Jill Bartolotta: Start Your Engines, June 1, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 13, 2019

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 1, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 28°19.3’ N

Longitude: 079°21.6’

Wave Height: 1-2 feet

Wind Speed: 11 knots   

Wind Direction: 195

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 28°C

Barometric Pressure: 1012.5

Sky: Broken

Making the Engines Run

Engines on this ship are run with marine grade diesel. Before the diesel can be put through the engine it must be cleaned of any impurities. A centrifuge system is used to spin the diesel at a very fast pace in a circle. As the diesel spins any impurities are flung out leaving behind the purified fuel. If the fuel is not purified before it is put through the engines, they will gunk up and not function properly. NOAA Okeanos Explorer has 4 engines. Currently we are running 3 of them and the fourth one is the backup. There is also a fifth generator that can serve as a backup if needed. There are roughly 180,000 gallons of diesel on the ship and roughly 2,200 gallons of fuel are used per day.  In order to make the engine work, air in the engine is compressed causing the air to heat up. Then you spray fuel into the compressed air and the heat of their air causes an explosion leading to the process of combustion. In order to determine if complete combustion is occurring and the engine fuel is clean of impurities you look at the exhaust. If the exhaust is clear it means you are seeing full combustion and the fuel is clean. If the exhaust is not clean, black for example, it means that combustion is not complete or the fuel is dirty.

Fuel purification centrifuge
The fuel purification centrifuge system. If you look closely you can see a pink liquid, purified diesel.
Engine
One of the engines. There are four engines on board. Three are running and the fourth will be used as a backup.

Cooling the Engines

The engines must run at a temperature below 200°F. When these engines run they create heat so to keep them at a temperature under 200°F you need to cool them off using a heat exchanger. A heat exchanger is a series of pipes that run hot substances past cooler substances. These substances do not come into contact with one another, but are piped past one another. The heat transfers to the cooler substance through the series of pipes thus cooling the previously hot substance. On this ship, oil is used to lubricate the pistons on the engine, but it also serves a coolant. The oil is then cooled via freshwater called jacket water and the freshwater is cooled via seawater taken from the ocean. The ocean surface water is 74°F when it enters the ship and leaves the ship at roughly 84°F.

However where does this heat go? The first law of thermodynamics, The Law of Conservation of Energy, tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred or converted. So why not convert this heat energy into some of use? Well guess what. The engineers on Okeanos Explorer do just that. Some of the heat goes into the seawater used to cool the jacket water and some of the heat is used in the desalination system.

Remember we left off with desalination in the previous blog.  They use the heat coming off the engines to heat the saltwater, evaporate it, and retrieve the freshwater. However, if you remember these engines must run below 200°F and in order to boil water you must be at a temperature of 212°F. I know many of you are probably thinking salt in water actually lowers the boiling point, but really the opposite is true. Salt actually increases the temperature needed to boil water. However, it is minimal so it won’t affect your pasta too much. Feel free to add that pinch of salt like a true chef.

In order to boil water with 200°F of temperature or less we need to change the pressure of the system. This is done through a vacuum that decreases the pressure in the system allowing water to boil at a lower temperature. It is similar to when you go hiking in the mountains (less pressure than when you are at sea level) and go to boil water. It boils quicker because less heat is needed since the pressure is lower. So by changing the pressure in the system to one that would be seen at a higher altitude, engineers are able to use the heat from the engines to boil the salt water on the ship, allowing us to have access to freshwater for drinking, bathing, and cooking purposes. Pretty ingenious right?

Maintaining Balance

Now hopefully you were paying attention in the first paragraph when I talked about how much fuel is on board and how much is used each day. As fuel is used, the weight on the ship will change affecting stability. A ship with weight is more stable in the water than a ship will little to no weight. Therefore as fuel weight is lost it must be replaced. One gallon of diesel weighs approximately 7 pounds. So if we are using 2200 gallons a day we are losing 15,400 pounds of weight. How do the engineers accomplish the task of adding more weight? What is all around us weighing 8.6 pounds per gallon??? Seawater! Yes! So ballast tanks are filled with seawater to add weight to the ship that is removed when fuel is used.

Ballast water filtration and UV purification system
Ballast water filtration and UV purification system. The parts to the right are the filtration system and the parts to the left are the UV system.

Ballast water is taken in through a filtration system before it even reaches its holding tanks (separate than the fuel tanks). The water first passes through a filter to remove large particles (such as larger pieces of plant material or debris) and then passes through a UV system that will kill any organisms. When the ballast water is released from their holding tanks in order to allow more fuel to come on board, the water must pass through the UV system once more to make sure nothing alive (plants, animals, bacteria, etc.) is getting into the water.

This purification of ballast water occurs to prevent invasive species from entering new areas. An invasive species is a plant or animal that is from somewhere else and is introduced through human actions. When these species establish in a new area and begin to outcompete native species, affect human health, and become costly to remove, they are classified as invasive.

Where I live on Lake Erie several species such as zebra and quagga mussels, round goby, and spiny water flea have all been introduced from ballast water from ships coming from the inland lakes of Eurasia. These ships would need to dump their water when they entered the shallower river ports of the Great Lakes, spurring a silent invasion. All four species are negatively affecting native populations of important species and are costly to manage. Then same is happening along the East Coast with species such as European green crab.

I would like each of you reading this blog to learn more about a species introduced to U.S. waters, whether they be fresh or salt, through ballast water. Feel free to let me know which organism you chose to learn more about in the comments section of the blog.

Personal Log

Today was a really special day at sea. It was my 30th birthday. I could not have imagined a more amazing place to turn 30. I spent the day learning all about the engine systems on board, out on the bow enjoying the breeze and sunshine while looking for ocean critters, and was treated to the sweetest cake ever. It was so kind of the chefs on board to make me a cake for my birthday. It was a red velvet cake (my favorite) with chocolate frosting and decorated with chocolate pieces and white icing. We had it with some chocolate raspberry swirl ice cream. Truly a wonderful celebration with my new friends.

Jill with birthday cake!
My delicious birthday cake. Thank you everyone for a great birthday!

I spent the hour before sunset enjoying a nice yoga and meditation session before the most amazing sunset we have seen at sea yet. The clouds and sun put on the most spectacular display of color. Afterwards I learned more about the happenings of the mission control room (basically the mapping hub for the ship). I learned how we launch equipment to collect water column data and how we clean the data removing noise. I will be writing a blog on the mapping mission soon.

After our shift ended, my roommate and I ventured to the bridge to learn about piloting a vessel at night. We learned what equipment they rely on and how they manage their night vision. And then the most spectacular part of the whole night! The stars! Wow! It looks like someone through glitter (plastic free glitter preferably) into the sky. I have never seen so many stars in my life. We saw the Milky Way, Big Dipper, Little Dipper, North Star, Jupiter and so many other constellations. It was a wonderful end to a great birthday day.

Did You Know?

Even numbered locations (such as muster stations or staterooms) on ships are located on the port (left) side of the ship and odd numbered locations are located on the (starboard) right side of the ship.

Sea Measurements

Different ways to measure are used at sea. You can see some measurement conversions below.

1 nautical mile = 1.151 statute mile

1 knot = 1 nautical mile per hour = 1.151 statute mile per hour

1° Celsius = 33.8 °F

Animals Seen Today

Flying fish

Northern gannet

Anna Levy: What Tummies Tell Us, July 15, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anna Levy

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 10 – 20, 2017

 

Mission: Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 15, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Scattered, mild storms continue, causing some delays in our fishing. However, they do lead to beautiful sunsets!

IMG_1087

Beautiful Gulf of Mexico sunset

Latitude: 29 18.790 N

Longitude: 84 52.358 W

 

Air temp: 28.7 C

Water temp: 29.7 C

Wind direction: light and variable

Wind speed: light and variable

Wave height: 0.3 meter

Sky: 80% cloud cover, no rain

 

Science and Technology Log

IMG_5442

TAS Anna Levy removes the stomach of a red snapper.

Data about the number and size of individual organisms can tell us a lot about the health of an overall population of a species. However, it doesn’t tell us much about the role that species plays in its community. If we want to understand that better, we need to know more about how it fits into its food web – what it eats and what eats it. If you were trying to collect information about what a fish eats, where would you look first? Its stomach!

So, after we measure certain species, we dissect them and remove their stomachs. We place each stomach in its own tiny bag, with a bar code that identifies which individual fish it belonged to. Back at a lab on land, scientists will carefully examine the contents of the stomachs to better understand what each species was eating.

IMG_1079

The bar codes that we use to label specimens.

 

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This map shows the native range of lionfish. Credit: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish-facts.html

For example, one of the fish currently under investigation in the Gulf of Mexico is the lionfish. This is an invasive species, which means that it is not native to the area. Its natural habitat is in parts of southern Pacific and Indian oceans, but it was first spotted in the Atlantic, off the coast of North Carolina, in 2002. Lionfish were most likely introduced to this area by humans, when they no longer wanted the fish as an aquarium pet. By 2010, its range had expanded to include the Gulf. And, with no natural predators in this area and rapid rates of reproduction, its numbers have increased exponentially.

Early dietary studies, which were focused on the lionfish in the Atlantic, show that the lionfish is a generalist. This means that, while it prefers to eat small reef fish, it is able to eat a wide variety of organisms including benthic invertebrates (like crabs) and other fish. This flexibility makes lionfish even more resilient and able to spread. These studies also found that lionfish stomachs were rarely empty, suggesting that they are highly successful predators, able to out-compete other top predators for food.

This has wildlife experts concerned about the impact lionfish will have on natural ecosystems. It is possible that lionfish will over-consume native species, causing native ecosystems to collapse. It is also possible that lionfish will out-compete and displace native, high level predators, like snapper and grouper. Scientists are working now to develop methods to try to manage this invasion.

Because ecosystems here are different from those in the Atlantic, scientists are now turning their attention to studying the lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico. The work that we did on the boat today should help them do just that!

To see the results of one such study, completed in 2014, see:

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0105852

For more information and photos about the lionfish, please see:

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/stories/lionfish/lion02_invade.html

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish-facts.html

http://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/mediacenter/2015/05/21_05.html

 

Personal Log

Often times, we teachers struggle to convince our students that, while all of the modern technology we have is great, they also need to understand how to solve problems without relying on it. (Most of us have probably been on at least one side of the old, “no, you don’t need a calculator to multiply by 10!” argument at some point in life.)   Well, in the past couple of days, I’ve seen two great examples of this onboard the ship.

The first relates directly to our survey work. Our CTD, the equipment mentioned in last post, has two sensors that both detect how much dissolved oxygen is in the water. Having two instruments collecting the same information (sometimes called redundancy) is important, not only so that there is a back-up in case one breaks, but also so that we can tell if they are measuring accurately.

The two oxygen sensors have been reading differently – one was about 0.7 mg/L lower than the other. This is an indication that one needs to be calibrated – but which one? To find out, Alonzo Hamilton, one of the senior NOAA scientists, used a classical chemical analysis technique called titration.

IMG_1082

This is the titration equipment found in the chemical lab on board the ship.

In a chemical titration, one substance is slowly added to another, while the scientist watches for a chemical reaction to occur. If you know how the two substances react, you can determine how much of the second substance is present, based on how much of the first was added to make the reaction happen.

Based on the results of his titration, Alonzo was able to determine which of the oxygen sensors was reading accurately. So, it definitely goes to show that there are important applications for that classic high school chemistry!

IMG_1173

The binnacle that houses the ship’s magnetic compass.

The other example relates more to the ability to navigate the ship. NOAA Ship Oregon II is equipped with advanced electronic navigation software, Gyro compass, radar, and GPS systems. However, when I was exploring the top deck (flying bridge) of the ship, I came upon this strangely low-tech looking instrument. I asked ENS Chelsea Parrish, a NOAA Corps Officer and member of the wardroom, about it. She explained that it is called a “binnacle,” a safeguard that houses a magnetic compass! The magnetic compass is the same type of technology used by mariners back in the 1300’s. It is critical to have in case of a power outage or other disruption to the ship’s electronic navigation technology.

 

 

Did You Know?

While they typically live in cold waters, there is one pod of orca whales (aka killer whales) that resides, year-round, in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s rare to see them, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled!

Dolphins, on the other hand, seem to be everywhere out here. I’ve caught at least a glimpse of them every day so far. In fact, a group of them swam up to investigate our CTD today as it was being lowered into the water.

 

Questions to Consider:

Research: Some other famous invasive species in our oceans include the green crab (Carcinus maenas), killer algae (Caulerpa taxifolia), a jellyfish-like animal called a sea walnut (Mnemiopsis leidyi), a marine snail called rapa whelk (Rapana venosa), and the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha). Where did each of these originate? How did they come to inhabit their invaded areas? What impact are they having?

Brainstorm: What measures could you imagine taking to manage some of these species?

Research: The specific type of titration used to determine the amount of dissolved oxygen in water is called the Winkler method. How does the Winkler method work?

 

 

 

John Bilotta: A World of Wonder under the Waves, Days 1-4 in the South Atlantic MPAs, June 20, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

John Bilotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

June 17 – 27, 2014

 

Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic

Date: June 20, 2014

Weather: Sunny with clouds.  26.6 Celsius.  Wind 13 knots from 251 degrees (west).  1-2m seas from the north.

 ** Note: Upon request, note that if you click on any picture it should open full screen so you can the detail much better!

 

Science and Technology Log

Research mission objectives – what am I doing out here?

Gathering data on habitat and fish assemblages of seven species of grouper and tilefish in the South Atlantic MPAs . These species are considered to be at risk due to current stock levels and life history characteristics which make them vulnerable to overfishing.   Information gathered will help assess the health of the MPAs, the impact management is having, and the effectiveness of ROV exploratoration to make these health assessments.

Science Part I:  Multibeam sea floor mapping  Multibeam sonar sensors — sometimes called multibeam acoustic sensors echo-sounders (MB for short)  are a type of sound transmitting and receiving system that couple with GPS to produce high-resolution maps of the sea floor bottom. See how it works by checking out this cool NOAA animation. MB mapping is occurring all night long on the Nancy Foster by a team of expert mappers including Kayla Johnson, Freidrich Knuth, Samantha Martin, and Nick Mitchell (more on them and their work and NOAA careers in a future blog).  Our Chief Scientist Stacey Harter has identified areas to map.

OK, so we aren't exactly MB mapping in this photo but I wanted to introduce everyone to my host Chief Scientist in one of my first pictures.

OK, so we aren’t exactly MB mapping in this photo but I wanted to introduce everyone to my host Chief Scientist Stacey Harter in one of my first pictures.

By morning, after the mappers have worked their magic on the data, Stacey is able to see a visual representation of the sea floor.  She is looking for specific characteristics including a hard sea floor bottom, relief, and ridge lines – important characteristics for the groupers, tilefish, hinds, and other fish species under protection and management.   Stacey uses these maps to determine transects for ROV exploration.  Those transect lines are used by both the scientists driving the ROV and the navigation crew aboard the Nancy Foster.  Once down on the ocean floor, the ROV pilot follows this transect and so must the ship high above it in the waves driven by the crew.  Although 3 floors apart – it’s amazing to hear the necessary communication between them.  (Watch for one of my future posts that will highlight a MB map and a sample transect line.)

Science Part II:  ROV exploration – Completion of 8 dives

By the time this posts, we will have made 8 dives with the SubAtlantic Mohawk 18 ROV from University of North Carolina. (perhaps we will have made more dives because internet via satellites is slow and I am uncertain when this will really get posted.)

JB and ROVs first date aboard the aft deck on the Nancy Foster

JB and ROVs first date aboard the aft deck on the Nancy Foster

The ROV joined the mission with its two pilots, Lance Horn and Jason White.  Pilots extraordinaire but I otherwise see them as the ROV’s parents guiding and caring for its every move.  The technology aboard the ROV is incredible including a full spectrum video camera, a digital camera, sensors to measure depth and temperature, and 4 horizontal thrusters and one vertical thruster with twin propellers.   The ROV has donned a pair of lasers which when projected on the sea floor allow the scientists to measure items.

JB attaching the CTD probe to the ROV with instructions from Steve Matthews.

JB attaching the CTD probe to the ROV with instructions from Steve Matthews.

John receiving launch instructions from Andy David; including about how the cable attaches to the ROV and the fiber optic line.

John receiving ROV deployment instructions from Andy David; including about how the cable attaches to the ROV and the fiber optic line.

 

ROV deployment

ROV deployment

 

The ROV control station is daunting!  As one may imagine, it does include three joysticks accompanied by multiple switches, buttons, lights and alarms – all just a fingertip away from the ROV pilot.   Five monitors surround the pilot – some of them are touch screen activated adding more to the selection of options at their fingertips.  Is a Play Station a part of your daily routine?  Perhaps you should consider a career at NOAA as a ROV pilot!

ROV operations station. 1. Power supply, 2. Joystick controllers, 3. Multiple switches, 4. Four monitors for the ROV pilot alone, 5. Two monitors for the video and digital pictures, 6.  Laptop controlling digital pictures, and 7.  Multiple DVD recorders.

ROV operations station. 1. Power supply, 2. Joystick controllers, 3. Multiple switches, 4. Four monitors for the ROV pilot alone, 5. Two monitors for the video and digital picture technician, 6. Laptop controlling digital pictures, and 7. Multiple DVD recorders.

 

While the ROV drives and explores a set transect line, six additional scientists and assistants identify and record habitat, fish species, invertebrates, and other items that come into vision on any one of the monitors scattered around the lab located inside the ship.  Two scientists are recording fish species and a scientist accompanied by me the past two days are identifying habitat and invertebrates.

JB Invertebrate Logging

John assisting Stephanie Farrington (not pictured) with habitat and invertebrate identification and logging.

Of course, the ROV is on the move constantly, so fish and items of interest are flying by – you don’t have time to type or write so the scientists use short cut keyboards pre-coded with species and habitat descriptors.   Meanwhile another scientist is narrating the entire dive as everything is being recorded and yet another is controlling DVD video recording and centering and zooming the digital camera capturing hundreds of pictures during a dive.  You would be surprised by the number of computers running for this operation!  What is amazing is that everything will be linked together through a georeferrenced database using latitude and longitude coordinates.

Science Part III.  What have we seen and discovered?

On June 19th & 20th we completed 8 dives.  Some of the first species we saw included the shortbigeye, triggerfish, reef butterflyfish, and hogfish (Here is a good link of fish species on the reefs located here.)   We also observed a few stingrays and speckled hind.  For invertebrates, we saw a lot of Stichopathes (tagged as dominate during the dives) and fields of Pennatulacea (long white feathers).  We also saw echinoderms and solitary cap coral (a singular, white tube coral) and discovered a Demospongiae that Stephanie, one of the Research Biologists (see below) hadn’t seen yet; we called it a bubble-wrap sponge in my hand-written notes.

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Dive053061 15 28 29 Cubya Dive052019 12 23 13 ???????????????????????????????

 

Things that we saw today that we wished we hadn’t seen: 

Pollution  So with much of my teaching centered around clean water and pollution prevention and mitigation, I was saddened to discover the following items on the ocean floor during the first five dives: Plastic bags, cans, a barrel, a clearly visible rubber surgical glove, and an artillery shell. Interesting – from the ROV you can easily spot what the scientists call ‘human debris’ as it often has straight lines and corners, distinctly human crafted shapes – not like mother nature engineers.

Plastic balloon found during dive #2 at about 60 meters.

Plastic balloon found during dive #2 at about 60 meters. Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Black plastic garbage bag found at about 60 meters.  NOAA UNCW. Mowak ROV June 2014.

Black plastic garbage bag found at about 60 meters. NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

 Invasive species – Lionfish are everywhere!  Why are Lionfish undesirablehttp://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish.html 

Lionfish - multiple sitings today.  Photo credit:  NOAA UNCW

Lionfish – multiple sitings today. Photo credit: NOAA UNCW Mohawk ROV. June 2014.

 

Career highlight:  Stephanie Farrington, Biological Research Specialist

Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution at Florida Atlantic University

Masters of Science in Marine Biology.  Bachelors of Science in Marine Science and Biology.

Stephanie’s expertise is in collecting, classifying, and mapping marine biology with emphasis in habitats and invertebrates.  She is also proficient in ArcGIS for mapping and maintaining a database of everything she sees, discovers, and observes.  During this research trip, she is the scientist charged with identifying the habitat with an emphasis on the invertebrate species that speckle the sea floor.  For the past two days I have shadowed her side – watching the video feed from the ROV and logging.  She is a wealth of information and I really appreciate sitting next to her the past two days.  She is a master in biology and a master in buttons – and a fun spirit too.

 

Personal Log

Day 2 was spent almost entirely in transit – getting north from Mayport to Georgia, almost 9 hours.  Part of that time was spent getting to know the research team and participating in safety drills.  Sorry everyone; I did not get a picture of me in my red gumby suit (aka the life saving immersion suit).  Upon recommendation from a colleague (you know who you are) I also spent two hours on a bench on the bow reading The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman

“If Earth were the size of a Honda Odyssey minivan, the amount of water on the planet would be in a single half-liter bottle of Poland Spring in one of the van’s thirteen cup holders.” 

Although I have been out on the ocean before as well as the Great Lakes, on this day I simply felt tiny in a vast sea of blue.

For those who know me during my off-work hours, I also hit the ship’s gym -yes, that’s right, I am keeping up my routine with one exception.  My Paleo diet is now nearly broken – too much great food here from the ship’s chef’s, including ice cream.

Last night, at the end of Day 3 (Thursday) I spent the evening on the beach!  Well actually, what they call steal beach – a platform aft (behind) the ship’s bridge equipped with lounge recliners to watch the sunsets.  I sat up for seemingly hours trying to write all my excitements and discoveries in a log I am keeping.  Don’t worry though, I won’t make you read it all; my blog readers will only see a small snapshot of all I have been seeing and discovering!

 

Glossary to Enhance Your Mind

Each of my logs is going to have a list of new vocabulary to enhance your knowledge.  I am not going to post the definitions; that might be a future student assignment.  NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions HERE.  

  • Immersion suit
  • Transect
  • MPA
  • Invertebrates
  • Rugosity
  • Multibeam mapping
  • Bathymetry
  • Dominate species
  • Habitat
  • Echinoderms
  • CTD probe

Jennifer Petro: Finding the Fish, July 7, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Petro
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 1 — 14, 2013 

Mission: Marine Protected Area Surveys
Geographic area of cruise: Southern Atlantic
Date: July 7, 2013

Weather Data
Air temperature: 27.°C (81.5°F)
Barometer: 1022.50 mb
Humidity: 73%
Wind direction: 195°
Wind speed: 6.1 knots
Water temp: 26.6° C (79.3°F)
Latitude: 34 44.62 N
Longitude: 75 91.98 W

Science and Technology Log

Today we find ourselves off of the coast of northern North Carolina where we will be for the next few days.  An exciting aspect about this cruise is that we will be multi-beam mapping (a blog about that very soon) and sending the ROV down for surveys in new areas off of North Carolina.  For the past few days I have been working with the team from the Panama City Southeast Fisheries Science Center identifying fish.  This can sometimes be a very difficult prospect when the ROV is flying over the fish at 2 knots.  The team from SEFSC consists of Andy David, Stacey Harter and Heather Moe.  David is a 23 year veteran of NOAA and has been working on the MPA project since 2004.  Stacey has been working on this project since its inception as well.  Heather is new to the team and is just coming off of a 1 year assignment with the NOAA Corps at the South Pole.
There are several major objectives of this survey cruise.

There are several major objectives of this survey cruise.

(1)  To survey established MPAs to collect data to compare to previous years’ surveys.

An important aspect of these cruises is to establish the effectiveness of an MPA.  In some MPAs there is usually no fishing allowed.  This includes trolling. bottom fishing (hook and line) as well as all commercial methods of fishing.  The MPAs we are studying are Type II MPAs where trolling is permitted.  They are looking for seven specific target species.

According to Andy, these species have been chosen due to their commercial value.  During each dive a record is taken as to the type of species seen.  We are specifically looking for the target species but we are keeping track of ALL the species that we see.  I think it is fantastic to see scientists get excited about seeing something new.  So far we have seen Oceanic Sunfish (2), Redband Parrotfish, Tautog (a more northerly found fish), Longsnout Butterflyfish and one fish species that we have not identified yet.  There is an emphasis on Lionfish counts to assist in gauging how the introduction of this invasive species is affecting the overall fish populations.  In some areas the Lionfish numbers have increased dramatically over the years.  Today we actually saw one try to eat a smaller fish!  They are very abundant in some locations and not in others but they have been present in 95% of our dives.

A Speckled Hind seen inside the North Florida MPA.

A Speckled Hind seen inside the North Florida MPA.

A Warsaw Grouper seen inside the North Florida MPA.

A Warsaw Grouper seen inside the North Florida MPA.

Stacey Harter, LT JG Heather Moe and I watching the big monitor and calling out the fish that we are seeing to be recorded.

Stacey Harter, LT JG Heather Moe and I watching the big monitor and calling out the fish that we are seeing to be recorded.

(2) Survey outside of the MPAs.

You may ask “Why survey outside the area?”  We want to know if the MPAs are indeed doing what they were designed to do: protect fish species.  That was very evident in Jacksonville where the numbers and size of Gag Grouper and Scamp far exceeded the numbers and size outside the MPA.

Andy David recording for the ROV video log species of fish we are seeing on the dive.

Andy David recording for the ROV video log species of fish we are seeing on the dive.

(3)  Survey new sites for possible MPA designation.

There is a process that is followed when determining if an area is a suitable MPA candidate.  What we are doing on this cruise is both mapping and surveying new areas that have been proposed as MPA sites.  This is the ground level stage.  The MPAs in the region that we are in are ultimately determined by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

A Gray Triggerfish protecting a nest of eggs.  Seen in the Edisto MPA as well as in a proposed site off of North Carolina.

A Gray Triggerfish protecting a nest of eggs. Seen in the Edisto MPA as well as in a proposed site off of North Carolina.

Data during the dives is collected in a few ways.  There are several video monitors that we watch and we call out species that we see.  A data keyboard, like the one Harbor Branch uses for invertebrates counts, is used to keep track of types and number of each species seen.  During every dive a video from the camera on the ROV is recorded and species are highlighted and recorded on to the DVD.  This data will be analyzed thoroughly back at the lab and then sent to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

Personal Log

I am happy to announce that I have finally gotten my sea legs.  It wasn’t as bad as I had envisioned but I was definitely concerned that it would be a major issue.  We had some weather on Thursday, July 4 and that was the worst of it for me.  I now hardly feel the vessel move.  It has been fun over the past several days.  We are in the lab most of the days so we only get to really see the crew at mealtimes and after dinner.  The crew, from the CO to the engineers, are all great people.  They are happy to answer questions, point you in the right direction and are quick to say hi and ask you about your day.  Yesterday afternoon one of the engineers, Steve, gave us a tour of the engine room.  All of the ship’s infrastructure is supported by this room.  The engines run the generators for power, support the a/c, house the desalination filters (all the fresh water on board comes from salt water) as well as getting the boat from point A to point B.  I was impressed!

One of the 4 Caterpillar engines that keep Pisces running ship shape.

One of the 4 Caterpillar engines that keep Pisces running ship shape.

Today after our last ROV dive, a school of Mahi mahi followed it (the ROV) up to the surface.  The fishing was on!  The crew brought out rods, reels and bait and the fishing commenced.  Collectively we managed to land one bull or male and 2 smaller Mahi mahi.  It was a nice diversion for all of us, scientists and crew, as we were back to work all too quickly.  Fish tacos for dinner!

Hoping I can land this one!

Hoping I can land this one!

Fair weather and calm seas.

Jennifer

Did you know that…

Some grouper can grow to be so huge that when they open their mouths to feed, they create a suction that is powerful enough to inhale small prey.

Susan Kaiser: Blue Planet Connections, August 5, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: August 5, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 34 min N
Longitude:  81 deg 48 min W
Wind Speed:   2.5 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 32.1 C
Air Temperature:  29 C
Relative Humidity: 71 %

Science and Technology Log

Sunrise on the last day at sea.

Sunrise on the last day at sea.

It is easy to see why the Earth is nicknamed the Blue Planet. Its dominant physical feature is the sea water which covers approximately 70% of the surface making it appear blue even from space.   People have depended on the oceans for centuries not just for the obvious things such as food, transportation, jobs and recreation but also for the very oxygen we breathe and the fresh water we drink to survive.  Humans need the ocean for all these things and more. We are inextricably interconnected to the ocean; our survival depends on it.

The vastness of the ocean allows us to believe that human actions won’t have a major effect on it. For example, pollution that leaks into the ocean would be diluted by the huge amount of water so that no real harm would be done to the habitat or the organisms living in the ocean. This may have been true for a time when the human population was less than the 7 billion people now living on Earth. However, the fact is human actions do influence the ocean and in ways that matter. Often these impacts are unintended or accidental but they still lead to a change in the marine ecosystem.   Sadly, many times these effects are negative such as  the Deepwater Horizon/BP MC252 oil spill In 2010, an explosion on an oil drilling rig in the Gulf  of Mexico released almost 5 million barrels of oil into the ocean immediately changing the marine habitat and harming the organisms that lived there. Scientists are still determining the long term effects of this spill and helping to restore the area. In the past other spills have occurred such as the grounding of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez in 1989 that released 11 million gallons of crude oil along the Alaskan coast.

Not all ocean impacts are large events related to the petroleum industry. Even small individual human decisions can be significant. For example, if a pet owner no longer wants to keep his exotic species pet he might release it into the wild or an environment where that organism isn’t usually found.

Mrs. Kaiser holding a speared Lionfish. Photo by Jeff Renchen.

Mrs. Kaiser holding a speared Lionfish. Photo by Jeff Renchen.

This is probably how the Lionfish,  scientific name Pterois volitans, has become established in the coastal waters near the Carolinas and Florida, according to Paula Whitfield, a NOAA marine scientist. It may seem like a minor problem that the Lionfish is now living in Gulf Coast ocean water. What do you predict will happen to the number of Lionfish in this area knowing that they have everything they need to flourish: food, water, space but no predators to hunt them?  They will reproduce and increase their numbers quickly. Lionfish will out number native species of fish and beat them out for those resources displacing them in their ecosystem. Lionfish will out compete native species decreasing their numbers and the diversity of organisms. While on our cruise the science team encountered groups of Lionfish living under large rocks at depths of 100 feet. They speared a specimen and brought it aboard to examine it closely. Lionfish are invading this marine habitat taking it over from the native species. Any organism that is introduced into a new ecosystem where it can rapidly increase numbers taking over native habitat is called an invasive species. One solution to this problem is to start catching Lionfish to eat! I am told they are yummy. People just need to be taught how to safely remove their poisonous fins and taste them!

These tiny (15-20mm) fresh water bivalves are invasive species.

These tiny (15-20mm) fresh water bivalves are invasive species.

Both animal and plant organisms can be invasive species squeezing out more desirable native organisms. In Nevada, we are on the alert to an invasion of  Quagga Mussels (Dreissena bugensis) that have been detected in Lake Mead near Las Vegas. These fresh water mollusks are transported on boat exteriors or in bilge water to other fresh water lakes across the United States. It is important that boaters carefully inspect and maintain their equipment to halt the progress of this invasive species to other lakes in Nevada and elsewhere.

The Blue Planet is home to us all. Our decisions and actions make a

Roof of the Nancy Foster Complex in Key West, Florida. Note the native plants.

Roof of the Nancy Foster Complex in Key West, Florida. Note the native plants.

difference on both a small and large scale. Each of us has a responsibility to make informed choices about these actions. Realizing our reliance on the ocean and other aspects of the environment and working within in these systems really benefits all of us. For example, when architects designed the Dr. Nancy Foster Florida Keys Environment Complex in Key West, Florida they created a Green Building.  This means they made choices to  “recycle”  a neighboring building saving building materials and using it for a new purpose. Office furniture was re-purposed to fit in the new energy efficient building that is LEED Silver certified. Contributing to the ecosystem, the roof is planted with native species of grasses that provide habitat for insects and birds. The plants are watered by rain. Excess rain water is collected and stored for other uses in the building helping to conserve water. While the Dr. Nancy Foster Complex building design is indirectly related to ocean preservation it represents a human action that benefits our Blue Planet. As with the release of a hand full of Lionfish, so can many small actions together can create a big impact. Choose to be connected to our  ocean in a positive way. Through a small act you do each day we can preserve and even improve our environment and oceans. The Blue Planet is a great place to call home.  Let’s help keep it that way.

Personal Log

Science Team. Photo by Lt. Josh Slater.

Science Team. Photo by Lt. Josh Slater.

As I finish writing this last blog from my home in Reno Nevada, I am reflecting on the many people I have met and the experiences I have had as a  NOAA Teacher at Sea. It is through NOAA’s interest in connecting scientists, mariners and educators that I was able to participate in this amazing experience but also because I took a chance and applied.  I might not have been chosen but I didn’t let that stop me from taking the risk. If I had not made the time to apply and prepared my essays and sample lessons look what I would have missed. The chief scientist, Scott Donahue, also took a chance on me and accepted me as an active participant on his research cruise. He and the science team went out of their way to make sure that I stayed safe and got an outstanding experience as an observer of their research. Everyone took  time to answer my questions and describe their research to reach a larger audience, YOU!

On the last day we sailed into port at Key West, few people aboard knew that

Ensign Richard De Triquet  (right) maneuvers the ship. Executive Officer CM Donn Pratt (left) observes.

Ensign Richard De Triquet (right) maneuvers the ship. Executive Officer CM Donn Pratt (left) observes.

Ensign Richard de Triquet was given the task of bringing the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster into dock.  It was his first time to manage this procedure! Commanding Officer LCDR Holly Jablonski knew he had the skill and took a risk  assigning Ensign De Triquet to maneuver the ship into port. Working as a team, the other officers on the bridge used binoculars to spot potential obstacles in the channel. They discussed the best course for the ship and provided input to Ensign De Triquet who announced the orders.  By the way, the docking was was smoothly accomplished and I got to observe the entire process including the debriefing. Congratulations Ensign De Triquet, nice work!

My NOAA Teacher at Sea experience is one that I will never forget! It was a pleasure to be a part of this science research cruise and to

Mrs. Kaiser snorkeling Ft. Jefferson. Photo by Alejandro Acosta, PhD.

Mrs. Kaiser snorkeling Ft. Jefferson. Photo by Alejandro Acosta, PhD.

meet such a wonderful group of people. My blog would not be complete without acknowledging several individuals in the group who were especially helpful.  Danielle Morley who cheerfully provided me with an overview of the VR2 research including a power point presentation and got me involved in the data collection. Hatsue Bailey who acted as my photographer whenever needed.  Sarah Fangman who provided ground transportation. Alejandro Acosta, PhD who took me snorkeling after a tour of  Ft. Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. He also was the underwater photographer of the organisms we saw that day. Thank you, everyone!

Just as people are interconnected to the ocean they are also interconnected to each other. All of the people I met on this adventure worked together toward a common purpose. Each one of them making their own contribution to reaching that goal. They did it by doing their best work and trusting that each member of the group would in turn do their part to their best ability. Effort and communication were key to their success. From what I witnessed it worked out perfectly.

These 2 sponges are over 100 years old. They are known as the "Redwoods of the Reef." Photo by Hatsue Bailey.

These 2 sponges are over 100 years old. They are known as the “Redwoods of the Reef.” Photo by Hatsue Bailey

Summer is quickly coming to an end and with it the excitement of a new school grows. My students and I  have the opportunity to make connections, to each other, to the Blue Planet and the organisms that live here. This year, if you are faced with a challenge, be brave and take it on. Assess an opportunity and take the risk to try something unfamiliar. Extend kindness to someone outside your existing circle of friends.  Put your toe in the water and get comfortable listening, observing, thinking and asking questions. You will be amazed what you will learn and the things you will experience. Take a chance. Reflect, communicate and work together.  Scientists and NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers and crew showed how well this works to get the job done. Let’s follow their example so that your 7th grade year in science a memorable one too.

Mrs. Kaiser wearing the survival suit. Photo by Hatsue Bailey.

Mrs. Kaiser wearing the survival suit. Photo by Hatsue Bailey.

A crab exploring the ocean floor. Photo by Hatsue Bailey

A crab exploring the ocean floor. Photo by Hatsue Bailey

Scientist Danielle Morley changing out a VR2. Photo by Sean Morton.

Scientist Danielle Morley changing out a VR2. Photo by Sean Morton.

Marsha Skoczek: Lionfish, Groupers, and Bigeye, Oh My! July 11, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6 – 19, 2012

Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise:  Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of South Carolina
Date:  July 11, 2012

Location:
Latitude:  32.2899N
Longitude:  78.5443W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature:  28.1C (82.4F)
Wind Speed:   9.75 knots ( 11.2 mph)
Wind Direction:  From the SSW
Relative Humidity: 86 %
Barometric Pressure:  1017
Surface Water Temperature:  27.7C (80.6F)

Science and Technology Log

Lionfish off the South Carolina coast.

Even though our mission focuses on the five species of grouper and the two species of tilefish that I have shared in earlier postings, something that has surprised us all is the sheer number of lionfish that have invaded these reef areas.  I sat down with Andy David, Co-Principal Investigator on our cruise, to get the full scoop on this  invasive species.

An invasive species is one that does not naturally occur in an area but was either deliberately or accidentally released into the wild and competes with native species.  Alien invasive species often have very few, if any, natural predators to help keep their populations in check. As a result, invasive species populations often explode.  These invasive species begin competing with the native inhabitants for the same food supply potentially starving out the native fish and forcing them to move out of that region in search of food.

Lionfish native habitat.
Credit NOAA

Lionfish are native to the western Pacific.  They were first observed in the Atlantic Ocean in 1992 on coral reefs off West Palm Beach, FL.  Since the water temperature and bottom habitat in the South Atlantic very closely resemble that of the lionfish’s native habitat, conditions were favorable for the population to spread very rapidly.  Unlike most fish in this region the lionfish spawns year round, so it does not have a normal spawning season.  A female lionfish can spawn every couple of days and each time can release up to 15,000 eggs.  These eggs were carried off by the current and spread to other parts of the east coast.  Since few of the native Atlantic predators eat lionfish, they were able to reach maturity and continue building their population.  So what the genetic analyses indicates started as six individual lionfish off West Palm Beach in 1992, now has spread all the way north to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina via the Gulf Stream, then on other currents across to Bermuda and down to the Bahamas, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands. And they have now made their way into the Gulf of Mexico and are moving along the coastal states in the Gulf. Check out this  animation demonstrating the spread of the lionfish.

Short bigeye with lionfish

Lionfish tend to live in the same rocky reef habitats as the grouper and short bigeye, so we see them together quite frequently on our ROV dives.  All of these reef fish are competing for the same food supply — small fish and crustaceans.  The grouper, short bigeye, and lionfish prefer to live in rocky overhangs or crevasses.  Lionfish are ambush predators and will wait for their prey to swim by and suck them into their mouths.  They also have a voracious appetite.

All of the lionfish we have seen are extremely fat and happy.  They are gobbling up the food supply just as fast as they can.  Often times we will see multiple lionfish using the same rock as shelter.  In fact, in a single three-hour dive covering about 1.5 nautical miles, we saw upwards of 150 lionfish!!  And that was only within the 6-10 foot wide field of view from the ROV camera.  There are plenty more that we were not able to document since they were out of view.  In one week alone we have seen nearly 700 lionfish! Imagine how much of the available food source a whole gaggle of lionfish can consume on the reef.  The concern is that the lionfish are using up all of the food available so that the commercially important fish such as grouper and snapper will no longer have anything to eat and will be forced to leave the area.  This could be devastating to the grouper population which could result in fewer fish being available for commercial and recreational fishermen as well as a blow to the species in general.

A gaggle of lionfish off the coast of South Carolina. Can you tell how many lionfish are in this picture?

So what can we do about this?  Agencies like NOAA are encouraging divers to hunt any lionfish they see and take them home to eatLionfish derbies are sponsored by local diving organizations, such as REEF,  to encourage divers to participate in these hunts.  But hunting lionfish with scuba divers will not solve the entire problem.

On this particular research cruise, we have seen lionfish down to depths of about 100 meters (330 feet).  This is well below the limits of recreational scuba diving.  Lionfish have been seen at depths of 300 meters (1,000 feet).  How can we control the spread of this invasive species at depth?  Some groups such as the Roatan Marine Park think that training sharks to prey on lionfish might be a solution.  This is a lengthy process and it is uncertain if the sharks would continue to hunt lionfish once they are out in nature on their own.  Some species of grouper and moray eels can also eat lionfish, but they prefer to just leave them alone rather than risk being the recipient of a sharp sting from those pesky poisonous fins.  The cornet fish might also prey upon juvenile lionfish by sneaking up on them from behind.  We have seen about a dozen cornetfish in this first week of ROV footage compared to the one per year that are seen normally.  Could the cornetfish be a partial solution to this invasion?  We can only hope.

There is also a concern with the push to make lionfish a commercial species.  Since they inhabit coral reefs, it is possible that lionfish, along with grouper and amberjacks, could become tainted with a toxin called ciguatera.  In a joint study between NOAA and the FDA in the seas surrounding the Lesser Antilles islands of St. Maarten, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, ciguatera was found in 26% of the lionfish sampled.  These larger reef fish prey upon the smaller herbivorous reef fish that have eaten the algae carrying the ciguatera toxin.  Through biomagnification, the lionfish, grouper, amberjacks and snapper carry enough of the toxin to make humans extremely ill.  Symptoms of ciguatera poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, muscle aches, and reversal of hot and cold sensation, just to name a few.  Symptoms can last for weeks to years depending on the individual.  This toxin cannot be removed from the fish by cooking, so the debate continues as to whether lionfish are safe enough to be marketed as a commercial fish in areas where ciguatera is present.

Personal Log

Here I am in the drylab counting lionfish from ROV images.

I am amazed at how quickly the lionfish have spread throughout the Western Atlantic region.  So what started out as six lionfish in 1992, now numbers over 10,000,000 just twenty years later.  Their coloring allows them to remain camouflaged so they are able to just sit and wait for food to come to them.  When we are looking at the ROV screen, it is not always easy to spot these invaders at first. Their prey probably don’t even realize that they are about to be eaten, they blend in that well.  Andy David says that with most invasive species, we see a spike in numbers initially, but eventually the numbers should come back down as the lionfish run out of food and as other predators learn how to eat them.  How long until we start to see a decline?  That remains to be seen.  Things may get worse before they get better, or we may already be seeing a decline in numbers.  More research needs to be done.

Ocean Careers Interview

Andy David

In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday.  Today I interviewed Andrew David, Co-Principal Investigator on this expedition.

What is your job title? I am a Research Fishery Biologist and the Chair of the NOAA Diving Control and Safety Board.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  As a fishery biologist for NOAA, I am currently conducting research on the commercial fish of the South Atlantic such as grouper and tilefish.  As part of my research, we also study the habitat that these fish live in which are the shelf edge and deep reefs.  The data that we collect on these species is used to help fishery managers determine where the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico MPAs should be placed and if they should be maintained.

As the Chairman of the NOAA Diving Control and Safety Board, I work with the diving officers of other NOAA programs to monitor the safety of the roughly 500 divers in the agency.  We do this by creating a set of standards that all divers in NOAA must adhere to, testing new diving equipment, and working with other diving organizations to ensure safe and effective procedures are followed.  Our safety record is very good. We normally make close to 15,000 dives a year with an incident rate of below 0.01 percent.

What type of education did you need to get this job? I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry and Biology from Stetson University in Deland, Florida.  My Master’s Degree is in Marine Science from the University of Southern Florida.  My Master’s work focused on the effects of genetically engineered bacteria in the marine environment. It wasn’t exactly what I thought I would study in graduate school, but it was an excellent opportunity that I could not pass up and it helped me to network with other scientists in the field.  This led to me getting my job with NOAA straight out of graduate school where I work on topics that have a greater interest to me.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  Working on these deep corals projects has been very rewarding.  We have discovered many things on these projects, such as a greater coverage of deep coral reefs than was previously thought, new species of crustaceans, and range and depth extensions for several species.  Plus I get to spend time at sea every year while we conduct our research.

What advice do you have for students wanting a career in marine biology?  You do not have to go straight into marine biology at a school near the coast as an undergraduate.  In fact, it is probably better if you major in a core science such as chemistry or biology for your Bachelor’s and then focus more on marine science when you start looking for a graduate school.  Send your applications out to professors at universities with good marine biology programs.  If you are offered a position working with a professor who offers you research support, you should strongly consider taking it even if the research topic is not your favorite.  Graduate school is about learning how to become a good scientist — you have plenty of time to specialize in an area of interest to you when you get out of school.

Also, take internship opportunities when you can find them!  That is how scientists in the field get to know you and what you are capable of.  Internships might lead you to your first job out of college.  For example, Stacey Harter, the Chief Scientist on our cruise, started with Andy David as an intern.  When she graduated from college, they offered her a job!  Get internships!

Lesley Urasky: Get that fish outta here! The invasive lionfish, June 24, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 24, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 19.8584
Longitude: -66.4717

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 29°C (84°F)
Wind Speed:   16 knots (18 mph), Beaufort scale:  4
Wind Direction: from SE
Relative Humidity: 76%
Barometric Pressure:   1,015.3 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (82°F)

Lionfish in its native habitat. ( Source: National Geographic; Photograph by Wolcott Henry)

Science and Technology Log

One of the species the scientists are continually scanning for in their videos is the appearance of the Lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles); this is one fish they’re hoping not to see.  It is not native to these waters and is what is known as an invasive or exotic  species.

An invasive species is one that is not indigenous (native) to an ecosystem or area.  Many times these organisms are able to exponentially increase their populations because they may have no natural predators, competition for resources, or they may be able to utilize those resources not used by native organisms.  Most invasions are caused by human actions.  This may involve intentional introduction (many invasive plant species were brought in to create a familiar environment or crop/foraging source), accidentally (rats travelling on ships to distant ports), or unintentionally (people releasing pets that they can no longer take care of). Invasive organisms are problematic because:

  • They can reduce natural biodiversity and native species.
    • Push other species to extinction
    • Interbreed, producing hybrids
  • Degrade or change ecosystem functions
  • Economically:
    • They can be expensive to manage
    • Affect locally produced products causing a decline in revenue (decline of honey bees due to a mite infestation which, in turn, decreases pollination rates)

Within its native habitat, the Indo-Pacific region, the Lionfish  (Pterois volitans/miles) is not a problem because that is where they evolved.  It is in the family Family Scorpaenidae (Scorpionfishes). They inhabit reef systems between depths of 10 m – 175 m.  During the day, they generally can be found within crevices along the reef; at night they emerge to forage in deeper waters, feeding upon smaller fish and crustaceans.

Native range of the Lionfish

Lionfish are venomous and when a person is “stung” by the spines on the dorsal fin, they experience extreme pain, nausea, and can have breathing difficulties.  However, a sting is rarely fatal.  Despite the hazards of the spines, Lionfish are a popular aquarium species.  The problem arises when pet owners irresponsibly get rid of the fish in their aquariums.  Instead of giving them away to pet shops, schools, organizations, or other fish enthusiasts, or contacting a local veterinarian about how to humanely dispose of them, they release them into a nearby marine body of water.  It’s important to realize that even the smallest, seemingly isolated act can have such large consequences.  Remember, if one person is doing it, chances are, others are too. The responsibility of owning an organism is also knowing how to manage it; we need to realize how to protect our marine habitats.

This is where the problem in the Atlantic began.  The occurrence of Lionfish was first noticed along the southeastern coast of Florida in 1985.  An invasive species is considered established when a breeding population develops.  Since their establishment in the waters off of Florida, they have rapidly spread throughout the Atlantic as far north as Rhode Island/Massachusetts , throughout the Caribbean, and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Animated map depicting the spread of the Lionfish

While on our cruise every sighting of a Lionfish was cause for further examination.  There was one Lionfish that exhibited a behavior that Kevin Rademacher (Chief Scientist) had never seen before.  The fish was on the bottom and moving himself along instead of freely swimming.  Videos like this are instrumental in helping scientists figure out Lionfish behavior in their “new” environment as well as their interactions with the surrounding organisms and environment.  Hopefully, as this database continues to grow, scientists will develop new understandings of the Lionfish and its effect on the waters of the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico.

Divers are encouraged to kill any Lionfish they encounter.  The only safe way to do this is from a distance (remember, their dorsal spines are venomous); usually, this is accomplished by using a spear gun.  The Commander of the Pisces, Peter Fischel,  was doing a final dive off the pier before we left St. Croix.  He saw three Lionfish, speared them, and brought them to the scientific crew for data collection.  These were frozen and placed in a Ziploc back for preservation.  They will be examined back at the lab in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Three Lionfish caught along the Frederickstad, St. Croix pier. (Notice the 6″ ruler for scale.)

Personal Log

The science portion of the cruise is coming to a close. Today was our last day of sampling.  As with yesterday, no fish were caught by the day crew, so we were able to begin cleaning and packing throughout the day instead of waiting until the end.  A few days after we arrive in Mayport, Florida, the Pisces will be going out on another cruise along the east coast.  On Sunday, July 1st, Joey Salisbury will be arriving in Mayport with a trailer to unload all the scientific equipment and personal gear from this research cruise.

Bandit reel with St. Thomas in the background

In addition to packing, the wet lab and deck have to be cleaned.  This entails scrubbing down the tables, coolers, and rails along the deck where we baited our hooks to remove all the fish “scum” that has accumulated over the past three weeks.  Between the four of us, we were able to make quick work of the job.  There is only one task left for me to do, and that is to take all of our leftover bait, Atlantic Mackerel, and throw it overboard once we are away from the islands.  (The bait has been used over the course of the past two years, and has essentially outlived its freshness.)

Day operations crew on the Pisces Caribbean Reef Fish Survey (left to right: Ariane Frappier, Kevin Rademacher (Chief Scientist), Joey Salisbury, and myself).


I want to thank all the scientists on the day operations crew and the deck hands for making me feel so welcome, being ever so patient as I learned how to bait hook, load the bandit reel, remove otoliths, sex  the fish, and answer every type of question I had.  They’re all amazing people and are passionate about their jobs.  Kevin was not only great at thoroughly answering any and all questions, but anticipated those I might have and brought interesting things to my attention.  Thank you everyone for an amazing experience that I’ll never forget!

Another incredible person that helped make my trip memorable is my roommate, NOAA Operations Officer, Kelly Schill.  She was very welcoming and made me feel immediately at home on the ship.  She gave me a thorough tour and introduced me to the crew.  I interviewed her briefly about her job in the NOAA Corps.

Kelly Schill, Operations Officer aboard the NOAA ship Pisces. (Source: http://www.noaacorps.noaa.gov)

LU: Kelly, what is your job title and what do you do?

KS: I am a Lieutenant junior grade in the NOAA Corps.  The NOAA Corps is one of the 7 uniformed services and I serve as the Operations Officer aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces.

LU: How long have you been working with NOAA?

KS: I have worked for NOAA a total of 4 years; 3 of which were aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces as a NOAA Corps Officer. My first year, I was a physical scientist and developed geospatial visualizations to assist in the generation of navigational warnings and maritime safety information for Dangers to Navigation for the NOAA and contractor surveys.  I assisted NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson in the field with the acquisition, converting and cleaning of multi-beam and side-scan sonar data.

Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces, my responsibility is to be the liaison between the ship’s crew and scientific party to ensure the mission is carried out smoothly and efficiently.  A big part of my job is to handle the logistics and transportation, such as project planning and setting up dockage at different ports from Texas to the Caribbean up to Massachusetts. Most importantly, to continue to learn the intricacies of the ship, effectively operate, and practice safe navigation at all times.

LU: What background and skills are necessary for your job?

KS:  A Bachelors Degree of sciences.  You must complete a year of chemistry, physics and calculus.  Geographic information System (GIS) is equally important. To be well-rounded, internships or field research experience is highly recommended.

Kelly Schill showing off the otolith she just extracted from a Red Hind.

LU: What type(s) of training have you been through for your job?

KS: Being in the uniform service, I was sent to Basic Officer Training Course (BOTC) to learn military etiquette, terrestrial and celestial navigation, safety aboard ships, search and rescue, fire prevention, hands on experience in driving small boats up to larger vessels, etc.  Once out of BOTC and on an assigned ship, I was able to attend further training:  hazardous material courses, dive school, rescue swimming, and medical. There are many more opportunities that were offered. I have only touched on a few.

LU: Have you worked on other ships not associated with scientific research?  If so, what was your job and what type of ship was it?

KS: No, all my experiences were on ships regarding scientific research:  NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson (hydrographic ship) and the NOAA Ship Pisces (fisheries ship).

LU: Does being on a science research ship bring any specific/different expectations than being on another type of merchant ship?

KS: I am unfamiliar with the expectations on a merchant ship.  Generally, the research vessels are used to support studies intended to increase the public’s understanding of the world’s oceans and climate. Research vessels are not set on a point A to point B system. Various operations are conducted from fisheries, bathymetry, oceanographic, to marine mammal data collection.   These various research projects dictate operation area.  Contrary to research vessels, merchant ships usually have a set destination, from point A to point B transporting cargo of one type or another.

LU:  We are in the middle of a huge ocean, and our destination – a specific sampling site – is a pinpoint on a map. What has to be considered to make sure you get to the exact location?

NOAA ship Pisces ECDIS map. This is a nautical map that is updated monthly.

Closeup of navigational maps showing the location of our sampling sites.

KS:  We use a number of tools: ECDIS, Rosepoint, paper charts, GPS, Dynamic Positioning, and of course manual operation. The scientists will provide a location where they want the ship to be for operations to take place. We use all navigational tools to navigate to that position by creating a route, based on a good GPS feed. Navigational tools include: ECDIS (shows an electronic vector chart), Rosepoint (shows an electronic raster chart), and paper charts.  Multiple navigational tools are for redundancy to ensure safe navigation.

All routes are created on the side of safety to avoid collision with shoals, wrecks, land, neighboring ships, platforms, buoys, obstructions, etc. Once, we are close to our sampling station, the ship is set up into the wind or the current (whichever force is stronger), reduce propulsion, turn rudder hard over to one side to assist in the reduction of propulsion and to line up on a heading in favor of wind or current. The bow thruster can assist in turns as well. Depending on how strict the mission is to hold an exact coordinate, the dynamic position is dialed in and activated.  Otherwise, the watch stander will manually control the engine speed, bow thruster, and rudder to maintain position utilizing outside forces, such as wind, swell, wave state, and currents.

The ship’s radar. The yellow objects at the bottom are St. Thomas and its surrounding small islands, while other vessels will appear in green.

LU: Once we reach a site, what do you need to do to maintain that position during the sampling process?

KS: Every ship has its perks and not all are the same in maintaining a position during the sampling process. Our ship has dynamic positioning (DPS) which uses the rudder, propulsion, and a bow thruster simultaneously to hold position. However, just like any software system, it only works as well as the operator.  The parameters have to be just right to accomplish this goal.  Parameters are set up based on wind speed, swells, sea state, and currents.  All must jive for a positive outcome. Our ship works more efficiently facing into the wind or current; whichever force is the strongest. If both are strong, we split the difference. Should either the bow thruster, main engine, or steering fail, the dynamic position will not properly compensate.

Dynamic Positioning System (DPS) screen. This instrument helps hold the ship at a precise location.

Kelly, thanks for the interview as well as being a great role model for women!  Remember, girls, if you want it, go get it!