NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 9-22, 2022
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 13, 2022
Location: 27°52.1 N, 93°16.5 W
Sky: Scattered clouds, hazy
Temperature: 85 °F
Wind: south, 13 kts.
Waves: 1-2 ft.
Obviously, safety is of the utmost importance out here at sea. Respect. When working on deck, crew must wear life vests, hard hats, sometimes safety belts, and closed-toe shoes. I don’t know how these people wear closed-toe shoes all day long. I hate it. My piggies are suffocating.
The plan of the day for Friday (6/10) included safety drills at noon. Noon rolls around and I am not really sure what to do. No surprise there. Confirm with Paul what to do and where to be. Oh, okay. Amanda, Caroline, and I go grab our safety getup and start to head to our assigned life raft muster stations (where we gather). On the way down, Commanding Officer LCDR Jeffery Pereira, passes by. “Wow, you ladies are ready.” …… something tells me it’s not quite time. We promptly return to our stateroom. I casually go check our muster stations. Yep, there’s no one. Turns out drills commence with a signal. I’m on to you CO, you just getting a kick out of us roaming around like fools with our safety gear. It’s okay, I have accepted my role onboard.
We run through fire and abandon ship drills. At sea, everyone aboard ship, be they crew, scientist, or passenger, is a member of the fire department. When the alarm sounds, everyone jumps to respond. My response, go to the back deck and wait. Meanwhile, the crew is hard at work donning firefighting PPE and preparing fire stations. Great work, team!
Then we move on to the abandon ship drill. Abandoning ship in the open sea is an action of last resort. Only when there is no reasonable chance of saving the ship will the order ever be given to abandon it. When signaled, everyone reports to their assigned life raft muster station with their protective survival gear. We throw on our survival suits, or immersion suits, and in the actual event, would launch the life rafts. This immersion suit is intended to protect your body while out in the open ocean. Now, I know safety is serious business, but these suits are ridiculous looking. We somehow make them look good. I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again – safety is sexy.
Science and Technology Log
We spent our first day at a reef known as Claypile Bank, approximately 80 miles offshore. The second day we headed to East Flower Garden Banks, 125 miles offshore. Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary was expanded from 56 mi² to 160 mi² to protect critical habitat in the Gulf of Mexico in 2021 and is now made up of 17 different reefs and banks. Cameras were dropped at around 48 meters (or 157 ft) the first go around and 116 meters (380 ft) the second. Since the start, we have sampled Rankin Bank, Bright Bank, and started on Geyer Bank, with a total of 62 cameras deployed. That’s a lot of cruisin’ and droppin’.
Let’s talk about these cameras. Deploying and retrieving cameras occurs ALL DAY LONG. Man, the days are long. Here is a quick summary of the work…
There are two camera arrays, one 48” tall and the other 36” tall. These things are beastly. Each Spherical/Satellite camera array has six video cameras and a satellite camera, battery, CTD, tensiomet… tramsmiss… transmit…. What it is Ken? … TRANSMISSOMETER (measures visibility/turbidity), sonar transmitter, trawl net ball, and bait bag. The first camera goes out at 7 AM and the last by 6:15 PM. Predetermined sampling sites are selected along the U.S. continental shelf using random stratified selection (dividing the area into subgroups).
When at the site, cameras are lifted by the A-frame, dropped with the yank of a chain, and boom, they sink to the bottom. They sit on the seafloor and soak (record footage) for 30 minutes. First camera goes in, we head to the next site, second camera goes in, we retrieve the first, we retrieve the second, and repeat.
Though the deployment itself only takes like two minutes, there is a lot of coordination involved. It’s amazing how the Bridge (NOAA Corps), Deck, and Lab crews work together to effectively deploy and retrieve the cameras. The communication is nonstop. Field Party Chief (FPC if you know him), Paul Felts, is the brains of this operation. Paul keeps scientific operations running smoothly, providing coordinates to selected sites, monitoring conditions, keeping time, processing data, and I am sure so much more. This guy doesn’t stop. The Bridge are they eyes and ears – they are on watch, navigating to sites, and maneuvering and position the ship all while working against the elements. You guys deserve more credit than that, I know. The Deck are the hands (this is a terrible analogy, but I am committed at this point) – they are operating the deck equipment, raising and lowering cameras, and working the lines and buoys. I, Teacher at Sea Jordan Findley, am the appendix. I have potential, but am mostly useless, and can be a real nuisance from time to time.
We are almost one week in and I am still just as excited as day one. Have I encountered challenges, yes, but being out here in the middle of the Gulf is something special. I am greeted every day with a beautiful sunrise and evening sunset. It is spectacular. The water is so beautiful. One of the things I really hadn’t considered to impact my experience at sea is how amazing the people would be. You all inspire me. Every single person on this ship has been so kind and accommodating, allowing me to participate and taking the time to teach me, despite how long they’ve been out at sea or how long their day has been. It’s like one big (mostly) happy family out here. They have me cracking up all the time. Now, they could just be on their best behavior for the ol’ teach (that’s me), but I am convinced they’re just good people. I mean, I even like most of them before my morning coffee. That’s something right there.
I think I am getting my groove. On a typical day on the ship, we wake up at 6 AM (oof), breakfast, then to the lab. I like to take a minute on the back deck to drink my coffee and look out over the water. First deployment (CTD and camera) is at 7 AM. They do some science, and then continue to deploy and retrieve cameras about every 10-30 minutes until sunset. I pop in and out of the lab all day to observe, but try to keep myself busy. When I am not “helping out,” you will find me in my office. Some call it the mess. I don’t mind. It’s also conveniently where all the food is prepared and served, and where the coffee and snacks are located.
We all refuel on coffee during lunch. Shout out to Paul for making that coffee a real punch in the face. Fishing occurs in the afternoon, almost daily. More to come on this, but man it is fun. The rest of the day is a waiting game (at least for me). Living on a ship is weird; there is only so much you can do. Honestly, the first couple of days, I had some concern I might die of boredom, but as things progressed, I got more involved in every aspect of the operation – even driving this beast! Also, been trying to sneak in a workout. Don’t forget to hydrate. That breaks up the day a bit. Dinner rolls around at 5 PM. All I do is eat. I have been eating like a grown man. The crew starts to wrap things up, reset for the next day, and then transition to mapping operations. The day isn’t complete without watching the sunset. Then we just hunker in until bedtime. The ship “rock-a-bye babies” everyone to sleep.
Generally speaking, I have improved immensely on my ability to open doors – solid 8/10. Those heavy brown doors though, they still kick me in the butt on my way through. I am learning my way around the ship for the most part. Mmmm, kind of. There is a door like every five feet. What I have not improved on is my ability to walk. I am walking all sorts of ways but straight. Everyone stands clear when I walk by. They say you’ll get your sea legs, but I am not sure I am convinced.
Did You Know?
A continental shelf is the edge of a continent that lies under the ocean. Though underwater, continental shelves are still considered part of the continent. The boundary of a continent is not the coastline, but the edge of the shelf. The shelf extends to a drop-off point called the shelf break. From the break, the shelf descends deep to the ocean floor. Depths of the shelf where we sample range from 45-165 meters, mostly because it gets to be too dark much past that. The depth of the Gulf of Mexico can be more than 5,000 meters deep! Sorry friends, I am done converting units – we’re doing science out here. Just know that it’s deep.