

Question of the Day 

Answer to yesterday’s question: Yesterday’s question is really just for your own personal reflection. To prepare for a career in marine biology, take lots of math and science.  Practice good writing skill.  Keep your GPA up and work hard in college. See my interview with Andy David on day 3 for more information. Today’s question: What do the black flags in the photo on the left mean? (See end of this log for the answer).

Addendum 1: An Interview with Marta Ribera, GIS specialist. 

Marta was a little shy about giving and interview and claimed she wouldn’t have much to say. However, once she warmed up to our discussion she was vivacious and charming, punctuating her comments with laughter and smiles.  She has a much different demeanor while working, although retaining her sense of humor, her seriousness and concentration are obvious. She appears to thoroughly enjoy what she does.  Much to my delight Marta was born in Gainesville and is a Gator fan.

Patrick “Cookie” Downey grills up some freshly caught dolphin fish.
Patrick “Cookie” Downey grills up some freshly caught dolphin fish.

Q: Tell me about yourself, where your from etc.

A: I was born in Gainesville, Florida because my father was there to study his PhD. My father finished his PhD and moved my mother, my sister and myself to Spain where he is from.

Q: How old were you [when you moved to Spain]?

A: I was 3 and a half and I have an older sister who was 4 and •••. I grew up in Spain until I was 24.  I studied my BS in Biology, the first 2 years [of college] and 2 more years in Ecology.

Q: Where did you study?

A: Universidad Autonóma de Barcelona [Independent University of Barcelona] in Barcelona.

Q: So you studied in Spanish? (Marta was quick to correct me and I could sense her pride)

A: In Barcelona we speak Catalan, but I was really fluent in English from when I was here [in the U.S.]! (Continuing on about her studies) Then I did a degree, kind of a Masters without the thesis, in GIS, Geographical Information Systems.  So, I did about a year of that and then I got an internship in the lab [at NOAA, in Panama City, FL].  I came here because of the GIS, because a friend of my father knew the lab needed someone in GIS.  I came here for 3 months and I’ve been here for 3 years! That’s about it.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

Left to right: Mike Nicholas, Freshteh Ahmadian, and Craig Bussel goof around at the post cruise get-together.
Left to right: Mike Nicholas, Freshteh Ahmadian, and Craig Bussel goof around at the post cruise get-together.

A: It’s never the same and [I like] the people I’m working with. Being away from home is hard, but they make it real easy! All the GIS and multibeam mapping, I’m doing it with Andy [David]. Then I also help Stacy [Harter] with a study in the bay in Panama City on juvenile snapper.  I want to finish my Masters in GIS.

Q: …and a PhD?

A: PhD?  Well, we’ll see about that.  Now I’m gaining a lot of experience and seeing a lot of things…like 30 people work in the lab on all kinds of stuff, like sharks, measuring age and growth. I know all the areas, now I really know what I like. I’m getting a lot of experience.

Q: How old are you?

A: I’m 27 from last May…well I’m 27.

Group shot at the post cruise get together.  Front row, from left to right, Craig Bussel, Freshteh Ahmadian, Mike Nicholas, Mark Silverman, and Steve Matthews.  Back row, from left to right, Kevin Joy, Andy David, Wayne Stewart, Stacy Harter, Marta Ribera, Nancy McClintock, and Cece Linder.
Group shot at the post cruise get together. Front row, from left to right, Craig Bussel, Freshteh Ahmadian, Mike Nicholas, Mark Silverman, and Steve Matthews. Back row, from left to right, Kevin Joy, Andy David, Wayne Stewart, Stacy Harter, Marta Ribera, Nancy McClintock, and Cece Linder.

Q: Is GIS far from Biology?

A: No, it’s not. I always loved math and computers.  My parents thought I would go into engineering. I had a high school teacher who showed me to love Biology.  Right when I finished college, I volunteered in forestry and started doing GIS.  I really loved it, because it let me mix both.  I love computers, but I cannot stand being in front of a computer all week.  Now, I can do both! I didn’t think I would work in Marine Biology because I can’t dive [Marta has an ear injury that prevents diving], but now I’m working in Marine Biology!

Marta Ribera smiles while recording fish and bottom composition data and location during an ROV dive.
Marta Ribera smiles while recording fish and bottom composition data and location during an ROV dive.

Addendum 2: An Interview with Steve Matthews, Fisheries Methods and Equipment Specialist 

Steve is a fascinating person to get to know. He has a background in saturation diving and has dove as deep as 650 feet. His contributions to the project are diverse, from building the 4-camera array, to expertise in deploying gear off a ship (not as simple a task as it sounds in a rolling sea). Steve has a great sense of humor and enjoys telling jokes. I was privileged to bunk with him aboard the FREEDOM STAR. On his free time I frequently found him reading a Clive Cusseler novel.  It must have been good, because he said he’s not much of a reader, but he finished it in several days.  Steve’s title is Fisheries Methods and Equipment Specialist.

Q: How does somebody get into a field like that?

A: I didn’t intend to get into a field like that.  I just sort of fell into it [smiles].  I’m already retired.  I was in the Navy 28 years as a saturation diver…

Q: Steve can you give me a short definition of saturation diving?

A: Go deep, stay long [everyone laughs]. (Saturation diving involves diving until the body has absorbed all the nitrogen it can.  After that one can stay down indefinitely, usually in a habitat or bell. Decompression usually occurs on the surface in a decompression chamber over several hours or days, depending on the depth of the dive.) When I retired, I went to work with FSU [Florida State University], Panama City campus, Advanced Science Diving Program.  There was a fledgling program at Panama City campus and we set up a dive locker at the Panama City lab at the National Marine Service site.  FSU did not have its own facility at that time.  That was a new program and they ran out of money and sense.  When the fisheries people heard I was going to leave, they offered me to stay on with them and matched me up to the category on the books. Fisheries Methods and Equipment Specialist was the closest thing. Sometimes commercial fishermen are hired on to this field. The equipment part is where I fit in best…marine mechanic, boat maintenance, welding, and fabrication of fishing gear.

Steve Matthews, Fisheries Methods and Equipment specialist on the bridge of the FREEDOM STAR.
Steve Matthews, Fisheries Methods and Equipment specialist on the bridge of the FREEDOM STAR.

Q: How long have you been with the lab?

A: Five years.

Q: Do you always work with Andy [David]?

A: I work for the lab. Andy is one of the groups I do stuff for.  There’s several others.

Q: What would you tell students that want to get into this field?

A: If the students ask, tell them the joke about the commercial fisherman who won the lottery. They asked him what he was going to do with all the money? He said, Oh, I’m gonna keep commercial fishing ‘till all the moneys gone! [laughs heartily]. It’s a tough field!

Answer to the Question of the day, today: 

The black signal flags let other boats and ships know to stay away. As Cody put it during his tour of the flying bridge (he was pointing out a red signal light that has a similar function at night), “we are pretty high on the pecking order.”  It is not permitted to come too close to a government vessel during official operations.  The flags were not flown while underway on our cruise. Other large ships are required to be familiar with signals and usually obey them.  Many small boaters often are not up to speed on the meaning of the signal flags and lights. During our cruise one 40-50’ fishing boat trolled within a half mile of our port side while the ROV was deployed.  Fortunately, many of the operations occur so far offshore that not many pleasure boats are in the vicinity.  Our mission took place 50-100 miles offshore.  The SRB recovery is about 120 miles out.

Addendum 3: FREEDOM STAR and her crew’s regular assignment 

As involved as we were in marine biology on this cruise, its easy to forget that FREEDOM STAR and her sister ship, LIBERTY STAR have as their principal function the recovery of the SRB’s (solid rocket boosters) for the space shuttle program immediately following a launch.  The crew is very proud of this role.  They must go out regardless of weather. The ship is also used to tow the external fuel tanks from Louisiana, where they are manufactured, to Cape Canaveral, Florida where they are assembled to the space shuttle and prepared for launch.

Space Shuttle lifts off from Cape Canaveral.
Space Shuttle lifts off from Cape Canaveral.

Addendum 3: The SRB recovery operations.

Recovery must go forward regardless of weather.  The LIBERTY STAR with SRB and Ambar crew still operate in rough seas.  Winches are used to bring in the parachutes and the crane lifts the nose cone.

Divers install the equipment need to float NASA ships M/V LIBERTY STAR and FREEDOM STAR the SRB horizontally for towing. The dives enter port with the SRB’s in tow. It can be dangerous, in excess of 130’ due to the length of the SRB and up and down wave motion. A decompression chamber is ready on deck.

Mark Silverman, June 11, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark Silverman
Onboard NASA Ship Freedom Star
June 7 – 14, 2006

Mission: Pre-closure evaluation of habitat and fish assemblages in five proposed no fishing zones in the South Atlantic.
Geographical Area: South Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 11, 2006

Teacher at Sea, Mark Silverman, takes still digital photos during an ROV dive aboard the NASA ship FREEDOM STAR.  The ROV navigator, Kevin Joy, and pilot, Craig Bussel are seen in the background.
Mark Silverman takes still digital photos during an ROV dive. The ROV navigator, Kevin Joy, and pilot, Craig Bussel are seen in the background.

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: Good, a little hazy on the horizon
Wind direction:  SW
Average wind speed: 12 knots
Harbor wave height: SW, 2-4’
Air temperature: 76 oF
Cloud cover: 10%
Barometric pressure: 1013 mb

Science and Technology Log 

This morning dawned with Tropical Storm Alberto expected to come off the north Florida or south Georgia coast sometime late afternoon on Tuesday, June 13.  Winds for tomorrow are forecast at 20-25 knots and seas are forecast at 5-7 feet.  In these conditions it is not possible to work safely. Capt. Exell and Andy David, the Principle Investigator, made the decision to go in early, upon completion of today’s work.  We are scheduled into Port Canaveral by noon tomorrow, so this will be the last science log.  I will do one more personal log tomorrow. This morning dawned with fine weather and no sign of the expected storm.  Three ROV dives were planned in the Options off southern Georgia.  At 0800 a general CTD was deployed to support the ROV. It was decided not to deploy the 4-camera array today because strong currents would interfere.

Before presenting a record of the dives, I will discuss a little about the importance of communication and coordination between the bridge and the ROV team.  Although the ROV is piloted by Craig Bussel, it is essential that the ship is moved in the direction that the ROV needs to go. The ROV remains tethered to the ship throughout all dives.  Craig explained that the technology is not yet in place for an autonomous ROV.  The tether provides electrical power to the ROV and returns data, information on position, and video and still photographs to the ROV lab on the ship.  The ROV team remains in constant contact with the bridge using two-way radios.  Craig or Kevin, the navigator, may radio: “move us 50 meters, bearing 273o” and the ship can use dynamic positioning technology to make precise movements.  Dynamic positioning is accomplished using the main props, bow and stern thrusters, GPS, and computers in conjunction with human pilots.  Current and wind play a large role in how well the positioning system functions.  The cooperative efforts of the bridge crew, the ROV team, along with external conditions are crucial to the success of the dive. One of my jobs on this cruise was to take still photos during the ROV dives.  The still photos are shot straight down to study bottom and habitat composition.  One photo per minute is shot and additional photos may be taken of interesting objects.

In what quickly became a “tradition,” the members of the science team and crew gather in the galley to attentively watch an ROV dive on the big screen TV.  Cheers and jeers would echo as a big grouper or snapper appeared or was lost from view.  Clockwise from left in front view, Andy David (PI), Steve Matthews(Fisheries Specialist), Tim Freeley (Chief Engineer), Darin Schuster(Winch operator), and Wayne Stewart (Crane operator).
In what quickly became a “tradition,” the members of the science team and crew gather in the galley to attentively watch an ROV dive on the big screen TV. Cheers and jeers would echo as a big grouper or snapper appeared or was lost from view. From left, Andy David (PI), Steve Matthews(Fisheries Specialist), Tim Freeley (Chief Engineer), Darin Schuster (Winch operator), and Wayne Stewart (Crane operator).

ROV dive 1 was the deepest dive of the cruise at 345 feet (104 m).  The current was very strong for blue water (1.7 to 3 knots).  This caused some difficulty with positioning the ship as explained above.  The bottom was soft, silty ooze.  Much less ambient light was present than in the previous dives. The fish seen included flounders, lizardfish, and scorpionfish. Where scattered rocks occurred snowy grouper were also seen.  One large jack appeared briefly. Invertebrates included sea pens, crinoids (sea lilies), pencil urchins, starfish, and abundant portunid crabs.

An Atlantic Spotted Dolphin frolics in the wave of the FREEDOM STAR, much to everyone’s delight.  The pod had about eight members.
An Atlantic Spotted Dolphin frolics in the wave of the FREEDOM STAR, much to everyone’s delight. The pod had about eight members.

ROV dive 2 transected a mud/silt bottom between significant rock formations and ledges at about 245 feet.  Once again it was difficult to position the ship due to the combination of current and wind. Visibility was poor; however, many grouper were seen.  Seen for the first time on this cruise were Warsaw grouper and red snapper near the larger rocks.  Snowy grouper and scamp were also seen, in addition to the usual big eyes, tattlers, etc. After ROV dive 2, two fish traps were deployed containing cut up Atlantic mackerel (tinker mackerel) as bait.  The traps were recovered after ROV dive 3.  The first trap came up empty.  The second trap was deployed in the rocky area found on ROV dive 2.  It produced 37 red porgies of various sizes, which were measured and released. ROV dive 3 was the final dive for the cruise.  The bottom was a silt and compacted sand mixture with algal patches. Visibility was poor.  Fish seen included amberjack, big eyes, bank sea bass, tattlers (Serranus phoebe), red porgies, and juvenile beeliners (also known as vermillion snapper, which are of a different genus than all other snappers).  One large rock with caves had a wrasse bass, yellow tail reef fish, and a large school of unidentified fish, possibly grunts. Several white colonial tunicates were seen.  Interestingly, they are of a type that is being investigated for possible medical applications (new drugs).  Many terrestrial sources have been tried and produced many drugs.  The ocean has many new possibilities waiting to be discovered. Other invertebrates included hermit crabs in long shells, chalice sponges, gastropod egg cases, and starfish. It is unfortunate that the cruise had to be cut short, but a wealth of important data was collected during the 5 days we worked.  Work ended around 1700, 195 miles from home, and FREEDOM STAR transited to her homeport, Port Canaveral, overnight.

Personal Log 

I woke early in order to finish up yesterday’s log.  The conversation at breakfast centered on the impending storm and Andy announced that we would head in tonight. I have had such a wonderful experience that I can’t help but be a little bit disappointed. However, I am just grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the world of a marine biologist and all the wonderful adventures of the last five days. Living and working aboard a research vessel with marine biologists fulfilled a life long dream for me.

A “biting shark” is brought up to the gunwale in order to be released.
A “biting shark” is brought up to the gunwale in order to be released.

I worked on my log until the first ROV run was under way and then assisted with the camera and recovery of the vehicle. Throughout the day I worked in various capacities, experiencing one more time life at sea. Several exciting moments occurred.  The first was when I spotted a large school of spotted Atlantic dolphins from the “Lido” deck. After announcing their presence I bolted down the stairs to get my camera.  I shot lots of pictures in order to try and get a good one. I have included one of the better ones in this log. The crew fished on and off all day and several dolphin were caught and also a shark! I asked Andy what type of shark it was and he replied, “A biting shark.”  Finally, I got up my nerve to try and toss the high-flyer float again on the last fish trap deployment (remember I dented the radar array, and nearly my head, on my last attempt).  I had been studying the technique all day and my toss was perfect! Later Cody Gordon, Ordinary Seaman, took me up to the flying bridge and gave me a great tour.  It was thrilling to be up so high up on the ship underway as the wind whipped by at about 40 knots. Cody was familiar with all the equipment topside and explained to me the function of each, such as antennae for GPS, radios, radar, etc. and signal lights, search lights and more.  As always the food and camaraderie was excellent, another great day at sea! As my Newfoundland friends would say, “I’m beat to a snot!” and ready for a good night’s sleep.

Question of the Day 

Answer to yesterday’s question: Yesterdays question about the distribution of fisheries resources has no clear-cut answer and is highly debatable. Much of the fisheries research at NOAA, such as this mission will help answer the question.  The current trend is a 50-50 split between commercial and recreational users while maintaining a sustainable fishery for the future. Today’s question: Do you think you would like life at sea or the career of a marine biologist? If so how would you prepare?

Addendum 1: Glossary of Terms 

Ambar:  Zodiac-like partially inflatable outboard boats carried aboard the ship and deployed by cranes. FREEDOM STAR normally carries two. Tropical storm:  A cyclonic storm with winds of at least 40 mph. Autonomous:  Something that operates on its own, with no connection to a source or other support system. Ambient: The natural surroundings. Colonial:  Organisms that live in close association to one another, but are not completely interdependent on one another. “Lido” deck:  A colloquialism (slang) used by the crew for the O-1 deck.  The ship has five decks from below sea level up:  the lower deck (below the water line), the main deck (at or just above the water line), the O-1 deck (forecastle – pronounced fo’cle deck), the bridge deck and the flying bridge. PI: Principal Investigator.

Ordinary Seaman, Cody Gordon, braces against the wind as he gives me a tour of the flying bridge.  Clouds from Tropical  Storm Alberto loom in the background.
Ordinary Seaman, Cody Gordon, braces against the wind as he gives me a tour of the flying bridge. Clouds from Tropical Storm Alberto loom in the background.

Addendum 2: Interview with Mike Nicholas and Allan Gravina 

Mike and Allan enthusiastically agreed to do an interview.  I approached them on day 4 while they were on they’re morning bridge watch.  Seamen on the FREEDOM STAR and her sister ship LIBERTY STAR work 2 four hour watches per day or as they say, “4 on, 8 off.” Mike and Allan were assigned 8 AM to noon and 8 PM to midnight during this cruise. I found them to be very proud of they’re work, particularly as it involved the space shuttle missions, with a good sense of humor and a very positive attitude.

Q: Describe your job and life at sea. Mike: Mostly I’m just Navigational Officer.  Each day as we go from place to place, I make sure we get there without hazards. Allan: …and charts and communications. Allan: I assist the watch; stand the look out for watch on duty is my main job.  Also, my job includes anything else that needs to be done on deck. Retrieving boosters we work on deck. Any time personnel needs to be moved we’ll drive the Ambars.

Q: How did you come to work on FREEDOM STAR? Mike: I actually started on LIBERTY STAR [sister ship to FREEDOM STAR] eighteen and one half years ago.

Q: How old are you now? Mike: I’m 38. Allan: I’m 32. Mike: I started entry level as an ordinary seaman and came up through the ranks.  I came on FREEDOM STAR as a promotion 11 years ago and I was transferred over to FREEDOM then.

Q: Do you like working at sea? Mike: Yeah, I enjoy it. I like the idea that everyday is different.  You don’t know what you’ll get everyday. Not to mention, the challenges of what we have to do.

Q: Is it fun? Mike: Absolutely…a good time!  We usually retrieve the space shuttle solid rocket boosters. This is not our normal mission. Allan: That’d be our number 1 job, that and the external [fuel] tank.

Q: What’s it like working a shuttle mission? Allan: Pretty exciting actually, a good feeling!  We know we are one of 24 people in the world that do what we do, no other country, no other boat, no other place. It’s also challenging, because we must go regardless of weather, up to 30-foot seas.  They’ve only held the boat back once or twice in the 25 year program history.

Q: Do you see the launches? Allan: About 1 minute after lift off it will fly over us.  [They are roughly 120 mi out to see in the recovery zone]

Q: How far to splash down of the boosters are you? Allan: 5-10 miles.  You can see them come down, the whole bit.

Q: Is there any danger of them hitting you? Mike: No, they know exactly where they are going to land. Allan, grinning: If you think about it, those things are 130 feet long and 12 feet in diameter coming through the air.  They’re pretty big!

From left, Allan Gravina, Able Bodied Seaman, and Mike filled 3 and ½ pages.  The Nicholas, 2nd Mate, on the bridge during the  0800-1200 bridge watch.  Their duties while on watch include monitoring the ships position in relation to other vessels, land, and obstacles, piloting the vessel and monitoring the ships systems and accurate quotes and used notes.  communications.  They’re ability to pilot the ship was crucial to the success of the ROV dives.  When not on watch they frequently lend a hand on deck.   Off duty both of them enjoy fishing or a good game of Spades.
From left, Allan Gravina, Able Bodied Seaman, and Mike filled 3 and ½ pages. The Nicholas, 2nd Mate, on the bridge during the 0800-1200 bridge watch. Their duties while on watch include monitoring the ship’s position in relation to other vessels, land, and obstacles, piloting the vessel and monitoring the ships systems and accurate quotes and used notes. communications. They’re ability to pilot the ship was crucial to the success of the ROV dives. When not on watch they frequently lend a hand on deck. Off duty both of them enjoy fishing or a good game of Spades.

Mark Silverman, June 9, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark Silverman
Onboard NASA Ship Freedom Star
June 7 – 14, 2006

Mission: Pre-closure evaluation of habitat and fish assemblages in five proposed no fishing zones in the South Atlantic.
Geographical Area: South Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 9, 2006

Sunrise revealed rough seas aboard the FREEDOM STAR off the coast of South Carolina.
Sunrise revealed rough seas aboard the FREEDOM STAR off the coast of South Carolina.

Weather Data from Bridge
Visibility: Good
Wind direction:  SW/W
Average wind speed: 20 knots
Wave height: 8-10’
Air temperature: 72oF
Cloud cover: 70%
Barometric pressure:  1009.8 mb

Science and Technology Log 

Morning dawned revealing seas of 8-10 foot with occasional 12-foot swells causing unsafe conditions on deck. Waves were rolling onto one side of the ship’s deck and across the other. Several members of the field party were seasick as a result of the weather.  A joint decision was made to scrub the morning mission by Principle Investigator Andy David, Capt. Exell and Craig Bussel, the ROV pilot, due to the unsafe conditions on deck.

Water washed across the deck creating hazardous working conditions.
Water washed across the deck creating hazardous working conditions.

Conditions improved after mid-day and we began a survey of the South Carolina site B in an area overlapped by Options 1 and 2. The fish trap was deployed first, with 450 ft of blue spectra line tethered to high-flyer floats to facilitate retrieval.  While it soaked the 4-camera array was deployed, using a similar float system, and retrieved after 30 min.  In order to collect physical data, the CTD was also deployed and retrieved successfully. After about 90 min. the fish trap was retrieved.  7 red porgies and a gray triggerfish were recovered and measured.  Three measurements were recorded for each fish:  standard length, fork length, and total length.  Since the fish were blown up by the pressure change they were cleaned for the galley. In the 3 hours between the beginning of the mission and the ROV run the current was determined to have swung 180 degrees, by a drift test. The initial current was 1.3 knots to the south. By afternoon the current was 1.3 knots to the north.  In order to run into the current with the ROV, so as to improve visibility of the camera views and keep the ROV free of the props we took some time to reorient the transect path to start on the opposite, north, end of the transect.  Next, the ROV was deployed, but the dive had to be aborted due to a problem with the camera.

Waves splashed over the transom as we tried to hold position for the morning mission.
Waves splashed over the transom as we tried to hold position for the morning mission.

The camera problem was resolved and the ROV was launched a second time for a 2 hr+ transect. The transect, which ranged from 197’ to 227’ deep, was very successful. A varied terrain was seen consisting of pavement crevices of hard compacted sand and isolated, scattered rocks and hard bottom. At least one object appeared to be of human origin.  In addition to video, still pictures are taken once per minute to survey the bottom composition.  Most of the fish seemed to be concentrated in the rocky areas. A surprising number of fish would orient to even very small pieces of structure. Many of the same species of fish were seen that are mentioned in the Day 2 log as well as several new species of interest. These included Lionfish (an introduced species that is native to the Pacific and Indian Oceans), tilefish, razorfish, and several others that still need to be identified. Abundant numbers of scamp, amberjack, big eyes, red porgies, and butterfly fish were observed.  Additionally, several interesting invertebrates were seen, including a Holothuroidea (Sea Cucumber) and an Asteroidea (starfish). FREEDOM STAR then transited, over night, approximately 131 mi. to the North Carolina Options off of Cape Fear, North Carolina.

The “girls” hold an animated discussion while going over data using a PDA.
The “girls” hold an animated discussion while going over data using a PDA.

Personal Log 

I slept soundly as the ship tossed and turned during the night in a building sea.  As we reached our destination in the morning and FREEDOM STAR slowed the roll and pitch became extreme.  Although several members of the team were seasick, so far I felt fine.  I ate a light breakfast out of respect for the conditions.  As the sun rose in beautiful shades of rose, the waves rose as well, splashing over and washing across the deck.  We had the morning free since it was too dangerous to work.  Feeling a bit queasy, several of us returned to our racks.  After a nap I felt much better and seas were beginning to lay down. I was given the opportunity to participate in several of the deployments and found out it’s not as easy as it looks.  Hardhat and life jacket in place, I baited and launched the fish trap…a bit prematurely, but all went well.  I also tossed the high-flyer for the camera array…not so well. It whipped back and dented the radar reflector, much to my embarrassment.  Andy, kindly, reassured me that most of them wound up this way after being taken to sea. Repairs were made later using a hammer and duct tape. Next, I assisted in taking pictures during the ROV dive.  1, 2, 3…Craig, the pilot would slow down…using the laptop I took a picture once a minute.  I even managed to photograph some fish, including a lionfish.  Noting how much Craig, the pilot, enjoyed his work, I asked if the ROV had a name and was told it’s the Hela Dive 118.  He then offered to let me try piloting one day.  I’m very excited and can’t wait!  I requested soft sand after my experience with the high-flyer, LOL.  Several dolphin (the fish) came up to the boat and I managed to hook one!  It ran toward the operations area and had to be broken off to avoid entanglement…Oh well.  We did see some dolphin (the flipper type) in the wake too!  I shot lots of photos, I wish I could share them all.  Another beautiful sunset and all and all it was an adventuresome day and I’m getting tired, so…

Steve Matthews, fisheries methods and equipment specialist, coordinates crane operations during deployment of the 4-camera array.
Steve Matthews, fisheries methods and equipment specialist, coordinates crane operations during deployment

Question of the Day 

Answer to yesterday’s question: Yesterday’s question is very controversial and is the impetus for this mission.  There is currently no right answer. Hopefully the data we collect will help shed light on this complicated issue.  The Scientist and crew are dedicated to providing concrete, unbiased data to create sustainable fisheries for the future. Today’s question: Today we encountered an introduced species, the lionfish.  Nonnative species have plagued the freshwater ecosystems of South Florida for years.  What are some of the possible impacts resulting from the introduction of nonnative species to marine ecosystems of the Southeast Atlantic basin?

Addendum 1:  Glossary of Terms 

Standard length:  Measured from the front edge of the mouth to the forward edge of the caudal fin. Fork length:  Measured from the front edge of the mouth to the center of the fork of the caudal fin. Total length:  Measured from the front edge of the mouth to the farthest point of the upper caudal lobe. Caudal fin: The tail fin of a bony fish (Class Osteichthyes). Drift test:  Used to determine how the ship will move in the wind and current conditions by shutting down propulsion and using the GPS to note direction and speed of travel. Rack: Bed High-flyer:  a buoy with a tall pole topped by a radar reflector to facilitate retrieval. Sustainable Fisheries:  a fishery where the numbers of fish remain at suitable levels to support commercial and recreational fishing.

Addendum 2:  An Interview with Andy David, Principle Investigator 

Andy David is an affable man.  He is a walking encyclopedia of facts about fish, wildlife, environmental issues and marine science.  I found Andy to be patient while teaching, yet focused and determined about his work.  I interviewed him in the galley after lunch as we transited between study sites. The interview is paraphrased.  I did not have a tape recorder to get accurate quotes and used notes.  Any inaccuracies are the fault of the interviewer and not Andy.

Sunset, in stark contrast to sunrise, over calm seas as another day aboard FREEDOM STAR draws to a close.
Sunset, in stark contrast to sunrise, over calm seas as another day aboard FREEDOM STAR draws to a close.

Q: What and where did you study?

A: I have BS in Chemistry and Biology from Stetson University in Central Florida.  My MS is Marine Science was done at USF in Saint Pete.

Q: Do you have a PhD?

A: My PhD is near completion at FSU.  I am nearing completion of my dissertation.

Q: How did you come to work for NOAA?

A: I am from Panama City and moved back after college due to my wife’s work.  I took a temporary 1-year position on the [NOAA] redfish project at $17,000 a year with no benefits and stuck with it. Sixteen years later here I am.

Q: What are your current projects?

A: I currently have four projects, The South Atlantic fisheries project, a Gulf of Mexico fisheries project which is completed, [an investigation of] trolling in closed areas in the Gulf, and a multibeam mapping project on Pulley Ridge in the north Dry Tortugas in 60-100 meters of water.

Q: Would you recommend a career in fisheries science to current high school students?

A: It’s a great job. You can tailor your studies

to what you like. The stress level is low, the dress is casual (points to his shorts, rubber clogs, and t-shirt smiling), and the work is interesting. There are boring things as in any job, but generally it’s really interesting.  New projects always come up.  It’s not usually mundane.

Q: How would you recommend that a student prepares for this career?

A: Take all the math and science you can. English is important too…it all comes down to expressing what you found in an understandable way or you’re just spinning your wheels. Don’t worry about Marine Biology [courses] in 9th grade. Take good general science and wait to learn the fancy stuff, all the names and stuff, in grad [graduate] school. You don’t need to go straight through. You can get a Bachelor’s degree, get an entry-level job, and see if you like it. NOAA supports returning to school and helps with tuition. You can blend your work with your Masters thesis project. Andy confers with Darin Schuster, one of the crane operators as the camera array is recovered on day 3.

Mark Silverman, June 8, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark Silverman
Onboard NASA Ship Freedom Star
June 7 – 14, 2006

Mission: Pre-closure evaluation of habitat and fish assemblages in five proposed no fishing zones in the South Atlantic.
Geographical Area: South Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 8, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility:  unlimited
Wind direction:  S/W
Average wind speed: 7 knots
Wave height: 1-2’
Air temperature: 78oF/25oC
Cloud cover: None
Barometric pressure:  1011 mb

Members of the science team and crew prepare to deploy the ROV in Option 2 off the coast of North Florida aboard the NASA ship FREEDOM STAR.
Members of the science team and crew prepare to deploy the ROV off the coast of North Florida

Science and Technology Log 

This morning at about 0800 the CTD was launched and recovered successfully in the Option 2 area about 50 miles off the coast of North Florida.  Next, a fish trap baited with Spanish mackerel was launched.  After overcoming a few difficulties, the ROV was launched in about 200’ of water around 1000.  Visibility was excellent and two successful transects were accomplished.  The bottom consisted of mixed hard bottom and sand with several good ledges encountered.  The hard bottom visibly contained invertebrate species such as black coral, Oculina varicosa coral, Lophelia pertusa and other branching corals as well as basket sponges and various algae.  A number of species of fish were spotted. The fish were most prolific in areas where the most relief was seen. Fish species spotted included tomtate grunts, scamp (a type of grouper), three types of porgies, blue angel fish, reef, bank and spot fin butterfly fish, blue and queen angel fish, almaco and greater amber jacks, yellow tail reef fish and many other types of damsel fish, filefish, scrawled cow fish, and Cuban hogfish.  After the ROV run, the fish trap was recovered after soaking about 2 hours. Two red porgies were measured and released.  Finally, the camera array was soaked for 30 minutes.  We moved about 2 hours north and repeated a similar protocol at Option 1.  The FREEDOM STAR traveled 134.5 miles north during the night of June 8-9.

Mark Silverman, NOAA Teacher at Sea, practices the use of his “Gumby” survival suite.  The suit is designed to assist survival at sea should a ship go down.
Mark Silverman, NOAA Teacher at Sea, practices the use of his “Gumby” survival suite. The suit is designed to assist survival at sea should a ship go down.

Personal Log 

Last night I slept well as we sailed from port to today’s destination.  The hum of the motors and the rocking of the ship lulled me to sleep.  Today I awoke a little woozy from the seasick medicine I took as a precaution and remained that way for most of the day.  I will not take any more as the weather is fine.  After breakfast I sat outside on deck and read my Bible for a short while as we finished our travel, it was very peaceful.  Once again we were served excellent meals.  The day consisted of flurries of activity and periods of waiting which I used to write my log and debug the email program.  Just about everyone came out on deck to see what the fish traps brought up.  I also assisted taking ROV still photos and deploying and recovering gear.  Everyone is settling into the routine of life at sea. The crew watches movies, plays cards, and fishes during the down time, but they work extremely hard when called on, which is often.  The ocean is beautiful below an endless sky, deep blue, calm and spotted with patches of Sargassum weed, a brown alga.  Only a few boats have been spotted all day.  I look forward to subtle changes as we move up the coast toward Cape Fear, North Carolina. Perhaps if the crew is lucky this evening we will eat fresh fish tomorrow!  Hello to all my friends, students, and family out there!

“The weather is here, wish you were beautiful.” – Jimmy Buffett

Question of the Day 

Answer to yesterday’s question: The FREEDOM STAR holds 44,000 gallons of diesel fuel in ten tanks. A gallon of diesel fuel costs approximately $2.25.  Just imagine the fuel costs for this week! Today’s question:  Do you think the government should have the right to close certain areas of the ocean to public use and do you think closures would have a positive environmental impact?

An American alligator at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station prior to departure.
An American alligator at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Addendum 1: Glossary of Terms 

Millibar (mb):  a unit of pressure equivalent to 1/1000 atmospheres of pressure. Atmosphere: a unit of pressure that is the average air pressure at sea level. Transect:  a sample area taken along a straight line used to estimate populations and habitat coverage. Option: Proposed areas for deep water MPA’s that are under evaluation.  Each MPA has 2-3 Options for a total of eleven. Prolific: found in abundant, large amounts. Relief:  distance above or below relatively flat, featureless sea bottom. Protocol:  a series of steps and procedures used in an operation. Lock:  Enclosed area where ship can enter while water level between two bodies of water is raised or lowered.

Addendum 2: Officers and Crew of the FREEDOM STAR 

Captain: Walter Exell; Chief Mate: George Kirk; Second Mate: Mike Nicholas; Boatswain (lead Seaman): Darrell Hoover; Ordinary Seaman: Cody Gordon; Able Bodied Seaman: Allan Gravina; Cook: Patrick Downey; Retrieval (Crane Operator): Wayne Stewart; Retrieval (Crane Operator): Darin Schuster; Deck Supervisor: P.J. Zackel; Chief Engineer: Tim Freeley; Assistant Engineer: John Heer.

A pelican in the locks in Port Canaveral, FL.
A pelican in the locks in Port Canaveral, FL.

Vince Rosato and Kim Pratt, March 27, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Vince Rosato & Kim Pratt
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
March 9 – 28, 2006

Mission: Collect oceanographic and climate modeling data
Geographical Area: Eastern Florida
Date: March 27, 2006

Screen shot 2013-04-08 at 4.44.27 PMScience and Technology Log

Today we had a special treat; we were a part of a “Man Over board” drill! A man overboard drill is held once during a three-month period so the crew is prepared in case someone falls off the ship  into the ocean. The drill starts with a “dummy” which is made of an old Mustang (survival suit) and is named Oscar. Next, the Captain makes a call to the Bridge (where they run the ship), and three bells are sounded.  These three bells are Morse code (a code of lights or bells that spell out words) and they make the letter “O” for Oscar. Everyone responds to a “Man Over Board” to search for the missing person, or in this case the dummy.  Once the dummy was located, the ship traveled to the dummy and brought it on board by means of a large hook.  At this point, LCDR Rodriguez and Chief Scientist Dr. Molly proceeded to practice CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation– to get the heart started and air into the lungs) on the dummy.  Finally, an all-clear signal was given and the dummy was then put away for a drill later on in the year. It was very exciting.

Water was collected from the Bermuda Triangle for Ms. Pratt’s fifth grade class.  This area is known for strange disappearances. The Bermuda Triangle is located between the island of Bermuda, Miami, Florida and San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Many people have tried to explain what happens to the ships, small boats and planes that disappear and the most reasonable explanation is that there are environmental factors (weather, sea conditions) at play or human mistakes.

Interview with Julia O’Hern 

Julia O’Hern is a graduate student in biological oceanography at Texas A & M  (Agriculture and Military) University. She comes from the Hawkeye State, Iowa.  Julia loves being outside and in the water.  She has an interest in environmental science, and this led her to the ocean. Her parents always promoted science activities.  For instance, Julia recalls her summer, hiking through the prairie, catching bugs and identifying them.  Julia had an environmental science course in her high school boarding school that taught her how to be a field scientist. Julia feels lucky that a creek ran by her home and she could collect big ugly tadpoles.  From fifth grade through college she played softball, ran track, and she swam.  Julia likes chemistry and physics and is working on a degree in biological oceanography but truly loves whales. “Marine biology,” Julia explains, “is different from oceanography,” which studies how some of the physical processes in the ocean (waves, sea floor, and water) affect where the whales live. Marine biology studies the whale itself including its life cycle, its behavior and how it is affected by people.

Ms. Pratt collecting water from the Bermuda Triangle.
Ms. Pratt collecting water from the Bermuda Triangle.

“One of the only times I was out of Iowa, my parents took me on trip off of Maine and we saw whales,” said Julia. This inspired her.  To top everything off, she shared, “The coolest thing to ever experience is to be in the water when a humpback whale is singing.  It doesn’t even matter how far away they are, you feel their music.”  Books she suggested reading are Farley Moats’s, Never Cry Wolf and Jack London’s Call for the Wild as well as anything by Jane Goodall.  Her advice to students is: “If you want to do oceanography and study marine life you have to get past math and computers, and it won’t always be fun.” But, Julia agrees it’s worth it.

Assignment: In your sea logs, write the procedure for a “Man Over Board” drill.  Label each step that happens.  For example:   #1 – Put “Oscar” into the ocean.

Personal log – Kimberly Pratt 

This has been a very exciting trip! I’ve been stretched beyond my wildest dreams.  The correspondence with my students has been meaningful and very educational.  Working with the scientists, officers, crew and my fellow teacher has taught me lessons that I’ll never forget! Thanks to all of you for this unforgettable experience.

Personal Log – Vince Rosato 

Thanks to Captain Gary Petrae for welcoming us onboard and sharing so freely resources to help kids understand life at sea. Thanks, too, to Dr. Molly for extending this experience to us through NOAA. Thanks to my principal, Debbi Knoth, and the New Haven Unified School District Superintendent, Dr. Pat Jaurequi, for enabling this trip and to Kim Pratt for inviting me along.  Thanks to the crew!  Thanks to Mrs. Riach for substituting for me.  There are so many interesting and exciting happenings on board.  Juliet was a hit and remains with Lt. Commander Priscilla Rodriguez.  As Professor Jochem Marotzke shared, life at sea sensitizes you to put yourself in another’s shoes, simply because the job isn’t done when my own shift is over.  I had the pleasure of getting quotes from many people here.  Robert Bayliss, onboard from the THOMAS JEFFERSON for this cruise, advised anyone interested in life at sea to “Be prepared to spend long times away from home.”  Being one of Carlos’ boys with Rigo, Dallas and Mick was a “bonus.” At an all-hands meeting this afternoon we shared our gifts for the crew and NOAA scientists.

Afterwards those who wished got their picture taken in groups.  Dr. Molly created a centralized computer space for sharing pictures.  I have some CD’s to work with, thanks to Dr. Shari and LCDR Rodriguez. Those kinds of sensibilities make life pleasant.  I understand my Uncle Sam better from this cruise.  I cannot leave without a special hello to my 14-year-old daughter, Alexandria Jo.  When we return, there will be extension activities, such as lesson plans, presentations to prepare and publicity pieces.  My enriched enthusiasm and understanding of ocean science will be shared with every student. I got autographs from world-class oceanographers, modern-day explorers, and stand in awe at the collaborative efforts being made to better understand the ocean and its relationship to climate.  The current issue of Mother Jones is devoted to the state of the seas. Gratitude was my beginning attitude and remains as I prepare to return to land.  What makes a fine sailor also remains: someone who knows their job and gets it done, is dependable, a friendly person to be around, and one who you can trust to watch your back. This applies as a major lesson to those in all walks of life.

Eric Heltzel, September 26, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

TAS Eric on board, Miami in the background
TAS Eric on board, Miami in the background

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Caribbean
Date: September 26, 2005

Science and Technology Log 

As I sit to write this entry I realize I’ve been on the ship just over 24 hours.  It’s interesting how perceptions change. I can now find my way to my berth without difficulty. I’ve had three excellent meals and can remember the first names of all the Scientists on the Stratus Project team.  It is odd how I can hear sounds of moving water through my wall, intermittent sloshing.  We are under way now so I can only assume that this noise is normal.  I hope so!

Today was a very busy day. We had a lot of equipment that still needed to be loaded onto the ship and then secured.  They have these really neat threaded holes all over the decks and in the science labs that you can put eye bolts into.  These are attachment points for come-along straps that are used to keep objects from moving around. Much of the equipment was loaded on board with cranes that are mounted on the rear deck. We then use dollies and pallet jacks to move heavy objects around.  There is stuff galore. I helped the Deck-Hands move and secure equipment this morning and helped the Science team to move equipment into the Labs.  It was quite hot and humid and fairly heavy work. I felt good to help get the ship ready to go.

When we were two miles offshore we started doing safety drills.  There are three, man overboard, fire, and abandon ship.  Every person is assigned a mustering station where an officer (in my case, the Lead Scientist) checks to make sure we are all there.  Hopefully we will not have to follow any of these procedures for real. (Sorry kids, I’m really not planning on falling overboard)  There were inspectors checking that we did things correctly. We even had to put on our survival suits to see how they fit. These are a lovely red with built in gloves, booties, and a hood. Very becoming, perhaps a good school uniform?

We finally got under way about 19:00 and are traveling in a southerly direction.  I went on deck to watch the sun go down behind a cumulus cloudbank.  The skyline of Miami was backlit with a rosy glow.  I even saw a Dolphin racing along beside us. It has been a full day and a great start to my adventure on board the RONALD H. BROWN.

Eric Heltzel, September 25, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Caribbean
Date: September 25, 2005

Science and Technology Log 

Today I flew from Salt Lake City to Orlando, then on to Miami.  This was an educational experience in and of itself. Having chosen a seat with a view my head was pressed against the window for the first hour. We flew along the south slope of the Uinta Mountains and I could look down on Tungsten Basin where we caught such beautiful Brook Trout last summer.  I could see King’s Peak and the length of the range.  What a great way to connect studies of maps and experiences on the ground.  It was like looking at the best three-dimensional map possible

Having received a degree in Geography from the University of Colorado it was great to get such a bird’s eye view of the places I had studied.  I saw the mountains near Crested Butte and gazed delightedly at the highest fourteeners in the Sawatch Range.  The view changed when looking down on the striking contrast of the light color of Great Sand Dunes National Monument.  A bit was vertical view of the summit of the Spanish Peaks. I could see dikes radiating from the summit of the western mountain.  It was striking evidence of the geologic complexities of these mountains that were once active volcanoes.

As we crossed over the flatter country my interest became more focused on the atmosphere.  Looking northward from over New Orleans I was searching for the remnants of Hurricane Rita.  By this time she had moved inland and was already downgraded below a Tropical Depression. My gaze was drawn to where I thought her center would be and there were tall, well-developed cumulonimbus clouds.  The phenomenon that interested me most was the sight of bands of mid-level cumulus clouds radiating southward from what was Rita’s center. They were in bands with clouds alternating with clear air.  Students, I don’t have a clear hypothesis as to why this occurred.  I’d be curious to hear your ideas. I hope to discus this with the scientists on board.

Speaking of on-board I arrived at NOAA Ship RONALD H. BROWN at the Coast Guard facility in Miami Beach at 1900 without a hitch.  The ship is larger that I had visualized, about 270 feet long and over 50 feet wide.  My berth is one level below the main deck and has no porthole. It is, however, quite comfortable.  I have a small bunk (too low to sit up in, but plenty long), a desk, storage for my clothing and equipment, and a bathroom I share with the room next to me.  It strikes me as comfortable and I am sitting at my desk as I write this first entry.

Tomorrow we sail.  I hope to get some photos of our departure.  So far it looks great!