Jeff Peterson: The Work in the Western Gulf, July 15, 2018

 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jeff Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 9 – July 20, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 15, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Date: 2018/07/18

Time: 16:05:45

Latitude: 30 05.44 N

Longitude: 085 52.76 W

Speed over ground: 05.3 knots

Barometric pressure: 1015.62 mbar

Relative humidity: 81%

Air temp: 27.6 C

 

Science and Technology Log

At the time of writing, we’ve completed the “stations” (i.e., the appointed stops where we trawl to collect specimens) in the western Gulf of Mexico, and are headed to the Florida coast, where we’ll conclude the 3rd leg of the Summer Groundfish Survey. Sometime tonight we’ll arrive and resume work, trawling and identifying fish. What follows is my attempt to furnish a detailed description of where we are and what we’re doing.

Stations: Where We Stop & Why

As I explained in my previous blog post, “Learner at Sea: Day 1,” the survey work being performed on this cruise contributes to a larger collective enterprise called SEAMAP, the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program. The “sample area” of SEAMAP is considerable, ranging from Texas-Mexico border to the Florida Keys.

image 1 SEAMAP - coverage

Spatial coverage of SEAMAP Summer and Fall Trawl Surveys in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Fisheries biologist Adam Pollack tells me that the total trawlable area–that is, excluding such features as known reefs, oil rigs, and sanctuaries–consists of 228,943.65 square kilometers or 88,943.65 square miles. That’s a piece of ocean of considerable size: nearly as big as Louisiana and Mississippi combined.

SEAMAP divides the sample area into a series of statistically comparable “zones” (there are two zones within each of the numbered areas in the diagram above), taking into account a key variable (or stratum): depth. It then assigns a proportionate number of randomized locations to every zone, arriving at 360-400 stations for the sample area as a whole. Statisticians call this method a “stratified random design.”

While Louisiana, Mississippi,  Alabama, and Florida participate in the SEAMAP, the lion’s share of stations are surveyed by NOAA.

These are the 49 stations we sampled during the first half of the cruise, off the shore of Louisiana:

leg 3 west

Stations covered in the western Gulf during the 3rd leg of the Summer Groundfish Survey

The data from the Summer Survey is analyzed in the fall and available the following spring. NOAA’s assessments are then passed along to the regional Fisheries Management Councils who take them into account in setting guidelines.

The Trawl: How we Get Fish Aboard

NOAA Ship Oregon II brings fish aboard using an otter trawl. As described in “Mississippi Trawl Gear Characterization,” “The basic otter trawl is the most common type of trawl used in Mississippi waters to harvest shrimp. The otter trawl is constructed of twine webbing that when fully deployed makes a cone shape. Floats on the head-rope (top line) and chains on the foot rope (bottom line) of are used to open the mouth of the trawl vertically. To spread the mouth of the trawl open as large as possible, each side (wing) is attached to trawl doors” (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/strategy/ms_trawl_gear.pdf). Positioned by chains so that their leading edges flare out, those doors are sizable and heavy, 40 inches high and 8 feet long, and help not only to spread the net open (and ‘herd’ fish in) but also to keep it seated on the ocean floor.

An otter trawl deployed

An otter trawl deployed

To mitigate environmental harm–and, in particular, to help save inadvertently caught sea turtles—trawling time is limited to 30 minutes. The trawl is 40 feet wide and is dragged over 1.5 miles of ocean bottom.

Here are the trawl’s technical specifications:

Trawl schematic

Trawl schematic, courtesy of NOAA fishing gear specialist Nicholas Hopkins

It should not go without saying that deploying and retrieving gear like this is mission critical, and requires physical might, agility, and vigilance. Those tasks (and others) are performed expertly by the Deck Department, manned on the day watch by Chief Boatswain Tim Martin and Fisherman James Rhue. Fisherman Chris Rawley joins them on the swing shift, coming on deck in the evening.

The process of bringing the trawl aboard looks like this:

doors up

Trawl doors on their way up toward the starboard outrigger

separating

Seizing the “lazy line” with the hook pole

orange section

The “elephant ear” (orange section) secured

cod end at the rail

Chief Boatswain Tim Martin brings a catch over the rail

The bottom of the trawl is secured with a special knot that permits controlled release of the catch.

knot

Among other names, this piece of handiwork is known as the “double daisy chain” or “zipper knot”

 

The catch emptied into baskets

The catch emptied into baskets

CTD

Before every trawl, the CTD is deployed from the well deck (port side) to collect data on, as its acronym suggests: Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. According to NOAA’s Ocean Explorer website, “A CTD device’s primary function is to detect how the conductivity and temperature of the water column changes relative to depth. Conductivity is a measure of how well a solution conducts electricity. Conductivity is directly related to salinity, which is the concentration of salt and other inorganic compounds in seawater. Salinity is one of the most basic measurements used by ocean scientists. When combined with temperature data, salinity measurements can be used to determine seawater density which is a primary driving force for major ocean currents” (https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/ctd.html).

The CTD secured on deck

The CTD secured on deck

 

CTD in the water

The CTD suspended at the surface, awaiting descent

During daylight hours, a scientist assists with the deployment of the CTD, contributing observations on wave height and water color. For the latter, we use a Forel-Ule scale, which furnishes a gradation of chemically simulated water colors.

 

Forel-Ule scale

Forel-Ule scale

 

The Wet Lab: How We Turn Fish into Information

Once in baskets, the catch is weighed and then taken inside the wet lab.

the wet lab

The wet lab: looking forward. Fish are sorted on the conveyor belt (on the right) and identified, measured, weighed, and sexed using the computers (on the left).

Once inside the wet lab, the catch is emptied onto the conveyor belt

Fish ready for sorting

Fish ready for sorting

Snapper on the belt

A small catch with a big Snapper

Next the catch is sorting into smaller, species-specific baskets:

Emily McMullen sorting fish

Emily McMullen sorting fish

 

batfish face

Say hello to the Bat Fish: Ogecephalus declivirostris

Calico Box Crab, Hepatus epheliticus

Calico Box Crab, Hepatus epheliticus

 

Blue Crab, Callinectes sapidus

Blue Crab, Callinectes sapidus

At this stage, fish are ready to be represented as data in the Fisheries Scientific Computing System (FSCS). This is a two-step process. First, each basket of fish is entered by genus and species name, and its number recorded in the aggregate.

Andre entering data

Andre DeBose entering initial fish data in FSCS

Then, a selection individual specimens from each basket (up to 20, if there are that many) are measured and weighed and sexed.

Andre and Emily measuring

Andre and Emily measuring and sexing fish

Occasionally researchers from particular laboratories have made special requests for species, and so we label them, bag them, and stow them in the bait freezer room.

requests

Special requests for specimens

 

IMG_8214

Red Snapper, Lutjanus campechanus, for Beverly Barnett

Once every animal in the trawl has been accounted for and its data duly recorded, it’s time to wash everything down and get ready to do it all over again.

porthole

Late afternoon view from the wet lab porthole

 

Personal Log

The key to enjoying work in the wet lab is, as I see it, the enduring promise of novelty: the possibility of surprise at finding something you’ve never seen before! For me, that promise offsets the bracing physical rigors of the work and leavens its repetitiveness. (Breathtaking cloudscapes and gorgeous sunsets do, too, just for the record. Out here on the water, there seem to be incidental beauties in every direction.) Think of the movie Groundhog Day or Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus” and cross either of them with the joys of beach-combing on an unbelievably bounteous beach, and you’ll have a sense of the absurd excitement of identifying fish at the sorting stage. Life in the wet lab is a lot like Bubba Gump’s box of chocolates: “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

At the next stage, data entry, the challenge for the novice is auditory and linguistic. Between the continual growl the engine makes and the prop noise of the wet lab’s constantly whirring fans, you’ve got the soundscape of an industrial workplace. Amid that cascade of sound, you need to discern unfamiliar (scientific) names for unfamiliar creatures, catching genus and species distinctions as they’re called out by your watch-mates. The good news is that the scientists you’re working with are living and breathing field guides, capable of identifying just about any animal you hold up with a quizzical look. It’s a relative rarity that we have to consult printed guides for IDs, but when we do and that task falls to me, the shell-collector kid in me secretly rejoices.

IMG_7825

I found it! Ethusa microphthalma (female)

I’m enjoying the camaraderie of my watch, led by Andre DeBose, and, as my posts suggest, I’ve had some good opportunities to pick Adam Pollack’s brain on fisheries issues. My partner in fish data-entry, Emily McMullen–an aspiring marine scientist who’ll be applying to graduate programs this fall–did this cruise last summer and has been an easy-going co-worker, patient and understanding as I learn the ropes. I’ve also had some wonderful conversations with folks like Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway, First Assistant Engineer Will Osborn, and Fisheries Biologist Alonzo Hamilton.

It’s been a busy week, as you’ll have gathered, but I’ve still managed to do some sketching. Here’s a page from my sketchbook on the CTD:

CTD

Sketch of the CTD. The main upright tanks, I learned, are Niskin Bottles

And here’s a page from my journal that pictures three species we saw quite often in the western Gulf:

Longspined Porgy - Butterfish - Brown Shrimp

Longspine Porgy (Stenotomus caprinus), Butterfish (Peprilus burti), and Brown Shrimp (Farfanepenaeus aztectus)

Had I the time, I’d sketch the rest of my “Top 10” species we’ve seen most commonly in the western Gulf. That list would include (in no particular order): the Paper Scallop, Amusium papyraceum; Lookdown, Selene vomer; Blue Crab, Callinectes sapidus; Squid, Loligo; Lizardfish, Synodus foetens; Croaker, Micropogonias undulatus; and Red Snapper:

Red Snapper

Presented for your inspection: Red Snapper, Lutjanus campechanus

Did You Know?

Four of the species visible on the surface of this basket have been identified in the blog post you’ve just read. Can you ID them? And how many of each would you say there are here on the surface?

Basket of fish

Basket of fish

 

 Look for a key in my next blog post.

 

Jeff Peterson: Learner at Sea: Day 1, July 9, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jeff Peterson

Aboard Oregon II

July 9-July 20, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 9, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Date: 2018/07/12

Time: 16:16:53

Latitude: 28 48.11 N

Longitude: 092 47.94W

Barometric pressure: 1018.94

Relative humidity: 57

Air temperature: 32.4 C (90.3 F)

Calm seas

 

Science and Technology Log

photo 2seamap.jpg

This is the 3rd and final leg of the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey for 2018, taking place between July 9 and July 20 in the Gulf of Mexico. “Groundfish” refers to fish that live on, in, or near the bottom of the ocean.  SEAMAP stands for “Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program,” and as the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission defines it, it’s an interagency (State, Federal, and university) “program for collection, management and dissemination of fishery-independent data and information in the southeastern United States” (https://www.gsmfc.org/seamap.php).

download.jpg

What is “fishery-independent data,” you ask? The key is understanding its converse: “fishery-dependent data.” Fishery-dependent data is gathered directly from (and in that sense, depends on) commercial and recreational fisheries.  It’s furnished by “dockside monitors, at-sea observers, logbooks, electronic monitoring and reporting systems.” In other words, it’s all about what is caught for recreational or commercial purposes. By contrast, “fishery-independent data” are collected by “scientists from NOAA Fisheries science centers and partner agencies/institutes,” who seek to gather “information on fish stock abundance, biology and their ecosystem for inclusion in stock assessments.” Roughly speaking, then, the distinction is one between a particular target and that target’s larger biological context and ecological surround. Though I had an intuitive sense of this distinction, I wanted to hold myself to account and really learn what it meant. I’m a “Teacher at Sea,” yes, but I’m really a “Learner at Sea.”

I turned to a fellow member of the day watch, fisheries biologist Adam Pollack, and, after sketching the basic distinction for me, he directed me to the website for NOAA’s Office of Science and Technology, National Marine Fisheries Service, pointing me in particular to the webpage on Stock Assessment Basics, where, among other things, one can find terms like “fishery-dependent” and “fishery-independent data” neatly defined: https://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/stock-assessment/stock-assessment-101). Not sure what stock assessments are? Watch theNational Marine Fisheries Service video: “The ABCs of Stock Assessments.” As I was going online to check out the definition of “fishery-independent data,” Adam told me this: “This is the world I live in.”

The purpose of the Summer Groundfish Survey is three-fold: “to monitor size and distribution of penaeid shrimp during or prior to migration of brown shrimp from bays to the open Gulf; aid in evaluating the ‘Texas Closure’ management measure of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s Shrimp Fishery Management Plan; and provide information on shrimp and groundfish stocks across the Gulf of Mexico from inshore waters to 50 fm [fathoms]” (https://www.gsmfc.org/seamap-gomrs.php). (A quick note on the Texas Closure. In order to ­protect young brown shrimp and help ensure that the shrimp harvest is more mature and hence more commercially valuable, the Texas shrimp fishery is closed annually between May 15 and July 17.)

On the first leg (June 7 to 20) of the Survey, the Teacher at Sea aboard was Geoff Carlisle; on the second leg (June 27 to July 5, 2018), the Teacher at Sea aboard was Angela Hung. You can find the first two “chapters” of our collective TAS Summer Groundfish Survery story here: https://noaateacheratsea.blog/

At the time of writing we’re still on our way to the fish survey station; it’s a 30-hour steam out of Pascagoula. I look forward to reporting on our catches and the technology we’ll be using in a future post.

Personal Log

photo 1 - Oregon II at dock

NOAA Ship Oregon II at its homeport in Pascagoula, MS

 

I flew into Gulfport, MS, from San Francisco, on the afternoon of Sunday, July 8, and was met at the airport by friendly and informed Field Party Chief Christina Stepongzi. As we crossed the bridge over the Pascagoula River and NOAA Ship Oregon II came into view, Chrissy said proudly: “There’s home.” On arrival, I got a quick tour of the vessel I’ll have the privilege of calling home for the next 12 days, and Chrissy introduced me around. The folks I met that afternoon (and since) were all just great: gracious and good humored, warm and welcoming. That first jovial bunch consisted of Chief Marine Engineer Joe Howe, Chief Steward Lydell Reed, and Junior Unlicensed Engineer Jack Steadfast. I got settled into my stateroom, and, jet-lagged and short on sleep, I turned in early.

stateroom 2.jpg

Stateroom 103: That’s my gear on the top bunk

 

I woke rested Sunday morning and went out onto the dock to look around. I’d brought a sketchbook with me (intending to keep a sketch-journal as both a pastime and an aid to learning), and, since I had a couple of hours to myself before a meeting at 1230 hours, I decided to try sketching the ship. I found a comfortable spot in the shade, and got busy. I’d hoped to sketch the ship from stem to stern, realizing I wouldn’t be able to take it all in once aboard. I planned to divide the ship in half and draw the halves on facing pages in my sketchbook. Stores arrived at 1000 hours, and I watched various preparations taking place fore and aft. I also helped carry a few bags of groceries aboard.

NOAA ship Oregon II

NOAA ship Oregon II

Working briefly in pencil and mostly in ink, I committed myself to certain shapes and proportions early on, and it soon became clear that I’d have to omit the bow and stern, focusing on the middle of the ship and making the best of things. Many of the objects, devices, and structural forms I was drawing were unfamiliar, and I looked forward to having a crew member explain what I’d been drawing later on.

 

Sketch of NOAA ship Oregon II

Sketch of NOAA ship Oregon II

It was an absorbing and thoroughly satisfying way of introducing myself to the ship, and I had the pleasure of meeting a few more members of the crew while I sketched. Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway introduced himself and very generously offered to grab me a fast-food lunch, since meals aboard weren’t being prepared yet. Arlene Beahm, the Second Cook, stopped by to say hello, as did First Assistant Engineer William Osborn. When the time came, I went aboard for the “Welcome Aboard” meeting, an orientation to the ship and shipboard courtesies by Operations Officer Ryan Belcher. Thereafter we had a little time to ourselves, so I meandered about the ship, meeting fisheries biologist Alonzo Hamilton in the galley. He kindly answered my questions about the version of the ship I’d sketched in the morning. (What were the white cylinders with domed tops amidships? Satellite antennas. What where the propeller-like forms forward of them, above the bridge? Radar.) We embarked at 1400 hours, and I up went to the flying bridge (i.e., the open deck above the bridge) to watch our passage down and out the mouth of the Pascagoula River and into the Gulf of Mexico.

view from flying deck.JPG

View from the flying bridge, minutes after embaraking

I got good looks at some Laughing Gulls and some Terns (that I’ll need to ID later), and watched a shrimp trawler working next to the channel behind Petit Bois and Horn Islands.

Laughing gull.JPG

Laughing Gull, Leucophaeus atricilla

Shrimper.JPG

The shrimp trawler Evening Star

Once we were in the Gulf proper, we were joined for a while by some Bottlenose Dolphins. An hour or two later, as I sat astern watching the sun set, I caught sight of a pair of Frigatebirds, high above the ship, their stunning forked tails trailing behind them. I’d never seen one, let alone two, and I didn’t sketch them or take a photograph of them. But you know I’ll remember them.

Sunset

Sunset

Did You Know?

Magnificent Frigatebirds don’t dive after fish. They skim themfrom the surface or chase after other birds, stealing their catches. To learn more about the Magnificent Frigatebird, visit Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds” website:  https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Magnificent_Frigatebird/

Angela Hung: The Sauce Bosses, July 4, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 27-July 5, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 4, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Conditions at 2012

Latitude: 28° 36’ N

Longitude: 89° 26’ W

Relative Humidity: 75%

Temperature: 28.5° C

Wind Speed: 2.5 knots

 

Science and Technology Log

“Everyone’s a sauce boss on Oregon II.

-ENS Andy Fullerton

 

Happy Independence Day! Valerie and Arlene broke out the festive tablecloths, beads, an ice cream sundae bar and even some soda. In the fridge, there are a half a dozen types of mustard alone for midnight hot dogs on the Fourth. And always, each of the two tables in the galley is a stocked with its own assortment of about 20 hot sauces and seasonings.

The Fourth of July is often a day of transitions for me. In 1994, it was the day my family moved from Virginia to Florida. In 2014, it was the day I left New Mexico where I earned my graduate degree to Illinois. This year, I have the pleasure of spending the Fourth with the Oregon II family. The research is complete for this leg and we are heading back to land; after three weeks onboard, it feels like leaving another home.

The sauce bosses are about 30 men and women who work aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II: 20 crew and 10 scientists. Behind the scenes, or rather, below deck, the engineers are hard at work operating, refueling and otherwise monitoring the ship’s engines. Of course, these are the engines that propel the ship, but they also include the machinery that powers the winches on deck for trawls and CTD casts. They warm up the engines ahead of data collection so that the winches are ready when we reach each station. It’s another hard job on the boat; below deck in the engine rooms, even with air conditioning it can still reach over 40˚C or 110˚F. Shifts are four hours long and eight hours off so meals and sleep alternate with watches.

Vincent Perry is one of the engineers and was raised with the mindset that travelling and experiencing different cultures is an essential to a meaningful life. He joined the Navy which took him around the world to places like Japan and the Middle East. After retiring from the service, he joined NOAA to continue travelling by visiting different ports. Although the work is hard, he enjoys visiting new places and trying foods around the country. Another benefit of being crew is that the weeks spent at sea are balanced by weeks of leave between trips that he can spend with his family.

On deck, the Deck Department handle and deploy the trawl nets and CTD, including the winches. Many of these men also have Navy experience that allowed them to see the world while using the mariner skills that many from the Gulf coast learned as members of fishing families. Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols always had a strong sense of adventure, and was especially inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s novel, Captains Courageous, which he found among his father’s things when he was a boy. The novel is a story of a wealthy teen that falls off an ocean liner and is picked up by a fishing boat where he is eventually shaped into a hard working member of the crew. Following Naval service, Chris served as a US Merchant Marine, which are civilian mariners who transport cargo and passengers to Navy vessels. He also worked on charter fishing boats out of Florida and then joined NOAA and Oregon II’s crew.

Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling

Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling. Photo credit: amazon.com

NOAA Corps officers are primarily posted in the bridge. Although they are required to have science backgrounds and coursework, ship navigation is their primary duty; they chart our course from station to station and steer. Naturally, the bridge has the best view and crew often spend time there chatting with the officers if there isn’t too much traffic. However, at night when other fishing boats and defunct oil rigs are difficult to see, this can be a daunting task. Even during the day, navigating around the MANY oil rigs that dot the Gulf coastline makes this job less than straight forward.

The bridge of Oregon II boasts a number of “antique” parts, another reminder of its years of service. Today, alongside the table of paper charts are electronic counterparts. A raster navigation chart (RNC) computer system displays scans of paper maps. Next to that is the newest addition, the electronic navigation computer charting (ENC) system which is a clickable map that displays other ships and reports their bearings, information about geographic points such as depth if available. These and other data can be layered on the map and is continuously updated with new information.

A large radar screen is posted at either end of the bridge, one that detects larger ships and one that picks up signals from smaller boats. Even though the expanse of water seems large, traffic jams can still occur around busy ports. Executive Officer (XO) Andrew Ostapenko explains to me the stress-inducing calculations that continuously run through his head when he looks at the radar screens. The radar displays are able to show lines of where each boat will be in the next hour given each one’s speed and direction, thus showing if and when our paths would cross. It’s too busy on the screen to keep it that way, but it seems that’s the picture XO has running through his mind all the time. A large tanker over 20 miles away holds his attention because he can predict that we would cross paths in 45 minutes. That means you have start correcting your speed and bearing now to maintain a safe distance when we pass in 40 minutes to avoid a collision. That’s just one of at least 20 vessels clustered around New Orleans on the ENC screen and the weather is fair.

Newer instruments in Oregon II's bridge. Radar screen on left, electronic navigation charting system in the center, raster navigation charting system on right.

Newer instruments in Oregon II’s bridge. Radar screen on left, electronic navigation charting system in the center, raster navigation charting system on right.

They also drive the boat during trawls. When we come to a station, the officers bring the boat to a complete stop in order for us to launch the CTD. As soon as the CTD is back onboard, the trawl begins. There is a set procedure for the trawl and the wind direction is taken so the net doesn’t blow back towards the boat. The bridge, deck and scientists in the dry lab are in communication about the time and length of the trawl to coordinate the speed of the boat with each stage of the trawling process. The boat cruises at 5-5.5 knots to shoot the doors of the net, and slows to about 2.5 knots for the half hour during the trawl. We speed up slightly to 3.5 knots to haul back the net.

ENS Chelsea Parrish on the left with ENS Andy Fullerton on the left on watch in the bridge.

ENS Chelsea Parrish on the left with ENS Andy Fullerton on the left on watch in the bridge.

Navigation is mainly done be ENS Chelsea Parrish and ENS Andy Fullerton who are supervised by XO and CO, the commanding officer. ENS Fullerton grew up in Florida, but his adventurous spirit took him to Colby College in Maine; as far north as he could get from Florida without his mother having a “conniption fit”. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in environmental science and heard about NOAA in college. He applied to NOAA Corps and was accepted.

ENS Parrish comes from a military background, but would say she’s from Savannah, GA. Following a love of science took her through a Master’s degree in Marine Science at Savannah State University. She was introduced to NOAA in her first year of graduate school and decided to join.

NOAA officers rotate ship assignments every two years. Her term with Oregon II is coming to an end in the next few months, but she is looking forward to her new post in La Jolla, CA where she will be a drone pilot for marine mammal surveys. She found a great way to combine NOAA service with a more hands on way to do the science she loves.

 

 Personal Log

I’m not a “Star Trek” fan, but I feel like I finally understand the premise of the show. Research vessels such as NOAA Ship Oregon II are like the USS Enterprise’s of Earth, and there are many places on our planet where “no man has gone before”. However, Oregon II actually goes to the same places every year—the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean–to create long term data sets, because we don’t know what kinds of changes might happen from year to year. Long term data helps scientists identify cause and effects of population explosions or crashes, for example of shrimp and plankton, and the effects of fishing practices on red snapper.

Anyway, Oregon II’s only mission is to support scientific study, and the entire crew, from the captain and NOAA officers in the bridge, to the deck crew operating the winches and launching the CTD, to the engineers monitoring and running the engines of the boat, winches, electrical, air conditioning, and everything in between, are seamlessly coordinated with scientists to conduct research. Scientists aren’t the only people who do science. The men and women aboard NOAA ship Oregon II, and the various ships in the fleet have found their different contributions to science through their particular skill sets. It’s inspiring to see people practice strong support for science with such a range of skill sets.

I was also reminded of “Gilligan’s Island”, of which I am a fan. For the younger readers, it’s a comedy show from the 1960s where seven people—a two man crew and five passengers, including “The Professor”— on a small charter boat get shipwrecked by a storm on an island during a “three hour tour”. The series is about the living they make on the island as their boat is beyond repair. In contrast to the SS Minnow, our story would follow a very different track, but still make a great TV show. Oregon II has been in NOAA’s service for just over 50 years, and that’s only part of its career. The ship itself is reliable in large part to the dedicated crew who keep her running. Many of them, including Captain Dave Nelson, have been with Oregon II for over 20 years! They are a close knit team, really family, that are the epitome of a well-oiled machine when they work. The remaining “passengers” on board are the scientist party who work in conjunction with the crew, many for a decade as well. And of course, there’s “Teach”, the current Teacher at Sea. Either the ship would be quickly repaired and back in Pascagoula before anyone noticed it wrecked, or, if they chose to stay, this team of 30 skilled people would build a pretty comfortable and sophisticated settlement on that tropical island.

Fortunately for us, the second leg of the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey went smoothly once we got going. When we pull back into port in Pascagoula, I get to see the workings of the machine one more time. The whole crew is on deck to dock the boat, reconnect to land-based utilities and hug their waiting families on land. Despite the invitations to stay for the third leg, I have to make way for the next Teach, but hopefully I’ll find a way back next year.

 

Did You Know?

Captain Dave Nelson is one of two civilian CO’s in the NOAA fleet. CO’s are usually NOAA Corp Commissioned officers. Like other NOAA Corp officers, a ship’s CO would rotate every two years to a different ship. Captain Nelson however, will spend his entire NOAA career of 30 years aboard Oregon II.

Jeff Peterson: From the West Coast to the Gulf Coast, July 5, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jeff Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 9 – 20, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 5, 2018

 

Introduction

In a few short days, I’ll be flying to the Gulf Coast and going aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, a 170-foot fisheries research vessel which first launched in 1967. I turned seven that year, and in my Southern California boyhood loved nothing better than exploring the cliffsides and mudflats of the Newport Back Bay, collecting seashells and chasing lizards and Monarch butterflies. Fifty years later, I’m just as smitten with nature and the marine environment, maybe more so. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area now, and these days my passion for the ocean takes the form of getting out on the water whenever I can (and longing to do so whenever I can’t): kayak-fishing along the coast from Marin to Mendocino, tide-pooling at Half Moon Bay, and whale-watching with my family in Monterey.

Jeff Peterson family

Me & my kids, Miriam and Noah, just off the water. Van Damne State Park, Mendocino California.

Though my childhood reading consisted almost entirely of field guides for shells and insects—and those by Roger Tory Peterson (no relation) were my most-prized books—I didn’t become a biologist. No, I became a professor of English instead, one who was drawn, not too mysteriously, to writers who shared my fascination with the sea and its creatures, novelists like John Steinbeck and Herman Melville, poets like Walt Whitman and George Oppen. As a non-scientist with an incurable case of “sea fever,” I simply couldn’t be happier to sail this summer as a NOAA Teacher at Sea, and I look forward to experiencing first-hand the rigors of life and work aboard a NOAA research vessel.

The College Preparatory School

A glimpse of The College Preparatory School. Oakland, California

I have the great good fortune of teaching at a wonderful independent high school that has helped me to cultivate these interests within and beyond the classroom: Oakland’s College Preparatory School. I teach a year-long Freshman English course there as well as a handful of upper-level semester-long seminars, each focused on a special topic or theme. One of my favorite seminars is called “Deadliest Catches” (yes, a shameless allusion to those intrepid Bering Sea crabbers on Animal Planet), a course that offers a deep-dive into the encyclopedic wonders of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Every fall members of this course visit the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park to go aboard historic vessels and sing chanteys with a locally famous park ranger. We also team up with members of College Prep’s Oceanography class, taught by my colleague Bernie Shellem, for an afternoon of marine science aboard the R/V Brownlee, examining bottom-dwelling marine life, identifying fish and crustaceans, and studying water chemistry and plankton in the San Francisco Bay.

 

College Prep students

College Prep students, about to go aboard the R/V Brownlee. Richmond, California

Another of my sea-related courses, and one that might stand to benefit even more directly from my TAS experience, is “Fish & Ships”: a week-long intensive class on sustainable seafood and Bay Area maritime history.  Though the course is brief, it encourages students to reflect on big questions: how do their everyday choices affect the marine environment that surrounds them, and what does it mean to be an ethical consumer of seafood? We meet and eat with industry experts, and we take a road trip to Monterey, visiting its amazing Aquarium, kayaking on Elkhorn Slough (where its rescued sea otters are released), and feasting mindfully at restaurants that feature sustainable seafood.

In connection with this course and on a personal note, I’m especially interested in the shrimp species I’ll become well acquainted with on the upcoming cruise. I’m a big fan of shrimp tacos, and my favorite taqueria in Berkeley makes theirs from “wild-caught shrimp from the waters of Southeastern Louisiana.” An ad on the wall proclaims they’re a sustainable resource, informing customers that independent fisherman harvest the “Gulf Shrimp” using a method called “skim netting,” reducing by-catch (i.e., the unwanted capture of non-target species) and thereby doing less damage to the ecosystem. I’m fascinated by the ways supply-chain connections like these—between particular fishermen and the fish they fish for in a particular place and in a particular way—swirl out into so many different but interconnected orbits of human endeavor, binding them in one direction to the fisheries biologists who help determine whether their stocks are sustainable, and, in another, to fish taco aficionados and English teachers in far flung states who delight in their flavorful catches.

What am I bringing along to read, you may wonder. Well, for starters, it’s only fitting that my well-worn copy of Moby-Dick accompany me, and another old favorite belongs in my bags: Steinbeck’s Log of the Sea of Cortez. More powerfully than any of his fiction, that work—which records the marine-specimen collecting trip Steinbeck made to Baja California with his longtime friend, marine biologist Ed Ricketts—spoke to me as a young man and certainly helped inspire the voyage I’m about to take as a Teacher at Sea.

 

Did You Know?

Samuel Clemens’s pen name, Mark Twain, had a maritime source. In the parlance of riverboat pilots, the two words mean “two fathoms” (or 12 feet) of depth, “marked” (or measured) by the leadsman. The expression meant safe water for a steamboat, in other words.

 

Angela Hung: “Don’t Give it A Knife!”, June 30, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 27-July 5, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 30, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Conditions at 2112

Latitude: 28° 40’ N

Longitude: 95° 43’ W

Relative Humidity: 76%

Temperature: 28.4° C

Wind Speed: 18 knots

 

Science and Technology Log

What are groundfish? They are basically what they sound like, the fish that live in, on or near the bottom of a body of water. NOAA Ship Oregon II samples waters in coastal Gulf regions from Florida to Texas using an otter trawl net. Our net includes a “tickler chain” that moves just ahead of the opening to disturb the bottom sediment so that organisms swim up to be scooped up.

Diagram of an otter trawl net

Diagram of an otter trawl net used collect groundfish. Photo credit: http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/y7135e/y7135e06.htm

We tow for a short half hour at each station to get an idea of what species can be found at different locations. Fishing boats tow for much longer, hours at a time with larger nets. The cod end where the fish collect, is created by a knot beautifully tied by Chief Boatswain Tim Martin that holds during the tow but easily pulls open to release the catch which drops into large baskets. Tim works on the deck to launch the CTD (conductivity-temperature-dissolved oxygen probe) and the trawl net. The baskets are weighed and then dumped onto a conveyor belt to be sorted.

The otter trawl in action.

The otter trawl in action.

knot

This knot closes the net during a trawl but pulls open to release a catch.

 

We start by putting whatever looks alike together, which is much easier said than done. If it turns out to be tricky, the wet lab is equipped with a range of resource guides to reference. Once everything is sorted out, each species is individually sampled: the count of individuals, the total weight of that species, the lengths of up to 20 individuals, and the weight and sex of every fifth individual. This information is entered into Fisheries Scientific Computer Systems (FSCS) and added into a database that gets uploaded for public knowledge.

Everyone is lined up and sorting through fish. It's the first trawl of the cruise so the night shift got excited and joined us.

Everyone is lined up and sorting through fish. It’s the first trawl of the cruise so the night shift got excited and joined us.

 

 

For commercial species, such as shrimp and red snapper, every individual is measured and sexed; up to 200 for shrimp and up to 20 red snapper.

Shrimp and more shrimp. Brown shrimp, Farfantepenaeus aztecus to be specific!

Shrimp and more shrimp. Brown shrimp, Farfantepenaeus aztecus to be specific! NOAA’s FishWatch recommends them as a “smart seafood choice”. https://www.fishwatch.gov/profiles/brown-shrimp

It’s a lot of work, but data entry is relatively easy using a magnetic board. You line the specimen up at the end of the board and simply press the magnet at the end of the animal’s body. The board is connected to a computer and automatically sends the measurement when the magnet is pressed. The scale is also connected to a computer and sends that information directly. However, every species’ scientific name is manually entered into a list for each station before measurements are taken.

 

So many kinds of fish, but color is not a way to sort!

So many kinds of fish, but color is not a way to sort!

These data are primarily used by NOAA for stock assessments. By documenting species abundances, size and distribution, fishery managers can calculate catch quotas for the year that maintains healthy stocks. These data are also used by NOAA for their database to help you make sustainable seafood choices: https://www.fishwatch.gov/ .  It is also part of NOAA’s mission to be “Dedicated to the understanding and stewardship of the environment,” which is why everything that is captured is counted. Federal data are publicly available, so these surveys might be used by scientists to study a range of questions about any species that we counted, including the ecology of non-commercial species.

It’s really interesting to see exactly where seafood comes from. In the 10 miles or so between stations, the communities change drastically. Shrimp are abundant in east Texas, but not where blue crab start to appear in west Texas. It’s also interesting to see the different sizes (ages) of fish change between stations. One station brought in snapper over 10” long, while the next two stations delivered their 5-6” juveniles. Aside from that, I got the chance to handle so many species I’ve only seen on TV and never imagined that I would get to hold in my hand!

 

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Blue crabs, Callinectes sapidus. The two upturned crabs are females carrying eggs.

Blue crabs, Callinectes sapidus. The two upturned crabs are females carrying eggs.

“Don’t give it a knife!”

“Stop giving it things!”

-things you say when trying to separate blue crabs that are latched onto each other

It’s reassuring to see the Gulf teeming with gorgeous biological diversity as evidence that U.S. fisheries are responsibly managed and that we have a strong model of stewardship in our seas—SEAMAP Groundfish Survey literally only scratches the surface of the coastline.

 

Personal Log

The meals in the galley are great. Valerie McCaskill of Naples, FL and Arlene Beahm from Connecticut are the Stewards onboard and they work diligently to feed us delicious home cooked meals. I’ll be a few pounds heavier when you see me after this trip. “Arlene’s trying to kill you with food!” Tim observed. These two ladies are stand-in moms, making sure we have heaping plates at meal times and snack times and anytime in between.

Lunchtime

Finally got to eat some of the white shrimp we caught. And a whole steak for good measure. (Only the galley is allowed to take a part of the catch cook it for the ship.)

That’s a great thing because the 12 hour shifts work up an appetite. NOAA Ship Oregon II sails from one sampling station to the next, ranging from 5-12 miles in between, but as many as 20+ miles. On short runs, the next station comes up pretty quickly and we find ourselves finishing one just in time to start the next. We process four to five stations each shift with only short breaks during trawls.

It’s hugely humbling and an exercise in insecurity to watch the scientists work. At a glance they can recite the full scientific name of the hundreds of species that pour out of the net. I’ll be happy if I can come back with ten new species in my memory bank.

C. similis

Baby blue crabs? Nope, these are adult Callinectes similis, blue crabs are C. sapidus.

The researchers onboard have been doing this for years. Identifying species takes time and practice to learn like any other skill, and it showcases the dedication and fulfillment they find in this kind of work.

Alonzo Hamilton, left, and Taniya Wallace, right, enter species into FSCS.

Alonzo Hamilton, left, and Taniya Wallace, right, enter species into FSCS.

It’s hot, dirty work.  There’s no air conditioning in the wet lab and around 1000+ fish can be brought aboard at a station. I, and probably everybody else within smelling range, am grateful to have hot showers and laundry onboard. Kristin Hannan emphasizes that “field work isn’t for everyone, but you don’t have to work in the field to study marine science.” But, the wet lab is where you witness the enthusiasm that brings the crew and the scientists back day after day in the heat of July, year after year. Squeals of excitement and giant grins appear with favorite species: Calappa crabs (I learned a name!), triggerfish, beautiful snail and clam shells, the infamous mantis shrimp, a chance sea anemone and of course sharks to name a few. Fisherman James Rhue, a crewman who works with Tim and operates the winches, comes to check out (as in play with) the catch a couple times a day; the fishing crew must be as skilled with identifications as the researchers—they do it during their off hours. During the half hour of the tow, we are often talking about plankton diversity in the dry lab.

Kristin Hannan, a shark researcher, pauses to examine a young hammerhead.

Kristin Hannan, a shark researcher, pauses to examine a young hammerhead.

As satisfying as the work can be for some, the challenges certainly come with living on a relatively small boat built in a different time. While long overnight shifts sound tough, seasickness jumps to mind more readily when you say “boat”.  When you’re seasick, everyone volunteers a range of interesting remedies, from watching the horizon, which is qualified as BS; lying down; sleeping, which isn’t easy when you’re sick; eating to keep your stomach full, counterintuitive but actually a useful one; ginger candy; staying cool, which does not describe the wet lab; to just chewing on a chunk of raw ginger, distracting, I’m sure! The Teacher at Sea organizers recommend working to keep your mind off of the nausea. Arlene was also very kind and donated a couple of her seasickness patches to my cause. For me, standing outside and watching the waves for flying fish helped immensely in the few minutes between processing catches. And there is far too much work and creatures to see to think about my stomach.

The blue dots are sampling stations along the Texas coastline. The red line shows where we've been. Thankfully, we're not trying to hit every station, but there's plenty to do!

The blue dots are sampling stations along the Texas coastline. The red line shows where we’ve been. Thankfully, we’re not trying to hit every station, but there’s plenty to do!

 

Did You Know?

Although scientific names sound like gibberish, they are in Latin and often physical descriptions of the species. Portunus spinicarpus for example is a crab named for the long spike (spini) on its wrist (carpus).

P. spinicarpus

P. spinicarpus

Lagocephalus translates to “rabbit head”, the name given to the group of puffer fishes, but you might have to squint to see it.

 

Geoff Carlisle: Oregon II is to NOAA as Millennium Falcon is to Star Wars, June 10, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Geoff Carlisle
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 7 – June 20, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 10, 2018

 

Geoff & O2

My first day on the NOAA Ship Oregon II!

 

Science Log

Having spent a few days on the ship now, I’ve come to realize that NOAA Ship Oregon II is a lot like the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Han describes the Falcon by saying, “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid. I’ve made a lot of special modifications myself.” Every crew member and scientist that I’ve talked to talks about Oregon II like Han does about the Falcon. The typical conversation starts with them saying that she “may not look like much,” being the oldest and one of the smallest research vessels in the NOAA fleet. But without fail, they immediately begin talking about how versatile the boat is, thanks to the many modifications that have been made over the years (some even joke about how the boat itself may be 50 years old, but none of its parts are). The boat is covered with its many awards and achievements, and has the lowest crew turnover in the NOAA fleet (many of the crew members have worked on the ship for over 20 years!).

 

50 Years

You can see how much the ship has changed in its 50 years!

On Thursday, we began our two-day “steam” from the NOAA Ship Oregon II’s home port in Pascagoula, Mississippi, to Brownsville, Texas (near the border between the US and Mexico). Upon reaching Brownsville we’ll drop our first trawling nets at various stations, which are randomized locations where we’ll make our measurements.

The data we collect is part of the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey, which the Gulf states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida depend on to assess the health and vitality of groundfish in the Gulf of Mexico. For example, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD), the commercial shrimp season for both the state and federal waters  “is based on an evaluation of the biological, social and economic impact to maximize the benefits to the industry and the public.” Knowing that I helped with the “biological evaluation” they refer to makes the work feel important.

 

Personal Log

Common tern

Common tern (Sterna hirundo) which fly from Canada to Patagonia every year

Casting off from Pascagoula felt like getting a “best of” tour of the Mississippi Gulf. The first hour of sailing was filled with incredible views of wildlife: groups of pelicans buzzing the ship, terns hovering above the deck, and flocks of seabirds chasing after fishing ships hoping to catch a meal. Every few hours we also see pods of bottlenose dolphins playing in the boat’s wake, and schools of flying fish gliding alongside the boat. The diversity and abundance of life reminded me that the Gulf of Mexico is a fertile ecosystem, with so much to explore.

 

 

Dolphins chasing our boat!

Brown pelicans

Brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) skirting our boat

Fishing vessel

A common sight in the gulf: sea birds stealing from fishing nets

Can't beat the views

Can’t beat the views

Without stations to take measurements, I don’t have many responsibilities yet on the ship, so I spend most of my time getting to know the crew, reading, watching the ocean, and working out. I was worried about what two weeks at sea would do to my triathlon training (it’s the middle of racing season!), but luckily I found a stationary bike with an incredible view. The term “stationary” bike feels almost tongue-in-cheek though, as the boat’s rocking and rolling have caused me to tip over more than once. On the bright side, I’m getting more of an ab workout?

 

 

 

Space is very limited on the boat, so there are a number of pieces of etiquette you learn quickly:

  • If someone is coming down the stairs or a hallway, pull over – you can’t fit two people in any passageways
  • With 30 people on board, but only 12 seats in the galley, make your meals short so others can get in and sit down
  • Don’t sit up too quickly in bed (the pic below is my bed!)
Geoff's bunk on the ship

Geoff’s bunk on the ship

The boat is also constantly moving and humming. You learn quickly that you can’t move too quickly because of the large waves rocking the boat. While the gentle rocking of the ship can help lull you to sleep, every hour or so the waves get so rough that things start falling off of tables, which makes dinner time… fun?

One thing is for sure: the sunsets on the Gulf are unparalleled.

Sunset

The sunsets on the Gulf are unparalleled.

 

Did You Know?

British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams set text about the sea from American Poet Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” in his Symphony No. 1, “A Sea Symphony,” for chorus and orchestra. In the piece, Vaughan Williams paints a symphonic picture of the sea that transports the listener, making you feel as if you were at sea. Since setting sail a few days ago, I can’t get this piece out of my head. Have a listen!

https://open.spotify.com/user/1243186021/playlist/6lOxst2QezoMlnJ4TdYAn3?si=xnS-ZDUkQ82YkoEPvRcA2Q

Behold, the sea itself,
And on its limitless, heaving breast, the ships;
See, where their white sails, bellying in the wind, speckle the
green and blue,
See, the steamers coming and going, steaming in or out of port,
See, dusky and undulating, the long pennants of smoke.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Book XIII: Song of Exposition

Geoff Carlisle: Last Night in Texas, June 5, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Geoff Carlisle

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 7 – 20, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 5, 2018

Welcome!

Geoff's classroom

In my classroom at KIPP Austin College Prep

Hello! My name is Geoff Carlisle, and I’m joining the NOAA Ship Oregon II this summer as part of the NOAA Teacher At Sea program. Every few days I’ll be posting updates here about my experiences on the ship, so keep checking in for updates from the Gulf (and to see if I’ve fallen overboard)!

I’m so excited to fly to Pascagoula, Mississippi tomorrow to begin my trip. When I heard that I was selected to join this program, I felt like a kid again. For anyone who knows me, I wear my love of nature documentaries and the natural world on my sleeves, so the chance to live at sea and interact with sea creatures is a dream come true. My biggest hope for this trip is that I get to hold a shark (crossing my fingers)!

Weather Data from the Bridge (Well… Austin)

  • Latitude: 30.336 N
  • Longitude: 97.687 W
  • Water Temperature: —
  • Wind Speed: 5.2 knots
  • Wind Direction: S
  • Visibility: 8.67 nm
  • Air Temperature: 37.2 oC (99 oF)
  • Barometric Pressure: 1009.6 mbar
  • Sky: Clear
No hurricanes expected

Five-Day Graphical Tropical Weather Outlook

I have to admit, the idea of sailing in the Gulf of Mexico gives me as much trepidation as it does excitement. As a science teacher, the Gulf is synonymous with hurricanes. However, I was pleased to see that NOAA’s National Hurricane Center tweeted today, “no new tropical cyclones are expected during the next five days.” So I’ll be fine for at least that long.

Here in Austin, the heat is oppressive, with temperatures already reaching over 100 oF, and daily reminders from NPR that we are flirting with record highs. Daily life is consumed by heat-related questions: “Did I put the sun reflector up in my car so can actually sit in my car? Did I bring another shirt with me for when I inevitably sweat through the one I have on? Are people like me with Norwegian heritage even supposed to live this far south?” As a triathlete, I spend a lot of time training in conditions that mimic what I’ll see in a race. Since the direct sunlight and heat will be similarly intense at sea, I’m just treating each triple-digit day like a training session. A very sweaty training session.

 

Science and Technology Log

This summer, I will be joining the science team aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II on leg one of the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring & Assessment Program) Summer Groundfish Survey in the Gulf of Mexico.  This research is vital to the long-term sustainability of groundfish and shrimp populations in the Gulf. The three primary research objectives are:

  1. Provide near-real-time data on the size of shrimp in the gulf
  2. Aide in the evaluation of when to close the Texas shrimping season
  3. Measure the groundfish and shrimp stock across the northern Gulf of Mexico

Four ships across the Gulf, including the Oregon II (see below), conduct this research in June and July every year by casting long nets called trawl nets at different locations around the Gulf. These nets are reeled onto the ship’s deck, and the contents of the catch are brought inside to be sorted by species, sexed, measured, weighed, and the data recorded. Some particular species will be stored and brought back to labs on the mainland for research.

NOAA Ship Oregon II

NOAA Ship Oregon II (Photo Credit: Ensign Chelsea Parrish, NOAA)

  

Personal Log

College pennants

College pennants decorate the walls when you enter the school, giving a visual reminder to our school’s driving purpose.

Last week I completed my 8th year teaching middle school science. I began my teaching career as a Teach For America corps member in the Mississippi Delta, and have spent the past six years at KIPP Austin College Prep. KIPP is a national network of public charter schools that primarily serve students from underserved communities, and put them on the path to college. Every day when I enter school, the first thing I see when I come in the door is a sign that says “Home of the hardest working students in Austin,” and this couldn’t be more true. I came to KIPP because I wanted to be a part of a community of exceptional educators who are committed to educational equity. Being part of a mission-oriented organization makes every day feel urgent and purposeful, and I’m proud to call myself a KIPP teacher.

Watch the video to learn more about KIPP Austin!

As a science teacher, I know how important it is that my students have learning experiences outside of the classroom. Partnering with my immensely talented colleague Colleen Henegan, we secured a Bright Green Futures grant from the City of Austin to build the largest school-based aquaponics greenhouse in Central Texas. Our school is located in a federally-recognized food desert (an area where access to healthy foods is severely limited). The system was built largely by our own students, along with Google employees who volunteered their time. Aquaponics is a method of cultivating fish and plants together in a closed system that is vastly more energy-efficient and requires 90% less water than traditional agricultural methods. Our students are learning how to grow plants in an environmentally-conscious way that allows them to see how science can be used to solve real-world problems.

AP Environmental Science Teacher Colleen Henegan

AP Environmental Science Teacher Colleen Henegan testing the aquaponics system’s plumbing

Aquaponics demo system

Our demo system that I built to show how fish and plants can be grown together in symbiosis (fish are in the tank below, and cucumber are growing in lava rocks above!)

greenhouse

A photo of the greenhouse our students helped to build which now houses our system

Outside of teaching, I enjoy playing in an orchestra and training for triathlons (I’m training for my first Ironman 70.3 in October!).

Did You Know?

As a native of Oregon, being a crew member on Oregon II feels quite special. In my research about the ship, I was fascinated to learn that it has also achieved some major accomplishments:

  • Built in 1967, Oregon II is the longest-serving ship in the NOAA fleet. It has logged over 10,000 days at sea and traveled over 1,000,000 nautical miles, sailing as far south as the Amazon River Delta in Brazil, and as far north as Cape Cod, Massachusetts. (Source)
  • In 1998, Oregon II was the first United States Government ship to call at Havana, Cuba since 1959 when Fidel Castro took control of the country. The ship partnered with NOAA’s Cuban counterparts to research shark migration patterns. (Source)