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.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.