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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!