Nikki Durkan: Parasites Abound, June 29, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nikki Durkan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 11 – 30, 2015

Mission: Midwater Assessment Conservation Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Monday, June 29, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind speed (knots): 8.25
Sea Temp (deg C): 10.59
Air Temp (deg C):  10

Science and Technology Log:

Parasites – some lurk inside our bodies without us knowing and some could even have an influence on our personalities. One of my favorite Radio Lab episodes describes research conducted on this subject. National Geographic Magazine also published a feature article I found quite interesting – Zombie Parasites that Mind Control Their Hosts.  In addition to capturing our interest because of their sci-fi-like existence, parasites may also be utilized to study ecological interactions.  Parasites a fish picks up throughout its life can indicate information about where the fish has traveled – these co-dependent organisms serve as biological tags that scientists can then interpret.

Nematodes on Pollock Liver - most of the Pollock we caught have had these in their guts.

Nematodes on Pollock Liver – most of the Pollock we caught have had these in their guts.

Parasites often require several hosts to complete their lifecycles and one nematode that can infect Pollock (and humans incidentally) is Anisakiasis.  While I love sushi, raw fish can pose serious risk to our health.  “Sushi-grade” labels, similar to the ubiquitous “natural” labels, do not meet any standardized specifications. However, the FDA does set freezing requirements for the sale of raw fish that commonly possess parasites…so enjoy your sushi 🙂

The pathobiologists at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center are currently investigating the impacts certain parasites may have on Pollock. While many species of parasites have been recognized, we still have a lot to learn about their impact on populations and ecosystems. Scientists are attempting to identify those that are likely to influence the booms and busts that can occur within the Pollock populations. More specifically, their current research centers around a microsporidian (pleistophora sp.) that lives within the muscle tissue of Pollock and may impact the fishes ability to swim and breed. (AFSC Pathobiology)

Microsporidian (pleistophora sp.) marked with asterisk Photo Credit: NOAA

These critters are found in most Pollock catches as well - they are sometimes called sea lice.

These critters are found in most Pollock catches as well – they are also called sea lice.

Sometimes ships pick up parasites too! The introduction of invasive species to fragile ecosystems is one of the leading causes of extinction and ballast water is the number one reason for the distribution of aquatic nuisance species. The Great Lakes region serves as a warning about the devastation ballast water can inflict on an ecosystem. Ships can transport ballast water from one region to another and then release the ballast water (along with numerous non-native organisms). No longer encumbered by natural predators or other environmental pressures that help to keep populations in check, the invasive species can flourish, often at the expense of the native species. NOAA has implemented strict guidelines for the release of ballast water to limit the spread of invasive species.  The Oscar Dyson also uses a lot of oil to keep all the working parts of our engine room functioning, but some of this oil drips off and collects in the bilge water. This oily bilge water is then separated and the oil is used in our trash incinerator (all garbage with the exception of food scraps is burned in the incinerator).  Thanks to our Chief Marine Engineer, Alan Bennett, for taking me and Vinny on a tour of the ship.

Thanks, Allan!

Thanks, Allan!

Personal Log:

Fortunately, after three weeks of being splattered with all parts of a Pollock you can think of and eating my fair share of fish, I am currently free of fish parasites…to my knowledge! Our wonderful chefs, Arnold Dones and Adam Staiger, have been cooking healthy, varied meals for 32 people over the course of three weeks – this is no small feat!  The soups are my favorite and have inspired me to make more when I return home. I know from camping experiences with my students and living at a boarding school campus, that food is directly connected to morale.  Last night, the chefs spoiled everyone with steak and crab legs!

Chef Adam Staiger is full of smiles!

Chef Adam Staiger is always full of smiles!

 

Nikki Durkan: Global Commons, June 13, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nikki Durkan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 11 – 30, 2015

Mission: Midwater Assessment Conservation Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Saturday, June 13, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind speed (knots):  14.16
Sea Temp (deg C):  8.97
Air Temp (deg C):  8.06

Science and Technology Log

During my first several days in Kodiak, I spent as much time as possible exploring the island on foot.  I hiked up Pillar Mountain to the wind turbines which now help to make Kodiak virtually 100% renewably powered; 14% comes from these turbines while the bulk of the electricity is generated by Terror Lake hydro-power facility located within the interior of the island.  The hydro and wind generation replaced a diesel powered generator and resulted in many benefits to the town and our atmospheric global commons.

View from Pillar Mountain

View of turbines from Pillar Mountain

The idea of a global commons is one I spend a lot of time discussing in the first days of my environmental science course.  The Global Commons includes resources or regions outside the political reach of any one nation state:  the Atmosphere, Outer Space, Antarctica, and you guessed it…the High Seas!

June is National Ocean Month – and the theme for this week is marine debris.  I recently learned a new doctrine of mare liberum (free sea for everyone), but I’d like to add the latin word for responsibility, officium.  Dumping wastes is commonplace with the mantra of “dilution is the solution to pollution” and this practice continues to create challenges in our oceans.  Plastics pose a major threat to our marine life and NOAA is taking significant steps toward reducing plastic pollution through a variety of educational campaigns.  Plastic marine debris can come from a variety of industrial and domestic products, as well as lost or discarded fishing equipment.

While exploring the lovely little town of Kodiak, I came upon the rare plastic Iqaluk (Iñupiaq word meaning fish):

Sculpture constructed from collected marine debris

Sculpture constructed from collected marine debris

Another challenge facing our Global Commons includes over fishing in the High Seas.  Have you eaten Fish sticks, Filet-o-fish, Imitation-crab….otherwise known as Alaskan Pollock?  My mother often told me she craved McDonald’s fish sandwiches while pregnant with me; perhaps those sandwiches somehow led me to this spot 20 miles off the Aleutian Islands?  One of the main reasons we are on the Oscar Dyson for the next three weeks is to gather data on the Alaskan Pollock populations so that the fishery can be maintained at a sustainable level.  This Alaskan Pollock commercial fishery is one of the most economically valuable and well managed fisheries in the world.  Part of this success is due to the implementation of the MSA (Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act) that set up a system governing the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone – waters three to 200 miles offshore), and also established NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) under NOAA (you better know what this means).  The UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) provides international guidelines and law for our oceans.  Acronyms…scientists and the military love them.  I will learn to love them.

 Personal Log

On the topic of marine debris, there are often jokes made on the bridge about the too-fat-to-fly puffins. They furiously flap their little wings in front of our ship.

Tufted Puffin

Tufted Puffin Photo credit: NOAA image gallery

Apparently cribbage is the game to play on the Oscar Dyson and thanks to Emily Collins (fisheries biologist), I now have another card game to add to my repertoire.  Ever tried to ride a stationary bike on a ship?  The feeling is hard to describe and I must have a sensitive stomach because occasionally I feel as if I am on a roller coaster! Currently I am sitting in my stateroom listening to the sloshing ocean that gurgles and surges with the swell against the wall; the sounds are 95% soothing and 5% terrifying.  I will not get sea sick and I will do my best not to become marine debris….
Did You Know?  In the event that I have to abandon ship, my “Gumby suit” will help me survive the frigid waters of the Gulf of Alaska.
Donning my Immersion Suit!

Donning my Immersion “Gumby” Suit!

 

Nikki Durkan: Introductions! June 4, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nikki Durkan
Boarding NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson next week!
Date Range at Sea: June 11 – 30, 2015

Mission: Acoustic-trawl Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Thursday, June 4 2015

Introduction

Hello from Steamboat Springs, Colorado!  This is my 7th year living in this spectacular Rocky Mountain town at 6,900 feet/2103 meters.  I currently teach biology, geography, AP environmental science, and global politics at an independent high school called the Steamboat Mountain School.  I love this little, adventurous school and feel fortunate to call our campus in the woods my home.  As I finish up my teaching responsibilities at the end of the year and say goodbye to my talented, fun-loving, and hilarious students (a good sense of humor is requisite for teaching high schoolers), I always take time to reflect on how I can improve my craft as an instructor for next year.  What better way to sharpen my inquiry skills than to live at sea with scientists for 20 days?  I applied to the Teacher at Sea program looking for a top notch research experience to enrich my curriculum and obviously for the adventure this program affords me!

I believe I first became enamoured with marine science as a young girl while exploring the beaches surrounding Buzzards Bay – it was here that I discovered the fascinating lives of horseshoe crabs!  Did you know their baby blue blood contains a chemical superpower used to verify bacterial contamination in every FDA approved drug?

In college at the University of Colorado, Boulder, I earned my degrees in biology and secondary science education.  And before moving to Steamboat Springs, I lived in Maui, Hawaii with my family where I worked for the Pacific Whale Foundation as a naturalist.  My time out on the ocean gave me an even deeper appreciation for the wonders of our water world.  Every single day on the ocean is different from the next, full of surprises and new discoveries to be made.  I am thankful and proud to become a member of the Teacher at Sea Program!

One of my passions: nordic skiing!

One of my passions: Nordic skiing!

Currently, my courses conduct biodiversity plot studies, forest transects, monitor water and soil quality, record secondary succession in a fire mitigation area, and now have created a functioning aquaponics system with tilapia!  

Zip-grow tower from Brightagrotech in our greenhouse!

Zip-grow tower from Brightagrotech in our greenhouse!

Our tilapia live in an in-ground tank from which we pump water into a network of irrigation tubes (attached to a repurposed bed frame) that then waters eight Zip-grow towers.  The fish excrement provides much needed nutrients for the plants and the fish are happy because their water is returned after being filtered through the plant root system.  Farmed fish is beginning to play a significant role in our food supply. This brings me to a recent article in Outside magazine that I found quite interesting (thanks for sharing, David!).  I look forward to learning more about how the health of the fisheries in Alaska are measured and what role the scientists on board believe farmed fish should or will play in our diet for the future.  NOAA also has a great resource to help make decisions on our seafood choices.

 

Please checkout the ship’s website for an overview of our mission.

My home for the next month.

My home for the next month. Photo credit: NOAA ship tracker

I head to Kodiak, Alaska on Monday, June 8th to meet the ship crew and scientists before we embark on our trip.  Please send me comments, questions, and suggestions for my blog, I greatly appreciate your feedback.   Time to start packing!