Elizabeth Nyman: First Day at Sea, May 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Nyman
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 28 – June 7, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: May 28, 2013

Weather Data:
Surface Water Temperature: 23.84 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 23.90 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1017.8 mb

Science and Technology Log

So I’ve known for about two months or so that I was going to be taking part in one leg of an ongoing reef fishery survey. I even had an idea that it involved surveying fish that lived on reefs. But after our first full day at sea, and many hours of helping take part in the scientific work, I now begin to understand how exactly one surveys reef fish.

There’s a couple of different things that the scientific crew is doing to observe and understand the reef fish population. First, there is an ongoing video recording process throughout the day, from just after sunrise to just before sunset. For this, the ship and scientific crew lower a large, 600 pound camera array off of the starboard side of the ship. The cameras will go and sit on the sea floor and record all the fish that pass in front of it, for a total recording time of 25 minutes. After this time has passed, plus a little extra time, the cameras are pulled back up, the recordings are downloaded, we move to a different spot and the process begins again.

Underwater Camera Array

Hauling the camera array back on deck. I said it was big, didn’t I?

The video is reviewed the next day. Since this is our first day at sea, I didn’t get much of a chance to see any reef fishery footage, though I’m told that’s on the agenda for tomorrow. What I spent most of my time doing was helping out with another part of the survey process, something called the bandit reels. They’re used for good old-fashioned hook and line fishing.

Bandit Reel

It looks like a nice day to go fishing, huh?

There are three bandit reels on the Pisces, and each one can hold 10 fishing hooks. Each reel has different sized hooks, and the hook sizes are changed every drop. The line has a weight at the bottom to bring the hooks down to the sea floor, which have been baited with mackerel bits. After five minutes, the line is reeled back in, and you have fish…or you don’t.

My first drop, which had the biggest hooks, had a whole bunch of nothing. As did everyone else’s, though, so it wasn’t a testament to my poor fishing skills.

The second drop, however, was luckier.

Eel on hook.

I caught a moray eel!

A spotted moray eel! I was excited, anyway. But morays aren’t one of the fish that we’re looking for out here, so it wasn’t a particularly useful catch.

Our third drop was the most successful. Our bandit reel hauled in seven fish, one of whom got away (the biggest one, of course, one the size of a killer whale…yeah, just kidding!). The other six were brought into the wet lab, where they joined the other fish caught on that drop and would be measured and dissected.

Fish on a measuring board.

We caught a big one!

The fish are measured three different ways. The first, by total length, examines exactly that, the total length of the fish from the nose all the way to the tip of the tail. The second measure goes from the nose to the fork in the tail, so it’s a shorter distance. The third, standard length, goes from the nose to just before the tail fin, where the fish’s vertebrae end, and is the shortest of all. They’re also weighed at this time as well.

After that, we start cutting into the fish. Two things are of interest here: the ear bone and the sex organs. The ear bones are removed from each fish, because they can be tested to determine the age of the fish. The sex organs will reveal gender, obviously, but also are examined to see how fertile each specimen is. We don’t do this kind of analysis on the ship, however. The ear bones and sex organs are sent back to the NOAA lab in Panama City, Florida, where they will conduct all those tests.

Personal Log

The best part of my first day at sea was definitely the ship safety drills.

Wait, what?

No, seriously.  The absolute highlight of this one was my chance to try on what’s known as the Gumby suit. The Gumby suit is a nickname for a immersion survival suit – if we have to abandon ship and float around in the water, the suit will protect us from the elements. Now, we’re down here in the Gulf of Mexico, so that seems a little crazy, but think about how you’d feel if you were stuck in the water for hours on end. In really cold waters, that suit may be the difference between life and death.

The drills are important, and they’re mandated for a reason. In an emergency, all of this stuff can save lives.

Why do I like the drills so much? We’re required to have safety drills by law, and so as someone who studies and teaches international law, I always enjoy taking part in these things. It’s a chance to see the stuff in action that I talk about in class. And that’s kind of what this program is all about – the chance to experience things firsthand as opposed to just having to read about them.

Gumby suit

I guess you kind of have to take my word for it, but that’s me in there.

Did You Know?

You’re supposed to be able to put on a Gumby suit in under a minute. They wouldn’t do much good if they took too long to put on.

Jennifer Goldner: Safety and Tour of The Bridge, August 13, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Goldner
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
(NOAA Ship Tracker)
August 11 — August 24, 2011

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Southern Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 13, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 26.02 N
Longitude: 80.02 W
Wind Speed: 9.18 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 29.20 C
Air Temperature: 30.30 C
Relative Humidity: 70.00%

Science and Technology Log

Fire box on the bridge

Fire box on the bridge

The crew of NOAA Ship Oregon II are adamant about safety. Because of this, drills are performed in order to be prepared. First we did a fire drill. The alarm sounds then the Captain makes an announcement as to where the fire is located. I am in the scientist party, thus we went to the dry lab. In the event of a real fire, the fire box on the bridge would tell the Captain what area of the ship was in danger. Two of the crew members, Tim, Lead Fisherman, and Walter, Chief Boatswain, don their fire suits and go to the area to contain the fire.

Preparing for a fire drill

Preparing for a fire drill

Next we did a “man overboard” drill. When the alarm is sounded, everyone on board grabs their survival suit and life vest and heads to the bow. They must be put on in one minute or less.

The diving crew also did a proficiency dive and hull inspection. The proficiency dive is done in order to stay familiar with their gear in the event they need to go beneath the ship to fix something. For example, the longline could get entangled in the screw/propeller. During the hull inspection the diving team checks the intakes for growth of algae, etc.

The Captain announces that divers will be in the water, then the RHIB (Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat) is lowered. After they are in place, the divers can now get started. After the dive, the gear is brought back on board with a crane.

Lowering the RHIB for diving operations

Lowering the RHIB for diving operations

Me in my survival suit (a.k.a. gumby suit)

Me in my survival suit (a.k.a. gumby suit)

Preparing to dive

Preparing to dive

Sarah, Operations Officer, jumps overboard to perform dive operations

Sarah, Operations Officer, jumps overboard to perform dive operations while Tim, Lead Fisherman, waits in the water.

Executive Officer LDCR Jason Appler jumps into the water to perform dive operations

Executive Officer LDCR Jason Appler jumps into the water to perform dive operations

Gear being brought on board with a crane

Gear being brought on board with a crane

Radar with AIS overlay- NOAA Ship Oregon II is in the middle headed south, beach is at starboard and ship Rhea Bouchard is at port side.

Radar with AIS overlay- NOAA Ship Oregon II is in the middle headed south, beach is at starboard and ship Rhea Bouchard is at port side.

Automated Identification System

Automated Identification System (AIS)

There are multiple safety features on the bridge as well. AIS (Automated Identification System) is a tool to help identify other ships. Any ship that is 300 gross tons or more must register their ship. NOAA Ship Oregon II is 729 gross tons. Another important tool is the radar. The radars are $80,000/each. This ship has two. Commanding Officer, Master Dave Nelson, said he tells his crew, “This box is our world.” Whenever it is dark or there is severe weather this is their only “eyes” to tell them what is in their path.Another device used on the bridge is the fathometer. (Captain calls it the “fatho.”) This tells the depth of the water.

Fathometer

Fathometer

The bridge also has a radio system which is vital for communication. Channel 10 and 16 are working channels for marine travel ships. To speak on the radio you must have a license through the Federal Communications Commission. On the radio is a distress button. There are 5 different places which have distress buttons. In addition, there are 4 EPIRBs (Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon) on board. If the ship is in trouble, the Captain can activate it. It would then send signals with NOAA Ship Oregon II‘s position and name. If there isn’t enough time to activate the EPIRB, water pressure will activate it once it submerges. The Captain and his officers also keep track of the ship’s heading in degrees: 0000 is North, 090 is East, 180 is South, 270 is West.

Ship's Heading: 176 degrees means we are traveling south.

Ship's Heading: 176 degrees means we are traveling south.

Radio

Radio

The wheel used for steering

The wheel used for steering

Engine Control Panel- Pitch indicator is in the center on the right.

Engine Control Panel- Pitch indicator is in the center on the right.

Personal Log

Captain Dave Nelson calls me “Teach” and I call him “Cap.” I got to spend time this morning for a tour of the bridge with him. It was fascinating! In addition to all I learned above, he showed me the wheel and the engine controls which houses the pitch indicator (a.k.a. gas pedal).

Cap also told me the ship follows MARPOL Regulations. For example, food scraps can be dumped in the ocean as long as it’s 12 miles from the shore.

We have been steaming 25 miles out but moved within 3 miles of shore to get out of the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream flows from south to north. We’re headed south. Today it is moving at 3.5 knots. (It averages 4 knots.) Water is very powerful. Going into a current with 1 knot is the same as going into a 20 knot wind. Now that you know this, try to solve the question below.

In reference to the question on my last blog “How many gallons of diesel does NOAA Ship Oregon II hold?” The correct answer is 70,000 gallons! According to Sean, Chief Engineer, we will get to Mississippi with about 30,000 gallons remaining.

On another note, It was so neat to get to be close enough to the shore line to see Fort Lauderdale and Miami!

Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale

Captain’s Corner: Stories from NOAA Ship Oregon II

If only NOAA Ship Oregon II could talk . . . she would have some stories to tell of her journey in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic. We will let Commanding Officer (CO), Master Dave Nelson, tell the stories. Here is one he shared with me today.

It was about six years ago and they were headed north to do a survey on the east coast. The only individuals on board were those in the crew; 19 in all. They were in the Gulf Stream and it was rough. The seas had 15 foot waves. Because it was so rough, NOAA Ship Oregon II was being run slower than normal. At that time, Cap was the XO and he was at the bridge steering. A call came through from the Chief Engineer alerting the Captain to get to the engine room immediately. When he arrived he found the Chief Engineer standing in water that was now up to his belly button. He explained that a saltwater intake pipe, which funnels salt water in to cool the engines, had burst. Because the area was flooded, he still could not find the valve to shut it off. He continued searching, determined to find it. His diligence paid off because he found it and shut it down. Had he not found it, the ship would’ve lost power in 6-7 more minutes. A ship without power is bad news. The captain would’ve had to call “abandon ship.”

This story just goes to show that it is crucial to know your job and know it well. Clearly the Chief Engineer knew his job. He saved many lives that day at sea.