David Madden: Calm Seas, Flying Fish, and Bananas, July 16, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15-29, 2019


Mission: Southeast Fishery Independent Survey

Geographic Area:
Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35º30’ N, 75º19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27º00’N, 75º59’W)

Pisces Location 7-16-19
Here’s a picture of where we have traveled today. You can see lots of zig zags, dropping fish traps and circling back to retrieve them.


Date: July 14, 2019


Science and Technology Log

I’ve now been on Pisces for 24 hours, and I’m amazed by the complexities and logistics of this ship. 

There are 32 souls on board; including 5 on deck, 6 engineers, 1 survey, 1 electronics, 7 NOAA Corps Officers, 2 stewards, and 10 scientists. It takes a well-coordinated, highly-trained group to keep things ship-shape.  We have had two safety and drill meetings so far – highlighting the importance of preparedness while at sea.  The three divisions on our emergency station bill are: Fire and Emergency, Man Overboard, and Abandon Ship.  So far we have done an abandon ship drill, where I tried on my survival suit.  Oh boy.  It fit just fine.  Except the hands and gloves part.  For the life of me I could not get my hands to fit through the openings.  Perhaps it’ll take a life or death situation.  See for yourself:

survival suit
TAS David Madden tries on a survival suit

During the Abandon Ship exercise we gathered next to our Life Rafts.  We discussed situations and protocols and how to get the raft over the side and our bodies into the raft.  We also learned about some of the survival gear within; including fishing gear (to keep folks occupied), knife, sea anchor, flares, and sea sickness pills to be taken immediately. Number one lesson – head into a real Abandon Ship well-fed and well-hydrated; you won’t be getting any water for the first 24 hours (to avoid throwing it back up, and to allow the body to acclimate to its new conditions, and because heck, you can probably go the first day without water, so why not save it?) It all reminded me of a book I read years ago called, “Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea” by Steven Callahan. 

Life boat instructions
Life boat instructions

My day consists of helping out the scientists with their fish count.  This means baiting the fish traps with menhaden, dropping them off the back of the ship at the prescribed locations, circling back around 75-90 minutes later to scoop them back up.  This is followed by chronicling the different fish caught – some are tossed back to the sea, others are kept for all sorts of further data collection (more soon).  There’s so much crazy cool data being collected on this ship.  I thought you’d like to see some of it.  Here’s a diagram I made and I’ll try to include each post that highlights the fish counts.  I redrew fish diagrams based off of the fish in the handy book, “Reef Fish Identification” by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach.  I thought you’d also like to see what these fish look like.  *Keep in mind that this first day was pretty low in fish count due to our location. 

Fish Count day 1
NOAA Pisces SEFIS Fish Count, July 16, 2019



Personal Log

This is now my fourth day on the ship.  My journey began around 9:20 am Sunday with a ride to the airport.  From there I jumped on a flight from TLH to Charlotte. Followed by a steamy flight to New Bern, NC and a 45 minute drive to Morehead City, NC.  There I met up with NOAA scientist, Nate Bacheler who showed me around the ship and introduced me to everybody on board.  Starting Monday morning the rest of the crew, including all of the scientists, started showing up.  I’ve been getting used to life aboard a research vessel and loving the view!

General Updates:

  1. The seas have been calm, and so far, no seasickness. 
  2. The food has been delicious – thank you Dana and Rey. 
  3. So far my favorite animal is the flying fish.  I’ve seen dozens – my next task is to figure out how to get some epic footage. 
  4. The science team is very dedicated, interesting, diverse, hardworking, and super smart!  Stay tuned for interviews. 

Neato Facts =

NOAA Ship Pisces can travel at speeds up to 18.4 mph (16 knots). How fast is that?  Let’s compare it to two famous marine organisms.

Pisces vs Great White and Jelly Fish
Pisces vs Great White and Jelly Fish


Yesterday I ate a banana.  No big deal, right?  Wrong.  Even though I didn’t buy the banana or bring the banana onboard, some folks looked at me sideways.  They said, “Do you know what it means to have a banana on a boat?!” and “Be sure to ask your students why it’s a bad idea to have bananas on a boat”.  So I got to asking around and turns out that bananas and boats don’t mix well in the land of the superstitious.  Supposedly, bananas cause bad luck, and many seasoned sailors refuse to let them on their boats.  So far no bad luck… but then again, today has been a low fish count day (see diagram above).  Might be my fault!

It’s only been two day and already my mind is spinning with interesting information, undecipherable acronyms, and new nautical terms.  Stay tuned for: interviews, fish count background and techniques, swim bladder chemistry, tour of the ship, and survey science.  What else would you like to learn about?  Coming up:  What’s a knot?!  Please post questions and comments below!

Amy Orchard: Day 4, 5 & 6 – Tagging, Gumby suit, Lion Fish Dish and Fort Jefferson, September 19, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Fish Tagging
Geographical area of cruise: Tortugas Ecological Reserve North & South sections: Tortugas Bank
Date: September 17, 18, 19, 2014

Weather, September 19, 2014 20:00 hours
Latitude 24° 35’ 07’’N Longitude 83° 01’ 09’’W
Broken clouds, clear.
Humidity 10%.
Wind speed 7 knots.
Air Temperature: 29° Celsius (84° Fahrenheit)
Sea Water Temperature: 30.2° Celsius (86.7°Fahrenheit)

CLICKING ON THE SMALL PHOTOS WILL ENLARGE THEM & REVEAL HIDDEN TEXT.

WEDNESDAY:

Resetting Traps

We did not have great success with the shrimp bait.  Guess these fish prefer their shrimp au naturel where as we gave them cooked, peeled and deveined shrimp.  This morning we set out again in the small boats so the divers could re-bait the traps with squid instead.

Ariel the Scientist

Finally Ariel looks much more like a scientist now that she has a pen in her pocket!

Safety on the ship

Safety always comes first on the Nancy Foster.  We have had briefings on safety, we wear hard hats while the cranes are moving, we wear closed toe shoes (except when in the shower) and we have had fire drills & first aid emergency drills.  Today we had an abandon ship drill.  First we each arrived at our muster stations (our assigned place to meet), then we climbed into our Survival Suits (nicknamed the Gumby suit.)  This is made of very thick neoprene, probably 7-9 millimeters thick, and covers you from head to toe to fingertips.  It is meant to keep you safe from hypothermia if you were overboard for a long period of time.

After wriggling back out, we went to find our assigned life raft.  There are 6 rafts which each hold 25 people.  There is enough bunk space on the ship for 37 people, so there are plenty of life rafts for all.  Three rafts sit on each side of the ship so even if the ship was under water listing to one side, we could still access enough rafts for all.

In addition to the Survival Suit, Nick thought he would be safer being more visible so he wore a few extra items to ensure his safety!

Nick fuzzy hat w/ bow & cool googles

Nick has a horde of awesome hats. Keep your eyes peeled for more.

Dancing with the Remotely Operated Vehicle

Part of each day has been spent looking underwater with the Remotely Operated Vehicle piloted by Lance Horn and Jason White from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (yet another partner in this 14-day collaboration)

ROV pilots

Lance Horn and Jason White are geniuses with the Remotely Operated Vehicle. There are lots of very highly technical parts to this equipment and they do it all – and they do it well.

I will be sharing lots more information about the ROV in an upcoming post.  Today I wanted you to see who else besides scientists are curious about the ROV (the large instrument with the yellow top you see in the video here)

THURSDAY:

Fish Surgery

We checked traps again this morning and had success with the squid.  The dive teams will perform surgery today!  The surgery only takes about 10 minutes, which may seem quick, but since they are underwater at a depth of about 100 feet, they must work quickly so as to not run out of their air supply.  One scientist (usually Paul Barbera, FWC Associate Scientist – who they call the Fish Whisperer) will hold the fish steady while another will make the incision, insert the acoustic transmitter and then stitch up the incision. The stitches will dissolve in about a week or two.  The acoustic transmitter (fish tag) will last 2-5 years.  Life span of the tag is determined by it’s battery life.  The smaller tags (for smaller fish) can last 2 years and the larger tags (for larger fish) will work for about 5 years.  This allows the scientists to gather information on the same fish for multiple years, giving them a really good idea of their seasonality – or the fish’s movements between different areas, both protected an unprotected.

fish tags

Acoustic Transmitters – Fish Tags which will be surgically placed in the fish at a depth of about 100 feet. Here you can see the smaller ones are about 4 cm and the larger 6.5 cm

This footage was not shot during our cruise, but Ben Binder, FWC Biological Scientist, shared this video with me describing the surgery process.  Here you will see two scientists who are aboard the Nancy Foster with me.  Paul is securing the fish and Mike McCallister, FWC Biological Scientist, is performing the surgery.  They are working with a Lion Fish here.

Placing the fish tag is just one part of the process of collecting the data the scientists are hoping to gather.  The second part is to place an instrument which can read the acoustic transmitter as it swims past (within the fish of course!)  Danielle Morley, FWC Assistant Research Scientist, and I worked to prepare some previously used acoustic receivers.  Each of the 90 receivers the FWC have placed in the waters off the Florida Keys costs about $2500.  Therefore, used receivers are reprogrammed, repainted with anti-fouling paint and used again.  Anti-fouling paint makes it very difficult for animals like barnacles to build their calcium carbonate skeletons on the receiver’s exposed top.  The receivers are made up of a hydrophone, a circuit board and a battery.  I replaced the batteries and cleaned up the O rings.  The O rings are extremely important as they ensure the capsule is completely water-proof and can be submerged in ocean water for a year at a time.

After a year, the batteries need replaced and the data needs retrieved.  Today, the divers will retrieve 6 acoustic receivers on Riley’s Hump and replace them with those we reprogrammed.  This is footage of our divers (Jeff, Sean and Colin) making the swap.  Thanks to Cammy Clark, the Miami Herald reporter, who dived down about 100 feet to capture the action.

FRIDAY:

Trap Retrieval

Over the last 5 days, there have been 65 dives and 3 surgeries performed.  The scientists deem this as very successful trip.  Additionally, all divers returned safely to the ship after each dive!  This morning the divers are retrieving the traps, which like the receiver stands are allowed by a special permit from the FKNMS.  Even if conditions did not allow us to get the traps and they needed to stay at the bottom, no fish would be caught for very long.  Each trap is closed with a zinc clip that will dissolve after a week or two.

Zinc Clips

Zinc clips keep the traps closed, but only temporarily. They dissolve after a week or two allowing any fish to escape if a trap has to be abandoned due to weather or other conditions.

The large fish we are trapping can easily stay down in a trap that long.  But today, the weather allowed us to retrieve the traps.

Along with the traps, Ben and Ariel brought five Lion Fish Pterois volitans back up.

 

Lion Fish are not naturally found here.  They are native to the Indo-Pacific.  It has not been determined exactly how they got to the area but they are very popular for home aquariums.  However, since they are voracious predators, after eating all their other aquarium fish, people have been dumping them in the Atlantic Ocean for decades.  It was decided that efforts to eradicate the species would be futile since they are prolific breeders, have no natural predators and have been found in extremely deep waters where it would be unfeasible to reach them.  Instead, there are large efforts to manage their populations in certain areas.

One does need to be extremely careful as they have venomous spines – 13 along the top (dorsal spines) and 3 along the bottom (anal spines)  The pain they inflict & the reaction people can have when stung sounds very similar to the bark scorpion.

 

I found out they are SUPER tasty!  Especially since Bob Burroughs, 2nd Cook and Lito LLena, Chief Steward prepared them as ceviche – my favorite.

 

Fort Jefferson

In the afternoon we got a special treat.  We left the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and ferried over to Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas National Park for a tour and some snorkeling.  One can only reach the fort by boat or sea plane.  It was built between the years 1846 and 1875 as a way to claim the main shipping channel between the Gulf of Mexico, the western Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean.  It never saw battle, mostly because it’s fire power was so massive that no one wanted to go up against it!

 

Even though I have been able to travel out into the open ocean on the small boats each day, it was SO GOOD to actually get into the water and snorkel around.  So many amazing things to see and take photos of.

 

There were many jelly fish (mostly Moon Jellies) and we all got stung a lot, but the underwater scenery was well worth it.

 

Bonus Points – make a COMMENT and tell me how the LION FISH and the GILA MONSTER are similar!

Answer to my last post:  It was a DOLPHIN.  The Common Bottlenose Tursiops truncatus

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/bottlenosedolphin.htm

Also, the definition of RECIPROCITY is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.

I have been so impressed with the seamless collaboration between the crew & science team as well as the different agencies within the science team.  Everyone gives of themselves so freely for the main goal of the scientific mission.

Marla Crouch: Gumbi Marla and Setting Course, June 18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marla Crouch
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 8-26, 2013 
 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 18, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: as of 1900
Wind Speed 13.48 kts
Air Temperature 7.0°C
Relative Humidity 99.00%
Barometric Pressure 1,010.00.5 mb

Latitude:  54.31N   Longitude: 159.80W

Science and Technology Log

Another fashion statement – Gumbi Marla

Here I am, all zipped up in my immersion suit.

Here I am, all zipped up in my immersion suit.

I’ve donned an immersion suit, also known as a survival suit.  One of the first things I did when I came aboard was to locate this suit and my life vest, two pieces of equipment that save lives.  In the event we had to abandon ship, the survival suit would keep me both warm and afloat until rescue.  During our evacuation drill we needed to unpack and get into the suit, and be completely zipped up in 60 seconds or less.  Getting into the suit was much easier after I took my shoes off, as the soles caught on the fabric of the suit.  The suit is made of neoprene, which was invented in 1930.  SCUBA wetsuits are also made of neoprene, and even some laptop and tablet cases.

In an earlier blog I talked about the CTD being used to calibrate the sonar aboard the Oscar Dyson, but not all technologies on the Dyson are as high tech as the CTD and sonar equipment.  In fact you can build a weather station at home that is similar to some of the equipment used by the Dyson’s crew.  Below is a picture of a hygrometer.  There are actually two hygrometers aboard, one is located on each side of the bridge.  Hygrometers are used to measure relative humidity (how much moisture is in the air).   Also pictured is the wind bird which shows the direction the wind is moving.  The propeller was actually turning rapidly when the picture was taken.  The camera was able to “stop” the action.  The wind bird is mounted atop the jack staff, high above the bow.

Hygrometers are weather instruments used to measure relative humidity.

Hygrometers are weather instruments used to measure relative humidity.

Wind bird

The following link shows you how to build six instruments for monitoring the weather.

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/for_fun/BuildyourownWeatherStation.pdf

If you checked out the above link, how many snow days to you think the kids in North Dakota had?

Did you check out ship tracker?  If you did, the screen shot below will look familiar.  The blue lines in the water display the Dyson’s course.  Each segment of the course is called a transect.  Transects are numbered, enabling scientists to easily reference a location.

Oscar Dyson's course as of 6 18 13

Oscar Dyson‘s course as of 6 18 13

Are you wondering why we have traveled in rectangular patterns?  The scientists establish this course for a several reasons:

  1. Transects run perpendicular to the coast line, covering a wide range of bathymetry over the shortest distance.
  2. Regularly spaced transects (as opposed to randomly spaced or scattered) are correlated with historical data, and are the best way to describe the distribution of pollock.
  3. The combination of transects collects sufficient data to allow scientists to estimate the overall size of the pollock population with a high degree of certainty.

Does anyone have an idea about the meaning of “bathymetry” and a “leg”?  No, in this case a leg is not something you stand on.  Bathymetry is the shape and depth of the ocean floor, and a bathymetry contour line on a chart connects points of equal depth (like a topographic map).  A leg, in this context, is a segment of the overall distance covered in the survey.

The information collected during this year’s survey helps determine the number of pollock that can be caught in next year’s fishing season.

Here is the ship tracker link, you can check out the Dyson’s course and other NOAA ships as well.

http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/shiptracker.html

Personal Log 

I want to revisit the sonar of Mystery Mix One.  In my last blog I talked about what was happening near the surface of the ocean.  This time I want to focus beneath the sea floor.

Graphic provided by NOAA

Graphic provided by NOAA

Look beneath the red, yellow, and green bands, depicting the sea floor, at the blue color, notice how the density of color changes over time.  The density of the color tells scientists about the composition of the sea bed.  The denser the color, the denser or harder the seafloor is likely to be; probably, the places with the dark, dense color are rocky areas, which attract the fish schools seen in the water above.

Looking at this graph reminds me of an experiment that my husband worked on, when he worked for Charles Stark Draper Labs, in Boston, MA.  He worked on a Gravity Gradiometer that was sent to the moon on Apollo 17.  The gradiometer measured the changes in gravity.  The changes in gravitational strength give scientists information about what lays beneath the moon surface, like the sonar provides information about the sea bed.  The Gravity Gradiometer was a very specialized version of equipment that is commonly used in prospecting for oil on Earth.  I am sharing this story because, in class, one of our foci is to take what we know and apply the knowledge to a new scenario.  Next question:  Where will what we know now, take us in the future?

Did You Know?

Some fish can see color.

John Taylor-Lehman, June 24, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea 
John Taylor-Lehman 
Onboard R/V Savannah 
June 24 – July 1, 2011 
NOAA Teacher at Sea: John Taylor-Lehman 
Ship: R/V Savannah 
Mission: Fisheries Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Continental Shelf off of Florida
Date: 24 June 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Winds from the South at 10 mph
Barometric Pressure 29.93

The Research Vessel Savannah sitting at dock in Savannah

The Research Vessel Savannah sitting at dock in Savannah

Science and Technology Log 

We departed on time from the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography dock at 0001 hours with 6 crew members, a compliment of 8 scientists and myself. The crew consists of Captain Raymond Sweatte, 1st Mate Michael Richter, Marine Technician John Bichy, 2nd Mate Kevin Holliday, Chief Engineer Richard Huguley, and Joel Formby. Though they have different titles, it became obvious from our discussions that their duties are often shared or overlap. This arrangement is necessary because the R/V Savannah is functioning 24 hours per day.

Because we are in transit to our first sampling site my interest has focused on the operators of the ship and how the ship functions.

Capt. Sweatte outlined for me the steps in his career that have led him to being Captain of this vessel. Though military training is one avenue to prepare for a commercial captain’s license he did not follow that path. He worked his way up through various jobs as an able bodied seaman second mate, first mate, and finally the captain with 1600 ton vessel certification. His training is ongoing through “continuing education” programs in fire safety, sonar, survival training, and first aid.

Chief engineer Richard Huguley gave me an interesting tour of the 4 compartments of the engine room. Water cooling systems, two 450 horse power Caterpillar brand engines, electrical and hydraulic system all have to be monitored and maintained during our cruise. Some systems are checked for pressure, temperature and fluid levels several times per day and around the clock. Engineer Richard Huguley had an interest in machines and an aptitude for mechanics at an early age. His skills have allowed him to have consistent employment in land based industrial enterprises and nautical work.

Personal Log 

Shelly in the “Gumby” suit

Shelly in the “Gumby” suit

My apprehensions about seasickness have been unfounded… thus far. I’m using a Transderm patch with scopolamine. It is difficult however to tease out the exact reason for my relatively calm stomach. Is it the chemical? Is it the relatively calm seas (4-5 ft. waves last night and 2-3 ft. waves today)?

During the safety instructions last night a person was required to don the “survival suit” (also known as the “Gumby” suit). The attempt to don the suit quickly is always good for a laugh. Shelly, part of the science party, was our reluctant “volunteer” for the demonstration.

Shelly in the “Gumby” suit

Since we are in transit, there has been time to explore the ship, talk with science staff and crew, as well as enjoy the view of the Atlantic from the deck. Today I saw dolphins, barracuda, and flying fish, close to the ship and a submarine off in the distance.

Margaret Stephens, May 28, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Margaret Stephens
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Fisheries, bathymetric data collection for habitat mapping
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States continental shelf waters from Cape Hatteras, NC to St. Lucie Inlet, FL
Date:  May 28, 2011 (Last day!)

NOAA Ship Pisces. Photo credit: Richard Hall

NOAA Ship Pisces. Photo credit: Richard Hall

Weather Data from the Bridge
As of 06:43, 28 May
Latitude 30.15
Longitude 80.87
Speed 7.60 knots
Course 285.00
Wind Speed 10.77 knots
Wind Direction 143.91 º
Surface Water Temperature 25.53 ºC
Surface Water Salinity 36.38 PSU
Air Temperature 24.70 ºC
Relative Humidity 92.00 %
Barometric Pressure 1011.10 millibars
Water Depth 30.17 m
Skies: clear

r at Sea Margaret Stephens and Scientist David Hoke in Pisces attire.

NOAA Teacher at Sea Margaret Stephens and Scientist David Hoke in Pisces attire.

Science and Technology Log

These scientists are not only smart, but they are neat and clean, too! After completing final mapping and fish sampling on the second-to-last day, we spent the remainder of the time cleaning the wet (fish) lab, packing all the instruments and equipment, and carefully labeling each item for transport. We hosed down all surfaces and used non-toxic cleaners to leave the stainless steel lab tables and instruments gleaming, ready for the next research project. The Pisces, like other NOAA fisheries ships, is designed as a mobile lab platform that each research team adapts to conform to its particular needs. The lab facilities, major instruments and heavy equipment are permanent, but since research teams have different objectives and protocols, they bring aboard their own science personnel, specialized equipment, and consumable supplies. The primary mission of NOAA’s fisheries survey vessels, like Pisces, is to conduct scientific studies, so the ship’s officers and crew adjust and coordinate their operations to meet the requirements of each research project. The ship’s Operations Officer and the Chief Scientist communicate regularly, well before the project begins and throughout the time at sea, to facilitate planning and smooth conduct of the mission.

Gag grouper (top, Mycteroperca microlepis) and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) specimens, labeled for further study Photo credit: David Berrane

Gag grouper (top, Mycteroperca microlepis) and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) specimens, labeled for further study Photo credit: David Berrane

“Wet” (fish) lab aboard Pisces, cleaned and ready for next research team

“Wet” (fish) lab aboard Pisces, cleaned and ready for next research team

We made up for the two days’ delay in our initial departure (caused by mechanical troubles and re-routing to stay clear of the Endeavor space shuttle launch, described in the May 18 log), thanks to nearly ideal sea conditions and the sheer hard work of the ship’s and science crews. The painstaking work enabled the science team to fine tune their seafloor mapping equipment and protocols, set traps, and accumulate data on fish populations in this important commercial fishing area off the southeastern coast of the United States. The acoustics team toiled every night to conduct survey mapping and produce three dimensional images of the sea floor. They met before sunrise each morning with Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler to plan the daytime fish survey routes, and the fish lab team collected two to three sets of six traps every day. The videographers worked long hours, backing up data and adjusting the camera arrays so that excellent footage was obtained.  In all, we obtained ten days’ worth of samples, brought in a substantial number of target species, red snapper and grouper, recorded hours of underwater video, and collected tissue and otolith samples for follow-up analysis back at the labs on land.

Models

Scientists and engineers often use models to help visualize, represent, or test phenomena they are studying. Models are especially helpful when it is too risky, logistically difficult, or expensive to conduct extensive work under “live” or real-time conditions.

Divers exploring hardbottom habitat Photo Credit: Douglas E. Kesling, UNCWilmington, CIOERT

Divers exploring hardbottom habitat Photo Credit: Douglas E. Kesling, UNCWilmington, CIOERT

As described in previous logs, this fisheries work aboard Pisces involves surveying and trapping fish to analyze population changes among commercially valuable species, principally red snapper and grouper, which tend to aggregate in particular types of hardbottom habitats.  Hardbottom, in contrast to sandy, flat areas, consists of rocky ledges, coral, or artificial reef structures, all hard substrates. By locating hardbottom areas on the sea floor, scientists can focus their trapping efforts in places most likely to yield samples of the target fish species, thus conserving valuable time and resources. So, part of the challenge is finding efficient ways to locate hardbottom. That’s where models can be helpful.

The scientific models rely on information known about the relationships between marine biodiversity and habitat types, because the varieties and distribution of marine life found in an area are related to the type of physical features present. Not surprisingly, this kind of connection often holds true in terrestrial (land) environments, too. For example, since water-conserving succulents and cacti are generally found in dry, desert areas, aerial or satellite images of land masses showing dry environments can serve as proxies to identify areas where those types of plants would be prevalent. In contrast, one would expect to find very different types of plant and animal life in wetter areas with richer soils.

Recovering ROV aboard Pisces Photo source: http://www.moc.noaa.gov/pc/visitor/photos‐a.html

Recovering ROV aboard Pisces Photo source: http://www.moc.noaa.gov/pc/visitor/photos‐a.html

Traditional methods used to map hardbottom and identify fish habitat include direct sampling by towing underwater video cameras, sonar, aerial photography, satellite imaging, using remotely operating vehicles (ROV’s), or even setting many traps in extensive areas. While they have some advantages, all those methods are labor and time-intensive and expensive, and are therefore impractical for mapping extensive areas.

This Pisces team has made use of a computer and statistical model developed by other scientists that incorporates information from previous mapping (bathymetry) work to predict where hardbottom habitat is likely to be found. The Pisces scientists have employed the “Dunn” model to predict potential hardbottom areas likely to attract fish populations, and then they have conducted more detailed mapping of the areas highlighted by the model. (That has been the principal job of the overnight acoustics team.) Using those more refined maps, the day work has involved trapping and recording video to determine if fish are, indeed, found in the locations predicted. By testing the model repeatedly, scientists can refine it further. To the extent that the model proves accurate, it can guide future work, making use of known physical characteristics of the sea floor to identify more areas where fish aggregate, and helping scientists study large areas and develop improved methods for conservation and management of marine resources.

Deploying CTD. Photo credit: David Hoke

Deploying CTD. Photo credit: David Hoke

Deploying CTD. Photo credit: David Hoke

Deploying CTD. Photo credit: David Hoke

Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) Measurements

Another aspect of the data collection aboard Pisces involves measuring key physical properties of seawater, including temperature and salinity (saltiness, or concentration of salts) at various depths using a Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD)  device.

Salinity and temperature affect how sound travels in water; therefore, CTD data can be used to help calibrate the sonar equipment used to map the sea floor. In other instances, the data are used to help scientists study changes in sea conditions that may affect climate. Increases in sea surface temperatures, for example, can speed evaporation, moisture and heat transfer to the atmosphere, feeding or intensifying storm systems such as hurricanes and cyclones.

Pisces shipboard CTD, containing a set of probes attached to a cylindrical housing, is lowered from the side deck to a specified depth. A remote controller closes the water collection bottles at the desired place in the water column to extract samples, and the CTD takes the physical measurements in real time.

Fresh Catch

Of all the many species collected, only the red snapper and grouper specimens were kept for further study; most of the other fish were released after they were weighed and measured. A small quantity was set aside for Chief Steward Jesse Stiggens to prepare for the all the ship’s occupants to enjoy, but the bulk of the catch was saved for charitable purposes. The fish (“wet” lab) team worked well into overtime hours each night to fillet the catch and package it for donation. They cut, wrapped, labeled and fresh froze each fillet as carefully as any gourmet fish vendor would. Once we disembarked on the last day, Scientist Warren Mitchell, who had made all the arrangements, delivered over one hundred pounds of fresh frozen fish to a local food bank, Second Harvest of Northern Florida. It was heartening to know that local people would benefit from this high-quality, tasty protein.

Careers at Sea

Crewmen Joe Flora and Vic Pinones

Crewmen Joe Flora and Vic Pinones

Many crew members gave generously of their time to share with me their experiences as mariners and how they embarked upon and developed their careers. I found out about many, many career paths for women and men who are drawn to the special life at sea. Ship’s officers, deck crew, mechanics, electricians, computer systems specialists, chefs and scientists are among the many possibilities.

Chief Steward Jesse Stiggens worked as a cook in the U.S. Navy and as a chef in private restaurants before starting work with NOAA. He truly loves cooking, managing all the inventory, storage and food preparation in order to meet the needs and preferences of nearly forty people, three meals a day, every day. He even cooks for family and friends during his “off” time!

First Engineer Brett Jones

First Engineer Brett Jones

Electronics specialist Bob Carter, also a Navy veteran, is responsible for the operations and security of all the computer-based equipment on board. He designed and set up the ship’s network and continually expands his skills and certifications by taking online courses. He relishes the challenges, responsibilities and autonomy that come along with protecting the integrity of the computer systems aboard ship.

First Engineer Brent Jones has worked for many years in the commercial and government sectors, maintaining engines, refrigeration, water and waste management, and environmental control systems. He gave me a guided tour of the innards of Pisces, including four huge engines, heating and air conditioning units, thrusters and rudders, hoists and lifts, fresh water condenser and ionizers, trash incinerator, and fire and safety equipment. The engineering department is responsible for making sure everything operates safely, all day and night, every day. Brent and the other engineers are constantly learning, updating and sharpening their skills by taking specialized courses throughout their careers.

Chief Boatswain James Walker

Chief Boatswain James Walker

Chief Boatswain James Walker is responsible for safe, efficient operations on deck, including training and supervising all members of the deck crew. He entered NOAA after a career in the U.S. Navy.  The Chief Boatswain must be diplomatic, gentle but firm, and a good communicator and people manager. He coordinates safe deck operations with the ship’s officers, crew, and scientific party and guests.

NOAA officers are a special breed. To enter the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree with extensive coursework in mathematics or sciences. They need not have experience at sea, although many do. They undergo an intensive officers’ training program at a marine academy before beginning shipboard work as junior officers, where they train under more experienced officers to learn ship’s systems and operations, protocols, navigation, safety, personnel management, budgeting and administrative details. After years of hard work and satisfactory performance, NOAA officers may advance through the ranks and eventually take command of a ship.

Operations Officer, Lt. Tracy Hamburger

Operations Officer, Lt. Tracy Hamburger

Junior Officer Michael Doig

Junior Officer Michael Doig

All the officers and crew aboard Pisces seem to truly enjoy the challenges, variety of experiences and camaraderie of life at sea. They are dedicated to NOAA’s mission and take pride in the scientific and ship operations work. To be successful and satisfied with this life, one needs an understanding family and friends, as crew can be away at sea up to 260 days a year, for two to four weeks at a time. There are few personal expenses while at sea, since room and board are provided, so prudent mariners can accumulate savings. There are sacrifices, as long periods away can mean missing important events at home. But there are some benefits: As one crewman told me, every visit home is like another honeymoon!

Personal Log

One size fits all?

One size fits all?

Navy Showers

I had expected that life aboard Pisces would include marine toilets and salt water showers with limited fresh water just for rinsing off.  I was surprised to find regular water-conserving flush toilets and fresh water showers. Still, the supply of fresh water is limited, as all of it is produced from a condensation system using heat from the engines. During our ship orientation and safety session on the first day, Operations Officer Tracy Hamburger and Officer Mike Doig cautioned us to conserve water.  They explained (but did not demonstrate!) a “Navy” shower, which involves turning the water on just long enough to get wet, off while soaping up, and on again for a quick rinse. It is quite efficient – more of us should adopt the practice on land. Who really needs twenty minute showers with fully potable water, especially when more than one billion people on our “water planet” lack safe drinking water and basic sanitation?

One size fits all?

One size fits all?

“Abandon Ship!”

One size fits all?

One size fits all?

The drill I had anticipated since the first pre-departure NOAA Teacher at Sea instructions arrived in my inbox finally happened. I had just emerged from a refreshing “Navy” shower at the end of a fishy day when the ship’s horn blasted, signaling “Abandon ship!” We’d have to don survival suits immediately to be ready to float on our own in the sea for an indefinite time. Fortunately, I had finished dressing seconds before the alarm sounded. I grabbed the survival suit, strategically positioned for ready access near my bunk, and walked briskly (never run aboard ship!) to the muster station on the side deck. There, all the ship’s occupants jostled for space enough on deck to flatten out the stiff, rubbery garment and attempt to put it on.  That’s much easier said than done; it was not a graceful picture. “One size fits all”, I learned, is a figment of some manufacturer’s imagination. My petite five foot four frame was engulfed, lost in the suit, while the burly six- foot-five crewman alongside me struggled to squeeze himself into the same sized suit. The outfit, affectionately known as a Gumby, is truly designed for survival, though, as neoprene gaskets seal wrists, leaving body parts covered, with only a small part of one’s face exposed. The suit serves as a flotation device, and features a flashing light, sound alarm, and other warning instruments to facilitate locating those unfortunate enough to be floating at sea.

Thankfully, this was only a test run on deck. We were spared the indignity of going overboard to test our true survival skills. I took advantage of the opportunity to try a few jumping jacks and pushups while encased in my Gumby.

Fish bet ‐‐ Rigged results? Photo credit: Jen Weaver

Fish bet ‐‐ Rigged results? Photo credit: Jen Weaver

Bets Are On!

These scientists are fun-loving and slightly superstitious, if not downright mischievous. On the last day, Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler announced a contest: whoever came closest to predicting the number of fish caught in the last set of traps would win a Pisces t-shirt that Nate promised to purchase with his personal funds. In true scientific fashion, the predictions were carefully noted and posted for all to see.  As each trap was hauled in, Nate recorded the tallies on the white board in the dry lab. Ever the optimist, basing my estimate on previous days’ tallies, I predicted a whopping number: 239.

I should have been more astute and paid more attention to the fact that the day’s survey was planned for a region that featured less desirable habitats for fish than previous days. Nate, of course, having set the route, knew much more about the conditions than the rest of us did. His prediction: a measly 47 fish. Sure enough, the total tally was 38, and the winner was………Nate!   Our loud protests that the contest was fixed were to no avail. He declared himself the winner. Next time, we’ll know enough to demand that the Chief Scientist remove himself from the contest.

 

Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler and red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus Photo credit: David Hoke

Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler and red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus Photo credit: David Hoke

 

Crewman Kirk Perry with Mahi‐mahi

Crewman Kirk Perry with Mahi‐mahi

Catching Mahi-mahi

Once the day’s deck work was over, a fish call came over the ship’s public address system. Kirk Perry, one of the avid fishermen among the crew, attached a line baited with squid from the stern guard rail and let it troll along unattended, since a fishing pole was unnecessary. Before long, someone else noticed that the line had hooked a fish. It turned out to be a beautiful mahi-mahi, with sleek, streamlined, iridescent scales in an array of rainbow colors, and quite a fighter. I learned that the mahi quickly lose their color once they are removed from the water, and turn to a pale gray-white once lifeless. If only I were a painter, I would have stopped everything to try to capture the lovely colors on canvas.

Goodbyes

We entered Mayport under early morning light. An official port pilot is required to come aboard to guide all ships into port, so the port pilot joined Commander Jeremy Adams and the rest of the officer on the bridge as we made our way through busy Mayport, home of a United States Naval base. Unfortunately, the pier space reserved for Pisces was occupied by a British naval vessel that had encountered mechanical problems and was held up for repairs, so she could not be moved. That created a logistical challenge for us, as it meant that Pisces had to tie up alongside a larger United States naval ship whose deck was higher than ours.  Once again, the crew and scientists showed their true colors, as they braved the hot Florida sun, trekking most of the gear and luggage by hand over two gangplanks, across the Navy ship, onto the pier, and loading it into the waiting vehicles.

The delay gave me a chance to say farewell and thank the crew and science team for their patience and kindness during my entire time at sea.

These eleven days sailed by. The Pisces crew had only a short breather of a day and a half before heading out with a new group of scientists for another research project. To sea again….NOAA’s work continues.

All aboard!

A big “Thank you!” to all the scientists and crew who made my time aboard Pisces so educational and memorable!

 

Science team. Photo credit: NOAA Officer Michael Doig

Science team. Photo credit: NOAA Officer Michael Doig

Links & Resources

http://www.marinecareers.net/links_degrees.php

Literature cited:

Dunn, D, Halpin, P (2009) Rugosity-based regional modeling of hard-bottom habitat. Marine Ecology Progress Series 377:1-11

Safety! I hope I never have to use that fire axe!

Safety! I hope I never have to use that fire axe!

Sky view from Pisces. Photo credit: David Hoke

Sky view from Pisces. Photo credit: David Hoke

View from Pisces: United States Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship

View from Pisces: United States Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship

Engineers Abe Goldberg and Bob Carroll

Engineers Abe Goldberg and Bob Carroll

Loading gear with crane & hoist

Loading gear with crane & hoist

Loading gear with crane & hoist

Loading gear with crane & hoist

Commander Jeremy Adams looks out from Pisces’ bridge Photo credit: Richard Hall

Commander Jeremy Adams looks out from Pisces’ bridge Photo credit: Richard Hall

Beth Spear, July 31, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Beth A Spear
NOAA Ship: Delaware II

Mission: Shark – Red Snapper Bottom Long Line Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico to North Atlantic
Date: Saturday, July 31, 2010

Gumby suits for safety

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1000 (10:00 am)
Position: Latitude 27 degrees 51’N, Longitude 086 degrees 01’W
Present Weather: Partly Cloudy
Visibility: 11 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 31.1 degrees C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 30.4 degrees C; Wet bulb = 27.8 degrees C
Barometric Pressure: 1012.8 mb

Science and Technology Log
The first day aboard ship started with a ship orientation meeting presented by the acting executive officer (XO) LT Fionna Matheson. During the meeting the XO covered many shipboard concerns especially safety. LT Matheson suggested you always use one hand for the ship and one hand for you to avoid accidents. We also had some drills in the afternoon. LT Matheson had some really useful ways to remember the signals for drills. Fire is one long whistle, just like someone yelling fire in one long shout. The abandon ship signal is at least six short blasts then one prolonged blast, like yelling get-the-heck-off-the-ship-nooooow. During the abandon ship drill we had to put on survival suits, called “Gumby” suits by the crew. They were hot and very awkward.

Personal Log
We have about four days to steam to the location we will begin fishing. I am using these days to get myself adjusted to the night watch hours, midnight to noon. I am trying to tell myself it’s a good thing because I’ll be working during the cooler evening and morning hours, still hot is hot! The staterooms are quite cramped, it is a good thing I am not claustrophobic. I am still learning names of crew and the other scientists. There is a mix of NOAA volunteers, students, and professors. The food has been excellent, but I’m trying not to overindulge since there is not much activity during these first four days. The ship has a large selection of current movies loaned by the US Navy which I am taking advantage of during our downtime.

New Terms – Shipboard Terminology
Bulkheads = walls.
Ladderwells = stairs or stairwells.
Passageways = hallways.
Deck = floor.
Bow= front of ship.
Stern = back of the ship.
Port = left side of ship while facing bow, remember this because port is a shorter word than starboard or right, ship lights are red on this side.
Starboard = right side of ship while facing bow, remember this because starboard is a longer word than port or left, ship lights are green on this side.
Aft = direction meaning toward the stern (rear) of the ship
Fore = direction meaning toward the bow (front) of the ship

(figure ref.  http://www.sailingcourse.com/primer/port-starboard-bow-stern-html.jpg )

Sena Norton, July 6, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sena Norton
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 6 – 15, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Date:
July 6, 2004

Location: In transit to Shumagin Islands, outside of Seward inlet.
Latitude: 59.31 N
Longitude: 149.41 W
Visibility: To horizon
Wind Direction: NW
Wind Speed: 20 kt
Swell wave height: 6ft
Sea level pressure:
Cloud cover: High sparse cloud cover

Personal Log

Day Activities

  • Ship paper work
  • Assign and don Survival Suit (communally called Gumby suit)
  • Took part in Abandon ship and fire drill. Got to my muster stations with ease and with all the required equipment and needs. Aided in hose management and stow.
  • Issued Mustang jacket and flotation vest for use on launches and skiffs.
  • Observed getting underway from the flying wing.
  • Took nature sightings: whale in distance, porpoise pod of 12+, puffin and gulls/seabirds.
We are in transit to our survey location and will be for the next 24-36 hours. Most personnel are on 4-hour watches and shifts. I watched the deck crew take care of the lines and stow all the equipment in its correct areas, which took longer than I first would have expected.
The “Gumby suit” was interesting to put on and try to get back into its bag. I could not believe how snuggly it fit around the wrist and neck…of course to be water proof that is the requirement. I feel very safe in knowing that I could survive if the need arouse.

I am a little queasy with the boat today…there isn’t much of a sea but just getting used to the motion is going to be interesting. I have my patch on but many people have told me my berth is nicknamed the ANTI-GRAVITY CHAMBER…not very good words for a land lover like myself.

It is proper etiquette to keep your rack light on at all times unless you are trying to sleep. That is a cue to your roommate to be quiet. If the light is on all clear…if the light is off “shhhhhh”. I didn’t know that even with my prior experience.

The weather is going to be very nice for the next 6 days according to the weather report I received via email from the XO today. We are to expect light winds and the 3-6 foot sea swell. That is cause for good science and nice observations. We are scheduled to begin the hydro survey on Thursday.