Anna Levy: Fish Rules, July 17, 2017


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anna Levy

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 10-20, 2017

Mission: Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 17, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Warm weather and blue skies are making it easy to spend a lot of time out on deck, looking for wildlife! In addition to the lazy seagulls who keep hitching a ride on the ship’s trawling gear, we continue to spot dolphins, flying fish, and even a shark feeding frenzy!

IMG_1191

Lazy sea gulls hitch a ride on our trawling gear

Latitude: 28 24.13 N
Longitude: 83 57.32 W
Air temp: 27.7 C
Water temp: 31.3 C
Wind direction: light and variable
Wind speed: light and variable
Wave height: 0.3 meter
Sky: 50% cloud cover, no rain

 

Science and Technology Log

The organisms in each catch provide a snap shot of the marine life in one location in one moment in time. It’s interesting to see what we catch, but there are not many scientific conclusions that we can draw based on what we see in just 10 days. However, this survey has been completed twice per year (once in the summer and once in the fall) for over 35 years. It is looking at trends, or changes and patterns over time, that allows scientists to draw conclusions about the health and ecology of the Gulf of Mexico.

One of the major practical applications of this research is to prevent overfishing, the removal of too many individuals from a population causing that population to become unstable. Continued overfishing can lead to the extinction of a species because it leaves too few mature individuals to reproduce and replace those that are removed.

Cod Graph

Graph Created by Boston Globe

One famous example of overfishing and its consequences occurred in the late 1980’s off the Atlantic coast of Canada. Cod was a major food source and commercial industry in the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrodor. However, unregulated overfishing depleted the cod population and, between 1988 and 1992 the cod population crashed, losing more than 99% of its biomass – they were essentially gone. This destroyed the industry, putting over 40,000 people out of work. In 1992, the government finally imposed a complete ban on cod fishing in hopes that the cod population could still recover. The fishing ban is still in place today, though just last year, Canadian scientists released a report stating that there are some signs of hope!

When NOAA scientists notice overfishing occurring in US waters, they can recommend that protective regulations, or rules, are put in place to limit or even stop fishing in an area until the species has had a chance to recover.

Here are a few examples of the types of regulations that have been created in the Gulf of Mexico in response to the data from the Groundfish Survey.

Texas Shrimping Closure

To prevent overfishing of shrimp in the western Gulf of Mexico, NOAA and the Texas Department of Wildlife collaborated to implement an annual closure of state and federal waters off the coast of Texas to shrimping. This is called the “Texas Closure.”

The Texas closure runs each year from about May 15 to July 15, though the exact dates vary depending on the health of the shrimp population that year. This break allows the shrimp time to mature to an age at which they can reproduce, and to migrate out to deeper waters, which is where females spawn. It also allows the shrimp to grow to a size that is more commercially valuable.

IMG_1177

A shrimp we caught off the coast of Florida.

We saw quite a few shrimp in our recent catches. Because this species is being more intensively monitored, we collected more detailed data about the individuals we caught, including the length, mass, and sex of a sample of least 200 individual shrimp (instead of a the smaller sample size of 20 that we used for most other species.)

In addition to sending out an annual notice to fisherman of the dates of the Texas Closure, NOAA also makes all of the shrimp survey data available. This can help fishermen to target the best fishing locations and work efficiently. For example, this is a plot showing the amount of brown shrimp found at various locations, created using this year’s survey data.

Shrimp Map

Plot Created By NOAA

Red Snapper Regulation

Another species that is currently under regulation is the red snapper, which has been a popular seafood in the US since the 1840s. As fishing technology improved and recreational fishing expanded in the 1950’s, the number of red snapper captured each year increased dramatically. The shrimp industry was also expanding rapidly at this time, and juvenile red snapper were often accidentally caught and killed in shrimp trawls. As a result of these three pressures, the red snapper population began to decline dramatically.

Red Snapper SP

Graph created by NOAA

By 1990, the spawning potential, or the number of eggs produced by the population each year, was only 2% of what it would have been naturally, without any fishing. This was far below the target spawning potential level of 26% that is necessary to sustain the species.

 

Several types of regulations were implemented to protect the snapper. These included:

  • Limiting the number of commercial and recreational fishing licenses issued each year
  • Restricting the size and number of fish that a fisherman could collect on a fishing trip
  • Reducing the amount of time each year that fishermen could fish for red snapper
  • Regulating the type of fishing gear that could be used
  • Requiring commercial shrimp fishermen to install devices on their trawls to reduce the by-catch of juvenile red snapper
  • Requiring fishermen to avoid areas where red snapper spawn

Survey results in the last 5 years show that these regulations are working and that the red snapper population is growing. This is good news. However, the red snapper is not out of the woods yet. It is important to understand that, as a species with a long life span (they can live over 50 years!), it will take time for the population to regain

Red Snapper Productivity

Graphic created by NOAA

its normal age structure. Currently, the majority of red snapper found in the Gulf are less than 10 years old. These fish are still juveniles capable of producing only a fraction of the offspring a fully mature individual would produce. It is important to continue to closely monitor and regulate the fishing of snapper until both the number and age of individuals has been restored to a sustainable level.

We were fortunate to catch members of three different species of red snapper during my leg of the survey. I did notice that most of them were relatively small – less than 10 inches – which is consistent with the concern that the population is still disproportionately young.

As with the shrimp, we collected more detailed information about these individuals. We also removed the stomachs of a sample of snappers. As I discussed in my last blog (“What Tummies Tell Us”), scientists back on land will examine the contents of their stomachs as part of a diet study to better understand what snapper are eating. Because the invasive lionfish has a competitive relationship with red snapper, meaning that it eats many of the same foods that red snapper eat, fisheries biologists are concerned that red snapper may be forced to settle for alternative and/or reduced food sources and that this could also slow their recovery.

IMG_1235

A typical red snapper from our catch. Note that each mark on the ruler is one centimeter.

IMG_0045

Red snapper from one catch.

 

Hypoxia Watch

CTD

Getting ready to deploy the CTD sensors.

In addition to collecting data about the fish and other organisms we find, remember that we also use a group of instruments called a CTD to collect information about the quality of the water at each survey station. (For more about CTDs, please see my previous blog “First Day of Fishing.”)

One of the measurements the CTD takes is the amount of oxygen that is dissolved in the water. This is important because, just like you and me, fish need to take in oxygen to survive. (The difference is that you and I use our lungs to remove oxygen from the air, whereas fish use gills to remove oxygen from the water!) When dissolved oxygen concentrations in the water drop below 2 mg/L, a condition called hypoxia, most marine organisms cannot survive.

When waters become hypoxic, organisms that are able to migrate (like some fishes) will leave the area. Organisms that cannot migrate (like corals or crabs) will die from lack of oxygen. This creates large areas of ocean, called dead zones, that are devoid of typical marine life. Often anaerobic microorganisms, some of which are toxic to humans, will then grow out of control in these areas. Not only is this stressful for the marine populations, it hampers regular fishing activities, and can even pose a threat to human health.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to the largest hypoxic zone in US waters. Nitrogen-rich fertilizers and animal waste from farming activities throughoAnnual Hypoxic Zone Graphut the Midwest United States all collect in the Mississippi River, which drains into the Gulf. Though nitrogen is a nutrient that organisms need in order to grow and be healthy, excess nitrogen causes an imbalance in the normal nitrogen cycle, and stimulates high levels of algae plant growth called an algal bloom. Once the algae use up the excess nitrogen, they begin to die. This causes the population of decomposers like fungi and bacteria to spike. Like most animals, these decomposers consume oxygen. Because there are more decomposers than usual, they begin to use up oxygen faster than it can be replenished.

This hypoxic zone is largest in the summer, when farming activities are at their peak. In the winter, there is less farming, and therefore less nitrogen. As the hypoxic water continues to mix with normal ocean water, the levels of oxygen begin to return to normal. (When there are tropical storms or hurricanes in the Gulf, this mixing effect is more significant, helping to reduce the impact of the hypoxia. This is often the primary cause of low-hypoxia years like 2000.) Unfortunately, the average size of the annual dead zone remains at nearly 15,000 square kilometers, three times the goal of 5,000 square kilometers.

The data collected from this year’s Groundfish Survey was used to create this map of hypoxic areas. How might this map be different if tropical storm Cindy had not occurred this summer?

This Years Hypoxic Zone

A plot of dissolved oxygen levels created from this year’s survey data.

The data we collect on the Groundfish survey is combined with data gathered during other NOAA missions and by other organizations, like NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and USGS (the United States Geologic Survey). By collaborating and sharing data, scientists are able to develop a more complete and detailed understanding of hypoxia levels.

In response to the levels of hypoxia seen in the data, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has required Midwestern states to develop and implement plans that will allow them to make greater progress in reducing the nutrient pollution that flows into the Mississippi. Specifically, the EPA wants states to do things like:

  • Identify areas of land that have the largest impact on pollution in the Mississippi
  • Set caps on how much nitrogen and other nutrients can be used in these areas
  • Develop new agricultural practices and technologies that will reduce the amount of these pollutants that are used or that will flow into the water
  • Ensure that the permitting process that states use to grant permission to use potential pollutants is effective at limiting pollutants to reasonable levels
  • Develop a plan for monitoring how much nutrient pollution is being released into waters

These EPA regulations were only recently implemented, so it is still unclear what, if any, impact they will have on the hypoxic zone in the Gulf. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the data from the Groundfish survey in coming years to help answer that question!

In the mean time, though, things still seem to be moving in the wrong direction. In fact, NOAA just announced that this summer’s dead zone is the largest ever recorded.

summer-dead-zone.adapt.885.1

Photo credit: Goddard SVS, NASA

Personal Log

Getting a PhD in your chosen field of science is an awesome accomplishment and is necessary if your goal is to design and carry out your own research projects. However, I’ve noticed that the PhD is often presented to students as the only path into a career in science. I think this is unfortunate, since this often discourages students who know they do not want to pursue a graduate degree from entering the field.

I’ve noticed that most of the scientists I’ve met while on board the Oregon II and in the NOAA lab at Pascagoula do not hold PhDs, but are still deeply involved in field work, lab work, and data analysis every day.

I asked Andre DeBose, a senior NOAA fishery biologist and the Field Party Chief for this mission, if he feels a PhD is necessary for those interested in fishery biology. Andre agreed that a graduate degree is not necessary, but he cautioned that it is a very competitive field and that education is one way to set yourself apart – “if you have the opportunity to get an advanced degree, take the opportunity.”

However, he continued, “the MOST important thing you can do is take the opportunity to do internships, volunteering, and fellowships. Those open a lot of doors for you in the world of biology.” Andre himself holds a bachelors degree in biology, but it was his years of experience working in aquaculture and as a contractor with NOAA that were most helpful in paving the way to the permanent position he holds today. “When I graduated from college, I took a low-paying job in aquaculture, just to start learning everything I could about fish. When contract [or short-term] positions became available at the NOAA lab, I applied and tried to make myself as useful as possible. It took time and I had to be really persistent – I would literally call the lab all the time and asked if they had anything they needed help with – but when a full time position finally became available, everyone knew who I was and knew that I had the right skills for the job.”

Now, Andre tries to help others navigate the tricky career path into marine biology. In addition to his responsibilities as a biologist, he is also the Outreach and Education Coordinator for the NOAA lab, which allows him to mentors all of interns (and Teachers at Sea like me!) and to talk with students at schools in the community.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in marine biology, it’s never to early to start looking for some of those volunteer opportunities! There are lots of scientists out there like Andre who are excited to share their knowledge and experience.

IMG_0092

The Day-Shift Science Team as we head back in to port.  From left to right:  TAS Anna Levy, NOAA Summer Intern Jessica Pantone, NOAA Biologist & Field Party Chief Andre DeBose, NOAA Fellow Dedi Vernetti Duarte, NOAA Volunteer Elijah Ramsey.

Did You Know?

In the Gulf of Mexico, each state has the authority to regulate the waters that are within about 9 miles of the coast. (This includes making rules about fishing.) Beyond that, the federal government, with the help of federal agencies like NOAA, make the rules!

 

Questions to Consider:

Research:  This article discussed the political side of the Snapper situation. Research other news articles about this issue to ensure that you have a balanced perspective.

Reflect: To what extent do you believe this issue should be governed by science? To what extent do you believe this issue should be governed by politics?

Take action: Propose some specific ways that fisherman, scientists, and policy-makers could work together to address issues like the overfishing of red snapper fairly and effectively.

Review: Examine the graph showing the size of the hypoxic zone in the Gulf each summer. There are unusually small zones in 1988 and 2000. How do you explain this?

Research: Two other reoccurring hypoxic zones in the US are found in Chesapeake Bay and Lake Erie. What is the cause of each of these zones?

 

 

 

 

Spencer Cody: Sea of Life, June 4, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 27 – June 11, 2014

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico
Mission:  SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Date:  June 4, 2014
 

Observational Data:

Latitude:  27˚ 51.464 N
Longitude:  93˚ 17.745 W
Air Temp: 27.1˚C (80.8˚F)
Water Temp: 24.5˚C (76.1˚F)
Ocean Depth:  141.5 m (464 ft.)
Relative Humidity:  81%
Wind Speed:  14.8 kts (17.0 mph)
Barometer:  1,012.3 hPa (1,012.3 mbar)
 

Science and Technology Log:

The degree to which the Gulf of Mexico is rich in sea life is truly stunning.  The Gulf produces more fish, shrimp, and shellfish than the waters of New England, the Chesapeake, mid- and south-Atlantic combined; consequently, the SEAMAP survey area includes a wide variety of sea life with great abundance.  A lot is riding on our ability to understand and manage the Gulf of Mexico.  According to a 2010 National Marine Fisheries Service report, the five U.S. Gulf states harvested 1.3 billion pounds of commercial shellfish and fish.  In that same year, the Gulf produced 82% of the U.S. shrimp harvest, and 59% of the U.S. oyster harvest, and over a billion pounds of fish.  Maintaining the Gulf as a productive fishery for years into the future is essential to the U.S. economy and its food production.  So, what is going on with reef fish in the Gulf?  In general, many commercially valuable species in the Gulf are showing signs of strain due to over harvesting and various environmental factors.  However, compared to waters in some parts of the neighboring Caribbean that have had commercially valuable reef fish devastated by lax regulation and enforcement, some parts of the Gulf appear relatively pristine.

This is a picture of me taking measurements of one of our target commercial fish species.  Credit Adam Pollack for the photo.

This is a picture of me taking measurements of one of our target commercial fish species. Credit Adam Pollack for the photo.

One area of concern is our red snapper stocks.  It can be a difficult population to maintain since major swings in reproduction occur from year to year.  This can give both recreational and commercial fishermen a false sense that a population is doing well; however, with red snappers one thirty-year-old female lays more eggs than 30 one-year-old females.  Therefore, it is in our best interests to ensure some older fish survive for reproduction. This same trend can be applied to other commercial fish in the Gulf further complicating management efforts.

The populations of both red snapper and vermillion snapper are showing signs of recovery since setting harvesting restrictions. Red snapper still has a ways to go to get to the targeted sustainable population.  Currently, the red snapper population is only 13% of the target population level while the vermillion snapper is now at 92% of its target population.  Both populations are well below levels documented early in the 20th century. We see a similar problem with some of the grouper in the Gulf.

Species such as the gag grouper and red grouper have faced similar declines due to overfishing, and both have shown signs of recovery while the gag grouper is still under a population rebuilding plan.  While the bandit reels are targeting fish stocks that often have commercial or recreational value, the camera array reveals the context to the rest of the story about the habitat that is up to several hundred feet below our feet.

Just as freshwater fish back home are often attracted to some sort of structure, reef fish exhibit the same tendencies.  Survey areas where we catch few, if any, fish using the bandit reels often appear as barren, flat muddy or sandy bottoms.  This stands in stark contrast with the rich communities that congregate around structure.

Areas in the Gulf that have structure often have a remarkable array of fish and an even wider ranging variety in invertebrates.  So far on this cruise, we have viewed dozens of species of fish representing groups as diverse as snapper, grouper, sharks, eels, triggerfish, pufferfish, anglefish, damselfish, jacks, porgies, and tilefish.

The invertebrate diversity at these sites spans many phyla including sea fans, sea sponges, crabs, brittle stars, sea lilies, shrimp, tunicates, and various types of algae.  One may wonder why structure is found in these places.  In many cases these communities thrive on ancient coral reefs.  These reefs are no longer living themselves since the 150 to 300 feet we often find them in is too deep for the colonial animals that make up coral to have symbiotic algae living with them.  There is simply not enough light at that depth for the types of algae normally associated with coral to carry out photosynthesis.  Then how did corals get to such depths in the first place?  Twelve thousand years ago large ice sheets existed across much of the northern hemisphere.  These continental glaciers locked up approximately 100 feet of ocean sea level into ice at the peak of glaciation.  Therefore, many of our survey sections are directly over where the Gulf coast once was in very recent geological time.  Once the global climate warmed, the glacial ice sheets collapsed and filled the ocean basins to their present day sea levels leaving the existing coral reefs in near darkness.

Personal Log:

In addition to all of the sea life that I have seen directly relating to the survey, I have seen numerous species as a result of incidental catches or just from casual observations from the ship.  The Gulf is home to more than a dozen shark species.  A hammerhead and possibly a bull shark were spotted from the Pisces during the cruise.  Several unidentified sharks were attracted to the mackerel that we were using for bait on our bandit reels and the fish that we were reeling in on our lines.  Trying to reel in your catch and pull off ten hooks from your line before the sharks get a hold of it really adds a whole new element of excitement to fishing that I had never had to deal with before.  Other sea life that I have seen include barracuda, a wahoo, a bottlenose dolphin, Atlantic spotted dolphins, large mats of brown algae called Sargassum, and the many living things that live among the Sargassum, which I will talk more about in future posts.

Did You Know?

Fish stocks throughout the ocean are threatened by over-harvesting and environmental issues.  You can learn more about the status of key marine species and issues relating to our seafood supply at the NOAA FishWatch.gov site.

Elizabeth Nyman: The Science Continues, May 31, 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 31, 2013

Weather Data:
Surface Water Temperature: 24.55 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 25 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1016.3 mb

Science and Technology Log

Work continues here on NOAA Ship Pisces. By the end of today, we’ll have sent the camera array down to 35 spots and caught at least 45 fish with the bandit reels. I’ve personally gotten to see some of the camera footage, as well as help the scientific crew with their analysis of the fish we caught.

Fish

Here’s a screen capture of some video taken yesterday from the Florida Middle Ground. The big fish on the left is a red grouper, the fellow poking his head up with the crazy eye is a spotted moray eel, and the yellow fish not far above him are reef butterfly fish. Note that “crazy eye” is not a scientific term. (Picture courtesy of NOAA.)

This work goes on for the entirety of daylight hours, beginning with our arrival at the first location sometime between 7 to 7:45 a.m., and not ending until around 6:30 to 7 p.m. It’s a long day, with 8-10 drops of the camera array and 4 different attempts to catch fish with the bandit reels. But the Pisces doesn’t sleep just because the sun goes down. When most of the ship goes to bed, the crew continues scientific work by driving the ship around in circles. The circles are actually well-plotted lines, and the route is chosen to allow the ship’s ME70, a multi-beam sounding unit, to map the sea floor.

Map

Here’s an example of the routes we do at night. It will take all night to do one of these three blocks pictured here. (Picture courtesy of NOAA.)

Every possible moment of time is devoted to gathering as much data as possible, whether it’s fisheries data from the camera array and the bandit reels, or the mapping data that goes on at night. It’s expensive and time consuming to send a ship out here, 60-80 nautical miles off the west coast of Florida, and so everyone has to work hard while we’re out at sea. I have nothing but admiration for the entire crew of the Pisces, from the officers to the scientific crew to the deck crew, stewards, and ship’s engineers, because they all are always hard at work making NOAA’s scientific mission possible. But you might be wondering, what’s the point of all this? Why are we out here taking pictures and video of fish, and catching them to take back to the lab for testing?

This voyage is part of the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey, which has been going on for over 20 years. The point is to gather information on the abundance of certain species of fish, which is why we need to see how many there are down there, through the cameras, and what their size, age, and fertility look like. This crew is based out of Pascagoula, MS, and that’s where the video taken of the fish is analyzed. They determine how many fish are present, and can actually measure the size of the fish by taking pictures with stereo cameras and using parallax, the difference in position from one camera to the next. They combine this data with the information that the Panama City lab generates from the ear bones and the sex organs, as well as any relevant external data from fishery observers and the like, to create a full a picture as possible about the overall health of the fish population.

Looking at numbers

Ariane Frappier, graduate student volunteer, examines NOAA reef fishery data from the Dry Tortugas for her thesis.

Cool. I like gathering data, and I definitely think that more knowledge of our fish and oceans is better than less. But we aren’t looking at fish out here just to look at fish, as awesome as that would be. This survey has a purpose. Data collected here is used by the SEDAR program, which stands for Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review. SEDAR will examine a particular species and analyze all the data collected about that species, before holding a series of workshops open to the public about that fish. At the end of the process, a series of experts will recommend how much fishing should be allowed for that population, in order to properly manage the fishery and prevent overfishing.

Personal Log

What we don’t get to record in our data, but is still pretty awesome, is the ability to view wildlife from the boat. I don’t mean the stuff we catch, though that’s pretty cool too, but the creatures that we just get to observe.

Me and Shark

Okay, some of the stuff we catch is really cool. This is me with a silky shark.

So far, I’ve seen loggerhead sea turtles, just kind of relaxing and swimming not too far from our boat. I also got to see a pod of Atlantic spotted dolphins – I saw several of them, but the way they were swimming around in the waves, it’s hard to be precisely sure how many. I missed seeing at least two other dolphins – the seas have been kind of choppy, and so they disappear from view pretty quickly.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins swimming very near the Pisces.

Then, pretty much right as I was writing this up, I got to see a leatherback sea turtle who surfaced for air pretty close to our boat. I didn’t get a picture, since you pretty much have to have the camera in hand for these things, they happen so quickly.

Sea turtle

So here’s a picture from NOAA for you. The zoom on my camera’s not that good anyway. (Picture courtesy of NOAA.)

Did You Know?

The leatherback sea turtle is an Appendix I creature under CITES, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. Appendix I creatures are those at risk of extinction, and international trade in these species or any part of these species is forbidden.

Sherie Gee: Preparing for Life at Sea, May 30, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sherie Gee
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 26 – July 7, 2013

Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date:  May 30, 2013

Personal Log:

Hello, my name is Sherie Gee and I live in the big Lone Star State of Texas. I teach AP Environmental Science and Aquatic Science at John Paul Stevens High School in San Antonio, home of the Alamo and the Spurs. I have been teaching for 31 years and I am still thirsty for new knowledge and experiences to share with the students which is one of the reasons I am so excited to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea. I will get to be a “scientist” for two weeks collecting specimens, data, and using scientific equipment and technology that I plan to incorporate into the classroom.

I am also excited to be on this spectacular voyage because I feel very passionate about the ocean and all of its inhabitants. The ocean is a free-access resource which means it belongs to everyone on Earth so it needs to be taken care of. Overfishing, overharvesting and ocean pollution are global issues that I feel strongly about and feel that there has to be new ocean ethics. Teachers are in the best position to bring about ocean awareness to the students and the public. I feel very fortunate to be given this opportunity by NOAA to be part of an ocean conservation program. One of my favorite quotes is from Rachel Carson: “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” I truly believe this because in order for people to care for our Earth and environment and not destroy it, they have to understand it and appreciate it first.

For two weeks I will be collecting the Atlantic sea scallop to determine the distribution and abundance of these animals. This survey is conducted in order to assess these scallop populations in certain areas of the Atlantic Ocean and determine if they have been overharvested and need to be closed to commercial fishermen for a period of time. I am very relieved to know that there are such programs around the world that focus on ocean fisheries and sustainability. I will be describing this survey of the Atlantic sea scallop in greater detail in my blogs.

This will definitely be an exciting ocean experience for me. I live three hours away from the nearest ocean (The Gulf of Mexico) and have always managed to venture to an ocean each year. Every year I take my students to the Gulf of Mexico on the University of Texas research vessel (The Katy) to conduct plankton tows, water chemistry, mud grabs and bottom trawls.  I love to see the students get so excited every time they bring up the otter trawl and watch the various fish and invertebrates spill out of the nets.

UT Marine Science Research Vessel, The Katy

UT Marine Science Research Vessel, The Katy

Student sorting through the otter trawl on the Katy

Student sorting through the otter trawl on the Katy

I know I will be just like the kids when they bring up the trawls from dredging. People who know me say I am a “fish freak”. Fish are my favorite animals because of their high biodiversity and unique adaptations that they possess. I am a scuba diver and so I get to see all kinds of fish and other marine life in their natural habitat. I am always looking for new fish that I haven’t seen before. The top two items on my “Bucket List” are to cage dive with the great white shark (my favorite fish) and to swim with the whale shark. I recently swam with whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez and would like to do that again in the Caribbean with adult whale sharks.

Juvenile 15 foot whale shark in the Sea of Cortez Photo by Britt Coleman

Juvenile 15 foot whale shark in the Sea of Cortez

Needless to say, I can’t wait to start sorting through all of the various ocean dwellers and discover all the many species of fish and invertebrates that I have never seen before. I hope you will share my enthusiasm and follow me through this magnificent journey through the North Atlantic Ocean and witness the menagerie of marine life while aboard the Research Vessel Hugh /R. Sharp.

R/V Hugh R. Sharp

R/V Hugh R. Sharp

http://www.ceoe.udel.edu/marine/rvSharp.shtml

Sherie Gee holding an Olive Ridley hatchling at the Tortugueros Las Playitas A.C. in Todos Santos, Mexico Photo by Britt Coleman

Sherie Gee holding an Olive Ridley hatchling at the Tortugueros Las Playitas A.C. in Todos Santos, Mexico
Photo by Britt Coleman

Elizabeth Nyman: Introduction, May 21, 2013

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

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Florida
Date: May 21, 2013

Elizabeth Nyman

Me, with a map of Reykjavik, Iceland

Hi everyone! My name is Elizabeth Nyman, and I just finished my first year as an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. UL Lafayette is a public university with about 16,000 students, located in a region with twin claims to fame: a center for Acadiana/Cajun culture (and food!) and the heart of the Louisiana offshore oil industry. Ocean resources are very important to southwestern Louisiana, both living and mineral. My students and their families live near or in some cases on the water; their favorite places to vacation are the beaches on Florida’s panhandle.

I have been teaching undergraduates since 2007, mostly courses on international relations and comparative politics. All professors have to have their own areas of arcane specialization, and mine is international maritime law and conflict. I do research and teach about maritime piracy, island tourism and sustainable development, and international maritime treaties like the Safety of Life at Sea, written to protect future ship passengers after the sinking of the Titanic.

I tell people I have the best career in the world, and when they hear more about what I do, most people agree. I got my Ph.D. in political science from Florida State University, in Tallahassee, FL, about two hours drive from where I grew up in Jacksonville, FL. The first week of graduate school, I was supposed to find a topic for my First Year Paper, a sort of mini-thesis designed to throw us into the world of high level research. I sat through hours of my professors talking about what they did, and doodled in the margins of my notebook. One doodle said “international conflicts over oceans?” and that became the topic of my paper.

(See, I was paying attention! Honest!)

For my dissertation, I received a grant to study an international fishery dispute between the Caribbean island states of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. It wasn’t much money, but I was a grad student and thus very, very skilled at living on nothing. And I wanted to spend as much time in the Caribbean as possible. Other students were talking about their plans for dissertation research, visiting archives in major cities or traveling to presidential libraries. And strangely enough, people who had always wondered why anyone would care about international ocean politics suddenly wished they’d chosen that as a topic.

Dover Beach, Barbados

The fact that this was two blocks away from where I stayed had nothing to do with their change of opinion, I’m sure. 🙂

But make no mistake, ocean politics are serious business. I don’t need to convince my students of that – they know the economics behind offshore drilling, as well as what happens when things go wrong. They know how much the region known for its seafood depends on shrimp and other fisheries. The resources of the ocean are big business, and sustain livelihoods across the state and across America.

Thing is, fish don’t stay in one place, and today’s American fishing vessels compete with others around the world to catch fish as they dart in and out of national waters. Fish that are unfortunately running out, according to the FAO– about 30% of the world’s marine fish are being overfished, meaning that more are being caught than are being born to replace them. Another 57% are being caught at capacity, or about as many are caught as are born to replace them.

Fish, fish, everywhere...for now. (Picture courtesy of National Geographic)

Fish, fish, everywhere…for now. (Picture courtesy of National Geographic)

Now, I’m no biologist, and one of the things that has always been a mystery to me is how we know what we know about fish populations. We know that close to 90% of the world’s fish are being caught at or above capacity – but how do we know what “capacity” is? How do we know if a population is in decline?

I applied for the Teacher at Sea program because I wanted to be able to answer questions like this. My students are intelligent and curious, and I usually get asked about the science behind the policies at least once a semester. I talk to them about NOAA and the work they do, but I wanted the opportunity to experience it for myself. It’s one thing to read about research, and another thing to understand it by taking part in it. I am excited that I get the chance to have this experience, and will be able to better bridge the gap between understanding the science and understanding the policies.

I am fortunate enough to be assigned to the Pisces, a ship involved in fisheries research off the coast of my home state of Florida. The Atlantic and the Gulf are my waters, in a sense, where I have lived and worked for almost my entire life, and these are our fish. They belong to all of us, those who live on the coast and those who only come for a visit. I can’t wait to learn more about them, to finally fill in the scientific gaps in my knowledge.

Pisces, here I come!

NOAA Ship Pisces (picture courtesy of NOAA)

NOAA Ship Pisces (picture courtesy of NOAA)

Marian Wagner: My Final Words and Hurricane Irene’s in Charge, August 23, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marian Wagner
Aboard R/V Savannah
August 16 — 26, 2011

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean (Off the Georgia and Florida Coasts)
Date: Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Fine Bunch to Live with at Sea: Front: Katie Rowe (Scientist), Sarah Goldman (Scientist Watch Chief, Night), Stephen Long (Scientist), Warren Mitchell (Lead Scientist). Middle: Marian Wagner (Teacher-at-Sea), Shelly Falk (Scientist), Christina Schobernd (Scientist, Video). Back: John Bichy (Marine Technician), Richard Huguley (Engineer), Harry Carter (2nd Mate), Raymond Sweatte (Captain), Michael Richter (1st Mate), David Berrane (Scientist Watch Chief, Day), Mike Burton (Scientist). Missing: Joel Formby (Master of the Galley)

Weather Data from the Bridge (the wheelhouse, where the controls of the ship are)

E-NE Wind at 10 knots  (This means wind is travelling 10 nautical miles per hour,
1.15 statute miles = 1 nautical mile)

Sea depth where we traveled today ranged from 33 meters to 74 meters

Seas 2-4 feet (measure of the height of the back of the waves, lower the number = calmer seas and steadier boat)

Science and Technology Log

IRENE: On Tuesday evening, we discussed the impact of Hurricane Irene on our cruise plans, and scientists and crew needed to make a decision about when we should return to dock. Originally, the plan was to return in the morning on Friday, August 26, but due to projections of Irene, they predicted that the seas would be too rough for us to lay traps beyond Wednesday (8/24).  When the seas are too rough, the traps bounce around and cameras do not pick up a steady, reliable picture.  When seas get to be 6-7 feet+ on a boat the size of the R/V Savannah (92 feet long), it also makes our work (and life) on the boat very difficult. Additionally, with Irene’s landfall projected in North Carolina, where half of the scientists live, they would need to get home in time to secure their homes and potentially evacuate.  Not in the case of Irene, but if a hurricane was expected to hit Savannah/Skidaway, where the boat moors, the ship’s crew would need to prepare for a hurricane-mooring.  To do this, they would run the ship up the Savannah River and put on a navy anchor that weighs 3,000 pounds.  Even with the use of the electric crane, it’s not an easy task to pull a 3,000 pound anchor onboard.  This would not be done unless a direct hit to the area was expected.  It has been done once before to the Savannah in the 10 years of her existence.  The forecast did not project Savannah to be affected by Irene, so we did not need to prepare for a hurricane mooring.

After difficult deliberation on Tuesday night about hurricane Irene’s potential Category (see how hurricanes are ranked here), and considering the success of the research accomplished on the trip already, scientists decided the most practical and reasonable decision was to dock Tuesday night, unpack Wednesday morning, and allow North Carolina scientists to return to their homes by Wednesday night.  (From reports I received post-Irene, there was landfall of the hurricane eye over their houses, but the storm weakened between Wednesday night and Saturday and was Category 1 when it came ashore.  None of them sustained significant loss.  Many downed trees and three days without power, but no floods or structure damage. Phew!)

NOAA’s National Weather Service is the sole official voice of the U.S. government for issuing warnings during life-threatening weather situations.  Follow Seattle’s “Weather Story” at NOAA’s National Weather Service.

OUR RESEARCH PROCESS…A STORY CONCLUDED

Here on my final blog entry, I want to finish the story of our research process.  Here’s the story I’ve told so far, in outline form:

  1. research begins with baiting fish traps and attaching cameras, and we stand-by on deck
  2. when we arrive at a research location with reef fish habitat (as observed via depth sounder and GPS), we drop the trap to the bottom and it sits for 90 minutes; buoys float above each trap so we can find and retrieve them near where traps were deployed, we run the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth Profiler (CTD) to get information about abiotic conditions at each sampling site. The CTD takes vertical water column profiles, measuring: Pressure, Temperature, Conductivity/Salinity, Chlorophyll fluorometer, Color dissolved organic matter fluorometer (CDOM), Photosynthetic Active Radiation (PAR), Backscatter, Dissolved oxygen, and Transmissometer -10 and 25 cm path lengths
  3. after 90 minutes have passed, we return to the traps and pick them up, and secure the fish caught
  4. we identify each fish, measure length, weight, and frequency (how many fish were      caught), and then keep the fish that our research is targeting
  5. in the wet lab, we dissect target fish, removing parts of fish that are sent back to the lab for further research

AT THIS POINT, WE ARE DONE with our research with the bodies of the fish, but we have 99% OF THE FISH’S BODY LEFT! What should we do?

I was very impressed with the compassionate and humane action the scientists do with the fish after research.  Scientific research guidelines don’t dictate what a research study should do with edible fish flesh. We could have just discarded fish back into the ocean. However, scientists see an opportunity to provide food to people in need of  nutritional support in our communities, and they coordinated with a regional food bank in Savannah to do just that. Despite the work and time it takes to process the fish for donation, it did not seem to be considered a burden at all by any of the scientists.

I am perfecting my fillet!

Fresh fish fillets ready for food bank distribution

To process the fish for donation, we cut fish into fillets, wrap the fillets in butcher paper, and freeze them onboard the ship.

When we reached land, Warren
contacted the regional food bank, who came out to the dock with a refrigerated truck to pick up fish.  Within a few days the fish was distributed through charitable organizations in the region to people who were most in need.

These scientists are not just natural scientists but social scientists too! (just as I fancy myself!)

Personal Log

Captain Raymond Sweatte and First Mate Michael Richter

Interview with Raymond Sweatte, captain of R/V Savannah

Marian: What  makes a good crew?

Raymond: A crew that sees things that need to be done and does them because they know it all goes smoother when they do.

 

M: Have you ever run into or had a close call running into another ship?

Raymond: No, but the closest I came was when I was passing under the bridge at the Skidaway when a barge was coming through at the same time. Because it was easier for me to maneuver, I pulled over to side to let the barge use the majority of the channel. But the barge stayed on my side of the channel and was coming right at me. My boat was leaning upon the bank so there was no where for me to go.  I got him on the horn and asked, “What’s going on?”  He pulled over right away. He was new and very apologetic. 

M: Have you ever been in a terrible storm before?

Raymond: A few times we’ve had 15-16 foot seas coming back from the Gulf. When you have a north wind at 35 knots [strong wind coming from the North] and north-going current opposing the wind, the seas get very rough. Waves were coming up over the ship. [picture Marian’s eyes VERY wide at this point in the conversation] When seas are really rough, you get lifted up out of bed and down again. I remember trying to sleep one night in rough seas when my head kept hitting against the wall, so I turned around so my feet were up hitting against the wall.

M: What were things like before radar, satellite, and so many electronic navigation tools
you use today?

Raymond: Things were not as accurate. Communication was on a single sideband, navigation was with Loran-C, though VHF radio was somewhat the same as now.  To follow ships and determine their speed we had radar on dash but we had to use an eye cup we looked into to correlate with the radar, and then go over to the chart to plot them.  Then, we did it again six minutes later and multiplied by 10 to find their speed.  Now we have an automatic identification system [we can click on a ship on the radar] that tells us where they are, who they are, where they came from, where they are going, and what they are doing.  

M: What are the right-of-ways when vessels are crossing paths; who moves when two vessels are in course to collide?

Raymond: [On ships, aircraft and piloted spacecraft] a red light is on the left or port side of the craft and a green is on the right or starboard side. When two vessels have crossing paths, each will see a red or green light. If you’re looking at another vessel’s port side you see red, and it’s his right-of-way. If you are on their starboard side, you see the green light, and the right is yours.

Also, right-of-way rules give priority to vessels with the most difficulty maneuvering. The ranks in right-of-way, starting with the highest are:

1)Not under command

2)Restricted in ability to maneuver

3)Constrained by draft (stay away from shallower water to avoid running aground)

4)Fishing

5)Sail

6)Power

7)Sea Plane

Remember this mnemonic: New Reels Catch Fish So Purchase Some.

M: Who’s easier to talk to, a Navy Sub Captain or a Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot?

Raymond: I don’t have a problem talking with any of them. Coast Guard generally would call you first. Navy sub pilots I’ve found to be very cordial. They have changed their course when we had traps out.

M: What message would you say to students interested in being a captain?

Raymond: All kids have to follow their own heart. If they like water and this environment, they should follow their heart and become a captain.

Thank you Captain Raymond! It was a genuine pleasure to talk to you and experience life at sea under your command and with such a stellar crew. It is no wonder you are revered by everyone you work with.  Read more about Captain Raymond Sweatte in the Savannah Morning News!

The powerful significance of this trip for me was that I did not just study a science lesson from a book or lab, but I was essentially given a chance to live a different life, that of a fisheries field biologist.  I did not dabble in the work; it was a full explosion into the curiosities, reasonings, and daily routines of working with live fish and fish guts while sharing friendship, humor and stories with scientists and crew aboard a boat that was a small bounded island of rich human culture within a vast ocean of life and scientific questions waiting to be answered.  I loved it.  If only I didn’t love teaching more…I could definitely live that life.  Thanks NOAA, thanks NC SEFIS folks, thanks SC DNR folks, and thanks Skidaway Institute of Oceanography folks.  You are all in my heart and in my classroom!

FASCINATING EXTRAS!

Flying fish!

At night especially, when looking out at the seascape, I noticed flying, bug-looking specimens scurrying out of and into the ocean’s surface.  WHAT WERE THEY?! I wondered. So I asked and learned they were FLYING FISH! A few of them flew right up on the vessel’s work deck.  Their wings are modifications of the pectoral fins.  They are so fascinating and their coloring was greenish/blue iridescence, a stunningly beautiful color!

RED SNAPPER: PROTECTED STATUS

“The Gulf and South Atlantic red snapper populations are currently at very low levels (overfished), and both red snapper populations are being harvested at too high a rate (overfishing).” See more where this quote came from at Fish Watch: US Seafood Facts.

It was clear to me how significant the concern for the red snapper population was when I learned that funding for this fisheries survey was drastically increased following the recent determination that red snapper were overfished and overfishing was occurring.  Fisheries managers, field biologists and members of the general public all want to see the red snapper population improve.  This cruise provided scientific data that will be useful when the status of the U.S. South Atlantic red snapper population is assessed again.

The lionfish's spines are so poisonous the only way to hold them is placing fingers in their mouths.

History of measuring speed in NAUTICAL MILES:

Wonder how a vessel’s speed was measured hundreds of years ago? Log Lines, knotted ropes with a log tied to one end and knots every nautical mile and one-tenth of a nautical mile, were tossed off the end of the ship while the knotted rope unraveled behind it. When the sand on a minute sand glass ran out, the rope was reeled back in and the knots counted to determine ship’s speed in knots-per-minute.

 LIONFISH: INVASIVE SPECIES

In its native waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the lionfish population is not a problem. There it has natural predators and natural parasites to keep it from overpopulating, yet it can survive well enough to maintain a healthy sustainable population. However, in the Caribbean waters and along the Eastern Coast of the United States, the lionfish has recently been introduced, and the effects are alarming. “Lionfish have the potential to become the most disastrous marine invasion in history by drastically reducing the abundance of coral reef fishes and leaving behind a devastated ecosystem.”  See more where this quote came from at NOAA’s research on invasive lionfish here. In the U.S. south Atlantic, they consume large quantities of reef fish and have no natural predators or parasites. Their population is thriving in large numbers, and it is devastating other fish species.  Mark Hixon, Oregon State University zoology professor, co-authored a study in 2008 with Mark Albins that showed “a lionfish can kill three-quarters of a reef’s fish population in just five weeks.” Read NPR story here. This is a cool way to view an environmental problem: see this animated map of the lionfish invasion! Red Snapper

Heather Haberman: Science and Life at Sea, July 16, 2011 (post #5)

  • NOAA Teacher at Sea
    Heather Haberman

    Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
    July 5 — 17, 2011

Mission:  Groundfish Survey
Geographical Location:  Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date:  Saturday, July 16, 2011

Weather Data from  NOAA Ship Tracker
Air Temperature: 28.5 C   (83 F)
Water Temperature: 27.2 C  (81 F)
Relative Humidity: 82%
Wind Speed: 9.58 knots

Preface:  Scroll down the page if you would like to read my blog in chronological order.  If you have any questions leave them for me at the end of the post.

Science and Technology Log

Question of the day:  When I view your travels aboard the Oregon II on NOAA’s Ship Tracker website it looks as though you go as far as the continental shelf and then turn back towards the shore again.  Why don’t you go into the deep water?

Our groundfish survey course.

Answer:  If you were studying animals in the rainforest you would want to make sure to stay in that specific area.  You wouldn’t want to include Arctic animals in your report which are from a completely different biome.  The same goes for ocean life.  As depth, temperature, and amount of light change in the ocean so do the habitats and the animals that live in them.  On this groundfish survey we are focusing on offshore species that live in “shallow” waters up to 60 fathoms (361 feet).  If we were to go out into the deep water then our reports wouldn’t be as accurate.

Topic of the Day:  Science

What is science?  Can you come up with a good definition?  Difficult isn’t it.  There are many definitions that refer to science as the study of the natural world, systematic knowledge, etc. but something that’s often left out of the definition is that it can be used to make predictions.

We have all been conducting scientific experiments since we were old enough to formulate questions about our environment: “Will this ball bounce?”,  “Can I get it to bounce higher?”,  “Will ball #1 bounce higher than ball #2?”  The knowledge we have collected from these experiments allow us to make accurate predictions.  “I think ball #2 would be better for playing tennis than ball #1.”  Now keep in mind, the more we know about a subject, the better our predictions will be.

The more information we have the better our predictions become. Image: http://www.exploratorium.edu/baseball/bouncing_balls.html

Did you know that the ocean covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface but more than 95% of it remains unexplored.  This means we have a lot to learn if we want to accurately predict the relationships between the ocean, the atmosphere and the living things on our planet. To address these gaps in our knowledge, thousands of people working for the government, universities and private industries, are trying to collect the information we need to make the most accurate predictions possible.  Perhaps by expanding our knowledge we will be better equipped to formulate some solutions to the problems we have created in the seas such as  pollution (particularly plastics), climate change and overfishing.  These issues are drastically changing oceanic ecosystems which in turn affect the life on our planet.

The beautiful Pacific Ocean. Image: Universe Today

A new venture into deep ocean exploration. Image: ZD Net

One thing that sets science apart from other arenas is that is it based on verifiable evidence.  We are not talking about video footage of bigfoot or pictures of UFO’s here, we are talking about evidence that is easily confirmed by further examination or research.  I don’t think many people consider all of the expertise that goes into collecting this kind of scientific data–it’s not just scientists.

Not all evidence is verifiable.

Onboard the Oregon II there are engineers that make sure the ship and all its parts are functional, skilled fishermen that operate the cranes and trawling equipment, officers from the NOAA Corps that navigate and assist the captain in commanding the ship, cooks that feed a hungry crew and the scientists.  Conducting scientific research is a team effort that requires a variety of skilled personnel.

NOAA Corps member Ensign Brian Adornado with a nautical chart that's used for navigating our ships course.

Too often people underestimate the amount of time and labor that actually goes into collecting the information we have about our planet and its inhabitants.  In fact, many people dismiss scientific evidence as unimportant and trivial when in actuality it is based on the most technologically advanced methods that are available.  Scientific data, and conclusions derived from the data, are peer-reviewed (looked at by others in the field) before it is published or presented to the general public.

This is why it is so important to take heed to the reports about the changes taking place in the ocean’s waters. Without the data from NASA’s satellites in the sky,  NOAA’s ships on the sea and other sources too numerous to mention, we wouldn’t know the extent of the damage that’s being done to the ocean.

Chlorophyll concentrations in the ocean. Image: NASA satellite SeaWIFS

NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program has clearly demonstrated how good science is done.  I experienced first hand the importance of random sampling, scientific classification of organisms, repeating trials to ensure the accuracy of results, team work, safety, publishing data for the public to review and always having backup equipment.  I’m looking forward to sharing these experiences with my students.  Thank you NOAA!

Personal log:

My time aboard the Oregon II is coming to an end.  We have finished up our last stations and cleaned up the workrooms.  Now its back to Pascagoula, Mississippi.  It has been a wonderful experience!  For those of you that are wondering what I did each day on the ship it was pretty routine.

9:00 AM : Go to the galley for some juice and coffee.  Hot breakfast ends at 8:00 AM but they always have cereal and fresh fruit to eat.  In the galley there are two tables that each seat six people.  At the end of each table is a small TV so we can watch the news, our anything else that happens to be on DirectTV.

This is a picture of my room. I have the bottom bunk and my roommate sleeps on the top. The curtains are very nice for privacy since we work different shifts.

There is a bathroom (head) that my roommate and I share with our two neighbors. Each room has its own entry door to the bathroom.

This is the galley where all of our meals are served. It's also stocked with lots of yummy snacks and drinks!

9:30 AM:  After some coffee, juice and conversation I head upstairs to the lounge so I can check my e-mail and work on my blog.  The lounge has some comfortable seats, a big TV, lots of 8mm movies, two computers for the fishermen, and an internet cord for laptops.  Usually David, the ornithologist (bird scientist), is here working when I arrive so we usually chat for a while.

This is the lounge.

11:00 AM:  Lunch time!  everyday the chefs make amazing food for us to eat.  They’ve served bbq ribs, prime rib, turkey, quail, crab cakes, shrimp, mahi-mahi, ham, crab legs, pork loin, steaks and lots of other amazing side dishes and desserts.  Both chefs are retired from the Navy where they were also cooks.

12:00 noon: Head to the dry lab to start my shift.  At the start of every shift Brittany, our team leader, writes down all of the stations we will be going to as well as how many miles it takes to get there.

This is the "dry lab" where we spend our time waiting for the next trawl or plankton station. In this room there are computers dedicated to navigation, depth imagery and fisheries data.

5:00 PM:  Supper time!  Back to the galley for some more excellent food!

12:00 midnight:  Night crew comes in to relieve us from our 12 hour shift.  I quietly enter my room so I don’t wake up my roommate and hit the shower.  Then it’s to the rack (my bunk bed) with some ear plugs to block out the sounds of the engine.  The slow rocking of the waves makes a person fall asleep quickly after a long day at work.