Greetings again from New Hampshire! It seems fitting that my NOAA Teacher at Sea blogs are bookended at home in cooler 55 F rainy weather. The garden is in and looking forward to the hot sun that will follow.
Science and Technology Log
The CTD array coming in on NOAA Ship Pisces
Part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program is creating two lesson plans, one about science & technology, and the other about careers. I am looking forward to writing and improving those lessons based on student feedback. My 9th graders began this process by analyzing data I took home from one of the CTD sites. NOAA scientist Kevin was generous with his time. He gave me data binned by meter and took the time to make sure all of the information was clear. Since the CTD array collects data eight times a second, the dataset would have been a little unruly otherwise. Back in the classroom, my students created a list of questions that could be looked at based on the data available. They then created data stories that explored questions such as:
Is there a correlation between oxygen and fluorescence?
How does depth correlate to sound velocity?
How big are the differences in temperature?
What is the variability of fluorescence?
How does the temperature change as you go deeper in the water?
How does salinity between shallow and deeper parts vary?
Is there a correlation between pressure and salinity?
Is there a correlation between depth and density?
Does oxygen vary?
The amount of data out there can feel overwhelming sometimes. There is a greater need than ever before to know how to sift through information and critique it. Giving students constant opportunities to practice how to interpret data is important. This process also connected the information they learned from the blog posts to the next step in science research. Once the data is collected, it needs analysis and interpretation. The ability to critically analyze information is vital to an informed citizenry.
I’ve been back home for almost two weeks and it’s been back to the end-of-school groove. Sometimes it feels surreal that recently I was on a real working fisheries vessel. I have taken solo trips before so I know the feeling of going through a unique experience only to return home to everyone just normally moving forward as life does. It can feel a little jarring. This one felt even more so even though I was in contact the whole time.
It was great getting questions and comments in person. I was happy to hear people from age 6 to 96 were following along when I was away. I am not naturally a journaler, but I appreciate the ability to reread my own experiences later. It will also provide a tool for my teaching.
Arrrrr you ready for Spirit Week
The week I returned to school was Spirit Week. It happened to be character day when I was asked to speak to the School Board about my NOAA Teacher at Sea experience. Not everyone can say they have talked to their School Board about their time at sea, while dressed as a pirate. Of course, the experience is not over. I still have those lesson plans in the works and there are other loose ends to tie up (such as this final post). I also look forward to continuing through the network of NOAA Teacher at Sea alumni. NOAA is such a rich resource for science and science learning. I am very thankful for the opportunities NOAA Teacher at Sea has afforded me as a science educator and to the crew and science team from my time on NOAA Ship Pisces.
Did You Know?
Teacher at Sea has accepted teachers from all 50 states, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and Guam since 1990. Interested? Any full time pre-K-12 teacher; community college, college, or university teacher; museum or aquarium educator; or adult education teacher may apply.
Research vessels do not just work during the day. It is a 24/7 operation. Tonight I checked in with the night shift to learn more about the sonar mapping that has been done in the dark ever since I boarded NOAA Ship Pisces.
Algebra I level math in action!
The first thing I noticed entering the dry lab was a pad of paper with math all over it. Todd, the survey technician I interviewed earlier, had noticed the the picture the ship’s sonar was producing had a curved mustache-like error in the image. Details like temperature need to be taken into account because water has different properties in different conditions that affect how sound waves and light waves move through it. He used the SOH-CAH-TOA law to find the speed of sound where the face of the transducer head was orientated. He found a six meter difference between the laser angle and what the computer was calculating. Simple trigonometry on a pad of paper was able to check what an advanced computer system was not.
NOAA Ship Pisces is also equipped with an advanced multibeam sonar. (Sonar stands for SOund NAvigation and Ranging.) In fact, there are only eight like it in the world. One of Todd’s goals before he retires from NOAA is to tweak it and write about it so other people know more about operating it. Since they are so few and you need to go to them, there are fewer publications about it.
Another mapping device is the side scan sonar. It is towed behind the vessel and creates a 300 meter picture with a 50 meter blind spot in the center, which is what is underneath the device. Hydrographic vessels have more sonars to compensate for this blind spot. The purpose of the mapping is to identify new habitat areas, therefore expanding the sampling universe of the SEAMAP Reef Fish Surveys.
Up on the bridge looks much different. The lights are off and monitors are covered with red film to not ruin the crew’s night vision. Everything is black or red, with a little green coming from the radar displays. This is to see boats trying to cross too close in front of NOAA Ship Pisces or boats with their lights off.Lieutenant Noblitt and Ensign Brendel are manning the ship.
Ensign Brendel noted to me that, “We have all of this fancy equipment, but the most important equipment are these here binoculars.” They are always keeping a lookout. The technology on board is built for redundancy. There are two of most everything and the ship’s location is also marked on paper charts in case the modern equipment has problems.
There are international rules on the water, just like the rules of the road. The difference is there are no signs out here and it is even less likely you know who is following them. Each boat or ship has a series of lights that color codes who they are or what they are doing. Since NOAA Ship Pisces is restricted in maneuverability at night due to mapping, they have the right of way in most cases. It is also true that it takes longer for larger vessels to get out of the way of a smaller vessel, especially in those instances that the smaller one tries to pass a little too close. This did happen the night before. It reminds me of lifeguarding. It is mostly watching, punctuated with moments of serious activity where training on how to remain calm, collected, and smart is key.
It has been a privilege seeing and touching many species I have not witnessed before. Adding to the list of caught species is bonito (Sarda sarda) and red porgy (Pagrus pagrus). I always think it is funny when the genus and species is the same name. We have also seen Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) jumping around. There are 21 species of marine mammals indigenous to the Gulf of Mexico, most in deep water off of the continental shelf. I also learned that there are no seals down here.
One of the neatest experiences this trip was interacting with a sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates). It has a pad that looks like a shoe’s sole that grips to create a suction that sticks them to their species of choice. The one we caught prefers hosts like sharks, turtles…and sometimes science teachers.
Did You Know?
Fishing boats use colored lights to indicate what kind of fishing they are doing, as the old proverb goes red over white fishing at night, green over white trawling tonight. Vessels also use international maritime signal flags for communication during the day.
The CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) array is another important tool. It goes down at each station, which means data is captured ten-twelve times a day. It drops 50 m/min so it only takes minutes to reach the bottom where other winch/device systems can take an hour to do the same. This array scans eight times per second for the following environmental factors:
Conductivity (converts to salinity in ppt)
Dissolved oxygen (mg/mL)
Descent rate (m/sec)
Sound velocity (m/sec)
There are two sensors for most readings and the difference between them is shown in real time and recorded. For example, the dissolved oxygen sensor is most apt to have calibration issues. If the two sensors are off each other by 0.1 mg/L then something needs to be done.
Software programs filter the data to cut out superfluous numbers such as when the CTD is acclimating in the water for three minutes prior to diving. Another program aligns the readings when the water is working through the sensors. Since a portion of water will reach one sensor first, then another, then another, and so on, the data from each exact portion of water is aligned with each environmental factor. There are many other sophisticated software programs that clean up the data for use besides these two.
These readings are uploaded to the Navy every twelve hours, which provides almost real-time data of the Gulf. The military uses this environmental data to determine how sound will travel through sound channels by locating thermoclines as well as identifying submarines. NOAA describes a thermocline as, “the transition layer between warmer mixed water at the ocean’s surface and cooler deep water below.” Sound channels are how whales are able to communicate over long distances.
This “channeling” of sound occurs because of the properties of sound and the temperature and pressure differences at different depths in the ocean. (NOAA)
The transmissometer measures the optical properties of the water, which allows scientists to track particulates in the water. Many of these are clay particles suspended in the water column. Atmospheric scientists are interested in particulates in the air and measure 400 m. In the water, 0.5 m is recorded since too many particulate affects visibility very quickly. This affects the cameras since light reflecting off the clay can further reduce visibility.
Fluorescence allows scientists to measure chlorophyll A in the water. The chlorophyll molecule is what absorbs energy in photosynthetic plants, algae, and bacteria. Therefore, it is an indicator of the concentration of organisms that make up the base of food chains. In an ecosystem, it’s all about the little things! Oxygen, salinity, clay particles, photosynthetic organisms, and more (most we can not actually see), create a foundation that affects the fish we catch more than those fish affect the little things.
The relationship between abiotic (nonliving) and biotic (living) factors is fascinating. Oxygen is a great example. When nitrates and phosphates wash down the Mississippi River from the breadbasket of America, it flows into the Gulf of Mexico. These nutrients can make algae go crazy and lead to algae blooms. The algae then use up the oxygen, creating dead zones. Fish can move higher up the water column or away from the area, but organisms fixed to the substrate (of which there are many in a reef system) can not. Over time, too many algae blooms can affect the productivity of an area.
Salt domes were created millions of years ago when an ancient sea dried up prior to reflooding into what we have today. Some salt domes melted and pressurized into super saline water, which sinks and pools. These areas create unique microclimates suitable to species like some mussels. A microclimate is a small or restricted area with a climate unique to what surrounds it.
The ship’s sonar revealing a granite spire a camera array was deployed on.
Another great example is how geology affects biology. Some of these salt domes collapsed leaving granite spires 30-35 meters tall and 10 meters across. These solid substrates create a magical biological trickle down effect. The algae and coral attach to the hard rock, and soon bigger and bigger organisms populate this microclimate. Similar microclimates are created in the Gulf of Mexico from oil rigs and other hard surfaces humans add to the water.
Jillian’s net also takes a ride with the CTD. She is a PhD student at Texas A&M University studying the abundance and distribution of zooplankton in the northern Gulf of Mexico because it is the primary food source of some commercially important larval fish species. Her net is sized to capture the hundreds of different zooplankton species that may be populating the area. The term zooplankton comes from the Greek zoo (animal) and planktos (wanderer/drifter). Many are microscopic, but Jillian’s samples reveal some translucent critters you can see with the naked eye. Her work and the work of others like her ensures we will have a deeper understanding of the ocean.
Prior to this I had never been to the Gulf of Mexico other than on a cruise ship (not exactly the place to learn a lot of science). It has been unexpected to see differences and parallels between the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf of Maine, which I am more familiar. NOAA scientist, John, described the Gulf to me as, “a big bathtub.” In both, the geology of the area, which was formed millions of years ago, affects that way these ecosystems run.
Quote of the Day: Jillian: “Joey, are we fishing at this station?” Joey: “I dunno. I haven’t had my coffee yet.” Jillian: “It’s 3:30 in the afternoon!”
Did You Know?
Zooplankton in the Gulf of Mexico are smaller than zooplankton in the Gulf of Maine. Larger species are found in colder water.
Air Temperature: 19.3 C, Water Temperature: 24.13 C
Salinity: 35.6184 PSU, Conditions: 25% cloud cover, little to no wind or waves
Science and Technology Log
When the Bandit reel lines go down, it becomes a fun game to guess what, if anything, is going to come up. Even at their shallowest, we are dropping thirty baited hooks (ten per reel) down 50 meters, deep enough to not see any action going on. Many times these vertical long lines are dropping over 100 meters to the seafloor.
There is a lot more radio communication than you might expect when we fish. Today, scientists Joey and Kevin swapped jobs and Kevin ran controls inside the dry lab. That person chooses what locations we are fishing and runs the operations when we do. He tells the people outside when to drop their baited lines, when there is a minute left before reeling them back, and when to “take them home.” Each of the three reels has a deckhand who radios when each step is complete such as attaching each hook to the line and lowering it to the bottom. The bridge is also in radio communication. There can also be some playful banter about who is not catching fish lately.
Sometimes you know a fish or two are on. The arc on top of the Bandit reel bends down under the stress of whatever is fighting and the orange top buoy bobs up and down against the normal flow of the waves. James, the deckhand I fish with, usually says, “I hope it ain’t no shark.” (Today we did indeed get three sharks attacking out bait when it hit the water). My reel also got seven fish the first time we tried today. This is much better than how we were doing earlier in the week. Each fish gets a numbered tag that correlates to the hook on its reel and each reel has different colored tags. Everything is written down. So far we have caught the following fish species:
11.83 kg (26 lb.), female Amberjack
Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)
Vermilion snapper (Rhomboplites aurorubens)
Greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili)
Gray triggerfish (Balistes capriscus)
Goldface tilefish (Caulolatilus chrysops)
Spinner shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna)
Sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates)
According to the NOAA Fisheries Economics of the United States (2014) commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico Region landed 1.1 billion pounds of finfish and shellfish, earning $1 billion for their harvest that year. In 2013, the red snapper fishery alone brought in a value of over $21 million dockside. On top of that, approximately 2.9 million recreational anglers fished in the Gulf of Mexico Region in 2014 as well. There are also fish-related industries that compound the economic effects of fisheries in the Gulf. The work that is being done is more than just understanding the ecology. Our gilled neighbors downstairs of NOAA Ship Pisces affect a lot of human lives too. It is refreshing to remember everything that is connected to our dinner.
Practice rescue in action.
Today was a beautiful day on NOAA Ship Pisces. The wind was slight and the water was as close to mirror as I expect to see. Kevin told me that the geography of the Gulf makes for fast changing weather. It may storm up quickly, but it also means it calms down overnight too. No queasiness for anyone today!
After another delicious and varied dinner by the talented stewards we were treated to a Man Overboard drill. It was entertainment to us, but serious practice for the crew. Lieutenant Noblitt and deckhand Junior were lowered in the ship’s Zodiac boat. On the other side of the vessel Ensign Rock was suited in a wetsuit & snorkel and jumped overboard as the person to rescue. After the lookouts on the Zodiac found her, Ensign Brendel jumped in for the practice rescue.
Zodiac and crew getting back on the ship.
Quote of the Day: Kevin: “Joey, don’t go too far.” Joey: “Where am I going to go!?!” Life on a boat summed up…
Did You Know?
Sometimes we get other neat things on board. Rhodolith (from the Greek “rhodo=red” and “lithos=stone”) are red algae colonies that build up upon older, dead rhodoliths over time. We also got dead man’s fingers. This is the common name for Codium sp.
At home in New England, where you can enjoy the mountains and the sea all in a day.
Greetings from New Hampshire! Our variable spring weather is getting me ready for the coolness at sea compared to hot Galveston, Texas, where I will ship off in a few days.
It is currently 50 F and raining with a light wind, the perfect weather to reflect on this upcoming adventure.
Science and Technology Log
I am excited to soon be a part of the 2017 SEAMAP Reef Survey. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) writes the objective of these surveys is, “ to provide an index of the relative abundances of fish species associated with topographic features (banks, ledges) located on the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico in the area from Brownsville, Texas to Dry Tortugas, Florida.” The health of the Gulf is important from an ecological and economic perspective. Good science demands good research.
We will be working 12 hour shifts aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces. I expect to work hard and learn a lot about the science using cameras, fish traps, and vertical long lines. I also look forward to learning more about life aboard a fisheries research vessel and the career opportunities available to my students as they think about their own futures.
I’ve been teaching science in Maine and New Hampshire for eight years and always strive to stay connected to science research. I aim to keep my students directly connected through citizen science opportunities and my own continuing professional development. Living in coastal states, it is easier to remember the ocean plays a large role in our lives. The culture of lobster, fried clams, and beach days requires a healthy ocean.
I love adventure and have always wanted to “go out to sea.” This was the perfect opportunity! I was fortunate to take a Fisheries Science & Techniques class with Dave Potter while attending Unity College and look forward to revisiting some of that work, like measuring otoliths (ear bones, used to age fish). I have also benefited from professional development with The Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and other ocean science experiences. One of the best parts of science teaching is you are always learning!
Science teachers benefit from quality professional development to stay informed in their content areas.
There was a lot of preparation involved since I am missing two weeks of school. I work at The Founders Academy, a public charter school in Manchester, New Hampshire. We serve students from 30 towns, but about a third come from Manchester. The school’s Vision is to: prepare wise, principled leaders by offering a classical education and providing a wide array of opportunities to lead:
Preparing students to be productive citizens.
Teaching students how to apply the American experience and adapt to become leaders in today’s and tomorrow’s global economy.
Emphasis on building ethical and responsible leaders in society.
I look forward to bringing my experiences with NOAA Teacher at Sea Program back to school! It is difficult to leave my students for two weeks, but so worth it. It is exciting to connect with middle and high school students all of the lessons we can learn from the work NOAA does. My school community has been very supportive, especially another science teacher who generously volunteered to teach my middle school classes while I am at sea.
I am grateful for the support at home for helping me participate in the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program.
My boyfriend too is holding down the fort at home and with Stone & Fire Pizza as I go off on another adventure. Our old guinea pigs, Montana & Macaroni, prefer staying at home, but put up with us taking them on vacation to Rangeley, Maine. I am grateful for the support and understanding of everyone and for the opportunity NOAA has offered me.
Did You Know?
NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.
NOAA is the scientific agency of the Department of Commerce. The agency was founded in 1970 by consolidating different organizations that existed since the 1800’s, making NOAA’s scientific legacy the oldest in the U.S. government.
As a science teacher, it is funny that I really do have guinea pigs. Here is our rescue pig Montana, who is 7-8 years old.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces (In Port)
May 04, 2016 – May 17, 2016
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Saturday, May 7, 2016
Tenacity helps NOAA manage our seafood supply.
Tenacity, otherwise known as perseverance or stamina, is a required skill at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces, we are all anxious to head out to collect data about the type and abundance of reef fish along the continental shelf and shelf edge of the Gulf of Mexico. However, things don’t always go as planned. Much like the animals we study, scientists must rapidly adapt to their changing circumstances. Instead of waiting for a problem to be solved, fisheries biologists of all ages and experience work in the lab, using the newest, most sophisticated technology in the world to meet our demand for seafood.
As I ate dinner tonight in the mess (the area where the crew eats), I stared at the Pisces’ motto on the tablecloth, “patience and tenacity.”
The Pisces is a “quiet” ship; it uses generators to supply power to an electric motor that turns the ship’s propeller. The ship’s motor (or a mysteriously related part) is not working properly, and without a motor, we will not sail. This change of plans provides other opportunities for me, and you, to learn about many fascinating projects developing in the lab. Sound science begins right here at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center Laboratory in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
Kevin Rademacher, a fishery biologist in the Reef Fish Unit, meets me at the lab where he works when he isn’t at sea. As he introduces me to other biologists working in the protected species, plankton, and long line units, I begin to appreciate the great biodiversity of species in the Gulf of Mexico. I get a glimpse of the methods biologists use to conduct research in the field, and in the lab.
While it looks like a regular old office building on the outside, the center of the building is filled with labs where fish are taken to be discovered. Mark Grace, a fisheries biologist in the lab, made one such discovery of a rare species of pocket shark on a survey in the gulf. The only other specimen of a pocket shark was found coast of Peru in 1979. Mark’s discovery raises more questions in my mind than answers.
When I met Mark, he explained that capability of technology to gather data has outpaced our ability to process it. “Twenty years ago, we used a pencil and a clipboard. Think about the 1980s when they started computerizing data points compared to the present time… maybe in the future when scientists look back on the use of computers in science, it will be considered to be as important as Galileo looking at the stars” he said. It’s important because as Mark also explains, “This correspondence is a good example. We can send text, website links, images, etc…and now its a matter of digital records that will carry in to the future.”
How do fishery biologists find fish?
Charlie McVea, a retired NOAA marine biologist, and his trusty assistant Scout, pictured above, learned they may need more sophisticated equipment to locate fish.
Earth has one big connected ocean that covers the many features beneath it. Looking below the surface to the ocean floor, we find a fascinating combination of continental shelves, canyons, reefs, and even tiny bumps that make unique homes for all of the living creatures that live there. Brandi Noble, one of 30-40 fishery biologists in the lab, uses very complicated sonar (sound) equipment to find “fish hot spots,” the kinds of places fish like to go for food, shelter and safety from predators. Fisheries sonar sends pulses of sound, or pings, into the water. Fishery biologists are looking for a varied echo sound that indicates they’ve found rocky bottoms, ledges, and reefs that snapper and grouper inhabit.
The sonar can also survey fish in a non-invasive way. Most fish have a swim bladder, or a gas filled chamber, which reflects sonar’s sound waves. A bigger fish will create a returning echo of greater strength. This way, fisheries biologists can identify and count fish without hurting them.
The circular image shows a three-dimensional map NOAA scientists created from the sonar data they collected about the seafloor and a school of fish.
Ship Pisces uses a scientific methods to survey, determining relative abundance and types of fish in each area. They establish blocks of habitat along the continental shelf to survey and then randomly sample sites that they will survey with video cameras, CTD (measures temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen in the water), and fishing. Back in the lab, they spend hours, weeks, and years, analyzing the data they collect at sea. During the 2012 SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey, the most common reef fish caught were 179 red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), 22 vermillion snapper (Rhomboplites aurorubens), and 10 red porgy (Pagrus pagrus). Comparing the 2012 data with survey results from 2016 and other years will help policy makers develop fishing regulations to protect the stock of these and other tasty fish.
How do fishery biologists manage all the information they collect during a survey?
Scientists migrate between offices and labs, supporting each other as they identify fish and marine mammals from previous research expeditions.
Kevin Rademacher, at work in the lab.
Our mission, the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey has been broken into four parts or legs. The goal is to survey some of the most popular commercially harvested fish in the Gulf of Mexico. Kevin Rademacher is the Field Party Chief for Leg 1 and Leg 3 of the survey.
Last week, he showed me collections of frozen fish, beetle infested fish, and fish on video. At one point the telephone rang, it was Andrew Paul Felts, another biologist down the hall. “Is it staying in one spot?” Kevin asks. “I bet it’s Chromis. They hang over a spot all the time.”
We head a couple doors down and enter a dark room. Behind the blue glow of the screen sits Paul, working in the dark, like the deep water inhabitants of the video he watches. Paul observes the physical characteristics of a fish: size, shape, fins, color. He also watches its behavior. Does it swim in a school or alone? Does it stay in one spot or move around a lot? He looks at its habitat, such as a rocky or sandy bottom, and its range, or place on the map.
As you watch the video below, observe how each fish looks, its habitat, and its behavior.
To learn about fisheries, biologists use the same strategies students at South Prairie Elementary use. Paul is using his “eagle eyes,” or practiced skills of observation, as he identifies and counts fish on the screen. All the scientists read, re-read and then “read the book a third time” like a “trying lion” to make sense out of their observations. Finally, Paul calls Kevin, the “wise owl,” to make sure he isn’t making a mistake when he identifies a questionable fish.
Using Latin terminology such as “Chromis” or “Homo” allows scientists to use the same names for organisms. This makes it easier for scientists worldwide, who speak different languages, to communicate clearly with each other as they classify the living things they study.
I appreciate how each member of the NOAA staff, on land and at sea, look at each situation as a springboard to more challenging inquiry. They share with each other and with us what they have learned about the diversity of life in the ocean, and how humans are linked to the ocean. With the knowledge we gain from their hard work and tenacity, we can make better choices to protect our food supply and support the diversity of life on Earth.
Spined Pygmy Shark Jaw (Squaliolus laticaudus)
Crew members tell me that every day at sea is a Monday. In port, they are able to spend time with family and their communities. I have been able to learn a bit about Pascagoula, kayak with locals, and see many new birds like the least tern, swallow tailed kite, eastern bluebird and clapper rail. Can you guess what I ate for dinner last night?
NOAA Teacher at Sea
(Almost) aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 04, 2016 – May 17, 2016
Greetings from Garibaldi, Oregon. My name is Denise Harrington and I teach Second Grade at South Prairie Elementary School in Tillamook, Oregon, along the north Oregon coast. There are 300 amazing second and third graders at our school who can prove to you that no matter how young you are, you can be a great scientist. Last year they were caught on camera by Oregon Field Guide studying the diversity of life present in our ocean.
I applied to become a NOAA Teacher at Sea because I wanted to work with scientists in the field. I seem to learn best by doing. In 2014, I joined the crew of NOAA ship Rainier, mapping the ocean floor near Kodiak Island, Alaska. I learned how vast, connected, and undiscovered our oceans are. Students watched in disbelief after we discovered a sea floor canyon. I learned about the technology and skills used to map the ocean floor. I learned how NOAA helps us stay safe by making accurate nautical charts. It was, for our students and myself, a life changing experience.
As an avid sea kayaker, I was able to share my deeper understanding of the ocean with fellow paddlers. Photo courtesy of Bill Vonnegut
Now, I am fortunate enough to participate in another NOAA survey. On this survey aboard NOAA ship Pisces, scientists will be collecting data about how many fish inhabit the area along banks and ledges of the Continental Shelf of the Gulf of Mexico.
NOAA believes in the value of sharing what they do with the public, and students in particular. The crew of Pisces even let fifth grader students from Southaven, Mississippi name the ship after they won a writing contest. Maybe you can name the next NOAA ship!
On May 3, 2016, Ship Pisces will begin Leg 3 of their survey of reef fish. I have so many questions. I asked Chief Scientist Kevin Rademacher why the many survey partners chose snapper and grouper to survey. He replied “Snapper and grouper are some of the most important commercial fisheries here in the Gulf of Mexico. There are 14 species of snapper in the Gulf of Mexico that are good to eat. Of those the most commercially important is the red snapper. It is also currently over-fished.” When I hear “over-fished” I wonder if our second graders will have many or any red snapper to eat when they they grow up. Yikes!
Another important commercial catch is grouper. My brother, Greg, who fishes along the Kenai River in Alaska understands why grouper is a focus of the survey. “It’s tasty,” he says. I can’t believe he finds grouper tastier than salmon. NOAA is making sure that we know what fish we have and make sure we save some for later, so that everyone can decide which fish is the tastiest when they grow up.
I have so many questions keeping me up at night as I prepare for my adventure. What do I need to know about fish to do my job on the ship? Will I see evidence of the largest oil spill in U.S. history, the Deepwater Horizon spill? How crowded will we all be aboard Ship Pisces? If I dissect fish, will it be gross? Will it stink? Will I get sea sick? With my head spinning with questions, I know I am learning. Yet there is nothing more I can do now to prepare myself for all that I will learn, except to be early to the airport in Portland, Oregon, and to the ship in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on May 3rd.
I will get home in time to watch my daughter, Elizabeth, graduate from high school. Ever since I returned from the NOAA cruise in Alaska, she has been studying marine biology and even competed in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl.
During research in the Gulf of Mexico with the crew of Ship Pisces, I will learn about the many living things in the Gulf of Mexico and about the technology they use to protect and manage commercial fisheries. Soon, you will be able to watch me collect data about our ocean critters. Hope for fair winds and following seas as I join the crew on Ship Pisces, “working to protect, restore, and manage the use of our living ocean resources.”