Paul Ritter: Trap-Tastic – A Great Day in the Sun, July 18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paul Ritter
Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces
July 16– August 1, 2013 

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)
Geographical area of cruise: Southeastern US Atlantic Ocean waters (continental shelf and shelf-break waters ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC to Port St. Lucie, FL)
Date: July 18, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge

7-18-13 ship data

Science and Technology Log

Paul Ritter onboard NOAA Ship Pisces

Life at sea is crazy and amazing.  It is kind of like Forrest Gump would say “ you never know what you’re gonna get”.  Today we set out our first two sets of traps.  Six individual traps are baited up with a fish called Menhaden—Brevoortia tyrannus.

Menhaden are about 15 to 35 cm long and they very stinky.  They might stink more than any fish I have ever smelled.  Menhaden are high in oil and a major source of omega-3 fatty acids, which make them delicious to other fish and keeps them from having heart disease and Alzheimer’s.  It must work.  Think about it, I have never heard of a fish having a heart attack let alone Alzheimer’s.  Back to the traps….

Each trap gets four bait lines of Menhaden and then we cut up and throw in eight more just for good measure, kind of like they did in Jaws.  Once the bait is in, the trap door is shut, and cameras are put on tops of each trap.  One camera facing forward and one camera facing backwards completes the setup for the reef survey chevron trap.  The cool thing about the cameras on the traps is the front ones are Go Pro video cameras which are most often used in extreme sports.  I actually own two of them.  No. I am not really in to extreme sports.  We use them as helmet cams when we ride our four wheelers on trails.

The traps, which are individually numbered, are laid out on the aft deck (back) of the ship to prepare for sending them to the ocean floor.   An amazing feature of the ship is the ramp deck.  The moment Zeb “the chief scientist” gives the shout on the radio, Ryan “the skilled fisherman” (his actual title) pulls the lever and the back of the ship, or ramp deck, slides down.  It is at this point when the traps, cameras, and Menhaden are pushed off the back and all fly to the reef below.   It takes a little over a minute for the trap to reach the bottom which is around 70 meters or 223 feet deep.  Ninety minutes later we recover the traps one by one and inspect the catch.

Menhaden bait fish dangling from stringers

Personal Log

Thursday July 18, 2013

Well, the great big exciting news for this expedition….  I don’t get sea sick.  Woo Hoo.  You might not think this is such an amazing thing but you have no idea how happy I am to be able to say this.  We had at least one person who got sick already and I am thankful not to have gone through it.

I woke up around 5:30 A.M. this morning to get ready for our first day of work.  Breakfast consisted of pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, and juice.   I am here to tell you that the Chief Steward (Moises) aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces might be one of the best things to happen to her.   While I have only been on board for 48 hours, it is readily apparent that the crew has been well taken care of when it comes to eating.  Delicious.

After breakfast our team made our way to set up our video/chevron live trap on the aft (back)deck to prepare for the day’s work.  At around 7:45, we got the call from Zeb (the chief scientist) in the dry lab to start dropping traps.  First set of six traps made it into the water with no trouble.   Ninety minutes later we hauled them all back in one by one.  We emptied the live fish from the traps into tubs and placed them into the wet lab.  Zack Gillum, a graduate assistant from East Carolina University and my roommate for this expedition, and I carried the traps back to the aft deck and prepared them for re-baiting.  With the ship in full gear it only took about a half hour for us to reach our second drop zone or sampling area.

After our ninety minute bottom time, the traps came up, the traps were cleaned out and we were done sampling for the day.  The main reason we were done is that it was going to take us quite awhile to travel to our next sample site.    During this time of cleaning up, we emptied the traps, which were very smelly, and filled with half eaten Menhaden.  Wow they even stink after they have been underwater for ninety minutes.  which included swabbing the deck.  The only thing I could think of when we were scrubbing away is a song I learned during my childhood… It goes something like this….

Maybe you've heard the expression, "Swab the Deck?" It just means "Mop the Floor."
Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “Swab the Deck?” It just means “Mop the Floor.”

If you’re a pirate and you know it, swab the deck (swish, swish),

If you’re a pirate and you know it, swab the deck (swish, swish),

If you’re a pirate and you know it, then your face will surely show it (swish, swish),

If you’re a pirate and you know it, swab the deck (swish, swish).

Trust me if you sing it once it will stick in your head the rest of your life, it has mine for the last 35 plus years.

Somewhere in the middle of about the 50th verse of the song, we had an emergency fire drill.  It was relatively easy.  We simply had to quickly make our way to our prearranged staging area.  No big deal.  Shortly after that the Captain of the Pisces called an emergency evacuation drill.  This drill was not quite as easy. We had to run to our stateroom, grab long sleeve t-shirts, long pants, a hat, and our survival suit.  Once on deck we had to don all of our gear in about sixty seconds.  Man that thing was hot and sweat was pouring off of me like water going over Niagara Falls.  What is worse, I looked like a giant red Gumby Doll.  After the drill we finished cleaning up our messes, and filleted all of our fish and whatever we do not need to keep for research, will get donated to the local food pantries.  NOAA is amazing and so are her people.

Paul Ritter, in his ‘Gumby Suit’


Did You Know? 

Ships use different terms to describe direction on a ship.  They are easy to remember.

Port = left side

Starboard = Right side

Aft = Back

Carmen Andrews: A Fishing Expedition in the Atlantic, July 11, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – July 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida
Date: July 11, 2012

Latitude: 29 ° 55.96’   N
Longitude: 80 ° 31.29’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 27.6°C (81.7°F)
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: from S
Surface Water Temperature: 28.12 °C (82.6°F)
Weather conditions: Fair

Science and Technology Log

Catching bottom fish at the reef

Pulling in a successful catch of reef fish provides scientists with an important sampling source of fish numbers and species diversity.

A good catch of scamp and gray triggerfish
A good catch of scamp and gray triggerfish

The process requires a systematic and complex capture protocol. As with any well-designed science investigation, the equipment needs to be robust and the sequence of steps in the process of fish takings must be followed with consistency. The methods and materials are kept as similar as possible in multiple sites over a wide area.

The area to be sampled is mapped out in advance with electronic navigation tools.

Nobeltech Map
Electronic Nobeltech Map display used to plan sampling sites for the reef fish survey

This habitat is where the targeted fish species – red and vermillion snapper, gray triggerfish, black sea bass, red porgy, scamp, squirrelfish, almaco jack and amberjack, among others – are most likely found.

Chevron fish traps are used to trap fish for scientific study. Fish trapping using these devices is not permitted by sport or commercial fishermen. When the traps are received from manufacturers, they are not rigged sufficiently to withstand the rigors of trapping fish near undersea ledge formations.

Traps are sometimes snagged on nearby ledges as they are hoisted toward the boat. The side where the cable is attached must be reinforced using a rebar rod to avoid deforming and possibly rupturing the trap.

David and Shelly attaching rebar to side of trap
David and Shelly attaching rebar to the side of a trap

Heavy metal ballast weights are fixed to the bottom of the traps and cable attachments are added on the reinforced side.

David and Adam P. are attaching cable hook ups to the side of a trap
David and Adam P. are attaching cable hook ups to the side of a trap

The trap’s wire lattice is cut at the top to create small openings for stringers (cords with attached wooden blocks) that dangle bait fish inside the trap. A larger opening is cut on one side of the trap to function as an escape hatch for trapped fish if the trap becomes unretrievably wedged at the bottom.

Shelly affixing zinc pop-ups
Shelly is affixing zinc pop-ups to the lost trap fish exit

Four stringers, each with four menhaden bait fish are tied and suspended into each trap’s quadrants, and attached to the trap bottom with a clasp. Additional menhaden are scattered on the floor of each trap.

Menhaden bait fish
Menhaden bait fish

Underwater video cameras are attached above the entrance of the trap and on the opposite side. The entrance camera monitors fish that may be entering the trap. The other camera allows scientists examine the habitat near the trap and to note other species in the vicinity.

Nate and Shelly are mounting underwater video cameras
Nate and Shelly are mounting underwater video cameras

The traps are readied for deployment on the stern of the R/V Savannah. A horn blast from the wheel house signals when the boat is positioned over the reef coordinates.

Nate Bacheler and Capt. Sweatte
Captain Sweatte, at left is piloting the R/V Savannah, while Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler signals to the stern when to drop a fish trap.

The trap is pushed off the back deck and sinks to the bottom.

Shelly and me dropping a fish trap from the stern of the R/V Savannah
Shelly and I are dropping a fish trap from the stern of the R/V Savannah

Two floating numbered “poly balls” are clipped to each trap. They are released one by one after the trap goes down. Six pairs of poly balls function as buoys to mark the pick-up location of each trap.

Poly ball buoys marking location of fish traps
Poly ball buoys marking location of fish traps

After all the traps are in place, a CTD is lowered over the side of the boat to determine conductivity, temperature and depth, as well as salinity, of the fish sampling site. CTD data is transmitted and stored electronically in the dry lab.

CTD submerging
CTD is being lowered to measure conductivity, temperature and salinity of the area where fish traps have been set

Ninety minutes after they are dropped, the fish traps are raised in the order in which they were laid.

Personal Log

Last night scientists and crew were line fishing for reef fish to supplement the trapped specimens. There were some amazing fish catches using the rods and reels off the stern of the R/V Savannah. I didn’t catch any fish, but I did manage to catch some amazing nighttime pictures of the activity with my camera.

Adam L. reeling in a hammerhead shark
Adam L. reeling in a hammerhead shark
Hammerhead being reeled to the surface
Hammerhead being reeled to the surface
Hammerhead shark breaking the surface of the water
Hammerhead shark breaking the surface of the water
Hammerhead being cut from fishing line for release
Hammerhead being cut from fishing line for release
Scientists and boat crew fishing the reef
Scientists and boat crew fishing the reef
First mate Pete holding a red snapper he just caught
First mate Pete holding a red snapper he just caught

Walter Charuba: Trap Deployment, July 21st, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Walter Charuba
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 18 — 29, 2011

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 21, 2011

Science and Technology Log

Dear Blog Aficionados,

Cumulonimbus clouds on the horizon
Cumulonimbus clouds on the horizon

Today I saw two different types of sea turtles, a bunch of jelly fishes, dolphins, and the people on the boat. It has been a beautiful day and I am trying to rest up because it is going to be a long day and night of setting up traps and categorizing fish. The weather here is hot and somewhat clear. I believe there is a high pressure system over us at this time. However, when you look over the coast of Florida there are these extremely large rain clouds, which are cumulonimbus clouds, rising into the sky.  The sky is clear all around the boat and suddenly there is this large mass of clouds. Last night was very memorable when a lightning storm intermittently made this region glow. I stood at the bow, stern, port side, or starboard side in wonder of this spectacle. (Hopefully I will learn locations by the end of the trip.)

The last time I wrote about myself I was a bit nauseated, which does not do much for the self-esteem. My name is Walter Charuba and I have been teaching for a number of years. (This is code for not wanting to give you a specific number.) I am lucky to work for Grosse Pointe Schools at a great school called Brownell Middle School. I am also lucky to live in Grosse Pointe Farms and I actually live about a half a block from my school. This makes my carbon footprint sort of a toe print.

I have won numerous teaching awards such as Best Dressed Teacher, Youngest Looking Teacher (I hand out treats for this one.) and Teacher Who Lives Closest to School. After filling out the forms and passing the physical, and these examples from my wonderful resume, I was lucky enough to be chosen for the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. Seriously, I do feel very fortunate to be part of this program and learning from these scientists.

You now may be wondering what exactly am I doing on this wonderful boat called the Savannah?  (If you are not wondering about it, could you change your focus, because this concerns my next paragraph!)  I am assisting in a very large fisheries survey by setting up fish traps, deploying of fish traps, and collecting data about the fish. When laid flat, the fish traps are six by five feet across and two feet deep. In these traps we place 24 menhaden bait fish, which are a close relative to the herring, if that means anything to you.

Then 5 to 6 traps are dropped off the back of the boat with special cameras to record activity around the trap. These cameras take about ninety minutes of footage. The traps also have two buoys connected to them to assist in collection. The areas where the traps are dropped are designated by the Chief Scientist, Warren Mitchell. Using sonar, Warren has to consider depth, currents, distance, topography, and a time schedule. Not an easy decision.

Setting the fish traps with bait
Setting the fish traps with bait

Science Watch Chiefs, Sarah Goldman and David Berrane, have to make certain the drop offs go smoothly. They have to make certain there are enough bait in the traps, and if all materials are ready for a perfect drop. Trap and data collection are another major responsibility of the chief scientists, and this will be the topic of the next blog.

Thanks for reading,

Walt (Mr. Charuba to my students.)

We caught a shark
We caught a shark