Hayden Roberts: What’s in a Name? July 18, 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 18, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 29.43° N
Longitude: 86.24° W
Wave Height: 1 foot
Wind Speed: 7 knots
Wind Direction: 220
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 31°C
Barometric Pressure: 1017.5 mb
Sky: Few clouds


Science Log

Over the course of this research experience, I have realized that I was not entirely prepared to assist on this voyage. While I think I have pulled my weight in terms of manpower and eagerness, I quickly realized that not having a background in the biological sciences limits my capacity to identify species of fish. Not growing up in the Gulf region, I am already limited in my understanding and recognition of fish variety through their common names like shrimp, grouper, and snapper. Countless other varieties exist most of which have no commercial fishing value such as boxfish, sea robin, spadefish, and scorpionfish. Fortunately, the microbiology grad student paired with me during wet lab processing has been patient and the fishery biologists assigned to this research party have been informative showing me the basics to fish identification (or taxonomy).

Sorting fish species
Sorting fish species in the wet lab.
Measuring a stingray
Measuring and weighing a specimen in the wet lab.

The wet lab aboard Oregon II is the nexus of the research team’s work. While the aft deck and the computer lab adjacent to the wet lab are important for conducting research and collecting data, the wet lab is where species are sorted, identified, and entered into the computer. The lab has a faint smell of dead fish and briny water. While the lab is kept clean, it is hard to wash the salt off the surfaces of the lab entirely after every research station.

Alongside the buckets and processing equipment are textbooks, quick reference guides, and huge laminated charts of fish species. Most of the reference material has distinctive color photographs of each fish species with its scientific name listed as the caption. The books in this lab are focused on Gulf and Atlantic varieties as these are what are likely to be found during the surveys. Fishery biologists have a wealth of knowledge, and they pride themselves on knowing all the species that come through the lab. However, occasionally a variety comes through the lab they cannot identify. Some species are less common than others. Even the experts get stumped from time to time and have to rely on the books and charts for identification. To get experience in this process, the biologists have given me crustaceans to look up. I struggle to make matches against pictures, but I have gotten better at the process over the weeks.

Calappa flammea
Calappa flammea.

As I have learned more about the scientific names of each species we have caught, I have also learned that scientists use a two-name system called a Binomial Nomenclature. Scientists name animals and plants using the system that describes the genus and species of the organism (often based on Latin words and meaning. The first word is the genus and the second is the species. Some species have names that align close to the common name such as scorpionfish (Scorpaena brasiliensis). Others seem almost unrelated to their common name such as scrawled cowfish (Acanthostracion quadricornis).

scrawled cowfish
Acanthostracion quadricornis

Fortunately for those of us who do not identify fish for a living, technology has provided resources to aid in learning about and identifying species of fish we encounter. The FishVerify app, for example, can identify a species, bring up information on its habitat and edibility, and tell you its size and bag limits in area based on your phone’s Global Positioning System (GPS). The app is trained on over a thousand different species with the beta version of the app focused on 150 species caught in the waters of Florida. On our research cruise, we have encountered over 150 species so far.

Hayden and red grouper
Me and a large specimen of Epinephelus moiro.


Did You Know?

The naming system for plant and animal species was invented by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in the 1700s. It is based on the science of taxonomy, and uses a hierarchical system called binomial nomenclature. It started out as a naming system for plants but was adapted to animals over time. The Linnaean system has progressed to a system of modern biological classification based on the evolutionary relationships between organisms, both living and extinct.


Personal Log

Nearly two weeks into this experience and the end of my time with NOAA aboard Oregon II, I find that I have settled into a routine. Being assigned to the “dayshift,” I have seen several sunsets over my shoulder as I have helped deploy research equipment or managed the bounty of a recent trawls. I have missed nearly all the sunrises as the sun comes up five hours after I have gone to bed.

However, these two features along the horizon cannot match the view I have in the morning or late at night. After breakfast and a shower midmorning, I like to spend about 30 minutes gazing at the water from one of the upper decks. The clean light low along the water accentuates its blueish-green hue. In my mind, I roll through an old pack of crayons trying to figure out what color the water most closely represents. Then I realize it’s the Green-Blue one. It is not Blue-Green, which is a lighter, brighter color. The first part of the crayon color name is an adjective describing the second color name on the crayon. Green-blue is really blue with a touch of green, while blue-green is really green with some blue pigment in the crayon. Green-Blue in the crayon world is remarkably blue with a hint of green. The water I have admired on this cruise is that color.

Hayden on fore deck
View from fore deck of NOAA Ship Oregon II.

The Gulf in the east feels like an exotic place when cruising so far away from shore. While I have been to every Gulf state in the U.S. and visited their beaches, the blue waters off Florida seem like something more foreign than I am accustomed. When I think of beaches and seawater in the U.S., I think of algae and silt mixed with the sand creating water with a brown or greenish hue: sometimes opaque if the tide is rough such as the coast of Texas and sometimes clear like the tidal pools in Southern California. Neither place has blue water, which is okay. Each place in this world is distinct, but to experience an endless sea of blue is exotic to me.

Retrieving the trawling net
Retrieving the trawling net at night.

In contrast to vibrant colors of the morning, the late evening is its own special experience. Each night I have been surprised at how few stars I can see. Unfortunately, the tropic storm earlier in the week has produced sparse, lingering clouds and a slight haze. At night the horizon shows little distinction between the water and the sky. The moon has glided in and out of cover. However, the lights atop the ship’s cranes provide a halo around the ship as it cruises across the open water. What nature fails to illuminate, the ship provides. The water under this harsh, unnatural light is dark. It churns with the movement of the boat like thick goo. Yet that goo teems with life. Every so often a crab floats by along the ships current. Flying fish leap from the water and skip along the surface. Glimpses of larger inhabitants dancing on the edge of the ship’s ring: creatures that are much larger than we work up in the wet lab but illusive enough that it can be hard to determine if they are fish or mammal. (I am hopeful they are pods of dolphins and not a frenzy of sharks).

Hayden Roberts: Data and More Data… July 11, 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 11, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 28.29° N
Longitude: 83.18° W
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Speed: 11 knots
Wind Direction: 190
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 29.8°C
Barometric Pressure: 1013.6 mb
Sky: Few clouds


Science Log

As I mentioned in my introductory post, the purpose of the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey is to collect data for managing commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. However, the science involved is much more complex than counting and measuring fish varieties.

The research crew gathers data in three ways. The first way involves trawling for fish. The bulk of the work on-board focuses on trawling or dragging a 42-foot net along the bottom of the Gulf floor for 30 minutes. Then cranes haul the net and its catch, and the research team and other personnel weigh the catch. The shift team sorts the haul which involves pulling out all of the shrimp and red snapper, which are the most commercially important species, and taking random samples of the rest. Then the team counts each species in the sample and record weights and measurements in a database called FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System).

Trawling nets
Trawling nets waiting on aft deck.

SEAMAP can be used by various government, educational, and private entities. For example, in the Gulf data is used to protect the shrimp and red snapper populations. For several years, Gulf states have been closing the shrimp fishery and putting limits on the snapper catches seasonally to allow the population to reproduce and grow. The SEAMAP data helps determine the length of the season and size limits for each species.

Tampa Bay area waters
Digital chart of the waters off the Tampa Bay area. Black dots represent research stations or stops for our cruise.

Another method of data collection is conductivity, temperature, and depth measurements (CTD). The process involves taking readings on the surface, the bottom of Gulf floor, and at least two other points between in order to create a CTD profile of the water sampled at each trawling locations. The data becomes important in order to assess the extent of hypoxia or “dead zones” in the Gulf (see how compounded data is used to build maps of hypoxic areas of the Gulf: https://www.noaa.gov/media-release/noaa-forecasts-very-large-dead-zone-for-gulf-of-mexico). Plotting and measuring characteristics of hypoxia have become a major part of fishery research especially in the Gulf, which has the second largest area of seasonal hypoxia in the world around the Mississippi Delta area. SEAMAP data collected since the early 1980s show that the zone of hypoxia in the Gulf has been spreading, unfortunately. One recent research sample taken near Corpus Christi, TX indicated that hypoxia was occurring further south than in the past. This summer, during surveys two CTD devices are being used. The first is a large cylinder-shaped machine that travels the depth of the water for its readings. It provides a single snapshot. The second CTD is called a “Manta,” which is a multi-parameter water quality sonde (or probe). While it can be used for many kinds of water quality tests, NOAA is using it to test for hypoxia across a swath of sea while pulling the trawling net. This help determine the rate of oxygenation at a different depth in the water and across a wider field than the other CTD can provide.

Setting up the CTD
Setting up the CTD for its first dive of our research cruise.


Did You Know?

Algae is a major problem in the Gulf of Mexico. Hypoxia is often associated with the overgrowth of certain species of algae, which can lead to oxygen depletion when they die, sink to the bottom, and decompose. Two major outbreaks of algae contamination have occurred in the past three years. From 2017-2018, red algae, which is common in the Gulf, began washing ashore in Florida. “Red Tide” is the common name for these algae blooms, which are large concentrations of aquatic microorganisms, such as protozoans and unicellular algae. The upwelling of nutrients from the sea floor, often following massive storms, provides for the algae and triggers bloom events. The wave of hurricanes (including Irma and during this period caused the bloom. The second is more recent. Currently, beaches nearest the Mississippi Delta have been closed due to an abundance of green algae. This toxic algae bloom resulted from large amounts of nutrients, pesticides, fertilizers being released into the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Louisiana because of the record-high Mississippi River levels near Lake Pontchartrain. The spillway opening is being blamed for high mortality rates of dolphins, oysters and other aquatic life, as well as the algae blooms plaguing Louisiana and Mississippi waters.


Personal Log

Pulling away from Pascagoula yesterday, I knew we were headed into open waters for the next day and half as we traveled east down the coast to the Tampa Bay, FL area. I stood on the fore deck and watched Oregon II cruise past the shipyard, the old naval station, the refinery, navigation buoys, barrier islands, and returning vessels. The Gulf is a busy place. While the two major oceans that flank either side of the U.S. seem so dominant, the Gulf as the ninth largest body of water in the world and has just as much importance. As a basin linked to the Atlantic Ocean, the tidal ranges in the Gulf are extremely small due to the narrow connection with the ocean. This means that outside of major weather, the Gulf is relatively calm, which is not the case with our trip.

Navigation buoy
Navigation buoy that we passed leaving Pascagoula harbor.

As we cruise into open waters, along the horizon we can see drilling platforms jutting out of the Gulf like skyscrapers or resorts lining the distant shore. Oil and gas extraction are huge in this region. Steaming alongside us are oil tankers coming up from the south and cargo ships with towering containers moving back and forth between Latin America and the US Coast. What’s in the Gulf (marine wildlife and natural resources) has geographic importance, but what comes across the Gulf has strategic value too.

The further we cruised away from Mississippi, the water became choppy. The storm clouds that delayed our departure the day before were now overhead. In the distances, rain connected the sky to sea. While the storm is predicted to move northwest, the hope is that we can avoid its intensification over the Gulf Stream as we move southeasterly.

Choppy seas
Choppy seas as we cruise across the Gulf to the West Coast of Florida to start our research.

I learned that water in the Gulf this July is much warmer than normal. As a result, locally produced tropical storms have formed over the Gulf. Typically, tropical storms (the prelude to a hurricane) form over the Atlantic closer to the Equator and move North. Sometimes they can form in isolated areas like the Gulf. Near us, an isolated tropical storm (named Barry) is pushing us toward research stations closer to the coast in order to avoid more turbulent and windy working conditions. While the research we are conducting is important, safety and security aboard the ship comes first.

Angela Hung: Fortitude, July 23, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 27-July 5, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 23, 2018

 

Weather Data from Home

Conditions at 2101

Latitude: 41.54°N

Longitude: 87.53°W

Temperature: 21° C

Wind Speed: N 3 mph

 

Science and Technology Log

Back at home but there’s still so much to share! I’ll wrap up my amazing experience as a Teacher at Sea by introducing three more members of the NOAA Ship Oregon II family: Alonzo Hamilton, Executive Officer Andrew Ostapenko and Commanding Officer Captain Dave Nelson. At the start of my adventure, I wrote about flexibility. The Teacher at Sea Program also stresses that cruises “require high-intensity work that demands physical adeptness, endurance, and fortitude”. These three exemplify how fortitude, the ability to endure through life’s challenges and change, brings rewards throughout life.

 

Fishery Biologist Alonzo Hamilton

Alonzo Hamilton, left, and Taniya Wallace, right, enter species into FSCS.

Alonzo Hamilton, left, and Taniya Wallace, right, enter species into FSCS.

Alonzo Hamilton has been a fishery biologist for 34 years! He likes to say that he stumbled into NOAA. He graduated from community college before enrolling at Jackson State University, a historically black university in Mississippi with a full scholarship. Actually, he was offered two scholarships, one for minority biomedical researchers to become a surgeon and the other for general studies. He arrived on campus to discuss his options in the science department. It turned out that the biomedical research scholarship was given to another recipient. On the bright side, it made the decision to accept the general studies funding much simpler. Now he had to make a choice of which field to pursue. As he explored the halls of the science building, he happened upon the office of the head of the marine science program and popped in to ask some questions. After learning about the program, he decided to apply his scholarship toward coursework in this field.

After college, he began working on a research project for the Navy which paid for a master’s degree. Soon after, President Reagan froze research funding for the Navy. Fortunately, Alonzo was tipped off that NOAA did very similar research with an active, albeit smaller budget. So began a 34 year career as a NOAA fishery biologist.

Being an African American scientist in the deep south came with challenges, but he reminded his supervisors and others around him that, “I won’t limit myself to your box”, which has carried him through a long and storied career. Today, he is happy that he gets “paid to play in the ocean”, which sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

 

Executive Officer (XO) Andrew Ostapenko

Andrew Ostapenko

Andrew Ostapenko

Most of the NOAA Corp officers you meet have a degree in science. I had the fortune of sailing with one of the few who doesn’t— the XO, LCDR Andrew Ostapenko. XO has a degree in political science from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. His goal was to become a lawyer, but after considering the job prospects and the lifestyle—”no one ever calls lawyers when they are happy”, and they never retire —he looked into some other options. In 2005 he applied for the NOAA Corps. Although he didn’t have a science degree, the general education requirements at the University of St. Paul, which included calculus, chemistry and physics, met the NOAA Corps requirements.

Since joining NOAA, LCDR Ostapenko has held a variety of assignments. In Maryland he managed budgets and projects for the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, a part of the National Weather Service that provides forecasts for the nation. He worked in small boat life cycle management as a Port engineer/small boat officer in Norfolk, Virginia, disseminating policies across the NOAA fleet.

His sailing experience began on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson which performs hydrographic surveys that map the oceans to continuously update and improve nautical charts. He was a member of the first crew on NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker, accompanying her from Wisconsin where she was built to her homeport of San Diego. Last but not least, XO has been an augmenting officer for three months on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, another fisheries survey vessel based in Alaska where high seas and storms are a part of a normal day’s work.

NOAA assignments are three years for shore tours and two years for sea tours. LCDR Ostapenko currently has about a year left with Oregon II. As XO shows, there is no danger of getting stuck in mundane office job as a NOAA Corps officer.

 

The Captain

Captain Dave Nelson of NOAA Ship Oregon II

Captain Dave Nelson of NOAA Ship Oregon II

“Lunch is on me!” invites the captain if you arrive to the galley after him. Captain Dave Nelson is the commanding officer (CO) of NOAA Ship Oregon II, and he’s gone a long way to realize that title. This is his 10th year as the captain of Oregon II, but he’s worked onboard since 1993. He refers to himself as a “hawsepiper”, urging me to look it up on the internet. Informally, it means to have started at the bottom as a deckhand and working up to becoming a captain. Captain Nelson is a Mississippi native and grew up shrimping and fishing with his dad. After high school he went to work on commercial boats that bring supplies to oil rigs. After over a decade, he felt that he needed a plan for the future– a stable pensioned job. He serendipitously stopped into the NOAA office as he was driving by on a day that someone had just quit and there was an opening to fill. The rest is Oregon II history.

The progression as a civilian begins with being a deckhand and progressing to Chief Boatswain. It takes 750 days at sea to qualify for the first license, the 3rd Mate license administered by the U.S. Coast Guard. It then takes 1100 more days to be eligible to test for the Masters license to become a captain. In 2008 the prospective captain lived in Seattle on a NOAA ship for 12 weeks for a prep course for the Masters exam. At this point, it’d be almost 30 years since he had been a student; not only did he have to learn the material for the test, he also had to learn how to study again.  Soon-to-be Captain Nelson committed seven days a week for the entire 12 weeks to study and reviewing material to pass. He knew he wanted it.

CO Nelson’s joking attitude belies the pressure of being the captain of a ship. It’s a tremendous responsibility because he is accountable for everything, particularly the safety of everyone onboard. Every decision is made or approved by the captain and he sends reports to his supervisors every day.

He is one of a few captains in the NOAA fleet who is a civilian; most NOAA Commissioned officers rotate between boats every two years. This means that he is always training the new officers joining Oregon II from ensigns like Andy Fullerton and Chelsea Parrish to XO’s like Andrew Ostapenko. It takes a lot of patience; everyone comes in with different strengths, weaknesses and of course, personalities. The key, he says, is to “treat people like people” no matter who they are.

 

Personal Log

I somehow made it through almost three weeks living on Oregon II without falling down any stairs or tripping and landing on my face over a bulkhead door. Sure enough, it was hard to fall asleep at home without the rocking of the boat, but I’m happy to have my own shower again.

I’m so excited to show my students photos of so many of the things that I cover in class, or that they ask about, such as starfish regenerating lost arms and a video of wiggling tube feet on a severed arm (I accidently broke it off). I imagine they’ll also get to see critters they haven’t imagined-arrow and calico crabs, triggerfish, batfish…

A sea star that is regenerating its lower right arm.

A sea star that is regenerating its lower left arm.

I can’t believe how much I learned in such a short time about life and work at sea, careers, seafood, NOAA and its online resources. What I’ve shared in blogs is such a small fraction of everything I’ve experienced. I’m extremely grateful to everyone on Oregon II for being so welcoming and friendly, and for being so willing to speak with me. Although there were some setbacks, I got the chance to visit the lab and meet the wonderful scientists who showed me around. It’s hard work, but everyone agrees that it’s meaningful, rewarding and exciting.

Since coming home, my colleagues have commented that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity; that thought has crossed my mind as well. But watching everyone work, this is the everyday life of NOAA crew. I can’t help but think how few decisions it might have taken, maybe only 2-3 different choices, that might have made this my regular life too.

 

Did You Know?

NOAA Ship Oregon II earned the Gold Medal Award for rescuing three people off the coast of Cape Canaveral on Florida’s east coast. (This is where NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is located.) In 1998 when Captain Nelson was still a deckhand, he was woken from sleep between his watches. At about 2:30pm, a small overturned boat was spotted with a man, woman, and young girl on top. Captain Nelson was a small boat driver then; he launched a boat from Oregon II to rescue them and bring them to the Coast Guard.

NOAA Ship Oregon II earned the Gold Medal Award in 1998 for rescuing three people off of the coast of Florida.

NOAA Ship Oregon II earned the Gold Medal Award in 1998 for rescuing three people off of the coast of Florida.

Captain Dave surmises that they left port in Miami almost 200 miles south and got swept up in the Gulf Stream, a strong current of water that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and flows to Canada, affecting the climate even to Europe. It can create choppy conditions that capsized their boat.

The Gulf Stream is visible in red as it carries warm water from the south into the northern Atlantic. Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Stream#/media/File:Golfstrom.jpg

The Gulf Stream is visible in red as it carries warm water from the south into the northern Atlantic. Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Stream#/media/File:Golfstrom.jpg

They were extraordinarily lucky; the ocean is vast so the chances of Oregon II coming by and being spotted were slim. Their boat was too small to be detected by radar; if it had been dark, they might have been run over. Those are three people who are alive today because of NOAA Ship Oregon II.

Jeff Peterson: From the West Coast to the Gulf Coast, July 5, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jeff Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 9 – 20, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 5, 2018

 

Introduction

In a few short days, I’ll be flying to the Gulf Coast and going aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, a 170-foot fisheries research vessel which first launched in 1967. I turned seven that year, and in my Southern California boyhood loved nothing better than exploring the cliffsides and mudflats of the Newport Back Bay, collecting seashells and chasing lizards and Monarch butterflies. Fifty years later, I’m just as smitten with nature and the marine environment, maybe more so. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area now, and these days my passion for the ocean takes the form of getting out on the water whenever I can (and longing to do so whenever I can’t): kayak-fishing along the coast from Marin to Mendocino, tide-pooling at Half Moon Bay, and whale-watching with my family in Monterey.

Jeff Peterson family

Me & my kids, Miriam and Noah, just off the water. Van Damne State Park, Mendocino California.

Though my childhood reading consisted almost entirely of field guides for shells and insects—and those by Roger Tory Peterson (no relation) were my most-prized books—I didn’t become a biologist. No, I became a professor of English instead, one who was drawn, not too mysteriously, to writers who shared my fascination with the sea and its creatures, novelists like John Steinbeck and Herman Melville, poets like Walt Whitman and George Oppen. As a non-scientist with an incurable case of “sea fever,” I simply couldn’t be happier to sail this summer as a NOAA Teacher at Sea, and I look forward to experiencing first-hand the rigors of life and work aboard a NOAA research vessel.

The College Preparatory School

A glimpse of The College Preparatory School. Oakland, California

I have the great good fortune of teaching at a wonderful independent high school that has helped me to cultivate these interests within and beyond the classroom: Oakland’s College Preparatory School. I teach a year-long Freshman English course there as well as a handful of upper-level semester-long seminars, each focused on a special topic or theme. One of my favorite seminars is called “Deadliest Catches” (yes, a shameless allusion to those intrepid Bering Sea crabbers on Animal Planet), a course that offers a deep-dive into the encyclopedic wonders of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Every fall members of this course visit the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park to go aboard historic vessels and sing chanteys with a locally famous park ranger. We also team up with members of College Prep’s Oceanography class, taught by my colleague Bernie Shellem, for an afternoon of marine science aboard the R/V Brownlee, examining bottom-dwelling marine life, identifying fish and crustaceans, and studying water chemistry and plankton in the San Francisco Bay.

 

College Prep students

College Prep students, about to go aboard the R/V Brownlee. Richmond, California

Another of my sea-related courses, and one that might stand to benefit even more directly from my TAS experience, is “Fish & Ships”: a week-long intensive class on sustainable seafood and Bay Area maritime history.  Though the course is brief, it encourages students to reflect on big questions: how do their everyday choices affect the marine environment that surrounds them, and what does it mean to be an ethical consumer of seafood? We meet and eat with industry experts, and we take a road trip to Monterey, visiting its amazing Aquarium, kayaking on Elkhorn Slough (where its rescued sea otters are released), and feasting mindfully at restaurants that feature sustainable seafood.

In connection with this course and on a personal note, I’m especially interested in the shrimp species I’ll become well acquainted with on the upcoming cruise. I’m a big fan of shrimp tacos, and my favorite taqueria in Berkeley makes theirs from “wild-caught shrimp from the waters of Southeastern Louisiana.” An ad on the wall proclaims they’re a sustainable resource, informing customers that independent fisherman harvest the “Gulf Shrimp” using a method called “skim netting,” reducing by-catch (i.e., the unwanted capture of non-target species) and thereby doing less damage to the ecosystem. I’m fascinated by the ways supply-chain connections like these—between particular fishermen and the fish they fish for in a particular place and in a particular way—swirl out into so many different but interconnected orbits of human endeavor, binding them in one direction to the fisheries biologists who help determine whether their stocks are sustainable, and, in another, to fish taco aficionados and English teachers in far flung states who delight in their flavorful catches.

What am I bringing along to read, you may wonder. Well, for starters, it’s only fitting that my well-worn copy of Moby-Dick accompany me, and another old favorite belongs in my bags: Steinbeck’s Log of the Sea of Cortez. More powerfully than any of his fiction, that work—which records the marine-specimen collecting trip Steinbeck made to Baja California with his longtime friend, marine biologist Ed Ricketts—spoke to me as a young man and certainly helped inspire the voyage I’m about to take as a Teacher at Sea.

 

Did You Know?

Samuel Clemens’s pen name, Mark Twain, had a maritime source. In the parlance of riverboat pilots, the two words mean “two fathoms” (or 12 feet) of depth, “marked” (or measured) by the leadsman. The expression meant safe water for a steamboat, in other words.

 

Anna Levy, Getting Underway! July 11, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anna Levy

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 10 – 20, 2017

 

Mission: Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 11, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

The weather and waves have been pretty calm as we head down the Pascagoula River out to the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Latitude: 30.37 degrees North

IMG_0998

Today’s sky!

Longitude: 88.54 degrees West

Air temp: 30.0 degrees Celsius

Wind direction: light and variable

Wind speed: light and variable

Wave height: 1 foot (about 0.3 meters)

Sky: clear

 

Science and Technology Log

NOAA scientists and staff waved from the dock as we got underway this afternoon!

IMG_0992edit

NOAA scientists and staff see us off.

While we motored out of port in Pasgacoula, Mississippi, Andre DeBose, the chief scientist met with the science team to give us more details about our mission. We will be visiting the 48 remaining survey stations, all of which are in the eastern Gulf, off the west coast of Florida. The survey protocol is a little different in this area than it was in the western Gulf. Each station will take longer because, before we can begin trawling, we will use several different pieces of equipment to observe the ocean floor to avoid disrupting the sensitive coral reefs which are more widely spread in this area. So, we will not cover as much distance as other legs of the survey have.

In the meantime, we have 12 hours of “steaming,” or traveling, before we reach our first sampling location. There’s not much for us on the science team to do during this time, so I’ve been trying to get to know others on my team. Besides Andre, there are three other senior scientists aboard from NOAA. The rest of the science team is composed of volunteers, most of who are graduate students (including one from Australia and another from Brazil.) Some of them are collecting samples for their own projects and I’m looking forward to learning more about the research that each of them conducts.

IMG_1001

The ship’s crew

Also on board are 1 Civilian Master and 4 NOAA corps officers who navigate and command the ship, 5 engineers who keep the engines and ship running smoothly, 6 experienced deckhands / fishermen who operate all of the fishing gear and equipment on deck (like the trawl we will be using), 2 stewards who cook all meals and help to make everyone on board comfortable, and 1 electronic technician to make sure scientific equipment and ship electronics are in working order.

I’m struck by the way in which all of these individuals, and their diverse skill sets, come together to make this work happen. There were so many details to consider to bring this group together – we each had travel arrangements, medical and security clearances, berthing (rooming) assignments, shift schedules, emergency roles, safety trainings, and more to consider. Each state we will be passing through had to grant permission to work in their waters and all laws restricting fishing and protecting endangered species had to be followed. When I think about what it’s like to be a scientist, I usually imagine a person spending a lot of time thinking about the science involved in project itself, but a huge part of the work of any scientist is logistics – working to bring together all of the right people and materials are in the right place at the right time!

 

Personal Log

I arrived Monday evening and spent last night on the boat. It was nice to have the time to get settled and look around before most of the rest of the crew and science team arrived today. I was told that one or two crew members were aboard, but I did not bump into them, so it felt a little strange to be there mostly alone. I took my motion sickness medicine and then passed the time reading and calling home to talk to my family. My room and bunk are small, so I was a little worried that things might feel claustrophobic, but the time was surprisingly peaceful. It reminded me of being in a tent while camping.

IMG_0021

The stateroom my roommate and I share.

In fact, I’m amazed at how homey the whole ship feels. There are three levels (decks) of inside living space, most of which is berthing (crew rooms, bathrooms, showers, etc.). There is even a set of full size washing and drying machines. The inside space also includes a galley (kitchen/dining area) that seats 12 and a lounge which seats about 8. The lounge is a nice area – it contains a large TV and a binder of about 800 movies (including movies currently in theatres, courtesy of the US Navy!). There is also 1 main level of outside work space, plus a flying bridge (an outdoor area above the bridge) that is the highest deck on the ship. There is exercise equipment scattered in nooks throughout the ship. It’s amazing how efficiently space is used!

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The ship’s lounge.

Everyone is free to move about the ship. The only restrictions are that non-essential persons cannot be on the bridge during busy times or weather and cannot go down to the engine room. However, even with all the freedom, there is always someone sleeping, and most of the outside areas are jam-packed with scientific and fishing equipment, and it is very easy to unintentionally disturb or get in the way of others.  We all have to be constantly aware to keep ourselves safe and be considerate of the people around us. Fortunately, everybody I’ve met is so friendly and thoughtful – there’s definitely a feeling that we’re all on the same team.

The science team and some crew on the ship work either the day shift (from noon until midnight) or the night shift (from midnight to noon). I lucked out to be on day shift, so I won’t need to alter my sleeping schedule drastically.

The tight space and 24 hour schedule does make it a

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The ship operates on military time.

bit difficult to know what to do with oneself during down time, especially since your roommate is typically sleeping while you’re awake. I’m finding that I really enjoy standing outside, along the side of the ship and looking out at the open water, or holing up in a corner of the lounge with my computer or book. Once I start my first shift, I’m sure I’ll be glad to have the time just to rest. There aren’t too many opportunities for socializing as everyone is either working or sleeping most of the time, but everyone seems to laugh and joke around when they are able.

I’m feeling great (no seasickness so far!) and am looking forward to getting into a daily routine. I just ate my first meal – a delicious dinner of fish, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and peach cobbler. There is also a salad bar with each meal and snacks and ice cream available 24/7. (We will definitely not go hungry.)

Tomorrow, I’ll start my first shift and should see some fish!

 

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Did You Know?

It’s amazing how self-sufficient and self-contained Oregon II is. For example:

The freshwater used aboard for drinking, showering, etc. is drawn directly from the ocean. The saltwater is filtered with equipment using a process called reverse osmosis, where high pressure separates particles resulting in freshwater.

Several of the fishing crew and officers are also trained MPIC’s (medical person in charge). They are medically trained to respond and provide emergency care. In the event of a more serious illness or injury, they are able to contact doctors on land and implement their instructions.

All sewage on board is broken down by bacteria. Once processed through a marine sanitation device (MSD), this treated water is safer for the environment. Following the appropriate maritime regulations, it can then be released into the ocean.

 

Questions to Consider:

Reflect: Scientific fieldwork, even work on land, often requires travel and adapting to unusual circumstances. How would you handle living and working in unusual, sometimes extreme, conditions?

 

Anna Levy: Preparing to Embark! July 7, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anna Levy

Soon to be Aboard the Oregon II

July 10-20, 2017

Mission: Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 7, 2016

 

Weather Data

I’m currently at home in Broomfield, Colorado (a suburb of Denver and Boulder). It’s a typical, hot and dry summer day at 27 degrees C (81 degrees F) at 10:30am. I’m about 1,400 miles away from Pascagoula, Mississippi, where I will be joining the team on our ship, The Oregon II, in just a few days!

 

1 - Oregon II

The Oregon II Photo Credit: NOAA

Latitude: 39.9919 N
Longitude: 105.266 W
Elevation: 1624 meters (5,328 feet) above sea level
Air temp: 27 C (81 F)
Water temp: N/A
Wind direction: From Northeast to Southwest
Wind speed: 7 knots (8 mph)
Wave height: N/A
Sky: Clear

 

Science and Technology Log

Once on board, I will be assisting with the third and final leg of the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey.

SEAMAP stands for the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program. Since this program began in 1981, scientists from NOAA and other organizations have been collecting data about the number, types, and health of fish and other marine organisms, as well as the characteristics of the water in of their ocean homes throughout the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and parts of the Atlantic Ocean. This information helps us not only to understand how these ecosystems are changing over time, but also to make informed decisions about how we humans are using valuable ocean resources.

As you can imagine, the ocean is a large and complex environment, so collecting all of that information is a big task! To make it more manageable, SEAMAP is broken down into many smaller projects, each of which focuses on specific regions or aspects of the area. The Groundfish Survey focuses on monitoring fish and other organisms that live near the ocean floor. (This includes some species that we humans catch and eat, like shrimp, halibut, cod, and flounder.)

The Oregon II is equipped with a variety of scientific and fishing equipment.   Because our mission is focused on groundfish, I expect that we will be using a lot of the Oregon II’s fishing gear, especially its trawls. A trawl is a type of weighted net that can be pulled along the floor of the ocean. (Check out this video of how a bottom trawl works.)

After we bring our catch aboard, I imagine that most of my time will be spent helping to identify, describe, count, and catalogue all of the fish and other marine species that we encounter. I can’t wait to get on board, see some new species, and learn more about the methods we will use to collect all of this data in a scientifically rigorous way.

1 - MB Measure Fish

Teacher at Sea, Melissa Barker, measures a fish on a recent groundfish surveyPhoto Credit: Melissa Barker

I will be the third Teacher at Sea to work on the SEAMAP Summer Goundfish Survey this year, so I have been lucky to learn a lot from the two teachers who have already been to sea. Check out their blogs to see how the project is going so far:

  • Chris Murdock from Iowa City, Iowa was on the first leg (June 7 to 20, 2017).
  • Melissa Barker from Lafayette, Colorado was on the second leg (June 22 to July 6, 2017).

 

 

 

Personal Log

1 - PRA

The school where I teach in Broomfield, Colorado.  Photo Credit: Prospect Ridge Academy

I am honored to have been accepted into the Teacher at Sea program. It was my love of learning that led me to a career in teaching in the first place, so I really appreciate the opportunity immerse myself in a new scientific adventure, and I can’t wait to share the experience with my 9th grade biology students when I get home. I hope that they will be as inspired as I am by the real work that scientists do. There is so much still to learn about the world around us, especially in new frontiers like our oceans – the skills and concepts we learn in class are only the beginning!

1 - In Class

In class with two of my former students.  Photo Credit: Prospect Ridge Academy

Like most of my students, I have always lived in landlocked states. I’ve visited a few beaches, collected some shells, and splashed in the waves, but have very little experience with the ocean beyond that. I’ve definitely never been on a ship like the Oregon II before, so I’m curious to see what challenges await aboard. I think the most difficult part will be adjusting to the sounds, smells and motion of a fisheries ship. I’m expecting tight quarters, loud engines and fishing equipment, stinky fish, and probably some seasickness. We’ll see if that turns out to be true…

Back home in Colorado, I enjoy hiking, biking, gardening, cooking and exploring the amazing outdoors with my wonderful husband, Mike, and our hilarious two-year old daughter, Evie.

1 - Family Hike

My family out for a hike in the beautiful Colorado mountains

1 - Family Bday

Me, My husband, Mike, and our daughter, Evie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Know?

The SEAMAP program has been going on for over 35 years and makes all of the data it collects freely available to other scientists, government agencies, the fishing industry, and the general public.

The Teacher at Sea program was established in 1990 and has sent over 700 teachers to sea!

 

Questions to Consider:

Research: How has all of the data collected over the years through SEAMAP been used?

Reflect: What might have happened if this data was not available?

Predict: What types of things do you think we will do while on the Oregon II to make sure that our data is collected in a “scientifically rigorous” way?

 

Carol Schnaiter: Leaving the Midwest! May 26, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carol Schnaiter
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 6 – June 21, 2014

In just a little over two weeks, I will be leaving the green, flat fields of the Midwest to board the NOAA ship Oregon II and sail out of Pascagoula, MS! This is a wonderful opportunity to work with a scientific research team to learn what lives below the water and to bring this back to my students. I am honored to have been selected as part of the 2014 NOAA Teacher At Sea class and look forward to this exciting adventure. While on the ship we will be doing a summer groundfish survey. I am really looking forward to finding out more about this groundfish survey. We have been learning about the food web, so my students will be interested in learning about this too!

Nab the Invader

Learning about invasive species of the Great Lakes

Presently I am finishing my thirty-fourth year of teaching, with the past fourteen years being the kindergarten through fourth grade science teacher at Amboy Central School in Amboy, IL. Amboy is a beautiful, rural town of about 2400 people in Northern Illinois and no matter what direction you leave Amboy, you will see farms and fields. I have lived in Amboy for the past thirty-four years with my husband, Jeff. We have two daughters; Amanda who is married to Jeremy and they live in MA and Jessica who will be leaving for OK in the fall, and our faithful dog, Ginger. The Midwest has been my home for my entire life and after this long, cold winter we just survived, I am looking forward to being in the Gulf for two weeks.

Working together to clean up at the Amboy Marsh!

Being the elementary science teacher is a very rewarding, dream job and I am grateful that the school board and administration continue to support this program. I am able to see every student in our school, plus having a science room full of experiments, live animals, and technology is great. There is never a dull moment in our room as we are always finding new ideas to learn about. Right now the third and fourth grade students are just finishing their units on invasive species, so I will be keeping my eyes out for anything that should not be in the Gulf! I am also a NOAA Climate Steward and I am hoping to learn how the changing climate is affecting the Gulf and to add this information to our unit in fourth grade.

Family at daughter Amanda's wedding

Family at daughter Amanda’s wedding

I enjoy traveling to visit family and friends and learning about new things-you can never know too much! I will post to this blog while at sea, so please be sure to check back after June 7th!