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!

IMG_0019
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

IMG_0017edit
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!

John Clark, To the Henry B. Bigelow – Bound and Determined, September 18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Clark
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 23 – October 4, 2013

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: September 18, 2013

Introduction

Thank you for reading about my adventures at sea. My name is John Clark and I’m entering my 7th year teaching science at Deltona High School in Deltona, Florida. Our community is just off I-4 between Orlando and Daytona Beach. Teaching is my second career, after working in the telecommunications field, and I love getting students excited about science. I’ve even earned a few awards for being successful at it. I’m married to the love of my life, Jill, who is also a teacher. In our lives are three grown children and seven grandchildren. With great blessings, I share that they are all healthy, happy, and live close enough for us to see them regularly. At home we have replaced the kids with two cats and a dog.

My wife Jill with grandson Rion
My wife Jill with grandson Rion

Jills husband - me, John Clark
Jills husband – me, John Clark

Sabi dog in the pool with granddaughter Morgan
Sabi dog in the pool with granddaughter Morgan

In a few days, anticipation will be replaced by action as I board a plane headed for my NOAA Teacher at Sea experience I’ve waited for all summer to begin. I’ll be sailing aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow, a ship specially built for NOAA to carry out the type of fisheries research I’ll be taking part in. I’ll be working side by side with experienced scientists who not only are knowledgeable in how to do the research conducted on board but also have the skill to share their knowledge with volunteers like me who have limited background in the science behind the work. It is the experience of a lifetime that I hope will energize my students about studying science as we carry out lesson plans developed from the experience and I share with them the stories of my time at sea. I’m sure a giant boat-eating squid will be in there somewhere.

NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

Officially, I’m taking part in 2013 Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey conducted by the Ecosystems Survey Branch of the NOAA Fisheries Service. That’s a long fancy way of saying that the ship is going to drag a net for a short period of time near the bottom of the ocean and then collect data on the types of fish we catch as well as the environment they live in. Affectionately called a “critter cruise”, I now join a long line of Teacher at Sea alumni who have taken part in the biannual surveys of North Atlantic marine life. And there are a lot of critters to learn to identify as I’m finding out from watching the CD I was sent to be better prepared to support the research team. There are two types of Dogfish which look suspiciously like little sharks, flounders that are left eyed or right eyed depending on which side they decided to leave up, and squid distinguished by the length of a pair of fins down the side of the body. All you do is hold them upright, tentacles hanging toward the ground, and take a look. And don’t forget the large lump fish which is described as have the texture of a dog’s chew toy. Whatever the species, the role of the research volunteer is to sort them out and then collect data for the scientists to study.

Scientist sorting a catch aboard the FSF Henry B. Bigelow
Scientists sorting a catch aboard the Bigelow

What can be overlooked in the preparation is the part about how to handle fish. I do not like to touch fish so I will be facing my fears even while wearing gloves. And I really don’t like it when they flop around. I envision I’ll be the one with the hand in the wrong place when the shark twists around to see who is holding its tail or, at a minimum, squeeze too hard on the species that will poke you with a poison spine if you upset them. Other good advice I’ve learned from the CD is that there is a 100% recovery from seasickness and if the seas get rough, wedge yourself into your bunk with your life vest so you don’t roll around and fall out. My two year old granddaughter, Ireland, was watching the video with me while I studied and all she could say was “Oh my.”

Run, it's the dogfish!
Run, it’s the dogfish!

Christina Peters: Update on Our Plankton Survey, July 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Peters
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 10 – 19, 2013

Weather and Location:
Time: 21:24 Greenwich Mean Time (5:24 p.m. in Rockville, MD)
Latitude:  29.1970
Longitude:  -85.9904
Speed (knots):  3.00
Water temperature:  28.10 degrees Celsius
Salinity (PSU = Practical Salinity Units): 34.07
Air temperature:  29.00 degrees Celsius
Relative Humidity:  68%
Wind Speed (knots):  17.15
Barometric Pressure (mb): 1018.96
Depth (m) = 187.2

As you can see if you have been following the Ship Tracker website, we have been making our way back towards Pascagoula.  We still have some stations to work, and won’t be reaching the dock until Friday morning, but we will continue to head in that direction.  The weather has gotten a bit windier, with much larger swells over the last couple of days.  This has made collecting the plankton even more interesting.  With the wind frequently above twenty knots, handling the equipment becomes much more dangerous.  Some procedures need to be changed a bit for the sake of safety.  Luckily, the deck crew, Tim, James, and Chuck, are on top of things.  They are pretty funny to work with, too!

Our deck crew
Our deck crew – James, Tim (chief boatswain), and Chuck

Science and Technology Log

Water Titrations to Check Cissolved Oxygen Levels

The plankton stations have continued, with the biggest changes being how much sargassum (seaweed) we have needed to rinse out and go through, and the different kinds of tiny animal life we have observed.  I mentioned in an earlier blog that the scientists must periodically do water titrations to verify that the readings taken from the CTD are correct and nothing is malfunctioning.  I had an opportunity to perform some real chemistry as Kim Johnson, the chief scientist, walked me through the water titration steps.

First we had to collect the water samples from the CTD.  Remember, we are testing the oxygen levels, so it is important to collect the water samples without allowing bubbles to form, which might add oxygen to the sample.  You would be surprised at how hard this is!  A flexible tube is attached to one of the three Niskin Bottles on the CTD tank, and before any water is put into the jars, all of the air bubbles in the tube must be squeezed out.  This is an art!  Then the water can be transferred to the jars through the tube, holding the end of the tube against the side of the beaker to avoid making bubbles.  The stoppers are then gently put into the glass jars, again to avoid the addition of oxygen to the samples.  It is important to keep the water samples from getting too hot if you are not going to do the titrations right away.  Can you think of why heat might create a problem when doing a titration?  Also, we test three samples.  Why do you think testing three beakers is important?

Now we are ready to start the mad chemist part!  The chemicals used, and their amounts, are very specific, and the directions are posted in the lab so that you can always check your memory.  First, two milliliters of manganous sulfate is added to each sample.  The stopper is replaced after adding each substance, and the jars are turned upside down and back several times to mix the solution. The second substance added is two milliliters of azide-iodide solution.  After the solution is gently mixed, the jars need to stand for ten to twenty minutes.  When you come back after twenty minutes, you will see that there is a cloudy substance in each jar.  This first part of the process causes the chemical bond between the hydrogen and the oxygen to break, and the oxygen forms new bonds with the added chemicals.

Adding chemicals
Using the pipettes to add the chemicals to the water

After initial chemicals are added
A cloudy substance forms after the manganous sulfate and azide-iodide are added and mixed.

At this point, the oxygen is fixed and we don’t need to worry about introducing more oxygen to the samples.  Next, we added two milliliters of sulfuric acid to each jar.  This must be done very carefully because sulfuric acid is very harmful.  However, once it is added, the sulfuric acid is neutralized and the solution in the sample jars is not harmful.  (Remember the acid/neutral/base tests we did in class with lemon juice, vinegar, and Alka Seltzer, using a pH scale?)

Sulfuric acid
The sulfuric acid changes the color, and after mixing, causes the cloudiness to disappear.

Now we have a yellowish liquid and I will be adding phenylarsine oxide, drop by drop. This is the titration part. When the color turns clear, we can look at how much phenylarsine oxide was needed and that will tell us how much dissolved oxygen was present in the sample. This new chemical will bond with the oxygen molecules and cause a color change. However, because the change from yellow is hard to see, I added one milliliter of a starch solution for the only purpose of turning the sample blue.  This way the color change back to clear is easier to see.

Starch is added
Notice the color change after the starch is added (the blue beaker).

The sample is poured into a wide-mouthed beaker and a magnetic stirrer is added to the beaker.  This is a small, magnetic bar that spins when it is on the metal stand.  Drops of the phenylarsine oxide are allowed to slowly drip from a burette into the sample.  A burette is a very tall, thin, glass pipe-like container that allows easy adjustment of the flow of liquid, and allows for easy reading of very small amounts.

Titration 1
The burette is allowing the phenylarsine oxide to mix with the water solution, one drop at a time.

Once the sample starts to lose its color, you know you are close. One or two more drops and you will shut the valve on the burette and read the amount that was mixed into the sample.

Titration 2
Notice the color change towards the end of the titration.

Titration complete
Once the color change is complete, the titration is finished, and the burette is read for the dissolved oxygen content.

My samples showed dissolved oxygen amounts of 6.4, 6.5, and 6.5 milligrams per liter.  The CTD showed dissolved oxygen of 6.4 mg/l.  Since our results were very close, we are confident that the CTD is working well.

Remember, levels below 2% are considered hypoxic.  6.4% is a very healthy dissolved oxygen reading. This is what we expect as we move further from developed land, but it is still reassuring to see the healthy levels.

Later I tried another titration without supervision and found consistent readings of 4.9 mg/ mg/l oxygen.  However the CTD reading was 4.35 mg/l.  I guess I need more practice! 

Buoy Rescue Mission

 Yesterday we had the opportunity to participate in a buoy rescue mission.  Another organization had deployed a wave buoy, or a wave runner, in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico that had been damaged, and was no longer able to give correct readings on things like current and wave height.  We were in the area, and agreed to retrieve the buoy.  As we got closer to the GPS signal, we spotted a large orange ball with an eight foot (about) antenna sticking out of it.  Oregon II’s small motor boat was launched and we set about collecting the buoy.

As we reached it, the deck crew and the CO noticed some things about the buoy that were inconsistent with the description.

Wrong buoy
Wrong buoy!

After making a telephone call, the CO told the crew to come back to the ship.  We had come across the wrong buoy!  Off we went in search of the correct one, which we found about half a mile away.  This one looked more like a surfboard and was fairly easy to get aboard the ship, using the crane.  That mission was accomplished, but we all marveled at the odds of finding two wave buoys within half a mile of each other in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico!

Weather buoy rescue
Using the crane to lift the wave runner onto the deck.

Chuck Godwin and Officer Matt , who helped rescue the wave runner
Chuck Godwin and LTJG Matthew Griffin, who helped rescue the wave runner

Both parts of the wave runner
The part of the wave runner that looks like a surfboard sits on top of the water and has solar panels. It is attached to the slatted part that acts as a glider, and uses wave energy as it rises and falls to propel the board through the water.

Personal Log

 A Week at Sea

While I am still enjoying the cruise and the work, I have had a few days of queasiness.  Taking the seasick medicine helps a lot, so I am sticking with that for a few days.  Nights have been fine, and the rocking of the ship really is like being rocked in a cradle.  I hope I’ll be able to sleep when I am in a stationary bed back home!

Being on a cruise on a small ship brings me back to my days of living in a college dormitory.  You are living in very close quarters, eating every meal together, spending large amounts of time together, and really getting to know the people who are on your watch.  I have had a great group to work with – people with a lot of knowledge, and great senses of humor!  Victoria, a college intern, has been a newbie with me.  We have learned a lot from the other scientists, Andre and Joey, on our watch, as well as from our chief scientist, Kimberley Johnson.  Tim, James, and Chuck are the deckhands on our watch, and they do most of the heavy work, like lifting the equipment and running the J frame, winches and cranes.  Sometimes we are working with the equipment for forty-five minutes at a time.  The deckhands, while very serious about safety, keep us laughing the entire time.  As I am finishing this entry, we are heading towards home.  It will be nice to be on land again, but I will also miss the many different personalities I was lucky enough to get to know. 

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Mexico covers an area that is about 615,000 square miles.

An area named “Sigsbee Deep” is located in the southwestern part of the Gulf.  It is more than 300 miles long and more than 14,383 feet deep at its deepest point.  It is often referred to as the “Grand Canyon under the sea”.

Sigsbee Deep
The Sigsbee Deep is the darker blue area in the Gulf of Mexico.
Photo credit to http://www.worldatlas.com/aatlas/infopage/gulfofmexico.htm

The Gulf’s coastal wetlands cover over five million acres, which is an area equal to about one-half of the area of the U.S.  It is the home to twenty-four endangered and threatened species and critical habitats.

It is estimated that 50% of the Gulf’s inland and coastal wetlands have been lost and that up to 80% of the Gulf’s sea grasses have been lost in some areas.  The continual loss of wetlands (about a football field a year) around the Mississippi Delta, a large land area near where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico, changes how hurricanes impact the coast of the Gulf.  With fewer wetlands to absorb the impact of the hurricane, the hurricanes hit the populated areas with much greater force.

For more facts about the Gulf of Mexico, visit http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2012/20120516_okeanusexplorer.html or

www.habitat.noaa.gov/media/news/pdf/gulf-of-mexico-review_final.pdf‎

Thank you for visiting my blog.  I hope you will check back in a few days for an update!

Sarah Boehm: Shrimp Galore, June 30, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 23 – July 7, 2013 

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 30, 2013

Weather at 20:40
Air temperature: 29.8 °C (85.64° F)
Barometer: 1007 mb
Humidity: 65   %
Wind direction:  221 °
Wind speed: 8.4  knots
Water temp: 29.2° C
Latitude: 29.05° N
Longitud: 88.69 ° W

Science and Technology Log

I have been on board for a week now and have learned a lot about the fish of the Gulf of Mexico. We have collected data on over 300 different species at 129 trawl stations So what happens with all this data?

Our work out here is part of SEAMAP – South East Area Monitoring and Assessment Program – a joint venture between NOAA and the states to better understand the populations of fish and invertebrates along the coast of the Gulf and Atlantic. The information we are collecting on Oregon II is combined with the data from other ships that do surveys in closer to land. The groundfish surveys began in the 1950s and happen each summer and fall. All this data tells a story of each species – how many individuals there are, how big they are, and where they prefer to live. This information can then be used to better manage the fishing industry so that marine populations stay strong.

We gather data about every species we pull up in our nets, but we pay special attention to the ones that are fished commercially like shrimp and red snapper. There are several shrimp species out here, but one we see a lot of is the brown shrimp.

Brown Shrimp
Brown Shrimp

The brown shrimp are found from Massachusetts to the Gulf. They live for about 1 ½ years and can be up to 7 inches long. Their lives start as eggs deep in the waters of the Gulf and Atlantic. After they hatch, tiny baby shrimp float in to the shallow water of estuaries (coastal areas where fresh river water mixes with sea water). They grow larger in the protected waters of the estuaries and eventually migrate out into deeper, saltier water.  They live on the bottom of the sea, moving out farther into deeper water as they grow larger. You can learn more about brown shrimp on NOAA’s Fish Watch website.

For most species we haul in we record length on up to 20 individuals, and weight and sex for only every 5th individual. But for brown shrimp we measure the length, weight and sex of up to 200 individuals. Sometimes we pull up a lot of shrimp like the 419 brown shrimp in just one trawl last night. To tell male from female you flip the shrimp over and check the spot in between its walking legs (in front) and swimming legs (in back).  A female has a wider plate. A male has extra fuzzy bits on the inside of the front swimming legs.

Male and Female Shrimp
The shrimp on the left is a female and the one on the right is male.

Shrimp fishing is a big industry here in the Gulf. Last year 221 million pounds of shrimp were taken by fishing boats from the states along the Gulf. Commercial fishing boats use similar nets to ours, but they are larger and trawl underwater for much longer. Just like we pull up many fish in addition to shrimp, shrimping boats have a large bycatch. Part of our research is to monitor the bycatch species to help make management decisions that protect them, too. NOAA works with the fishing industry to develop nets with Bycatch Reduction Devices that allow unwanted fish to escape.

shrimp boat
A fishing boat trawling for shrimp

Let me answer a few more student questions. Jared, we don’t wear lab coats; we mostly wear old t-shirts and shorts that definitely get wet, muddy and slimy working with the fish. A lab coat would help keep me clean, but it is hot and humid in our lab and the extra layer would be uncomfortable. Sabrina, we have found some plastic and other trash in the water, but have not seen any animals tangled in it. Deliana, we do all our work from the ship, so we don’t swim underwater with the fish. When they do surveys of reef fish earlier in the year they send a video camera underwater to learn more about the fish, but the scientists still stay on board.

silver fish
Clockwise from top: Rough Scad, Silver Jenny, Dusky Anchovy, Long Spine Porgy

brown fish
Shoal Flounder on the left and Big Eye Sea Robin on the right

Julissa asked about colors of our fish. Most of our fish come in two colors – silver or brown. We catch fish that live on the bottom of the sea or swim near the bottom and these colors help them camouflage with the sand and mud. But there are some that have splashes of color.

Dwarf Goatfish
Dwarf Goatfish

Lesser Blue Crab
Lesser Blue Crab

Personal Log

Several students had questions about food on board, so let me reassure you I am eating well.

the stewards
Stewards Walter and Lydell

The two stewards on board, Walter and Lydell, are responsible for feeding 30 people on board. The food is good, plentiful and there are several options at each meal. One challenge is that people on board are working different schedules and can’t always make meal times. If you ask ahead of time, they will save you a plate of food for later. There are also snacks and sandwich fixings available all the time. To give you an idea of what I am eating, yesterday I had a freshly baked muffin and juice for breakfast, a chicken fajita and Mexican veggies for lunch, fried rice, stir fry and a salad for dinner, and then some ice cream with fruit for a late night snack.

How much food does it take to feed 30 people for 2 weeks? Walter gave me a few numbers for this trip: 80 pounds of chicken, 35 dozen eggs, 100 pounds of potatoes, 12 gallons of ice cream, and a whole lot of coffee. Jennixa wondered what would happen if we ran out of food – the answer is that we would head back to land and buy more. But I’m pretty sure Walter has enough on board. Damian asked if we eat what we catch – and yes, some of the shrimp and red snapper have gone to the galley after being measured.  They were delicious.

CDCPS science students – How are the colors of fish an adaptation to survival?

sunset
sunset

Sarah Boehm: Groundfish Survey Basics, June 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 23 – July 7, 2013 

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 25, 2013

Weather
Air temperature: 29.4 C (84.9 F)
Barometer: 1015 mb
Humidity: 71%
Wind direction: 55°
Wind speed: 7 knots
Water temp: 29.6 C
Latitude: 27.99°
Longitude: 92.99°

Science and Technology Log

Greetings from the Oregon II in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. I am very impressed by all the questions my students have asked in comments on the first blog post. Now I guess I need to start answering some of them.

Oregon II
The Oregon II at the pier in Galveston. To answer Taina’s question, it is 170 feet long.

 

The Oregon II left the port of Galveston, Texas on Sunday afternoon. As we worked our way out to open water I enjoyed watching the pelicans, terns and frigate birds soaring and diving for fish. Occasionally a few dolphins would surface briefly, only to disappear again under the water. The shipping channels were packed with large ships, mostly oil tankers servicing the rigs that dot the Gulf of Mexico in this region. The farther we got from land, the less busy our surroundings became. With only a few boats and rigs on the horizon, the full moon rose in front of us as we cruised to the southeast.  You can follow the path the ship takes on NOAA’s Ship Tracker.

P1010756
The Oregon II dwarfed by a cruise ship in the port of Galveston.

terns
Terns visiting the ship as we leave Galveston.

We didn’t reach the first sampling site until nearly midnight. The ship functions on a 24 hour working cycle with the science crew broken into two shifts: the night shift works from midnight to noon and the day shift works from noon to midnight.   I am on the day shift, along with 2 scientists from the lab at Pascagoula, Mississippi and 2 student interns.

There are many different aspects to the fisheries research taking place on board. On my first shift yesterday I concentrated on the sorting and measuring of fish, so that is where I will start in this blog.

net
A net being pulled out of the water.

The net is dragged across the ocean floor behind the ship for a half hour, and then pulled up on board, bulging with fish. The net is emptied into buckets and the total catch is weighed. If it is a small catch we keep the whole thing to work up, but if the catch is large we keep some and throw the rest back in the water. The ones we will work with are emptied into the trough in the wet lab – a multicolored heap of writhing, slimy fish just waiting to be sorted. While the rolling of the ship didn’t bother my stomach, when faced with all those smelly fish I suddenly felt rather nauseous. I had a moment of doubt that I could really handle this work 12 hours a day for two weeks. But once I dipped my hands in and concentrated on sorting out the species my stomach settled.

sorting fish
Caitlin begins the sorting process.

While this seems a simple task, many species are similar in appearance. Looking carefully at shapes of jaws or the placement of spots, we sort them out with one species per container. Last night we had 40 – 60 different species in each trawl, with fish, crabs, shrimp, jellies and more. Once everything is sorted we count the number of individuals in each species and measure their total weight. All this information goes into the computer. The next step is to measure the individuals. There are two work stations for this step, each with a measuring board, a scale and a computer. We work in partners, with one person handling the fish and the other manning the computer. The measuring board is a fancy piece of technology that is attached to the computer. You line the specimen up and simply touch a magnetic stick to the board at the end of the fish. The computer then records the length in millimeters. Next you put the fish on the scale to record its weight. Like the measuring board, the scale is attached to the computer and it records in kilograms out to the thousandths place value. Then you determine if the fish is a male or female or “unknown”. We will bag, label, and freeze a few specimens if a scientist back at the lab has requested it, and then the rest of the catch is tossed back into the sea. By the time we finish all this, the ship has probably reached the next trawl site and the process begins again.

measuring shrimp
Measuring the length of a brown shrimp.

Nick asked about the largest fish we have found. Yesterday’s weight winner was this 5 kg red snapper.

red snapper
This red snapper was the largest fish of the first day.

The weirdest fish we found was a spotted batfish. It uses those odd fins to walk on the bottom of the sea. Its brown bumpy skin camouflages with the bottom. Suspended off its head is a fishing lure to attract prey.

spotted batfish
Spotted Batfish

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark
Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

Kevin wanted to know if we would see any sharks. We have caught a few small ones, and have seen a few larger ones off the stern (back) of the boat.

Personal Log

Jaelene asked if it would be cold, and the simple answer to that is no, not on the Gulf in summer. When I stepped out of the airport in Texas I was immediately hit by the hot, humid air. We have had a mild spring in Massachusetts – which is a blessing since most schools do not have air conditioning – and so the intensity of the sun, the heat and humidity combined to make me rather uncomfortable as I explored the port city of Galveston. Now that we are out on the water a constant breeze helps make things more comfortable…as does the air conditioning in the living quarters of the ship. The wet lab is not air conditioned, so all the fish work is rather hot and sticky.

Guillermo, Michelle and Doranny all asked about my room on board. It is a rather small space I share with Junior Officer Rachel Pryor. We each have a bunk and storage space. The room also has a sink and a chair. Rachel works a 4 hour shift early each morning and another 4 hour shift in the evening. This means when I finish work she is already asleep, but will be getting up for work in just a few hours. So being quiet and considerate of the other person is important. The curtain you can pull across your bunk is helpful to keep out light and provide privacy. Our room does not have a window, so it is dark all the time. This is helpful when people need to sleep at odd hours. It is also surprisingly quiet – or maybe a better way to describe it is that the constant background noise of the engines drowns out other noises. I have been sleeping great, even with the rocking and rolling of the ship. Kiara asked about falling out of bed, and that has not happened to me yet. I suppose it could if seas got really rough. I hope not to experience that.

stateroom
My stateroom. The bottom bunk is mine.

CDCPS science students – Remember you should be reading and responding to two different blog posts (two responses to the same post is not enough). Also please re-read your writing to make sure it makes sense and has correct spelling, punctuation and capitalization.

Why do you think sharks hang out around our boat?

Can you read this clock? What time is it?

ship clock
A clock on board. Can you tell the time?

Sarah Boehm: Preparing for Sea, June 9, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 23 — July 7, 2013

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 9, 2013

Personal Log

Summer vacation is right around the corner – just one more week of school! Students and teachers alike are busy wrapping up the school year and dreaming of that long, delicious vacation. While summer is a vacation from the classroom, it is hardly a vacation from learning. That learning may look a whole lot different than the school year; it takes place at summer camp, your grandmother’s kitchen, or even the beach. This summer I have the fabulous opportunity to join scientists aboard the NOAA research ship Oregon II as they conduct surveys of the fish in the Gulf of Mexico. I am excited to learn more about this ecosystem and the organisms that live there. I am equally excited to participate in real scientific research and to learn more about how scientists gather and use information. That’s right – even teachers have new things to learn.

Kayaking Pictured Rocks
Last summer’s learning adventure: kayaking at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Last summer my travels took me to the Great Lakes region where I camped, hiked, and explored. In the process I learned about the ecology and geology of the region (and swam in each of the Great Lakes). I also spent two weeks working on an organic farm, learning how to take care of vegetables and animals.

Checking on the bees
Last summer’s learning adventure: checking on the bee hive at Three Roods Farm

wolf track
Last summer’s learning adventure: hiking with wolves on Isle Royale

I discovered my love of teaching while working as an outdoor environmental educator, leading school groups on field trips to explore forests, ponds, and beach habitats. Kids are natural scientists out in the field, full of curiosity, with an ability to see things adults often miss, and a willingness to jump in and get their hands dirty. I made the transition into classroom teaching, bringing with me elements of that hands-on learning. I started out teaching 4th grade in Guilford, Vermont and then Brunswick, Maine. I currently teach at Community Day Charter Public School in Lawrence, Massachusetts and am thrilled to be the 4th – 6th grade science teacher. I also lead our Adventure Club, taking 6th – 8th grade students out hiking and camping in the nearby forests, mountains and coastlines. One of my goals is to make science more “real” for students by incorporating actual research into lessons and encouraging their own inquiry and exploration.  I am hoping my time with the Teacher at Sea program will give me new tools, knowledge, and inspiration to bring back to my students.

While on board the Oregon II I will be assisting the scientists as they gather data about the organisms and water quality of the Gulf. Their tools will be more sophisticated and the body of water larger, but I imagine it is much like one of my favorite science lessons – pond scooping. Just last week I had my 4th graders out exploring a pond habitat. As we approached the pond they all noticed the bigger animals like the birds calling overhead and the frogs along the pond’s edge. But hidden underneath the water is a whole other world rarely seen. With nets and buckets we set out to explore, finding salamander larvae, tadpoles, water beetles, caddisfly larvae, isopods, copepods, snails and so much more. The ocean is much the same; we are drawn to the organisms easily seen like the shells on the beach or playful dolphins. But hidden out there beneath the waves are all sorts of living things, each with an intriguing story and an important role in the ecosystem. So in two weeks I will be standing on the deck of the ship, with nets and buckets, alongside a team of knowledgeable scientists and crew, ready to learn all about the ocean ecosystem.

Pond Scooping
Scooping in the pond on a 4th grade field trip.

CDCPS science students:

Can you name the 5 states and 2 countries that border the Gulf of Mexico?

What questions do you have about living on a research ship?

Patty McGinnis: Fishing for Science, May 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patty McGinnis
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
May 20 – 29, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: May 9, 2013

Personal Log

Hi everyone! I’m thrilled to have been selected for this opportunity of a lifetime! As a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I’m looking forward to learning about the oceans and to sharing that knowledge with you. I’ll be aboard R/V Ocean Star assisting scientists with their work in conducting a Juvenile Rockfish Survey. You can learn more about this important scientific work by clicking here. In my reading, I have found out that there are many species of rockfish, all of which are a commercially valuable groundfish. Since fisheries are a renewable resource, keeping track of the rockfish population is important for managing it wisely. This will involve trawling at night and then analyzing the catch–as my adventure unfolds I will be able to provide you with more details.

I currently work as a gifted support specialist at Arcola Intermediate School in Eagleville, Pennsylvania. I have also taught science (mostly biology) for over 20 years. My favorite part of teaching is watching a student’s face light up with excitement over a new idea. I’m passionate about my work–especially when it involves educating students about ecology and the role man plays in protecting natural resources. I also enjoy traveling and learning about how local people utilize the land–last summer I had an opportunity to go to Kenya. In the picture I am listening to a transmitter that is picking up signals from a radio-collared lion.

I know my experience as a Teacher at Sea will help me to better understand the type of work that a fishery biologist conducts and that I’ll also gain insight into the various careers that are necessary for supporting this research. I’ll be posting to this blog as often as I can–I hope you follow along!

Here I am listening for lions
Here I am listening for lions

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.

Andrea Schmuttermair: Back On Solid Ground, July 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 7, 2012

Personal Log

As I write this final post, I sit at a cafe looking out at the Pacific Ocean. A cool ocean breeze kisses my face, and the smell of the salty sea air fills my nostrils. Different from the damp air and blazing sun that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico, yet the ocean all the same. I know I am in my element, and will soak in as much ocean as possible before heading back to land-locked Colorado.

I have spent a lot of time this past week thinking about my trip on the Oregon II, at sea with people passionate about the work they do. I can’t help but think how lucky I am to have had this amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity (although I am certain I will do this again) to not only participate in real-life science, but to be able to share this experience with my students.

scientists in the galley
A few of us scientists hanging out in the galley.

I have spent some time talking about the scientists that were on board with me on the Oregon II, and I must say that my experience would not have been the same had it not been for these people I worked so closely with. When traveling, it is not only important to see the sights and soak in the culture, but to also get to know the locals. Hear their story. Spend time with them. Listen to them. I placed as much importance on getting to know some of the scientists and crew on board as I did the work that we were doing. In that, I know I have made lasting relationships.

night shift
Our night shift team: Me, Alonzo, Lindsey, Alex, and Renee.

all scientists
All the scientists on the Oregon II

The more I talk to my friends and family and fellow teachers back at home, I am realizing that working on a ship is not for everyone. In fact, it takes a special person to spend a good portion of their years on a ship, away from friends and family, up to their elbows (quite literally) in fish. The adventurous side of me absolutely loved this, and hopes to do it again in the future. Alonzo, my watch leader, says I am welcome back any time. Well, Alonzo, I may just take you up on that one of these days.

Towards the end of my cruise, I had the opportunity to interview one of the junior NOAA Corps officers on board the Oregon II, ENS Junie Cassone. In her interview, she talks about life in the NOAA Corps and how one can become a NOAA Corps officer.

Watch the interview with ENS Cassone here: Interview with ENS Cassone.

My final post would not be complete without a few last critter pics, as I’ve started naming my ever-growing file. Here are some of my favorite critters from our last few trawls.

hermit crab
One cute little hermit crab!

seahorse
A seahorse we found amongst the Sargassum.

bashful crab 2
A flame-streaked box crab (Calappa flammea)- my new favorite of the bashful, or shameful, crabs

lion fish
Alex showing off one of his lionfish

To wrap up, I’d like to post one final Critter Query. When we brought up out trawls, I noticed some fish had this red bulge coming out of their mouths. I had never seen this before, and inquired what it was. Do you know what it is and what causes it?

fish
What is the red bulge coming out of the mouth of this fish and what is the cause of it?

Valerie Bogan: The Adventure Continues: June 12, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7 – 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date
: Tuesday June 12, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sea temperature 28  degrees celsius, Air temperature 26.4 degrees celsius, building seas.

Science and Technology Log

Today I want to discuss the neuston net.  This is a very large net made out of finely woven mesh which is deployed (shoved off the side of the boat) in order to catch plankton.  There are three types of plankton: phytoplankton (plants and algae),  zooplankton (animals), and ichytoplankton (baby fish).  The neuston net rides along the surface of the water for ten minutes scooping up any organisms which are near the surface.  After the ten minutes are up, the deck crew uses a crane to pull the net out of the water and bring it up to the point where someone can wash it down with a hose.  This is necessary because not all of the plankton ends up in the cod end (the place where the collection jar is located) so we have to use a hose to get all of the loose stuff washed into the end of the net.  After the net is washed down, the cod end is carefully removed, placed in a bucket and taken to the stern (back) of the ship where it is processed.

Putting out the neuston net
This is how the neuston net is moved from the ship into the water. From left to right Jeff, Marshall, and Chris are safely deploying the net.

To process the sample you must first empty the contents of the cod end into a filter which will allow the water to run out but will keep the sample.  Then you transfer (move) the sample from the filter into a glass sample jar.  Sometimes the sample smoothly slides into the jar and other times you have to wash down the filter with some ethanol.  Once all of the sample is in the jar it is topped off with ethanol, a tag is placed inside the jar, and another tag is put on top of the jar.  This sample is stored on the boat and taken back to the NOAA lab where it will be cataloged.

Processing the neuston sample
In this picture I am filtering out the water from the neuston sample so it can be placed in a sample jar.(Picture by Francis)

Personal Log

Today is our fifth day at sea and I’m feeling fairly comfortable with my duties on the ship.  I was assigned to the night watch which runs from midnight till noon the next day.  I’ll admit I didn’t make it the entire time the first day. We got done early and despite my intentions to stay up until my shift, I would have ended I falling asleep.  The second night was better. I was beyond exhausted at the end, but I did manage to make it through the entire shift.  At this point my mind and body have adjusted to the shift and I can easily drift to sleep at 3 pm and get up at 11:15 pm.  Students, this is a great example of what it means to be responsible.  If I was given the choice, do you think I would have chosen these crazy hours or to work twelve hours straight?  No of course not but I really wanted to come on this expedition and this work assignment is part of the trip.  So I’m doing the same thing I would expect you to do in a situation like this: accept it and get the work done.

Now I don’t want you to think that the trip is just about hard work. It’s also about seeing new places and getting to know some interesting people.  I started out this trip in Pascagoula Mississippi, a city and state I never planned on visiting before this assignment.  However, the people there were so helpful and friendly that I would gladly go back to see more of this region.  All of you from the Kokomo area know that the major employers are automobile companies. Well, Pascagoula also has a major industry: ship building.  So despite the distance between Kokomo and Pascagoula–about 900 miles–each town depends on an industry for their survival and both towns are incredibly proud of their contribution to society.

Ship yards in Pascagoula
The major industry in Pascagoula is ship building.

I have been introducing you to parts of the ship, and today I’m going to tell you about the bridge.  Now this is not the type of bridge that crosses a river, but rather the command center of the ship.  The crew on the bridge is responsible for the safety of all personal on board and for the ship itself.  There is a vast array of technology on the bridge which the crew uses to plot our course, check the weather, and to do hundreds of other things which are necessary for the ship to function.

Navigation chart
This is the chart the bridge crew uses to plot our course.

Valerie Bogan: June 17, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7 – 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date
: Sunday June 17, 2012

Weather Data from the bridge:
Sea temperature 28 degrees celsius, Air temperature 26.4 degrees celsius, calm seas.

Science and Technology Log

The last piece of equipment I’m going to discuss is the trawl net.  This is a very large net which is towed along the bottom for thirty minutes collecting all of the fish and invertebrates in its path.  At the end of the time allotment a crane is used to pull the net off of the bottom and ropes are pulled to bring it on deck.  The bottom of the bag is tied very tightly to keep it from coming open during the run and also to keep the dolphins from pulling it open so they can steal the catch.  I have often seen dolphins swimming alongside the ship. I always thought it was just because they were friendly, but I learned today that it is because they want to get our fish.  Once the bag is on deck the bottom is untied and the creatures are released into baskets so the total weight of the catch can be measured.  Once the catch has been weighed it is taken into the wet lab and sorted by species.  Each species is then weighed and measured so the health of the population can be determined.

Inputting trawl data
The catch from the trawl must be processed and the data inputed into the computer.

Alonzo Hamilton is the watch leader for my shift and has been a NOAA employee for the last thirty years.  He studied science in college and currently holds an Associate arts in science degree, a bachelor of science degree in biology, and a master of science degree in biology.  His role at NOAA is chief scientist for the deep water survey and chemical hygiene officer for the Pascagoula lab.  He enjoys his job but sees places for improvement.  For example he wishes that NOAA would implement a whole ecosystem management plan instead of the current plan of managing one species at a time. The part of his job he enjoys the most is when he talks to a group of people about his work and witnesses the light of understanding pass across their faces.  He finds that so rewarding because his real joy comes from sharing his knowledge with other people and leading them to a love of the natural world.  When asked what his advice for a middle school student would be he replied, “Figure out what you love to do and find a way to get paid for it.  You don’t have to make a lot of money to be successful, just pick something you love and make enough so you can support yourself.”

Alonzo Hamilton
Alonzo verifying the trawl data.

I recently spent some time talking to LT Sarah Harris about her position in the NOAA Corps.  This part of NOAA is responsible for supplying each ship with a bridge crew whose officers are charged with protecting the ship and all crew members.  Lt. Harris graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Science and after a couple of years looking for the right position she decided to look into joining the NOAA Corps.  Luckily for her, one of their requirements is that applicants have to have a college degree in science or engineering, so with her marine science degree she was set.  She was accepted to the program and set off for the three-month officer training course which is held at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in Kings Point, New York.  During the training the recruits learn maritime and nautical skills, shipboard operations and management, small boat handling, marine navigation, ship handling, seamanship and related subjects.  Toward the end of training each student is given a list of possible placements and allowed to choose their top three assignments.  The NOAA officials then look through the choices and assign each student based on need and student choice.  Sarah was really lucky because she received her first choice which was a ship that sailed out of Hawaii.  In the NOAA Corps your sea assignment lasts between two and two and a half years.  After that first assignment you are given a land assignment which lasts for three years.  During land assignments you are expected to help with administrative duties and training.  After the land assignment you are given another sea assignment and the cycle continues.

Lt. Sarah Harris
LT Sarah Harris, the operations officer of the Oregon II.

Personal Log

Today is Father’s Day so I would like to take a moment to wish my dad a happy Father’s Day.  While it is necessary for these scientific cruises to take the scientists and crew out to sea for weeks on end it is difficult for them to be away from the people they love.   So if you are at home and your dad is nearby let him know how much he means to you.

Me with a crab from the trawl net
Here I am holding a large crab we got from the trawl net.

Valerie Bogan: June 15, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7 – 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date
: Friday  June 15, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sea temperature 28  degrees celsius, Air temperature 26.4 degrees celsius, calm seas.

Science and Technology Log

The scientific device for this blog entry is called the Bongo net.  This apparatus is actually two nets which are mounted on a metal frame.  Each net has a diameter of 60 cm and is 305 cm long with a cod end which is the narrowest part of the net to catch the plankton (both plants and animals).  At the opening of each net is a flow meter which records the amount of water that passes through the net in liters. This allows the scientists to calculate the total population of each type of plankton without having to collect all the plankton in the area.  This is done by first finding out how many individuals there are of each species in the sample.  Then you calculate the number of liters in the transect (sample area) by multiplying the length of the transect by the width of the transect to find the area in square meters.  To find the volume, you multiply the area by the depth which will give you the amount of water in cubic meters.  Lastly you have to take the volume in cubic meters and convert it to cubic liters.  Now that you have found the amount of water in the transect you are ready to find the number of each species of plankton in that amount of water.  To do this you take the number of individuals in the entire sample and divide it by the amount of liters which flowed through the net during sampling to find the number of the species per liter.  Then you multiply that number by the total amount of liters in the transect which gives you an estimate of how many of that species exist in that part of the Gulf of Mexico.

Bongo nets
In this picture I am helping Jeff bring the Bongo nets back on board the ship. (Picture by Francis Tran)

NOAA personnel aren’t the only scientists on board. There is also a volunteer named Marshall Johnson, who just finished his master’s degree at the University of South Alabama where he was working on a project involving larval fish and what they eat.  He chose to come on this cruise in order to help a fellow student collect samples for her Master’s degree.  Thus far he has been amazed by the vast array of sea life that have shown up in our nets and have been seen swimming around our ship.  He has almost finished his Master’s degree and his dream job would be to captain a charter boat so he can share his love of sea life and fishing with other people.  His advice for middle school students, “Dream big and follow your goals”.

Marshal Johnson
Marshal holding two of his favorite species in the dry lab.

We also have a NOAA intern on board named Francis Tran who is going into his junior year at Mississippi State University where he is studying electrical engineering.  He found out about the internship through his university and applied by submitting an essay and references to the coordinator of the program.  His advice for middle school students, “do something you love, don’t settle”.

Francis Tran
Francis with his favorite animal the brown shrimp.

Personal Log

We have been at sea for one whole week and honestly it is going better than I expected.  I was uncertain if I could live on a ship for this amount of time due to my intense independence.  I’m not used to giving up control of where I am and what I am doing so I feared I would be tempted to jump overboard and start swimming to shore by now.  However I have found that I’m quite content to stay on the ship and am enjoying my time at sea immensely.  However, I do miss my workouts. There is some exercise equipment on board but finding the time to use it is impossible.  I also miss my daily yoga practices but with the ship pitching from side to side unpredictably I’m afraid of giving it a try because it is quite possible I would be doing downward facing dog pose and the ship would pitch me head first into a wall.

In order for a ship to stay at sea for an extended time it must have a well-stocked galley (kitchen) and serve excellent food.  As I have mentioned before, the shifts are long and don’t exactly match up with normal meal times so it is important for the crew to be able to grab a little something in between meals.  For example since my shift starts at midnight I’m hungry for breakfast at about 2 a.m., not the normal breakfast time, but I’m able to pour myself some cereal so that I am working with a full stomach and am able to concentrate on my work.  However, we do have three wonderful meals prepared for us each day.  Paul and Walter are the men who work to make sure the crew and scientists are well taken care of when it comes to mealtimes.

The galley
Alonzo and Chris hanging out in the galley having a little snack.

Andrea Schmuttermair: Eager Anticipation from Land-locked Colorado, June 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3, 2012

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico (between Galveston TX and Pascagoula, MS)
Date: June 7, 2012

Personal Log (pre-cruise)

What does

      +     +       =   ?

That’s right! Ms. Schmuttermair is heading to sea this summer as a participant in NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program!

Me and my forever hiking pal, Wesson

Hi! My name is Andrea Schmuttermair, and I am a 3-6 grade science teacher at The Academy in Westminster, CO.  I just finished up my first year in this position, and absolutely love engaging my students in important science concepts. Outside of the classroom, I can be found hiking, biking, and exploring the mountains of beautiful Colorado with my dog, Wesson.

Growing up in San Diego, CA, I would definitely consider myself an “ocean lover”. I grew up spending countless hours at the beach, checking out the sea life that washed up in the tide pools and snorkeling in La Jolla Cove. When I heard about the Teacher at Sea program, I knew it was right up my alley. Living in land-locked Colorado, I strive to bring both my love and knowledge of the ocean to my students. One of the most memorable teaching moments for me this year was seeing my 3rd graders have that “Aha!” moment when they realized what we do here in Colorado greatly affects our oceans, even though they are hundreds of miles away.

Now, in just a couple short weeks, I will  don my sea legs, leave dry land behind, and set sail on the Oregon II. The Oregon II, one of NOAA’s 11 fishery vessels, conducts fishery and marine research to help ensure that our fish population in the ocean is sustainable. Fishery vessels work with the National Marine Fisheries Service to provide important information about fish populations and what regulations about fishing practices need to be in place.

This summer, we will be conducting the summer groundfish survey, a survey that has been conducted for the past 30 years. This particular survey is conducted during the summer months between Alabama and Mexico. On this second leg of the survey, we will be sailing from Galveston, TX to the Oregon II’s home port of Pascagoula, MS.


What exactly is a groundfish survey, you ask? When I first received my acceptance letter, they informed me that this was the “critter cruise”, and I, being the critter lover, was thrilled! The main goal of this survey is to determine the abundance and distribution of shrimp by depth. In addition to collecting shrimp samples, we may also collect samples of bottomfish and crustaceans. It will also be important to collect meteorological data while out at sea. I am excited to see what kind of critters we pull up!

Ms. Schmuttermair LOVES critters, as seen here with Rosy the scorpion.

How will we be catching all of these critters and collecting data while out at sea? The Oregon II has a variety of devices to help collect information about the ocean, including bottom trawls and a CTD. The bottom trawl is a large net that is towed to collect shrimp and other bottom dwellers that will be sorted once the catch is brought aboard. A CTD (stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) is an instrument that can collect a wide variety of data, including temperature, salinity and oxygen content. I can’t wait to learn how some of these tools are operated!

What are my goals while out at sea?

  • To learn as much about the environment I am in as possible.
  • To ask the scientists plenty of questions about their research, and why collecting data is so important.
  • To take many pictures to bring back to my students
  • To get to know the crew on board, and how they came to work on the Oregon II
  • Not getting seasick!

Now it’s your turn: What would YOU like to know more about? Is it more about the animals we bring up in our trawls? Maybe it’s to learn more about life on the Oregon II, and specifications about this ship. Perhaps you’d like to know how to become a scientist with NOAA and work on board one of their many ships.  Leave your questions in the “Comments” section below (you are welcome to do this in any of my entries), and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the challenge questions, which from this point forward I will refer to as the “Critter Query”.

Valerie Bogan: Introduction, May 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7- 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday May 20, 2012

My name is Valerie Bogan and I am humbled that I have been chosen to be part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Teacher At Sea program (TAS).  I learned about this program during a field trip when I was a college student at the University of South Carolina (USC) studying marine science. We had the honor of taking a tour of a NOAA vessel and the captain spoke of the programs offered by NOAA including TAS. At the time I did not intend to become a teacher but life sometimes takes unexpected turns, and here I am twelve years later a teacher in the Teacher at Sea program.

I teach 6th and 7th grade science to students at Maple Crest Middle School in Kokomo, Indiana. As you can see from the map, Kokomo is located nowhere near an ocean, but no matter where you live your actions affect the oceans. For example if one of my students releases a balloon, perhaps as a celebration of the end of the school year, that balloon does not magically disintegrate as it floats from view but is instead carried hundreds of miles by the wind. When the wind finally drops the balloon it is just a wad of latex, the air inside is gone, which often falls into a river, which transports the remains of the balloon to the ocean. Once in the ocean, discarded balloons are often eaten by sea turtles because they think it is a jellyfish. Unfortunately, sea turtles can’t digest latex and the mass becomes stuck in their digestive tract causing the animal to slowly starve to death. So you see the simple act of releasing a balloon in Kokomo Indiana, far from the ocean, can cause the death of a majestic animal. During the course of my trip I hope to gain knowledge of other ways Hoosiers are negatively impacting the ocean. Then next fall my students and I will sit down and try to find ways to improve our impact on the environment.

Kokomo Indiana
The location of Kokomo within the state of Indiana (photo courtesy of wikipedia)

I will be participating in the first leg of the SEAMAP summer groundfish survey aboard the NOAA ship Oregon II. I’m going to wait until future posts to get into the details of the research, but as I understand it, we will be collecting bottom dwelling creatures, such as shrimp, and studying them to determine the health of the population. This is important research because just two years ago the Gulf of Mexico experienced a devastating oil spill when the offshore oil rig, Deepwater Horizon, caught fire and starting leaking oil. This research will allow scientists to determine if there are any long lasting impacts of this oil spill.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Well
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig catching on fire led to a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (photo courtesy of The Guardian)

I am very excited about this trip and I look forward to sharing what I am learning with all of you. As you can see from the pictures below I’m not afraid of seeking out adventure and I have high hopes that this trip will be the best adventure so far.  

Rock climbing
Rock climbing, one of the things I do in my free time.

Sky diving
Here I am skydiving.

Elaine Bechler: Phenomenal Feeding Frenzy, July 25, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elaine Bechler
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 21 – 26, 2011 

Mission: Survey of Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones NMS
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Off the California Coast
Date: July 25, 2011 

Science and Technology Log

Humpbacks performing vertical lunge feeding

Cool stuff today.  While transiting between one transect and another, the R/V Fulmar happened upon a major feeding event.  While approaching, hundreds of birds could be seen flying and diving along with evidence of many humpback whale spouts.  It turned out to be a furious feeding frenzy of myriads of birds, dolphins, pinipeds and whales.  Very dramatic was the vertical lunge feeding of the humpback whales.  We could see their huge mouths open and pointed upward as they gobbled silvery fish.  The whales would release huge loud exhales over and over.  A pod of 20 Pacific white-sided dolphins would lunge and dive down randomly seeking the swift swimmers.  Entering from the north side came a pod of Northern-right whale dolphins so sleek and moving in a group as if choreographed.  Thousands of seabirds including Sooty and Pink footed Shearwaters, Northern Fulmars, Black-footed Albatrosses, Western Gulls, Fork-tailed Storm Petrels and Common Murres were diving and competing for the fish.  We could hear the feet, wings, beaks and calls from their interactions on the surface.   It was remarkable to see the shearwaters swimming after the prey.  The feeding group would move and change as the school of fish darted about from below.  It was a tumultuous feast.

Bird feeding frenzy

shearwater feeding under water
Shearwater feeding under water

What we witnessed was the food web in action!  Each of these animals was supported by the fish they were eating.  Those fish were supported by a smaller food source such as smaller fish and zooplankton.  Those small organisms rely on the phytoplankton to capture the solar radiation from the sun and to use the deep water nutrients which were upwelled to the surface waters.   Create 5 food chains 5 organisms long that could have been in place in the ocean that day.

Dall's Porpoise
Dall's Porpoise

Earlier I noted a Western Gull spy a white object in the water and attempt to land on it for feeding only to find it was a piece of paper.  I had never observed the interaction of a marine animal with marine debris until now.  It was obvious that the debris caught the gull’s attention from a good distance away and had attracted it to the surface of the water.  How could this action affect the food web?

I feel fortunate to have been chosen to experience this cruise and all that went along with it.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat (with sufficient amounts of  seasickness medication!).  Thank you R/V Fulmar crew, ACCESS team, PRBO Conservation Science , TAS team and NOAA for this opportunity.  Thank you Sophie Webb for all of the photos of the frenzy on this page.

Pacific White-sided dolphins and Kaitlin
Pacific White-sided dolphins and Kaitlin

Steven Wilkie: July 3, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
STEVEN WILKIE
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OREGON II
JUNE 23 — JULY 4, 2011

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey Geographic Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico Date: July 3, 2011 Ship Data

Latitude 29.27
Longitude -94.39
Speed 9.30 kts
Course 298.00
Wind Speed 6.70 kts
Wind Dir. 281.88 º
Surf. Water Temp. 29.90 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 24.88 PSU
Air Temperature 29.30 ºC
Relative Humidity 75.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1015.75 mb
Water Depth 15.70 m

Science and Technology Log

One of the first expeditions devoted to the study of the world’s oceans was that of the H.M.S. Challenger.  This voyage covered a distance of more than 68,000 nautical miles.   Although other expeditions prior to the Challenger expedition would periodically collect data about the ocean environment, none were devoted solely to the exploration of the chemical, biological and physical attributes of the oceans.

The Voyage of the HMS Challenger
The HMS Challenger’s voyage spanned 4 years and covered close to 70,000 nautical miles.

A sounding device used by the Challenger expedition. This weighted line would be lowered over the side of the ship and the amount of line let out would indicate depth.

If you have read my previous posts, you know how important monitoring the abiotic factors are.  This was no different aboard the Challenger expedition.

And remember it took 23 years to process and publish all of the data, well with the help of computers and the internet, the Oregon II’s data is available in hours.

Michael Hendon (lead scientist) performs a winkler titration to determine dissolved oxygen content. See wet chemistry skills are still important!
Michael Hendon (lead scientist) performs a winkler titration to determine dissolved oxygen content. See wet chemistry skills are still important!

Although technology plays a pivotal role in collecting and analyzing the data, computers still need to be cross referenced against tried and true scientific processes.  In order to ensure that all of the CTD equipment is accurate, random water samples are pulled using the CTD’s sample bottles.  A chemical titration, known as the Winkler titration is used to determine the amount of dissolved oxygen present in the water samples.

The method for sampling the living organisms along the bottom of the seafloor has not changed much since the Challenger expedition.  Trawl nets are still the name of the game, although the way they are deployed might vary a bit!

Mike and Cliff bring the Oregon II's trawl aboard complete with catch.

Once the catch is on board, the process begins to collect data (remember that is why NOAA is out here) to better understand how populations are changing in order to set catch limits and analyze human impact.  In the day’s of the Challenger expedition, the work of analyzing samples and collecting their would have been done in a lab aboard ship, and we rely on similar if not more automated facilities onboard the Oregon II.  Follow this link to take a virtual tour of the Challenger’s “Wet lab”. The wetlab onboard the Oregon II is where I spend the majority of my 12 hour watch.   It is here that the catch is brought after we bring it on deck, we sort the catch, count and measure a subsample of what is brought on board.  If we had to measure everything that came up with the net we would never get finished.  By taking a subsample we can split the catch into percentages depending on the weight of the entire catch and count a smaller sample of the catch.  This subsample’s diversity can then be used as a basis for the entire catch.  This saves time and effort on our part and still provides an accurate representation of what was in the net.  A few species are selected to be counted in their entirety, that includes all commercially important shrimp (brown shrimp, pink shrimp and white shrimp) and all red snapper.  We will also pull organisms into our subsample that are unique to the catch such as sharks, rays, skates etc.

Now I am not quite sure how the Challenger expedition determined where it would sample and when, perhaps if they saw something interesting they would simply drop their nets in the water, but with the Oregon II, the sampling sites are predetermined and the method to set up those sites is quite sophisticated.  In order to ensure that the cruise covers the majority of the Gulf of Mexico NOAA uses a method known as independent random sampling.  This method uses a computer program to randomly select stations based on depth data, and spatial area.  By choosing random samples independently, the scientists can rest assured that they haven’t purposefully singled out an area with “good fishing” or “bad fishing” and that the data they collect will represent a more accurate count of the actual fish populations in the Gulf of Mexico.

Steven Wilkie: June 30, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
STEVEN WILKIE
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OREGON II
JUNE 23 — JULY 4, 2011

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 30th, 2011

Ships Data

Latitude 28.32
Longitude -95.19
Speed 9.10 kts
Course 273.00
Wind Speed 12.71 kts
Wind Dir. 79.58 º
Surf. Water Temp. 28.20 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 24.88 PSU
Air Temperature 29.50 ºC
Relative Humidity 75.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1014.84 mb
Water Depth 35.70 m

Science and Technology Log

So despite the long shifts, I managed to rouse myself out of bed early for my shift.  I wandered up to the drylab (just off of the deck) to check in and see what had been brought on board during the last trawl.  The second watch was working up a catch in the wet lab and on the deck was an unusual but significant catch, a sea turtle.  Definitely not a targeted species of

An unintended catch, the Kemp's Ridley (Lepidochelys kempi) was brought on board with one of the trawls, but returned to the sea safe and sound.

this cruise.   Although rare on NOAA cruises, sea turtles are unfortunately often caught up as bycatch by the fishing industry.  Bycatch is an unintended species in the net, and sea turtles were a  large bycatch component of the shrimp industry.

NOAA takes sea turtle bycatch very seriously.  No sooner had the turtle been put on the deck did the science team spring into action to collect vital statistics and data about the turtle before returning it back to the Gulf safe and sound.   The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempi), like most sea turtles, is considered and endangered species.   By collecting data about the sea turtles, NOAA scientists can continue to monitor the health of the population, especially in light of last  year’s Deep Water Horizon oil spill.

Scientists worked the turtle up by collecting measurements (length and width) of the shell, and collecting a tissue sample in order to perform DNA analysis.  An electronic tag was inserted under the skin, so that if the turtle is caught again  it can be scanned and more data can be added to its file. This would allow scientists to determine migratory patterns and growth rates.  Finally the turtle’s rear flippers were fitted with tags that, again, would allow scientists to monitor its movement, age and growth.

Trained NOAA scientists measure the carapace length of our unexpected catch.Before being returned to the Gulf, the Kemp's Ridley is outfitted with two flipper tags. These tags can be used to help scientists monitor the life history of this particular turtle.

Trained NOAA scientists fit the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle with tags that can be used to collect additional data should the turtle be caught again.

In the early 1980s the situation with turtle populations in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters had gotten so dire, that scientists began researching ways to reduce turtle bycatch.  TEDs or Turtle Exclusion Devices were introduced to the shrimping industry on a volunteer basis.  These devices are rigged to the catch-end of shrimpers’ nets and act like a grate over a storm drain.  The water (and shrimp) can flow into the end of the net, but anything as big as a turtle is stopped and able to escape through a trap door.  To get a better idea of how a TED works follow this link to NOAA’s video of a TED in action.
  Today, TEDs are mandated on all trawl nets used by the fishing industry.  Although at first the shrimping industry was reluctant to embrace the technology, by working collaboratively, scientists, the fishing industry, and government legislators are helping to  curtail the drastic reduction in sea turtle populations in American waters.

Heather Haberman: Introduction July 1, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Heather Haberman

Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 5 — 17, 2011 


Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, July 1, 2011

Heather Haberman
Heather Haberman, Science Teacher at Scottsbluff High School in Nebraska

Pre-cruise Personal Log: 

Allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Heather Haberman and I have been a science teacher at Scottsbluff High School in Western Nebraska for the past six years.  I LOVE being a teacher and sharing my passion for science with others.  Everyday brings a new adventure and there is rarely a dull moment.

Zoology and Environmental Science have always been my primary interests which motivated me to obtain a degree in Biology.  This degree allowed me to pursue positions such as a Research Assistant with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, an Animal Caretaker with the US Department of Agriculture, a Forest Protection Officer with the US Forest Service, as well as a Zookeeper and Education Curator for Riverside Zoo.  As an Education Curator, I realized how much fun it was to teach science so I decided to go back to college and earn my Education degree.  These real world experiences have helped me make science more fun and applicable to the lives of my students.  This is one of the reasons why I am so excited about being selected to participate in the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.

Oregon II
NOAA's research vessel the Oregon II

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a federal agency focused on the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere.  Next week I will begin working alongside NOAA scientists on a groundfish survey in the Gulf of Mexico aboard the Oregon II.  Their primary summer objective is to determine the abundance and distribution of shrimp by depth. Other objectives include obtaining samples of commercially important fishes, such as red snapper, and crustaceans.  This data enables scientists to predict population trends which allows government officials to regulate the fishing industry in a more sustainable fashion.  It is also important to collect weather (meteorological) data and physical ocean (hydrographic) data to look for climatic trends and to assess the health of the ocean.  Plankton samples will also be collected since they play a key role in the oceanic food web and are good indicators of ecosystem change.

The Mississippi watershed drains approximately 40% of the Unites States, including Nebraska.

I am excited to be a part of this scientific research team collecting data about the health of our fisheries and oceans.  I hope that bringing back real scientific stories about research at sea will help my students from the Great Plains feel more of a connection to their watershed and the oceans of our planet.  Being over a thousand miles away from an ocean makes it easy to dismiss the fact we rely on the sea for so many of our resources, and how our actions impact the marine environment.

I will be posting updates on this blog three to four times a week.  I would like to answer as many of your questions as possible while on my mission. What would you like this sea-faring teacher to inform you about? Would you like to know about the ship; the jobs of my co-workers; marine life; ocean chemistry; my duties aboard the ship; science at sea; etc?  Leave me a message by scrolling to the bottom of the blog post and select “Leave a Comment”.  I can’t wait to hear from you.

Mechelle Shoemake, June 27, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mechelle Shoemake
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 19 – 30, 2010

Mission:  SEAMAP Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Northwestern Gulf of Mexico
Date:  Sunday, June 27, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 0700 hours (07:00am)
Position: Latitude = 28.80.02 N; Longitude = 090.20.40 W
Present Weather: partly cloudy
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 8 knots
Wave Height:  3 foot swells
Sea Water Temp:  29.8 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 27.9 degrees Celsius; Wet bulb = 25.5 degrees Celsius

Here I am measuring and weighing the fish.

Science and Technology Log
We are on twelve hour shifts while on the Oregon II. That means that we have two crews of scientists that work around the clock taking fish, plankton, and water samples.  My shift begins at 12:00 noon and ends at midnight.  Our first shift began on Sunday. We had finally reached our first station for study, so we took over for the first set of scientists.  They had just finished a trawl and had separated the fish.

Here I am measuring and weighing the fish

We finished weighing and measuring the fish. Next on the agenda was a fire and abandon ship drill.  We had to “muster” to our stations for a head count  during the fire drill.  Next, the alarm sounded for the abandon ship drill.  We all had to get our survival suits and meet on the top deck.

As soon as the drill was over, we were able to get back to work. we first did a CTD test, which stands for conductivity, temperature, and density. This fancy machine tests these variables of ocean water at different depths. We took water samples from the bottom of the ocean, in the middle, and on the surface of the water column.  This is a very important sampling because it will help to determine if the shrimping and fishing waters can be opened back up since the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill.

During the safety drill, I donned my survival aute, also called a Gumby suit!

I’m assisting in getting the CTD ready for deployment

We then had to take a plankton samples. This is done buy using a plankton net called a Neuston net. it is very fine woven net that catches all of the small fish and other animals that we label as plankton. This was amazing to see. The net caught “floating nursery,” a plant called  sargassum. Many fish lay their eggs in this floating grass. Sea turtles also use it as a resting ground. We gathered all the plankton and preserved it for further testing. Sad to say, we also picked up some tarballs in our plankton net. This is not a good sign.

We soon did a trawl with the shrimping nets. This was very interesting to see what we caught. You never know what you might catch when you drag the ocean floor with a net. I never realized how many different species of fish there are. We caught some very nice sized brown shrimp. We had to count, weigh, and preserve all the fish and other critters.

This is a close up of the Neuston net.

I’m helping sort the catch. Those are squid I’m holding up.

Personal Log

I really admire the NOAA employees. They all work very hard for us. Our ship is performing a very important job by determining whether areas of the Gulf will be safe for fishing again. These men and women are gone from their families for extended periods of time and stay at sea for long voyages. I am enjoying my stay on the Oregon II, but I have to admit that I am still trying to grow my “sea legs”.

Mechelle Shoemake, June 23, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mechelle Shoemake
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 19 – 30, 2010

Mission:  SEAMAP Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Northwestern Gulf of Mexico
Date:  Friday, June 25, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1300 hours (1:00pm)
Position: Latitude = 30.22.02 N; Longitude = 088.33.80 W
Present Weather: partly cloudy
Visibility: 8-10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Sea Water Temp:  30.9 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 32.7 degrees Celsius; Wet bulb = 23.2 degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log
Hello everyone!  I am Mechelle Shoemake from Laurel, MS.  I am a teacher at South Jones Elementary school.  I was chosen by NOAA to participate in their TAS (Teacher at Sea) program.  I was chosen to sail aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II.

Here I am aboard the Oregon II, ready to sail!

The Oregon II conducts a groundfish cruise in the summer and fall across the northern Gulf of Mexico from Alabama to the Mexican Border in depths between 5 and 60 fathoms.  The Oregon II conducts strong bottom trawling.  This is a type of fishing where you drag a net along the sea floor.  The primary sampling objective in the summer is to determine the abundance and distribution of shrimp by depth.  Since shrimp are animals that live near the sea floor, bottom trawling is the best way to catch them.  Due to the recent Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill, we will be gathering samples of oiled shrimp and fish for further testing to be done.

We will be studying three types of shrimp:  white, pink and brown shrimp.   For more information about these shrimp, go to http://www.dnr.sc.gov.  This website explains how to identify the different species.

The bow (front) of the Oregon II, as she sits tied to the dock in Pascagoula.

We have had a slow start on the Oregon II due to repairs being made to the vessel that were necessary to keep  her in service for the next 6-8 years.  Our date of departure changed many times. We finally set sail on Wednesday, June 23, 2010.  Before we reached our destination, we started having some small problems with the vessel.  We turned around and we are now sailing back home to Pascagoula so repairs can be made.   Although we had to come back to port, we did sail for many hours.  During that time I had a lesson in line tying.  Line is the word used for rope when you’re on a ship.  This is task that many skilled and experienced sailors learn.  Believe me, it is harder than it looks.

Learning to tie line knots is harder than it looks!

I also had a lesson on how to read nautical charts and how to chart the longitude and latitude of a certain point. My first morning on the ship was breathtaking. The sunrise was beautiful, as you can see in the picture below.   Personal Log My first few hours at sea were not the greatest in the world.  I came prepared for sea sickness…maybe a little TOO prepared.  I was beginning to wonder if I would make it on the Oregon II.  But, thanks to Lindsey, our XO, she suggested that I remove my “sea patch” from behind my ear.  Wow, what a miracle!  I was no longer sick!  Lesson to the wise:  don’t overdose with the medicine.  Question of the Day How many feet are in a fathom?

Animals Seen Today: Dolphins, Pelicans

Sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico

Mandi Gillespie, July 6, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mandi Gillespie
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 5 – 7, 2007

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 7, 2007

NOAA ship OREGON II at port waiting to set sail.
NOAA ship OREGON II at port waiting to set sail.

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: n/a
Wind direction:243
Wind speed: 6.7 kts
Sea wave height n/a
Swell wave height: n/a
Seawater temperature: 26.8 C
Sea level pressure: 1016 mb
Cloud cover: n/a

Science and Technology Log 

This cruise’s mission is two fold: 1) stock assessment of fish and invertebrates and 2) mapping of the hypoxia zone. To assess the fish and invertebrate stock, a 40-foot bottom trawl net collects bottom samples from designated sites. The samples are gathered, identified, measured and weighed by the scientists on board the ship. Data collected is eventually used to set bag limits for fish and shrimp. To measure the hypoxic zone, equipment is deployed from the ship at specific sites. Dissolved oxygen level is collected. This data is used to map the Gulf of Mexico’s hypoxic zone.

Personal Log 

I arrived onboard the OREGON II on July 4th eager to set sail. However, we have been delayed because the auxiliary emergency generator onboard will not start. Once the generator functions properly, we will be able to set sail.

My position title is watch stander and am told training for my position is “on the job”. I am scheduled on the day shift which is 12:00 to 24:00. I look forward to fulfilling my duties as a watch stander to better understand how the samples are collected and processed.

Question of the Day 

What is a hypoxic zone?