Jordan Findley: One and a Wake Up, June 20, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jordan Findley

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

June 9-22, 2022

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 20, 2022

Science and Technology Log

Allow me to provide a summary of the survey and what was accomplished on this leg. June 9, we departed from Galveston and made our way out to sea. The survey started the next day. We traveled 1,866.6 nautical miles (or 2,148.04 miles) along the continental shelf. That’s like driving from Florida to California! On this leg of the survey we (they) deployed 169 cameras, 22 CTDs, 13 bandit reels, and 12 XBTs (still don’t know what that is). We collected 15 eDNA samples (go Caroline!) and mapped 732 nautical miles. This year’s survey started in April, and this was the last leg. We’re making our way back to Pascagoula (yes, I can pronounce it now), a near 28 hour transit. We will be docking and unloading at the Gulf Marine Support Facility. The next survey on the Pisces starts next week, deploying Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs). The science never stops, folks.

The SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey began as a fish trap survey in 1980’s and transitioned to a video survey in 1991, and the technology continues to evolve year after year. This over thirty years of data provides abundance and distribution information on Gulf of Mexico reef fish. Reef fish abundance and size data are generated directly from the videos. So though the work feels slow, it is essential. An index of abundance for each species is determined as the maximum number of a fish in the field of view in a single video frame. Here are some snippets of the footage recording during our trip.

A school of amber jacks recorded on the camera array.

*NOTE: The tiger shark shot was not from our leg of the survey, but too cool not to include.

This survey combined with all research approaches (i.e. traps, bandit reels, eDNA) allows for a comprehensive stock assessment of the fish populations in the Gulf of Mexico. Stock assessments collect, analyze, and report demographic information to estimate abundance of fish, monitor responses to fishing, and predict future trends. This significant data is used in managing fish populations and preserving our oceans resources.

Mapping Operations

One of the scientific operations I have not yet mentioned is bathymetric mapping. Senior Survey Technician Todd Walsh works the night shift running the mapping show – multibeam echo-sounder hydrographic survey to be precise. An echo-sounder determines the depth of the seafloor by measuring the time taken for sound echoes to return. The technology is impressive. Todd is straight up 3D mapping the bottom of the ocean. He watches it come to life, line by line. That’s freaking cool. I see you, Todd.

Though mapping occurred overnight, Todd was sure to point out any interesting finds in the morning. The Pisces mapped an area south of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and found an impressive geological feature hosting two mud volcanoes. A mud volcano is a landform created by the eruption of mud or slurries, water and gases. Man, the ocean floor is like a whole other world. It was so interesting to watch the mapping unfold right before your eyes. Maybe the seafloor will be my next destination.

Personal Log

The long days take their toll. This crew has worked so hard and is ready to decompress. Some have been out here for months and are counting down the days. You really can’t blame them. You ask anyone out here, “how many days?” and you will hear “three days and a wake up.” “Two days and a wake up.” “One day and a wake up.” They have all earned some serious rest and recovery, and long awaited time with their families and friends. I mean, I’d like to call them friends, but I get it, you can have lots of friends.

I cannot believe it is already my last day out here. Though each day felt like 100 hours, somehow it still flew by. The last CTD hauled out of the water last night marked the end of the SEAMAP survey. I cheer and shout in solitude and run round giving high fives. Good work, everyone! They are all exhausted, but certainly excited and proud of the work they have accomplished. Listen guys, if you aren’t proud, let me remind you that you most certainly should be.

The last day is the first sunrise I didn’t catch – sleeping in was just too tempting. Friends at home have to literally drag me out of bed to catch a sunrise, but out here, it just feels right. We ease into our day and clean and prepare the working spaces and equipment for arrival. I mop. That’s about all I am good for. TAS card. I spend the day roaming as usual, this time reflecting on my arrival and experience at sea. Time slows down even more (if you can believe that) when it’s your last day. I do my best to take in every last moment. I balance the day with some relaxation, a nice game of “bugs” with my pals, a good deal of snacking, revisiting the views, and saying my goodbyes.

Though thrilled to be heading back, most everyone finds their way outside for the last sunset. I soak up every colorful ripple. Mother Nature does not disappoint in those last hours. Dolphins put on a show jumping out of the water at a distance. The stars start to appear, not a cloud in the sky. I stargaze for what felt like hours. We’re greeted by multiple shooting stars. These are the moments I live for – when I feel most at rest. I am overcome with humility and gratitude.

I consider myself lucky to have met and worked with the Pisces crew. Every person on this trip has left an impression on me. From day one, the crew has been so welcoming and willing to let me participate, committed to providing me an exceptional experience. For that, I am grateful. I had so much fun learning from each department and goofing off with the best of them. The work that goes in to the research is remarkable, from navigation, the science, to vessel operations. I learned much more than expected. It’s hard to summarize my experience, but here are some valuable takeaways, in no particular order.

  • NOAA research is vital in protecting our most precious natural resource.
  • Ocean conservation is the responsibility of every one of us.
  • Remember why you do the job you do and the impact you have.
  • Never pass up an opportunity to learn or do something new.
  • Everyone should have the opportunity to connect to our natural world.
  • You can never see too many sunsets.
  • Expose your toes to the great outdoors.

I can’t express enough how grateful I am to have been selected for the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program and be a part of its mission. The experience was so much more than I could have even imagined. Participating in the research was so rewarding, and offered valuable insight into fisheries research and scientific operations. The questions never stopped coming. The novelty of the work kept me hooked. If there is one thing above all that I took away from this trip is – never stop learning. Continuous learning is what enhances our understanding of the world around us, in so many ways, and why I love what I do.

I look forward to sharing my experience with the many students I have the opportunity to work with, and hopefully inspiring them to continue to learn and grow, building a better understanding and appreciation for our planet. NOAA, your investment in me will not go unnoticed. The biggest THANK YOU to all involved in making this experience a reality.

We ride together, we die together. Pisces for life. – Junior

Lightning storm from afar.
Three dolphins surface for air.

Jordan Findley: Fishing, June 20, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jordan Findley
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 9-22, 2022

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 20, 2022

Science and Technology Log

Fishing Operations

Alright, it’s time for the good stuff, the moment you’ve been waiting for (whether you knew it or not). It’s fishing time. FPC Paul Felts monitors depth and habitat to determine suitable fishing sites. When the crew hears “I’d like to set up for bandit reels” over the radio, they come running. I mean they come out of the woodworks like the Brady Bunch on Christmas morn. Let me remind you, the days can be real slow out here. Lots of transiting and waiting. Fishing offers just enough excitement to keep us going.

Three bandit reels are deployed once or twice per day. I promptly insert myself into the fishing operation on day one. Thank you, Rafael and Junior. The reels are motorized and mounted to the side of the ship. The line starts with a weight and then ten baited hooks are clipped on. When deployed, it sinks to the bottom. We get five minutes. Five short minutes for the fish to bite. Boy does anticipation build in that five minutes. If you have a good one, you can feel it on the line. “One minute to haul back.” By this time, everyone is leaning over the side (the gunwale if you want to be fancy) staring at the water. “Reels two and three you can haul back.” “Reel one you can haul back.” We start reeling back in, from somewhere between 85-100 meters deep. Click, click, click on the reel as we impatiently wait.

We start to see a glimpse of the bait coming up around 40-60 meters and try to make out what we’ve hooked. RED SNAPPER! 11 red snapper caught between the three reels on the first fish. This is what I’m talkin’ about. I can handle two weeks of this. Everyone rotates between stations to see what we caught and we all celebrate like we just won some sort of tournament. Let’s remember folks, we are doing this for science. All fish captured on the bandit reels are identified, measured, weighed, and have the sex and maturity determined. Select species have otoliths and gonads collected for age and reproductive research. I excitedly follow the science crew into the lab to get the run down.

*Read no further if you are squeamish.*

The work up of the fish start with some measurements and weights. Of course it immediately became a competition. Game on. Now these fish aren’t your regular ol’ fish. These suckers are huge. Next we dissect the fish to extract and weigh the gonads. That’s right, I said gonads. You can learn the age and maturity of a fish by examining a sample of the gonads under a microscope. From that, you can estimate lifespan, spawning patterns, growth rate, and possibly even migration patterns. Knowing the age distribution of a fish population helps to better monitor, assess, and manage stocks for long-term benefits. Fish gonads, that’s a first for me.

Next step is the fun part, extracting the otolith. Otoliths (ear bones) are calcium carbonate structures found enclosed inside the heads of bony fish. This bone tells us how old the fish is. Otoliths are removed from the fish’s head either by entering through the top of the head or by pulling back the gills. At first, I observe. They really get in there. By the third or so time, I am ready to get my hands dirty. Remove the gills and start digging. Once you find the inner ear, you crack it open and inside is the otolith. Some species are much easier than others. It’s no walk in the park folks. One grouper took us two hours. It’s like a real life game of operation. Though intense, it’s a fun challenge.

On this leg of the survey we caught 20 red snappers, 2 silky snappers, 1 queen snapper, 2 scamp, 1 marbled grouper, 1 yellow edge grouper, and 1 red porgy. Sampling these organisms strengthens the data. Employing multiple research methods produces a comprehensive description and interpretation of the data. The workup of the fish was one of my favorite parts of this experience. Not only did I actually get to participate in the research, I learned valuable new skills, most of which I teach about, but have never had the chance to do it. This is the exact reason I applied for the Teacher at Sea Program.

Have I convinced you that science is cool yet?

Meet the Deck Crew

I’d like to give a shout out to my friends on the deck. NOAA Ship Pisces couldn’t do the research they do without the Deck Department – Chief Boatswain James, Lead Fisherman Junior, and ABs Dee and JB. The Deck keep up general maintenance of the boat and on deck, operate equipment and machinery, support scientific operations, and stand watch. These guys might be salty, but they have good spirits and make me smile. I have enjoyed every minute working with them.

Personal Log

Yesterday, we did another fire drill. This time, with the help of firefighter Jordan Findley. LT Duffy set me up to participate in the drill. He shows me the gear and how it works. It’s hot up in there. Two days later when the alarm sounds, I jump to attention. Not really. It took me a minute to remember I was involved. I pop up out of my usual lounging in the lab and swiftly head out to the deck. 0% do I remember where I am supposed to go. Thank god I pass JO ENS Gaughan. She points me in the right direction. By the time I make it to the locker, they’re all dressed out and on their way to “fight the fire.” They’re impressive.

Though late to the game, JB helps me get suited up and I head down to the scene. As you might expect, the “fire” is out by the time I arrive. I provided moral support. Following the drill, we (I trail behind and try not to trip) walk the hose outside to test the pressure. I get to shoot this sucker over the side. I can barely even hold the nozzle in place. LT Duffy comes in for reinforcement on the hose and I go for it. I sprinkle here, I sprinkle there, hose checks out. Good deal. This was a blast. See what I did there?  Later I come to find they had stamped the hose nozzle with my name as a memento. This is such a thoughtful way to remember my time on NOAA Ship Pisces. I shall carry it with me always. Not true, this thing is heavy, but I will certainly cherish it.  I have so much respect for our firefighters and first responders (on board and beyond), and even more so today.

At this point, I have been out at sea for 12 days. That’s a record for me. My previous PR is one night on a lake in Indiana. I really had no idea what to expect on this trip. I was pretty nervous I would be violently ill and concerned I may not sleep and they wouldn’t have enough coffee to sustain me. None of these were issues, actually far from it, and man am I grateful. No seasickness, I’ve slept like a baby, and there is coffee for days. They even have espresso. Winning. They’ve really spoiled me out here. We have had some really tasty meals, including the fish. No fish goes to waste! I am going to miss being out here at sea. I think I might stick around.

Did You Know?

Wearing gloves, Jordan uses tweezers to hold up an extracted otolith at eye level.

So you now know that otoliths are basically ear bones. What is cool about them is that they grow throughout the life of a fish, leaving traces on the ear bone. Seasonal changes in growth are recorded on the bone and appear as alternating opaque and translucent rings. Under a microscope, scientists count the number of paired opaque and translucent rings, or annuli, to estimate the age of a fish. Just like trees!

Jordan Findley: Doin’ Science, June 17, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jordan Findley
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 9-22, 2022

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 17, 2022

Weather Data

Location: 28°05.1 N, 091°53.3 W
Sky: Clear
Temperature: 85 °F
Wind: north, 5 kts.
Waves:

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Science and Technology Log

We are continuing our path due east. We (they) have surveyed 14 different banks and dropped 102 cameras.

*NERD ALERT*

Along the way we have been collecting water samples that contain environmental DNA (eDNA), and mapping at night. Caroline Hornfeck, graduate student at the University of West Florida, is collecting water samples once daily and at additional fixed sites. She is working under Dr. Alexis Janosik, participating in a multiyear study of reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and NOAA. The project’s goal is to characterize reef fish diversity in the northwest Gulf of Mexico using molecular tools and techniques.   

Environmental DNA is a molecular tool used in aquatic ecosystems. eDNA contains DNA from all organisms in the water column. This DNA can be in the form of gametes (reproductive cells), fish scales, waste, etc. This approach is noninvasive and cost-effective, and does not require contact with the organism. Caroline collects test tubes of water, adds some magical juice that causes a chemical reaction, and the DNA begins to solidify in the test tube. You with me? THIS is real science.

Later in the lab, the eDNA is extracted and the samples are run through polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR amplifies (multiplies) genes and the sample is sent to a lab for additional science. Fancy technology makes millions of copies of the DNA. You piece it all together and use the data to assess reef fish diversity. Essentially, eDNA is like taking attendance in the reef community. Roll call.

I will leave it at that, though it’s much more complex. I am starting to remember why I avoided molecular biology.  Caroline, I’m impressed.

Meet the Science Crew

Paul Felts
Field Party Chief, Fisheries Biologist

Field Party Chief Paul Felts holds up two fish sampled during the reef fish survey

What do you enjoy most about your job? “It’s the field work that I enjoy most. I love being out on the water (in moderation), participating in the various surveys. I have been a part of so many fun surveys – reef fish, snapper longlines, trawls, plankton, and mammals. I appreciate getting a break from the desk, reviewing footage, and annotating the research. I also enjoy working with the crew and building team camaraderie.”

What is the coolest animal you have seen or worked with? “It’s tough to decide. I have seen all sorts of cool stuff. One mammal survey we were out on the smaller boat and a sperm whale breached about 100-200 yards from the boat. Later those whales were lying on their sides at the surface with full bellies, seemingly just resting after a meal. The giant stingray and thresher shark are up there on my favorites as well.”

Paul is the Field Party Chief. He’s been with NOAA for 21 years. As a Fisheries Biologist at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Paul studies fish populations and their impacts. He knows every fish in the sea (or at least close). Out here, Paul coordinates scientific operations. He has to be on every minute of every day, and deal with the crews’ shenanigans, yet still shows up each morning with a smile on his face, ready to take on the day.

Amanda Ravas
Fisheries Biologist

Fisheries Biologist Amanda Ravas, wearing a hard hat and a life vest, grips the side of a camera array resting on deck

What do you enjoy most about your job? “My favorite part about my job is being out in the field… as long as I’m not seasick. Because I’m still so new, I love learning all the ins and outs of the projects, seeing the species I’ve been watching on our videos in person, and hearing stories from other scientists about all the cool projects they’ve been a part of.”

What is the coolest animal you have seen or worked with? “The coolest animal I’ve seen while out in the field is a manta ray which followed our boat for a few minutes as we were making our transit back ashore. And I always get super excited seeing any shark species while out at sea.”

Amanda is a Fisheries Biologist at the Panama City Laboratory. She’s been with NOAA for two years. She studies fish populations and their impacts. She may be tiny, but she’s mighty. Don’t underestimate her. She knows her stuff, and knows it well, and can keep up with the best of them.

Rafael Ortiz
Program Support Specialist

Program specialist Rafael Ortiz, wearing a hard hat, life vest and gloves, holds a hook over a plastic bucket

What do you enjoy most about your job? “I enjoy being part of the NOAA Fisheries Mission at the MSLABS level. Being an administrator I find myself lucky to participate on various surveys with the scientist. I get to build a great working relationship and many friendships with them. I learn so much from them. Everything from science related topics to personnel life topics. I also feel that they have a higher respect for me than just some admin person.”

What is the coolest animal you have seen or worked with?  “Oh so many to list. I’ve seen so much diversity on these surveys that it’s hard to list. I’m always amazed at what comes out of the ocean and the thought of things I’ve not seen or will never see. I’m fascinated by the smallest to the biggest ocean animals.”

Rafael is a Program Support Specialist. He has been with NOAA for seven years. He provides oversight, technical expertise, and support to personnel and field biologists. But don’t let him fool you; he’s a biologist at heart. These scientists are lucky to have him out here at sea. He works hard, and best of all, keeps everyone in good spirits.

Kenneth Wilkinson
Electronics Technician

Electronics technician Kenneth Wilkinson, wewaring a hard hat and life vest, stands by a bandit fishing reel

What do you enjoy most about your job? “All of it. I have done just about every survey – plankton, sharks, small pelagic, reef fish, Caribbean reef fish, and more. I have worked closely with NOAA enforcement, installing vessel monitoring systems and reporting illegal fishing. Surveillance in the Keys was a lot of fun. I enjoyed being down there. Most recently, I operate NOAA drones.”

What is the coolest animal you have seen or worked with?  “The first to come to mind is the 12 ft. tiger shark during a longline survey. I also enjoyed building satellite tags and tagging sea turtles.”

Kenny is an Electronics Technician at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center. He has been with NOAA for 32 YEARS. He handles all the equipment from scientific to shipboard navigation and communication. What would we do without Kenny? This survey, as well as most, relies entirely on the technology. Kenny keeps us in check. I mean he’s the only one that knows what a transmissometer is.

Caroline Hornfeck
Graduate Student, University of West Florida

Graduate student Caroline Hornfreck, wearing a hard hat, life vest, and gloves, sits at a desk in the wet lab aligning sample tubes in a styrofoam holder

What do you enjoy most about your job? “What I enjoy most about being a student in this field, is always adapting and learning new skills that can help me grow as a scientist. Whether that’s in the classroom, research lab at the University of West Florida, or aboard NOAA research vessels.”

What is the coolest animal you have seen or worked with? “One of the coolest animals I have seen is a spotted eagle ray. I hope further down in my research career I can work with elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and rays) and implement better conservation management for keystone species.”

Caroline earned her B.S. in Marine Biology at the University of West Florida. She is pursuing her Master’s at UWF. She is doing real science out here. Are you even a scientist if you don’t collect DNA? This girl is going places for real.

Personal Log

When 2 or 3 o’clock rolls around, I have to shake things up a bit. I’ve started making rounds just to say hello and see what people are up to. I remind folks that what they do is really cool. I make my way to the bridge usually once or twice to bother them a bit. This is where the ship is commanded. It looks like some sort of spaceship up here. I roam around and try to make sense of the many gadgets and screens. Take a peek out the windows. The sun reflects intensely on the water. It’s hella bright out here.

Operations Officer, LT Christopher Duffy, asks “Do you want to drive?” I look over my left shoulder, I look over my right. Oh, he’s talking to me. “Uh, yeah I do.” I have absolutely no clue what I just signed up for. He seems to think I can handle it. I get the run down. The helm is the steering wheel – check. The main engine controls the propulsion – check. Then there are the bow thrusters. From what I understand, they are basically propellers on the side of the boat. I’m not really sure. I just know they improve maneuverability.

Navigation is an art and science. They transit to specific destinations and position and maneuver the ship and make it look easy. Navigators measure the distance on the globe in degrees. If you have forgotten, like I seemed to have, like a circle, the Earth has 360°. Compasses have four cardinal points (directions), right? – North (N), East (E), South (S), and West (W). Well, turns out when you’re real official, you use degrees instead of directions. As if directions weren’t confusing enough. LT Duffy, “When I say 10° right, you do just that and confirm when you’re there.” I can handle that. “Ten right.” I work with LT Duffy to retrieve our next buoy. Huddleston keeps a careful eye. This is fuuunnnnn. “You ready for a hard right?” “Like all the way?” Seems questionable. Oh he’s serious. “Hard right rudder.” SKKKIIIIRRRRRTTTTTTT. Man this thing can move. We Tokyo drift right into position. Nailed it. LT Duffy takes control to finish positioning (I made it easy for him). I’m grinning ear to ear.

“Are you comfortable giving commands?” “Yep.” The overconfidence kicks in. First things first, CONN candy. What’s that you ask? The officers up here have a secret drawer of tasty treats that they’ve been hiding from us this whole time. Gotta have some before taking command. Wait, what am I doing? LT Duffy explains, “You’ll be giving commands to LTJG, Ariane Huddleston, while she steers.” Uhhhhhhh. I see the fear in her eyes. “Just repeat after me.” Huddleston takes the wheel and I “give commands.” It clicks. This is my time to shine. I “very well’d” the heck out of those commands. So much fun, thank you crew!

Did You Know?

You know all those horrid COVID tests you had to take? You were doin’ science right there. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests genetic material (fluid from the nasal swab). The test detects the virus that causes COVID-19. Scientists use the PCR technology to amplify small amounts of RNA from specimens into DNA, which is replicated until SARS-CoV-2 is detectable if present. It’s cool stuff guys.

Jordan Findley: Ready for the Drop, June 13, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jordan Findley
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 9-22, 2022

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 13, 2022

Weather Data

Location: 27°52.1 N, 93°16.5 W
Sky: Scattered clouds, hazy
Temperature: 85 °F
Wind: south, 13 kts.
Waves: 1-2 ft.

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Safety Onboard

Obviously, safety is of the utmost importance out here at sea. Respect. When working on deck, crew must wear life vests, hard hats, sometimes safety belts, and closed-toe shoes. I don’t know how these people wear closed-toe shoes all day long. I hate it. My piggies are suffocating. 

The plan of the day for Friday (6/10) included safety drills at noon. Noon rolls around and I am not really sure what to do. No surprise there. Confirm with Paul what to do and where to be. Oh, okay. Amanda, Caroline, and I go grab our safety getup and start to head to our assigned life raft muster stations (where we gather). On the way down, Commanding Officer LCDR Jeffery Pereira, passes by. “Wow, you ladies are ready.” …… something tells me it’s not quite time. We promptly return to our stateroom. I casually go check our muster stations. Yep, there’s no one. Turns out drills commence with a signal. I’m on to you CO, you just getting a kick out of us roaming around like fools with our safety gear. It’s okay, I have accepted my role onboard.

We run through fire and abandon ship drills. At sea, everyone aboard ship, be they crew, scientist, or passenger, is a member of the fire department. When the alarm sounds, everyone jumps to respond. My response, go to the back deck and wait. Meanwhile, the crew is hard at work donning firefighting PPE and preparing fire stations. Great work, team!

Then we move on to the abandon ship drill. Abandoning ship in the open sea is an action of last resort. Only when there is no reasonable chance of saving the ship will the order ever be given to abandon it. When signaled, everyone reports to their assigned life raft muster station with their protective survival gear. We throw on our survival suits, or immersion suits, and in the actual event, would launch the life rafts. This immersion suit is intended to protect your body while out in the open ocean. Now, I know safety is serious business, but these suits are ridiculous looking. We somehow make them look good. I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again – safety is sexy.

Science and Technology Log

We spent our first day at a reef known as Claypile Bank, approximately 80 miles offshore. The second day we headed to East Flower Garden Banks, 125 miles offshore. Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary was expanded from 56 mi² to 160 mi² to protect critical habitat in the Gulf of Mexico in 2021 and is now made up of 17 different reefs and banks. Cameras were dropped at around 48 meters (or 157 ft) the first go around and 116 meters (380 ft) the second. Since the start, we have sampled Rankin Bank, Bright Bank, and started on Geyer Bank, with a total of 62 cameras deployed. That’s a lot of cruisin’ and droppin’.

Camera Operations

Let’s talk about these cameras. Deploying and retrieving cameras occurs ALL DAY LONG. Man, the days are long. Here is a quick summary of the work…

Dropping the camera

There are two camera arrays, one 48” tall and the other 36” tall. These things are beastly. Each Spherical/Satellite camera array has six video cameras and a satellite camera, battery, CTD, tensiomet… tramsmiss…  transmit…. What it is Ken? … TRANSMISSOMETER (measures visibility/turbidity), sonar transmitter, trawl net ball, and bait bag. The first camera goes out at 7 AM and the last by 6:15 PM. Predetermined sampling sites are selected along the U.S. continental shelf using random stratified selection (dividing the area into subgroups).

When at the site, cameras are lifted by the A-frame, dropped with the yank of a chain, and boom, they sink to the bottom. They sit on the seafloor and soak (record footage) for 30 minutes. First camera goes in, we head to the next site, second camera goes in, we retrieve the first, we retrieve the second, and repeat.

Though the deployment itself only takes like two minutes, there is a lot of coordination involved. It’s amazing how the Bridge (NOAA Corps), Deck, and Lab crews work together to effectively deploy and retrieve the cameras. The communication is nonstop. Field Party Chief (FPC if you know him), Paul Felts, is the brains of this operation. Paul keeps scientific operations running smoothly, providing coordinates to selected sites, monitoring conditions, keeping time, processing data, and I am sure so much more. This guy doesn’t stop. The Bridge are they eyes and ears – they are on watch, navigating to sites, and maneuvering and position the ship all while working against the elements. You guys deserve more credit than that, I know. The Deck are the hands (this is a terrible analogy, but I am committed at this point) – they are operating the deck equipment, raising and lowering cameras, and working the lines and buoys. I, Teacher at Sea Jordan Findley, am the appendix. I have potential, but am mostly useless, and can be a real nuisance from time to time.

Personal Log

We are almost one week in and I am still just as excited as day one. Have I encountered challenges, yes, but being out here in the middle of the Gulf is something special. I am greeted every day with a beautiful sunrise and evening sunset. It is spectacular. The water is so beautiful. One of the things I really hadn’t considered to impact my experience at sea is how amazing the people would be. You all inspire me. Every single person on this ship has been so kind and accommodating, allowing me to participate and taking the time to teach me, despite how long they’ve been out at sea or how long their day has been. It’s like one big (mostly) happy family out here. They have me cracking up all the time. Now, they could just be on their best behavior for the ol’ teach (that’s me), but I am convinced they’re just good people. I mean, I even like most of them before my morning coffee. That’s something right there.

I think I am getting my groove. On a typical day on the ship, we wake up at 6 AM (oof), breakfast, then to the lab. I like to take a minute on the back deck to drink my coffee and look out over the water. First deployment (CTD and camera) is at 7 AM. They do some science, and then continue to deploy and retrieve cameras about every 10-30 minutes until sunset. I pop in and out of the lab all day to observe, but try to keep myself busy. When I am not “helping out,” you will find me in my office. Some call it the mess. I don’t mind. It’s also conveniently where all the food is prepared and served, and where the coffee and snacks are located.

We all refuel on coffee during lunch. Shout out to Paul for making that coffee a real punch in the face. Fishing occurs in the afternoon, almost daily. More to come on this, but man it is fun. The rest of the day is a waiting game (at least for me). Living on a ship is weird; there is only so much you can do. Honestly, the first couple of days, I had some concern I might die of boredom, but as things progressed, I got more involved in every aspect of the operation – even driving this beast! Also, been trying to sneak in a workout. Don’t forget to hydrate. That breaks up the day a bit. Dinner rolls around at 5 PM. All I do is eat. I have been eating like a grown man. The crew starts to wrap things up, reset for the next day, and then transition to mapping operations. The day isn’t complete without watching the sunset. Then we just hunker in until bedtime. The ship “rock-a-bye babies” everyone to sleep.

Generally speaking, I have improved immensely on my ability to open doors – solid 8/10. Those heavy brown doors though, they still kick me in the butt on my way through. I am learning my way around the ship for the most part. Mmmm, kind of. There is a door like every five feet. What I have not improved on is my ability to walk. I am walking all sorts of ways but straight. Everyone stands clear when I walk by. They say you’ll get your sea legs, but I am not sure I am convinced.

Did You Know?

A continental shelf is the edge of a continent that lies under the ocean. Though underwater, continental shelves are still considered part of the continent. The boundary of a continent is not the coastline, but the edge of the shelf. The shelf extends to a drop-off point called the shelf break. From the break, the shelf descends deep to the ocean floor. Depths of the shelf where we sample range from 45-165 meters, mostly because it gets to be too dark much past that. The depth of the Gulf of Mexico can be more than 5,000 meters deep! Sorry friends, I am done converting units – we’re doing science out here. Just know that it’s deep.

Jordan Findley: Underway, June 10, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jordan Findley
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 9-22, 2022

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 10, 2022

Weather Data

Partly cloudy
Temperature: 82 °F
Wind: northeast, 10 kt.
Waves: 2 ft.

Track NOAA Ship Pisces

Science and Technology Log

NOAA Ship Pisces will conduct a survey of reef fish located on the U.S. continental shelf and shelf-edge of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) from April 19 through June 22, 2022 (we are doing the last leg of the survey). 536 sites have been selected to be sampled with Spherical/Satellite array, bandit reels, and CTD during daylight hours and mapping at night.

CTD Operations

CTD casts will be conducted twice a day. CTD stands for conductivity (ability to pass an electrical current), temperature, and depth and it is an instrument that measures just that. The CTD is the key to understanding the physics, chemistry, and biology of the water column. The CTD will also collect water for eDNA (Environmental DNA) sampling. Organisms leave traces of their DNA in their environment (e.g. hair, skin, feces) and from that, scientists can run genetic tests to determine what species are present in a given area.

Camera Operations

Camera operations will utilize three Spherical/Satellite camera arrays. The cameras are baited and sit on the seafloor for 30 minutes. During the soak, the cameras capture footage of the biodiversity. Scientists use the footage to complete a stock assessment analysis. That data combined with other research helps scientists estimate the abundance of fish populations.

Fishing Operations

Bandit reels (basically industrial fishing poles) are deployed after cameras are retrieved. The bandit reels are set up like longlines. The line sits vertically in the water column. When the weighed end of the line reaches the bottom, a surface float is attached to the line. Ten baited hooks are evenly spaced on the bottom 20-30 ft. of the line. All fish captured on the bandit reels are identified, measured, weighed, and have the sex and maturity determined. Select species will have otoliths (ear bones) and gonads collected for age and reproductive research.

Mapping Operations

Bathymetric mapping (basically 3D mapping of the seafloor) will be conducted in and around selected sites at night with the EM 2040 sonar. Sonar emits sound pulses and detects their return after being reflected. Science is cool. A CTD cast will be conducted to obtain speed-of-sound for proper processing of data.

a bathymetric chart of Southeastern U.S. waters, from Texas to around the east coast of Florida. inshore is shallow, colored in reds and oranges, marking the continental shelf. The deepest portions of the Gulf of Mexico are still much shallower than the Atlantic waters east of Florida.
Bathymetry of the Northern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean East of Florida. Photo courtesy of NOAA Geophysical Data Center.

Personal Log

I was dropped off at my hotel at around 8 PM on Tuesday and could see the ship from the road. It sinks in. (NOT THE SHIP! – This had me laughing out loud.) This is actually happening. Suddenly there’s no time for checking in; I headed straight to the wharf, luggage in tow. Completely awestruck, like a giddy school girl, I proceed to walk up and down the length of the boat numerous times taking an embarrassing number of photos. The crew is just staring at me, I’m sure getting a kick out of this crazy tourist. A lovely gentleman (also geeked about the boat) leaned in, “cool boat, huh?”… I’M GOING ON THAT BOAT THURSDAY. Good lord, Jordan, be cool. I basically screamed in his face. He was the sweetest, and a teacher himself. “I know the trip is going to be everything you wanted.” I melt. Gee thanks, Pat.

Our departure was delayed a few hours, which gave me some time settle in and awkwardly roam the ship. This thing is massive (compared to what I know).  I believe it has seven levels. My attempts to open and close doors quickly became a comedy act for any spectators. I was introduced to my roommates at 6 AM. Ain’t nobody trying to chit-chat at 6 AM. I share a stateroom with Amanda Ravas, NOAA Fisheries Biologist, and Caroline Hornfeck, graduate student at the University of West Florida. Caroline is collecting water for eDNA sampling. They are around my age (or at least I’d like to think so), and have been so kind and helpful. It is their first time on Pisces as well, but each are experienced and very knowledgeable. They’ve made me feel right at home, and I feel are going to be a major part of my experience out at sea.  Women in science – go team!  

Operations Officer (NOAA Corps), LT Christopher Duffy, was so kind as to take me under his wing and invite me to the bridge (control room) to observe departure. This was so cool. Navigation is quite the operation. I guess now that I’ve seen it, duh, this boat is massive and the port was so busy with vessels of all sizes. Seven NOAA officers worked together to get us underway safely. Lots of standing on watch and communication involved. They were constantly shouting commands and numbers, and repeating. All confirmed communication was acknowledged with a “very well.” I found this amusing. One of my favorite lines heard while observing was, “There’s a pleasure boat on the port quarter.” “Very well.”

I will now start saying “very well” in my everyday life.

Last mention for now – I haven’t been seasick (so far)! Those that know me well know that is a major accomplishment for me. (As if I had say in the matter).

I am so happy to be here and to have the opportunity to learn from all of the crew (in every department). I am already so impressed by each of them.

Did You Know?

Well most of us do know that water and electricity make a dangerous pair; but, did you know that it’s not water itself that conducts the electricity? It’s the minerals and such dissolved in it. The saltier the water, the more electricity it conducts. Pure water is actually an excellent insulator and does not conduct electricity, but you will never find pure water in nature. Whoa. I went down a rabbit hole with conductivity.

Also random, but kind of fun, the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program started in 1990, the year I was born. NOAA Ship Pisces was commissioned in 2009, the year I graduated high school.

Jordan Findley: Another Teacher at Sea (Finally), June 5, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jordan Findley
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 9-22, 2022

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 5, 2022

Series of Events

In October of 2019, I learned of the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. Without hesitation – yep, sign me up, and applied in November. In January of 2020, I received the following message: 

Dear Applicant,

On behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Teacher at Sea Selection Committee, we are pleased to inform you that you were selected to be a finalist for the 2020 season! Now onto the next steps…

Stoked. Couldn’t be more thrilled. February 2020, medically cleared and ready for the more information call. 

(Insert Record Scratch Sound Effect)

January 2020, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirms the first U.S. laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19, and by March of 2020 the United States declares a nationwide emergency. On March 9, 2020, I was notified of the cancellation of the 2020 NOAA Teacher at Sea season in response to the pandemic. 

As for all of us, COVID put a screaming halt to my travel plans, but more importantly the world around us. As the pandemic progressed, the 2021 Teacher at Sea season was also canceled. No, this is not a blog about COVID, and I am in no way downplaying the impact of the pandemic, but it is a part of my story. I, much like all of us, have gained a great deal of perspective, patience, and gratitude (and maybe a few gray hairs) during the last two years, and the anticipation of this trip has made me that much more grateful and excited for the opportunity to participate this season.

Okay, back to the good stuff. March 2022, we are back in action and in April, I received the official cruise offer. NOW I can get excited. In just a few days, June 9-22, 2022, I will be participating in a Gulf SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey on NOAA Ship Pisces. The Pisces will conduct a survey of reef fish on the U.S. continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico using a custom built spherical stereo/video stationary camera systems and bandit reels. The ship’s EM 2040 multibeam system will be used to map predetermined targeted areas on a nightly basis to improve or increase the reef fish sample universe. A patch test of the EM 2040 multibeam echosounder….

You lost yet? Yea, me too. Looking forward to learning what this actually entails. I shall follow up in layman’s terms.

NOAA Ship Pisces at sea, viewed from above.
NOAA Ship Pisces (R-226). Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Introduction

Oh, ahem. Let me introduce myself. Hi, I’m Jordan Findley.

My resume reads, “I am an environmental professional dedicated to demonstrating environmental advocacy and sustainability, while fostering a generation of future environmental stewards.” Professional is relative here. My professional background is in husbandry and environmental education. On a personal level, those who know me well might describe me as an educator, traveler, and outdoor enthusiast. My interests have always aligned with nature, wildlife, and the outdoors and I am continually astonished by our planet and passionate about protecting it.

I grew up in rural Indiana and spent all of my time outside. At an early age, I gained an appreciation for a simple life, a grand adventure, and the beauty of the natural world around me; and that is the essence of my being. I would simply describe myself as a bit of a wanderer with a thirst for life and motivation to inspire others. I’ve spent my entire existence chasing the next big opportunity, and because of that, life has afforded me some amazing opportunities. I often hear, “I live vicariously through you,” but that really isn’t my hope. My hope is that I inspire and empower others to have their own amazing experiences in life, do what they love, and be the best version of themselves.

“Professional” Profile

To be honest, my background is all over the place and true to myself. I hold a B.A. in Zoology and M.A. in Biology from Miami University (that’s Ohio). My education provided fundamental knowledge of animal, environmental, and social sciences and science education. I traveled to Mexico, Australia, and Kenya during graduate school to study human impact on the environment and community-based approaches to conservation. These experiences abroad vastly broadened my view of the world and the environmental challenges it faces.

I worked seasonally until hired as an educator at Tampa Bay Watch (TBW) in 2016. I will spare you all the details of me bouncing from job to job, but I will say it was then that I had some of the most unique experiences and learned of my passion for education. As much as I thought otherwise, I am an educator at heart, but I knew the classroom was never for me. And though I have mad, mad respect for formal educators (you are all saints), I knew that any facilitation I would be doing had to take place outside. Experiential education became my niche and has been such a rewarding job. I get to teach about what I love, be immersed in nature, and be a part of creating meaningful experiences.

As the Education Program Coordinator at Tampa Bay Watch, I coordinate and facilitate field trips and camps for students K-12 known as Estuary EDventures. Our programs hosted at the Auer Marine Education Center in Tierra Verde, FL focus on estuary ecology and conservation. Students are exposed to the wonders of our natural world through hands-on, marine science labs and immersive field experiences. Our most popular programs are otter trawling and seining. Why wouldn’t they be? We have so much fun collecting animals of the bay, learning about their unique adaptations, and connecting to the marine environment.

A typical trawl at Tampa Bay Watch finds crabs, seahorses, pufferfish, and other organisms [no sound].

Another view of organisms sampled in a trawl [no sound].

Ready for Sea

I cannot even describe how excited I am to be out at sea working with scientists, and learning something new. Let’s be real, I am not sure I really know what to expect, but I’m here for it.

My time at sea will be spent in my home waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I have so much to learn from this trip and such a great platform to share that knowledge thereafter. I am inspired by the students I see every day, some of whom experience a sea star or puffer fish for the first time. The spark in their eyes I will carry with me on this trip. I have been teaching marine science informally for nearly six years and it never ceases to amaze me. I mean, it’s pretty amazing, right? Our oceans are essential for life and home to millions of species, and its conservation is one of the greatest challenges our scientists face. 

I am so incredibly grateful to have been selected to participate in the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. The allure to this program was the opportunity to be immersed in the research, the hands-on, real-world experience at sea. The goal is to provide my students first-hand exposure to the exciting NOAA research projects at sea. Making their learning relevant through my experience will hopefully ignite a curiosity and excitement for science and build a better understanding and appreciation for our planet.

Let the fun begin!

David Madden: Waves – Dolphins, Flying Fish, Sea to Sky, August 19, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15-29, 2019 


Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

Date: August 19, 2019

WAVES: Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces: Dolphins, Flying Fish (video has no dialogue, only music)

This video was captured during my NOAA Teacher at Sea cruise aboard NOAA Ship Pisces. During the cruise I spent lots of time outside on the deck gazing into the blue seascape. Here’s some of the footage I collected.

David Madden: Tiger Shark! Fish Trap Footage, August 19, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15-29, 2019


Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

Date: August 19, 2019

Tiger Shark! NOAA Ship Pisces Underwater Camera Action (video has no dialogue, only music)

This video is a collection of fish trap camera footage recorded during my NOAA Teacher at Sea adventure aboard NOAA Ship Pisces. Very special thanks to the NOAA science team: Zeb Schobernd – chief scientist and especially Mike Bollinger and Brad Teer – camera and gear experts.

David Madden: All Hands on Deck, August 8, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15-29, 2019


Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

Date: August 8, 2019

All Hands on Deck (video has no dialogue, only music)

I made this video while aboard NOAA Ship Pisces as part of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program. I thought it might be cool to capture the different kinds of work the crew, NOAA Officers, and scientists were doing. Pretty much everyone thought I was a little weird when asking to video just their hands. Oh well. I think it turned out kinda cool.

Special thanks to the folks aboard Pisces. Keep in mind – if anyone in this video gets a hand modeling contract, I get 40%. Thank you. The NOAA science team was particularly helpful: Zeb Schobernd – chief scientist, Todd Kennison, Brad Teer, Mike Bollinger, Zach Gillum, Mike Burton, Laura Bacharach, Dave Hoke, and Kevan Gregalis.

David Madden: Land Ho! Return Home, August 2, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15 – 29, 2019

Back on land, in Tallahassee, FL

Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

Weather report in Tallahassee
Conditions early on Friday morning, Tallahassee, FL

Date: August 2, 2019

sunset over aft deck
Sunset aboard Pisces on my last night.

Gratitude Log:

My time on NOAA Ship Pisces is complete. Huge thanks to the folks who made it possible. I am grateful for the grand opportunity and grateful to the many people who helped me along the way. Starting with Emily and Jennifer at NOAA Teacher at Sea. They made everything smooth and easy on my end. Special thanks for allowing me to participate in Teacher at Sea this year, considering I was originally assigned to go last year. I was unable to go last year because my Dad got diagnosed with cancer right before the trip, and I elected to stay home with him during surgery and treatment. Emily, and the NOAA scientists involved, Zeb and Nate, made this year’s trip preparation a breeze. Thank you. Additionally, my Dad is doing well (and even back on the golf course)!

Processing fish
Processing fish with Mike B (the elder) and Todd K. photo by Mike B (the younger)

In some sense I was the little brother tag along on this cruise. “Aww come on, can I play?” was basically what I was saying each day to the scientists and NOAA officers. They were happy to oblige. Thank you for being patient and supportive while I learned how to work on your team.

  1. Zeb, Todd K, Todd W, and Brad were particularly helpful and knowledgeable and patient – thanks, guys!  * Thanks, Brad, for your rocks of the day.  Our minds and our chakras benefited.
  2. Thanks to my roommate, Mike B – for being a great roommate and for helping me out with a ton of things (including excellent slow mo footage of the XBT!)
  3. Thanks to the NOAA officers who were always happy to chat and tell me about how things work and about their careers. Thank you CO, XO, Jamie, Luke, Dan, and Jane. * Did you know that all NOAA officers have a college degree in a STEM field?
  4. And thank you to the scientific team of all stars: Dave H for always being hilarious, Zach for being hardworking and friendly to talk with, Mike B for being so wise and having good taste in music, Kevan, for lots of good chats during meal times, and Lauren, for making Oscar the octopus and being so friendly!
Engine Room
Just hanging out in the engine room one more time with Steve. Thanks to Steve and Garet!

Science and Technology Log

Todd W is the Senior Survey Technician. He works on Pisces full time and helped out the science team with running the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth). Todd also helped me run a few experiments, and was overall real cool with helping me find random stuff during the cruise.

In particular, Todd and I, with Mike B’s help, tricked out the CTD to investigate how colors change with depth. We arts-and-crafted a few color strips and secured them to the CTD along with some GoPros to record video. We wanted to see what happened to various colors as the CTD descended to depth (~90m). See what it looked like at the top vs. the bottom (image below). You can see clearly that indeed the red color disappeared soonest while most everything took on a blue tone. This is because red is the longest wavelength on the visible spectrum and therefore the lowest energy (~ 700 nm); it’s the most easily absorbed by the water. Conversely, blue light has a shorter wavelength (~400 nm), and this means higher frequency and higher energy. I made a video with the footage we collected – coming soon. When it comes out you can see for yourself the reds disappear and the colors shift to blue. We also secured a Styrofoam cup to the CTD in order to watch what happens as the pressure increases on the way down. *See here for my pressure video covering similar topics. The CTD only went down to around 90 meters, but that was still enough to increase the pressure from 1 atm to around 9 atm. This nine fold increase shrunk the cup around 12%. Todd tells stories of taking Styrofoam manikin heads down to 300 + meters and watching them shrink to the size of a shot glass.

testing color and pressure
Science lab aboard the CTD – testing color and pressure.

In addition to CTD excitement, Todd let me conduct an XBT launch. XBT stands for Expendable Bathythermograph. * This cruise had the highest density of acronyms of any experience in my life. Geez. Here’s a link from NOAA describing XBTs.  And my pictures below.

 

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Bravo, Todd & NOAA Ship Pisces – you got me!!

XBT certificate
Don’t worry, my XBT bravery and expertise didn’t go unrewarded.

Neato Fact:

We stopped by the NOAA Beaufort Lab shortly after we docked in Morehead City. Todd K was awesome and showed me around and introduced me to a series of interesting characters – it was nice to see the lab and see what everyone had been talking about. I spent a short time walking near the sea wall outside the lab. I ran into Larisa who pointed out two cute baby green sea turtles. She said that recently they’ve started coming into the inlet to feed.  Related neato fact: Hawksbill sea turtles have been shown to exhibit biofluorescence.

Baby green sea turtle.
Baby green sea turtle.

Personal Log

It’s good to be back on land, and fun to trade the breezy blue ocean seascape for the hot humid green treescape of Tallahassee. I’m busy trying to process the information from the trip and figure out ways to incorporate it into my teaching and lesson plans. Surely it’ll take two forms – a little bit of distilling and planning now, and a slow seep of info from memories later. I’m hoping the trickle of revisited memories pop up at opportune times during the school year for me to take advantage. We’ll see.

I’m back to school in a few days.  This is the last full blog. Coming up I’ll post some quick hit blogs with links to some videos. Stay tuned.

Sunset
Until we meet again!

David Madden: Otolithia and The Tragedy of the Commons, July 27, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15-29, 2019


Mission: South East Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

On board off the coast of North Carolina – about 45 miles east of Wilmington, NC (34°18’ N, 77°4’ W)

Pisces Route
Pisces Route as of July 27, 2019


Date: July 27, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 34°18’ N
Longitude: 77°4’ W
Wave Height: 3-4 feet
Wind Speed: 6.68 knots
Wind Direction: 42°
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 28.0°C 
Barometric Pressure: 1022.4 mb
Sky: Partly cloudy


Science and Technology Log

Today, with the help of friends Zeb and Todd, I’d like to take a deep dive into the mission of this cruise.  Starting with the fish work up process aboard Pisces, first explained in blog #3.  Below is a picture flowchart I drew up to help visualize what’s going on. 

NOAA Fish Protocol (color)
NOAA SEFIS Fish Survey Protocol

This sequential process is rather straight forward following steps 1-8, rinse (the gear) and repeat. It’s the before and after; what comes before step 1 and after step 8, that’s important; How and where is the data used.  If you follow along into steps 9, 10, 11… you start with the laboratory analysis of the biological samples – otoliths and gonads – used to age the fish, and determine reproductive activity and spawning seasons, respectively.  This information is vital to proper management of fisheries.  Here’s why. 

This cruise, and SEFIS in general, originally came into existence because of red snapper.  Scientists determined around 2009 that the red snapper population in the SE Atlantic was at historically low levels.  Strict regulations were put in place to help the species rebound.  This on its own was a good measure, but only one step.  In order to assess the effect of the regulations, scientists would have to monitor the abundance of red snapper in the region.  However, charting changes in abundance would not be enough with this species (or with many others) due to the nature of its life cycle and reproduction.  See, all populations have a natural age structure balance.  This includes species specific traits – like its survivorship curve (how likely it is for an individual to die at different points in their life – for red snapper and many other reef-associated species it’s incredibly high at their larval and juvenile stages).  It also includes pertinent developmental characteristics such as when the species is reproductively mature.  Like many similar fish, older, mature red snapper have greatly increased reproductive potential, also known as fecundity.  So while the population has been bouncing back in terms of numbers, the number of older, mature, more fecund fish is still considerably lower than historical levels; thus the population is still recovering.  *this information is gathered from the data collected by scientist here on our SEFIS mission, and others like them. 

SEFIS survey site locations
SEFIS survey site locations.

The next step is to share this data with other scientists who will then, in conjunction with other information on the species, analyze the data and bring the results and conclusions of their analyses to policy makers (FYI, the government is moving towards making governmentally gathered scientific data available to the public).  Discussion ensues, and climbs the political decision-making-ladder until allowable catch regulations are determined.  Florida fishers, check here for your current snapper regulations or maybe this Fish Rules app will help.  Fish safe, my friends!

Morning Crew
Morning crew: Mike, Dave, Brad, Me, Todd, Oscar the Octopus, Mike, Zeb
gear
Macabre medieval cutlery? Or otolith extraction gear?

Ultimately this is a tricky and tangled issue of sustainability.  Commercial fishermen are understandably upset, as this can threaten their livelihood.  Although real, this concern is inherently short sighted, as their long term earnings depend on healthy and robust populations, and ecosystems.  The difficult part is to gather the necessary scientific data (very challenging, especially for marine organisms) and marry that to the many financial, social, and political concerns.  Comment below with thoughts and suggestions.  And while you’re at it, here’s a lovely and quick (fish-related) tutorial overview of this situation in general – the tragedy of the commons – and the challenges of managing our resources. 

A quick note about otoliths.  Within the fish processing protocol (above) – the most satisfying part is otolith extraction.  On board competitions abound: people vie for first chair (the spot in the lab that’s the coolest and best lit) and for the sharpest knives and scissors.  Much like a wild west showdown, most important is fastest extraction times.  Dave H opts for the classic chisel-through-the-gills technique, while the rest of us opt for the saw-through-the-skull-with-a-knife-and-crack-the-head-open-just-behind-the-eyes technique.  While Brad looks to perform the “double-extraction” – both otoliths removed in the tweezers at the same time, I look to perform the please-don’t-slice-my-hand-open extraction.  The quest for otoliths is usually straight forward.  But sometimes an ill-sliced cut can leave you digging for the tiny ear bones forever. 

This leaves us with: Why otoliths?  These tiny little ear bones help function in the fish’s vestibular system.  That’s a fancy way of saying the balance and orientation system of the fish.  They help vertebrates detect movement and acceleration, and they help with hearing.  These little bones help you determine your head and body orientation – turn your head sideways, it’s your otoliths who will send the message.  All vertebrates, including you, gentle reader, have them.  This makes me wonder if folks with exceptional balance and proprioception and court awareness have bigger otoliths?  Fish requiring more balance, those that sit and wait to hunt vs. those that swim predominantly in straight lines, have bigger otoliths. 

Otoliths are made of layered calcium carbonate (side question – does ocean acidification impact otolith formation?  Like it does with other calcium carbonate structures in the ocean?)  The fish secretes new layers as it ages: thicker layers during good times, thinner layers during lean times – correlated with summer and winter seasonality – just like with tree rings.  Once you dig out the otoliths, they can be analyzed by on-shore scientists who slice ‘em in half and take a really thin slice, deli-meat-style.  Voila! You can then count up the rings to tell how old the fish is. 

Fish Otolith
From Andrews et al 2019, published in the Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research: Illustration of a red snapper (top right), a photo of a red snapper otolith (top left), and an image of a cross-section of that otolith (bottom) http://www.publish.csiro.au/MF/fulltext/MF18265
cod otolith
From Hardie and Hutchings 2011, published in the journal Arctic: A cross-section of the sagittal otolith of an Atlantic cod.

Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/255711740_The_Ecology_of_Atlantic_Cod_Gadus_morhua_in_Canadian_Arctic_Lakes

Black sea bass otoliths
Black sea bass otoliths with fingers for size comparison. Photos from Dave Hoke
Fish Count July 25th
Yesterday’s Fish Count.


Personal Log:

I’ve been continuing my work aboard the Pisces.  Lately the focus has been on conversations with scientists and ship personnel.  The source of most of today’s blog came primarily from conversations with Zeb and Todd.  They were both super helpful and patient in communicating the goals and mission of this cruise and SEFIS.  I’m also trying to contribute some things that might be useful to the NOAA scientists after the cruise is completed, and things that will be helpful to my students now and during the school year – like the drawings and diagrams, along with some upcoming videos (topics include: CTD color and pressure, Underwater footage featuring a tiger shark and hammerhead shark, Waves, All Hands on Deck, and a general cruise video). 

The food and mood of the cruise continues to be good.  * note: my salad eating has taken a hit with the expiration of spinach and leafy greens – it’s amazing they lasted as long as they did – the stewards, Rey and Dana, are amazing! 

General Updates:

  1. The other night I had my first bit of troubled sleeping.  The seas were roaring!  Actually, just about 6 feet.  But it was enough to rock the boat and keep me from falling asleep.  It was almost a hypnic jerk every time the ship rolled from one side to the other.  Special sensations for when my head dipped below my feet. 
  2. Two more book recommendations:  a. Newberry Book Award Winner: Call it Courage, by Armstrong Sperry.  I loved this book as a little boy.  I did a book report on it in maybe the 2nd or 3rd grade.  I spent more time drawing the cover of the report than I did writing it.    B.  A few years ago I read The Wave, by Susan Casey.  Great book about the science of waves and also the insane culture of big wave surfers. 
  3. I haven’t seen all that much lately in terms of cool biodiversity.  The traps did catch some cute swimming crabs, a lionfish, and a pufferfish.   * more below.
  4. Zeb won the Golden Sombrero Award the other day.  This is a momentous achievement awarded to a chief scientist after six consecutive empty fish traps!
  5. Lauren crafted us an extra special tie-dye octopus named Oscar.  He’s wearing the Golden Sombrero in the photo above.     
  6. Only 2.5 days till I’m back home.  Can’t wait to see my family. 

 

Neato Facts =

Back to general update #3 and today’s neato fact.  Both lionfish and pufferfish are toxic.  But are they poisonous? Or venomous?  Wait.  What’s the difference?  Both poisons and venoms are characterized as toxins, and often they are used interchangeably.  The distinction lies in the means of entry into your body.  Venoms get into you via something sharp – you’re either bitten with fangs or stung with stingers or spines.  Examples include our friend the lionfish, snakes, and bees.  Poisons, conversely, get into you when you eat it.  Examples include pufferfish, poison dart frogs,

Here’s a simple way to remember: Injection = Venom, Ingestion = Poison.  Click these links for interesting lists of poisonous animals, poisonous plants, and venomous animals

Pufferfish
Pufferfish from today’s fish trap.
Lionfish and Pufferfish
Lionfish (Venomous) and Pufferfish (Poisonous). Injection = Venom, Ingestion = Poison http://www.peakpx.com/487337/lion-fish-and-blue-puffer-fish

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. 

David Madden: Engines, Dolphins, and Sharksuckers, July 24, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15-29, 2019


Mission: South East Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

On board off the coast of South Carolina – about 50 miles east of Charleston (32°50’ N, 78°55’ W) – after a slight change of plans last night due to the approaching tropical depression.

Date: July 24, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 32°50’ N
Longitude: 78°55’ W
Wave Height: 3-4 feet
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: Out of the North
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 24.6°C 
Barometric Pressure: 1011.8 mb
Sky: Cloudy

Sunset over the Atlantic Ocean
Sunset over the Atlantic Ocean
NOAA Pisces Full Track 7-20-19
This is a map from the other day outlining the path of the ship. The convoluted pattern is the product of dropping off and picking up 24 (6 x 4) fish traps per day, along with the challenges of navigating a 209 foot ship in concert with gulf stream currents and winds.



Science and Technology Log

Life and science continue aboard NOAA Ship Pisces.  It seems like the crew and engineers and scientists are in the groove.  I am now used to life at sea and the cycles and oddities it entails.  Today we had our first rain along with thunderstorms in the distance.  For a while we seemed to float in between four storms, one on the east, west, north, and south – rain and lightning in each direction, yet we remained dry.  This good thing did indeed come to an end as the distant curtains of rain closed in around us.  The storm didn’t last long, and soon gathering the fish traps resumed. 

Dave with red grouper
Processing fish: measuring length and weight of a red grouper, Epinephelus morio.
Fish Count for July 23, 2019
Yesterday’s fish count. Compare to other day’s catches: Tons of vermillion snapper, tomtate, and black sea bass. And one shark sucker (read on for more). Thank you, Zeb, for tallying them up for me. 


The highlight of yesterday (and tied for 1st place in “cool things so far”) was a tour of the engine room lead by First Assistant Engineer, Steve Clement.  This tour was amazing and mind-blowing.  We descended into the bowels of the ship to explore the engine rooms and its inner workings.  I think it rivals the Large Hadron Collider in complexity. 

I kept thinking, if Steve left me down here I would surely get lost and never be found.  Steve’s knowledge is uncanny – it reminded me of the study where the brains of London cab drivers were scanned and shown to have increased the size of their hippocampus.  (An increase to their memory center apparently allows them to better deal with the complexities of London’s tangled streets.)  And you’re probably thinking, well, running a massive ship with all its pipes and wires and hatches and inter-related, hopefully-always-functioning, machinery is even harder.  And you’re probably right!  This is why I was so astounded by Steve’s knowledge and command of this ship.  The tour was close-quartered, exceptionally loud, and very hot.  Steve stopped at times to give us an explanation of the part or area we were in; four diesel engines that power electric generators that in turn power the propeller and the entire ship.  The propeller shaft alone is probably 18 inches in diameter and can spin up to 130 rpm. (I think most of the time two engines is enough juice for the operation).  Within the maze of complexity below ship is a smooth running operation that allows the crew, scientists, and NOAA Corps officers to conduct their work in a most efficient manner. 

Dave and Steve and engines
First Assistant Engineer Steve Clement and TAS Dave Madden in the Engine Room

I know you’ve all been wondering about units in the marine world.  Turns out, students, units are your friend even out here on the high seas!  Here’s proof from the bridge, where you can find two or three posted unit conversion sheets.  Makes me happy.  So if you think that you can forget conversions and dimensional analysis after you’re finished with high school, guess again!

conversions
Posted unit conversion sheets

Speaking of conversions, let’s talk about knots.  Most likely the least-understood-most-commonly-used unit on earth.  And why is that?  I have no idea, but believe me, if I were world president, my first official action would be to move everyone and everything to the Metric System (SI). Immediately. Moving on. 

Back to knots, a unit used by folks in water and air.  A knot is a unit of speed defined as 1 nautical mile/hour.  So basically the same exact thing as mph or km/hr, except using an ever-so-slightly-different distance – nautical miles.  Nautical miles make sense, at least in their origin – the distance of one minute of longitude on a map (the distance between two latitude lines, also 1/60 of a degree).  This works well, seeing as the horizontal lines (latitude) are mostly the same distance apart.  I say mostly because it turns out the earth is not a perfect sphere and therefore not all lines are equidistant.  And you can’t use the distance between longitude lines because they are widest at the equator and taper to a point at the north and south pole.  One nautical mile = 1852 meters.  This is equal to 1.15 miles and therefore one knot = 1.15 miles/hour. 

This next part could double as a neato fact: the reason why this unit is called a “knot” is indeed fascinating.  Old-time mariners and sailors used to measure their speed by dropping a big old piece of wood off the back of the boat.  This wood was attached to some rope with knots in it, and the rope was spun around a big spool.  Once in the water the wood would act kind of like a water parachute, holding position while the rope was let out.  The measuring person could then count how many evenly spaced knots passed by in a given amount of time, thus calculating the vessel’s speed. 



Personal Log

The scientists on board have been incredibly helpful and patient.  Zeb is in charge of the cruise and this leg of the SEFIS expedition.  Brad, who handles the gear (see morning crew last post), is the fishiest guy I’ve ever met.  He seriously knows everything about fish!  Identification, behavior, habitats, and most importantly, how extract their otoliths.  He’s taught me a ton about the process and processing.  Both Zeb and Brad have spent a ton of time patiently and thoroughly answering my questions about fish, evolution, ecology, you name it.  Additionally, NOAA scientist Todd, who seeks to be heroic in all pictures (also a morning crew guy), is the expert on fish ecology.  He has been exceptionally patient and kind and helpful. 

The fish we’re primarily working with are in the perches: Perciformes.  These fish include most of your classic-looking fish.  Zeb says, “your fish-looking fish.”  Gotcha!  This includes pretty much all the fish we’re catching except sharks, eels, and other rare fish. 

For more on fish evolution here are two resources I use in class.  Fish knowledge and evolution: from Berkeley, A Fisheye View of the Tree of Life.

Fish Tree of Life Berkeley
Fish Tree of Life, from University of California-Berkeley

And check out Neil Shuban’s Your Inner Fish series.


General Updates:

  1. Plenty of exciting animals lately.  Here’s a picture of those spotted dolphins from the other day.
  2. The weather has been great, apart from yesterday’s storm.  Sunrises and sunsets have been glorious and the stars have been abundant. 
  3. We found a common octopus in the fish trap the other day.  The photo is from crew member Nick Tirikos.      
  4. I’m missing home and family. I can’t wait to see my wife and son. 
  5. That tropical depression fizzed out, thankfully. 
spotted dolphins
Spotted Dolphins
common octopus
Common Octopus (Photo by crewmember Nick Tirikos)


Neato Facts =

Yesterday we caught a shark sucker in the fish trap.  I was excited to see and feel their dorsal attachment sucker on top of their head. 

Hold on.  I just read more about these guys and turns out that sucking disc is their highly modified dorsal fin!  That is the most neato fact so far.  What better way to experience the power of this evolutionarily distinct fish than to stick it to your arm?!  The attachment mechanism felt like a rubber car tire that moved and sealed against my skin. (Brad calls them sneakerheads).

Shark sucker
Shark Sucker on Dave’s Arm

Consider all the possible biomimicry innovations for the shark sucker’s ability to clasp onto sharks and fish and turtles while underwater.  This grasp and release adaptation surely has many cool possible applications.  Here are a few: Inspiring New Adhesives.  Robotic Sticky Tech.   Shark Sucker biomimicry

I’d love to hear your questions and comments!

David Madden: Calm Seas, Flying Fish, and Bananas, July 16, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15-29, 2019


Mission: Southeast Fishery Independent Survey

Geographic Area:
Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35º30’ N, 75º19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27º00’N, 75º59’W)

Pisces Location 7-16-19
Here’s a picture of where we have traveled today. You can see lots of zig zags, dropping fish traps and circling back to retrieve them.


Date: July 14, 2019


Science and Technology Log

I’ve now been on Pisces for 24 hours, and I’m amazed by the complexities and logistics of this ship. 

There are 32 souls on board; including 5 on deck, 6 engineers, 1 survey, 1 electronics, 7 NOAA Corps Officers, 2 stewards, and 10 scientists. It takes a well-coordinated, highly-trained group to keep things ship-shape.  We have had two safety and drill meetings so far – highlighting the importance of preparedness while at sea.  The three divisions on our emergency station bill are: Fire and Emergency, Man Overboard, and Abandon Ship.  So far we have done an abandon ship drill, where I tried on my survival suit.  Oh boy.  It fit just fine.  Except the hands and gloves part.  For the life of me I could not get my hands to fit through the openings.  Perhaps it’ll take a life or death situation.  See for yourself:

survival suit
TAS David Madden tries on a survival suit

During the Abandon Ship exercise we gathered next to our Life Rafts.  We discussed situations and protocols and how to get the raft over the side and our bodies into the raft.  We also learned about some of the survival gear within; including fishing gear (to keep folks occupied), knife, sea anchor, flares, and sea sickness pills to be taken immediately. Number one lesson – head into a real Abandon Ship well-fed and well-hydrated; you won’t be getting any water for the first 24 hours (to avoid throwing it back up, and to allow the body to acclimate to its new conditions, and because heck, you can probably go the first day without water, so why not save it?) It all reminded me of a book I read years ago called, “Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea” by Steven Callahan. 

Life boat instructions
Life boat instructions

My day consists of helping out the scientists with their fish count.  This means baiting the fish traps with menhaden, dropping them off the back of the ship at the prescribed locations, circling back around 75-90 minutes later to scoop them back up.  This is followed by chronicling the different fish caught – some are tossed back to the sea, others are kept for all sorts of further data collection (more soon).  There’s so much crazy cool data being collected on this ship.  I thought you’d like to see some of it.  Here’s a diagram I made and I’ll try to include each post that highlights the fish counts.  I redrew fish diagrams based off of the fish in the handy book, “Reef Fish Identification” by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach.  I thought you’d also like to see what these fish look like.  *Keep in mind that this first day was pretty low in fish count due to our location. 

Fish Count day 1
NOAA Pisces SEFIS Fish Count, July 16, 2019



Personal Log

This is now my fourth day on the ship.  My journey began around 9:20 am Sunday with a ride to the airport.  From there I jumped on a flight from TLH to Charlotte. Followed by a steamy flight to New Bern, NC and a 45 minute drive to Morehead City, NC.  There I met up with NOAA scientist, Nate Bacheler who showed me around the ship and introduced me to everybody on board.  Starting Monday morning the rest of the crew, including all of the scientists, started showing up.  I’ve been getting used to life aboard a research vessel and loving the view!

General Updates:

  1. The seas have been calm, and so far, no seasickness. 
  2. The food has been delicious – thank you Dana and Rey. 
  3. So far my favorite animal is the flying fish.  I’ve seen dozens – my next task is to figure out how to get some epic footage. 
  4. The science team is very dedicated, interesting, diverse, hardworking, and super smart!  Stay tuned for interviews. 

Neato Facts =

NOAA Ship Pisces can travel at speeds up to 18.4 mph (16 knots). How fast is that?  Let’s compare it to two famous marine organisms.

Pisces vs Great White and Jelly Fish
Pisces vs Great White and Jelly Fish


Yesterday I ate a banana.  No big deal, right?  Wrong.  Even though I didn’t buy the banana or bring the banana onboard, some folks looked at me sideways.  They said, “Do you know what it means to have a banana on a boat?!” and “Be sure to ask your students why it’s a bad idea to have bananas on a boat”.  So I got to asking around and turns out that bananas and boats don’t mix well in the land of the superstitious.  Supposedly, bananas cause bad luck, and many seasoned sailors refuse to let them on their boats.  So far no bad luck… but then again, today has been a low fish count day (see diagram above).  Might be my fault!

It’s only been two day and already my mind is spinning with interesting information, undecipherable acronyms, and new nautical terms.  Stay tuned for: interviews, fish count background and techniques, swim bladder chemistry, tour of the ship, and survey science.  What else would you like to learn about?  Coming up:  What’s a knot?!  Please post questions and comments below!

David Madden: Preparing for Pisces 2019, July 11, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Preparing to Board NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15 – 29, 2019


Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35º30’ N, 75º19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27º00’N, 75º59’W)

Date: July 11, 2019

NOAA Ship Pisces
NOAA Ship Pisces. Photo by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Introductory Post

Personal Log:

Hello friends,

My name is David Madden. I am a high school science teacher at Maclay School in Tallahassee, FL, and I’m getting ready to go on my NOAA Teacher at Sea cruise! I recently completed my 21st year teaching – it’s been a super fun journey. I am as excited heading into year 22 as I was in years 1-5. I’ve been in love with nature since I can remember.

Madden Science logo
Madden Science logo

Over the course of my career I’ve taught: AP Biology, regular Biology, Physics, Integrated Science (bio, chem, phys combined), and Marine Biology. This upcoming year I will also be teaching AP Environmental Science. I’ve loved every minute of my job – teaching and learning with students, challenging myself and being challenged by my friends and colleagues, and exploring new adventures – like NOAA Teacher at Sea. Along the way I’ve also been a coach, helping kids learn the value of sports, including: volleyball, basketball, tennis, and track.

Over the last few years I’ve started making educational videos for my students – as a way for them to further develop their love of science and grow their scientific literacy: Madden Science on YouTube and www.maddenscience.com.

Madden family
The hardest part of the trip will be missing these two!

Starting on July 15th, 2019, I will be aboard NOAA Ship Pisces as part of the Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS). The mission of the cruise will be to conduct “applied fishery-independent sampling with chevron fish traps and attached underwater video cameras, and catch rates and biological data from SEFIS are critical for various stock assessments for economically important reef fishes along the southeast US Atlantic coast.” It’s an amazing opportunity for me to participate in important scientific research. I have the opportunity to work alongside and learn from some of the best scientists in the world.

Pisces Picture Wikipedia
NOAA Ship Pisces. Photo by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

There are so many things about NOAA Teacher at Sea that I’m looking forward to. Here’s a few:

  1. Spending time out on the ocean, experiencing the energy and power of the wild sea.
  2. Working with and learning from some of the world’s leading oceanic and atmospheric scientists.
  3. Learning about fish and marine biodiversity in the Atlantic.
  4. Asking tons of questions and hopefully learning more about the ocean and its central importance in our changing world.
  5. Sharing my experience with you; my family, friends, students, and the public.   I’ll share this adventure via this blog and also via videos I hope to create while on NOAA Ship Pisces. My goal is for these blog posts and videos to serve as a real-time record of the cruise, to be helpful and interesting right now, and also to help serve as resources for my classes and other classrooms around the world.

Neato Fact:

NOAA Ship Pisces is 209 feet (64 meters) long. To give you an idea, that’s basically 70% of a football field. That’s longer than two blue whales (~90 feet), the largest and longest animal to ever live! Usain Bolt can run that far in 6.13 seconds (assuming 9.58 s for 100 m). A starfish, traveling at 60 feet/hour, would take about 3.5 hours to travel the length of Pisces.

Madden Pisces diagram
NOAA Ship Pisces is 209 ft long.

I’d love it if you could join in with me on this adventure – please comment and ask questions. I’ll do my best to respond in a helpful and interesting way!

David Knight: Musings from Mission Viejo, July 28, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Knight

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 10-23, 2018

 

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey

Geographic Area: Southeastern U.S. coast

Date: July 28, 2018

Weather Data from Mission Viejo, California:

Latitude: 33.64°
Longitude: 117.62°
Sea wave height: 1-2 ft
Wind speed: 4 kts
Wind direction: 90
Visibility: 10 nm
Air temperature: 29.0
°C
Barometric pressure: 758 mm Hg
Sky: Clear

The past few days back home have given me a chance to share my experiences as a NOAA Teacher at Sea with family and friends and to enjoy some slime and scale free days in southern California. I no longer have the picturesque sunrises and sunsets, but I don’t have to climb down a ladder to get out of bed anymore. I am so grateful that I was selected to be a Teacher at Sea this season and that I had an opportunity to learn from and work with some fantastic people.

SEFIS 2018 Leg 2 Track Line
NOAA Ship Pisces route for SEFIS Survey, July 10 – 23, 2018 (image from Jamie Park)

My experience as a NOAA Teacher at Sea greatly exceeded my expectations and has reinvigorated me as a teacher. From the first full day on NOAA Ship Pisces, I was having fun learning about and collecting data that are used to create models of fish populations.  The techniques the NOAA scientists taught me not only allowed me to contribute to their research in a small way, but it gave me an opportunity to collect data that I can immediately integrate into my classroom.  My students will be able to analyze salinity, temperature, and pressure changes as depth changes, as well as biological data such as fish length, weight and age using tissue samples I was able collect while a Teacher at Sea.  Furthermore, I was also able to learn about the men and women that serve as officers in the NOAA Corps, engineers, and deck crew, without whom the scientists would be unable to gather the necessary data. Meeting these dedicated men and women and learning about the mission of NOAA will allow me to help my own students know about career opportunities in marine biology and STEM fields. Every day was an opportunity to learn and I am eager to share my experience and knowledge with my future students as well as my colleagues in Irvine.

 

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I want to thank Nate Bacheler and the entire NOAA science group for not only teaching me how to extract otoliths and ovaries, but for answering my many questions and including me in everything. Whenever I asked if I could help out in some way I always got a, “Sure, let’s show you how to get that done.” I truly had a blast getting slimed by flopping fish.  I also would not have learned so much about the NOAA Corps and the mission of NOAA without being able to freely go to the bridge and engage with the officers on duty. They too were willing to tell me the story of how the came to be NOAA Corps officers and answered my questions ranging from navigating and the propulsion of NOAA Ship Pisces to college majors and family-life.

IMG_6706
View from a bow hawsehole. (photo by David Knight)

 

 

 

 

David Knight: Work Out and Work Up: Part II, July 18, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Knight

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 10-23, 2018

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey

Geographic Area: Southeastern U.S. coast

Date: July 18, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 29° 45.3′

Longitude: 80° 22.5′

Sea wave height: 1-3 ft

Wind speed: 5 kts

Wind direction: 241

Visibility: 10 nm

Air temperature: 28 °C

Barometric pressure: 1014.9 mb

Sky: Scattered Clouds


Science and Technology Log

Part II. DNA, Gonads, and Diet

DNA Samples.

Certain fish that we collect have samples of their fins collected for DNA testing. For example, if a Spotfin Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellatus) is brought up in a trap, a small pair of scissors are used to clip a portion of its anal fin in order to obtain a sample that is then place in a micro-test tube containing a buffer. Back in the on-shore lab, technicians will obtain the DNA, which is then used to determine the genetic make-up of the population in a particular area.

Fin clip
Fin clip sample from Spotfin Butterfly fish. (photo by David Knight)

One may assume that the genetic make-up of a population is uniform across the east coast, after all, fish can swim, right? However, that is not necessarily the case. Changes in the frequency of particular alleles create spatial differences in some stocks of fish over a broad area. In other words, there may be slight genetic differences in a population of Gray Triggerfish off of the coast of North Carolina compared to those found in the waters of Florida.

Why does this matter? Currently, the management of most fish occurs over a broad area, often including many states. By understanding the slight differences that may be present in a smaller subset of a population, scientists can create better, more accurate management plans instead of a “one size fits all” model.

Gonads.

As written in an earlier blog, many fish in this region are sequential hermaphrodites and change sex during their life-time, starting off as females, then changing to males.  By taking the gonads of certain species, scientist can determine if the fish is male or female, and taken together with size and age, it is possible to estimate when these fish are transitioning from one sex to another.

Ovaries from a Vermilion Snapper
Ovaries from a Vermilion Snapper – I made a small incision so you can the eggs. (photo by David Knight)

By sampling the ovaries of fish, it is possible to estimate the fecundity of the species. Fecundity is the reproductive potential an organism possesses. The number of eggs in an ovary can be estimated and then, taking the age and size data of the specimen, it is possible to predict the potential a population has for growth. Many factors, such as the number of males in a population and the season, can influence the reproductive behaviors of fish, so sampling the gonads provides an additional pieces of data.

Finally, sampling the gonads of fish can help determine the sex ratio in the population. In fish that display sequential hermaphroditism, such as the Black Sea Bass, the number of males in the populations increase with age.

Question: Fisherman will be able to get more money for larger fish, so naturally they will want to “select for” larger fish, potentially decreasing the number of reproductive males in the population. If the number of large, reproductive males in a population decreases, then more females will transition to become male.

What may happen to the average age of sex transition in sequential hermaphrodites?

Diet.

A select few species have their stomach contents sampled. If we know what a particular species is eating, then we are able to understand the trophic interactions within the ecosystem much better. An ecosystem-based management plan will look at the interactions taking place between the many prey and predator species, whom are often competing for the same resources.  Because the diverse species in an ecosystem are inextricably linked, an increase in one species is likely to affect the other. If one species is over-fished or not reproducing at its potential, this may create a ripple effect throughout the ecosystem.

 

 

Personal Log

The food on board the NOAA Ship Pisces has been great. The Stewards, Rey and Dana, have kept us well fed with a variety of great meals. We’ve had everything from hot dogs and hamburgers to bacon wrapped filet mignon and shrimp, and a crew favorite, Taco Tuesday! Meal time is very important because not only is the crew refueling for work, but it affords them a chance to sit down, talk, and to catch up on Chip and Joanna Gaines’ newest “Fixer Upper” on the TV that runs continuously. The first day on board, Operations Officer, Lieutenant Jamie Park, told me that any NOAA ship runs on two very important things: 1) diesel fuel, and 2) COFFEE.  The galley is open 24-7 with snacks and drinks always available since crew members are working in shifts, with some getting off at midnight or 4 a.m.. And…., I recently found the freezer that contains Klondike Bars, popsicles, ice cream, and Hot Pockets.

 

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Did You Know?

The Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) gets its name from its enlarged canine teeth. According to the 2016 stock assessment of South Atlantic red snapper, the stock is overfished and subject to overfishing, but is rebuilding.  Management plans in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico place annual catch limits on both commercial and recreational fisherman to decrease the pressure on the fish, as well as minimum size restrictions to protect young and juvenile snapper. Red Snapper can live over 50 years and are of reproductive age as early as two.

range of red snapper
Range of Red Snapper-South Atlantic (NOAA)

Site Map
Sites where traps were set. 32 nautical miles southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina. Blue indicates deep water, Red indicates more shallow water. (image by Nate Bacheler)

snapper_red2_locationmap
Range of Red Snapper-Gulf of Mexico (NOAA)

Reference:

NOAA Fisheries. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/red-snapper

 

 

 

 

 

David Knight: Work Out and Work Up: Part I, July 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Knight

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 10-23, 2018

 

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey

Geographic Area: Southeastern U.S. coast

Date: July 17, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 30° 30.2 N
Longitude:
80° 15.6 W
Sea wave height:
1-2 ft
Wind speed:
15 kts
Wind direction:
187°
Visibility:
10 nm
Air temperature:
30.1 °C
Barometric pressure:
1014.7 mB
Sky:
Broken Clouds

Science and Technology Log

Warning!!! Great Science Ahead…


Part I.

Waiting to see
Waiting to see what the traps have brought up this time… (photo by David Knight)

As fish traps begin to be brought up by the deck crew, scientist wait to see what may be in the trap. I’ve actually found that I am looking over the deck in anticipation of new fish that may have been caught, or to see how many fish will need to be “worked up.” Once the fish have been removed from the trap and emptied into a large bin, they are then sorted by species into 17-gallon bins to determine the total weight of all fish.  Moving 17 gallons worth of fish up to the lab bench to the scale can be quite a “work out.” There have been a couple of hauls that have captured so many fish of a particular species that more than one bin has to be used. After the fish have been weighed, the total length of each fish is determined to get a length frequency of the entire catch.  For species like Tomtate (Haemulon aurolineatum), every fish is measured and then returned to the ocean. For some species, a pre-determined percentage are kept for a more detailed work up that may include the extraction of otoliths, removal of gonads, or a collection of stomach contents. The data collected from each fish will then be used by scientists in a number of different agencies and in different states to better understand the growth and reproduction of the particular species. All of this data is then used to create management plans for economically and ecologically important fish as well as to gain a better understanding of its life history.

Work Up

Length.

Measuring fish
Measuring the length of each, individual fish. (photo taken by Nate Bacheler)

One may assume that a very long fish is also very old, but that is not necessarily the case. The length of a fish is not a good way to determine the age of a fish because factors such as temperature and food availability may alter the growth rate. Many fish grow very rapidly early on, but then slow their growth, so it is possible that a fish that is twelve years old is the same size as a fish that is three years old. Because many fish demonstrate logistic growth rates in terms of length, it is important to use additional pieces of data to determine their age.

Otolith.

In the head of ray-finned fish, one can find small, bone-like structures called otoliths. These structures have a variety of sensory functions that include detection of sound vibrations in water, movement, and its orientation in the water. As fish age, calcium carbonate will be added to the otolith, forming ring-like structures that can be used to determine the age of a fish, much like a tree will add new tissue each season forming tree rings.  Otoliths are the best way to determine the actual age of a fish.

IMG_6677
Otoliths. [left to right: Black Sea Bass, Red Snapper, Jackknife fish] (photo by David Knight
For the fish that we were sampling, we remove the sagittal otoliths which are located beside the brain just about level with the eyes. To extract them, a cut is made on the dorsal side of the fish with a sharp knife to gain access to the skull case.  To extract otoliths from some very “hard-headed” fish, a saw is used, while others take little effort. After a few hours of otolith extraction, I feel as though I am getting the hang of it, although I am nowhere near as fast as the biologist on board! I’ve been collecting otoliths from Black Sea Bass (Centropristis striata) and Vermillion Snapper (Rhomboplites aurorubens) to bring home with me to create a lab for my class and to post on the NOAA Teacher-at-Sea website.

Extracting otolith
Looking for a perfect extraction of otolith from Vermilion Snapper. (photo taken by Nate Bacheler)

Be sure to check back for Part II. Gonads, Diet and DNA


Personal Log

The motion of the ship has not been a problem so far and I stopped taking any motion sickness pills after the first day. As I have been removing otoliths from fish, I cannot help but think about the similarities in how both fish and humans perceive their spatial environment and maintain balance. In our vestibular system, we too have otoliths that help to sense acceleration in a vertical and horizontal direction. Of course my thoughts then go to a dark place…what if someone were removing my otoliths to determine my age?

 

Did You Know?

The longest known life span in vertebrates is found in the Greenland Shark (Somniosus microcephalus). It is estimated that the Greenland shark grows less than 1 cm per year. Since sharks do not have otoliths, scientist have to analyze proteins found in the lens of their eye.  In 2016, scientist from the University of Copenhagen collected a 5 m shark that was estimated to be about 392 years old, but may be anywhere from 272 to 512 years old.

Reference: Eye lens radiocarbon reveals centuries of longevity in the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus). Science  12 Aug 2016: Vol. 353, Issue 6300, pp. 702-704

David Knight: Getting to Know the Pisces, July 16, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Knight

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 10-23, 2018

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey

Geographic Area: Southeastern U.S. coast

Date: July 16, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 32° 49.6
Longitude: 78
° 52.4
Sea wave height: 1-2 ft
Wind speed: 10 kts
Wind direction: 59
Visibility: 10 nm
Air temperature: 28.7
°C
Barometric pressure: 1016.9 mb
Sky: Clear

An Interview with Ensign Luke Evancoe

Pisces logo
NOAA Ship Pisces Seal

My first day on NOAA Ship Pisces I was introduced to about 300 different people. Well, maybe it was more like 30, but it sure seemed like a lot of people were aboard.  NOAA vessels have civilian personnel that perform a myriad of important duties, scientists that assist in planning and carrying out the various missions of the ship, and commissioned NOAA Corps Officers that ensure the mission of NOAA is carried out.

Engineers are responsible for making sure that all of the systems on the ship are operating properly.  The engineers must be able to fix and maintain all mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems on the ship.  It’s this important group that makes sure the A/C is working in our cabins and that the propulsion system gets us from one trap site to the next.  Members of the deck department use equipment to lower CTD units, bring up traps, deploy and retrieve buoys, and maintain watches throughout the day.  These men and women are responsible for making sure very expensive equipment is safely and effectively used. As a research vessel, the Survey department’s role in the acquisition and processing of oceanographic and survey data is crucial. These individuals operate and analyze data from a number of different pieces of equipment including the CTD and the multibeam echosounder.  And finally, there are the Stewards. The stewards are the ones responsible for making sure everyone is well fed and comfortable. They prepare and plan all meals, ensure the pantry is stocked and ready for each mission, and that all of the common areas are clean and sanitary.

Soon after boarding, I met Ensign Luke Evancoe, the newest NOAA Corps Officer to join the NOAA Ship Pisces. After talking to him briefly and learning about his varied background and the circuitous route that brought him to NOAA, I decided I wanted to interview him and find out more about his role as a NOAA Corps Officer.

IMG_6592
Ensign Luke Evancoe, NOAA Ship Pisces newest NOAA Corps Officer

Where are you from and what did you do before coming to NOAA?

I grew up in Pittsburgh and have a B.S. in Biology and Masters in Teaching from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. After high school and two years of college, I decided to join the United States Marine Corps and become an Infantryman. While in the Marine Corps I was a member of the USMC Silent Drill Platoon, a 24-member team that are ambassadors of the USMC that perform at sporting events and parades. I was then deployed to Afghanistan for seven months. I was a vehicle commander for an MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle.

After the Marine Corps, Mr. Evancoe went back to VCU and then became a sixth grade science teacher at the Franklin Military Academy in Richmond, Virginia where he taught for two and one half years. While at a research symposium, he learned about the work of NOAA and the NOAA Corps and decided to apply to the program and once he was accepted, left teaching to train to become an NOAA Corps Officer.

What was a memorable experience while you were teaching?

My most memorable experience teaching was when I successfully executed an experiment to see whether the myth that if someone moves while stuck in quicksand, they sink faster than if they remained motionless was true or not. Using Hexbugs, which are tiny robot bugs, my students tested whether the Hexbugs which were turned on and “squirming” sank into a cornmeal mix (the quicksand) at a faster or slower rate than Hexbugs that were turned off. It was a simple, yet fun way to demonstrate the basics of the scientific method to middle school children.

Tell us about your training with NOAA Corps.

The NOAA Corps training lasts 19 weeks and is held at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Our training is called Basic Officer Training Class (BOTC) and is carried out alongside the Coast Guard Officer Candidates.

The training is similar to the military academies in that we wear a uniform, start our day at about 5 a.m., go to classes and are expected to carry out other duties when we are not in class. It is very regimented, but it is also rewarding.

25501_0
Ensign Evancoe (on the left, 5th from the bottom)

How is training for NOAA Corps similar to your Marine Corps training that you received?

They are really incomparable. What is similar, however, is the training you receive in leadership and discipline and how to best represent yourself as a member of a uniformed service for the United States.

What types of things do you learn during your BOTC training?

As I mentioned, we learn a lot about leadership, but we also learn about the goals and mission of NOAA and the role of officers in fulfilling that mission. Obviously, we also learn about skills that will allow us to be good seamen.  We have to know about all of the different operations of a NOAA ship like propulsion, navigation, and communication and we also learn the skills of each of the departments like engineering and the deck crew. We learn different nautical skills and about maritime regulations.  Obviously, we learn how to handle both large ships and small vessels.

The training program involves a lot of hands on opportunities beside the classroom sessions we have. It is similar to how you would teach science with some lecture time and then lab time.

You are currently an ensign, what are your duties right now?

I am considered a Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD). I am assigned two 4-hour watches on the bridge. During this time, I am driving the ship as we transit from one location to another or as we drop and pick up traps. You have to multi-task very well. I have to be listening to the radios as the crew relays information to the bridge, the scientists also communicate with the bridge as traps are being deployed or retrieved, I have to know our speed, pay attention to the strength of the current, wind direction and its speed, I have to watch for other vessels in the area, there’s a whole lot going on. Fortunately, I am being mentored by a senior officer when I am on the bridge. All of the training I am currently doing will allow me to become an Officer of the Deck (OOD) which will allow me to be unsupervised on the bridge.

What is the most difficult aspect of driving the ship?

The most difficult aspect of driving the ship would have to be maintaining an understanding of the current state of the wind, currents, and swell, while realizing that these variables can change multiple times over the course of a watch; a strategy that I was using to pick up fish traps the first hour of watch may not work at all with how the sea state has changed an hour later.

NOAA Ship Pisces in port
NOAA Ship Pisces in port

In addition to my shifts on the bridge, I have collateral duties that I am learning. For instance, I am learning the duties of the Navigation Officer who is responsible for ensuring that all of the navigation charts are up to date, that the navigation equipment is working properly, and that upcoming tracklines are laid out on our charts and approved by the CO.  The Imprest Officer is responsible for managing some of the ship’s funds and making sure the wage mariners are paid when required. I am also learning about the duties of the Movie Officer. We have a large inventory of movies from the US Navy that have to be cataloged and replaced. We get movies that are still playing in theaters so crew members can use their time when they are not on duty to relax. It’s important that people can relax.  Finally, I am coming up to speed with the duties of the Property Officer, who maintains inventory of all of the ship’s electronically-based and sensitive property and accounts for assets that must be properly disposed of.

What is the OOD workbook?

It is like on-the-job training. The work that I do in the workbook helps me put into practice the things I learned at BOTC, and once I have completed the workbook and it has been approved, it will allow me to stand watch on the bridge without supervision.

The workbook assesses my knowledge of the mission and maintaining the safety and security of the ship.

What didn’t you realize before you became a NOAA officer that you discovered since joining the NOAA Corps?

I guess I did not realize that, as an officer, you have to know everyone else’s job in addition to yours. An officer is ultimately responsible for all aspects of the ship, so I have to be knowledgeable in not just navigating or driving the ship, but I also have to know about all the other departments. It’s a lot to know, but I find it very rewarding.

What are your goals with NOAA?

My commitment as a NOAA Officer is three years, but I plan on making this my career.  After my two years on NOAA Ship Pisces I will then spend time at my land based assignment.  I enjoy my job because I am involved in collecting valuable data for the scientists to analyze, there is a lot of responsibility and you have to constantly be 100% engaged in your work, and you get to see and experience amazing things while at sea.

Personal Log

There is always work to be done on the NOAA Ship Pisces, but at the end of a day there may be time to relax and to play a little Corn Hole. Sunday evening the scientific team cleared the back deck for a little tournament. Playing Corn Hole on a moving ship is quite a bit different than playing in your back yard! Just as you are getting ready to release the bag a swell will move the ship and cause your bag to miss the board—-at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Did You Know?

Pisces is the Latin word for “fish”. In Greek mythology, Aphrodite and Eros were transformed into fish to escape the monster, Typhon.

David Knight: Summer Adventures, June 26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Knight

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 10-23, 2018

 

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey

Geographic Area: Southeastern U.S. coast

Date: June 26, 2018

 

Weather Data from my patio in Mission Viejo, California

Latitude: 33.64
Longitude: -117.62
Sea wave height: 0 m
Wind speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: East
Visibility: 8.6 nm
Air temperature: 24 C
Barometric pressure: 1014 mb
Sky: Clear

Personal Log and Introduction

What a summer I am having! I just got back from an eight-day adventure to Belize with sixteen of this year’s AP Biology students. During our trip we hiked in the rainforest both during the day and at night, snorkeled the meso-American reef at South Water Caye, went tubing in a limestone cave, visited the Mayan site of Xunantunich, hiked into the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave system to see Mayan artifacts and remains, and zip-lined above the rainforest in the Mayflower Bocawina National Park. Now I begin preparations for my Teacher at Sea adventure aboard NOAA Ship Pisces. What a life I lead… I sometimes feel as though I am living in a mashup episode of “Dora the Explorer”, “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego”, and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”.

TAS David Knight in Belize
El Castillo temple at Xunantunich. Behind me is Belize and Guatemala. (photo by David Knight)

I have been teaching at University High School in Irvine, California since 1990. UNI was my first and will be my only teaching position—I’ve found a great place and intend to teach there my entire career. The teachers in my department are not only my colleagues, they are my friends. I have so much respect for the staff at UNI because we all work hard to teach and serve the students and share a passion for investing in the lives of kids. The students at the school are motivated to learn, are respectful and encouraging of one another, and are supported by parents that value education. I frequently tell people, “when I got hired at UNI 28 years ago, I won the lottery!”

Throughout my career I have taught all levels of life science, from remedial biology to AP Biology and everything in between. My current teaching schedule includes Marine Science and AP Biology. I began teaching Marine Science four years ago and love the class. In Marine Science we get to study Oceanography and Marine Biology throughout the year so I get a chance to practice some of my physical science skills along with my love of biology. Teaching this class has reinvigorated me and has given me a chance to teach a diverse range of students. I know that my experience as a Teacher at Sea will benefit both Marine Science and AP Biology, but I also hope it will benefit my colleagues at UHS and in the Irvine Unified School District.

As previously mentioned, I just got back from a trip to Belize with my AP Biology students. For the past fifteen years I have been taking groups of AP Biology students outside the United States to see and experience the natural world first-hand. On our trips we have learned about tropical rainforest and coral reef systems, plants and animal diversity, and geology as well as many different cultures and customs in countries like Belize, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Iceland. My former students tell me that these trips have played an integral part of their high school experience and have given them opportunities to challenge themselves physically and mentally as well as a great appreciation for the world in which we live.

Me and my students
Me and my students on South Water Caye, Belize. (photo by David Knight)

As a Teacher at Sea I will be working with Dr. Nate Bacheler of the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center aboard NOAA Ship Pisces.  The NOAA Ship Pisces is a 208 ft. ship that was designed specifically for fisheries studies. The ship is designed to sail quietly through the water in order to better collect samples using a variety of collection methods including hook and line, traps, and video systems.  During my cruise on NOAA Ship Pisces I will be helping scientists survey snapper and grouper to better understand their distribution and abundance for better management of these economically important species. Additionally, we will be collecting bathymetric and water quality data at various sample sites.

 

Jennifer Dean: Departures and Deep-Sea Devotion, May 22, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Dean
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 12 – May 24, 2018

Mission: Conduct ROV and multibeam sonar surveys inside and outside six marine protected areas (MPAs) and the Oculina Experimental Closed Area (OECA) to assess the efficacy of this management tool to protect species of the snapper grouper complex and Oculina coral

Geographic Area of Cruise: Continental shelf edge of the South Atlantic Bight between Port Canaveral, FL and Cape Hatteras, NC

Date: May 22nd, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 32°54.0440 ’ N
Longitude: 78° 12.3070’ W
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Speed: 10.29 knots
Wind Direction: 196.7°
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 25.5°C
Sky: Scattered clouds

Science and Technology Log

Interdependence and Energy Pyramids
Every ecology unit from elementary to high school incorporates these 2 essential learnings: matter cycles and energy flows. This flux of energy through biotic factors is depicted in diagrams like the one below. This survey work involving an inventory of biotic and abiotic factors in and outside the MPAs (Marine Protected Areas), reminds me of the relationships and connections between the organisms in these pyramids and food webs. Organisms with their niches (role or position in the environment) need to be counted and understood. These marine creatures play important jobs in a complex ecosystem of our oceans. I decided to dedicate this last blog to highlighting some of these underappreciated marine organisms and their contributions to both the marine ecosystems and mankind.

energy pyramid PHOTO CREDIT: https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/143-marine-food-webs

Seeing the beauty underneath the waves convinces me of my obligation to educate, protect and recruit the next generation of stewards for this fragile environment. Below are images of some of my favorite organisms photographed during the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) dives and an explanation of a fraction of their significance to a healthy marine ecosystem. I insist that my students approach their labs in class with background research that addresses why we should care about any given topic of scientific study. So here are only a handful of the many reasons we should care about these critters of the sea.

Phylum Porifera – Sponges
What are they?
Phylum Porifera, considered one of the oldest animal groups, may have existed as far back as the Pre-Cambrian period (577-542 millions years ago). This group derive their name from a Latin root meaning “pore bearer”. These animals are filter feeders that have a unique body design made up of asymmetrical bodies of specialized cells. Although multicellular sponges do not have tissues, they are comprised of two layers of cells, epithelia and collar cells, with a jelly-like substance in between. Sponges are covered with tiny pores (ostia) that bring water into canals and that empty out to larger holes (oscula).

Why we should care?
Research indicates that sponges play huge roles in filtering the water column, recycling 10 times as much organic matter than bacteria and producing nutrition for both corals and algae. Studies have traced the matter from shed dead cells (choanocytes) of a certain species of sponge that appear (after ingestion) within 2 days in the tissue of snails and other invertebrates.

If their valuable ecosystem services are not enough, remember that over 5000 different excretions from sponges have demonstrated medical uses from fighting cancers to arsenic detoxification.

Phylum Cnidaria – Anemones, jellyfish, corals, and more
What are they?
Very diverse group with over 9000 species. Unlike the sponges, with their asymmetry, anemones possess radial symmetry and the ability to sting. Cnidarians includes organisms such as the jellyfish, box jellies, hydras, moon jellies, purple jellies, Portuguese man-of-war, corals and sea anemones. Their stinging cells (nematocysts) have Greek roots, “cnidos” means stinging nettle. Some of these organisms have nematocytes (stinging cells) that eject poison infused barbed threads when touched. Organisms of this phylum generally have a central gut surrounded by tentacles, but take on one of two body forms, either a medusa (free-floating with mouth down), or a polyp (attached to a surface with mouth up). Cnidarians in the polyp stage can live in colonies made up of many similar individual organisms (called zooids). In the case of corals, these zooids are connected by an exoskeleton of calcium carbonate which form coral reefs in the tropics. Cnidarians are diverse in form and function, serving as both predators and prey within many food webs and establishing critical habitat, like coral, for innumerable species.

 

Why we should care?
They provide homes for other organisms, such as shrimp and reef fish. Sea anemone venom has been found to have biomedical importance in treating conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, other autoimmune conditions, gastrointestinal disorders and even chronic pain. Toxins from sea anemone are often bioactive compounds that interfere selectively with certain ion-channels in cell membranes. This specificity makes them good potential tools for therapeutic treatments for a variety of human ailments. Their physiology, and use of a nematocyst, is being studied as a potential drug delivery method. Scientists are studying the biomechanical method that Cnidarians evolved millions of years ago to deliver poison to their prey. Recently, Cnidarians role as biological indicator species has also made them a valuable tool for use in monitoring contaminants in aquatic environments.

Phylum Echinodermata – Sea Cucumbers, Starfish, Sea Urchins
What are they?
This phylum includes the sea cucumbers, sand dollars, brittle stars, crinioids, sea stars, and sea urchins and derives its name from Greek roots meaning spiny (echino) skin (derm). 8000 species make up this radial symmetrical group. All members have an internal skeleton made up of ossicles below a layer of skin that can possess pigment cells or mucus and toxin secreting cells. A water vascular system in starfish acts like a hydraulics system using canals networked though muscles and valves to control pressure to provide movement, respiration and the ability to deliver nutrients to tissues and remove waste products. Many starfish are featured in environmental science textbooks as keystone species. A keystone species is one that if removed, the ecosystem could change significantly or collapse.

Why we should care?
Echinoderms are used for food, from making certain soups to being considered a delicacy in some southeastern Asian countries. Echinoderms skeletons are even used in farming to provide lime for soils. The ability of the species for regeneration of muscle tissue is a feat of intense interest in the biomedical world. Echinoderm musculature most closely resembles human smooth muscle tissue (such as lining arteries, veins, and intestines) than skeletal muscles. Not to be out done by Cnidarians and Porifera, sea cucumbers also release toxins that have been demonstrated to slow the growth rate of tumors. Other bioactive compounds isolated from echinoderms have demonstrated potential anti-coagulant (blood clotting) properties.

These species of the marine world possess information that could be critical for the survival of humans and for the health of marine ecosystems. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that “Today’s massive loss of species and habitat will be slowed only when the human community understands that nature is not an inferior to be exploited or an enemy to be destroyed but an ally requiring respect and replenishment. We are part of the web of life. Many strands already have broken. We must act quickly to repair what we can. Our lives and livelihood depend on it.” I do hope we act quickly and that we can be dedicated and devoted to their protection for future generations.

Phylum Arthropoda – (Marine) Crabs, Shrimp, Sea Spiders
What are they?
Greek arthron meaning ‘joint’ and pous meaning ‘foot’ representing their segmented bodies and appendages. Fossils of some of the simplest jointed animals date back to the Cambrian (545 million years ago). Arthropods have a hard exoskeleton made of chitin (nitrogen-rich polysaccharide). This body armor protects the soft body, and provides attachment sites for muscles. Their bodes are made of 2 or 3 sections, the head (cephalum), chest (thorax), and an abdomen. This phylum is incredibly diverse and has the most individuals and number of species of animals on the planet. 10% of the roughly 1 million species are found in the marine environment. Subphyla include Crustacea (crabs and shrimp), Phycnogonida (sea spiders) and Merostomata (horseshoe crabs). In this blog I am going to focus on only a small subset of this phyla seen on the dives, like the especially creepy looking sea spider and squat lobster (found in a glacial scour area at a depth of 250 meters among phosphoric rock boulders on ROV dive 2 on 5/21/2018).

Why we should care?
First, many people find some species of this phylum very tasty, such as some of my favorites – shrimp, lobster and crab, which belong to the subphylum Crustacea. Crustaceans are considered an important link in the marine food web that provides a connection between the benthic (bottom) and pelagic (open sea). Some species filter water, others break down organic matter, while others are critical in the food chains of fish such as cod, eels and herring. Research shows that chitin particles in clam, lobster and shrimp shells may have anti-inflammatory properties. In the future, shellfish waste could be turned into medical ingredients for products that could reduce suffering from conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.

For teaching about this Phyla check out the link to this
Arthropoda Lesson Plan.

Other Cool Creatures Caught On Camera:

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Personal Log

After looking through the photos of the organisms of these deep coral ecosystems I couldn’t help but want students and society at large to care about the protection of these biological communities. Not just because of the aesthetic value but for their roles in food webs, medical value and economic significance to our food industry. One major theme in environmental science is this idea of interdependence and interconnected systems. We are part of this system, but we also have a unique ability and obligation to preserve the stability and diversity of these areas.

What pictures I chose not to share on this farewell blog have another message, disturbing images and captions that could have spoken to fishing lines, trawl nets, coral rubble remnants (from shrimp trawling), red Solo cups, water bottles and plastic sheets that are scattered in even these deep reaches of the ocean floor. I like to hope these found their way to these deep locations because of ignorance not ambivalence. I hope to hear stories from my students on how they develop technologies to clean up our mess and lead their generation in establishing as a priority putting in place protections for these habitats.

A spotted dolphin A spotted dolphin

On break between dives these spotted dolphins put on a 15 minute show playing in the waves at the bow of the ship. It is easy to love these larger charismatic megafauna, performing their leaps and turns in the waves. But just like us, they are part of a complex food web and a delicate system of interdependence. I am reminded of the quote by John Muir, “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” We need to limit how much we are picking out of systems and through scientific knowledge assure our children and grandchildren inherit a healthy planet where these marine environments recover to their original thriving communities of marine organisms.

My time at sea passed quickly. I am thankful for the opportunity to experience jobs of those at sea that are collecting the information that contributes to better protections for these habitats. I appreciate all the lessons and stories that crew members and scientists shared throughout the trip. This experience awakens the scientist in me and inspires action in my classroom and community. I am extremely thankful for such an amazing experience.

What can you do to protect Marine Ecosystems?

Donate and participate in organizations that work for preservation and conservation

Know and follow the fishing and other marine life regulations

Seafood watch
Ocean Biogeographic Information System
https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/rules-and-regulations
https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/topic/laws-policies

Educate others – use your voice and your vote
A Census of Marine Life

To learn more: Habitat conservation for Deep-sea coral

Advice for other Teachers at Sea Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces

Print a copy of all crew members full names, titles, emails (if possible) and pictures
For the first few days take your seasickness medicine early and keep your stomach full
Read a few of the articles or scientific studies published by the scientists on the cruise
Recheck that you packed your reusable water bottle and coffee mug

Did You Know?
Certain species of sea cucumber have a type of fish, a pearlfish, that have found a happy home inside the cucumber’s bum (cloaca).
You can determine the validity to this statement by checking out this video clip:

Fact or Fiction?
Certain species of fiddler crabs use a wave of their larger claw to entice the female crabs, and if you don’t have the right wave, you don’t get the girl.
Sexual selection for structure building by courting male fiddler crabs: an experimental study of behavioral mechanisms

What’s My Story? Andrew David

Andy Andrew David, Research Fish Biologist

The following section of the blog is dedicated to explaining the story of one crew member on Pisces.

What is your specific title and job description on this mission? Research Fisheries Biologist. For this study he is the co-principal investigator.

How long have you worked for NOAA? 28 years.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job? His favorite part of the job is getting to see things that most people never get to see in their life. Not many people get to see the fish and other invertebrates that live at 800 feet. His lease favorite part of the job is the government bureaucracy involved in being able to perform his job.

When did you first become interested in this career and why? In middle school, he also was inspired from watching the documentaries created by Jacques Cousteau. The discovery and adventure presented within the ocean in this series appealed to this son of a Navy diver. Growing up in central and northwest Florida, the ocean was always part of his life.

What science classes or other opportunities would you recommend to high school students who are interested in preparing for this sort of career? He recommends students take chemistry, biology and anything with math in it. He also stressed that English is important in his career or any STEM related job, so that you are able to express your science in writing.

What is one of the most interesting places you have visited? He found Australia, due to its unique flora and fauna, to be very interesting as evolution has allowed the adaptation of totally different species to fill niches found in other reef habitats. There are fishes which have evolved the same body plan to take advantage of certain feeding opportunities which are completely unrelated to fishes in other parts of the world that utilize those same feeding opportunities.

Do you have a typical day? Or tasks and skills that you perform routinely in this job? Half of his job involves being the diving officer for NOAA Fisheries and this always brings up unexpected action items. As a manager for diving supervisors, he makes suggestions to avoid accidents and incidents that arrive randomly and so there is a level of uncertainty to any given day. If a diving related issue arises he may spend a portion of his day on the telephone. With the diving officer duties he deals with situational incidents that aren’t written into policy already that need oversight and decision-making. He makes suggestions and recommendations in novel situations that are diving related. From the science side his time is involved in working on paper publications and the data analysis from ROV dives such as this one.

Has technology impacted the way you do your job from when you first started to the present? He mentioned that when he began this career he was using floppy disks and a 4 color monitor, now he has computing power that is incomparable. Internet and email did not exist when he began. The speed of data transfer and the ability to communicate information now occurs at a rapid rate. The science side with that of the ROV sophistication has improved with the ability to capture details with the high definition cameras, for example the ability to count tentacles on a polyp. These technical advances have allowed much more precise identifications and observations of the animals they study.

What is one misconception or scientific claim you hear about how the ocean and atmosphere works and/or NOAA’s mission that you wished the general public had a greater awareness of? On the broader scientific community, there are very few issues which foster a consensus of opinions. The public may think scientists all see the world from a liberal perspective, but there are many conservative scientists as well – they just don’t get as much media attention. From the fisheries perspective, he encounters the misconception that there are only 3 groups studied in fisheries; sharks, dolphins/whales, and turtles. The vast majority of fisheries work is done outside of these groups.

Jennifer Dean: Extra Operations and Daily Duties, May 19, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jennifer Dean

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 12 – May 24, 2018

Mission: Conduct ROV and multibeam sonar surveys inside and outside six marine protected areas (MPAs) and the Oculina Experimental Closed Area (OECA) to assess the efficacy of this management tool to protect species of the snapper grouper complex and Oculina coral

Geographic Area of Cruise: Continental shelf edge of the South Atlantic Bight between Port Canaveral, FL and Cape Hatteras, NC

Date: May 19, 2018

Weather from the Bridge
Latitude: 29°55.8590’ N
Longitude: 80°16.9468’ W
Sea Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Wind Speed:  18.1 knots
Wind Direction: 210.6°
Visibility:  1 nautical mile
Air Temperature: 25.3°C
Sky: Overcast

Science and Technology Log

Extra Operations- Zodiac Hurricane Fast Rescue Boat:
Occasionally these Fast Rescue Boats are used for more than real emergencies and drills, practicing the pick-up of a man-overboard and rescue diver missions, in the case of day 2 of my trip on NOAA Ship Pisces, a camera replacement part became necessary.  When a small crew change is needed or to pick up a repair part for an essential item, instead of bringing the ship to dock, the FRB (Fast Rescue Boat)  is sent in.

coxswain
Lead Fishermen, Farron “Junior” Cornell was the FRB coxswain (driver/operator of a ship’s boat

The LF or Lead Fishermen,  Farron “Junior” Cornell was the FRB coxswain (driver/operator of a ship’s boat).  His navigation skills were developed by working in the hydrographic division that performs regular bathymetry readings using these vessels on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, making him a very capable pilot of this small watercraft in the NOAA fleet.  The FRB has seating for 6, with 2 aft of console, 1 forward of engine cover, 2 sitting on foredeck on engine cover and 1 prone on deck by stretcher.

Some other specs on the boat includes the following:
Length overall=6.81 meters including jet
Beam overall=2.59 meters
Fuel capacity=182 litres (48 US Gal)
Bollard Pull ~600 kg/5884 N
Endurance (hours @ 20 knots)~6.75 hours
Max  Horse Power=235kW, 315 hp
At Light Load Operation Displacement = 2150 kg/4750 lbs
Full Speed ~32 knots
Fuel System =48 US gallon tank

 

Engine Room Tour Pictures and Learnings:

Daily Duties: Freshwater NeedsReverse Osmosis and Evaporators
Freshwater is necessary for a variety of reasons beyond drinking water for the crew.  It is used for laundry, cooking, showers and on NOAA Ship Pisces, to fill the ballast water tanks.  Approximately 31 gallons of freshwater is used on average per person per day, with 29 people on board for 12 days, totaling nearly 11,000 gallons by the end of the trip.   One method to supply this freshwater supply is through reverse osmosis.  Osmosis is the diffusion of water across a membrane.

 

Normally water moves, without an energy input from high to low concentrations.  In reverse osmosis, water is moved in the opposite direction of its natural tendency to find equilibrium.  The force at which water wants to move through the membrane is called its osmotic pressure.  To get water to move against the osmotic pressure another force must be applied to counteract and overcome this tendency.  Sea water is found in abundance and can be forced across a semi-permeable membrane leaving the ions on one-side and the freshwater to be collected into containment chambers on the other side.  Technology has impacted this process by discoveries of better semi-permeable membranes that allow for faster and larger amounts of sea-water to be moved through the system.  Pisces uses reverse osmosis and a back-up freshwater system of 2 evaporators.  When the temperatures are high (as they were in the first few days of the cruise) the evaporators are the go-to system and make for tasty drinking water.

Evaporators take in sea water and distill the liquid water using waste heat collected from the engines that raises the temperature of water in the pipes.  This temperature provides the energy that forces the liquid freshwater to vaporize and enter its gaseous phase, then under pressure this vapor is condensed and can be collected and separated from the brine that is removed and discharged.

 

Wastewater:  There are different types of water that can be used for different tasks aboard a ship.  Typically gray water (which is relatively clean wastewater from showers and sinks but may contain soaps, oils, and human hair/skin)  is placed in the MSD (Marine Sanitation Device), which is similar to a septic system.  Black water is wastewater from toilets, or any water that has come into contact with fecal matter and may carry potential disease carrying pathogens. Black water is also treated in the MSD.  This black water sewage is first subjected to a macerator pump that breaks the fecal matter into smaller pieces, enzymes are added to further decompose and before disposal a bit of chlorine is added to ensure no bacteria remain alive.  This water can be disposed of into the ocean if the ship is over 12 miles offshore.  If the ship is within 12 miles the sewage must be either stored in containment system on board the vessel or taken to dock and disposed of by an in-shore treatment facility. For more information on the regulations for wastewater disposal while at sea see the  Ocean Dumping Act.

Valves for ballast water tanks
Valves for ballast water tanks on NOAA Ship Pisces that are filled with freshwater to prevent the spread of nonnative species

Ballast Water and New Regulations:  Ballast water tanks are compartments used to hold water to provide stability for the ship.  This balance is necessary for better maneuverability and improved propulsion through the water.  It can allow the crew to compensate and adjusts for changes in the ships cargo load or fuel/water weight changes over the course of a trip.  Historically this water has been drawn up from the surrounding sea water to fill the tanks.  Unfortunately, in the not so distant past, the ballast water from one location on the globe has been deposited into another area along with it, all of it foreign plants, animals and microbiota.  This act led to the introduction of a host of exotic and non-native species to this new area, some of which became invasive and wreaked havoc on the existing ecosystems.  Today there are a host of case studies in my students’ textbook like the Zebra Mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) and the European Green Crabs (Carcinus maenas) that were introduced in this way that resulted in devastating impacts both environmentally and economically to the invaded area.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) passed new regulations in September of 2017 calling for better management of this ballast water exchange.  Ballast Water Management Convention 2017.

Another high tech approach to this problem has been the development of a sea-water filtration systems, but these carry a heavy price tag that can range anywhere from  $750,000 to $5 million.

The engine room area is staffed by 7 crew members.  Back-up systems and  the amount of en route repair necessary to keep the ship running and safe was apparent in the engine room.  There were redundancies in the engines, HVAC, hydraulics, and fuel systems.  Spare parts are stored for unexpected breaks or other trouble-shooting needs.  The control panels throughout the tour had screens that not only allowed a check of every level of function on every system on the ship, there was another screen that demonstrated the electrical connections on how all these monitoring sensors were wired, in case a reading needed to be checked back to its source.

Engine 4
One of the 4 NOAA Ship Pisces CAT engines

Pictured here is a diesel engine on NOAA Ship Pisces. Pisces has 4 of these on board: 2 bigger engines that are CAT model 3512 vs. 2 smaller engines that are CAT 3508. When the ship is going at full steam they use 3 of 4 to provide power to turn the shaft, and when they need less power, they can modify their engine choices and power, therefore using less fuel.  CAT engines are models 3512 and 3508 diesel driven at provide 1360 KW and 910 KW, respectively.  There is also an emergency engine (CAT model 3306) on board as well providing 170 kw of power.

Control panels in engine room
Control panel of screens for monitoring and controlling all mechanical and tank/fluid functions

 

hydraulics
Steven Clement, first assistant engineer, is showing me some of the hydraulics in the engine room.

The pressurized fluid in these pipes are used to move devices.  Pisces is in the process of converting certain hydraulic systems to an organic and biodegradable “green” oil called Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs).

The Bridge

panopic bridge
NOAA Ship Pisces’ Bridge

This area is command central.  I decided to focus on only a few features for this blog from a handful of screens found in this room that monitor a variety of sensors and systems about both the ships conditions and the environmental factors surrounding the ship.   Commanding Officer CDR Nicholas Chrobak, NOAA demonstrated how to determine the difference on the radar screen of rain scatter vs. another vessel.  In the image the rain gives a similar color pattern and directionality, yet the ship appeared more angular and to have a different heading then those directed by wind patterns.  When clicking on the object or vessel another set of calculations began and within minutes a pop-up reading would indicate characteristics such as CPA (closest point of approach) and TCPA (Time of Closest Point Approach) as seen in the image.

 

These safety features let vessels avoid collisions and are constantly being calculated as the ship navigates.  GPS transponders on the ships send signals that allow for these readings to be monitored.    ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System) charts provide a layered vector chart with  information about the surrounding waters and hazards to navigation.  One screen image displayed information about the dynamic positioning system.

ECDIS
ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System)

Paths and positions can be typed in that the software then can essentially take the wheel, controlling main propulsion, the bow thruster and rudder to keep the ship on a set heading, and either moving on a desired course or hold in a stationary position.  These computer-based navigation systems integrate GPS (Global Positioning System) information along with electronic navigational charts, radar and other sailing sensors to ensure the ship can navigate safely while effectively carrying out the mission at hand.

The Mess Deck and Galley:

This location serves up delicious and nutritious meals.  Not only do the stewards provide the essential food groups, they provide vegetarian options and make individual plates for those that may miss a meal during shift work.

mess deck
The mess

Dana Reid, who I interviewed below, made me some amazing omelets on the trip and had a positive friendly greeting each time I saw him. I decided a few days into the cruise to start taking pictures of my meals as proof for the nature of how well fed the crew is on these adventures.