Hayden Roberts: Wet and Wild, July 14, 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 14, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 29.19° N
Longitude: 83.45° W
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Wind Direction: 180
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 30.5°C
Barometric Pressure: 1019 mb
Sky: Few clouds


Science Log

NOAA Ship Oregon II includes many departments and sections of the ship. As part of the TAS program (Teacher at Sea), I spend most of my time assisting the research team in the wet lab, which occurs in 12-hour shifts. The wet lab is where each catch is brought after it is hauled aboard. The process involves bringing what we find in the trawling net on deck so that we can weigh, sort, count, and measure a subsample of what is found. Fortunately, we do not have to weigh and determine the sex of everything that comes aboard in the net; otherwise, it would take hours when the catch is large. By taking a subsample, fishery biologists can split the catch into percentages depending on the weight of the entire catch and sample size. This subsample’s diversity can then be used as a basis for the entire catch. This conserves our efforts and while still providing an accurate representation of what was caught.

Pulling in the trawling net
Pulling in the trawling net.
Sorting the catch
Opening and sorting the catch.
Wet Lab
Wet Lab aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II.
Sorted samples
Sorted samples ready to be cataloged.

In order to ensure that our leg of the groundfish survey covers the maximum area possible, NOAA uses a method called independent random sampling. A computer program randomly selects stations or research sites based on depth data and spatial area. By choosing random samples independently, fishery biologists can ensure that they have not inadvertently singled out or favored one area over another and that the data collected represents an accurate picture of the fish population in the Gulf. Previous legs of the groundfish survey this summer have focused on research stations along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf coast. Our sampling takes place along the Florida side of the Gulf. The goal is to hit 45-50 research sites during our trip.

So far, I have learned that the eastern side of Gulf can be more challenging to survey than the west. NOAA and its SEAMAP partners have covered less area in the eastern part of the Gulf. While the eastern Gulf is not exactly uncharted waters, NOAA is still perfecting its research techniques in this part of the Gulf. As early as the 1970s, NOAA has surveyed the muddy bottom of the western Gulf off the coast of Texas. In that part of the Gulf, silt from rivers (mostly the Mississippi) makes for a more uniform surface to trawl for fish samples. East of Mobile, Alabama, tends to be rocky and sandy with outcrops of coral and sponge. The craggy surface, while ideal for a host of aquatic species, can create challenges for collecting samples. With each research station we visit on our cruise, we have to be careful not to cause too much damage to the sea floor. Therefore, we have been using a torpedo-shaped probe to scan our trawling paths before we drop the net. While this doubles the time it takes to complete each research station, it does improve our odds of collecting good samples as well as protecting our trawling net from jagged objects that might tear the net.


Did You Know?

A fishery biologist is a scientist who studies fish and their habitats. As biologists, they mostly focus on the behavior of fish in their natural surroundings. Some biologists work mostly in a lab or sorting data in a research facility like NOAA’s office in Pascagoula, but many spend quite a bit of time collecting field samples in various ecological settings. To become a fishery biologist, scientists have to study botany, zoology, fishery management, and wildlife management as a prerequisite to a career in the fish and game biology field. A bachelor’s degree may be acceptable for managerial positions, but many fishery biologists have advanced degrees such as a Master’s or Doctorate.


Personal Log

At the beginning of the cruise, we conducted safety drills aboard Oregon II. Safety drills include fire, man overboard, and abandon ship. Each drill requires the crew to go to various parts of the ship. For fire, the research crew (including myself) heads to the stern (or back of the ship) to wait instructions and to be out of the way of the deck crew working the fire. For man overboard, we are instructed to keep eyes on the individual in the water, yelling for help, and throw life preservers in the water to help mark the person’s location. For abandon ship, the crew meets on the fore deck with their life jackets and “gumby” survival suits (see picture). If life rafts can be deployed, we put on our life jackets and all of us file into groups. If we have to jump into the water, we are asked to put on our red survival suits, which are a cross between a wetsuit and a personal inflatable raft.

Hayden in gumby suit
Practicing donning my survival suit.

I asked Acting Commanding Officer Andrew Ostapenko (normally the Executive Officer but is the acting “captain” of our cruise) about what we would do in the event of a storm. With a length of 170 feet and a width of 34 feet, Oregon II is large enough to handle normal summer squalls and moderate weather like the ones we have sailed through the first few days our trip, but it is important to avoid tropical storms or hurricanes (like Barry, which is gathering near the coast of Louisiana), which are just too big to contend. On the ship, the officers keep a constant watch on the weather forecast with real-time data feeds from the National Weather Service (NWS).

As part of my orientation to the ship, I took a tour of the safety features of Oregon II with the officer in charge of safety for our cruise, OPS Officer LT Ryan Belcher. He showed us what would happen in case of an emergency. There are 6 life rafts on board, and each can hold 16 people. Three rafts position on each side of the ship, and they automatically float free and inflate if that side of the ship goes underwater. An orange rescue boat can be deployed if someone falls overboard, but that craft is more It is more regularly used for man overboard drills and to support periodic dives for underwater hull inspections and maintenance.

Rescue vessel
Rescue vessel.
radio and satellite receivers
NOAA Ship Oregon II funnel with radio and satellite receivers.
Foghorn
Foghorn is a device that uses sound to warn vehicles of navigational hazards and hazards or emergencies aboard the ship.

If an emergency on the ship did occur, it would be essential to send out a call for help. First, they would try the radio, but if radio communication no longer worked, we also have a satellite phone, EPIRBS (satellite beacons), and a radar reflector (that lets ships nearby know there is an emergency). On the lower tech end, old fashion emergency flares and parachute signals can be launched into the air so other ships could locate us.

Angela Hung: “Don’t Give it A Knife!”, June 30, 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: June 30, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Conditions at 2112

Latitude: 28° 40’ N

Longitude: 95° 43’ W

Relative Humidity: 76%

Temperature: 28.4° C

Wind Speed: 18 knots

 

Science and Technology Log

What are groundfish? They are basically what they sound like, the fish that live in, on or near the bottom of a body of water. NOAA Ship Oregon II samples waters in coastal Gulf regions from Florida to Texas using an otter trawl net. Our net includes a “tickler chain” that moves just ahead of the opening to disturb the bottom sediment so that organisms swim up to be scooped up.

Diagram of an otter trawl net
Diagram of an otter trawl net used collect groundfish. Photo credit: http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/y7135e/y7135e06.htm

We tow for a short half hour at each station to get an idea of what species can be found at different locations. Fishing boats tow for much longer, hours at a time with larger nets. The cod end where the fish collect, is created by a knot beautifully tied by Chief Boatswain Tim Martin that holds during the tow but easily pulls open to release the catch which drops into large baskets. Tim works on the deck to launch the CTD (conductivity-temperature-dissolved oxygen probe) and the trawl net. The baskets are weighed and then dumped onto a conveyor belt to be sorted.

The otter trawl in action.
The otter trawl in action.

knot
This knot closes the net during a trawl but pulls open to release a catch.

 

We start by putting whatever looks alike together, which is much easier said than done. If it turns out to be tricky, the wet lab is equipped with a range of resource guides to reference. Once everything is sorted out, each species is individually sampled: the count of individuals, the total weight of that species, the lengths of up to 20 individuals, and the weight and sex of every fifth individual. This information is entered into Fisheries Scientific Computer Systems (FSCS) and added into a database that gets uploaded for public knowledge.

Everyone is lined up and sorting through fish. It's the first trawl of the cruise so the night shift got excited and joined us.
Everyone is lined up and sorting through fish. It’s the first trawl of the cruise so the night shift got excited and joined us.

 

 

For commercial species, such as shrimp and red snapper, every individual is measured and sexed; up to 200 for shrimp and up to 20 red snapper.

Shrimp and more shrimp. Brown shrimp, Farfantepenaeus aztecus to be specific!
Shrimp and more shrimp. Brown shrimp, Farfantepenaeus aztecus to be specific! NOAA’s FishWatch recommends them as a “smart seafood choice”. https://www.fishwatch.gov/profiles/brown-shrimp

It’s a lot of work, but data entry is relatively easy using a magnetic board. You line the specimen up at the end of the board and simply press the magnet at the end of the animal’s body. The board is connected to a computer and automatically sends the measurement when the magnet is pressed. The scale is also connected to a computer and sends that information directly. However, every species’ scientific name is manually entered into a list for each station before measurements are taken.

 

So many kinds of fish, but color is not a way to sort!
So many kinds of fish, but color is not a way to sort!

These data are primarily used by NOAA for stock assessments. By documenting species abundances, size and distribution, fishery managers can calculate catch quotas for the year that maintains healthy stocks. These data are also used by NOAA for their database to help you make sustainable seafood choices: https://www.fishwatch.gov/ .  It is also part of NOAA’s mission to be “Dedicated to the understanding and stewardship of the environment,” which is why everything that is captured is counted. Federal data are publicly available, so these surveys might be used by scientists to study a range of questions about any species that we counted, including the ecology of non-commercial species.

It’s really interesting to see exactly where seafood comes from. In the 10 miles or so between stations, the communities change drastically. Shrimp are abundant in east Texas, but not where blue crab start to appear in west Texas. It’s also interesting to see the different sizes (ages) of fish change between stations. One station brought in snapper over 10” long, while the next two stations delivered their 5-6” juveniles. Aside from that, I got the chance to handle so many species I’ve only seen on TV and never imagined that I would get to hold in my hand!

 

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Blue crabs, Callinectes sapidus. The two upturned crabs are females carrying eggs.
Blue crabs, Callinectes sapidus. The two upturned crabs are females carrying eggs.

“Don’t give it a knife!”

“Stop giving it things!”

-things you say when trying to separate blue crabs that are latched onto each other

It’s reassuring to see the Gulf teeming with gorgeous biological diversity as evidence that U.S. fisheries are responsibly managed and that we have a strong model of stewardship in our seas—SEAMAP Groundfish Survey literally only scratches the surface of the coastline.

 

Personal Log

The meals in the galley are great. Valerie McCaskill of Naples, FL and Arlene Beahm from Connecticut are the Stewards onboard and they work diligently to feed us delicious home cooked meals. I’ll be a few pounds heavier when you see me after this trip. “Arlene’s trying to kill you with food!” Tim observed. These two ladies are stand-in moms, making sure we have heaping plates at meal times and snack times and anytime in between.

Lunchtime
Finally got to eat some of the white shrimp we caught. And a whole steak for good measure. (Only the galley is allowed to take a part of the catch cook it for the ship.)

That’s a great thing because the 12 hour shifts work up an appetite. NOAA Ship Oregon II sails from one sampling station to the next, ranging from 5-12 miles in between, but as many as 20+ miles. On short runs, the next station comes up pretty quickly and we find ourselves finishing one just in time to start the next. We process four to five stations each shift with only short breaks during trawls.

It’s hugely humbling and an exercise in insecurity to watch the scientists work. At a glance they can recite the full scientific name of the hundreds of species that pour out of the net. I’ll be happy if I can come back with ten new species in my memory bank.

C. similis
Baby blue crabs? Nope, these are adult Callinectes similis, blue crabs are C. sapidus.

The researchers onboard have been doing this for years. Identifying species takes time and practice to learn like any other skill, and it showcases the dedication and fulfillment they find in this kind of work.

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

It’s hot, dirty work.  There’s no air conditioning in the wet lab and around 1000+ fish can be brought aboard at a station. I, and probably everybody else within smelling range, am grateful to have hot showers and laundry onboard. Kristin Hannan emphasizes that “field work isn’t for everyone, but you don’t have to work in the field to study marine science.” But, the wet lab is where you witness the enthusiasm that brings the crew and the scientists back day after day in the heat of July, year after year. Squeals of excitement and giant grins appear with favorite species: Calappa crabs (I learned a name!), triggerfish, beautiful snail and clam shells, the infamous mantis shrimp, a chance sea anemone and of course sharks to name a few. Fisherman James Rhue, a crewman who works with Tim and operates the winches, comes to check out (as in play with) the catch a couple times a day; the fishing crew must be as skilled with identifications as the researchers—they do it during their off hours. During the half hour of the tow, we are often talking about plankton diversity in the dry lab.

Kristin Hannan, a shark researcher, pauses to examine a young hammerhead.
Kristin Hannan, a shark researcher, pauses to examine a young hammerhead.

As satisfying as the work can be for some, the challenges certainly come with living on a relatively small boat built in a different time. While long overnight shifts sound tough, seasickness jumps to mind more readily when you say “boat”.  When you’re seasick, everyone volunteers a range of interesting remedies, from watching the horizon, which is qualified as BS; lying down; sleeping, which isn’t easy when you’re sick; eating to keep your stomach full, counterintuitive but actually a useful one; ginger candy; staying cool, which does not describe the wet lab; to just chewing on a chunk of raw ginger, distracting, I’m sure! The Teacher at Sea organizers recommend working to keep your mind off of the nausea. Arlene was also very kind and donated a couple of her seasickness patches to my cause. For me, standing outside and watching the waves for flying fish helped immensely in the few minutes between processing catches. And there is far too much work and creatures to see to think about my stomach.

The blue dots are sampling stations along the Texas coastline. The red line shows where we've been. Thankfully, we're not trying to hit every station, but there's plenty to do!
The blue dots are sampling stations along the Texas coastline. The red line shows where we’ve been. Thankfully, we’re not trying to hit every station, but there’s plenty to do!

 

Did You Know?

Although scientific names sound like gibberish, they are in Latin and often physical descriptions of the species. Portunus spinicarpus for example is a crab named for the long spike (spini) on its wrist (carpus).

P. spinicarpus
P. spinicarpus

Lagocephalus translates to “rabbit head”, the name given to the group of puffer fishes, but you might have to squint to see it.

 

Melissa Barker: Reflections from Land, July 20, 2017

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22 – July 6, 2017

 

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 20, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge: I am now back in Longmont, Colorado

Latitude: 40 08.07 N

Longitude: 105 08.56 W

Air temp: 31.1 C

 

Science and Technology Log

One of the major questions I had before my Teacher at Sea voyage was how the level of oxygen in the water will affect the species we collect. Typically, in the summer, a dead zone forms in the Gulf of Mexico spreading out from the mouth of the Mississippi river. You can see an image of the dead zone from 2011 below.

Hypoxia2011
Bottom Dissolved Oxygen Contours, Gulf of Mexico, 2011

Phytoplankton, or microscopic marine algae, are the base of the marine food web. There are two main classes, diatoms and dinoflagellates, which are both photosynthetic and typically live towards the top of the water column. We did not sample plankton on our leg of the cruise, but if you want to learn more you can check out this site: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/phyto.html. In the summer, phytoplankton and algae can build up due to excess nutrients in the water that are running off from urban areas, agriculture and industry. Much of our sampling was near the mouth of the Mississippi River, which is a significant source of excess nutrients. The extra nitrogen and phosphorus in the runoff cause the excess growth of photosynthetic organisms which leads to a buildup of zooplankton (heterotrophic plankton). Once the phytoplankton and zooplankton die and sink to the bottom they are decomposed by oxygen consuming bacteria which deplete the oxygen in the water column. According to NOAA, hypoxia in aquatic systems refers to an area where the dissolved oxygen concentration is below 2 mg/L. At this point, most organisms become physiologically stressed and cannot survive.

4911433052_f535276bdf_b
How The Dead Zone Forms: Infographic by Dan Swenson, NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune

Tropical Storm Cindy, which kicked up just as I was arriving in Galveston, brought significant freshwater into the gulf and mixed that water around so we did not see as many low oxygen readings as expected. While I was talking with Andre about hypoxia when we were on the ship, he used the analogy of stirring a bowl of soup. There is a cool layer on top, but as you stir the top layer and mix it with the lower layers, the whole bowl cools. Similarly, the oxygen rich freshwater from the storm is mixed around with the existing water, reducing the areas of low oxygen. You can see in the map below that we had fewer hypoxic areas than in 2011.

2017-hypoxia-contours
Bottom Dissolved Oxygen Contours, Gulf of Mexico, 2017

We used the CTD to obtain oxygen readings in the water column at each station. In the visuals below you can see a CTD indicating high oxygen levels and a CTD indicating lower, hypoxic, oxygen levels. The low oxygen CTD was from leg one of the survey. It corresponds with the red area in the hypoxia map above.

Non Hypoxic station copy
CTD for a non-hypoxic station

Hypoxic Station copy
CTD of a hypoxic station

 Personal Log and Reflections

P1030035
Final sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

When I arrived back on land I still felt the rocking of the Oregon II. It took two to three days before I felt stable again. As friends and family ask about my experience, I find it hard to put into words. I am so grateful to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for giving me this incredible experience and especially thankful to Science Field Party Chief Andre Debose and my day shift science team members, Tyler, David and Sarah, for teaching me so much, being patient and making my experience one that I will never forget.

The ocean is so vast and we have explored so little of it, but now, I have a strong understanding of how a large scale marine survey is conducted. Being an active participant in fisheries research was definitely out of my comfort zone. The experience helped stretch me and my learning and has giving me great insight to bring back to share with my students and school community. The map below shows our journey over the two weeks I was on the ship traveling along the Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida coasts.

Summer GroundfishLEG2 Oregon II ALL
The blue line maps our route on the Oregon II

My experience on Oregon II has also re-engaged me with the ocean. As a child, I spent time each summer on an island off the coast of Maine and even got to go fishing with my Dad and his lobsterman buddies. But for the last 20 years or so, my exposure to the ocean has been limited to just a few visits. My curiosity for the marine world has been reignited; I look forward to bringing more fisheries science and insight into my classroom.

P1030010 (1)
Brown shrimp (Penaeus aztecus) on the left Pink shrimp (Penaeus duorarum) on the right

I mentioned in a previous blog that our shrimp data was sent daily to SEAMAP and made available to fisheries managers and shrimpers to allow them to make the best decisions about when to re-open the shrimp season. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD), the commercial shrimp season for both the state and federal waters re-opened just after sunset on July 15, 2017. TPWD said, “The opening date is based on an evaluation of the biological, social and economic impact to maximize the benefits to the industry and the public.” It is satisfying to know that I was part of the “biological evaluation” to which they refer.

 

Finally, I took some video while out at sea and now with more bandwidth and time, I’ve been able to process some of that video to shed additional light on how fisheries research is conducted. I’ve added two videos. The first one shows the process of conducting a bottom trawl and the second one show the fish sorting and measuring process. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Know?

You can use the following sites to help you make smart sustainable seafood choices:

FishWatch (http://www.fishwatch.gov)

Monterey Bay Aquarium (http://www.seafoodwatch.org). There is also a free app you can put on your phone so you can do a quick look up when you are at a restaurant, the grocery or a fish market.

 

The largest Gulf of Mexico dead zone recorded was in 2002, encompassing 8,497 square miles. The smallest recorded dead zone measured 15 square miles in 1988. The average size of the dead zone from 2010-2015 was about 5,500 square miles, nearly three times the 1,900 square mile goal set by the Hypoxia Task Force in 2001 and reaffirmed in 2008.

(source: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov)

 

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

Thank you to the Dawson sixth graders (now seventh graders!) for your great questions. I look forward to speaking with you all when school starts in a few weeks.

What is at the bottom of the low oxygen part of the ocean? (Allison)

There is a lot of accumulated dead organic matter that is decomposed by oxygen consuming bacteria.

What do you find in the dead zone? Do less animals live there? (Leeham, Mae, Shane, Alfie, Bennett)

Typically, trawls are smaller and the diversity of organisms decreases in the low oxygen areas. Often you will find resilient organisms like croaker. There is a lot of research looking at which organisms can live in dead zones and how these organisms compensate for the low levels of oxygen.

Is there any way to fix the dead zone? What can we do about the dead zone? (Isaac, Owen, Ava)

It is estimated that seventy percent of the excess nitrogen and phosphorus that runs off into the Gulf of Mexico comes from industrial agriculture. Reducing the amount of fertilizer used to grow our food would help decrease the extent of the dead zone area. Perhaps one of you will come up with a way to feed our communities in a more sustainable way or a technology that can remove these excess nutrients before the water reaches the Gulf.

Thanks for reading my blog!

img_3346.jpg
Safety first on the Oregon II.

 

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

Lionfish!

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22-July 6

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 4, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 29 49.65 N

Longitude: 86 59.92 W

Air temp: 29.7 C

Water temp: 31.6 C

Wind direction: 337 degrees

Wind speed: 1.88 knots

Wave height: 0.5 meters

Sky: partly cloudy

 

Science and Technology Log

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Interviews with the People of the Oregon II- PART 2

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

 

Commanding Officer Dave Nelson

Captain Dave Nelson in the captain’s chair

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

What did you do before working for NOAA?

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

How did you get to where you are today?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Science Field Party Chief Andre DeBose

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

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

 What does it mean to be Science Field Party Chief?

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

 What did you do before working for NOAA?

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

How did you come to work for NOAA?

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

Tell me about one challenging aspect of your job?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Second Engineer Darnell Doe

Second Engineer Darnell Doe

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

What did you do before working for NOAA?

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

Why work for NOAA?

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

Tell me about one challenging aspect of your job?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Personal Log

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

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

Tire pulled up in our trawl net

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

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

Did You Know?

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

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

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

Lionfish (Pterois volitans)

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Barker: Breaking the Land Lock, June 14, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22 – July 6, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 14, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Here in Longmont, Colorado where I live, we are settling into warm summer days often topping out in the high 80’s to 90’s F and typically with low humidity. In Galveston, Texas, where I’ll board the ship it is in the 80’s F this week with 90% humidity. I’ll have to get used to that humid air.

Science and Technology Log

NOAAS_Oregon_II_(R_332)
NOAA Ship Oregon II. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

I will spend two weeks aboard the NOAA fisheries research vessel Oregon II, in the Gulf of Mexico, working on the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) Summer Groundfish Survey. The objective of the survey is to monitor the size and distribution of shrimp and groundfish in the Gulf of Mexico.

gfmexico
The Gulf of Mexico. Photo from world atlas.com

What are groundfish, you ask? These are the fish that live near or on the bottom of the ocean. This survey is conducted twice per year; the data help scientists monitor trends in shrimp and fish abundance as well as changes over time. We will also be collecting plankton samples and environmental data at each site. The second leg of the groundfish survey works off of the Louisiana coast and the outlet of the Mississippi River where a “dead” or hypoxic zone forms in the summer. I am very interested to see the what we pull up in this area.

Personal Log

IMG_3082
I’m all geared up and ready to go!

When the NOAA Teacher at Sea email arrived in my inbox in February, I held my breath as I opened and read it as fast as possible. I was accepted! I was going to sea! I am honored to be a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Teacher at Sea program.

I teach Biology and direct the Experiential Education program at the Dawson School in Lafayette, Colorado. I love sharing my passion for learning about the biological world with my students and engaging my students’ curiosities. Many of my favorite teaching moments have been times when I can take students outside to observe and explore their surroundings.

P1070391
My classroom for a week in the San Juan Mountain Range, CO. March 2017. Photo credit Pete Devlin

I’ve lived in Colorado for about 17 years and love to play in the mountain environment on foot, ski or bike. Having lived land locked for most of my life, I can’t wait for the opportunity to explore the ocean ecosystem this summer. As a child, I spent short amounts of time exploring tide pools in Maine and beaches in Florida and was always intrigued by the vastness and mystery of the ocean.

IMG_3086.JPG
Tending my garden to grow delicious food

Now, I’m heading out to sea for two weeks to dive right into (not literally) learning about the ocean. Like my students, I learn best by doing, so I am thrilled to be working with the NOAA Fisheries team.

Did You Know?

Did you know that June is national ocean month? Celebrate the ocean this month.Check out this great video from NOAA and visit NOAA’s Celebrate the Ocean page for more information.

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

Just before the end of the school year, I visited the Dawson sixth graders to talk about my NOAA Teacher at Sea expedition. We learned about the importance of the ocean, even for us here in Colorado, and the sixth graders wrote questions for me to answer while I’m at sea. Look for this section in my blog where I will answer some of those questions.

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Dawson School sixth grade. Photo by RuthAnne Schedler.

-What do you think the most common organism is that you will find? (from Allison)

One of the main goals of the Groundfish survey is to collect data on the abundance and distribution of shrimp, so I think I’ll be seeing a lot of shrimp in our net. I’ll be sure to post photos of what we find.

 -Are you going to scuba dive? (from Gemma, Emma and Margaret)

I will not be scuba diving on my trip. I am not certified and the Teacher at Sea program does not allow teachers to scuba (even if they are certified). Instead I will be learning from above the water’s surface and pulling up samples to learn about what lives deep below.

Now it’s your turn to ask the questions…

What are you curious about? Maybe you are interested to know more about what we haul up in our nets or how to become a NOAA scientist. You can write questions at the end of any of my blog posts in the “comments” section and I’ll try to answer them.

Andi Webb: Living and Learning on the Oregon II, July 13, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andi Webb
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 11 – 19, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 13, 2014

Weather Data:
29 Degrees Celsius
75% Humidity
Windspeed: 1.82 Knots
Lat/Long: 2941.97N, 08414.16W
Science and Technology Log

There is truly so much to learn on the Oregon II. It’s almost like a small city with all the jobs everyone has, food preparation on board, safety drills, and a community of people working together to make everything successful. I am working the noon to midnight shift and am partnered with kind, intelligent team members that are helping me learn what it takes to work for NOAA. Our team consists of Michael, Mark, and Brittany. Each has so much knowledge of marine animals that I certainly feel like I have much to learn. It’s pretty amazing how they know the scientific names of most animals and plants we come across while trawling from the Oregon II.

I'm dressed in a survival suit looking a bit like an orange Gumby.  These survival suits would protect us from hypothermia if we needed to abandon ship. In order to wear these, you must lay the suit flat on the floor and crawl into it. It took Ensign Laura Dwyer, a Junior Officer, and me working together to get it on. I really was tempted to Sumo wrestle with it on!
I’m dressed in a survival suit looking a bit like an orange Gumby. These survival suits would protect us from hypothermia if we needed to abandon ship. In order to wear these, you must lay the suit flat on the floor and crawl into it. It took Ensign Laura Dwyer, a Junior Officer, and me working together to get it on. I really was tempted to Sumo wrestle with it on!

When it was time to “haul back” the net that was trawling for fish, everyone rushed to get to work. The trawl caught a wide variety of fish, shells, and plants. In the wet lab, all the scientists quickly began sorting the fish into baskets and began identifying them. The data must be entered into the computer with the name of the fish, quantity, weight, etc. On the rare occasion they may not be able to identify the plant or animal immediately, they refer to descriptive books such as Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico.

This is a trawl used to catch fish (and other surprises).
This is a trawl used to catch fish (and other surprises).

The fish on the left are Diplectrum formosum (Sand perch) and on the right are Haemulon aurolineatum (Tomtate).
The fish on the left are Diplectrum formosum and on the right are Haemulon aurolineatum.

Scientist Spotlight: Meet Brittany Palm-She really knows her “stuff” and she is so helpful in explaining everything to me so I can understand. Brittany is a Fisheries Biologist and will soon begin to work on her PhD. Brittany explained the CTD device to me. It measures conductivity, temperature, and depth. It soaks at the surface for 3 minutes to calibrate and flush out sensors. The CTD is then sent from the surface of the water to the bottom and then back up to the surface. It records environmental data for the scientists.

Brittany is a Fisheries Biologist on the Oregon II.
Brittany is a Fisheries Biologist on the Oregon II.

This is me standing by the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth Measuring Device.
This is me standing by the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth Measuring Device.

During a trawl today, we had quite a surprise! Check it out below:

Look who showed up on deck of the Oregon II. It's a Loggerhead turtle. Pretty amazing!
Look who showed up on deck of the Oregon II. It’s a Loggerhead turtle. Pretty amazing! After checking out his stats, we returned him to sea.

All in all, it’s been a great day learning lots with some pretty cool people!

Christina Peters: Finding Plankton on Oregon II, July 13, 2013

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

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico, leaving from Pascagoula, MS
Date: July 13, 2013 

Weather and Location:
Time: 23:24 Greenwich Mean Time (7:24 p.m. in Rockville, MD)
Latitude:  25.5340
Longitude:  -82.0215
Speed (knots):  9.30
Water temperature:  28.90 degrees Celsius
Salinity (PSU = Practical Salinity Units): 35.38
Air temperature:  31.20 degrees Celsius
Relative Humidity:  65%
Wind Speed (knots):  8.92
Barometric Pressure (mb): 1013.34
Depth (m) = 19.20

Science and Technology Log

Our Mission

In my introduction I explained that SEAMAP is a state, federal, and university program.  In fact, there is a managing unit called the SEAMAP– Gulf Subcommittee of the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Technical Coordinating Committee who manages the activities and operations, including collecting samples and interpreting data, of the Gulf participants, including the Mississippi Laboratory of NOAA and the states of Louisiana, Mississippi,Texas, Alabama, and Florida, as well as certain universities.  Parts of the program include bottom trawls, CTD deployment, and Bongo and Neuston tows.  The bottom trawls involve towing nets at randomly selected spots for ten to thirty minutes. The sea life caught in the nets, normally shrimp and other animals that live at the bottom of the Gulf, are sorted, identified and measured.  All of the data is recorded and helps to determine where the fish and shrimp are, and how much exists in the Gulf.  Because the NOAA Laboratory and the states have worked so well together on this project, most of the trawls were completed on earlier legs of the trip and on the state boats.  We have had opportunities, though, to observe and identify some of the fish from an earlier leg that had been put on ice.  We’ll come back to that process a bit later.

The first twenty-four hours underway were spent heading to our first station, off the southwest coast of Florida.  We have spent much of our time on this leg of the trip completing plankton collections.  My students should remember that plankton includes small and microscopic (too small to see with only your eyes) organisms. The organisms may be animals, plants and plant-like organisms, or bacteria.  The plankton found in the water can tell what the animal population looks like, or will look like if the conditions of the water do not change too much.  Plankton is also a source of food for certain animals, so looking at plankton can give us information about whether enough of a food source is present for those animals.  The purpose of the Bongo and Neuston tows is to collect plankton.  Before we do those tows at each station, however, we deploy the CTD to collect some important information.

Bringing in the CTD
A scientist and deckhand help bring in the CTD

Taking water samples from the CTD
The chief scientist, Kim Johnson, takes water samples from the CTD to verify it’s dissolved oxygen readings.

CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth.  The machine collects data in those areas, as well as other data.  The conductivity data tells how much salt (salinity) is in the water because the amount of salt affects how well the water will conduct (allow to pass through) electricity.  The CTD also measures the oxygen content of the water.  Remember learning about algae bloom in the Chesapeake Bay, and how the algae sucks up all of the oxygen, leaving the plants and animals in the area to die?  When a body of water has an unhealthy level of oxygen, it is called hypoxic.  Scientists are worried about the same kind of thing happening in the Gulf of Mexico, so determining the oxygen content in the water provides important information.  In the stations we have tested so far, the oxygen content has been healthy.  However, we have been far from land and much closer to where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf.  To learn more about hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, visit NOAA’s hypoxia page.  Don’t forget to click on the links at the bottom that will take you to descriptions of the problems and causes of hypoxia in the Gulf.

After bringing the CTD back onto the deck, it is time to start a Neuston tow.  The Neuston net is very fine, and attaches to a one meter by two meter frame at the top.  The net gets narrower, and attaches to a “cod end”, a plastic cylinder with screened openings, at the bottom.  This is hoisted out of the boat and into the water by a crane.  It takes several people to launch the Neuston, as the frame is heavy, and it can be hard to manage in the wind.

Neuston net before deployment
The Neuston net is tied down to the boat until it is ready to be deployed.

The Neuston is pulled through the water, with about a foot above the surface, and the rest below.  The purpose is to collect plankton on or near the surface of the water.  Since sargassum, or seaweed, often floats on the surface of the water, sometimes the Neuston collects a lot of that.  We continue to tow the net for ten minutes, and then retrieve it into the boat, again using the crane.  While we did not do trawls and pull in large fish, we did see different kinds of baby fish at almost every station.

Neuston net
The Neuston net is dragged at the top of the water for five to ten minutes

The Bongo contains two 61 centimeter, circular, sturdy plastic frames, to which fine nets are attached.  These nets also narrow to a small area, to which cod ends are attached.  The Bongos are lowered off the port side by using the J frame. The bongos are towed from the surface to the bottom, but no deeper than 200 meters.  The bongo also has the flowmeters on it to calculate how much water passes through the net. The sample is used to estimate the populations, number, and location of animals in parts of the Gulf.  The Bongo also has instruments attached to it that measure temperature, salinity (salt), and depth.  In addition, the bongos have flowmeters attached to calculate how much water passes through the nets.

Bongo nets
The Bongo nets must be rinsed down before being brought into to boat to make sure no plankton is stuck at the top of the nets.

These are complicated tools, and some of the instruments are electronic.  If the instruments are not working correctly, the scientists and engineers must have a back-up plan.  In fact, at one station, the Bongo instruments were not giving accurate readings when the head of the watch (the scientist in charge) looked at the readings from inside.  The back-up plan was for the deckhands to use less accurate depth finding instruments when lowering the Bongo.  This can sometimes present a problem because if the instruments are off, and the Bongo drags on the bottom, a lot of mud can end up in the sample.  Fortunately, a little troubleshooting, in the form of tightening some connections, solved the problem.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget to check the obvious!

Once the Neuston and Bongo are up, we can detach the cod ends, and get to work preserving the plankton samples.  The plankton from the Neuston, and from each of the Bongo cod ends, are preserved and stored separately.  The Neuston and right Bongo plankton are rinsed through a very fine sieve with a chemical solution that is mostly ethanol, and then poured through a funnel into a jar, which is finally filled with the ethanol solution.  The left Bongo plankton is handled similarly, but instead of being stored in ethanol, it is stored in salt water from the Gulf, and a small amount of formalin.  Formalin contains a small amount of formaldehyde, and is used to preserve tissues.  It is a toxic chemical that is harmful to humans, and must be handled very carefully, always using gloves.  The samples are later sent to various laboratories to be sorted and counted.  In addition to providing information about amount and location of different species, scientists can also use the preserved plankton to determine the age, as specific as the number of days old, and genetics of the baby sea animal. The formalin helps preserve the otoliths a LOT better, where the ethanol helps preserve the tissue and/or DNA better.  The otolith is part of the inner ear of the animal and is the part that is used to determine age.

Work station at the stern of the boat
The work station at the stern of Oregon II is where we rinse the plankton and add the chemicals for preservation.

Rinsing the plankton
Sometimes we have to remove jellyfish from our samples. The plankton must be rinsed off the jellyfish before counting and discarding them.

With stations normally being about three hours apart, it would seem like we should have a lot of down time.  However, when there is a lot of sargassum in the Neuston, it must be rinsed to try to get the plankton out of it.  This can take quite a long time.  In addition, sometimes we do get small fish or other animals that need to be sorted, counted, measured and weighed.

Sargassum
There were over 300 of these file fish in one plankton sample. The color made them difficult to find in the sargassum.

A pipe fish from one of the Neuston samples.  What does it remind you of?
A pipe fish from one of the Neuston samples. What does it remind you of?

Plankton sample
This is a plankton sample from a Neuston tow after it has been preserved in ethanol.

Don’t forget to track our progress by visiting http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/shiptracker.html and choosing Oregon II.  While you are there, don’t forget to check out the different types of maps available for tracking Oregon II.  Look in the upper left-hand corner (Streets, Topo, Imagery, NOAA Nautical Charts, and Weather).

Personal Log

Settling in and enjoying the ride

The first three days of the trip had us motoring through incredibly calm waters and sunny days.  Some of the veteran crew members commented that they had never seen the Gulf so calm.  As we traveled further from Pascagoula, the water started getting bluer and bluer.  It is hard to describe the deep blue that we sailed through and the camera just doesn’t seem to capture it.  As we left the waters around Pascagoula, we saw many large ships, possible oil tankers, and quite a few oil rigs.  However, once we passed them, we’ve barely seen another boat.  It is something to look out from the bow of the boat and see nothing but water in every direction.

A calm day in the Gulf of Mexico
A calm day in the Gulf of Mexico

As promised, the food on board is delicious. The cooks take great pride in the food they serve, and there are always choices at every meal.  We’ve had beef tenderloin, veal parmesan, omelets, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, pasta, Mexican, chocolate custard pie, cookies, pecan pie – all homemade!  The galley is also well-stocked with snacks.  Meals are served on a strict schedule – about an hour and a half for each meal.  However, if you know you will miss a meal, the cooks are happy to set some food aside for you, nicely wrapped in the refrigerator.  Luckily for me, I have the day shift, and if I miss a meal, it is normally breakfast.

Everyone on the ship has been very encouraging and helpful.  Some of the guys did a dive and brought me back some interesting shells to share with my students.  The other scientists have been incredibly patient and helpful.  Kim, the chief scientist, is a great teacher and is always looking for opportunities for me to learn something new, or practice something I just learned!

Did you know?

The starboard side of the ship is the right side, and the port side is the left side.  Starboard comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word, “steorbord” because the steering oar was on the right side of the boat.  Because of this, the ship would pull up to the dock, or port, on the left side. This would avoid damaging the steering oar.

Questions for my students:

What unit of measurement do you think we use to measure the small fish found in the Neuston and Bongo tows?

Can you think of any sea animals that use plankton as their main source of food?  It is okay to research this before you answer!

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

Sarah Boehm: Plankton, July 6, 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: July 6, 2013

Weather at 21:21
Air temperature: 27°C (81°F)
Barometer: 1016 mb
Humidity: 82 %
Wind speed: 5 knots
Water temp: 26°C
Latitude: 30.13° N
Longitude: 87.96°  W

Science and Technology Log

cleaning up
The daily ritual of cleaning up the wet lab

We are steaming our way to port now after 14 days at sea. We will pull in to Pascagoula, Mississippi tomorrow morning. Research has finished and our last task today was to clean up the wet lab. Even though we haven’t had fish in the wet lab in days, a slight fishy smell lingers there and on the stern deck where the nets are stored. My nose must be fairly used to it by this point though, because it was far more noticeable the first days on the boat. A few students asked if the boat was smelly – I think at this point my shoes are the smelliest things on board, despite my efforts to wash off the fish slime and salty crust.

We finished all our trawling stations a few days ago and switched to plankton stations. So instead of pulling up big fish, we used smaller nets to pull up the tiny organisms that float about on ocean currents. We sample with two types of nets: the Neuston net skims the surface of the water and the bongo nets have a weight that pulls them down into deep water.

Neuston Net
The Neuston net gathering plankton at the surface

bongo nets
The bongo nets being lowered into the water.

jar of plankton
This batch of plankton has a lot of tiny shrimp and a few little fish

A lot of plankton is microscopic algae and protists that are the base of the ocean food web. This study is more interested in ichthyoplankton – baby fish. Most fish and marine invertebrates actually start life as plankton, floating about until they are big and strong enough to swim against the current. We collect plankton in the nets, transfer them over to glass jars and preserve them in alcohol. Back in the lab scientists will use microscopes to identify and study the little guys.

plankton
Tiny planktonic critters

sargassum
Sargassum floating by

Sometimes the Neuston goes through sargassum, a free floating seaweed. The sargassum sometimes floats as small clumps, and sometimes vast mats cover the water. I watched a few pieces float by with fish seeking protection by carefully positioning themselves directly underneath the seaweed. The sargassum is great refuge for little critters and we have to pick through it carefully to pull out all the plankton, many of which are well camouflaged in the tangle of orange.

sargassum critters
Tiny fish living in the protection of floating sargassum. Notice how well they camouflage with the orange/brown of the sargassum.

Personal Log

The folks on board the Oregon II are knowledgeable, professional, and a whole lot of fun. I’d love to introduce you to everyone – but I’m out of time, so let’s go with the day watch science team.

Day watch
The science day watch team – Mara, Joey, Andre, Sarah, and Caitlin

Andre and the sting ray
Andre measures a sting ray.

Andre, our watch leader, is a biologist with the groundfish survey at the NOAA Pascagoula lab. He can identify and give the scientific names for an impressive amount of fish and invertebrates we pull up in the nets. Joey is also a biologist at the labs and while he works mainly with reef fish, he also knows a lot about everything from plankton to sharks. Andre and Joey are also good teachers who helped us learn those scientific names through lots of jokes and nicknames (Celine Dion, Tom Hanks, and Burt from Sesame Street each are now associated with a specific species of fish in my mind, and Mel Gibson is a lovely crab with purple legs).

Mara and Caitlin
Mara and Caitlin filling a jar with plankton

Also on our watch are two interns. Caitlin graduates at the end of the summer from University of Texas at Corpus Christi and is on the groundfish survey as part of her summer internship with the Center for Coastal Studies.  As part of her internship she dissected a few larger fish to examine their stomach contents, determining if that partially digested thing was a squid, crab, fish, etc.  The other member of our team is Mara Castro, from Puerto Rico where she is a graduate student at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan working on her Environmental Health Masters degree. She is doing an internship at the Pascagoula labs this summer and came out for this leg of the groundfish survey. Her favorite part of being on the boat is working with the fish, especially trying to identify them. She also loves the unusual fish we pull up, from transparent plankton to large shark suckers.

I have loved being out at sea for two weeks, but sometimes I felt a little trapped in such a small space. Then I would go up to the top deck, the flying bridge, and enjoy the view and the wind. It is a great place to watch the water and clouds and look for dolphins and birds. On a regular day on land I would move my body a lot more through normal activities like walking around the grocery store or climbing the stairs to the 3rd floor office at school. When I found myself with pent up energy I’d drag out the rowing machine or yoga mat that are stored up on the flying bridge to get some exercise. I have mixed feelings about reaching port tomorrow. I am ready to be on land again, but will miss all the people I have gotten to know and the beauty of the sea.

CDCPS Science Students

Where do you think the bongo nets got their name?

What does ” ichthyo” mean? Two words that use this root are ichthyoplankton and ichthyologist.

Christina Peters: Introduction, July 3, 2013

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

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico, leaving from Pascagoula, MS
Date: July 3, 2013

Welcome to my NOAA blog!

A little about my background…

Christine Peters
Christine Peters

I am Christina (Chris) Peters, from Farmland Elementary School in Rockville, Maryland. I have been a fourth grade teacher at Farmland for the past eight years, after trying out some other careers. While my past teaching has included all subjects, I am excited to get to focus more on science this coming year as my team will be departmentalizing and I will be teaching two classes of science. We spend half the school year learning about life sciences and the environment.

I grew up only a few miles from where I teach today, and was the third of ten children in my family. My father loved to fish and used to take us fishing, in turns of course, in his seventeen foot motor boat. Most often we fished in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of New Jersey, where my family frequently visited. We also fished in the Chesapeake Bay on occasion. One of my favorite summer meals was fresh bluefish. These experiences taught me to love the water, and to care about protecting that environment.

My father and I after a fishing trip. I was about ten, the same age as many of my students.
My father and I after a fishing trip. I was about ten, the same age as many of my students.

In addition to learning about and participating in the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey, I will be learning something else completely new to me – how to blog! While I consider myself pretty technologically informed, I am new to blogging and am very excited, and a little nervous, about writing my own blog describing my Teacher at Sea experience.

Our mission on Oregon II

I will be flying to Mississippi next week and will be joining the crew of Oregon II on July 10 to participate in the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey. To see pictures of the Oregon II, and to learn more about the ship, you can visit the website that describes details of the ship, as well as the different past and present projects for which Oregon II has been used. We will be departing from Pascagoula, Mississippi and measuring data on groundfish in the Gulf of Mexico. The Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP) is a state/federal program designed to collect, manage and disseminate fishery-independent data in the southeastern U.S. I am excited to learn more about how the scientists and crew actually complete the surveys and record data. One of my goals is to pass along what I learn to everyone who reads my blog.

Furthermore, while the Groundfish Survey is the mission of the scientists and crew onboard Oregon II, I will have an additional goal of learning all about the jobs of the crew, and sharing much of that information with the readers of my blog. Hopefully, when you read about these exciting and important careers, many of you will consider the possibility of pursuing one similar to those described.

To all my upcoming fourth grade students, I am looking forward to adapting the data collection tools I learn about to our science activities in the coming year. I hope my past students will visit my blog and think about connections they can make to our fourth grade science units where we created and observed our own model ecosystems.

See you at sea!

Kaitlin Baird: All Ashore Who Are Going Ashore, September 6, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s North East Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean steaming to south New Jersey coast
Date: September 6, 2012

Location Data:
Latitude: 41 ° 18.70’   N
Longitude: 71 ° 42.11’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 20.5°C (approx. 69°F)
Wind Speed: 4.97 kts
Wind Direction: from N
Surface Water Temperature: 22.2 °C (approx. 72°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log

The purpose of our mission aboard the Henry B. Bigelow is the 1st leg of groundfish surveys from Cape May all the way down to Cape Hatteras with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. The scientists aboard the ship are interested in both the size and  frequency of fish at different targeted geographic locations. We will be sampling using a trawl net at about 130 different stations along the way, some inshore and some offshore. We will be using a piece of technology called the Fisheries Scientific Computer System (FSCS). This system will allow us to accurately take baskets of different species of fish and code them for their lengths into a large database. This will give us a snapshot of fisheries stocks in the Northeast Atlantic by taking a subsample. The computer system also allows us to see if any other things need to be done with the fish once they are measured. Tasks like otolith (I’ll tell you about these later!) and gonad removal, fin clips or whole organisms sampling may also be done. The computer system will allow us to label each of these requests and assign it a code for scientists requesting samples from this cruise. Additionally, there are scales along with the system for recording necessary weights. We will be sorting fish first by species, and then running them all through the coded FSCS which you can see in the photo below.

Measuring board for fish
Board for magnetically measuring fish

We are currently on full steam to get our first tow in early tomorrow morning. You can track our ship using NOAA’s ship tracker system. Here we are positioned currently passing Block Island.

Ship Tracker with Current Location
NOAA Ship Tracker

Can’t wait to tell you more about the FSCS system when we start using it tomorrow!!

Personal Log

We have just pushed off the dock at 0900 and are headed South to start our first  trawl tomorrow morning. Everyone is getting used to the ship and some swells with a few storms in the Atlantic. I am really excited to get to see what comes up in our first tow. I have been assigned to the day watch which means that my shift runs from Noon-Midnight. The two other ladies that share our room will be on the night watch, so there will be a changing of the guard and some fresh legs and recorders.

Darcy and Caitlin
Darcy and Caitlin two other volunteers learning the ropes

All ready to go
Helly Hansen gear to keep us all dry.

I am looking forward to bringing you some cool fish photos soon! Hello to everyone back  in Bermuda! Stay safe..

Bye for now!!

Stacey Jambura: Not Your Average Fish Tail Tale July 16, 2012

Stacey Jambura
July 6 – 17, 2012
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Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
(You can view the NOAA ShipTracker here: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/shiptracker.html)
Date: July 16, 2012
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Weather Details from Bridge: (at 15:45 GMT)
Air Temperature: 28.8 ◦C
Water Temperature: 28.80 ◦C
Relative Humidity: 70 %
Wind Speed: 8.56 kts
Barometric Pressure: 1,017.68 mb

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Science and Technology Log

The Trawling Net

Trawling Net
Trawling Net

The trawling net is used to collect groundfish samples. It is deployed from the stern of the ship and towed for 30 minutes. The net is towed back in and brought onboard to be emptied. During this process it is important that everyone at the stern of the ship is wearing a hard hat and a personal flotation device in the unlikely event that something goes wrong. Once the net is lifted over the side of the ship and brought on deck, it is untied and emptied into large baskets.

Hauling the trawling net back onboard.
Hauling the trawling net back onboard.

The baskets are weighed before they are brought inside and emptied onto a large conveyor belt. The fish are spread out on the belt so they are easier to sort. The fish are sorted into individual baskets by species. Once all of the fish are sorted, we count them and find their total weight. We then work through each basket and measure, weigh, and identify the sex of each specimen. Once we are done measuring the fish, some are bagged, labeled and frozen for scientists to examine back at their labs. The rest of the fish are thrown back into the ocean.

Emptying the trawling net into baskets
Alex & Reggie emptying the net into baskets.

We found many different species of vertebrates and invertebrates (fish with a spine, and those without a spine). Here are some of the fish we found:

Vertebrates

Invertebrates

It is important to document the length and weight of each fish collected in a trawl. We used special measuring boards and scales to collect this data. There are two boards, each is connected to one computer. When we measure the fish, we use a magnetic wand. When it touches the board, it sends a signal to the computer which records the length of the fish. Fish are measure at one of three lengths: fork length, standard length, and total length. Once the fish are measured, they are placed on a scale to be weighed. The scale is also connected to the computer and records the weight of the fish.

Scale
Scale

Boards
Measuring Boards

Fork length is measured from the inside of the tail of the fish.
Fork length is measured from the inside of the tail of the fish.

Standard length is measure from the base of the tail of the fish.
Standard length is measure from the base of the tail of the fish.

Total length is measured from the tip of tail of the fish.
Total length is measured from the tip of tail of the fish.

Personal Log

Day 12 – July 16th

Today is my last day at sea before we dock in Pascagoula,Mississippi. It has been quite a journey and I can’t believe it is already over. Though the work was hard and hot (and many times smelly), it was an amazing experience and I hope to one day have the opportunity to experience it again! I have met many wonderful people and hope to keep in touch with them! I have learned so much about our oceans and the life within them. I hope that my blogs have given you a glimpse into what life onboard the Oregon II is like and I hope that you have learned something about the work that takes place on the open seas.

Map of our Survey
Map of our Survey

Although this is my last day on the Oregon II, keep an eye out for one final blog. There will be interviews with the crew of the Oregon II, what their job is, why they chose this line of work, the steps they took to become a crew member of the Oregon II, and words of advice for students everywhere!

Steven Wilkie: June 29, 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 29, 2011

Ship Data

Latitude 28.06
Longitude -96.43
Speed 8.40 kts
Course 89.00
Wind Speed 13.90 kts
Wind Dir. 71.56 º
Surf. Water Temp. 27.80 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 24.88 PSU
Air Temperature 29.30 ºC
Relative Humidity 76.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1013.73 mb
Water Depth 26.00 m

Science and Technology Log

A preserved plankton sample from one of the Oregon II's bongo nets.

So now that we have an understanding of abiotic factors, let’s talk biotic factors, and for the most part, those biotic factors are going to be fish and plankton.  The majority of our plankton (plankton are organisms–plants or animals–that are too small to fight against the current and thus drift along with it) samples come from the neuston and bongo nets.  After we have our bongo or neuston nets back on board, the science crew goes to work preserving the specimens.

Something common in the neuston net, is Sargassum a type of brown algae belonging to the Kingdom Protista and the Phlyum phaeophyta (kingdoms and phylums are associated with the science of taxonomy or classification).    If you are familiar with kelp, then you are familiar with brown algae.  Kelp is a long algae that fastens itself to the bottom of the seafloor with a root of sorts called a holdfast.  Sargassum, however, does not hold fast, but rather drifts out in the open ocean.  It can stay afloat because Sargassum has little tiny gas-filled floats called pneumatocysts.  These clumps of algae can provide much needed hiding places for small marine organisms out in the open ocean.  Because so many organism might live in, on or around the mats of Sargassum whenever we capture Sargassumin our nets we have to be sure to wash them down thoroughly in order to ensure that we get as many of the creatures off of the blades as possible.

Sargassum, a brown algae, provides important habitat for many marine organisms including juvenile fish. Clearly visible are the pneumatocysts, gas-filled floats, that help keep the algae at the surface of the ocean.

The currents of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic actually concentrate the Sargassum into a giant mass in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean, commonly referred to as the Sargasso Sea.  So significant is the Sargassum, that Christopher Columbus feared for the safe passage of his ships because of the thick mass of algae.

The adventures of Captain Nemo as penned by Jules Verne in the late 19th century even commented on the nature of this floating mass of algae:  “This second arm–it is rather a collar than an arm–surrounds with its circles of warm water that portion of the cold, quiet, immovable ocean called the Sargasso Sea, a perfect lake in the open Atlantic: it takes no less than three years for the great current to pass round it. Such was the region the Nautilus was now visiting, a perfect meadow, a close carpet of seaweed, fucus, and tropical berries, so thick and so compact that the stem of a vessel could hardly tear its way through it. And Captain Nemo, not wishing to entangle his screw in this herbaceous mass, kept some yards beneath the surface of the waves.  The name Sargasso comes from the Spanish word “sargazzo” which signifies kelp.”

As interesting and important as Sargassum is to the ocean environment, it is not our targeted organism, which is, for the most part fish!  Although not a fish, crustaceans are still an important fishery, and few are more significant than Panaeus aztecus (brown shrimp), Panaeus setiferus (white shrimp)  and Panaeus duorarum (pink shrimp).  Chances are if you are dining on shrimp cocktail you are eating one of these three species.

One of many (so many) brown shrimp to be measured. We measure from the length of the rostrum (the point part by their eyes) to the tip of their (tail).

Lutjanus campiechanus (or the red snapper) is another commercially important species that scientists are particularly interested in.  Species like the red snapper are of particular concern because, according to NOAA’s Fish Watch website, the population is currently at low levels prompting NOAA to establish temporary restrictions on fishing this species in past years.
It is the work of the crew aboard the Oregon II to collect the data that helps scientists predict population trends in species such as these which allows government regulations to be based on sound science.  Although sometimes unpopular with the local fishing industry the temporary ban on fishing for some species is aimed at providing a long-term sustainable population for future generations.

Prized by the fishing industry and restauranteurs, red snapper are a species of particular concern because of the pressures local fisheries have placed on the species.

 Although not a primary target of this fish survey,  cartilaginous fish (Class Chondricthyes…there’s that taxonomy again) like sharks, rays and skates are also organisms of particular concern.  Unlike the majority of the fish we bring on board, which are bony fish belonging to the Class Osteicthyes, the majority of cartilaginous fish reproduce internally.  This means that a female shark, ray or skate, might have much fewer offspring in a given year, but those offspring might be more mature once they are born.  Bony fish on the other hand often lay eggs externally by the thousands, but only a small percentage survive.
The watch leader of my watch, Brittany Palm, realizes the significance of the reproductive habits of these organisms (follow this link to review Brittany and her fellow authors extensive work)  and has used much of her expertise gained through NOAA cruises like this one to publish scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals.
If you recall, one of the steps of the “scientific method” is to share your results, and there is no better way than to publish your findings in journals for other scientists to read.  Although writing a paper may sound simple, this is not your average high school term paper–there is considerably more effort required.  Brittany and her fellow authors labored for close to four years to finally draft and submit the paper for publishing.

An example of a cartilaginous fish, the Atlantic angelshark (Squatina dumeril) was brought on board as part of one of our trawls.

Although we may not write anything as extensive at the high school level, good sound scientific investigations will always end up with you sharing your results, and as a result, well-researched background information is always essential.  To all my past and future students out there, feel free to take note of the reference section of the paper and remember how important references and good research is in backing up your work!
 
Personal Log
It has not taken long to get into the rhythm of things aboard ship.  Although I thought that the waves might lead to a little sea sickness, I now find them quite soothing, and am curious as to how I might feel once back on shore as I struggle to get my land legs back.  Sleeping with the waves is a slightly different story. At times they can lull you off to sleep (or it might simply be the twelve hours of sorting, measuring and weighing the catch that does that); other times they can roll you right into your bunk wall and snap you awake.  My bunk is on the top, so the wall is better than the floor I suppose!
Although the waves have been soothing up to this point, we are possibly facing some inclement weather as the first tropical storm of the season, Arlene, is to our southwest heading towards the Mexican coast.  If the weather picks up too much we  may have to head in shore to work up some of the shallower stations while the Gulf settles back down.  Either way we will be kept busy, measuring fish or measuring the waves!

Tropical Storm Arlene, the first tropical storm of the Atlantic season is headed for the Mexico coast in the next few days.

Jeff Lawrence, June 19, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Lawrence
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
June 8-19, 2009 

Mission: Sea scallop survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: June 19, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge In port at Woods Hole, Mass. 
W winds 5-10 KTs, cloudy overcast skies Light rain, 2-3 foot waves Air Temp. 66˚F

Jakub Kircun watches as a beautiful sunset unfolds.
Jakub Kircun watches as a beautiful sunset unfolds.

Science and Technology Log 

The Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp finally made it into port this morning at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Woods Hole on the Cape Cod coast of Massachusetts.  Although this cruise was not terribly long it is great to be back on land.  Scallop surveying is tedious work that is ongoing on a research vessel 24/7. The people onboard were great to work with and it is always a pleasure to get to know other people, especially those who share a passion for ocean research and science. Few people realize the great effort and sacrifices that people in the oceanography field have to give up to go out to sea to complete research that will help give a better understanding to three-fourths of the planet’s surface.  They must leave home and loved ones for many days to get the science needed for a more complete understanding of the Earth’s oceans.

lawrence_log6The noon to midnight shift includes myself, the Chief Scientist onboard, Stacy Rowe, watch chief Jakub Kircum, Shad Mahlum, Francine Stroman, and Joe Gatuzzi.  We are responsible for sorting each station on our watch, measuring and weighing the samples into the computer.  These people are very good at what they do and quite dedicated to performing the task with professionalism, courtesy, and a great deal of enthusiasm.  It is clear to see that each person has a passion for ocean sciences especially the fisheries division. The NOAA fisheries division carefully surveys and provides data to those that make regulations about which places will be left open for commercial fishing and those which will be closed until the population is adequate to handle the pressures of the commercial fishing industry. I have observed many different species of marine animals, some of which I did not even know ever existed.  Below is a photo of me and the other TAS Duane Sanders putting on our survival at sea suits in case of emergency.  These suits are designed to keep someone afloat and alive in cold water and are required on all boats where colder waters exist.

The Goosefish, also called Monkfish, is a ferocious predator below the surface and above!
The Goosefish, also called Monkfish, is a ferocious predator below the surface and above!

Personal Log 

The fish with a bad attitude award has to go to the goosefish. This ferocious predator lies in wait at the bottom of the ocean floor for prey. On the topside of its mouth is an antenna that dangles an alluring catch for small fish and other ocean critters.  When the prey gets close enough the goosefish emerges from its muddy camouflage and devours its prey. I made the error of mistaking it for a skate that was in a bucket. I was not paying close enough attention as I grabbed what I thought was the skate from a bucket, the goosefish quickly bit down. Blood oozed out of my thumb as the teeth penetrated clean through a pair of rubber gloves. I pay closer attention when sticking my hand in buckets now.  There are many creatures in the sea that are harmless, but one should take heed to all the creatures that can inflict bodily damage to humans. 

Spiny Dogfish caught in the dredge
Spiny Dogfish caught in the dredge

Questions of the Day 
Name four species you my find at the bottom on the Atlantic:
What is another common name for the goosefish?
What is the species name (Scientific name) for the goosefish?
What are the scientific names for starfish and scallops?

Jeff Lawrence, June 14, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Lawrence
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
June 8-19, 2009 

Mission: Sea scallop survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: June 14, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
East winds 3 KTs
1015mb pressure
Seas 2-4ft
Partly cloudy early, clearing sunny skies late afternoon

Science and Technology Log 

The bridge of a ship is a very busy place where all activities that are occurring on the ship being managed from this location.  When any equipment is going overboard it is the responsibility of the captain or first mate to ensure that it is done safely and correctly.  The ship must follow a predetermined route for each stations sampling and be kept on tract by precise navigating from the bridge. Whenever anything goes overboard the bridge has to be notified, it is important for the bridge to know everything that is in the water to avoid the boat from being fouled up by miscellaneous line in the water.  This could be dangerous and costly for the ship and crew.

Left: The bridge of the ship; Right: Crewmembers on the bridge discussing the cruise operational procedures
Left: The bridge of the ship; Right: Crewmembers on the bridge discussing the cruise operational procedures

Captain Bill Byam has been very helpful to me and my fellow teacher at sea making sure we have the availability of the crew and ship to write our journal entries and then submit them online to NOAA. The ship’s crew is also responsible for deployments and retrieving of all instruments put overboard the ship. Along with the dredge and occasional CTD is deployed to get a profile of the water column and collect water samples at varying depths.  The water samples can be used for a variety of things, such as water filtering to see what microscopic critters may be present, chemical analysis, as well as conductivity or salinity of the water.  The CTD is standard instruments used on most science research vessels.  The crew on the Sharp are very proficient, professional, and hard working as they also help with assisting the scientist with some of the work on deck.

Personal Log 

Shad and Stacy repair the net on one of the dredges
Shad and Stacy repair the net on one of the dredges

The cruise has gone very smoothly with lots of scientific data have been collected for future analysis. I have worked closely on the deck with members of the noon to midnight shift for almost two weeks.  In that time we have collected many samples of scallops, crabs, starfish, sand dollars, sea urchins, many varieties of fish, and even occasional pieces of trash left from man’s misuse of the ocean.  I hope to be able to take the knowledge gleaned from this experience and the scientist onboard the ship and give my students back in Oklahoma a better understanding of our oceans and how their health impacts everyone around world even those in land-locked Oklahoma.  It has been my goal to better inform my 5th-8th grade students, my college students who are training to become teachers, and the general lay member how all of us impact the health of the oceans and how important the oceans are to us all in maintaining a homeostatic balance with the Earth’s biosphere and atmosphere.   We all have much to gain with a healthy ocean system and much more to lose if we are not adequate in our stewardship of our oceans.

I would like to give a special thanks to Chief Scientist Stacy Rowe for allowing me to participate in all aspects of the cruise and collecting samples.  The team I am with are very cordial and extremely helpful in answering all my questions.  They made me feel a part of the team and not an outsider. It was great to work with a group of people who are so dedicated.  When one team member finished a task they simply moved to help another team member until the whole catch was sorted, measured, and weighed.  It is good to work with people who are equally vested in their work. No one person stood and watched as others worked, each did an equal share of the work and made sure the task was completed in a timely and organized fashion.  This made the long hours of the shift seem shorter and the days went by much quicker.  It is always good to be a part of a good team.  Thanks to the crew aboard the Sharp, and the scientist that made this trip a profitable one, not only for me but also for my students back in Oklahoma.  Thank you Bill Byam, captain aboard the Sharp and all of his dedicated crew.  The ship’s crew, were hospitable host and I really enjoyed meeting you all.  Thanks to NOAA for allowing a previous teacher at sea another opportunity to learn more about the oceans and have another lifetime memory to share with others. 

Questions of the Day 
What instrument does a ship use today to navigate in precise lines? (hint cars use it also to find their way around town)

Who is Hugh R. Sharp? (ship is named after him)

Jeff Lawrence, June 13, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Lawrence
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
June 8-19, 2009 

Mission: Sea scallop survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: June 13, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
East winds 3 KTs
Temperature: 13˚C
Seas 3-4ft
1015 mb of pressure

Magnetic measuring board
Magnetic measuring board

Science and Technology Log 

There is a lot of sophisticated equipment aboard a science research vessel of today. Shad who is one of the scientists aboard the ship explained to me how they used to do scallop surveys on older ships just a few years ago. Then they would catch scallops using the dredge net that was then hauled onboard and dumped on the deck.  The scientist would then get on their hands and knees and sort through the pile for scallops or whatever they were looking for. The pile would have to be scoured twice to ensure everything was accounted for. There was a lot of shoveling and moving of the pile as things were being sorted. The work was long, dirty, and backbreaking.

Today the Sharp has a sorting table onboard which makes the job much easier and gives the ship and crew the availability of adding more stations to the survey and getting much more work done than in past seasons. Below is a photo of a magnetic measuring board.  The scallop or fish are placed on the board and a magnetic wand is put at the end of the sample where an accurate measurement is made and placed into the computer showing the size of the sample.  This process is much faster than measuring and recording by hand.  They are also weighed in large baskets to determine average weight of the catch.

Personal Log 

Scallops opening in the warm sun!
Scallops opening in the warm sun!

Some days have been very long at times yet fruitful.  A week has passed and we have collected thousands of scallops, hundreds of thousands of starfish, and many other species of bottom dwelling fishes and animals.  I have observed many varieties and species of animals that I have never seen before except on TV or in a textbook.  This hands-on experience will leave an indelible picture in my mind for many years of what research life is like onboard a research vessel. There are many dedicated scientist and crewmembers in NOAA fisheries that are insuring the viability of certain species so that commercial fishing does not over fish areas of our oceans.

These scientists do valuable research in the labs around the United States but also go out on research vessels and get their hands dirty, work extremely hard, and commit a large part of the personal lives to preservation of species in our oceans so that future generations can enjoy the wide diversity that our oceans provide for us today.  NOAA has scientist working all around the oceans of the United States as well as other parts of the world to give science a better understanding of the vital role each species has in its environment and how that species overpopulation or disappearance could impact the immediate area, larger habitat of the ocean, and the world as a whole. I feel more at ease knowing that there are dedicated people in the world ensuring not only the interest of humans but are also advocating for all species.  The diversity on earth is better understood every year giving scientist and the general public a better understanding of each species role on the world stage of life.

Question of the Day 
What does the term Keystone species mean?

Jeff Lawrence, June 11, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Lawrence
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
June 8-19, 2009 

Mission: Sea scallop survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: June 11, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
NE winds 15-20KT
Seas 4-8ft, cold front moving off land
Temperature at Sea 68˚F
Foggy with low visibility, light rain periodically

Science and Technology Log 

The crew is busy collecting scallops.  Occasionally between tows, the crew shuck scallops to eat onboard, this is allowable in open areas.  A meal of freshly shucked scallops will be enjoyed by those onboard the ship.  Shucking scallops is a skill that can be learned over several days.  A long curved skinny knife is inserted between the shells and part of the scallop is cut away from the shell.  With a little skill one more quick cut of the knife and all the inside parts of the scallop are whisked away leaving behind a cylinder shaped piece of white meat that is the part of the scallop enjoyed by people around the world.

TAS Duane Sanders (left) is busy sorting scallops while others shuck the scallops (right).
TAS Duane Sanders (left) is busy sorting scallops while others shuck the scallops (right).

Some dredges produced scallops exclusively, while others produce very few scallops and lots of starfishes or sand dollars.  Scientists are trying to understand the dynamics between the starfish and scallop populations as well as other species.  Getting rid or over fishing one species can have a profound effect on other species especially if that species is considered a keystone species in that particular environment.

The R/V Hugh R. Sharp (Lewes, Delaware)
The R/V Hugh R. Sharp (Lewes, Delaware)

Personal Log 

The Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp is one of the newer ships in the fleet of research vessels along the Atlantic coast. The ship is 146 feet long with state of the art equipment onboard to help it complete missions vital to ocean research.  It cost about $14,000 dollars a day to keep the ship doing research while at sea. The ship is very versatile and has completed a varied amount of differing research cruises along the east coast of the United States.  I am amazed at how quiet the ship is when running. I have been on two other research vessels, and they were much louder when underway.  The Sharp has diesel engines that run electric motors making it run much quieter and smoother than other research ships. The ship will also turn on a dime usually it takes quite of bit of time and space to turn a ship around. This is not true on the Sharp it will turn very quickly due the bow thrusters onboard the ship. The ship may be smaller than many research vessels, however it is versatile and efficient when conducting research along the Atlantic coast.

The crew which are captained by Bill Byam are well trained and prepared for the task required of them to make sure the science is completed in a timely manner and efficiently for the scientist aboard. I have found working with the crew to be an enjoyable experience.  The food onboard is superb, Paul is a great cook and prepares unique dishes for every meal and is also an avid fellow soccer fan.

Question of the Day 
What and how do scallops eat to survive?

Name two predators of scallops. 

Jeff Lawrence, June 9, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Lawrence
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
June 8-19, 2009 

Mission: Sea scallop survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: June 9, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
S winds 5-10KT
Seas 1-2ft
Barometric pressure 1029mb
Air Temperature 78˚F
Visibility clear
Cold front moving offshore towards us later today, rain expected.

The contents of the dredge are emptied onto the sorting table.
The contents of the dredge are emptied onto the sorting table.

Science and Technology Log 

The sorting table is full of activity as soon as the dredge is pulled aboard the ship. After the crew secure all lines and dump the load the volunteers and scientist begin to sort through the biological that has been brought up from the bottom or the Atlantic Ocean.  Each dredge can bring a varied amount of sea life on the ship.  We are always looking for scallop, yet every third dredge we also sort for crabs. All fish are also sorted and counted.

After all the sorting is done the fish, scallops, and crabs are weighed and measured for length. They are then logged into the onboard computer for analysis of results for each catch.  We are trawling along closed areas for scallops. These areas have been closed for commercial fishing to ensure that the population has time to recover in that area. Scallop surveys are carried out by the R/V Hugh R. Sharp, in three phases during the summer.  Duane and I are on the second leg, which encompasses the area to the east of Delaware, areas around Long Island, and the area around Martha’s Vineyard south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Personal Log 

You may find some interesting creatures during sorting.
You may find some interesting creatures during sorting.

The work aboard the ship can be very long and laborious. The days are long, as each member of the cruise will do a 12-hour shift.  My shift is from noon to midnight.  The conditions can vary greatly during a shift. During the day the sun may be out with light winds and it gets very warm with all the wet weather gear that is worn during sorting. It is necessary to leave the gear on between dredges, since they occur so often. As soon as the sun goes down the temperatures can drop very rapidly.  It is important to keep a hooded sweatshirt and other warm weather gear nearby for the changing conditions.  All gear must be taken with you when you leave your cabin so that the other shift can sleep uninterrupted.  The days are long, with the goal of all who are onboard to get the science completed in a timely fashion.  Keeping a ship stored with goods and running is very expensive so the goal is to get as much science completed in the allotted time as possible.

Question of the Day 
What other bottom dwelling species in the Atlantic are under protection from over-fishing?

Animals Seen Today 
Scallops, eels, crabs, starfish, clams, silver dollars, urchins, goose fish, and many varieties of bottom dwelling fish.

Katie Turner, July 18, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Katie Turner
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman
July 10 – 31, 2008

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: July 18, 2008

The ship
The ship

Science and Technology Log 

Where is the Bering Sea?
Where is the Bering Sea?

The Vessel 

NOAA Ship MILLER FREEMAN is a 215 foot fishery and oceanographic research vessel, and one of the largest research trawlers in the United States.  She carries up to 34 officers and crew members and 11 scientists.  The ship is designed to work in extreme environmental conditions, and is considered the hardest working ship in the fleet.

She was launched in 1967 and her home port is Seattle, Washington. MILLER FREEMAN has traditionally been used to survey walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) in the Bering Sea.  These surveys are used to determine catch limits for commercial fisherman.  In 2003 NOAA acquired a new fisheries research vessel, the NOAA Ship OSCAR DYSON. OSCAR DYSON is to eventually take over MILLER FREEMAN’s research in Alaskan working grounds, allowing MILLER FREEMAN to shift her focus to the west coast. OSCAR DYSON was built under a new set of standards set by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which reduces the amount of noise generated into the water below, while MILLER FREEMAN is a more conventionally-built vessel which does not meet the ICES standards.  The assumption is that marine organisms, including pollock, may avoid large ships because of the noise they make, thus altering population estimates.  It is therefore important for scientists to know the difference between population estimates of the two ships. This is done through vessel comparison experiments, in which the two ships sample fish populations side by side and compare their data.  The primary purpose of this July 2008 cruise is to complete a final comparison study of the two ships and measure the difference in the pollock population data they collect.  

Image of the eruption of Okmok, taken Sunday, July 13, 2008, by flight attendant Kelly Reeves during Alaska Airlines flights 160 and 161.
Image of the eruption of Okmok, taken Sunday, July 13, 2008,
by flight attendant Kelly Reeves during Alaska Airlines
flights 160 and 161.

The Location 

The Bering Sea covers an area of 2.6 million square kilometers, about the size of the United States west of the Mississippi.  The maximum distance north to south is about 1,500 kilometers (900 miles), and east to west is about 2,000 kilometers (1,500 miles).  The International Date Line splits the sea in two, with one half in today and the other in tomorrow. The area is also bisected by a border separating the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of Russia and the United States. The EEZ is the area within a 200 mile limit from a nation’s shoreline; where that nation has control over the resources, economic activity, and environmental protection. More than 50% of the U.S. and Russian fish catch comes from the Bering Sea. It is one of the most productive ecosystems in the world.  The broad continental shelf, extensive ice cover during the winter, and the convergence of nutrient-rich currents all contribute to its high productivity. It is a seasonal or year round home to some of the largest populations of marine mammals, fish, birds, and invertebrates found in any of the world’s oceans.  Commercial harvests of seafood include pollock, other groundfish, salmon and crab.  The Bering Sea has provided subsistence resources such as food and clothing to coastal communities for centuries.

Aleutian Island volcaneos
Aleutian Island volcaneos

Repairs and Delays 

Anchorage high school teacher, Katie Turner, arrives at the pier in Dutch Harbor, Alaska
Anchorage high school teacher, Katie Turner,
arrives at the pier in Dutch Harbor, Alaska

While all aboard were anxious to begin this Bering Sea Cruise, the ship could not sail until crucial repairs could be made.  During the previous cruise a leak was discovered in the engine cooling system that brought the ship in from that cruise early.  The location of the leak was the big mystery.  After days of testing and a hull inspection by divers the leak was located.  It was in a section of pipe that runs hot water from the engine through the ship’s ballast tanks and into a keel cooler on the outside of the ship’s hull, where it is cooled before circulating back to the engine. This turned out to be a very labor intensive job and workers spent days draining and cleaning the tanks before the leak could be repaired.

In the meantime, a repair to one of the engine’s cylinders required a part that had to be shipped from Seattle via Anchorage (about 800 miles northeast of Dutch Harbor). To complicate the arrival of this part, a nearby volcano erupted, spewing ash 50,000 feet into the path of flights to and from Dutch Harbor.   Alaska has many active volcanoes. The Aleutian Island arc, which forms the southern margin of the Bering sea, comprises one of the most active parts of the Pacific’s “ring of fire”. This tectonically active area has formed due to the subduction of the Pacific plate beneath the North American plate. So far we do not have a definite departure schedule.  Each day spent at the dock is one day less for the scientific team to complete the goals of the cruise.  Meanwhile, OSCAR DYSON is completing its survey in the Bering Sea, and anticipates the arrival of MILLER FREEMAN to complete the comparison study.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Katie Turner, gets a tour of the bridge and quick navigation lesson from Ensign Otto Brown
NOAA TAS, Katie Turner, gets a tour of the bridge and quick navigation lesson from Ensign Otto Brown

Personal Log 

I arrived in Dutch Harbor on July 9th with a forewarning that repairs to the ship would be necessary before heading out to the Bering Sea, and that I would have some time to explore the area. I have managed to keep busy and take advantage of opportunities to interview the crew, hike, and find my way around town. The weather in Dutch Harbor has been exceptional with many sunny days. It’s uncommon for a NOAA research ship to spend so much time at the dock, and we attracted the attention of a newsperson from the local public radio station. Commanding Officer Mike Hopkins and Chief Scientist Patrick Ressler were interviewed by KIAL newsperson Anne Hillman while MILLER FREEMAN was delayed for repairs in Dutch Harbor. Unalaska Island has few trees and along with other islands on the Aleutian chain is known for its cool and windy weather. There are no large mammals such as bear on the islands but small mammals, such as this marmot, are common along with many species of birds and a wide variety of wildflowers, which are in bloom this time of year.

Chief Scientist Patrick Ressler explains how he uses acoustic equipment to study pollock in the Bering Sea.
Chief Scientist Patrick Ressler explains how he uses acoustic equipment to study pollock in the Bering Sea.

A marmot spotted on a ridge alongside the road up Mt. Ballyhoo on Amaknak Island
A marmot spotted on a ridge alongside the road up Mt. Ballyhoo on Amaknak Island

A Bald Eagle guards the crab pots stored near the pier
A Bald Eagle guards the crab pots stored near the pier

The view from Mt. Ballyhoo on Amaknak Island. Lupine, a common plant found on the island, is in bloom in the foreground
The view from Mt. Ballyhoo on Amaknak Island. Lupine, a common plant found on the island, is in bloom in
the foreground

Black Oystercatchers take flight over the harbor
Black Oystercatchers take flight over the harbor

Learn more about the Bering Sea ecosystem at these Web sites: 

http://www.avo.alaska.edu/volcanoes/aleutians.php http://www.worldwildlife.org/what/wherewework/beringsea/index.html http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/alaska/preserves/art19556.html http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/where_we_work/europe/what_we_do/arctic/what_we_do/marine/bering/index.cfm

Susan Just, June 26, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Just
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 15 – 30, 2006

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 26, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 144 ◦
Wind speed: 2.5
Sea wave height: 0-1
Swell wave height: 1
Seawater temperature: 28.0
Sea level pressure: 1013.2
Cloud cover: 3/8 Altostratus

Science and Technology Log 

Today we had stormy weather around us during the night.  This caused the moon, if any, and the stars to be obscured and increased the intensity of darkness both above and below the surface. This may have been a factor which contributed to the amazing catch we made shortly after sunrise.

When the net was pulled in, it was obvious that it was very full.  As it was lifted out of the water, it became clear that it contained many small fish, mostly Croker, approximately 4-5 inches in length. The unloaded catch was too much to be held in the fish box on deck.  When they came along the conveyor belt, there were no snapper to be seen and very few shrimp.  It appeared as if we had captured an entire school of fish.  The final catch weight was 985 Kilos. Out of this, there were approximately four gallons of shrimp, all varieties included.

Interview

Alonzo Hamilton:  Watch Leader for the Midnight to Noon scientific watch on the OREGON II summer fisheries survey of the Gulf of Mexico.

What is the title of your position?
Research Fishery Biologist

Were you a good student in school?
Average

In what school year did you make up your mind to become serious?
Community College

Did you go to College?
Yes.

What kind?
Two years at Community College then a BS in Biology at Jackson State University, Jackson Mississippi

Do you have any scientific degrees?
Masters Degree in Marine Environmental Science

Why do you enjoy about this work?
I like everything about it. I like the freedom of being out in the field and then I like the finished product that comes from what we do, in terms of data analysis.

What percentage of your work year is spent at sea?
125 days per year

When you are ashore, what kind of work do you do?
I’m analyzing data, editing data and being the Safety Officer at the laboratory. It’s a desk job

Is your family comfortable with this lifestyle?
They’re more comfortable with it than I thought they would be. Do they like when I’m away, no. But they also don’t like the disruption that I cause when I’m at home. So it’s a trade-off. I think they’ve adjusted to the lifestyle itself. They know that when I’m home I’m there and they know that when I’m away, I’m at work and they accept that.

If you could be anything you want, what would you be?
A fishery biologist.

What advice would you give to young people who are interested in this career path?
Do it because you enjoy it. Don’t do it for any other reason. Regardless of what you are doing, do it because you enjoy it.

Personal Log 

Today I worked at the beginning of the line instead of the end.  All this time I have been primarily looking for shrimp and the select species which, on this cruise, is mainly red snapper. However, when I dug into the sample rather than the full catch, I had a great time.  There were lots of terrific looking crabs that I’ve never seen.  There were some interesting fish. I was surprised that I am actually able to decipher the differences between the species.

Question of the Day 

Why are the conductivity, temperature and depth measurements important?

Answer: These pieces of data are used to compute salinity.

Susan Just, June 25, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Just
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 15 – 30, 2006

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 25, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 205 ◦
Wind speed: 10
Sea wave height: 1
Swell wave height: 1
Seawater temperature: 27.8
Sea level pressure: 1015.0
Cloud cover: 3/8 Cumulus

Science and Technology Log 

At this point in the survey, the stations are not far apart but they are up, down, in and out.   We are actually steaming back to one of the day stations in order to do the same area as a night station.  All of this activity is taking place in the general vicinity of Corpus Christi.  This area receives a great deal of fishing pressure year around, both commercially and recreationally.

Our last night catch pulled in a beautiful collection of shrimp.  The total for the catch was about 25 Kilos and we ended up with more than 18 Kilos of shrimp.  When you account for the trash that was included, that left a very small volume of fish other than the shrimp.  When the net came up and spilled out into the baskets it was a lovely golden color.

Question of the Day 

What do the letters CTD stand for?

Answer: Conductivity, temperature and depth.

Susan Just, June 24, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Just
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 15 – 30, 2006

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 24, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 153 ◦
Wind speed: 09
Sea wave height: 1-2
Swell wave height: 2
Seawater temperature: 27.6
Sea level pressure: 1014.8
Cloud cover: 4/8 Cumulus

Science and Technology Log 

This morning when we came on watch we were informed of a new procedure.  We will now be keeping one specimen or each type caught along with one species of skate. These will be placed together in a plastic bag and returned to the lab for further study. There is a relationship study being conducted between the species.

A Hemingway fish was waiting for us this morning too.  It is red all over and has big poofy cheeks. It is interesting to look at and this one was about thirteen (13) inches long.  The catches today were much smaller than the previous night.  By morning we were not catching many shrimp at all.

Personal Log 

I had a much better time today.  It was possible to get all the work done without rushing and we were also able to keep the baskets and the lab relatively clean. When the mud gets thick, the place takes on a bad smell that becomes oppressive.  It is important to maintain a constant vigilance on the fish odor to keep the bacterial buildup under control.

Question of the Day 

During what part of any twenty-four hour period can you expect to catch the most shrimp?

Answer: The dark time.  The shrimp hide in the mud during the day and come out to feed in the dark when the predators are not able to see them as easily.

Susan Just, June 23, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Just
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 15 – 30, 2006

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 23, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 300 ◦
Wind speed: 11
Sea wave height: 1-2
Swell wave height: 2-3
Seawater temperature: 27.2
Sea level pressure: 1016.3
Cloud cover: 3/8 Cumulus

Science and Technology Log 

This was a day when we were never able to catch up with the fish.  There were constantly fish on the deck waiting to be sorted. The trawls were frequent and close together.  Throughout the night and into the morning, the catch was mostly shrimp.  We had a wide assortment of shrimp.  All the commercial varieties—brown, white and pink—were well represented, as well as the several types of non-desirable species.

Personal Log 

Today was the day I “hit the wall.” I worked myself as hard as I could throughout the shift.  The only time that I relaxed at all was when I was watching the dolphin that had followed the net and that was attracting the attention of Brittany.  Otherwise, I was working as fast as my brain and body would allow.

Question of the Day 

What kind of shrimp do they use to make “popcorn shrimp?”

Answer: Trachypeneus similes! I know that’s a “trachy” question. Trachypeneus shrimp are not considered “commercially viable” at this time. Previously, brown shrimp were not considered to be marketable. As the demand for a product increases, so does its marketability.

Susan Just, June 21, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Just
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 15 – 30, 2006

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 21, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 105 ◦
Wind speed: 10
Sea wave height: 1-2
Swell wave height: 2-3
Seawater temperature: 27.7
Sea level pressure: 1012.8
Cloud cover: 2/8 Cumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Things started out fairly normal this morning.  There were fish waiting on the deck when our watch began. We then steamed to a new location. This station went as planned. On the next station the trawl went out and things were going well. We were processing fish when we smelled something strange. We concluded that there was something burning and we went out onto the deck.

Yes, something was burning. It was a clutch. This was an engine part, not an actual fire. There was no need for a fire alarm to sound. The problem was recognized. Although we are now short one Power Transfer Output (this is what takes engine power and uses it for winches and other power tools) we can continue our mission.

Personal Log 

The engine problem was really no big deal. It was much like burning up a clutch in a car. The smell is pretty awful and there is a little smoke but no fire. The smoke comes from the rubbing together of the surfaces under pressure. It was great to see the various ship’s personnel work together so smoothly and quickly to discover and correct any problems.

After going off watch and showering, I made a mistake. I did not remember that we have weekly drills. So, there I was, fresh out of the shower standing in the middle of the room when the alarm sounded and my roommate came running in to gather survival gear and personal flotation devices. I jumped into the nearest clothing, my pajamas, and joined in the drills.

Question of the Day 

As part of the Commerce Department, what is the goal of NOAA science research?

Answer: To collect information which can be used to answer the scientific and policy questions which impact our shared environment.

Susan Just, June 20, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Just
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 15 – 30, 2006

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 20, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 8-10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 023 ◦
Wind speed: 11.6
Sea wave height: 1-2
Swell wave height: 2-3
Seawater temperature: 27.8
Sea level pressure: 1012.5
Cloud cover: 3/8 Cumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Most of this watch will be spent steaming to the first southern station. Our ETA (estimated time of arrival) is 8:00 am.  We are planning to do a full station meaning CTD, Neuston, and a Trawl. It is midnight now and I am hoping to get an interview with our Chief Scientist prior to beginning the station.

The first Bongo is scheduled for noon. Dan Carlson, a graduate student at Florida State University, is aboard researching his master’s thesis. He is utilizing the water samples from the Bongo to learn more about the development and origination of red tides which bloom in the Gulf of Mexico.

I have just been put “in charge” of the Neuston for this station. That means I am responsible for seeing that the net is dragged for ten minutes, that the organisms which are gathered are washed down into the cod end and that the sample is then gathered are delivered to the plankton transfer table.

Personal Log 

The Chief Scientist has been actively engaged with data collection and correction activities. I understand that a server has failed and that all time/date information must be hand entered into all data sheets. This is time consuming but very necessary for the sake of accuracy.

Question of the Day 

What is red tide?

Answer: It is an organism, named Karenia Brevis, which produces a neurotoxin which, in turn, is toxic to virtually all sea life.

Susan Just, June 17, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Just
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 15 – 30, 2006

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 17, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 8-10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 356◦
Wind speed: 11.1
Sea wave height: 0-1
Swell wave height:1-2
Seawater temperature: 28.2
Sea level pressure: 1016.7
Cloud cover: 5/8 Cumulus, Altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

This watch began, again, with fish waiting on the deck. We processed that catch just as we had all the others. While we were processing, another catch of fish were being collected. A CTD was also performed. When the fish catch has been processed, it is necessary to return the processed organisms to the sea. There is a shoot in the wetlab designed for this purpose. The shoot has not been working properly so far on this cruise. During our watch it backed up completely. Water was rising up through the drain in the floor. Clearing the blockage took several hours.

The catch was sitting on the deck and we had no reason to believe that we would get the shoot clear any time soon. The Watch Leader elected to process the catch “dry” so we separated and identified the species without the benefit of water to clean the organisms. Following this catch, the shoot was cleared and the lab was cleaned. We are now making our way south to assess the Texas Gulf Coast shrimp prior to the beginning of their season..

Personal Log 

What a mess! Each organism had to be dipped into water just so that we could be sure it was identified properly. We found hundreds of little shrimp that are not even harvested for food purposes.

Question of the Day 

Where do the shrimp live?  Answer: In the mud on the bottom of the sea.

Susan Just, June 16, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Just
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 15 – 30, 2006

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 16, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: nautical miles  8-10 (nm)
Wind direction: 205.5 ◦
Wind speed: 11.3
Sea wave height: 0-1
Sea swell height: 1-2
Seawater temperature: 28.7
Sea level pressure: 1016.6
Cloud cover: 5/8 Altostratus and cirus

Science and Technology Log 

Tonight we began with a Neuston. Now I know that a Neuston is a rectangular frame to which has been attached a “sock” style net with a round portion at the bottom known as the “cod end.” The Neuston drags at the surface and catches sargassum (sea weed) and also plankton. Why? I’ll need to find out.

Next we pulled in the Bongos. These are round shaped “sock” nets with cod ends. In the cod ends, plankton and other sea life are collected from either the bottom or a maximum depth of 200 feet. The “catch” from both the Neustons and the Bongos are placed into jars with formaldehyde as a preservative. Forty-eight (48) hours later they are transferred to alcohol. They are then shipped out for processing.

The CTD was performed to capture water samples and hydrological data. All of the information is assembled and accompanies the samples to the lab for processing. Finally, we weighed and sorted the catch. Each species is identified by its scientific nomenclature which means we hear a great deal of latin in the wet lab.

Personal Log 

OK, I’m not quite as confused now. I had a great night’s sleep. I am beginning to learn some of the scientific names and I have gotten my fingers onto the computers that record the data regarding the organisms we classify. I’ve started having intelligent conversations with people and I am beginning to make sense of the activities aboard the ship.

Question of the Day 

What is the purpose of collecting the organisms in the Neuston and the Bongos? Answer: Plankton data is part of a long-term study regarding trends in fish populations.

Susan Just, June 15, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Just
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 15 – 30, 2006

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 15, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 8-10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 147◦
Wind speed: 0.1
Sea wave height: 0
Swell wave height: 1
Seawater temperature: 28.6◦
Sea level pressure: 1015.9
Cloud cover: Light Haze

Science and Technology Log 

Our watch began at midnight.  When we arrived in the lab there were fish awaiting processing. All commercial quality shrimp were separated from the catch and a representative sample of the whole was reserved for sorting. The sort included many species which were identified, counted, and weighed.  Individual members of each species were measured and counted, up to twenty (20) per species.  Finally, Two hundred (200) brown shrimp were counted out, separated according to sex and then measured and weighed, individually. Bongo, Neuston and CTD samples were drawn but I was occupied with the fish catches. These catches were repeated constantly throughout the watch until noon at which time we were relieved. Bongo, Neuston and CTD samples were drawn but I was occupied with the fish catches.

Personal Log 

What have I gotten myself into?  I am on the night watch.  This means that my sleeping hours have changed, literally overnight, to between noon and midnight.  Dinnertime has disappeared. Lunch has become the big meal of the day.  I can best describe myself as confused.

So far my impression is that all members of the ship’s crew and the scientific party are professional, helpful and “nice.”  It is easy to recognize the ship’s officers because they are dressed in uniforms.  Everyone else is arrayed in their personal gear and, generally, there is a state of designed “disarray.”

Question of the Day 

What is the most important skill to be learned before becoming a field scientist? Common courtesy/etiquette (be polite!).