Angela Hung: A Day in the Land Life, A Day at Sea, June 26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 27-July 5, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 26, 2018

 

Weather Data from Biloxi, MS

Conditions at 1356

Latitude: 30.42° N

Longitude: 88.92° W

Temperature: 34° C

Wind Speed: S 10mph

 

Science and Technology Log

Ship repairs are ongoing so I’m reporting from Biloxi, MS. Last week, I got the chance to visit the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Pascagoula lab onshore to learn about what the scientists do when they are not at sea.

NOAA Lab in Pascagoula, MS

NOAA Lab in Pascagoula, MS. Image credit: https://www.sefsc.noaa.gov/labs/mississippi/

I got to see the variety of projects described on their website (https://www.sefsc.noaa.gov/labs/mississippi/surveys/index.htm) , from video reef fish surveys (https://www.sefsc.noaa.gov/labs/mississippi/surveys/reeffish.htm#video) to seafood inspection, sharks, and the effects the Gulf oil spill from Deepwater Horizon on plankton in addition to groundfish survey. Chrissy Stepongzi, another fisheries biologist, was willing to take me on an impromptu tour of the warehouses at the pier and then brought me over to the labs.

The Labs

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Andre and Taniya with the Southern Stingray

Andre and Taniya holding the stingray.

Because we spent so much time at the pier (below) Andre Debose took over the tour. We got a sneak peek at the seafood inspection lab. You need a pretty high clearance to get in, but we ran into a researcher (I didn’t get his name) who was kind enough to take a few minutes to explain what they do:

The U.S. imports a lot of seafood from overseas as well. All ready-to-eat seafood that comes in is inspected by NOAA. A sample from every batch is tested for contaminants and pollutants to ensure it is safe for consumption. We happened to be at the lab that inspects menhaden, a fish typically ground into “fish meal” which is commonly used in pet foods. The lab also checks fish oil, a dietary supplement. Down the hall are labs that inspect Gulf seafood for petroleum oil.  After speaking with him, I felt much more confident in my seafood dinners and my cats’ food.

We went down to the reef unit which Andre has worked on and was introduced to Kevin Rademacher who studies reef fish and was watching video data from their camera array. He showed me a few videos recorded from their past surveys. Today, they use an array of five video cameras to create a single, 360˚ field of view for accurate fish counts. Fisheries use these data to determine the health of a fishery, as in the population and sizes of commercially important fish. This information guides the quotas of how many fish people are allowed to take while maintaining resources for the future.

Up to a few years ago, they used four separate cameras—four different fields of view that had to be watched individually to count fish. The new setup also features two levels to create stereoscopic or 3-D images so scientists can digitally measure the lengths of the fish, which was not possible before. However, species identification is still done using good old-fashioned human eyeballs in an experienced scientist.

Down the hall is Kristin Hannan’s office, my day shift manager aboard Oregon II. She studies sharks, which are caught using longlines (https://www.sefsc.noaa.gov/labs/mississippi/surveys/longline.htm), and she let me examine her collection!

We stopped by the plankton lab. Plankton is a collective term for very small marine organisms—algae and animals that form the foundation of marine food chains. The very small animals are usually the larvae of larger animals, but I didn’t realize how many were vertebrates, i.e. baby fish. I had imagined that plankton were primarily invertebrates such as sea sponge, coral, crustacean and squid larvae.

A sample of fish larva that make up plankton.

A sample of fish larva that make up plankton. Photo credit: https://www.sefsc.noaa.gov/labs/mississippi/surveys/plankton.htm

Finally, Andre showed me his otolith samples. Otoliths are small bony disks in the ears of fish that allow them to sense gravity and speed, which maintains their balance. (Yes, fish have ears and earbones like humans.) A layer of calcium is added every year of a fish’s life so these give us data about the ages of fish.

Overall at NOAA’s Pascagoula labs, researchers are hard at work studying marine life in the Gulf of Mexico to learn where they are and when to find them, at every stage of life, from larval plankton, to juveniles, adults and to food for others such as sharks and dolphins. While “economic” species are the focus of fisheries industries, “ecological” species are deservedly monitored here as well. In such a vast ecosystem, every organism has hundreds or likely thousands of ecological ties to those around it, as predator, prey, competitors or symbiotic partners. Humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy crab legs and fish sticks for dinner. As biologist Alonzo Hamilton puts it, “fish are a product of the environment”, referring to the collective forces that create an ecosystem.

To top off the lab visit, I was presented with a fabulous goody bag! I have some great materials to use in class, and I’m particularly grateful for the coffee mug so I can stop using paper cups in the ship’s galley.

Goody bag from Pascagoula Lab

Goody bag from Pascagoula Lab

The Warehouse

So where does all this equipment for these different projects come from? Sadly, there isn’t a “science store” for weird and wonderful devices that seamlessly combine into “cutting edge technology”. I mentioned in the last post that scientists often have to build what they need.  In fact, part of NOAA’s mission to support sustainable fishery practices is inventing the tools to fish sustainably! They may not have a store to go shopping in, but they have something much better: Captain James Barbour, master welder extraordinaire! (His actual title is something like Engineering Tech/Gear & Equipment Specialist.)

Chrissy took me to visit him in the warehouses and that was a fun place! We walked into his current project—a stainless steel work table for a scientist, but custom built to include clipboard hangers, blood sample holder, holes for hand sanitizer bottles…like a home renovation show but for research vessels.

The camera arrays for reef survey are his handiwork. He’s built traps with camera housing to record what’s going on under water. He has also modified smaller boats to create platforms for scientists to safely wrangle fish, and apparatuses to operate nets and other equipment. He is steeped in the design of TEDs-turtle excluder devices, and bycatch reducers. Bycatch are animal species that are caught with commercial ones, especially by nets. Often, these are not returned alive to the ocean. TEDs are metal, circular grids about three feet across that are attached to the end of fishing nets, forming a cone. When a turtle is caught, it hits the excluder and slides out of an escape chute. Fish pass through the excluder and into the blind end of the net.

If you have ever heard or worried about sea turtles or wasted bycatch getting trapped in nets, rest assured that U.S. fisheries are using these devices to reduce their environmental impact. And chances are Capt. Barbour welded them!

This is just a small sample of what he’s accomplished in his long career at NOAA. He continues his research with other scientists to collect data and improve the design, for example, to screen out smaller turtles without sacrificing the fish catch.

As a scientist observing the decline in science literacy and confidence from the general public, I often come across the Strawman fallacy that “science has no place in politics”. This doesn’t make sense considering the various U.S. agencies that employ scientists to make discoveries about our world and outside of it, because objective knowledge is where sound policies should originate. Science has always has an important role in American politics. Another classic are the cries for “less government regulation and interference” but I’m certain those people have no idea what that means. In U.S. seafood industries, regulations require TEDs and bycatch reducers because ecological species support the health of economic ones. In U.S. markets, regulations require safety testing of seafood imports. In Gulf fisheries, regulations limit how many red snapper one can take and when shrimpers can open season because this ensures consumers can enjoy seafood next year and every year after. They ensure that fisherman have employment next year and every year after. Government, as well as university, scientists are third party to all companies and have no personal financial incentives besides their regular salaries. Scientists are public servants who work for everyone.

Captain Barbour is a modest man, but it’s clear that he takes pride in the devices he builds because he accepts the responsibility of humans to be stewards of this planet and the other creatures we share it with. Thus, he genuinely cares about the well-being of dolphins and turtles. He takes personal action for what he believes by coming to work everyday and engages with optimizing the design of scientific equipment by communicating with collaborators, analyzing data, and building with his own hands. While most of us don’t get to be so directly involved with our contributions to society there are two things to think about:

  1. The NOAA is recruiting (quite a few retirements are coming up). College students can try out through an internship: https://coastalscience.noaa.gov/about/internship/
  2. All of us together through our own strengths can make many small actions great: refuse those single use plastics, recycle always, VOTE (or don’t complain), and practice lifelong learning.

 

Personal Log

At about 1500 on the first day of the survey, I find out that I’m assigned to the day shift that runs from 1200 to 2400. Roommates are assigned with opposite shifts so that each person can have the stateroom while the other works. Typically, you have a backpack to carry anything you might need to avoid entering the room and disturbing a sleeping roommate. The operations of the vessel are 24 hours and other members of the crew work different shifts around the clock: engineers might be scheduled six hours on, six hours off, officers four hours on/off, etc.

“Someone is sleeping all the time on every deck.” –LT Ryan Belcher

So, on day one, my roommate tries to get some sleep and I’m out of the room. For the rest of the day, I experience something called “down time” with nothing really to do. I don’t know when the last time this happened was. Everyone is busy at work or sleeping before their shift and I find myself curiously alone. I find my way back to a higher deck that Chrissy had shown me earlier where a deck chair (no pun intended) has been stashed. The indoor lounge features a large collection of movies on loan from the Navy, including recent releases. After I come in from spending some time relaxing outside, I reenter the lounge to find some of the scientists starting Justice League. When that finishes, we put in Winchester which is inspired by the true story, whatever that means, of the famous haunted house built by Sarah Winchester of the family that developed rifles. Not too bad if you are a fan of ghost stories.

Justice League and Winchester

Justice League. Image from: https://www.warnerbros.com/justice-league; Winchester: The House that Ghosts Built. Image from: http://www.impawards.com/2018/winchester_the_house_that_ghosts_built_ver6.html

 

It’s a long day and I finally get to go to bed.

Did You Know?

From the last blog we learned that NOAA is a Department of Commerce (DOC) agency that collects scientific data for economic purposes. On this cruise, and those of the past 40 years, Texas shrimp fisheries use NOAA data collected by Oregon II to determine when to open shrimping grounds every year to ensure a sustainable supply. NOAA Ship Oregon II also trawls during the summer for red snapper for fisheries around the entire Gulf to determine when fishing can begin.

Kathleen Gibson, Preparing to Leave for the Mississippi Coast, July 10, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Gibson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 – August 8, 2015

Mission: Fisheries – Conduct longline surveys to monitor interannual variability of shark populations of the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast.
Date: July 10, 2015

Introduction

Town of Trumbull, Fairfield County , CT

Town of Trumbull, CT

My name is Kathleen Gibson and I bring you greetings from Trumbull, CT where live and teach. In two weeks I will travel to Pascagoula, MS, located on the Gulf of Mexico, to join NOAA Corps members, research scientists, and the crew aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, as a  2015 NOAA Teacher at Sea.

I work at Trumbull High School and currently teach Biology to sophomores and two elective courses for seniors–Marine Science and AP Environmental Science.  I’m passionate about environmental education and am always looking for opportunities to engage students in the world outside of the classroom.  Trumbull has a large amount of protected green space, wetlands, streams and a river, and while we aren’t on the coast, we are only a few miles from Long Island Sound.  The woods and the shoreline have become our laboratory.

Pequonnock River, Trumbull, CT

Pequonnock River, Trumbull, CT

I’m open to adventures and new experiences that help me grow both personally and professionally.  I’m fortunate to have an awesome family, terrific colleagues and open-minded students who are willing to go along with my ideas; whether it be be hiking around volcanoes and rift zones, looking for puffins, or wading in nearby streams looking for life below.

About NOAA and Teacher at Sea

NOAA Ship Oregon II Photo Credit: NOAA.gov

NOAA Ship Oregon II
Photo Credit: NOAA.gov

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency within the United States Department of Commerce that seeks to enrich life through science.  While NOAA is somewhat familiar to many of us– thanks to the abundance of weather data that is collected and disseminated to the public–that’s not all that is happening  there. NOAA is working to increase our understanding of climate, weather and marine ecosystems, and to use this knowledge to better manage and protect these crucial ecosystems.  In addition to the abundant educational resources available to all teachers, NOAA provides unique opportunities for teachers and students.  The Teacher at Sea Program  brings classroom teachers into the field to work with world-renowned NOAA scientists.

The Mission

The Mission of the cruise I will be a part of is to monitor Shark and Red Snapper populations in the Gulf of Mexico in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast. Data collected will be compared to findings from previous years, as a part of the ongoing research studying inter-annual variability of these populations. We are scheduled to embark on July 25, 2015 and plan to sail from Pascagoula, MS, down the west coast of Florida and up the Atlantic Coast as far as Mayport, FL.

I am honored to have been selected to be a Teacher at Sea for the 2015 Season  and look forward to a number of “firsts”. I’ve never been to Mississippi nor have I been at sea for more than 24 hours. Also, I’ve only experienced sharks as preserved specimens or through aquarium glass.  I’m also looking forward to meeting my shipmates and learning about career opportunities and the paths that led them to be a part of this Oregon II cruise. I’ll share as much as I can through future posts. I’m excited to bring my students and others along with me on this journey.

Trumbull to Pascagoula.  Longline survey area is marked in blue.

Trumbull to Pascagoula. Longline survey area is marked in blue.

Next Up?

My next post to you should be coming later this month from off the Mississippi coast.  However, the first rule of being on board is FLEXIBILITY, so things may change.  Either way, I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, please check out some of the TAS 2015 blogs written by my fellow NOAA Teachers at Sea, and spread the word. There is so much to learn.

Did You Know?

  • While some sharks release eggs into the water where they will later hatch, as many as 75% of shark species give birth to live young.
  • Shark babies are called pups.

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: Do You See What the Pisces “Hears”?, June 22, 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 22, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 18.5472
Longitude: -65.1325

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 28.6°C (83.5°F)
Wind Speed:  9 knots (10.5 mph), Beaufort scale: 3
Wind Direction: from SE
Relative Humidity: 77%
Barometric Pressure: 1,014.80  mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28.1°C (82.6°F)

Science and Technology Log

Another aspect (much more technical) of the scientific research conducted on this cruise is the collection of acoustic data.  This field is continually evolving as the detection resolution improves allowing scientists to more precisely identify fish.  This has been used with more success in fisheries farther north because the schools of fish are more likely to be monospecific (a single species).  However, the technique still needs improvement in warmer waters where the fish assemblages tend to be multi-specific (having a much greater variety of fish).

General idea behind an acoustic sounder being used to detect fish. (Source: www.biosonicinc.com)

This field of study is called Hydroacoustics (hydro- means water, and acoustics refers to sound).   It is the science of  how sound moves through water. Leonardo da Vinci noticed how sound travels through water in 1490.  He noticed that, “If you cause your ship to stop and place the head of a long tube in the water and place the outer extremity to your ear, you will hear ships at a great distance from you.” (Urick, Robert J. Principles of Underwater Sound, 3rd Edition. New York. McGraw-Hill, 1983.)  World War I helped promote innovation in the field, especially with the need for anti-submarine detection devices (Wood, A. B., From the Board of Invention and Research to the Royal Naval Scientific Service, Journal of the Royal Naval Scientific Service Vol 20, No 4, pp 1-100 (185-284)).

Hydroacoustic instruments utilize SOund Navigation and Ranging, more commonly referred to as SONAR.  The ship Pisces is equipped with a system located on the center board; this is a flat structure that can be raised/lowered through the water column beneath the center of the ship.

Line drawing of the NOAA ship Pisces showing the location of the center board.

The system used is a sonar beam that is split into quadrants.  This instrument is used to assist in determining fish abundance and distribution.  The premise is relatively simple: an echo sounder transmits a pulse of energy waves (sound), when the pulse strikes an object, it is reflected (bounced) back to the transducer.  The echo sounder is then processed and sent to a video display.  This is the same general process behind the recreationally available fishfinder.

Acoustic beam split into quadrants (Source: http://www.htisonar.com

A short burst of energy is focused into a narrow beam.  When this beam encounters an object such as a fish, a school of fish, plankton, or other object, some of the energy bounces back up through the water to the transducer.   It is the detection of these reflections that allow scientists to determine location, size, and abundance of fish.  These reflections show up on our video monitor.  These measurements are combined with groundtruthed data (for example, fish collected in the field, camera images).

One of the difficulties in data interpretation is that often, the signals that appear on the computer monitor have false readings.  This is a result of the sound wave bouncing multiple times.  It travels to the bottom from the transducer, strikes an object, returns to the ship, bounces off the ship back toward the bottom, strikes another object, and is detected yet again.

Real-time annotated echogram at sampling site.

The Pisces is actually home to one of six multi-beam acoustic instruments in the world.  Of the six in existence, NOAA has five of them.  The benefit of running a multi-beam instrument is that each beam can be set to measure a different frequency (kHz), thus enabling detection of many more features (different species of fish, etc.)

Scientific multibeam echo sounder (Source: www. simrad.com)

Personal Log

Last night the crew of the Pisces carried out a task that they don’t normally perform.  The Pisces was created for fisheries research projects – it focuses on collecting fish samples either by bandit reel, longline, or trawling.  This particular operation was to deploy the anchor for a buoy that will be attached at a later date.  When the buoy is ready to be attached, another vessel will bring it out to the site and divers will go down to the anchor to make the final attachment.

The anchor consists of a huge rebar-reinforced concrete block with a very long chain that has marker floats attached at the end.  Logistically, this took some planning; the A-frame had to be raised and the anchor lifted with the Gilson winch with a 1″ spectra line (has an enormous tensile strength).  The gate to the ship’s ramp was lowered and the A-frame (or as the deck hands call it, the “Tuna Tower”)  repositioned so the anchor was hanging over the water.  The rope holding the anchor, chain, and float was cut through, and the anchor plunged to the ocean bottom.  Again, the crew made the operation go smoothly and demonstrated their ability to complete unexpectedly assigned tasks.

Today was a slow fishing day – no fish at all.  Without any fish to “work up” (collect samples from), the day goes more slowly and we have more down time.  With the extra time, I had a chance to interview Kevin Rademacher, the Chief Scientist on the cruise.

LU: What is your official job title and what are your job duties?

KR: I’m a Research Fisheries Biologist.  I work for the Reef Fish Unit at the NOAA Fisheries Lab in Pascagoula, MS.  I am the Senior Tape Reader/Reviewer, in charge of the readers that analyze  the video data we collect from Reef Fish Surveys.  I also help plan, organize, and run the surveys.  Additionally, I participate in trawl surveys and anything else the lab needs done.

LU: When did you first become interested in the ocean and marine sciences?

KR: I guess that would have been when I was really young.  There is a photo from the Panama City, Florida newspaper, two weeks after I was born with my parents pulling me in a homemade wagon along the beach!  I knew in junior high school that I wanted to be a cross between Jacques Cousteau and Marlin Perkins of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

LU: It’s such a broad field; how did you narrow your focus down to what you’re currently doing?

KR: I got lucky and kind of fell into reading underwater videos at the initial stages of the project and fell in love with being the proverbial “fly on the wall”! It has allowed me to see the fish in their natural  habitat, different color phases, behavior, etc.

LU: If you were to go into another area of ocean research, what would it be?

KR: Marine Mammal Studies.  After college I trained dolphins and sea lions and put on shows with them for a local Oceanarium on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

LU: What is the biggest challenge in your job?

KR: Communicating with people and writing papers.

Ariane Frappier and Kevin Rademacher reviewing a dichotomous key in order to determine the species of a fish we caught.

LU: What do you think is the biggest issue of contention in your field?

KR: The impression that commercial fishermen have regarding the work we do to regulate the fisheries they work in.

LU: What are some effects of climate change that you’ve witnessed during your career in fisheries research?

KR: The decline of coral reefs and overfishing of some species.

LU: In what areas of marine science do you foresee a lot of career paths and job opportunities?

KR: Ecosystem management and data modelers.  There has also been a decline in taxonomists over the past few decades.

LU: How would you explain your work to a layperson?

KR: I use underwater cameras to help assess populations of reef fish, especially snappers and groupers.  The data collected is used to manage those fisheries.

LU: If a high school student wanted to go into your field of study/marine science in general, what kinds of courses would you recommend they take?

KR: Math, Biology, Chemistry, and any other science courses available.

LU: Do you recommend students interested in your field pursue original research as high school students or undergraduates?  If so, what kind?

KR: Most definitely! Whatever they are interested in would be beneficial.

Well, only two more days left with the scientists before we pull into San Juan, Puerto Rico.  We have 17 more daytime sites to sample and then this survey will be over.  The scientific crew will be flying home on the 25th, and once home, their work will really begin.  Back in the lab, they will be analyzing the data and reviewing the video.  Some of them will be going back out on other cruises.  Kevin Rademacher will be going out on another reef fish survey in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.  It is currently delayed because of the potential formation of tropical storm Debby.  Joey Salisbury has a couple more; he will be going on a longline cruise and then another reef fish survey, both of which will be in the Gulf of Mexico.  Arian Frappier will be heading off to begin a masters program in marine systems and coastal studies at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

After a day’s shore leave in San Juan, I’ll continue on to Mayport on the Pisces.  During this time, I’ll focus on the crew members and their jobs.  The cruise will definitely take on a different feel at this point, but it will give me an opportunity to explore other ocean related careers.