John Bilotta, More Colors than a box of Crayola Crayons: Coral, Fish, Sunsets, and the Color of my TAS Experience.  My final blog. Days 10 &11, June 27, 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 27, 2014

 

Weather: Hazy sun.  27 degree Celsius.  8.0 knot wind from the southwest.

Locations:  North Florida MPA.        LAT 30°45’N, LON 80.4.9’W

These have been my finals days aboard the Nancy Foster.  We have explored so much, seen so much, yet we didn’t even scratch the surface (or should I say the bottom) of the vastness of the MPAs, the Atlantic, or any of the oceans.  It has been said that the entire science community has explored less than 5% of the world’s oceans.  I can relate much better to this fact after my TAS experience.  In all, we completed 29 separate dives with the ROV.

The ROV on the deck of the Nancy Foster shortly before launch.
The ROV on the deck of the Nancy Foster shortly before launch.
John and the little ROV that could, that would, and did explore 29 dives with us.
John and the little ROV that could, that would, and did explore 29 dives with us.

After our last dive, we were gathered in lab and someone said “I call it a success if the number of launches matches the number of recoveries.”  While that certainly is a good measure, my measure of success is the amount of new knowledge I have acquired, the re-kindling of science knowledge I once used more readily, and the many ideas I have acquired to incorporate and advance the earth and water science classes and workshops I design and teach.

Science and Technology Log

Science Part I.  Let there be color

Hint:  See the pictures LARGER.  If you click on any of the pictures in any of my blogs, they should open up full screen so you can see the detail better

I won’t begin to identify everything in these pictures in part because I can’t without the expertise of the researchers and marine biologists I had the honor to be with.  So they are here for their sheer beauty and awesomeness.  Here are two good websites to checkout for more information:  The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council has a good EcoSpecies database to explore and www.marinespecies.org

 

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Science Part II.  The ocean floor changes and the habitat moves

Our last three dives with the ROV were in the North Florida MPA – about 100 miles east of Jacksonville.  Stacey and the team had explored these reefs and habitats a year ago.  We returned to the same areas using the MB maps where they expected to find good to excellent grouper habitat with high rugosity they observed the year before.  During the first portions of the ROV dive we just could not find that habitat; it was in fact buried in sand in many places.  The Gulf Stream and currents are strong here and they move the sand on the ocean floor.  In addition, hurricanes and tropical storm activity probably also lead to shifts in sand and sediment on the ocean floor, exposing and covering areas all the time. This seemingly paled in comparison to erosion and sedimentation I am more familiar with in Minnesota and in places in the Midwest.  Another example of how the Earth is always changing the way it appears.  In 5-8th grade Earth Adventure programs we often discuss processes that form and shape the planet; plate tectonics, erosion, and weathering are the highlights.  Now with my new knowledge, we will add the ideas of the oceans and currents that shape the planet.

Science Part III.  What will the scientists do with all the research and information we have collected?  

Over the next year, Stacey Harter, Andy David, Heather Moe, John Reed, and Stephanie Farrington will examine the hundreds of digital pictures, hours of HD video, and study the fish, invertebrate, and habitat logs we wrote during each ROV dive.  A summary report about the fisheries and health of the MPAs will be written that will help the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council with management decisions for both commercial and recreational fishing in the areas.

The Nancy Foster – a NOAA ship on the seas – what makes her go?

Most of my blog has been devoted to the science of the mission, but to make that happen, the Nancy Foster has to make its way through the ocean.  Here is a little about the people and the technology that make that happen.

The crew of the NF and a career with NOAA:  The NF has a compliment of 22 crew members including the Commanding Officer (CO), the Executive Officer (XO), and three Junior Officers (JO’s).  How does one get the privilege and honor to pilot a 187 foot ship?  One career entry point is the NOAA Corps. Here is a great video link about the NOAA Corps.  I had a chance to visit with all the officers and spent time with them on the bridge and can’t say enough good things about them. Wish I could include a picture of me with all of them.

John and Junior Officer Felicia Drummond on the bridge of the Nancy Foster for a morning of navigation.
John and Junior Officer Felicia Drummond on the bridge of the Nancy Foster for a morning of navigation.

Ship Technology and Engineering:  There is a team of ~15 engineers, technicians, and crew that make this virtual self-sustaining ship the ability to sail the ocean for up to 14 days at a time without going into port.  While at sea, each has their unique and important role.  During my last full day onboard, I spent ½ of it up on the bridge and ½ down in the engine room.  Here are a few technology tidbits:

  • Electronics and computers have a significant role to make the Nancy Foster plow through the ocean’s waters, in addition to its skilled captains and large propellers.  I cannot begin to list and describe all the computers and the high technology aboard the NF and all it does.  I would consider myself to have a high level of computer literacy, but this was daunting.
  • D.P. – Dynamic Positioning.  A computer system calculates and performs many of the navigational moves the NF makes.  The DP also uses wind and motion sensors to predict how the propulsion systems should respond in order to hold position or make precise movements. The DP can literally put the ship within meters of where the science team requests her to go (of course under the direction of the crew).  Simply amazing!
  • The D.P. drives the main engine, two Z-drives off the stern that turn 360 degrees and a bow thruster.
  • Multiple engines and generators churn away in the depths of her not only providing propulsion, but electricity, compressed air, air conditioning, etc.
  • The NF can make 1700 of fresh water daily either through an evaporative process connected to the main engine or through a reverse osmosis system.

 NEW – two short videos of the launch and recovery of the ROV 

 

A view off the Nancy Foster as we sail for port on the last day.
A view off the Nancy Foster as we sail for port on the last day.

What is next for me –what am I am hoping to do with my experience?

The NOAA TAS experience is a privilege that also comes with some requirements that I am excited to fulfill.  Over the course of the next few months I will be developing a classroom lesson plan (K12, grade to be determined) based on my experience.  I have at least seven new ideas to work into existing Earth Adventure programs.  I will also be preparing a presentation to my peers about the TAS, the MPAs, the research, and my involvement.  I will also be highlighting careers in NOAA for young adults.  Some of these materials will be posted to this blog – so don’t delete the link just because I am done sailing!

Personal Log:

Yes, we were able to watch the USA vs Germans play in the FIFA World Cup.  The Nancy Foster does have Direct TV and it so happens we timed our ROV dives to allow us to watch either of the two large screen TV’s aboard the ship.

I finished the The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman.  The last quote I will end my blog with

“Water is unpredictable.  Water is fickle.   But that is water’s nature. The fickleness, the variability, is itself predictable.”  (p775)

I watched a number of sunsets (when not playing Mexican Train – a game with Dominos) and I forced myself up a couple of mornings for sunrise, including this one on our last morning sailing back to Mayport.

One of the many colorful sunsets and sunrises I saw from the Nancy Foster.
One of the many colorful sunsets and sunrises I saw from the Nancy Foster.

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.  In the meantime, some might have links to further information. 

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions at

http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/education/workshop/docs/workbook_definitions.pdf

  • D.P.  dynamic positioning
  • CPA – closest point of approach
  • BCR – Bow crossing range

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.

Dive053089 15 52 18

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

Jamie Morris: Diving, Driving, and NOAA Corps, April 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Monday, April 28, 2014

 

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 8-10 nautical miles
Wind: 12 knots
Swell Waves: 2 feet
Air Temperature: 72.1ºF
Seawater Temperature: 71.0ºF
 

Science and Technology Log

The water wasn’t as smooth today as it was yesterday, but the divers still were very successful.  One fish survey was completed today.  A few dives were made to check shackles on the anchors of a receiver and to retrieve a railroad tie at one of the receiver sites.  The divers also began the Marine Debris Surveys today.  A total of 6 surveys were conducted.  Five of the six groups were able to find the marking pin.  Those sites had no marine debris.  The sixth site could not find the marking pin and therefore were not able to fully complete the survey.  The divers did find a lot of fishing line at this site, which they removed.

Divers use the diagrams to locate the Marine Debris Survey location. Photo: Sarah Webb
Divers use the diagrams to locate the Marine Debris Survey location.
Photo: Sarah Webb
Fishing line embedded in invertebrates. Photo: Sarah Webb
Fishing line embedded in invertebrates.
Photo: Sarah Webb
Fishing line embedded in invertebrates. Photo: Richard LaPalme
Fishing line embedded in invertebrates.
Photo: Richard LaPalme

The weather is forecasted to start turning tomorrow.  The divers are scheduled to complete morning dives, but most likely will not be able to complete afternoon dives due to poor weather.  In the morning, Lauren and Hampton will complete one fish survey and one marine debris survey.  The second boat will have Katie, Richard, Sarah Webb, and Randy.  This group will conduct two marine debris surveys.  Hopefully they will be able to get the dives in tomorrow, but safety comes first.

Over the past week I have been talking to all the crew members learning about their different jobs.  There are basically several groups on the ship.  There is the scientific party.  This group conducts different research on the ship.  These groups are constantly changing and are the guests of the ship.  The permanent groups are the Commissioned Officers, Engineering Department, Deck Department, Survey Department, and the Stewards.  All the departments are incredibly important and play vital roles in the operation of the ship.  The Commissioned officers are in charge of the movements of the ship.  The Engineering department controls the mechanical aspects of the ship.  The Deck Department operates the cranes and maintains the small boats.  The scientific and electronic equipment is controlled by the Survey Department and the Stewards keep all the crew well nourished.  (For a more detailed description of these roles, please visit the GRNMS website at: http://graysreef.noaa.gov/science/expeditions/2014_nancy_foster/log_04242014.html )

Commanding Officer LCDR Nick Chrobak and Junior Officer ENS Conor Maginn
Commanding Officer LCDR Nick Chrobak and Junior Officer ENS Conor Maginn

Today I want to focus on the Commissioned Officers.  The Commissioned Officers are members of the NOAA Corps.  NOAA Corps members can be found on the 19 NOAA Ships and 12 NOAA Aircraft.  They can be found working on projects on the land, in the air, and at sea.  The NOAA Corps was originally established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 with the responsibility of surveying the coasts.  Today the NOAA Corps works in a variety of fields including oceanography, fisheries, engineering, earth sciences, and meteorology.  NOAA Corps provide the leadership and operational support to meet NOAA’s mission of surveying the Earth’s oceans, coasts, and atmosphere to ensure the economic and physical well-being of the Nation.

All NOAA Corps officers hold at least a baccalaureate degree, preferably in science or engineering.  All officers must have completed at least 48 semester hours in science, math, or engineering coursework and must have completed college level calculus and physics.  Other requirements include passing a mental and physical as well as a background check.  You also must be able to complete 20 years of active commissioned service before your 62nd birthday.

Each new NOAA Corps officer must complete an initial training program that lasts about 5 months.  The NOAA Corps now conducts this program with the US Coast Guard.  During this training officers learn about maritime activities such as navigation, ship handling, and emergency and rescue procedures.  The training also teaches the officers about military procedures such as marching, drills, and the military ranks, structures and protocols.  After completing the training, NOAA Corps members continue their training aboard a ship.  This training lasts around 12 to 15 months.  During this time the new officer is trained by the experienced officers.  After the training period, the new officer must pass a test to demonstrate mastery of the necessary skills.  Some ships do this as an oral test format where the officers ask the new officer how to they would handle certain situations.  On the Nancy Foster, a life ring is thrown overboard and the new officer has to retrieve it.  This simulates a Man Overboard.  After the new officer passes the test they earn a permanent position on the ship.  This position will last between 2 to 3 years.  Officers are reassigned positions every 2 to 3 years.  They rotate between ship and land based positions.  Land based positions can include working at NOAA Labs, Marine Sanctuaries, and NOAA Administrative offices.

Even though the ship documents all the movements electronically, it is very important to still record the ship's path on paper.    ENS Felicia Drummand records the location.
Even though the ship documents all the movements electronically, it is very important to still record the ship’s path on paper. ENS Felicia Drummand records the location.

For more information on the NOAA Corps, please visit: http://www.noaacorps.noaa.gov/

I honestly did not know that the NOAA Corps existed until this trip.  I really wished I had known about it earlier, not only for myself, but for my students.  I do hope that my former and current (as well as future) students consider looking

into the NOAA Corps.  It is a wonderful way to serve your country while still working with the sciences.

 

Did You Know?

There are seven uniformed services in the United States.  These include the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, NOAA Corps, and the Public Health Service.

 

Personal Log

I had one of the most fun experiences last night.  I went up to the bridge to get the weather data as well as watch the sunset.  Executive Officer LCDR Mark Blankenship and Junior Officer Ensign Conor Maginn were on duty.  The ship was recording acoustics for the Fish Acoustics project.  To do this, the ship makes several short passes over a specific area.  The ship was set on autopilot to complete this task.  ENG Maginn would make small adjustments to keep the ship on the desired path.  As soon as the acoustics survey was complete, XO Blankenship asked if I wanted to drive the ship.  They took the ship off autopilot and I drove for an hour.  I had to steer it into the wind for a while so that the survey technician could fill the dive compressor which is used to fill the SCUBA tanks and then I had to steer around some sailboats. I ended by getting the ship back to the site that they ended the sonar mapping from the previous night.

It was very difficult.  When driving the ship, you cannot rely on simply looking out the window (this is especially true in the dark).  There are many tools and computers that you need to utilize.  There are five different monitors you have to look at plus the rudder position and the compass.  The rudder is controlled by a switch.  It took me a while to learn how to keep the ship in a specific position.  It is not like a car that will keep in a straight line.  You constantly need to be move the rudder.  Luckily, I had ENS Maginn guiding me.  He was an excellent teacher.

The switch used to control the rudder.
The switch used to control the rudder.
This is the monitor used to control the ship's movements.
This is the monitor used to control the ship’s movements.

Driving the ship was the one thing that I told my students I really wanted to do.  When I told them that, I thought that there would be a steering wheel.  I was very shocked not to find one.  Rather, the ship feels like you are controlling a video game.  It is controlled using switches, knobs, and joysticks.  You move the rudder with a switch that rotates almost 180°.

The ship's controls.  No longer do you move a steering wheel.  Instead there are knobs, buttons, and joysticks.
The ship’s controls. No longer do you move a steering wheel. Instead there are knobs, buttons, and joysticks.

 

Additional Photos

 

Sunset on the Nancy Foster Photo: ENS Conor Maginn
Sunset on the Nancy Foster
Photo: ENS Conor Maginn
Horse Conch slowly crawling across the sand. Photo: Richard LaPalme
Horse Conch slowly crawling across the sand.
Photo: Richard LaPalme
Jackknife Fish trying to hide. Photo: Richard LaPalme
Jackknife Fish trying to hide.
Photo: Richard LaPalme
Greater Amberjack swimming in GRNMS Photo: Richard LaPalme
Greater Amberjack swimming in GRNMS
Photo: Richard LaPalme

 

Jamie Morris: Successful Dives and a Mystery Visitor, April 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Sunday, April 27, 2014

 

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 6-8 nautical miles
Wind: 12 knots
Swell Waves: 0-1 feet
Air Temperature: 71.1ºF
Seawater Temperature: 70.2ºF
 

Science and Technology Log

The dive operations on the Nancy Foster have continued to progress.  The Fish Telemetry Project has been very successful.  All the receivers that needed replacing have been replaced and Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman has downloaded the data.  She has run into a small delay in identifying many of the fish because the database with the microchip numbers has not been updated.  Right now we know that there have been several mystery visitors to GRNMS.  Hopefully the identities of these fish will be revealed soon.  It is exciting to see where these fish have traveled from.  The dive team continues to work on this project by servicing the other receivers in the water.  They dive to the receivers and try to clean off any organism growing on receivers as well as make sure that the receivers are still securely attached to their anchors.  There are currently 18 receivers in GRNMS.  The receivers are replaced every 4 to 6 months, depending on the location.

Jared Halonen and Richard LaPalme replace the receiver. Photo: Sarah Webb
Jared Halonen and Richard LaPalme replace the receiver.
Photo: Sarah Webb

The Fish Acoustics project is also progressing very well.  Lauren Hessemann is the team’s fish ID expert.  She continues to make about 4 dives a day to six specific sites.  She needs to record each site twice.  The ship than travels to these sites and records the acoustics (fish noises).  Lauren is always accompanied by a second diver who is tasked with filming the fish.  A scientist will use Lauren’s data and the video to compare it to the acoustics that were recorded from these sites.

The divers have reported seeing many interesting animals.  The team has observed seven sea turtles, all floating at the surface.  Many curious black seabass have been seen.  These fish like to investigate and will swim very close to the divers.  The divers have reported that if you look behind you while swimming, many times a small school of black seabass are following.  Some usual sightings have included several guitarfish and many Jackknife fish.  So far there have not been any Lionfish sightings.  It is believed that the cold winter has prevented their migration to GRNMS.

Sea turtle resting at the surface of the water
Sea turtle resting at the surface of the water Photo: Amy Rath
An Oyster Toadfish hides in a hole.
An Oyster Toadfish hides in a hole. Photo: Richard LaPalme

I have been able to go out on two different dive boats.  I am not able to get in the water, but I have been able to assist from the surface.  At the surface I help the divers get in and out of the boat, keep the dive and projects logs, as well as assist with the site markers.  Site markers are small anchors attached to a buoy with a long rope.  These markers need to be dropped at precise GPS locations.  They are used by the divers to find the specific location for the assigned tasks.  It is very important to have accurate drops.  Many times divers are looking for specific objects or very precise locations.  The marker is what they use to find these items.

Lauren Hessemann prepares to drop the dive marker.
Lauren Hessemann prepares to drop the dive marker.
An excellent placement of the dive marker. Photo: Hampton Harbin
An excellent placement of the dive marker.
Photo: Hampton Harbin

I have had the opportunity to sail with two different coxswains.  A Coxswain is a person who is in charge or steers a boat.  Yesterday I was with coxswain Jim Pontz.  Jim is an Able Seaman on the Nancy Foster.  Today I was with Junior Officer ENS Carmen DeFazio.  Carmen has been a NOAA Corps member for a year and a half.  Both Jim and Carmen explained the role of the coxswain during dives.  The coxswain will drive the divers out to their dive site, but their role does not end there.  They need to accurately place the dive marker.  They then assist the divers getting into the water.  Once the divers are in the water, the coxswains must be extremely vigilant.  They need to keep a constant eye on the diver marker buoy.  This lets the coxswain know the general area that the divers will be located in.  If it is a calm day with small waves and low currents, this part is easy.  However, most days there is a current or there are waves which cause the dive boat to drift making it difficult to stay in a specific location.  The coxswain needs to also keep constant watch of the divers.  You are able to “see” where the divers are based on the air bubbles that reach the surface.  By tracking the bubbles, you know the path of the divers.  The coxswain needs to make sure the boat is close to the divers, but not on top of the divers.  While the divers are in the water, the coxswain serves the important role of being the diver’s lookout and ultimately their protection at the surface.  They need to stand watch for any hazards such as other boats or dangerous wildlife and they need to be ready to get the divers out of the water in the event of an emergency.

Coxswain Carmen DeFazio drives to the dive site as Jared Halonen  wraps up the stern line
Coxswain Carmen DeFazio drives to the dive site as Jared Halonen wraps up the stern line
Coxswain Jim Pontz and Chief Scientist returning to the Nancy Foster after a successful dive
Coxswain Jim Pontz and Chief Scientist returning to the Nancy Foster after a successful dive

The dives all have gone very well and the team has been progressing.  Tomorrow they will finish the receiver dives and will begin the Marine Debris Surveys.  The purpose of these surveys is to analyze the types of debris in GRNMS as well as the location of the debris.  There are nine sites that have been marked for debris surveys.  The sites have been marked with metal pins.  The survey will occur over a 50 meter distance.  The divers will swim the 50 meters and will look 2 meters to the right and left of the line.  As the divers swim they will be recording the types, amount, and the specific locations of the debris.  The normal types of debris found in GRNMS are fishing line, beer bottles, and cans.  Hopefully the divers will not see a lot of debris.

 

Did You Know?

In order to dive on a NOAA mission, divers must be NOAA Dive Certified.  This is a lengthily process that includes having a minimum of 25 previous open water dives, completing NOAA diving coursework and passing a series of tests.  NOAA has different classes of divers.  There are scientific divers and working divers.  Scientific divers can perform only scientific tasks including making observations and collecting data.  Working divers can complete construction and troubleshooting tasks under the water.

 

Personal Log

Life on the ship is always interesting.  I am constantly learning and am having a great time.  Today was particularly exciting.  At lunch time one of the dive boats was brought to the side of the Nancy Foster and was raised to the hip (the side of the ship, even with the deck, but not onboard).  The boat was being held out of the water by the crane.  Junior Officer ENS Carmen DeFazio NOAA Corps Officer with GRNMS Jared Halonen were in the boat while Sarah Fangman and I were standing on the Nancy Foster.  We were loading the dive boat with our equipment when someone spotted a large dorsal fin right next to the Nancy Foster.  The fin belonged to a shark that we estimate to be 14 feet long.  We are not certain of the species.  You can see the photo below.  It was shot through polarized sunglasses, so there is a bit of a glare.  People on the ship are guessing that it is a Great White or Bull Shark.  Photos have been sent to fish experts and we are waiting for confirmation.

The shark who decided to swim along the ship.  We are still trying to identify it.
The shark who decided to swim along the ship. We are still trying to identify it.
Commanding Officer LCDR Nick Chrobak, Sarah Fangman, Jared Halonen, and Amy Rath use books and the internet to try to identify the shark
Commanding Officer LCDR Nick Chrobak, Jared Halonen, Sarah Fangman, and Amy Rath use books and the internet to try to identify the shark

Our shark friend decided to stay next to the ship, swimming back and forth hovering many times under the dive boat.  He was at the surface for about 10 minutes when it was decided to move the Nancy Foster so that the dive boat could safely be deployed.  Once we were away from the shark, the dive boat was deployed.  The four of us set off to our dive site.  We made it to the site and dropped the dive marker.  We were leaving that site to drop a second marker when we noticed a dorsal fin heading toward the first marker.  We drove toward the dorsal fin to get a better look at the shark.  It was an 8 foot long hammerhead.  After some discussion the divers, Sarah and Jared, did get into the water.  They had safe dives and did not see any more sharks.  The initial sightings of the two different sharks was exciting.

 

Sarah and Jared prepare to dive after spotting a hammerhead shark.
Sarah and Jared prepare to dive after spotting a hammerhead shark.

Additional Photos

 

Jamie Morris, Lauren Heesemann, and Sarah Fangman Photo: Amy Rath
Jamie Morris, Lauren Heesemann, and Sarah Fangman
Photo: Amy Rath
Richard LaPalme returns safely to the surface after a successful dive. Photo: Sarah Webb
Richard LaPalme returns safely to the surface after a successful dive.
Photo: Sarah Webb
Approaching the Nancy Foster after a dive.
Approaching the Nancy Foster after a dive.

 

Jamie Morris: The Diving Begins, April 25, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Wednesday, April 25, 2014

 

Weather Data from the Bridge
Weather: Clear
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind: 10 knots
Swell Waves: 2-3 feet
Air Temperature: 71.2ºF
Seawater Temperature: 69.1ºF

 

Science and Technology Log

Members on the Nancy Foster await the arrival of the dive team.
Members on the Nancy Foster await the arrival of the dive team.

Last night the dive team arrived.  The team consists of Jared Halonen, Hampton Harbin, Lauren Heesemann, Richard LaPalme, Katie Mahaffey, Randy Rudd, Sarah Webb and of course Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman.  The divers quickly settled into the ship.  We then had a science meeting where diving safety and the diving tasks were discussed.  The divers than had to have their gear checked and it was loaded into the dive boats.

The dive operations began this morning.  The beautiful, calm waters from the past 2 days changed into choppy water with up to 3 foot waves.  The divers reported strong currents and a relatively large thermocline as they descend.  A thermocline is where there is a change in the temperature.  The divers reported a noticeable change in the temperature of the water as they descended.  These conditions gave the divers a bit of a challenge.

The two dive teams set off to complete their morning dives
The two dive teams set off to complete their morning dives

The divers were very successful today.  They completed 2 fish acoustics surveys.  Lauren and Randy dove to two different sites.  At each site, Lauren had to identify and count all the different species of fish.  Randy had the task of filming the site and capturing images of the different fish, especially any predator-prey relationships.  They were able to see many different species of fish.  The data gathered by Lauren and Randy will be used to compare to the acoustic data that is being recorded from the ship at this location.

The other dive group was tasked with replacing the Telemetry Receivers.  In the morning this group consisted of Sarah Fangman, Randy, and Hampton.  In the afternoon, Hampton and Jared completed this task.  Together, the different dive teams were able to replace 5 receivers.

The receivers were brought on the ship and the data was downloaded to a computer.  Every time a microchipped fish swam past these receivers, the receiver recorded the information.  When the data is downloaded, you are able to see the number of the microchip from those fish and the date and time that they swam by the receiver.  Using a database of microchip numbers generated by a group of scientists along the East Coast of the United States, we are able to identify the fish that have been in the area.  From today’s data, we learned that Gray’s Reef had two visitors, an Atlantic Sturgeon in early March and Sand Tiger Shark in early April.  Both were originally tagged in Delaware.

Jamie Morris preparing the receiver and Amy Rath writing the GRNMS blog.
Jamie Morris preparing the receiver and Amy Rath writing the GRNMS blog. Photo: Sarah Webb

While the dive teams were out I kept busy on the Nancy Foster.  In the morning I helped prepare logs for the Acoustics dive team.  I also spent time at the bridge learning about the ship’s systems.  Operations Officer, Lieutenant Colin Kliewer, and Junior Officer, Ensign Conor Maginn showed me the different systems in the bridge and explained how they are able to keep the ship in a precise location using the two thrusters on the ship.

OPS  LT Colin Kliewer and ENS Conor Maginn controlling the ship's movements
OPS LT Colin Kliewer and ENS Conor Maginn controlling the ship’s movements
The Ship's Controls
The Ship’s Controls

In the afternoon I assisted Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman with the receivers that were brought on board.  Using Bluetooth, she was able to download the data from the receivers to her computer.  We then used the Microchip Data table and identified the tagged fish.  We finished the project by cleaning the receiver and preparing them to be placed back into the ocean tomorrow.  We prepared them by wrapping them in electrical tape and then placing them in nylon stockings.  This is to protect the receiver from the organisms that will grow on them.  Please see the “Before” and “After” photos below.

The Reciever Before it is placed in the water.  It is wrapped with electrical tape and then placed inside nylon stockings.
The Receiver Before it is placed in the water. It is wrapped with electrical tape and then placed inside nylon stockings.
This receiver was in the water for 4 months.  It is covered in tunicates, tube worms, and small crabs
This receiver was in the water for 4 months. It is covered in tunicates, tube worms, and small crabs

We finished our day with a science meeting.  We discussed the dives that occurred today.  Issues, tips, and advice were shared.  We also shared the data that was discovered on the receivers as well as the animals that were seen.  Additional tasks for the diving teams were discussed including the sea turtle identification, the removal of the lionfish, and fish surveys.  After the meeting concluded the group prepared for tomorrow’s dives by filing the SCUBA tanks, programming the GPS in the boats, and finishing preparing the receivers and logs.

The divers prepare for the dives by programming the GPS, checking the gear, and loading the gear into the boat.
The divers prepare for the dives by programming the GPS, checking the gear, and loading the gear into the boat.

Did You Know?

There is a fish called the guitarfish.  This fish is a cartilaginous fish closely related to sharks and rays.  One was spotted today at GRNMS.

NOAA Photo Library Image - fish4420
Atlantic Guitarfish Photo: NOAA Photo Library Image

 

Personal Log

As of 5 pm tonight, I have been a board the Nancy Foster for one week.  I cannot believe how quickly the time has flown by.  It feels like it was just yesterday that I boarded in the pouring rain, afraid to move around the ship.  It took me a while to become comfortable walking on the ship.  I am doing pretty well now, but every once in a while we hit a swell and I go flying toward the wall.  Luckily the ship has railings all over allowing you to catch yourself.  There is the rule on the ship to always have one free hand.  I completely understand this rule and use it all the time.  The most difficult places to move are going up or down in the ship.  The stairs are a combination of stairs and a ladder.   They are incredibly steep.  The most difficult part is descending.  I am getting much better at them.  I am having a wonderful experience aboard the Nancy Foster.  I have met many great people and am constantly learning.  I cannot wait to see what this next week brings.

 

Additional Photos

Lowering the dive boats in the water is a team effort.
Lowering the dive boats in the water is a team effort.
he crane lifts the boat, 4 members use guide ropes, and the boatswain directs the movement.
The crane lifts the boat, 4 members use guide ropes, and the boatswain directs the movement.
The science team meets to review that day's events and to discuss the next day's activitites
The science team meets to review that day’s events and to discuss the next day’s activitites

Jamie Morris: Time to Plan, Prepare, & Revise, April 23, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Wednesday, April 23, 2014

 

Weather Data from the Bridge
Weather: Clear
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind: 7 knots
Swell Waves: 1.3 feet
Air Temperature: 68.5ºF
Seawater Temperature: 67.6ºF

 

Science and Technology Log

Today was our third day at sea.  We again were very fortunate to have had beautiful weather.  We are continuing to “mow the lawn” and are creating the seafloor map.

Lowering the dive boat.  This is right before the Hydraulic Fluid leaked.
Lowering the dive boat. This is right before the Hydraulic Fluid leaked.

Since it was a relatively quiet day, the crew decided to practice launching and running two of the dive boats.  As they were lowering the first dive boat into the water one of the guide ropes snapped.  The crew worked quickly to reattach a new rope.  Once the boat was under control, the passengers boarded and they sailed away to practice marking dive locations.  A few minutes later the crew launched a second dive boat.  The boat was lowered into the water with no problems and the passengers boarded.  Right before they unhooked from the crane, the line carrying the hydraulic fluid on the crane popped off.  Hydraulic fluid shot all over. (The hydraulic fluid is biodegradable so it is safe, but a mess to clean up).

The engineers were able to work quickly to repair the crane.  Meanwhile, both dive boats went on their practice missions.  The second boat was the first to return and was reloaded onto the Nancy Foster without any problems.  The first boat, however, did not return on its own.  It ended up having engine problems.  The Nancy Foster had to stop mapping the seafloor and go retrieve the dive boat and its passengers.  What was supposed to be a quiet morning turned into an eventful one, but fortunately no one was injured.  The only causality was a boat.

We are now down to only two dive boats.  This means that a third of the planned worked might not be able to get accomplished.  Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman had to revise the mission’s plans to try to accomplish as much as we can with only two boats.  She first had to prioritize the different projects.  It was determined that the Fish Acoustics and Telemetry projects would be completed first.  The Fish Acoustics study involves two divers going to 6 specific sites.  One diver will identify and record the fish species that are present.  The other diver will be filming the animals seen.  The Telemetry teams will be replacing the receivers that are currently positioned throughout the sanctuary.  These receivers record information from micro chipped fish that swim past.  New receivers will be placed in the water and the old ones will be brought on board and the data will be uploaded onto a computer.  While these projects are being conducted, the divers will also be looking for sea turtles and Lionfish.  Data will be gathered about the sea turtles and photos will be taken.  If Lionfish are located, they will be speared and brought on board the Nancy Foster where information such as length and weight will be gathered.  Lionfish are an invasive species and need to be removed from the ecosystem.  For a detailed description of Lionfish, please visit the Mission’s Website at: http://graysreef.noaa.gov/science/expeditions/2014_nancy_foster/welcome.html Once these projects are complete, the Marine Debris Survey will begin.

Preparing the recievers.  They are first wrapped in electrical tape and than placed inside nylon stockings.
Preparing the recievers. They are first wrapped in electrical tape and than placed inside nylon stockings.

Today we did prep for the different missions.  Sarah and I organized all the supplies that will be used.  This included filling a dive bag with the receivers and tools needed to secure the receivers under water as well as tools to remove the current receivers.  Yesterday we had prepped the receivers.  Sarah replaced the batteries and then we wrapped the receivers in electrical tape and then placed them inside nylon stockings.  This is to protect the receivers and to keep them clean.  When they are under the water different organisms will start to grow on them.  When we retrieve the receivers, we can cut away the stockings removing any organisms growing there and then unwrap the tape and the receivers will look brand new.

We also gathered the supplies for the Lionfish removal.  These included dive bags to hold the lionfish, gloves for removing the fish, and placing the spear guns into the dive holsters (designed by a GRNMS member made out of PVC pipes).  We copied all the dive logs onto waterproof paper and organized the paperwork for the dives.  We also prepared all the underwater cameras.  Hopefully we are all set for when the divers arrive tomorrow.

Spear Gun Holster
Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman models the spear gun holster.
First Assistant Engineer, Sabrina Tarabolletti fixes the underwater lights for the GO Pro camera.
First Assistant Engineer, Sabrina Tarabolletti, fixes the underwater lights for the GO Pro camera.

Today’s lesson was flexibility.  It is so important to be flexible.  On a ship, no plan is going to work out perfectly.  There are many uncontrollable factors such as the weather or mechanical issues.  It is important to always have backup plans and be able to adjust if problems arise.

 

Did You Know?

You can identify sea turtles using the scales on their neck.  This pattern is unique to each individual sea turtle.  Just like how fingerprints can identify humans.

 

Animals Seen Today

Hammerhead Shark – spotted from the bridge; estimated to be 10-12 feet long; it is very uncommon to see one in GRNMS (sorry no picture)

 

Personal Log

Amy Rath and I enjoyed writing our blogs on the Steel Beach.  We were working very hard in the beautiful weather
Amy Rath and I enjoyed writing our blogs on the Steel Beach. We were working very hard in the beautiful weather

I am truly having a wonderful time on this trip.  I am meeting so many amazing people and learning a lot from everyone.  The crew and all the scientific party are really nice people with many interesting stories.

Every day Keith Martin, the Electronics technician, makes Cuban coffee.  I was teasing him today about the cups he uses to pass out the coffee.  Cuban coffee is incredibly strong so you do not drink it like typical coffee.  You drink only a tiny amount.  Keith was using coffee cups to pass out the coffee.  I asked him where are the tiny cups (plastic cups about the size of the paper cups you use at fast food restaurants to get ketchup)?  He said that you can only find them in Miami.  That led to a conversation about Miami.  It turns out that he is a graduate of Miami Palmetto Senior High.  (Ms. Evans taught him Biology, Coach Delgado was his Drivers Ed teacher, Mr. Moser taught him weight training, and he was a member of TVP).  It really is a small world!

I do not know if I will be posting tomorrow, so I want to give an early shout out to my Seniors.  I hope that you have a wonderful time at Grad Bash.  Make sure to ride the Hulk for me (I prefer the 1st row).  Have fun!!

Me with Keith Martin the Electronics Technician who is a Miami Palmetto Alumni Photo: Amy Rath
Me with Keith Martin the Electronics Technician who is a Miami Palmetto Alumni
Photo: Amy Rath
Sam Martin enjoying some Cuban Coffee
Sam Martin enjoying some Cuban Coffee

 

Jamie Morris: “Mowing the Lawn”, April 22, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Weather: Clear
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind: 12 knots
Swell Waves: 1-2 feet
Air Temperature: 66.2ºF
Seawater Temperature: 64.8ºF

 

Science and Technology Log

Due to rough seas, we were not able to depart on Sunday. We waited until yesterday when the waves were only 3 feet at times (much better than 8 feet on Sunday).  It took us 5 hours to travel from Savannah to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS).  Once we arrived at the sanctuary, machines were calibrated and we began mapping the seafloor.  The mapping will take 3 days running 24 hours a day.  We are currently “mowing the lawn.”  We started at one end of the sanctuary and are traveling in a straight line across to the other side of the sanctuary.  Once we reach the edge of the sanctuary the ship turns around and we return to the other side slightly overlapping the previous path.  The goal is to map the entire Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS).

Senior Survey Technician Sam monitors the seafloor mapping data
Senior Survey Technician Sam monitors the seafloor mapping

The seafloor is being mapped using a multibeam sonar.  Multibeam sonar involves sending out 512 sound waves at once at different angles.  The sound waves bounce off of the seafloor and are reflected back to receivers on the ship.  There are a series of computer programs that uses the information to calculate the distance the wave traveled (depth of the ocean) and generate an image.

The scientists and technicians need to avoid errors while mapping and therefore need to account for the tides, the differences in the temperature and salinity of the water as well as sound velocity.  There are several tools and computer programs used to avoid errors and adjust any differences.  One of these tools is the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Density).  The CTD is deployed off of the back of the ship.  It is sent down a cable to the seafloor.  As it descends it is gathering data and sending the data to a computer in the lab.  The scientists and technicians make adjustments to the computer programs using this data and can compensate for again changes in the water column.

CTD
Senior Survey Technician, Sam Martin, Deploying the CTD

For a detailed description of Multibeam sonar, please visit: http://graysreef.noaa.gov/science/expeditions/2013_nancy_foster/multibeam.html

Several other projects will be conducted on this mission as well, but most will not begin until Thursday when the dive team arrives.  These will include Marine Debris Surveys, Lionfish Removal, Sea Turtle data collection, and Fish Telemetry.  In preparation for these projects, a small dive boat was just deployed off the ship.  Chief Scientist, Sarah Fangman, with a few crew members went in the boat to test the marker drops.  The divers will be looking for very specific sites.  It is important to precisely mark the sites from the surface so that the divers will easily be able to find the spots or objects that they are looking for.

The Nancy Foster carries 3 small dive boats.  The boats need to be lowered into the water using the crane located at the back of the ship.  It is a group effort to deploy these boats.  A member needs to operate the crane and four others use guide ropes to assist in lowering the boat.  Once the boat is in the water, members need to crawl aboard using a rope ladder that is connected to the Nancy Foster.

A crane is used to lower the boat off of the ship into the water.
A crane is used to lower the boat off of the ship into the water.

I have quickly learned that the most important skill on the ship is teamwork.  One person cannot do it all.  From safety procedures to gathering data to the general functioning of the ship, you need to work together.

 

Did You Know?

When using Sonar, extra sound waves are generated.  This was once thought to be background noise.  Scientists now call this Backscatter and can analyze this data and determine that type of seafloor bottom or the sediment that is present (sandy, rippled, hard bottom).

 

Personal Log

Earth Day Selfie
ENS Conor Magnin, LT Colin Kliewer, Me, and Amy Rath pose for an Earth Day Selfie
Photo: Amy Rath

Happy Earth Day!!! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate this beautiful planet than sitting out on the deck enjoying the vast ocean.  Or by submitting a Selfie to NASA to participate in their Global Selfie Project to create an image of the earth using selfies from around the world.

I have been aboard the Nancy Foster for four days now.  I arrived in pouring rain on Friday night so I did not really get to explore the ship that night.  On Saturday, I assisted with an Open House on the Nancy Foster where the public was able to tour the ship.  Members of the GRNMS including Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman, Acting Superintendent George Sedberry, and Communications and Outreach Coordinator Amy Rath led the tours.  Financial and IT Coordinator Debbie Meeks, volunteer Marilyn Sobwick and I signed people up for the tours and discussed GRNMS, NOAA, and the upcoming mission with the public.  It was a wonderful experience being able to meet new people and introduce them to the Nancy Foster and Gray’s Reef.

I was all ready to set sail on Sunday, but the weather had different plans.  We were all boarded on the ship and the crew was making the final preparations when it was decided to postpone the trip.  The waves were 8 feet tall at Gray’s Reef.  The rough water would have made it impossible to create an accurate seafloor map.  Since that was the only task we had, the trip was postponed.

We were able to set sail yesterday.  It was a beautiful day, as it is today.  It is gorgeous outside with warm weather and calm waves.  I have found several wonderful spots to sit outside and enjoy the ocean.

Many of my students had several concerns about life on the ship.  Living on the Nancy Foster is quite comfortable.  I am staying in a four person stateroom.  Right now I am

The bunks in the stateroom
The bunks in the stateroom

sharing it with Amy who is a great roommate.  We each have our own bunk with a curtain for privacy. The bathroom, or Head as it is called on a ship, is down the hall.  I do feel like I’m back in college sharing a bathroom.  The Galley (or kitchen) and Mess (dining room) is directly across the hall.  As for my students who were very concerned about food – I am eating VERY well.  The Nancy Foster has 2 amazing stewards, Lito Llena and Bob Burroughs, who are wonderful chefs.  Yesterday they made a Ginger Chicken Soup that was honestly the best soup I had ever had.  Many crew members tell me that the Nancy Foster is one of the best fed ships.  I can agree.  As for entertainment, the ship has a gym, tv and games in the galley, and a Movie Room!

Movie Room
The Movie Room
The gym aboard the ship
The gym aboard the ship

Some of my students were very concerned about my safety.  NOAA Ships want to make sure everyone is prepared for any situation.  They are required to conduct weekly drills and all members aboard must participate.  We practiced what to do in a blackout situation or how to find your way if you have chemicals in your eyes.  We did this by being blindfolding and finding your way out of ship or to an eyewash station.  We also practiced an Abandon Ship drill.  We had to put on our survival suits and get to our life rafts.  I am glad we are prepared.

Survival Suit
Me in the Survival Suit.
Photo: LT Colin Kliewer
Abandon Ship Drill
Preparing to get into the survival suits during the Abandon Ship drill

 

 

Additional Photos:

Nancy Foster at dock in Savannah
Nancy Foster at dock in Savannah, GA
Leaving Savannah and heading down the river
Leaving Savannah and heading down the river
Leaving Savannah
Leaving Savannah
Sunset from the ship on April 21st.
Sunset from the ship on April 21st.
Drill
GVA Richard Odom practicing finding his way to an eye wash station without the ability to see. ENS Conor Maginn assists
Blackout Prep
ENS Carmen practicing how to evacuate the ship during a blackout.

 

Susan Kaiser: Technology, Tool of the Marine Scientist, August 1, 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 1, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 29 min N
Longitude:  83 deg 07 min W
Wind Speed:   1.4 kts
Surface Water Temperature:  28.38 C
Air Temperature:  29.3 C
Relative Humidity: 76%

Science and Technology Log

Cycles are patterns that repeat over and over again and science is full of examples of them: rock cycle, carbon cycle and life cycle just for starters. I am sure you can probably even name a few more. Tonight will be the last night of a full moon, another cycle, and with it Mutton Snapper  spawning will end for the time. When the Mutton Snapper, scientific name  (Lutjanus analis), gather in a large group marine scientists call an aggregation.

Mutton Snapper aggregation
Mutton Snapper aggregation

This means that the male and female fish swim to a particular location in the ocean increasing their numbers and the chance that many more eggs will be fertilized to produce the next generation of fish. The trick for the scientists is finding where on the ocean floor these aggregations will occur. Using the Remotely Controlled Vehicle (ROV), diver sightings of good habitat and even knowledge of where fishermen have made great catches, scientists can zero in on where to observe an aggregation.

However, there is one more technology tool that can help locate fish AND map the ocean floor at the same time. This is multibeam charting technology create the colorful maps of the hidden world below the water.

Bathymetry image showing depth of Lake Tahoe
Bathymetry image showing depth of Lake Tahoe made using multibeam charting technology.

You may have seen one of these beautiful images which use different colors to indicate changes in depth. I have always wondered how these charts were made. In fact, NOAA Ship Nancy Foster has crew members charting the ocean floor 24 hours a day while we are underway even when we are sleeping! Multiple sonar signals are directed from the ship toward  the ocean floor  when they bounce back the ship receives the signal on the computers. This signal shows on the computer screen as a small dot. When enough dots are arranged together at the depth they represent a picture of the ocean floor begins to emerge.  The trained eyes of the survey technicians are needed to create an accurate two dimensional image of what lies beneath the water. The charts they create allow ships to remain safe and avoid running aground. When ships and boats stay in the proper depth of water they do not harm fragile coral reef areas which are easily damaged by these destructive collisions. In addition to recording safe passageways and creating depth charts that mariners use as they navigate, this technology can also spot fish within the water column locating the fish aggregations the marine scientists are studying. Many NOAA ships are equipped with this same technology and explore other parts of the ocean gathering similar data.

Technology helps the research team compensate for changing conditions such as visibility, currents, and ocean depth. Each tool has strength and weakness. For example, this morning our boat deployed a Seaviewer drop camera which is tethered by the cord and carried down by a weight. We were at a location called Riley’s Hump where the current is fast!

ROV  technology would not work in this situation because it would be too difficult to maneuver in this current. It takes teamwork to handle the positioning of the boat while one scientist observes the computer screen for video and another pair manage the descent of the camera and weighted rope. However, the drop camera can only “look” one direction so once the fish swim past, the camera cannot follow them unlike the ROV in calm water. When used together, these technology tools allow scientists to develop an understanding of the habitat and the organisms that live on the ocean floor but they also have limitations.

Ben Binder deploys the Seaviewer drop camera over Riley's Hump location.
Ben Binder deploys the Seaviewer drop camera over Riley’s Hump location.

The marine scientists plan their data gathering with these variables in mind. On this trip they returned to the VR2 sites where they have been collecting data since 2008 but they are always looking for other areas of the habitat to study. While they dive to retrieve VR2s or use the ROV and drop camera they are identifying future research sites wondering which fish might prefer that spot.

Computer screen image as we pass over an aggregation site.
Computer screen image as we pass over an aggregation site. The baseline shows the ocean floor in profile. The mass of dots represent fish!

Their path is determined by questions: Do the Mutton Snapper live near their aggregation site or do they swim to this location from elsewhere? Do different groups of Mutton Snapper aggregate each full moon or is it the same group returning to Riley’s Hump? How often do these aggregations happen? All the technology available cannot answer these questions so when the time is right the scientists dive to make a direct observation of what organisms are living in the study area. On this cruise we learned that some areas did not have many fish on the day we visited yet other sites were rich with organisms.

The VR2 data will tell more of the story.  The scientists will revise their plan and add more data in the fall. In time they will learn the answer to these questions and then perhaps identify related or new questions to pursue. This is a cycle of research. You may have heard it called scientific method. It is a process of asking questions and trying to answer them through investigation and observations. It is a process I watched unfold for this marine science team. It was unforgettable!

Personal Log:

Every discipline has its own specialized vocabulary. Tackling new science words with my students breaking down their meaning to understand and remember them is something I do regularly. Living aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster for the last week has put me in role of learner again. My teachers are the marine scientists and mariners.  I am learning the names of organisms that we encounter and details about their behaviors. Some of this information I remember from my college classes but much of it is new. The mariners even have their own vocabulary! In fact, the Executive Officer, Donn Pratt, provided me with a list of seafarer vocabulary. I thought it was interesting and that you might enjoy reading it too:

Safety sign marking the spot to report or "muster"
Safety sign marking the spot to report or “muster”

Seafarers Nomenclature!!
Showers and toilets referred to on ships as “heads!”
Hallways are called “passageways.”
Windows are called “portholes.”
Bunk is called a “rack.”
Floors are called “decks.”
Ceilings are “overheads.”
Lastly…to report to a designated location is to “muster!”

More of a challenge for me is living at sea. I am still adjusting to the rocking motion of the ship. Thank goodness the water has been calm and my plan to prevent seasickness is effective. Today tested this hypothesis by performing a little science experiment. I skipped the seasickness medicine and took off the wrist bands. Within two hours my stomach was  feeling queasy so I popped the wrist bands back on and now feel fine. One of the scientists pointed out that it is effective because you believe it will work. That may be the case but I got the result I hoped for so I am a believer in sea bands.

Mrs. Kaiser on the bridge deck at the last full moon.
Mrs. Kaiser on the bridge deck at the last full moon

My former students know that I love the dictionary and we refer to it often in my classroom.  As I see it, the dictionary is a critical tool to both understand another person’s thinking as well as to communicate our meaning clearly. Unfortunately, I didn’t pack a dictionary and early in the cruise it became clear I needed one. I had worn out “Cool!” “Amazing” and  “Interesting” to comment on what I was seeing and living each day on this adventure.  I looked up the definition of “superlative” when our course pointed away from the “Dead Zone” but the list of synonyms didn’t help much. Perhaps the best way to describe my experience as a NOAA Teacher at Sea on NOAA Ship Nancy Foster is just this: I am in AWE!

Superlative: adjective. 1) of the highest quality or degree. 2) expressing the highest or a very high degree of a quality (e.g. bravest, most fiercely).

Awe:noun. a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.

Marine science team with Mrs. Kaiser after deploying the ROV.
Marine science team with Mrs. Kaiser after deploying the ROV
NOAA Ship Nancy Foster compass.
NOAA Ship Nancy Foster compass.

Susan Kaiser: Safety and Teamwork Needed for Success, July 27, 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: Friday, July 27, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 41 min N
Longitude:  82 deg 59 min W
Wind Speed: 5.61 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 30.33 C
Air Temperature: 29.33 C
Relative Humidity: 79.0%

Science and Technology Log

Close up of the bridge of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
Close up of the bridge of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

Safety is first in the science classroom AND on board the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster too. Our expected departure was delayed by one day because the Public Announcement (PA) system was not working. Without the PA system, communication about emergency situations would not be possible. The ship’s crew worked to solve the problem themselves and also contacted outside help, but in the end a part had to be replaced so we stayed in port at Key West an extra day. Ships don’t sail without meeting safety requirements. By morning on Friday the system was working fine and the crew prepared to set sail.

Lt Josh Slater leads the science team safety briefing in the dry lab.

After boarding the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster one of our first tasks was to review the safety protocols of the ship with one of the ship’s officers.  We learned the whistle signals for man overboard (3 prolonged blasts of the alarm), fire (1 continuous blast of the alarm) and abandon ship (7 or more short blasts followed by 1 long blast) and the designated places to report in these situations. We will be practicing abandon ship in a drill very soon so I will report on that later. Since the ship works on a 24 hour schedule someone is always awake on board which means someone is always asleep too.  Lt. Slater stressed the importance of not being too loud and showing respect for others’ space.  After all this ship is home to the crew and the science team are guests in that home.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers ENS Jamie Park, ENS Michael Doig and Lt Josh Slater (hidden), inspect diving equipment.
NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers ENS Jamie Park, ENS Michael Doig and Lt Josh Slater (hidden), inspect diving equipment.

Teamwork is critical on board the ship. The science team and the ship’s crew work closely to help each other achieve the best results and stay safe. Most of the data collected on this cruise uses divers. Twice each day, the science team meets to review the Plan of the Day or POD. This meeting allows team members to learn the expectations of them to meet the research objectives of the day. They also have the chance to provide input or to ask questions. What do you think is a main focus of this meeting?  You got it…Safety! While we waited for the PA system repair, the scientists checked their SCUBA gear again under the supervision of the ship’s crew members. This double-check insures all the equipment is safe to use.

After we steamed away from the keys, the scientists did a practice dive to simulate an unconscious diver at the surface. This drill included 5 science team divers as well as the ship’s crew and allowed them to practice their response in an emergency situation as well as deploying a small boat. A debriefing meeting afterward helped to identify the important tasks that need to be completed in the event of an emergency.   Practicing through drills allows a quick response to an unusual situation and helps everyone stay safe.

Unconscious diver drill. Pictured Ben Binder, Lt. Slater, and Chris Rawley. Sarah Fangman, who acts as the unconscious diver, is in the boat.

With the safety issues well-covered, the science team is ready to begin retrieving the “listening stations” called VR2s from their positions on the ocean floor tomorrow.  VR2 stands for Vemco Receiver 2 and is the model of the equipment used by the scientists use to collect fish movement information.  What do you think the “listening stations” are listening for? Read about the “listening stations” in a future posting of my blog. For now you can make an educated guess by reading for hints in this blog and answering this poll.

Personal Log

Mrs. Kaiser at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport ready to start her NOAA Teacher at Sea adventure!

Flying out of Reno, NV the plane took off heading south climbing quickly into the sky.  From my window seat I could see Pine Middle School below. Then after a quick glimpse of Lake Tahoe to the west, the plane turned gracefully eastward. As I looked down I could see the desert valleys that once lay beneath the ancient Pleistocene lakes, covering a good part of the Great Basin with water. Although it doesn’t seem possible, one can still find shells and marine fossils in these now desert locations. I thought how different the landscape is today compared to the distant past. Our environment is undergoing constant changes even though the processes may seem slow and may not be noticed from day to day.

This is why it is important to observe, record and think about all aspects of our environment and to be aware of small changes so we can predict if they may become big impacts. Soon I would be landing in Florida, a state very different from Nevada, and joining the science team aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster. This team is one of many that makes observations of their marine ecosystem, recording data and interpreting any changes or patterns they notice. I am very pleased to join them for the next 2 weeks and expect to learn a great deal.

Greeting me at the airport were artistic decorations made of models of tropical fish found along the Florida coast.  High on the walls, they are creatively arranged in geometric patterns reminding me of synchronized swimmers competing in the Summer Olympics. These fish are more than art. They represent an important economic factor to Florida. They lure tourists for diving and snorkeling activities. Some of them are harvested for food or fished for sport. They are also important to the ecosystems of the coastal reefs and shore communities of Florida. I wonder what changes these scientists are seeing in this marine ecosystem. What are the solutions they will propose to the public? How can a balanced management meet the needs of people who live and work there? These are difficult questions to answer.

Great Basin at 30,000 ft. This area would have been covered with small lakes during the Pleistocene period.

It is dark when I arrive finally in Key West but a scientist meets me at the airport and drives me to the ship where I find my bunk and spend the night! Everyone has been very kind and helpful which makes participating in NOAA Teacher at Sea even more amazing – if that is even possible!

Susan Kaiser: Introduction: A 7th Grade Memory, June 26, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 24 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A California coast tide pool.
A California coast tide pool.
Can you find the Sculpin fish?

My first ocean encounter happened while on an overnight field-trip to San Francisco in 7thgrade. Our Science Club traveled from Reno, Nevada by school bus to visit a museum, the Fisherman’s Wharf, and the tide pools on the coast. I had no idea how this experience would eventually impact my life. Our teachers, who were our guides, lead the group to a steep drop off where the land ends and the beach lies below.  Carefully we picked our way single file down a worn path cutting through a sea of ice plants descending slowly to the sandy shore. Outcroppings of rocks trapped the cold ocean water, forming small natural containers for water AND living sea organisms.  We had to step carefully to be sure of our footing and to avoid crushing the live inhabitants of these rocks. California mussels closed tight to preserve their moisture, and slippery seaweed covered most of the rock surface. They were waiting for the sea level to rise again. Peering into the sparkling pools revealed spiny purple sea urchins, colorful sea stars and tiny crabs, betrayed by their movement across the pool bottom. Seeing these organisms up close was amazing to me and created a lifelong memory.  It awakened a curiosity about living things that inspired me to study biology in college and become a science teacher.

I am Susan Kaiser and I teach 7th grade Life Science at Pine Middle School in Reno, Nevada. Soon, I will be embarking on a voyage that combines all of these elements: biology, sea organisms and teaching. It promises to be even more memorable than my first trip to a tide pool.  Best of all, I get to bring my students at Pine along with me! Well, at least through this blog…read along and see what is in store.

Since, 1990 NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has been including teachers on board their research vessels through a unique program called Teacher at Sea. Each year teachers apply from across the county and about 25 are selected to participate. After several years of wanting to apply, I finally mustered my courage and completed an application. I am proud to have been selected and will sail aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster leaving from the port of Key West, Florida.  I will have the opportunity to observe and learn about organisms in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary with the help of the crew and scientists led by chief scientist, Scott Donahue. Their research includes monitoring sensitive marine organisms over a long period of time. In this way, scientists can detect population changes that may occur due to extreme events such as hurricanes, harmful algal blooms (HAB) or more recently, impacts of possible oil spill contamination. You can see that I have some homework to do to prepare for this adventure. I am reading the websites you can click on and learning all I can to contribute to the success of the mission.

Kaiser Family snorkeling in 2005
Here we are snorkeling and meeting a ray in 2005! That is me on the left. Then my sons, Nathan and Stefan, my daughter, Rachel, and my husband , Phillip.

If it could get any more exciting, I saved the biggest news for last. In addition to working alongside the scientists and living on an ocean-going vessel for two weeks,  I may also have the opportunity to snorkel in the coral reef study areas. To be truthful, my snorkeling skills are a little rusty. Living in the desert makes it a challenge to stay in practice! The last time I snorkeled was on a family vacation in 2005. But not to worry, I have a plan. I have been spending time at the pool practicing with the snorkel equipment I borrowed from my friend and colleague at Pine Middle School, Jencie Fagan. It turns out that Ms. Fagan is SCUBA certified and willing to help me build my skills before I set sail next month. Thank you Ms. Fagan, you rock!

My snorkeling tutor
Me and my snorkeling tutor, Jencie Fagan.
Photo by Larissa Hirning

It is time for my practice session at the pool. The next time you read my blog I will be writing from the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster. Join me on this  adventure of ocean learning. What memory will you make of your 7th grade year in Science?

Deborah Campbell: May 21st, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deborah Campbell
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
May 14 – May 24, 2012

Mission:  Collecting Zebra Arc Shells and Multibeam Mapping
Geographical Area:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Monday, May 21, 2012

Teacher on land, Deborah Campbell, on Atlantic Beach near Mayport Navel Base in Florida.

Mission: Multibeam Mapping, Arc shell collections, Marine debris monitering, Fish telemetry, Acoustic receiver deployment/ maintenance

Weather Data from the Bridge: Monitoring Tropical Storm “Alberto”

Science and Technology Log

I am currently a “Teacher on Land”.  Tropical storm “Alberto” has forced our ship to dock in Florida.  I found out Saturday evening around 7:30 in the evening about the storm.  The CO (commanding officer) held a meeting in the mess deck (eating area) to inform all crew about the change in plans.  We were informed that we were heading to Florida to get away from the storm.  The plan would be to arrive in Florida at the Mayport Naval Base at 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning.  If the storm stayed on track as predicted we would leave Florida on Monday at 5:00 p.m.

A tropical storm causes high winds ranging from 33 – 73 miles per hour, and very high waves.  There is a weather buoy located by Gray’s Reef tracking weather conditions.  The Nancy Foster is docked at Mayport Naval Base near Jacksonville, Florida.  Another NOAA ship, Okeanos  Explorer, is docked behind us. Okeanos Explorer was headed north to Rhode Island which is their home base , when they had to turn around. What is really cool about Okeanos is that it has a giant soccer ball which is their satellite system.

CO Holly Jablonski on bridge of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

On the bridge of the ship, the CO (commanding officer), and her crew use the ship’s computers to monitor radar, weather, navigation, and water depth.  The ship is equipped with GPS (global positioning system).  GPS is a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location and time information.  In all weather, anywhere on or near the Earth, where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites, weather can be tracked.  The GPS system is maintained by the United States government, and can be accessed by anyone using a GPS receiver.

Personal Log

Deborah Campbell, Teacher At Sea standing on top of submarine from Brazil at Mayport Navel Base in Florida

The view of Mayport Naval Base is amazing.  This base is like a city having everything imaginable.  There is a bowling alley, a hotel, stores, restaurants, a beach, a gym, and much more.  Yesterday, we went outside the guarded gates to the beach area.  We ate at a nice restaurant.  I am now having trouble walking on land.  It feels like I am still on the ship.  Today, I walked outside the gates where the ships are to go get some pizza for lunch.  I had to show the armed Navy guards my I.D.  We walked quite a distance.  We stopped at the base exchange to buy some magazines and snacks.  On the way back, I stopped where the submarine Tikuna, from Brazil is docked.  I got to climb on top of the sub.  It was very cool.  Some of our crew from the Nancy Foster went down a very steep ladder into the sub.  We are expecting to resume activities at Gray’s Reef on Tuesday.  We are heading back around eight this evening.  Okeanos Explorer left at ten this morning, and they are reporting rough seas as they head back to Rhode Island.  The crew will continue to monitor weather conditions….

Bridge deck computer systems aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.
LT Josh Slater entering submarine Tikuna

Clare Wagstaff, September 18, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Key West
Date: Saturday, September 18, 2009

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (information taken at 12 noon) 
Weather: Sunny Visibility (nautical miles): 10
Wind Speed (knots): 0 (in port)
Wave Height (feet): <1
Sea Water Temp (0C): 30.4
Air Temp (0C): 32

Science and Technology Log 

Right: Black-band Disease on Montastraea annularis. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley
Black-band Disease on Montastraea annularis. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley

With the last dive of the cruise over, the group has completed 175 dives, which equates to 7.5 days underwater! Most of the planned coral reef sites have been surveyed even with our lack of a third small boat. The weather has stayed relatively calm and has been surprisingly supportive of our cruise. The mad rush is now to input all the remaining data before we disembark the ship later today.

An area that I have only briefly referred to in previous logs, are the types of coral diseases present and being studied. Chief Scientist, Scott Donahue, commented to me that there has been a trend over the last decade of decreasing coral coverage. This is believed to be related to anthropogenic stresses such as water quality and climate change. By comparing spatial and temporal patterns against trends in coral reef disease, over different geographic regions and reef types, it is hoped that a greater understanding of how these patterns are related to different environmental conditions. The team was specifically looking at ten disease conditions affecting 16 species of Scleractinian corals and Gorgonian sea fans. Although I tried to identify some of the diseases, it was actually quite difficult to distinguish between individual diseases and also other causes of coral mortality.

White-band Disease on Acropora cervicornis. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley
White-band Disease on Acropora cervicornis. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley

Black-band Disease is a crescent shaped or circular band of blackish material that separates living material from white exposed skeleton. It is caused by a cyanobacteria in combination with a sulfide oxidizing bacteria and a sulfur reducing bacteria. White-band Disease displays a margin of white tissue decay. It can start at the base of a colony or in the middle. It affects branching corals and its cause is currently unknown. Corals have a pretty tough time living out in the ocean and have many problems to overcome. If its not a boat’s anchor crushing it could be any number of the following; a parrot fish (predator) eating it; deterioration of the water quality; a hurricane; an increase in major competitors like algae or tunicates, and to nicely top it all, it can always get a disease too!

Most of the scientists on the Nancy Foster are volunteers, giving up their own free time to be part of the trip. Kathy Morrow is a Ph.D. student who has extensively studied the ecology of cnidarians for the past 9 years. She is currently researching her dissertation on the community structure and stability of coral-algal-microbial associations based on studies conducted off the coast of Summerland Key, Florida and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. On one of the last dives of the trip Kathy takes time to collect mucus samples (she refers to this fondly as coral “snot”), from a site she has previously visited numerous times over the last few years. The objective is to collect mucus samples so that they can be studied later for their bacteria composition.

Morrow collecting coral mucus. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley.
Morrow collecting coral mucus. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley.

Once Kathy has collected these samples she must process them so that they can be stored until she has the opportunity back in the lab, to analyze them. Although I was not present when Kathy was collecting the samples, I did help her in the wet lab with the final stages of storing her collection of samples. Having collected multiple mucus samples from each of the preselected coral species in syringes, the samples were then placed into a centrifuge to extract the bacteria present. This material is denser, so sinks to the bottom ad forms a darker colored pellet. My job is then to remove the excess liquid, but preserve the bacteria pellet so that it can be frozen and stored for later analysis. Back in the lab at Auburn University, Kathy will chemically breakdown the bacteria to release their DNA. This DNA is then replicated and amplified allowing for Kathy to perform analysis on the bacteria to identify the types present in the corals. Kathy will spend the next year studying these bacteria samples and many more she has collected.

Personal Log 

Here I am helping Kathy Morrow preserving coral mucus specimens. Photo courtesy of Cory Walter
Here I am helping Kathy Morrow preserving coral mucus specimens. Photo courtesy of Cory Walter

So here we are back in port after an amazing time on the Nancy Foster. I was initially concerned about being out at sea with people I did not know, studying an area of science I really knew very little about, in an environment I knew would probably make me sick, but didn’t thank goodness! But everything turned out to be a thousand times better than I could have imagined. I have had seen so much and learnt an amazing amount that my head is spinning with all the ideas I have to use with my classes back at school. Yet, there are things that I just rang out of time to look more closely at and part of me wishes we had been out at sea longer. My second time as a Teacher At Sea, has left me with some wonderful memories of the most professional and dedicated scientists and crew you could wish for, but also of how amazing corals are and how much we still have to learn. Thank you everyone who was involved in making this a truly remarkable and memorable experience.

The 2009 coral research team and Teacher At Sea, Clare Wagstaff on board the Nancy
The 2009 coral research team and Teacher At Sea, Clare Wagstaff on board the Nancy Foster

Clare Wagstaff, September 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Dry Tortugas National Park
Date: Saturday, September 16, 2009

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (information taken at 12 noon) 
Weather: Sunny with scattered showers with thunder storms
Visibility (nautical miles): 10
Wind Speed (knots): 4
Wave Height (feet): 1
Sea Water Temp (0C): 30.6
Air Temp (0C): 30

Science and Technology Log 

Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) and numerous Sergeant Majors (Abudefduf  saxatilis)
Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) and numerous Sergeant Majors (Abudefduf saxatilis)

Today I am with a new survey group. As the days go by and each of the scientists gets more dives under their belts, there is some fatigue starting to set in. So on a rotation basis, the divers are taking rest days to catch-up on sleep, emails and data entry. This morning I am with Lauri, Lonny and Sarah. The first dive site is about 33  feet deep and although I can see the bottom from our small boat, the water is extremely green and doesn’t allow me to see anything in real detail when I snorkeled. A little disappointed at the clarity of the water, I am definitely perked up by the next site, CR03. At just 8 feet deep, I can see much more and the water appears less green.

A lobster hiding in the coral
A lobster hiding in the coral

This site was something special! Even from above the water, we could observe large and impressive Acropora palmata. It looked like a large underwater forest. There was a massive diversity of fish specie present that appeared to be supported by the micro-ecosystem that the Acropora palmata created by its large lobes that fan out across the ocean floor. They provide plenty of nooks for green moray eels and multiple lobsters I saw to hide in. This coral grows approximately 10cm a year, but as with all coral species, this growth can be affected by various factors including the most recent hurricanes.

We were surveying in an area known as a Sanctuary Preservation Area or commonly a “No Take Zone”, yet a small boat located within the marking buoys appeared to be spear fishing. The Coxswain on our boat noted that the group brought numerous fish up into their boat while we were underwater. Within a short distance we also observed two other lobster pot buoys located within this zone. Lauri, called this into the Nancy Foster and asked that the Chief Scientist report this to the Marine Law Enforcement office, so that they could send a patrol boat out to investigate. This activity is not permitted in this zoned area.

Coral identification 

Diploria strigosa
Diploria strigosa

Today, I tried to indentify all the different varieties of coral I had photographed. Dr. Joshua Voss, the ship’s expert of coral identification looked over my attempt at scientifically naming 30 different photos. Much to my delight, I got 28 correct! Now I just need to remember them when I am underwater! My greatest difficulty seems to be differentiating between Montastraea spp.annularis, faveolata and franksi, as they have quite similar morphotypes. I just have to keep practicing and asking for help when I’m not sure. What makes me feel a little better is sometimes even the pro’s have trouble distinguishing between certain corals, particularly if they are trying to identify a hybrid which is a mixture of two different species.

Personal Log 

Diploria clivosa
Diploria clivosa

I am always amazed at how resourceful divers can be. Somehow duct tape comes in useful wherever you are. Today was no exception! Geoff, who forgot his dive booties (a type of neoprene sock that you wear inside you fins) has made himself a pair out of another team member’s white socks and a few lengths of duct tape. He does look very entertaining, but they do seem to be working!

Acropora palmata
Acropora palmata

I am feeling very privileged to be surrounded by so many intelligent, passionate and brilliant people. Not only are most of people on the survey teams volunteers and so not getting paid, they are also embracing each part of the cruise with a great sense of humor and consistent high spirits. Even though they are all tired (to date they have accumulated 133 dives between them this cruise), they still banter back and forth with one another in a lighthearted way. All but myself and Mike Henley are returning for their third, fourth, even 13th time, to help collect this vital data. Even though diving has many hazards and is dangerous work, these folks are real experts and I truly feel lucky to be around such inspiring people. I have been diving for five years, but I don’t think I will ever look at a reef in the same way again. They have opened my eyes, and now my job is to go back to chilly Buffalo and develop a way to get this across to my 6th and 8th grade science classes. If I can inspire even just one child, like Joshua’s science teacher did for him as a teenager, then perhaps they too will go on to become a marine biologist, who study some of the smallest, yet most important creatures on our planet.

 Montastraea annularis
Montastraea annularis

As 7pm draws close, the science group gather on the front deck to watch the sunset. It is a beautiful sky, but just to make the evening more special, along come three dolphins riding the wake of the bow of the Nancy Foster. I leap up like a child and run to the edge of the ship to get a closer look, having never seen dolphins in the wild before! They are so graceful and as we all lean over and cheer as the breach the water and splash their fins, you start to wonder, if they are actually watching us as much as we are watching them. Such grace and natural beauty brings another day aboard the Nancy Foster to an end. I’m just not sure how each day keeps topping itself, and with two left to come, who knows what adventures may become this team!

“Animals Seen Today” 

Three bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncates) riding the wake of the Nancy Foster 

Bottlenose dolphins riding in the Foster’s wake
Bottlenose dolphins riding in the Foster’s wake

Clare Wagstaff, September 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Dry Tortugas National Park
Date: Saturday, September 15, 2009

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (information taken at 12 noon) 
Weather: Partially sunny, with scattered showers and thunder storms
Visibility (nautical miles): 10
Wind Speed (knots): 2
Wave Height (feet): 1
Sea Water Temp (0C): 30.6
Air Temp (0C): 30

Science and Technology Log 

I am starting to get used to the scientific names of the corals, but it is taking a while. I keep wanting to refer to them by their common name which is generally descriptive of their physical appearance, but makes little to no reference to which other coral it is more closely related to Dr. Joshua Voss, one of the scientists on board pointed out that the common names could vary depending on who is identifying them, yet the scientific name remains the same. Hence why the whole team refers to the scientific names when referring to the corals.

So what are corals? 

Parts of a coral (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/ corals/media/supp coral01a.html)
Parts of a coral

Corals are members of the Animal Kingdom and are classified in the Phylum Cnidaria. People often mistake    these creatures for plants, because they are attached to the rock, show little movement, and closely resemble plants. Corals consist of a polyp, which are a cup-shaped body with one opening, which is its mouth and anus.

Zooxanthellae (zoo-zan-thel-ee) are single cell plants (photosynthetic algae) that grow within the polyps’ tissue. It forms a mutalistic symbiotic relationship with the polyp. The algae gets a protected environment and the compounds it requires for photosynthesis, whilst the algae provides the polyp with the materials necessary to produce calcium carbonate, which is the hard “shell” that surrounds the polyp.

So why is this cruise surveying corals? 

Clare Wagstaff, Teacher At Sea, snorkeling
Clare Wagstaff, Teacher At Sea, snorkeling

There has been a decreasing trend in coral coverage over the last decade. One theory is that this is due to anthropogenic stress related to water quality and climate change.  Coral’s require certain environmental factors to be within sensitive boundaries, such as water temperature, salinity, clarity of water, and water movement. Although most species only grow a few centimeters each year, they are the backbone to a massive underwater ecosystem, hence their extreme importance to the success of our oceans. By studying the trends in species distribution, size and disease over various geographic regions, their corrolations can be desricbed in better detail.

Personal Log 

Palythoa spp. observed covering most of the reef at station RK02 and Watercress Alga (Halimeda opuntia). Polythoa is not a coral and in fact competes with coral for space in the reef.
Palythoa spp. observed covering most of the reef at station RK02 and Watercress Alga (Halimeda opuntia). Polythoa is not a coral and in fact competes with coral for space in the reef.

This morning I once again join Team C that composes of Dr. Joshua Voss, Kathy Morrow and Mike Henley to survey three dive sites called RK01, RK02 & RK03. We have now got into a comfortable routine and everyone seems to work well together. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for the boat, NF4! During our last dive on Monday, the boat started to leak oil and is now out of commission for the rest of the cruise. Instead we are on the much smaller and less luxurious, NF2, which also happens to be much slower! However, after the usual dive brief we set out for a day of adventures upon the open sea. The second dive site today proved to be the best for snorkeling and I was able to observe a large variety of plants and animals from on the surface.

“Did You Know?” 

Here I am pointing to the waterspout
Here I am pointing to the waterspout

Waterspouts are simply tornadoes over water. They are common in tropical areas where thunderstorms regularly occur, such as the Florida Keys! Today we saw a prime example of one within a few miles of the NANCY FOSTER.

“New Term/Phrase/Word” 

Anthropogenic – caused or produced by human activities such as industry, agriculture, mining, and construction.

The final survey site, RK03 was very shallow at around 8 ft. The dive team decided to make their observations snorkeling rather than diving. Unfortunately, Kathy was so engrossed in her work that she did not see a moon jellyfish swim right into her face! She put on a very brave front and we quickly returned to the NF2 and back to the NANCY FOSTER. The medial treatment for such a sting is to drench the area in vinegar, which neutralizes the nematocysts that may still be clinging to the skin. Luckily, Kathy made a quick recovery, even if she did smell a little like vinegar for the rest of the day!

Clare Wagstaff, September 13, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Dry Tortugas National Park
Date: Saturday, September 13, 2009

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (information taken at 12 noon) 
Weather: Sunny with scattered showers and thunderstorms
Visibility (nautical miles): 10
Wind Speed (knots): 14
Wave Height (feet): 1-2
Sea Water Temp (0C): 29.8
Air Temp (0C): 32

Science and Technology Log 

Hermit crabs at Fort Jefferson
Hermit crabs at Fort Jefferson

Today the dive plan was to survey some of the deeper sites in the FKNMS (Florida Keys National Marine Sancturay) Tortugas Ecological Reserve, referred to as Sherwood Forest. The dive depth varied between 65 to 80 feet. That meant that snorkeling would probably result in me observing very little. My slightly sunburned forehead, needing to get some of my logs composed in more detail, as well as the diving situation, gave me a prime opportunity to stay on the boat for the majority of the day.

So this morning after the dive brief I waved off the team and set out to do some exploring of the ship and do a little more research about what happens before the team actually gets into the water.

The survey teams are planning on making two separate dives on each site to complete the whole of the radial arc transect. The amount of gas each diver requires, depends on a number of variables, including depth, level of physical fitness and amount of activity undertaken in the water. Scuba diving is also limited by a number of factors such as available air, blood nitrogen level, etc.

What is scuba diving? 

Scuba is an acronym for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. The first commercially successful scuba was developed by Emile Gagnan and Jacques-Yves Cousteau, in 1943 and is now widely used around the world as a recreational sport. Sports divers are normally restricted to 130ft, where as technical deep divers can reach depths much greater. During this trip the maximum dive site depth will not exceed 80ft.

Dive brief – Safety First! 

The Wet Lab on the Nancy Foster
The Wet Lab on the Nancy Foster

Before each dive the cruise’s Dive Master, Sarah Fangman gives the scuba divers a brief run through of the priorities for today’s diving. As usual, this means safety is the top priority and Sarah highlights important factors, such as watching your air consumption and making sure that each diver returns with at least 500psi, that each team goes over their dive plan (how deep, for how long, what they will do during the dive), check that all equipment is functioning correctly, and that all the dive data is being recorded. This means prior to the divers getting into the water, their tanks air pressure, Nitrox percentage, name, and time of entry into the water must be logged. Once the dive has ended and the divers are back on the boat, they must once again record their tank air pressure (must be more than 500psi), their bottom depth and sometimes time in the water. Even after the dive is done, the whole team is responsible for each other and has to monitor everyone’s condition for at least the next 30 minutes.

What do the divers breath? 

The divers are breathing Nitrox. Regular scuba has a very specific ratio of nitrogen to oxygen; it tries to mimic the air found on the surface of the Earth as closely as possible. Nitrox diving, on the other hand, tweaks this mixture to maximize bottom time (i.e., the diver’s time spent underwater) and minimize surface intervals (i.e., the time the diver must stay on the surface before diving back in). Before each dive, the individual diver must check his or her own tank for the gases composition and record the oxygen content on their tank. This is because at depths oxygen can actually become toxic.

Science Data Processing 

wagstaff_log3b
A coral species count and bleaching data sheet showing the tally of Montastraea annularis

There are two main areas on the Nancy Foster designated for the science research, the wet lab and the dry lab. The dry lab is where the computers for data entry and processing are located. It is here that the survey team meetings happen every morning and afternoon to discuss which dives site will be surveyed and how the data entry process is going.

Lauri MacLaughlin is the ship’s resident expert on each dive site and gives a detailed map of each site. This includes compass bearings relating to certain underwater features and the GPS coordinates. The wet lab, is just as the name suggests, wet! This is where any experiments can be carried out and also where the scuba tanks are refilled with Nitrox.

Data entry 

wagstaff_log3cEach of the scientists has to transcribe all the data they observed at each dive site. Underwater, the two scientists that are recording data each have a clipboard with the relevant waterproof data forms attached. These forms have a standardised and detailed table, which they then write on using a regular pencil. The data collected on three sheets refers to coral disease, coral bleaching count (for quantity of each species and percentage of bleaching) and coral measurements.

Tally charts and acronyms are a plenty, making it difficult for me to understand the hand-jotted notes of the various scientist. Each of them describes the species of coral by its scientific name. However, my limited knowledge is based upon the common name for most species. I did help Lauri input some of her data today. The tally charts of the number of observed specie are simple enough that I can read and enter the data, along with the size of the first ten individuals of each species. However, after that, the real experts need to get involved! This data must be entered after each dive into a spreadsheet database so that all the information can be collaborated and processed by the end of the cruise.

Personal Log 

Geoff Cook entering data from his dive onto a central database in the dry lab.
Geoff Cook entering data from his dive onto a central database in the dry lab.

This evening our group had the chance to go for a night snorkel around the sea wall of Fort Jefferson. This use to be a fort during the civil war and in more recent years it has been a prison. The objective of the snorkel trip was to hopefully witness the coral spawn. Scientists’ observations indicate a strong connection between the coral spawn and seasonal lunar cycles. Though the polyp release cannot be guaranteed to happen on an exact date, approximately three to ten days after the full moon in late August, early September, the majority of corals in the Caribbean spawn in the late evening. Spawning is when the male and female polyps release their gametes (sperm and eggs). This synchronizing means that there is a greater chance of fertilization. Clues that spawning may take place are swelling that appears at the polyps mouth/anus, where the gametes are released from, as well as brittle stars and fire worms gathering in readiness for a feeding frenzy!

Clare Wagstaff barely visible behind two Caribbean Reef Squid. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley.
Clare Wagstaff barely visible behind two Caribbean Reef Squid. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley.

Unfortunately, we did not witness the spawning but we did observe a green moray eel, two Caribbean reef squid, a conch, a scorpion fish, and multiple sea urchins, sea stars, and moon jellyfish. Perhaps one of the most unusual sights of the night was witnessed on our way back to the dock after our snorkel. We observed a tree trunk covered in hundreds of hermit crabs, varying in size.  They made a horrible crunching sound as they climbed over each other on their way up the tree and as we accidentally stepped on them in the dark!

One of my lasting memories of the evening will be the night sky. It was the most brilliant picture I have ever seen. With no light pollution for miles and a clear evening sky, it made the most perfect picture. It looked like there wasn’t a clear inch in the sky for any more stars to fit in it. It was just beautiful and a great way to end the day!

 

Clare Wagstaff, September 12, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Dry Tortugas National Park
Date: Saturday, September 12, 2009

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (information taken at 12 noon) 
Weather: Sunny with scattered showers and thunderstorms
Visibility (nautical miles): 10
Wind Speed (knots): 10
Wave Height (feet): 2
Sea Water Temp (0C): 30
Air Temp (0C): 30

Science and Technology Log 

Mike Henley, Kathy Morrow and Dr. Joshua Voss, the survey team aboard NF4.
Mike Henley, Kathy Morrow and Dr. Joshua Voss, the survey team aboard NF4.

With another early start under our belts, the science team and I are up, breakfast eaten, briefed on today’s mission, and ready to embark on another day of coral surveying. The ship deployed three v-hulled small boats for us to reach our dive sites. The divers have been split up into three teams and I get to go along with Joshua, Kathy and Mike on the NF4. Out of the boats, this is the newest and fastest, much to the delight of our science team! Having done the practice run yesterday at the QA site, the divers seem keen and eager to get into the water and identify the coral.

So how do they actually survey the area? 

Each group works in a team of three, surveying a radial arc belt transect. Each of the sites has already been previously marked, normally with a large metal or PVC pipe inserted into the area to be surveyed.

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 11.57.12 AM

Mike is the line tender, which means that his job is to hold the ten meter line straight out from the post, just a few feet above the coral. He slowly moves the line around the pole in an arc. The line is marked at eight and ten meters. At each of these lengths a short marker hangs down to signal the two-meter survey area. The objective is then for Kathy and Joshua to observe the coral and note the number of species of coral present, their size and how they interact with each other, while also recording the presence of disease (type and percentage cover) within the 113.1m2 area.

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 11.58.01 AM

Chief Scientist, Scott Donahue showed me some of the months of paperwork that was required for this mission to happen. Scott stated that he started work on preparing for this trip nearly four years ago, first requesting time aboard the Nancy Foster and then proceeding with recruiting scientists and permits. Today we are required to have a ‘Scientific Research and Collecting Permit’ for the surveys in Dry Tortugas National Park.

Personal Log 

Survey team of Kathy Morrow (top, middle), Mike Henley (top, left) and Dr. Joshua Voss (bottom, right) surveying site LR6.
Survey team of Kathy Morrow (top, middle), Mike Henley (top, left) and Dr. Joshua Voss (bottom, right) surveying site LR6.

What a great day! I am starting to find my feet and get more comfortable with how the ship works, getting to know the science team, and learning more about the actual coral. I haven’t been sea sick, which seems pretty remarkable to me considering my past history with boats! The sun has been shining and the water is clear and reasonably warm at around 30 oC.

Even though the water may sound warm, I am still wearing my wetsuit, much to the amusement of some of the other divers who are complaining that they are too warm in the shorty wetsuits (only to the knee and elbow). I classify myself as part of the “wimp divers” association. I was quite content and comfortable in my 3mm, full body wetsuit and had hours of enjoyment snorkeling around. However, wearing a full wetsuit does let you forget that there are some parts of your body that still get exposed to sunlight. The tops of my hands are bright red and are nicely sunburned from being in the water most of the day with no sunscreen on them! Oh well, I’ll remember next time.

“Did You Know” 

Being a novice at coral identification, Blade Fire coral (Millepora complanta) looks similar to Fused Staghorn coral (Acropora prolifera). However, they are actually very different. Fire coral is a hydroid and is in fact more closely related to the Portuguese Man ‘O’ War than other classes of coral! Hydrozoans usually consist of small colonies of polyps that are packed with stinging cells called nematocysts on the tentacles of the polyps. Watch out though, it can give you a very nasty sting and rash!

For more information: http://www.reef.edu.au/asp_pages/secb.asp?FormNo=18 

“Animals Seen Today” 

Long-spined Urchin (Diadema antillarum) and Boulder star coral (Montastraea annularis)
Long-spined Urchin (Diadema antillarum) and Boulder star coral (Montastraea annularis)

The variety of marine wildlife observed was much greater today than previous dives. The dive sites were much shallower, which meant that as a snorkeler I could really observe much more and in more detail. At only eight to ten feet in depth and with good visibility, this made for a great and interesting dive. One of the science team commented that it was good to observe these echinoderms in the coral reefs. They eat algae that can negatively compete with the coral. So there presence is excellent news for the coral.

Clare Wagstaff, September 11, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Key West
Date: Saturday, September 11, 2009 (Day 1)

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (12 noon) 
Weather: Overcast early am and sunny pm
Visibility (nautical miles):  10
Wind Speed (knots):  2
Wave Height (feet): <1
Sea Water Temp (0C): 30.4
Air Temp (0C): 27.5

Science and Technology Log 

“The first few days are always a settling in period,” commented one of the scientists this morning. It seems as if there is so much to do and already there may not be enough time!  The majority of the science crew and I arrived yesterday afternoon into the warm and sunny Key West. A pleasant change to the cold, Autumnal weather I had been experiencing in Buffalo, NY. We boarded our new home for eight days, the NOAA ship Nancy Foster. The objective of the eight-day research cruise is to survey multiple preselected coral reef sites and study the coral for its condition and the presence of disease. The assessment of each dive site will be done by a group of NOAA qualified SCUBA divers who are also trained scientists, mainly marine biologists. This study has been performed for the last 13 years and has so far amassed a large quantity of data that has produced technical memorandums, peer review papers, and an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) publication based on the data from cruises 1997 through to 2002 cruises.

I have been kindly invited along as a Teacher At Sea to witness the science team in action and serve as part of the project’s outreach messaging service. The objective is to give the general public a broader understanding of the cruise’s mission.

The science team on board the Nancy Foster is made up of the following people:

Scott Donahue – Chief Scientist NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Interesting Fact: Scott’s main inspiration to study lobsters early on in his academic research, was partially based on the fact that he loves to eat them! Scott commented that there are always a few lobsters leftover after a study, but that they never go to waste!

Geoff Cook – Co-Principal Investigator George Mason University, Virginia. Interesting fact: Geoff is currently writing his dissertation for his Ph.D. on comparing bacterial communities associated with diseased and apparently healthy corals.

Lauri MacLaughlin – Co-Principal Investigator NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Interesting Fact: Lauri has close to 2,000 dives logged and has personally mapped the majority of the coral reef sites this cruise is studying. She has a special rapport with the ocean and corals, knowing individual coral heads and jokingly referring to them as her “babies!”

Josh Voss, Ph.D. – Co-Principal Investigator Robertson Coral Reef Program 

Lonny Anderson – Survey Team Member NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Florida. Interesting Fact: Lonny used to help his parents with their commercial spear fishing business, catching grouper and red snapper off Daytona Beach. Now Lonny is working to protect the things he used to kill!

Paul Chetirkin – Videographer Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary 

Mike Henley – Survey Team Member Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park, Washington D.C. Interesting Fact: Mike is interested in all invertebrates and will happily skip the panda bear exhibit at the zoo in preference to watching the cutle fish!

George Garrett – Survey Team Member City of Marathon 

Sarah Fangman – Cruise Dive Master and Survey Team Member NOAA’s Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary 

Interesting Fact: Originally from Minnesota, as a young child Sarah went to the Grand Cayman on vacation. She became so captivated with the underwater life there that even when she got extremely sunburned she still wanted to snorkel and was only allowed to fully clothed! Sarah has also ventured 10,000 ft down in the submersible ALVIN in the Gulf of Mexico.

Kathy Morrow – Survey Team Member Auburn University, Alabama. Interesting Fact: Kathy is actually studying coral “snot” as part of her Ph.D. program. Strangely enough, she is extremely passionate about it and has had a great interest in marine biology since she went to Sea Camp in 6th grade!

Cory Walter – Survey Team Member Mote Marine Laboratory’s Tropical Research Lab, Florida. 

Day one begins with a 7am breakfast followed by a gear check and a brief meeting with the science team. The ships Operations Officer and Chief Scientist go over the day’s dive plan. The objective today is to ensure that all the divers are identifying the correct species of coral, correctly estimating their size, and identify any coral disease present.

The dive teams quickly collected all the necessary dive gear and prepared to board two small boats borrowed from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. These take us from the Nancy Foster to the shallower dive sites. The first location today is set within the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary and is located near to one of the 5 lighthouses in the area that mark the shallow reefs. Certain areas have been marked off with buoys that signal a “No Take Zone”, where extractive activities are not allowed (e.g. fishing, collecting coral, catching lobsters).

Each of the dive sites that we will be surveying has a unique name. The sites to be surveyed were originally randomly generated by a computer program when the research first began in 1997. The first dive site we visit today is called Sand Key Reef also referred to as SK01. This is the location for QA/QC dive survey, which stands for quality assurance/quality control. The objective is for each diver to assess the same area of coral and identify each species over 10cm in diameter (except Agarica (all species) and Dichocoenia stokesii which are measured if they are over 5cm). This site is always used to establish a baseline in identification. Inter and intra quality assurance takes place, checking not only each diver against each other, but also against themselves by each diver repeating the surveying process of surveying this site twice.

Where are we? 

A map of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
A map of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

The Florida Keys is a chain of islands at the southern most tip of Florida. About 100,000 years ago the area was under the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and existed as a string of living coral reefs at the edge of the continental shelf. The sea level was 25 feet higher then than today. As the last glacier period (the Wisconsin) began, the ocean receded and the sea level dropped, exposing the coral reefs. The combination of various environmental factors killed the coral, but left bedrock of limestone exposed as land. As the climate and sea level changed over the preceding years, the lower elevation limestone has partially resubmerged and allowed living corals to attach and grow again, forming a new coral reef “highway”, 4 to 5 mile offshore. The science team will be surveying coral reef sites inside the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Dry Tortugas National Park.

Staghorn Coral (Acropora cervicornis), in the same family as the Elkhorn (Acropora palmata)
Staghorn Coral (Acropora cervicornis), in the same family as the Elkhorn (Acropora palmata)

On the third dive site for the day, Lauri MacLaughlin pointed out multiple Elkhorn Corals (Acropora palmata) whose appearance is just as its name suggests! Lauri noted that these were relatively young corals, perhaps just a few years old due to their size. She also stated that they had reproduced through sexual reproduction because there was no fragmentation of their flattened branches, which would happen in asexual reproduction. This coral is on the United States Endangered Species list and classified as threatened.

Because we departed early this morning on board the sanctuary boats, the science team missed the safety drills that are performed within 24 hours of each ship departing port. Instead the Operations Officer, Abigail Higgins gave us a run down of the safety procedures. We were also required to try on our survival emersion suits.

Personal Log 

The science team and Teacher at Sea, Clare Wagstaff (right) in their survival suits
The science team and Teacher at Sea, Clare Wagstaff in their survival suits

Well here I am at last! My second attempt at being a NOAA Teacher At Sea! In May of 2008 I was on board the JOHN COBB studying harbor seals when the engine crankshaft broke just a few days into the mission. The JOHN COBB was not only the smallest, but also the oldest ship in NOAA’s fleet. With a crew of just eight, everyone knew each other well and lived in very close proximity. However, the NANCY FOSTER is very different. At 187ft in length it is nearly doubles the size of the JOHN COBB. In fact, the NANCY FOSTER has it beaten on almost all fronts regarding scale. Built originally as a Navy yard torpedo test (YTT) craft, she was outfitted in 2001, to conduct a variety of oceanic studies along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts and within the Caribbean Sea. It is crewed by 21 people and can accommodate 15 scientists. It seems quite strange to be at sea again on a NOAA ship, but in such very different circumstances. I keep comparing it to the JOHN COBB and I still feel a little sad that I was on the JOHN COBB’s last mission before it was decommissioned.

I am sharing the smallest room with one of the ships crew, Jody Edmond.  Jody is a Mate in Training. It is a simple, yet comfortable room, with two bunks, a small wardrobe, a desk and a sink. However, for two people to both standup in the same space let a lone get dressed or brush your teeth, it is very difficult due to the cramped conditions! Jody is living on the boat full time and so has a lot more “stuff” than I, so I am trying very hard not to take up too much room. Because the ship needs to be constantly manned 24 hours a day, the crew on the bridge is on a shift system working 12-4 (am and pm), 4-8 (am and pm), or 8-12 (am and pm). Some of the crew even work a schedule of 12 hours on and then 12 hours off, a pretty long day! Jody is on the 12-4 shift, which means during the majority of the time I am a wake she is sleeping. This isn’t uncommon so everyone on the ship has to be respectful of the noise level and keep relatively quiet during all hours of the day near the sleeping berth areas.

One of the many barracuda that would circle around snorkelers
One of the many barracuda that would circle around snorkelers

Unfortunately, although I am a qualified NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) scuba diver, I am not certified by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to dive. This means that during the dives I will only be able to snorkel and so I must watch from above what the scientists are doing below. I thought this would lead to some frustration on my part, as I would love to be working side by side with the science team 30 feet below the surface.

However, while the divers survey the area, I snorkel around on the surface watching them. I am not alone though! I am surrounded by moon jellyfish and one rather large barracuda that seemed to take quite a liking to me. I am very careful to avoid swimming into the jellyfish, which can cause a nasty sting and keep my hands close to my body incase the barracuda thinks my fingers might be dinner!

“New Term/Phrase/Word” Hyperplasia – is a general term referring to the proliferation of cells within an organ or tissue beyond that which is ordinarily seen. This can be seen in coral species such as symmetrical brain coral (Diploria strigosa). Geoff Cook described this as a coral looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger or a coral having Botox!

A brain coral
A brain coral

Coral Mucus or “coral snot”– secreted by the coral. When too much dirt (sediment) collects on the sticky mucus layer, the coral sloughs it off and makes a new one, acting as a replaceable defense mechanism. Some corals also use it to catch food and it is loaded with microbes, not unlike our skin.

“Who are they?”

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary 
Established in 1990 it was done so to protect a spectacular marine ecosystem. It encompasses 2,800 square miles. It is the only sanctuary that completely surrounds a community, that of all the Florida Keys.

NOAA 
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Formed in 1970, it is a Federal agency focused on the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere. It encompasses, daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings and climate monitoring to fisheries management, coastal restoration and supporting marine commerce.

 “Did You Know?” Key West got its name after the Spanish conquistadores reportedly found a beach in the southern most islands stern with the bleached bones of the Native Americans. They called the key, Cayo Hueso (pronounced KY-o WAY-so) or “Island of bones”. Bahamian settlers pronounced the Spanish name as Key West!

Flamingo Tongue on a common sea fan (Gorgonia ventalina)
Flamingo Tongue on a common sea fan (Gorgonia ventalina)

“Animals Seen Today” 

Among many different species of coral and other animals, was a personal favorite of mine Flamingo Tongues. These are a variety of snail that are predators that feed on gorgonians (sea fans). 

Tara Treichel, April 27, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tara Treichel
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 15-27, 2008

Mission: Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina
Date: April 27, 2008

Weather data from the bridge 
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind: 11 knots
Waves: 1-2 feet
Ocean swells: 3-4 feet
Sea temperature: 23.0
Air temperature: 23.0

At 120 feet, the water has absorbed red, yellow and green wavelengths of light, muting the brilliant colors of these Lionfish and other reef organisms (the Lionfish in the foreground is partially illuminated by the video camera)
At 120 feet, the water has absorbed red, yellow and green wavelengths of light, muting the brilliant colors of these Lionfish and other reef organisms (the Lionfish in the foreground is partially illuminated by the video camera)

Science and Technology Log 

I wanted to explain a little more about the purpose of the Lionfish study. The technical name of the study is Assessment of Lionfish Ecosystem and Fisheries Impacts. The Principal Investigator/Chief Scientist is Paula Whitfield, who works out of the NOAA Lab in Beaufort, North Carolina. Several years ago, Paula had heard reports of Lionfish seen off the coast of North Carolina. A recreational diver, Paula visited these sites to see for herself; what began as a casual observation turned into the guiding question for a complex Lionfish ecosystem study that is now in its seventh year. As I understand, the guiding questions framing the study are:

  1. Initially the scientists needed to understand, to what extent Lionfish have invaded the coastal waters of the eastern US. Under this broad question fall many sub-questions: Are they successfully reproducing? How large is their population? Are they expanding their geographic range, and is their population growing? Finally, what biological and physical factors may limit their survival (i.e. what environmental conditions do they need to survive)?
  2. After the initial research results revealed a widespread and well-established presence of Lionfish, researchers refined their objectives to better understand the fisheries and ecosystem impact of Lionfish. This is a very broad question and includes many sub-questions such as: What species are they eating? Is the number of “conspicuous fish” species (large and easy to see and count) decreasing in areas where Lionfish are present? Are the number of “cryptic fish” species (small typically prey species that hide within the habitat) decreasing in areas where Lionfish are present?
  3. The scientists also seek to better understand how Lionfish impacts may be further complicated by other variables such as overfishing and climate change. Examining this question requires looking at many other aspects of the marine ecosystem as indicators of ecological health. Sub-questions are: How are the physical and chemical ocean parameters changing over time (e.g. sea temperature, ocean currents, chemical composition)? How are algal populations changing over time? How are invertebrate and soft-bottom communities changing over time?

Initial results of the study were eye-opening. Everywhere the research team went, they found Lionfish. From 20042007, the data across the sampling sites showed an increase in population of well over 300%. Considering that these fish have no known predators, and females release 30,000 eggs at a time, it is not hard to imagine the severe impact that these fish could potentially have on the marine food web and ecosystem. In addition, Lionfish are tropical reef fish, which require warm water to survive and reproduce. As climate change occurs, it is conceivable that Lionfish could expand their range in response to rising sea temperatures or a shift in Gulf Stream currents.

Paula Whitfield (right), Chief Scientist of the study, and I enjoy the sunshine.
Paula Whitfield (right), Chief Scientist of the study, and I enjoy the sunshine.

Tara Treichel, April 26, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tara Treichel
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 15-27, 2008

Mission: Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina
Date: April 26, 2008

One of the Survey Technicians operates the Multi-Beaming mapping system.
One of the Survey Technicians operates the Multi-Beaming mapping system.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind: 11 knots
Waves: 1-2 feet
Ocean swells: 2-4 feet
Sea temperature: 23.5
Air temperature: 22.0

Science and Technology Log 

In addition to the Lionfish survey, the other research that is being conducted while aboard the NANCY FOSTER is benthic habitat mapping of the ocean floor. This is accomplished using highly sophisticated, computerized multi-beam SONAR technology. Two survey technicians aboard the ship are responsible for running and monitoring the system, which is run all through the night. The operators make sure that the system is recording data properly and that the ship stays on course (within about 5 meters), and process the data as it is recorded. The course is set and followed, lawnmower style, back and forth along long narrow parallel lines, producing a beautiful rainbow colored map coded for “depth by color,” where red is high and blue is low. After five nights of mapping, the white digital nautical chart contains five tiny rainbow swatches, each one representing about 10 square miles of mapped space. Each year the research team adds to the swatches, until one day perhaps the entire bay floor will be mapped. Scientists later use the maps to support their research; in this case, Paula used them to determine where to dive. With countless miles of ocean floor (much of which is sand, or poor fish habitat) and limited time and research budgets, the maps are a critical part of the research effort. 

Tara holds up a specimen that some of the scientists said was the biggest Spiny Lobster they had ever seen!
Tara holds up a specimen that some of the scientists said was the biggest Spiny Lobster they had ever seen!

There are a lot of variables such as temperature and salinity that can  influence the transmission of the sound waves produced by the multi-beam sonar to measure seafloor depth.  In order for the data to be as accurate as possible the survey technicians need to measure these variables throughout the water column using a CTD (conductivity (salinity), temperature and depth). They conduct three CTD ‘casts’ a night by first lowing and raising the CTD on a long cable that is controlled by a winch.

Personal log 

Today, the Chief Engineer caught a Wahoo off the stern of the boat. Wahoo! Can you think of a fish with a cooler name? It’s a cool fish, too, sleek and streamlined, with large jaws and a loud stripy pattern on blue gray skin. It was perfect timing, since a barbeque was planned for our last afternoon at sea. The fish is nearly all muscle, and yielded 25 steaks, almost enough for each one of our full ship of 35 people aboard. How was it, you ask? Delicious! The scientists also caught several large Spiny Lobsters, a Scamp (a Grouper), Hogfish, Sea Bass, and of course, many Lionfish. In addition, they saw a Mola Mola (Sunfish) and several Loggerhead Turtles. 

Tara Treichel, April 25, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tara Treichel
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 15-27, 2008

Mission: Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina
Date: April 25, 2008

The diver support boat NF-4 waits for the dive team to surface.
The diver support boat NF-4 waits for the dive team to surface.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind: 2 knots
Waves: 1 foot
Ocean swells: 2-3 feet
Sea surface temperature: 23.4
Air temperature: 21.5

Science and Technology Log 

Today the morning dive at Lobster Rocks went to 125 feet. The report was that it was an excellent dive, and the video showed this to be true. The visibility was excellent and the habitat looked rich. Among the Amberjacks, Grouper, Blue Angelfish, and Hogfish, were tons of Lionfish! They were everywhere, lurking around every ledge and rock. They look like princes of their domain, regal in their showy capes of red and white, brandishing lances to keep out intruders. Neither aggressive nor fearful, as they have few if any predators, they hover in place, guarding their territory from other lionfish.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Tara Treichel, has just taken length and fin ray measurements from this large lionfish, and has removed gonads and a gill sample for lab analysis.
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Tara Treichel, has just taken length and fin ray measurements from this large lionfish, and has removed gonads and a gill sample for lab analysis.

The morning divers brought a small collection of creatures back for further study, including a sample of bryozoans (a form of attached invertebrates that looks a lot like algae), a large spiny lobster (carapace at least 5 inches in diameter), a handful of fish for the cryptic fish survey, and about a dozen Lionfish. I helped Wilson take basic measurements from the Lionfish, and dissected them to remove gonads and gill samples for DNA analysis. The fish ranged in size from 150 to 380 mm, from mouth to end of tail. Next, dorsal and anal fin rays are counted, to help determine species classification (lionfish are of Indo-Pacific origin, and are classed in two subspecies based on number of fin rays). On the fish sampled, dorsal fin rays varied between 10 and 11.5, but anal fin rays consistently numbered 7.5. After I had removed the gill section and gonads, I gave the fish to Brian, who opened up their stomachs to take a cursory look at what the fish had been eating. In one, he found a small spiral shell about the size of a shirt button. In another, the stomach was bulging full, and contained four small fish, whole but partially digested and terribly stinky. All in a day’s work of a scientist! After this initial information was collected, the fish were labeled in zip-lock bags and frozen for later study. 

The stomach of this small Lionfish contained four partially digested whole fish.
The stomach of this small Lionfish contained four partially digested whole fish.

Personal log 

Today I had the fortune—and the misfortune—of getting out in one of the small boats. I say fortune because the conditions were ideal: calm seas and sunny blue skies. It was a great day to be out on the water, and I expressed an interest in going for a swim. We were responsible for shuttling the safety diver to assist the dive team, and transporting the dive team back to the NANCY FOSTER. The misfortune occurred toward the end of the dive, as the safety diver was trying to reboard the boat. To make it easier for him to enter the boat, the skipper removed the side door of the craft, a routine task. Under normal circumstances, the bilge pumps purge any water that splashes into the boat, but on this day, for reasons unknown the bilge was already full of water, and the water that surged into the open door space quickly filled the stern of the boat. We tried to replace the door, but the water was spilling in too quickly, and the boat slowly overturned. So, I got my wish to swim faster than I’d expected! Fortunately, as I mentioned, it was a fine day for a swim. Minutes later, two rescue boats were deployed from the NANCY FOSTER, and shortly after we picked up the dive team and were safely onboard the mother ship again. The ship had quite a challenge getting the overturned boat back onboard and into its cradle, but with skilled use of the crane, the boat was recovered in little over an hour. It was the sort of adventure I had least expected when going out to sea. I was happy that no one got hurt, and impressed with the response of the NANCY FOSTER crew. 

Tara Treichel, April 24, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tara Treichel
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 15-27, 2008

Mission: Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina
Date: April 24, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind: 7 knots
Waves: 2-3 feet
Ocean swells: 3-5 feet
Sea surface temperature: 24.5
Air temperature: 23

NOAA Divers at the rail of the ship just before a dive
NOAA Divers at the rail of the ship just before a dive

Science and Technology Log 

Today the NANCY FOSTER deployed four dive teams, two each at two survey sites. This is a tricky maneuver, requiring the coordination of many people. Preparations included an hour-long briefing of the plan and review of safety information, in which divers were reminded, among other things, to stay close to their buddies since an “out of air” emergency could spell the end of future diving opportunities with NOAA. On the deck, the chaos was well managed. With extensive use of hand-held 2-way radios, communication was maintained between the bridge (control station of the NANCY FOSTER), the two small boats, and the deck support: the two small boats were launched with the aid of the crane, and the mother ship was jockeyed into position alongside the dive site target buoys that had been dropped earlier. When the position was just right, the call was made, “Divers to the rail,” and the four divers, weighed down by double layers of wetsuit, twin tanks, dive computers, and mesh bags holding notepads and pencils, were lead to the edge of the boat. One by one, they stepped off the boat and disappeared beneath the surface, leaving a trail of bubbles to mark their descent.

The divers will visit sites that were selected years ago when the lionfish study first began. The sites were chosen using benthic maps of the ocean floor to help identify favorable fish habitat. Today’s dives were at “WOO6” and “Big Fish”, in 130 and 150 feet respectively. These depths are beyond my PADI Open Water limit of 90 feet, and require mixed Nitrox gas in order to extend the underwater dive time. Use of mixed gas at these depths qualifies this as “technical diving” and involves an increased risk to the divers, so the NOAA lab has contracted with NURF (National Underwater Research Foundation) to provide technical dive support. Divers have strict bottom time limits and must make several safety stops on their ascent; in addition, a Hyperlite recompression tank stands at ready for any nitrogen sickness emergencies (“the bends”).  During the dives, the researchers do a variety of tasks. All of the researchers take general habitat notes, and record the presence of marine debris. Paula and Brian are surveying the large, “conspicuous” fish, including lionfish, by estimating the population size of each species along a given transect length.  Paula also will collect a temperature logger that she placed at the site 1 year ago, which has recorded temperature data every half hour. Roldan and Christine are surveying “cryptic” fish communities (prey species that are very small or that hide within the habitat). Roldan lays out a one-meter square PVC quadrate and chemically stuns and collects the fish, which he then captures in a Ziploc bag for later study. Wilson is studying the algal community, but finds that there is very little to collect this early in the season. He also spears a number of lionfish for later study, which he bags carefully to avoid being stung by the venomous spines. Finally, Thor and Doug alternate between video camera duties, documenting the underwater habitat.

NOAA Ship NANCY FOSTER as seen from the divers’ support boat
NOAA Ship NANCY FOSTER as seen from the divers’ support boat

Personal log 

First impressions, and notes on the boat: The ship is due into port at 1700, and it is right on time. After the events of the past week, this is a pleasant surprise.  I am struck by the size of the ship. It is massive and bulky, with a flared steel bow that towers over me as I watch from the pier. Quite unlike the nautical parallel parking that I learned as a teenager growing up on a northern Wisconsin lake, this ship is equipped with side thrusters that allow it to maneuver its bulk with some amount of precision. Immediately, I can see that understanding momentum is a key factor in handling this boat: the ship is anything but “quick on its feet” when a change in direction is needed, and lack of planning for this fact could be disastrous. But today is not the day for a demonstration of this lesson. After 20 minutes of adjustments, the two-inch deck lines are thrown out from the ship, and it is securely tied to rest for the night.

A flurry of activity ensues. There is excitement in the air, like the charge before an electrical storm. The outgoing crew is anxious to be on home turf again, after weeks away at sea and in foreign ports, and the new team of scientists is equally anxious to get underway and begin their mission. The wind adds to the fervor, whipping my hair across my face and sending the Stars-n-Stripes cracking over the stern of the ship.  The gang plank is lowered into position by the lower deck crane and a cargo net is secured below. For the next 10 minutes, there is a steady flow of bodies and boxes, as mail is shipped onboard and supplies from the previous mission are offloaded. A deck crane is used to hoist crates of heavy equipment on board, including dozens of SCUBA tanks.

Loading the scientists' equipment onto the FOSTER using the ship's deck crane
Loading the scientists’ equipment onto the FOSTER using the ship’s deck crane

The NANCY FOSTER is an oceanographic research vessel of the NOAA fleet. One hundred eighty feet on deck and built of steel, she is made for ocean navigation and equipped for scientific research. She was built in 1986 by the Navy as a torpedo tester, and is considered very seaworthy. Throughout the year, she is used for a variety of scientific research missions, each research team outfitting the boat with its own specific technical equipment. Two onboard labs are designated for this purpose: a dry lab, housing numerous computer stations and data processing equipment kept dry (and frigid) with continuous air conditioning. All told, including mine, there are 16 computers in this room. One wall holds 7 flat-screen monitors, one of which displays a live video stream of the stern decks of the ship, where at the present moment a hopeful engineer is dragging a fishing line through the rolling blue waves. Adjacent to the dry lab is the wet lab, mostly an empty room that quickly fills with scientists’ tools of the trade: bins, underwater cameras, measuring devices, dissecting equipment and specimen preservation chemicals, and bags upon bags of SCUBA gear. In the wet lab, I get my first glimpse of our quarry, and the purpose of the mission: numerous copies of fish identification books adorn the tables, and the walls are full of color posters depicting creatures of the deep—echinoderms, manatees, Caribbean reef fishes.

Looking around the ship, one can’t help but notice the references to danger. All around are reminders of things that could go wrong (and undoubtedly have). Most noticeable is the large red motorized rescue craft hanging from the mid deck crane. Next to it is a green painted stamp indicating an emergency meeting or “muster” area. To the left of this is a coiled canvas fire hose, with the stamp “No Smoking” printed above (elsewhere, crew are instructed to smoke aft of the rear crane, preferably “away from the gasoline cans” and where the SCUBA oxygen bottles are being filled). Across the deck from the fire hose is a closet holding 10 Immersion Suits, 5 medium and 5 large, as well as 15 life jackets. Around the corner are three oversized barrels containing full immersion survival gear, including 25 person life rafts. Down the railing from the barrels and placed all throughout the ship in various conspicuous places are the timeless classic orange life-rings printed with the ship’s name in black blocky script. Inside the boat, there are more reminders: emergency procedures, the ship’s interior plan depicting the location of every rescue device and exit onboard, and numerous posters outlining CPR in simple steps and photographs. I would not want to have an emergency on board this ship, but if the unthinkable happened, I am confident that this ship and crew are well prepared. 

I am led through watertight doors and down a narrow flight of stairs into the belly of the beast, on the first floor of the ship. My berth is in Stateroom 17, which sleeps four, in bunks containing mattresses that give a whole new definition to the size “single”. I choose a top bunk, which gives me a little more head room amidst the crisscross of pipes overhead.  I am instructed to unload everything into the closets and cabinets that line the walls, since everything that’s not strapped down or contained in a box will be subject to repositioning by the motion of the ship. And motion there is! As soon as we get out of the harbor and away from shore, the 4-5 foot waves set the boat into an irregular pattern of constant swaying from side to side as well as front to back, like a rocking horse on a swivel. I won’t elaborate on the effects of this motion on my body and mental state, since seasickness has been well described elsewhere. Suffice to say that the benefit of the tiny pink pills can’t be overstated, and I am now feeling fine. A few more notes on ship travel: Why was I surprised to see the stream of water from the faucet sway back and forth? (okay, if you want to be technical, this is a matter of perspective: in actuality, the water stayed straight and it was the sink/boat that moved relative to the vertical line of water, but the effect was still startling). Another amusing note: the dry lab was full of wheeled cushy office chairs, on a painted steel floor. Remedy? Each chair’s legs were bungeed to the nearest bench support. Depending on the bungee, this left a range of motion of each weighted chair of a foot or two. Picture it: a room full of scientists at work on their computers, all sliding in unison into their neighbor’s workspace for a moment, only to be yanked back to center, and then rolling away to the other side…

Thomas Nassif, July 24, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Thomas Nassif
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 15 – 24, 2005

Mission: Invasive Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast U.S.
Date: July 24, 2005

The SCUBA invention has extended the reaches of human exploration from land to the deep-sea.
The SCUBA invention has extended the reaches of human exploration from land to the deep-sea.

Weather Data

Latitude: 34°10’N
Longitude: 76°39’W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 34°
Wind speed: 13 kts
Sea wave height: 2′
Swell wave height: 2-3′
Sea water temperature: 30°C (86°F)
Sea level pressure: 1016.5 mb
Cloud cover: 2/8, cumulus, cirrus

Science and Technology Log 

The last dive of the research cruise couldn’t have been more exhilarating. Unfazed by the gusty winds, choppy seas, and ripping ocean currents, the divers explored one last shipwreck on the ocean floor. The Naeco was a U.S. tanker that was destroyed by a Nazi U-boat during WWII. The torpedo shattered the Naeco’s bow and stern into two pieces, sinking them to the ocean bottom nearly 7 miles apart. The divers returned to the surface with stories about the stern (back) of the Naeco and thrilling reports of lionfish of every size and number.

The more I think about my experiences aboard the Invasive Lionfish Cruise, the more I begin to see two parallel themes here: the deep-sea diver and the lionfish. Human action led to the introduction of lionfish into a foreign habitat, but at the same time, one person invented the SCUBA, which introduced humans to the mysteries of the deep-sea.

Thomas Nassif interviews Casey Coy on the dive deck for his video documentary on lionfish and deep-sea divers.
Thomas Nassif interviews Casey Coy on the dive deck for his video documentary on lionfish and deep-sea divers.

Lionfish can only swim so far north of their tropical paradise in the southeastern Atlantic before the temperature becomes too cold, whereas humans can only dive so deep before the pressure of the sea becomes too great. Lionfish have scales for protection, fins for locomotion, gills for respiration, and swim bladders for buoyancy. SCUBA gear makes it possible for humans to be like fish, even if it adds 200 lbs to your body! They include a BCD (buoyancy compensator device) to control buoyancy, wet suits for protection and insulation, fins for underwater movement, and regulators attached to tanks for respiration. But lionfish are different from most fish because of their venomous spines that make  them the “ultimate survivors” in their new habitat. Similarly, SCUBA divers are equipped with high-tech gear that may not be familiar to most people, yet it helps humans to survive and explore the underwater environment.

“The bow of the ship left traces of beautiful pigments on the sky’s canvas, an eternal embrace between the first ember of light and a lucid sky.”
“The bow of the ship left traces of beautiful pigments on the sky’s canvas, an eternal embrace between the first ember of light and a lucid sky.”

Yet there is one difference between lionfish and humans that became most apparent over the course of my cruise. Whereas lionfish may harm the local ecosystem by lowering the number and diversity of native fish in the Atlantic, deep-sea divers are in a unique position to help our society by increasing our knowledge and creating a better understanding of the importance of preserving native habitats.

Reflections…

On the final morning of the cruise my eyes met a resplendent sunrise that shot stars across the shimmering waters of an endless sea. As we headed to the east I grew quiet within… the bow of the ship almost seemed to leave traces of beautiful pigments on the sky’s canvas, an eternal embrace between the first ember of light and a lucid sky. Land  is but hours away, but the memories of this journey will never leave my mind.

Who could forget such a fascinating, diverse group of personalities; Paula the lionfish enthusiast, Doug underwater photographer extraordinaire, Jay and the underwater hunt, Casey and the underwater flex, Christine the lion queen, Roldan king of transect, and last but certainly not least, Joe and the quest for Choco-tacos.

Thomas Nassif, July 22, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Thomas Nassif
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 15 – 24, 2005

Mission: Invasive Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast U.S.
Date: July 22, 2005

A lionfish and two lobsters pose for the camera at Lobster Rock. Today the divers collected a total of 23 lionfish from this dive site.
A lionfish and two lobsters pose for the camera at Lobster Rock. The divers collected a total of 23 lionfish

Weather Data

Latitude: 33°38’N
Longitude: 76°55’W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 240°
Wind speed: 13 kts
Sea wave height: 1-2′
Swell wave height: 2-3′
Sea water temperature: 28.9°C
Sea level pressure: 1018 mb
Cloud cover: 6/8, Cumulus, Altocumulus

Science & Technology Log  

Today the divers explored Lobster Rock, collecting a total of 23 lionfish for the flow through aquarium aboard the ship. Water from the ocean flows into and out of the tank yhrough pipes on the deck to simulate the ocean environment. This brings the total laboratory aquarium at Beaufort.

Today I also interviewed the Chief Scientist, Paula Whitfield. Most amazing to me was how her life story evolved from a childhood fascination with Jacques Cousteau to her current passion for lionfish research. Paula grew up watching the underwater videos of Jacques Cousteau, and it was at that point that she knew she wanted to become a diver. “I was a diver first, but the more I dove, the more I was formulating questions in my mind…I was curious about everything that had to do with water and marine life.” She worked for a sea grass ecologist for many years, not running the show, but she saw how the scientific process worked. Her desire to become a marine biologist grew stronger,  and that’s when she decided to return to school to get her graduate degree.

Recently collected lionfish from the ocean floor are transferred to a flow through aquarium aboard the ship.
Recently collected lionfish from the ocean floor are transferred to a flow through aquarium aboard the ship.

So how did Paula become one of the leading scientists in lionfish research? She responds: “It stemmed from my recreational diving – I was diving constantly in my spare time, and working for a charter boat business that attracted recreational divers from all over the world.” And then one day she began seeing lionfish off the coast of North Carolina, which was very unusual for this area. Paula knew they were Pacific fish, but she needed proof that lionfish were now in the Atlantic. “From that point on, I collected evidence was finally able to convince NOAA when a world-renown scorpion fish expert confirmed that her collected specimens were lionfish.

Once Paula was aboard a diving ship, and she was ordered to do a routine dive to the ocean bottom. The first thing she saw was right angle patterns, which hardly exist in nature. All of the sudden Paula saw a porthole lying in the sand. Back then she wasn’t a technical diver with all the fancy gear she has today. So she clutched the porthole with her knees and climbed up the anchor line. When Paula reached the surface, everyone aboard the ship stared at her in disbelief when she said: “I think it’s a wreck. I have a porthole.” She fondly remembers feeling “excited to be the first person to dive a virgin shipwreck.”

Diver and Marine Biologist Paula Whitfield swims alongside a lionfish, the focus of her research.
Diver and Marine Biologist Paula Whitfield swims alongside a lionfish, the focus of her research.

What Paula finds most fascinating about lionfish is how they established themselves in such large numbers in the Atlantic within a short period of time. Because of this she calls lionfish the “ultimate survivors.” But overall, she feels very affectionate towards all sea creatures, including “everything from sea spiders and feather dusters to larger fish because it’s such a different world down there. It’s important for us to know how we’re affecting that world in order to make a positive change.”

Paula’s words of advice for those who want to become marine biologists: “I think it’s important if you can become a diver – just to be able to put your head in the water to see what’s going on is more rewarding than just dropping sensors into the ocean. It opens more doors, and by seeing the environment firsthand you are able to formulate more questions about it. All this helps you become a better marine biologist, even if you don’t dive all the time.”

Thomas Nassif, July 21, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Thomas Nassif
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 15 – 24, 2005

Mission: Invasive Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast U.S.
Date: July 21, 2005

Thomas Nassif on the Bridge gathering measurements from the ship’s weather log.
Thomas Nassif on the Bridge gathering measurements from the ship’s weather log.

Weather Data

Latitude: 33°30’N
Longitude: 77°09’W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 290°
Wind speed: 15 kts
Sea wave height: 3′
Swell wave height: 3-5′
Sea water temperature: 28.9°C (84°F)
Sea level pressure: 1019.9 mb
Cloud cover: overcast, cumulus and stratus

Science & Technology Log

The day began with rocky seas, gusty winds, strong ocean currents, and the tallest swells we’ve had since our departure from port last week.  These ocean conditions are nothing extraordinary for the ship’s crew, but extremely tough for the divers.  The diving site for this morning was Southeast Tower 2, not far from the old Frying Pan Tower that was used by the Coastguard to collect and transmit ocean conditions.  The Tower’s location 35 miles off the Atlantic coast atop a 45-foot deep rock formation made it among the most valuable navigational aids for collecting ocean data such as wave height and water temperature.

The 187-foot NANCY FOSTER in the Atlantic.  The Bridge is located on the very top level of the ship.
The 187-foot NANCY FOSTER in the Atlantic. The Bridge is located on the very top level of the ship.

The first dive of the morning went smoothly.  But the second dive team was not so fortunate. After jumping off the ship they were swiftly pulled past the dive site buoy by strong ocean currents. Having missed the dive site, the divers ended up at an entirely different location on the ocean floor! This is why it is so important for ships to record the weather conditions and their location at sea.  These measurements take place on the Bridge, the command center of the ship.

Every day, I walk to the Bridge to get the weather data that appears at the top of my daily logs. Here is an explanation of the terms:  Latitude tells you how far north or south you are from the equator (which is 0° latitude), while Longitude tells you how far east or west you are from Greenwich, England (0° longitude).  Together, Latitude and Longitude give the exact location of the ship. Visibility is how far ahead you can see from the ship.  On a very foggy day you may only have a visibility of 10 feet, whereas on a clear day you can see all the way to the horizon, or 10 nautical miles.  Wind direction tells you which way the wind is blowing from – 0° is north, 90° is east, 180° is south, and 270° is west. Sea wave height and Swell wave height are height estimates of the smaller ripples and larger waves, respectively. Sea level pressure (or barometric pressure) indicates what the trend of the weather has been. High barometric pressures (like today – 1019mb) usually mean sunny weather; rain cannot build up in clouds if they are being squeezed together by high pressure. Low barometric pressures tell you that rain or stormy weather is on the way. Inside the eye of a hurricane barometric pressures can be as low as 875mb!  Under low pressures clouds can expand and fill up with rain.  Cloud cover is a number between 0 and 1 that describes how much of the sky is covered with clouds.  4/8 means that half of the sky is covered with clouds, 1/8 means very few clouds, 7/8 is mostly clouds, and overcast (or 8/8) is all clouds.

A lionfish has many fins.  The outstretched pectoral fins are not venomous.  The shorter, pointier spines are venomous.  From right to left they are: dorsal, pelvic, and anal spines. Photo courtesy of Christine Addison.
A lionfish has many fins. The outstretched pectoral fins are not venomous. The shorter, pointier spines are venomous. From right to left they are: dorsal, pelvic, and anal spines. Photo courtesy of Christine Addison.

Every day the ship sends all of this weather information to the National Weather Service (NWS) by satellite.  The NWS will in turn fax this information to other ships that will be traveling in our area so they can get a better idea of what the weather is like at our location. And when our ship steams ahead to a new dive site tomorrow, we will be grateful if another ship was in the same area.  The weather information that ship collected will help us know more about the weather!

Question of the day

How many sets of venomous spines do lionfish have?  Where are they found on its body?

Lionfish (like most fish) have five different types of fins.  But in Lionfish, some fins have sharp, venomous spines. The dorsal (back), pelvic (waist), and anal fins all have pointy, venomous spines that look like injection needles. The caudal and pectoral fins, on the other hand, are not venomous and look more like ordinary fish fins.

Thomas Nassif, July 20, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Thomas Nassif
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 15 – 24, 2005

Mission: Invasive Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast U.S.
Date: July 20, 2005

A underwater photograph of the City of Houston shipwreck. Over time the ribs of the ship’s hull have been covered by sponges (pink fluff) and soft coral (colorful branches). Tomtate fish are pictured to the right.
A underwater photograph of the City of Houston shipwreck. Over time the ribs of the ship’s hull have been covered by sponges (pink fluff) and soft coral (colorful branches). Tomtate fish are pictured to the right.

Weather Data

Latitude: 33°38’N
Longitude: 76°55’W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 240°
Wind speed: 13 kts
Sea wave height: 1-2′
Swell wave height: 2-3′
Sea water temperature: 28.9°C
Sea level pressure: 1018 mb
Cloud cover: 6/8, Cumulus, Altocumulus

Science & Technology Log  

My excitement and fascination with this entire diving expedition grew even more when I heard that the divers would be exploring two shipwreck sites on the ocean floor today – “18 Fathom” in the morning and “City of Houston” in the evening. Fathoms are an old unit of measurement still used by navigators today to describe the depth of the ocean (1 Fathom = 6 feet deep). The dive site “18 Fathom” is a mystery shipwreck that was discovered at a depth of 108 feet (18 Fathoms). Shipwrecks provide excellent habitats for a variety of fish, including lionfish. The broken down hull and old passageways of a  shipwreck create a manmade reef upon which algae and coral grow, smaller fish hide, and larger fish feed. Rather than scrap old ships, many countries around the world clean and sink their old ships to the ocean floor to create artificial reefs for fish and other marine organisms.

An explosion of Tomtate (white fish) and Vermilion Snapper (red fish) envelop the water in a silvery red glow.
An explosion of Tomtate (white fish) and Vermilion Snapper (red fish) envelop the water in a silvery red glow.

After lunch, the boat steamed ahead to the next dive site, City of Houston. Far beneath the ocean surface looms an old Civil War Era shipwreck. Thousands of fish including Tomtate, Vermilion Snapper, and Silverside enveloped the divers, making the surrounding waters shimmer with silvery red. At times the number of fish were so great that the divers had trouble seeing even a few feet in front of them! Over one  hundred years after the City of Houston wrecked and fell to the seafloor, you can now see coral and algae taking over the entire manmade structure. Even so, it is still possible to make out obvious structures of the ship, including the engine and the hull.

Personal Log 

Today I went snorkeling off the NF4 once again and had a fantastic time swimming in the 84°F water under a beaming sun – It’s unbelievable that the Atlantic Ocean can be so warm during the summer months! Also, I’ve watching the divers in action as they descend to the ocean floor, collect live lionfish, and take stupendous photos of the deep ocean all inspire me to someday become a professional SCUBA diver myself.

Question of the day

What type of air do SCUBA divers breathe?

This depends on how deep you plan to dive. Regular air (the kind we breathe on land) is mostly nitrogen and only 21% oxygen. The tanks that the deep-sea divers carry on their back are filled with regular air, and they can dive up to 150 feet by breathing this air through a mouthpiece (or regulator). Other divers that only need to dive up to 113 feet (like our safety divers) use Nitrox, which has more oxygen (36%) than regular air. Finally, at depths up to 20 feet deep, SCUBA divers can breath pure oxygen (100%). The deep-sea divers on our cruise switch to pure oxygen 20 feet before they reach the ocean surface to speed up their decompression.

The two dangers with SCUBA diving and the air they breathe are:

1 – Too much oxygen can be toxic to your body. The deeper you dive, the less oxygen you should have in the air you breathe. 2 – At the same time, too much nitrogen can make you feel light-headed and put you to sleep underwater. Jacques Cousteau, French inventor of the SCUBA, called this “Rapture of the Deep.” That is why it is so dangerous for divers to spend too long in the deep ocean.

Thomas Nassif, July 19, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Thomas Nassif
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 15 – 24, 2005

Mission: Invasive Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast U.S.
Date: July 19, 2005

“A fiery ball of radiant yellow…penetrated the hues of deep blue and wispy whites.”
“A fiery ball of radiant yellow…penetrated the hues of deep blue and wispy whites.”

Weather Data

Latitude: 33°38’N
Longitude: 76°55’W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 240°
Wind speed: 13 kts
Sea wave height: 1-2′
Swell wave height: 2-3′
Sea water temperature: 28.9°C
Sea level pressure: 1018 mb
Cloud cover: 6/8, Cumulus, Altocumulus

Science & Technology Log  

Today was by far the most beautiful sunrise we’ve had since our departure from land last week. A fiery ball of radiant yellow captured the sky, as its luminous rays penetrated the hues of deep blue and wispy whites in the surrounding sky. This morning the divers visited Kinny 1 and 2 (also known as K1 and K2). But this was no ordinary dive… K2 happened to be the most challenging and strenuous dive yet. The ocean currents were moving faster than we expected. The ship pulled up-current from the dive site (marked by an orange buoy), to put the divers in position. All they would have to do is jump off the ship and drift down-current to find the buoy. But when the divers jumped off the ship they were swept away by the strong ocean currents well past the buoy. The NF4 picked up the divers, who had to take off all 200lbs of their SCUBA gear, and wait to be taken to the correct diving site. The divers eventually finished their mission at K2, but were very exhausted when they returned to the NANCY FOSTER.

Thomas Nassif aboard the NF4 dive boat. The NANCY FOSTER is pictured in the background.
Thomas Nassif aboard the NF4 dive boat. The NANCY FOSTER is pictured in the background.

Today I finally got my chance to step off the NANCY FOSTER for the afternoon. I boarded the NF4 (diver recovery boat) and we steamed off into the open sea. Soon thereafter we watched from a distance, as the divers leap off the NANCY FOSTER. Our job was to keep an eye on the divers to ensure their safety during the 130-foot descent to the ocean floor. The NF4, along with the NANCY FOSTER and RHIB, all bear the “divers flag” when we deploy SCUBA divers into the ocean. This red flag with a diagonal white stripe warns other ships in the immediate area that there are divers in the water.

I also went snorkeling in the ocean to watch the SCUBA divers decompress underwater. After the divers finished their dive to the ocean floor, they stopped at 20 feet from the ocean surface to breath pure oxygen from a long tube supplied from the surface by the RHIB (the air we breathe everyday is only 21% oxygen). If the divers chose instead to shoot straight up to the ocean surface, they risk getting the “bends,” a painful experience that occurs when nitrogen bubbles form in the blood.

The divers safely returned to the ship with 6 lionfish in their nets – the aquarium aboard the NANCY FOSTER now has a total of 25 live lionfish! The scientists plan to transport them to a more permanent home at the NOAA Beaufort Laboratory when we arrive at port next week. To simulate the natural conditions of the ocean, scientists will place the lionfish in a “flow through aquarium” that transports ocean water through a pipe into and out of the aquarium. By having several aquaria full of lionfish in the lab, scientists hope to learn more about their diet and how often they reproduce.

Question of the day

Do lionfish reproduce in the same way as fish? How often do they reproduce?

Yes – Lionfish reproduce like most fish, through External Fertilization. Eggs are released from the female into the water and then fertilized by sperm from a male fish. The thing that makes lionfish so different from most fish is this: Female lionfish release a floating mass of eggs that stick together (most fish release eggs that disperse and spread out from each other in the water). Scientists think that lionfish are more successful at reproducing because the floating masses of eggs are more likely to be fertilized. We do not know how often lionfish reproduce – this is one of the biggest questions scientists want to find out! The reproductive periods of fish overall can be very different. Some species of fish, like Salmon, reproduce only once in their entire lifetime. Tropical organisms like the Parrotfish, on the other hand, reproduce every day! It will be very helpful for us to know how often female lionfish reproduce so that we may better understand their impact on the local ecosystem.

Thomas Nassif, July 18, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Thomas Nassif
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 15 – 24, 2005

Mission: Invasive Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast U.S.
Date: July 18, 2005

Diver Christine Addison conducts a visual transect survey with a clipboard and meter tape along the ocean floor.
Diver Christine Addison conducts a visual transect survey with a clipboard and meter tape along the ocean floor.

Weather Data

Latitude: 33°38’N
Longitude: 76°55’W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 240°
Wind speed: 13 kts
Sea wave height: 1-2′
Swell wave height: 2-3′
Sea water temperature: 28.9°C
Sea level pressure: 1018 mb
Cloud cover: 6/8, Cumulus, Altocumulus

Science & Technology Log  

Today we awoke to a cloudy overcast day, providing the divers some relief from the sweltering heat we’ve had the past few days. The jet-black wet suits that keep the divers thermally insulated on the ocean floor can become extremely hot under a scorching sun! Every day for the remainder of the cruise we will try to complete 2 dives in the morning and 2 dives in the afternoon, each at a different location along the seafloor. (The divers are divided into two rotating teams, so that each person will only have to dive once in the morning and once in the afternoon).

Thomas Nassif watches Roldan Munoz perform a lionfish dissection, removing the stomach and gonads for further analysis.
Thomas Nassif watches Roldan Munoz perform a dissection, removing the stomach and gonads for further analysis.

This morning the divers visited Big Fish 1 and Big Fish 2, appropriately named after an 18-inch lionfish that was caught by a local fisherman. At Big Fish 2, the dive team descended to a depth of 143 feet, and they were stunned at the sight of 5 enormous lobsters; several were hiding beneath rocks while two other lobsters chased after one another across the sand. They also spotted several large grouper (approx. 30 lbs each). They conducted a 100-meter visual transect by steadily unreeling meter tape in a straight line. Along those 100 meters of line, they counted 17 lionfish (mostly juveniles), a big surprise considering the sandy bottom and featureless bathymetry (elevation) of the region. Lionfish typically thrive near rocky outcrops and coral reef structures that provide niches for other organisms that would serve as potential food sources (including baby shrimp, grouper, and snapper). Findings like the one at Big Fish 2 suggest that lionfish can flourish anywhere, from flat sandy bottoms to hard rocky outcrops, we suspect that as long as the water temperature remains warm enough to support a tropical habitat.

On the fourth and final dive of the day, the divers speared 3 lionfish and brought them back onto the ship for analysis. The scientists dissected the lionfish within 30 minutes of being brought onto the ship to ensure high quality stomach and reproductive system samples. First they recorded the weight, total length, and standard length (backbone only) of the lionfish. Next they removed both gonads and recorded the combined weight to determine the reproductive status of the lionfish. Finally they removed the stomach to determine the diet of the lionfish. We found two small fish that the lionfish had ingested. The lionfish remains were then frozen for future morphological (external) analysis. Scientists at the NOAA Beaufort Laboratory will conduct spine & ray counts on the fins and observe the facial features to see if there is any correlation with the development of the bearded spine, a feature that lionfish are thought to acquire as they age.

Question of the day

Do lionfish have any predators?

Great question! Lionfish do not have any known predators, but scientists aboard the NANCY FOSTER are hoping to someday answer this question. In Florida there was a reported sighting of a goliath grouper eating a lionfish. Other than that we do not know for sure. Of course it would be a good thing to find out. If it turns out that lionfish do not have any predators, then that would be bad news for the local ecosystem. Lionfish would be able to reproduce without limit and continue eating prey until resources are heavily depleted, thereby starving other fish that are important to the fisheries industry such as grouper.

Thomas Nassif, July 17, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Thomas Nassif
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 15 – 24, 2005

Mission: Invasive Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast U.S.
Date: July 17, 2005

Deep-sea diver Christine Addison takes a leaping plunge into the ocean off the deck
Deep-sea diver Christine Addison takes a leaping plunge into the ocean off the deck

Weather Data

Latitude: 34°43’N
Longitude: 76°42’W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 200°
Wind speed: 11 kts
Sea wave height: less than 1 foot
Swell wave height: none
Sea water temperature: 87 F, 30.5°C
Sea level pressure: 1017.9 mb
Relative Humidity: 86%
Cloud cover: 2/8, Cumulus, Stratocumulus, Cirrostratus

Science and Technology Log

Early this morning at 0545 hours the NANCY FOSTER arrived at her next two dive locations (SEPAPNEW1 and SEPAPNEW2), 34 nautical miles due south of Beaufort Inlet. We are traveling along the Atlantic Continental Shelf, which runs along the Western boundary of the Gulf Stream. I asked the Chief Scientist, Paula Whitfield: “Why do all of our dive sites fall along the border rather than in the heart of the Gulf Stream? Since the water is much warmer in the Gulf Stream wouldn’t we be far more likely to see Lionfish since they are a tropical fish?” Paula informed me that further east of us the ocean depth drops to about 300 feet, beyond the maximum depth (150 feet) our SCUBA divers could reach. Furthermore the Gulf Stream currents would pose many risks to the divers – even a 1-2 knot current is enough to rip off a diver’s mask. Paula carefully chooses the dive locations using a bathymetric map of the ocean floor (similar to a topographic map for land).

The NF4 (shown in front) is transporting divers back to the ship after a successful dive. The RHIB (shown behind) carries an oxygen manifold that delivered pure oxygen to the divers during their ascent from the ocean floor.
The NF4 (shown in front) is transporting divers back to the ship after a successful dive. The RHIB (shown behind) carries an oxygen manifold that delivered pure oxygen to the divers during their ascent from the ocean floor.

Several things must happen before the SCUBA divers actually jump off the boat. First, drop buoys are deployed into the water to mark the exact location of each dive site. A drop buoy basically consists of bright orange buoy that floats on the ocean surface to let the ship know where the divers are located. To hold the orange buoy in the same location, it is attached to an anchor and a 10-lb weight by a 150-ft cord that sinks to the ocean floor. The drop buoy also helps the divers orient themselves during their descent to the ocean floor. By following the bright yellow cord during their descent, the divers can reach the exact dive location on the ocean floor.

The next step is to deploy two small boats, the RHIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat) and the NF4. The RHIB holds the oxygen manifold, which supplies pure oxygen to the SCUBA divers after they finish their dive and begin their gradual ascent to the ocean surface (divers must decompress or wait at 20 feet below the ocean surface after their dive to ensure they acclimate to the change in pressure). The NF4 is a larger more sturdy boat used to recover the divers and bring them back safely to the ship.

Finally the divers are ready to jump off the ship, and this is no easy task. Imagine having to jump off the side of the ship with 200 pounds of SCUBA gear strapped to your back. Most of this weight is due to two enormous air tanks that deep-sea divers must carry to ensure they have enough air to

Personal Log

Today was an extremely busy day! Somehow the dive teams were able to squeeze in 4 different dive locations on the ocean floor in the same day – 2 dives in the morning and 2 dives in the afternoon. This time the divers were equipped with nets to capture live Lionfish and spear guns to collect dead Lionfish. The divers returned to the ship with 19 Lionfish! Amazingly, they collected 17 live Lionfish and stored them in the holding tank aboard the ship. The scientists performed a dissection on the remaining two Lionfish (that arrived to the ship already dead). Watching the dissection made me realize that the internal anatomy of the Lionfish is no different from any other fish (except for their venomous spines of course!)

Question of the day

Are Lionfish edible?

Jose, I must admit that I answered your question incorrectly at the Carnegie Institute summer course…Yes (to my surprise) Lionfish can be eaten, and their venomous spines have no harmful affects when ingested. In fact, some members of the scientific team have tasted Lionfish, and described the white meat of the fish as chewy, not tender, and a bit fishy tasting. Hopefully I will have the opportunity develop a recipe for Lionfish curry before the cruise is over.

Thomas Nassif, July 16, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Thomas Nassif
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 15 – 24, 2005

Mission: Invasive Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast U.S.
Date: July 16, 2005

Underwater photograph of a lion fish taken by Doug Kesling, deep-sea diver on the NANCY FOSTER.
Underwater photograph of a lion fish taken by Doug Kesling, deep-sea diver on the NANCY FOSTER.

Weather Data

Latitude: 34°43’N
Longitude: 76°42’W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 200°
Wind speed: 11 kts
Sea wave height: less than 1 foot
Swell wave height: none
Sea water temperature: 87 F, 30.5°C
Sea level pressure: 1017.9 mb
Relative Humidity: 86%
Cloud cover: 2/8, Cumulus, Stratocumulus, Cirrostratus

Science and Technology Log

After the final computer tests, our ship finally left for sea today at 1310 hours. The NANCY FOSTER steamed ahead through choppy waters to the first dive site of the Lionfish study, “210 Rock.” The dive site is located 27 nautical miles off the coast of Cape Lookout, North Carolina. At 1800 hours four SCUBA divers leaped off of the starboard side of the ship in search of Lionfish. They were equipped with two underwater video cameras and two waterproof clipboards to record their observations. The divers leaped off the boat and dove to the ocean floor (to a depth of 108 feet) to tally the number of Lionfish compared to other native species of fish within a given distance (this is called a visual transect survey).

Thomas Nassif helping on deck to deploy a drop camera that sends real-time video footage of the deep sea to the ship’s television monitors.
Thomas Nassif helping on deck to deploy a drop camera that sends real-time video footage of the deep sea to the ship’s television monitors.

Now for a brief interlude…

What are Lionfish and why are we taking the time to study them? Lionfish are members of the scorpion fish family that are not native to the Atlantic Ocean. Organisms like the Lionfish that arrive, survive, and successfully reproduce in an ecosystem where they did not previously exist are called an invasive species. Lionfish are a very colorful fish with venomous spines originally from the Indo-Pacific coral reefs of southeastern Asia. Ever since their accidental release into the Atlantic Ocean in 1992, Lionfish have reproduced quickly and established themselves in increasing numbers along the Atlantic Coast from Florida to North Carolina. Lionfish are ambush predators that use their venomous spines to paralyze and swallow whole fish (baby shrimp, snapper, and grouper). For this reason, their presence in the Atlantic may negatively impact the local ecosystem and pose a vital threat to the commercial fisheries industry.

Back to the divers…

Upon their return to the ship from 210 Rock, the divers discovered 10 Lionfish, all of them juveniles, approximately 20 cm. in length. Lionfish have been reported in the vicinity before, but not until recently. This suggests a possible Lionfish migration into the area from the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream several miles away in the Atlantic (Lionfish can only survive in warmer, more tropical water temperatures). Now for some good news: The divers saw an impressive variety of native fish including Adult Gag, Scamp, Red Grouper, Blue Angel Fish, Soap fish, Spotfin Hogfish, Spanish Hogfish, White Grunt, Bank Sea Bass, Black Sea Bass, Almaco Jack, and Spade Fish. All of this suggests that the ecosystem near 210 Rock is biologically diverse, vibrant, and healthy. Hopefully it will remain that way, despite the looming threat of the Lionfish in the horizon…

This map clearly shows the Gulf Stream in the Southeastern Atlantic (look for a dark red streak off the coast of Florida).  Darker reds are the warmest ocean temperatures, blues are the coldest.
This map clearly shows the Gulf Stream in the Southeastern Atlantic (look for a dark red streak off the coast of Florida). Darker reds are the warmest ocean temperatures, blues are the coldest.

Personal Log

I was relieved that we were able to get at least one dive off today, despite our ship’s delayed departure. Most amazing was the video footage that the divers brought back onboard the ship – they captured several Lionfish on video, hidden beneath rocks and carefully camouflaged in their background environment. Watching the video makes me realize that the ocean floor is a dramatically different landscape than what we are accustomed to on land!

Question of the Day

Should we worry about Lionfish closer to shore along the beaches of the Atlantic Coast? Is their sting venomous enough to kill a person?

Luckily for us, a venomous spine from a Lionfish is not enough to kill a person, but they can cause a painful sting. You will also appreciate the fact that Lionfish will probably never invade beaches along the Atlantic coastline. This is because temperature limits their distribution in the Atlantic. The Gulf Stream is a warm current of the Atlantic Ocean that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and runs northeastward along North America. Because the Gulf Stream remains several miles offshore from the Atlantic coastline, these waters can remain somewhat warm during the winter, despite frigid inshore water temperatures. This is why Lionfish can survive in the Gulf Stream (where it is warmer in the wintertime) but not closer to the coast (where winter water temperatures are far colder). Additionally, Lionfish cannot survive north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina due to the colder water temperatures along the northeastern Atlantic coastline. For this reason, scientists consider Cape Hatteras a “Zoo-geographical boundary” beyond which Lionfish cannot stay alive.

Thomas Nassif, July 15, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Thomas Nassif
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 15 – 24, 2005

Mission: Invasive Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast U.S.
Date: July 15, 2005

THE BOUNTY: A replica of The Bounty, an 18th Century British Naval Research Vessel.
THE BOUNTY: A replica of The Bounty, an 18th Century British Naval Research Vessel.

Weather Data

Latitude: 34°43’N
Longitude: 76°42’W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 200°
Wind speed: 11 kts
Sea wave height: less than 1 foot
Swell wave height: none
Sea water temperature: 87 F, 30.5°C
Sea level pressure: 1017.9 mb
Relative Humidity: 86%
Cloud cover: 2/8, Cumulus, Stratocumulus, Cirrostratus

Science and Technology Log

My first morning aboard the NOAA research vessel NANCY FOSTER began with a loud pounding sound on my door at 2am. I immediately awoke to a voice from the Lieutenant, “Thomas Nassif, you must move your car immediately!” Evidently I was parked directly in front of a giant crane on the portside of the ship. Later in the day I marveled at the enormous size of the NANCY FOSTER, which stands at 187 feet long and 894 tons. Eight SCUBA divers diligently worked on deck to ensure that their diving equipment was in good working condition when the deep-sea dives get underway tomorrow. We were scheduled to depart Morehead City today, but due to a problem with the ship’s computer system we are not leaving for the open sea until tomorrow morning at 1000 hours. Two specialists arrived early this afternoon to work on the computer system that runs the entire ship, including propulsion, navigation, lighting, and air conditioning. Imagine how complicated the computer system must be, having been built in Canada, programmed with Russian software, and used on an American ship! Evidently they are the only computer specialists in the entire US who know how to fix the NANCY FOSTER’s intricate computer system.

Thomas Nassif stands in front of the NOAA research vessel NANCY FOSTER.
Thomas Nassif stands in front of the NOAA research vessel NANCY FOSTER.

We took advantage of the delay in our departure to walk along the Morehead City Port to check out The Bounty, a replica of the legendary 18th century British Naval ship that sank off the shores of Tahiti. I imagined what it must have been like to be aboard The Bounty in the 1700’s. Unlike the NANCY FOSTER’s heavy reliance on computers to run the entire ship, the Bounty only needed a ship’s wheel for steering and enormous sails to propel the ship forward. This replica of the Bounty was built in 1961 for the Marlin Brando movie “Mutiny on the Bounty” and more recently appeared in “Pirates of the Carribean.” The original Bounty was an 18th century British Naval ship under the direction of Captain Bligh. A member of the crew, Fletcher Christian, led a mutiny against the ship’s captain to protest his extremely strict and regimented control over the crew. While on route to Tahiti, a mutiny erupted between the Captain Bligh and the crew over whether to proceed around the tip of South America (Cape Horn), one of the most treacherous routes for ships to circumnavigate. And to think that one of the major goals of the Tahiti expedition was to collect Bread Fruit for possible use as a food staple for British colonies in the Caribbean. One of the scientists aboard our cruise commented: “I tasted bread fruit once in Micronesia. I must admit it was one of the foulest tasting foods I’d ever had. Bread fruit is hard, yellow, grainy, and terribly bitter.”

Question of the day

How many people are aboard the ship for the Lion Fish Cruise?

There are 16 crew members aboard the NANCY FOSTER to ensure the ship runs properly and 7 scuba divers who will conduct deep-sea research on Lion Fish. Additionally there are two reporters from the Philadelphia Enquirer who are researching the Gulf Stream. And finally one teacher (that’s me) who plans to create a video documentary about the Lion Fish cruise.

Miriam Sutton, June 22, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Miriam Sutton
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 17 – 22, 2005

Mission: Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: June 22, 2005

sutton_log6aWeather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 200°
Wind speed: 13kts
Sea wave height: 2-3′
Swell wave height: 1′
Sea water temperature: 15.6°C
Sea level pressure: 1005mb
Cloud cover: Partly cloudy

Personal Log

I am seated on a park bench near a section of seawall adjacent to the NOAA dock in Woods Hole, MA. The NANCY FOSTER is secured to her moorings and the crew is working to prepare her for the next research cruise. As I gaze across the dock at my home for the past week, I am in awe at the opportunity NOAA provided me through the Teacher at Sea program. What a marvelous experience and one that I will not soon forget. I am extremely grateful to NOAA for providing me with a research experience that will help me with science curriculum design and the development of activities and lessons to assist my students in gaining a deeper understanding of the technologies used in the ocean exploration. I am also thankful that the NOAA scientists allowed me to take such an active role in their research. They were most helpful in teaching me the logistics of remote sensing technologies and also provided some terrific teaching ideas to help middle school students grasp such an evasive concept.

In all honesty, I was not ready to disembark the NANCY FOSTER this morning. I truly loved the experience of living at sea and conducting research for NOAA scientists. During my adventure, I never felt like an outsider. The NOAA corps, crew, and scientists allowed me to settle in quickly and become a part of their research team. I am forever grateful for their hospitality. NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program has been a wonderful experience that I would highly recommend!

Miriam Sutton, June 21, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Miriam Sutton
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 17 – 22, 2005

Mission: Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: June 21, 2005

Removing fishing gear
Removing fishing gear

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 200°
Wind speed: 13kts
Sea wave height: 2-3′
Swell wave height: 1′
Sea water temperature: 15.6°C
Sea level pressure: 1005mb
Cloud cover: Partly cloudy

Science and Technology Log

Today was our last day of remote sensing along Stellwagen Bank and everyone was hoping that our towfish would find something along the seafloor. By our second run of the day, our towfish successfully located “something” along the seafloor but it wasn’t quite what we had in mind. As Chief Scientist, Matt Lawrence watched the cable length read out begin to climb shallower and shallower, he realized our towfish had captured some fishing gear. The towing operations were stopped, the ship reversed course and we retrieved the towfish so we could remove the line of fishing gear that had wrapped around the towing shaft. Once removed, the sensor was re-deployed and maritime archeology research continued.

Side scan display
Side scan display

The fishing gear must have been synonymous to a lucky horseshoe because we began locating several possible wrecks shortly after freeing the sensor from the gear. In actuality, it is the fishing gear used by local fishermen that gives the scientists a starting point for their searches. Local fishermen keep logs of “Hang” areas they try to avoid so as not to get their fishing gear caught up in the debris. Fishermen share their “Hang” logs with the scientists who can then use the fishermen’s data to set up remote sensing search areas and transect lines. Fishermen have years of experience from fishing local waters and have become a valuable resource of information for the scientists to use in their quest to preserve the maritime heritage of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Miriam Sutton, June 20, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Miriam Sutton
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 17 – 22, 2005

Mission: Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: June 20, 2005

Chief Steward Jesse
Chief Steward Jesse

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 200°
Wind speed: 13kts
Sea wave height: 2-3′
Swell wave height: 1′
Sea water temperature: 15.6°C
Sea level pressure: 1005mb
Cloud cover: Partly cloudy

Science and Technology Log

More Transect lines were the plan for the day and we placed the fish in the water before 0700 for our first run at “mowing the lawn” along Stellwagen Bank. We ran 15 more Transect lines today, continuing our search for ancient maritime artifacts. We were blessed with a gorgeous day on the ocean and no logistical problems with the equipment. I began conducting interviews with the crew and scientists while continuing to assist the scientists with various remote sensing duties throughout the day.

I created an interview database and began interviewing various members of the NOAA Corps, crew, and scientists, starting with one of the most important members of the NOAA crew: Chief Steward – Jesse.

Jesse was born in Florida and told me his main job responsibility is to “keep everybody happy.” Officially, Jesse is in charge of the ship’s sanitation, food menus and food preparation. Prior to joining NOAA four years ago, Jesse worked as a Cook for the US Navy for 20 years. Jesse loves his job and being able to travel to different places but often misses his wife and 5 kids while he is away at sea. His favorite subject in school was Civil War History. He got his start in cooking as a baker during high school. When asked what lessons from life have helped him the most in his career, Jesse said, “Responsibility.”

I also asked each interviewee to describe the most unusual (e.g., funny, scary, weird) occurrence that happened to them while at sea. I am composing a Top Ten list that I will share at a later posting.

Miriam Sutton, June 19, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Miriam Sutton
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 17 – 22, 2005

Mission: Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: June 19, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind direction: 266°
Wind speed: <10kts
Sea wave height: 2′
Swell wave height: 2′
Sea water temperature: 14.4°C
Sea level pressure: 1022.4mb
Cloud cover: Scattered clouds

Science and Technology Log

After an overnight anchoring along the shores of Scituate, the NANCY FOSTER headed further offshore for another day of scanning the seafloor for ancient maritime artifacts. The sensing equipment was deployed over the Stellwagen Bank region by 0800 and we collected data until dusk.

As a southern girl who was raised in the tobacco fields of eastern North Carolina, I found today’s repetitive scanning quite similar to working on a tobacco harvester as it was being driven along row after row of tobacco. The diagram below will give you some idea of my Day 3 on the Sea! The NOAA crew refers to this type of repetitive scanning as “mowing the lawn.”

We covered 13 transect lines today, each taking about 30 minutes to cover. The side scan sonar ran beautifully all day without interference. The magnetometer was also working well but the data being fed from the 2 towfishes was not synchronizing when it arrived to the computer. The decision was made to disconnect the magnetometer and run the side scan sonar alone for most of the day.

I took sometime to look over the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary information the Scientist Deborah Marx shared with me. I recommend that you follow this website to learn more about this remarkable area of the New England coast: http://www.stellwagen.noaa.gov.

Miriam Sutton, June 18, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Miriam Sutton
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 17 – 22, 2005

Mission: Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: June 18, 2005

Working on the winch
Working on the winch

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 200°
Wind speed: 13kts
Sea wave height: 2-3′
Swell wave height: 1′
Sea water temperature: 15.6°C
Sea level pressure: 1005mb
Cloud cover: Partly cloudy

Science and Technology Log

We awoke this morning in a heavy layer of fog which has taken most of the day to burn off into an overcast sky. While the low visibility posed additional caution to the ship’s crew, the scientists continued to scan the seafloor in search of maritime heritage resources (shipwrecks). Four sites were investigated today….

Today progressed with many more challenges in the logistics surrounding the deployment and data collection of the sensors compared to our first day of remote sensing. The first struggles began while at the first location when the cables became unplugged during deployment… twice. After a quick assessment of the problem, the scientists decided to make adjustments to the cabling device to reduce the tension and maintain the connection between the couplings on the sensor cable. Once the signal was back online, we continued searching two sites before lunch. During our lunch break, NOAA engineers began to work on ways of reducing electrical interference between the remote sensing equipment and the ship’s engines. After talking with the scientists and NOAA crew, I learned that the NANCY FOSTER is propelled by a main engine and two Z drives. Z drives are like thrusters that assist the ship in maneuvering, especially at slow speeds. Here is a brief rundown of the conflict between the engines and the sensing equipment:

  • The sensing equipment needs to be towed at a slow and steady speed of about 4 knots.
  • NOAA’s crew can maintain this speed in calm seas with little current using the main engine only.
  • As seas pick up or current increases, the NANCY FOSTER gets a bit squirrelly and can slide off course from the predetermined transect line. Using the Z drives allows the NANCY FOSTER to run a steadier course.
  • The electromagnetic field generated by the ship’s Z drive creates interference with the remote sensing equipment, especially the side scan sonar.
  • NOAA engineers are onboard and have been experimenting to find a happy medium so that the Z drives can be used for better tracking but will not interfere with the remote sensing signals.
Safety first!
Safety first!

After several trials, the issue was resolved and the NANCY FOSTER is tracking smoothly along the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary while the side scan sonar and the magnetometer are searching away for more seafloor anomalies.  I am truly amazed at the teamwork between the scientists and NOAA’s crew. From a teacher’s perspective, I see a group of people who are willing to do anything possible to help a group of scientists complete their investigation. I also see a group of scientists who are most appreciative of the overwhelming effort exhibited by the crew and willing to share various aspects of their research that the crew finds interesting. This cooperative environment generates an atmosphere of respect and camaraderie that is conducive to individuals sharing their individual talents in a collaborative effort toward the success of the entire group on board the NANCY FOSTER. What a pleasant setting to be a part of during my first adventure at sea.

Miriam Sutton, June 17, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Miriam Sutton
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 17 – 22, 2005

Mission: Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: June 17, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 200°
Wind speed: 13kts
Sea wave height: 2-3′
Swell wave height: 1′
Sea water temperature: 15.6°C
Sea level pressure: 1005mb
Cloud cover: Partly cloudy

Science and Technology Log

I am onboard NOAA’s R/V NANCY FOSTER and am heading toward the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. This sanctuary is located off the east coast of New England between Cape Ann and Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I will be exploring this area with a group of NOAA and National Marine Sanctuary (NMS) scientists as they search for various anomalies located along the seafloor. “Anomaly” is the term used to describe artifacts or other materials that do not follow the normal pattern of the seafloor topography or geology. My Teacher at Sea assignment with the NANCY FOSTER will allow me to observe and assist the scientists using remote sensing equipment to detect these anomalies.

Today, we traveled from Woods Hole, MA through the Cape Cod Canal on our way to Stellwagen Bank where we began our search for seafloor anomalies. Transect lines are coordinates determined by the Chief Scientists, Matthew Lawrence, and are provided to the ship’s captain for steering our course to the correct location. Two different remote sensing instruments were used in our first set of transect lines: the side scan sonar uses sound waves to record images along the seafloor and the magnetometer detects electromagnetic fields that might be emitted by the anomalies. As the plotted site is reached, the ship’s engines are slowed and the “towfishes” are lowered off the stern of the boat using a cable and winch system. (See photos A, B, and C) The goal of our first search was to try and locate a NOAA data collector buoy and anchoring wheel that failed to surface when NOAA sent a radio signal for the buoy to release from its mooring. The buoy was used to collect data on cod fish that were tagged to determine their general range within the sanctuary. The data would let scientists know if these cod used the sanctuary as a habitat or if the fish were just passing through. After several passes, or transect lines, we were unable to locate any significant anomalies that might have indicated the location of the wheeled mooring and the buoy. The remote sensing equipment was brought to the surface and stored away for the night. Our ship is now heading closer toward shore to anchor overnight.