Dana Kosztur: Science Lab at Sea, April 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Dana Kosztur

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

April 5-18

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 15, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Lat: 29° 35.5335′ N Long: 084° 19.8126′ W
Air Temperature: 18.2°C (64.76°F)
Water Temperature: 20.43°C (68.77°F)
Wind speed: 28.11 knots (32.35 mph)
Conditions: stormy, Seas 7 to 9 feet

Science and Technology Log

While I have been at sea,  I have spent time exploring Pisces and getting to know the people on board. This research vessel is 209 feet long, 50 feet wide, and it has a draft of 20 feet.  It is large enough to hold 39 passengers. The crew of the vessel during my sail consists of 5 NOAA Officers, 5 deck crew, 5 engineers, 4 technicians, 2 stewards and 5 scientists.

NOAA Ship Pisces
NOAA Ship Pisces

Pisces is loaded with science equipment. It has the capability to run acoustic surveys, marine mammal surveys, and various fish surveys. The onboard wet lab is used to process the marine life brought in on trawls, long lines, or bandit reels. In the dry lab, the mission data is stored and processed by the scientists and survey technicians on the ship.  There is a side sample station on the starboard deck where the cameras and ROVs are launched and the trawls are deployed on its stern. The centerboard, on the hull underneath the ship, has mounted sensors that send back various types of data for the scientist to use. This vessel was also engineered to be quiet while underway so it won’t scare marine life. The ship shares the oceanographic, hydrographic and weather data it gathers daily to the outside world.

The Commanding Officer gave me a tour of the bridge.  The bridge is the navigation center. The vessel can be operated from one of four different stations. The science that is being conducted determines where the officer will navigate from. The technology on the bridge is quite amazing.  The dynamic positioning system allows the vessel to stay within certain parameters when supporting science missions. It functions almost like an auto-pilot to keep the ship in the proper position.

Bridge Center Navigation
Bridge Center Navigation
"Moo"ving the ship
“Moo”ving the ship

 

NOAA Ship Pisces is like a floating city.   I had the opportunity to explore the engine room with the ship’s first assistant engineer to see how this mini-city works.  He showed me how they process sewage and garbage aboard the vessel. I learned how the vessel creates its own water and power.  I saw the huge engines. This ship has two 8 cylinder engines and two 12 cylinders engines that power the ship. I also learned how the bilge/ballast system keeps the ship stable and how the bow thruster aids in steering

 

one of four engines on Pisces
one of four engines on Pisces

Personal Log

Most of the days pass quickly and I lose track of time.  I can’t believe I have been at sea for 10 days. Having a different type of workday is very unusual to me.  I have taught for almost 18 years so school days are what I know. It is different to work with adults all day instead of children.  It is a definite change of pace. Today is a slow day. We are currently standing-by due to a weather delay. We have moved closer to shore and are riding out the storm.  Hopefully, we will be able to be back up and running tomorrow.

I will surely miss the trips to the galley when I get home. I have probably gained five pounds on this trip. The stewards that cook on this ship do an amazing job.  It is nice to have already prepared meals. I have gotten spoiled by not cooking too. I know will miss the view when I get back to land. Watching the waves never gets old.  I could stare at the water all day. Even when it is stormy the ocean is beautiful.

Being away from home is hard.  It’s difficult not to harass my team teachers about my classroom while I am gone.  I know that my students are well taken care of but it is hard not to worry. The letters from my students, emails from family,  texts from my husband, messages from friends, and sweet videos from my granddaughter help me combat homesickness.

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Mexico is home to 21 marine mammals and 5 sea turtle species

Student questions

How many species of sharks are in the gulf?  There are approximately 49 shark species in the gulf.

Dana Kosztur: Unexpected Visitors, April 11, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Dana Kosztur

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

April 5-18, 2018

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 11, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Lat: 29° 54.7331′ N Long: 087° 12.1562′ W
Air Temperature: 22.5°C (72.5°F)
Water Temperature: 21.29°C (70°F)
Wind speed: 5.8 knots (6.7mph)
Conditions: blue sky, flat seas

Science and Technology Log

This week I have learned a lot about the reef fish studied in this SEAMAP survey. I have learned how to weigh the fish and take various length measurements. I have also learned how to examine the gonads and distinguish a male from a female.  I can now properly remove the otolith bones from the otic capsule that is located at the base of the fish’s skull.

 

We have had some unusual catches that have provided great learning experiences as well.  The bandit reel caught a sharksucker on the line as it returned. This fish belongs to the Remora family.  It attaches to sharks and other marine animals. This was a really unusual creature to observe.

Dana and shark sucker
TAS Dana Kosztur displays a sharksucker captured on the bandit reel.

The camera arrays had fireworms hitch a ride to the deck from the bottom of the gulf. These guys look like large spikey caterpillars. They have venom in their bristles that can cause a painful sting.  

Fireworm
This fireworm hitched a ride on a camera array.

Personal Log

Today was a beautiful day.  The water is such a beautiful blue.  The sky was cloudless last night so I finally got to look at the stars.  The night sky seems much more vast and bright away from the light pollution on land.  The stars are amazingly bright. I am enjoying life on the ship but I do miss home. I have a greater respect for those that work away from home for long periods of time.  Teamwork and a positive attitude seem to be the lifeblood of this NOAA vessel and that makes it much easier to adjust.

Did You Know?

Many birds will often land on the vessel to rest during their migration route across the Gulf of Mexico.     

Barn swallows
Migrating barn swallows

Waves transmit energy, not water.

Cow at sea
Cow at sea

Questions from students:

Why do scientists need to know what types of fish are on the reef?  

It is important to manage and maintain the reef fish species because they are often over-fished.

Scamp grouper
Scamp grouper

 

Dana Kosztur: Cruising with Camera Arrays, April 8, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Dana Kosztur

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

April 5-18, 2018

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 8, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Lat: 29o 20.6309′ N      Long: 087o 46.1490′ W
Air Temperature: 18.1oC (64.5oF)
Water Temperature: 22.29oC (72oF)
Wind speed: 10.81 knots (12.4 mph)
Conditions: cloudy,  1 to 2 ft seas

Science and Technology Log

The most important equipment on this mission are the camera arrays. Most of the data collected are dependent on these cameras.  I mentioned in my last entry the two types of camera arrays used in this survey are the SatCam and the RIOT.  The video taken from these camera arrays is stitched together in a five-panel single view. The videos are reviewed and each species that appears is counted and recorded.  Images help the scientist determine the population of fish at a given site. The RIOT is a two-stacked spherical camera housing unit that contains 5 horizontal cameras and one upward facing camera.  The RIOT is the more expensive of the two arrays, but it gives the scientist a greater ability to measure fish when they are captured in the dual videos.  

 

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deploying the RIOT

 

Over the past few days, we have caught several species of fish on the bandit reels. We have caught red snapper, vermilion snapper, and red porgy. These lines have 10 baited hooks and they are dropped into the water on a randomly selected site.  In order to obtain a proper sample of the fish, very little human interaction is made with the reel or the line. This leaves out any fisherman bias and allows for natural sampling of species on the site.  The hook sizes are rotated with each drop. The hooks sizes are 8, 11, and 15. If reel 1 starts with size 8 hook, it will have size 11 on the next drop, and then 15 on the third. Each reel has a different rotating pattern.  This allows each hook size to be in the water over the same site. The data will help determine if a certain hook type is favored by a species of fish.

 

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recording red snapper data

 

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class mascot

 

Personal Log

My students will return to school tomorrow from spring break.  I am a little sad I am not there with them.  They wrote letters for me to read while I was away. I have read some of these already and they are pretty funny.  I want to reassure them that I will not fall overboard and that I am eating well.  I will answer student questions on the bottom of my blogs.

We are in the Gulf of Mexico about 70 to 80 miles offshore, on the Mississippi-Alabama Continental shelf.  I have not been this far out in the gulf before today. It is pretty humbling to look out and just see blue water. The sunrises and sunsets are spectacular. You can’t always see them though. The weather has been pretty gloomy the last two days, so I was unable to see last night’s sunset or this morning’s sunrise.   We had a storm yesterday followed by the much cooler weather today.  I hope this is the only cold snap we get.  I am not a fan of cold boat work.

Did You Know?

Turbidity is how cloudy the water is based on the suspended solids. The higher the turbidity the more sediment, algae and other solids are suspended in the water.  Clear water has low turbidity.

Questions from students:

What is hydrography? The science that measures and describes the physical features of bodies of water and land close to these bodies of water.  Multibeam echosounders are used to obtain hydrographic data.

New species that I have seen:  Red Porgy:  Pagrus pagrus

                           Vermilion Snapper:  Rhomboplites aurorubens

 

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Red Porgy teeth

 

Kimberly Scantlebury: It’s All About the Little Things, May 8, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kimberly Scantlebury

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 1-May 12, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: May 8, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 18:00

Latitude: 2755.757 N, Longitude: 9200.0239 W

Wind Speed: 14.21  knots, Barometric Pressure: 1015.3 hPa

Air Temperature: 24.56  C, Water Temperature: 24.4  C

Salinity: 36.37  PSU, Conditions: 50% cloud cover, light wind, seas 2-4 feet

Science and Technology Log

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The CTD

The CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) array is another important tool. It goes down at each station, which means data is captured ten-twelve times a day. It drops 50 m/min so it only takes minutes to reach the bottom where other winch/device systems can take an hour to do the same. This array scans eight times per second for the following environmental factors:

  • Depth (m)
  • Conductivity (converts to salinity in ppt)
  • Temperature (C)
  • Dissolved oxygen (mg/mL)
  • Transmissivity (%)
  • Fluorescence (mg/m^3)
  • Descent rate (m/sec)
  • Sound velocity (m/sec)
  • Density (kg/m^3)

There are two sensors for most readings and the difference between them is shown in real time and recorded. For example, the dissolved oxygen sensor is most apt to have calibration issues. If the two sensors are off each other by 0.1 mg/L then something needs to be done.

Software programs filter the data to cut out superfluous numbers such as when the CTD is acclimating in the water for three minutes prior to diving. Another program aligns the readings when the water is working through the sensors. Since a portion of water will reach one sensor first, then another, then another, and so on, the data from each exact portion of water is aligned with each environmental factor. There are many other sophisticated software programs that clean up the data for use besides these two.

These readings are uploaded to the Navy every twelve hours, which provides almost real-time data of the Gulf. The military uses this environmental data to determine how sound will travel through sound channels by locating thermoclines as well as identifying submarines. NOAA describes a thermocline as, “the transition layer between warmer mixed water at the ocean’s surface and cooler deep water below.” Sound channels are how whales are able to communicate over long distances.

NOAA Ocean Explorer: Sound in the Sea 2001
This “channeling” of sound occurs because of the properties of sound and the temperature and pressure differences at different depths in the ocean. (NOAA)

The transmissometer measures the optical properties of the water, which allows scientists to track particulates in the water. Many of these are clay particles suspended in the water column. Atmospheric scientists are interested in particulates in the air and measure 400 m. In the water, 0.5 m is recorded since too many particulate affects visibility very quickly. This affects the cameras since light reflecting off the clay can further reduce visibility.   

Fluorescence allows scientists to measure chlorophyll A in the water. The chlorophyll molecule is what absorbs energy in photosynthetic plants, algae, and bacteria. Therefore, it is an indicator of the concentration of organisms that make up the base of food chains. In an ecosystem, it’s all about the little things! Oxygen, salinity, clay particles, photosynthetic organisms, and more (most we can not actually see), create a foundation that affects the fish we catch more than those fish affect the little things.  

The relationship between abiotic (nonliving) and biotic (living) factors is fascinating. Oxygen is a great example. When nitrates and phosphates wash down the Mississippi River from the breadbasket of America, it flows into the Gulf of Mexico. These nutrients can make algae go crazy and lead to algae blooms. The algae then use up the oxygen, creating dead zones. Fish can move higher up the water column or away from the area, but organisms fixed to the substrate (of which there are many in a reef system) can not. Over time, too many algae blooms can affect the productivity of an area.

Salt domes were created millions of years ago when an ancient sea dried up prior to reflooding into what we have today. Some salt domes melted and pressurized into super saline water, which sinks and pools. These areas create unique microclimates suitable to species like some mussels. A microclimate is a small or restricted area with a climate unique to what surrounds it.

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The ship’s sonar revealing a granite spire a camera array was deployed on.

Another great example is how geology affects biology. Some of these salt domes collapsed leaving granite spires 30-35 meters tall and 10 meters across. These solid substrates create a magical biological trickle down effect. The algae and coral attach to the hard rock, and soon bigger and bigger organisms populate this microclimate. Similar microclimates are created in the Gulf of Mexico from oil rigs and other hard surfaces humans add to the water.

Jillian’s net also takes a ride with the CTD. She is a PhD student at Texas A&M University studying the abundance and distribution of zooplankton in the northern Gulf of Mexico because it is the primary food source of some commercially important larval fish species. Her net is sized to capture the hundreds of different zooplankton species that may be populating the area. The term zooplankton comes from the Greek zoo (animal) and planktos (wanderer/drifter). Many are microscopic, but Jillian’s samples reveal some translucent critters you can see with the naked eye. Her work and the work of others like her ensures we will have a deeper understanding of the ocean.   

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Personal Log

Prior to this I had never been to the Gulf of Mexico other than on a cruise ship (not exactly the place to learn a lot of science). It has been unexpected to see differences and parallels between the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf of Maine, which I am more familiar. NOAA scientist, John, described the Gulf to me as, “a big bathtub.” In both, the geology of the area, which was formed millions of years ago, affects that way these ecosystems run.   

Quote of the Day:
Jillian: “Joey, are we fishing at this station?”
Joey: “I dunno. I haven’t had my coffee yet.”
Jillian: “It’s 3:30 in the afternoon!”

Did You Know?

Zooplankton in the Gulf of Mexico are smaller than zooplankton in the Gulf of Maine. Larger species are found in colder water.  

why_zoo
Zooplankton under microscope (NOAA)

Kimberly Scantlebury: Getting Ready to Ship Out. April 26, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kimberly Scantlebury

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 1-May 12, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 26, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

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At home in New England, where you can enjoy the mountains and the sea all in a day.

Greetings from New Hampshire! Our variable spring weather is getting me ready for the coolness at sea compared to hot Galveston, Texas, where I will ship off in a few days.

It is currently 50 F and raining with a light wind, the perfect weather to reflect on this upcoming adventure.

Science and Technology Log

I am excited to soon be a part of the 2017 SEAMAP Reef Survey. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) writes the objective of these surveys is, “ to provide an index of the relative abundances of fish species associated with topographic features (banks, ledges) located on the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico in the area from Brownsville, Texas to Dry Tortugas, Florida.” The health of the Gulf is important from an ecological and economic perspective. Good science demands good research.

We will be working 12 hour shifts aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces. I expect to work hard and learn a lot about the science using cameras, fish traps, and vertical long lines. I also look forward to learning more about life aboard a fisheries research vessel and the career opportunities available to my students as they think about their own futures.

Personal Log

I’ve been teaching science in Maine and New Hampshire for eight years and always strive to stay connected to science research. I aim to keep my students directly connected through citizen science opportunities and my own continuing professional development. Living in coastal states, it is easier to remember the ocean plays a large role in our lives. The culture of lobster, fried clams, and beach days requires a healthy ocean.

I love adventure and have always wanted to “go out to sea.” This was the perfect opportunity! I was fortunate to take a Fisheries Science & Techniques class with Dave Potter while attending Unity College and look forward to revisiting some of that work, like measuring otoliths (ear bones, used to age fish). I have also benefited from professional development with The Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and other ocean science experiences. One of the best parts of science teaching is you are always learning!

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Science teachers benefit from quality professional development to stay informed in their content areas.

There was a lot of preparation involved since I am missing two weeks of school. I work at The Founders Academy, a public charter school in Manchester, New Hampshire. We serve students from 30 towns, but about a third come from Manchester. The school’s Vision is to: prepare wise, principled leaders by offering a classical education and providing a wide array of opportunities to lead:

  • Preparing students to be productive citizens.
  • Teaching students how to apply the American experience and adapt to become leaders in today’s and tomorrow’s global economy.
  • Emphasis on building ethical and responsible leaders in society.

I look forward to bringing my experiences with NOAA Teacher at Sea Program back to school! It is difficult to leave my students for two weeks, but so worth it. It is exciting to connect with middle and high school students all of the lessons we can learn from the work NOAA does. My school community has been very supportive, especially another science teacher who generously volunteered to teach my middle school classes while I am at sea.

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I am grateful for the support at home for helping me participate in the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program.

My boyfriend too is holding down the fort at home and with Stone & Fire Pizza as I go off on another adventure. Our old guinea pigs, Montana & Macaroni, prefer staying at home, but put up with us taking them on vacation to Rangeley, Maine. I am grateful for the support and understanding of everyone and for the opportunity NOAA has offered me.

Did You Know?

NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.

NOAA is the scientific agency of the Department of Commerce. The agency was founded in 1970 by consolidating different organizations that existed since the 1800’s, making NOAA’s scientific legacy the oldest in the U.S. government.

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As a science teacher, it is funny that I really do have guinea pigs. Here is our rescue pig Montana, who is 7-8 years old.

Denise Harrington: Tenacity – May 7, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces (In Port)
May 04, 2016 – May 17, 2016

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Saturday, May 7, 2016

Tenacity helps NOAA manage our seafood supply.

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Tenacity, otherwise known as perseverance or stamina, is a required skill at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces, we are all anxious to head out to collect data about the type and abundance of reef fish along the continental shelf and shelf edge of the Gulf of Mexico.  However, things don’t always go as planned. Much like the animals we study, scientists must rapidly adapt to their changing circumstances. Instead of waiting for a problem to be solved, fisheries biologists of all ages and experience work in the lab, using the newest, most sophisticated technology in the world to meet our demand for seafood.

As I ate dinner tonight in the mess (the area where the crew eats), I stared at the Pisces’ motto on the tablecloth, “patience and tenacity.”

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The Pisces is a “quiet” ship; it uses generators to supply power to an electric motor that turns the ship’s propeller. The ship’s motor (or a mysteriously related part) is not working properly, and without a motor, we will not sail. This change of plans provides other opportunities for me, and you, to learn about many fascinating projects developing in the lab. Sound science begins right here at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center Laboratory in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

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Kevin Rademacher, a fishery biologist in the Reef Fish Unit, meets me at the lab where he works when he isn’t at sea. As he introduces me to other biologists working in the protected species, plankton, and long line units, I begin to appreciate the great biodiversity of species in the Gulf of Mexico. I get a glimpse of the methods biologists use to conduct research in the field, and in the lab.

While it looks like a regular old office building on the outside, the center of the building is filled with labs where fish are taken to be discovered.  Mark Grace, a fisheries biologist in the lab, made one such discovery of a rare species of pocket shark on a survey in the gulf. The only other specimen of a pocket shark was found coast of Peru in 1979. Mark’s discovery raises more questions in my mind than answers.

When I met Mark, he explained that capability of technology to gather data has outpaced our ability to process it. “Twenty years ago, we used a pencil and a clipboard. Think about the 1980s when they started computerizing data points compared to the present time… maybe in the future when scientists look back on the use of computers in science, it will be considered to be as important as Galileo looking at the stars” he said. It’s important because as Mark also explains,  “This correspondence is a good example.  We can send text, website links, images, etc…and now its a matter of digital records that will carry in to the future.”

How do fishery biologists find fish?

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Charlie McVea, a retired NOAA marine biologist, and his trusty assistant Scout, pictured above, learned they may need more sophisticated equipment to locate fish.

Earth has one big connected ocean that covers the many features beneath it. Looking below the surface to the ocean floor, we find a fascinating combination of continental shelves, canyons, reefs, and even tiny bumps that make unique homes for all of the living creatures that live there.  Brandi Noble, one of 30-40 fishery biologists in the lab, uses very complicated sonar (sound) equipment to find “fish hot spots,” the kinds of places fish like to go for food, shelter and safety from predators. Fisheries sonar sends pulses of sound, or pings, into the water.  Fishery biologists are looking for a varied echo sound that indicates they’ve found rocky bottoms, ledges, and reefs that snapper and grouper inhabit.

The sonar can also survey fish in a non-invasive way. Most fish have a swim bladder, or a gas filled chamber, which reflects sonar’s sound waves.  A bigger fish will create a returning echo of greater strength. This way, fisheries biologists can identify and count fish without hurting them.

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The circular image shows a three-dimensional map NOAA scientists created from the sonar data they collected about the seafloor and a school of fish.

Ship Pisces uses a scientific methods to survey, determining relative abundance and types of fish in each area. They establish blocks of habitat along the continental shelf to survey and then randomly sample sites that they will survey with video cameras, CTD (measures temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen in the water), and fishing. Back in the lab, they spend hours, weeks, and years, analyzing the data they collect at sea. During the 2012 SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey, the most common reef fish caught were 179 red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), 22 vermillion snapper (Rhomboplites aurorubens), and 10 red porgy (Pagrus pagrus).  Comparing the 2012 data with survey results from 2016 and other years will help policy makers develop fishing regulations to protect the stock of these and other tasty fish.

How do fishery biologists manage all the information they collect during a survey?

Scientists migrate between offices and labs, supporting each other as they identify fish and marine mammals from previous research expeditions.

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Kevin Rademacher, at work in the lab.

Our mission, the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey has been broken into four parts or legs.  The goal is to survey some of the most popular commercially harvested fish in the Gulf of Mexico.  Kevin Rademacher is the Field Party Chief for Leg 1 and Leg 3 of the survey.

Last week, he showed me collections of frozen fish, beetle infested fish, and fish on video. At one point the telephone rang, it was Andrew Paul Felts, another biologist down the hall. “Is it staying in one spot?” Kevin asks. “I bet it’s Chromis. They hang over a spot all the time.”

We head a couple doors down and enter a dark room.  Behind the blue glow of the screen sits Paul, working in the dark, like the deep water inhabitants of the video he watches. Paul observes the physical characteristics of a fish: size, shape, fins, color.  He also watches its behavior. Does it swim in a school or alone?  Does it stay in one spot or move around a lot?  He looks at its habitat, such as a rocky or sandy bottom, and its range, or place on the map.

As you watch the video below, observe how each fish looks, its habitat, and its behavior.

To learn about fisheries, biologists use the same strategies students at South Prairie Elementary use.   Paul is using his “eagle eyes,” or practiced skills of observation, as he identifies and counts fish on the screen.   All the scientists read, re-read and then “read the book a third time” like a “trying lion” to make sense out of their observations.  Finally, Paul calls Kevin, the “wise owl,” to make sure he isn’t making a mistake when he identifies a questionable fish. paul screen

Using Latin terminology such as “Chromis” or “Homo” allows scientists to use the same names for organisms. This makes it easier for scientists worldwide, who speak different languages, to communicate clearly with each other as they classify the living things they study.

I appreciate how each member of the NOAA staff, on land and at sea, look at each situation as a springboard to more challenging inquiry.  They share with each other and with us what they have learned about the diversity of life in the ocean, and how humans are linked to the ocean.  With the knowledge we gain from their hard work and tenacity, we can make better choices to protect our food supply and support the diversity of life on Earth.

 

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Spined Pygmy Shark Jaw (Squaliolus laticaudus)

Personal Log

Crew members tell me that every day at sea is a Monday.  In port, they are able to spend time with family and their communities.  I have been able to learn a bit about Pascagoula, kayak with locals, and see many new birds like the least tern, swallow tailed kite, eastern bluebird and clapper rail.  Can you guess what I ate for dinner last night?P1050747

 

 

 

 

Denise Harrington, Getting Ready for an Adventure, April 23, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
(Almost) aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 04, 2016 – May 17, 2016

Greetings from Garibaldi, Oregon. My name is Denise Harrington and I teach Second Grade at South Prairie Elementary School in Tillamook, Oregon, along the north Oregon coast. There are 300 amazing second and third graders at our school who can prove to you that no matter how young you are, you can be a great scientist.  Last year they were caught on camera by Oregon Field Guide studying the diversity of life present in our ocean.

 

I applied to become a NOAA Teacher at Sea because I wanted to work with scientists in the field. I seem to learn best by doing.  In 2014, I joined the crew of NOAA ship Rainier, mapping the ocean floor near Kodiak Island, Alaska.  I learned how vast, connected, and undiscovered our oceans are. Students watched in disbelief after we discovered a sea floor canyon.  I learned about the technology and skills used to map the ocean floor. I learned how NOAA helps us stay safe by making accurate nautical charts.  It was, for our students and myself, a life changing experience.

As an avid sea kayaker, I was able to share my deeper understanding of the ocean with fellow paddlers. Photo courtesy of Bill Vonnegut

Now, I am fortunate enough to participate in another NOAA survey. On this survey aboard NOAA ship Pisces, scientists will be collecting data about how many fish inhabit the area along banks and ledges of the Continental Shelf of the Gulf of Mexico.
NOAA believes in the value of sharing what they do with the public, and students in particular. The crew of Pisces even let fifth grader students from Southaven, Mississippi name the ship after they won a writing contest. Maybe you can name the next NOAA ship!

On May 3, 2016, Ship Pisces will begin Leg 3 of their survey of reef fish. I have so many questions.  I asked Chief Scientist Kevin Rademacher why the many survey partners chose snapper and grouper to survey. He replied “Snapper and grouper are some of the most important commercial fisheries here in the Gulf of Mexico. There are 14 species of snapper in the Gulf of Mexico that are good to eat. Of those the most commercially important is the red snapper. It is also currently over-fished.”   When I hear “over-fished” I wonder if our second graders will have many or any red snapper to eat when they they grow up. Yikes!

Another important commercial catch is grouper.  My brother, Greg, who fishes along the Kenai River in Alaska understands why grouper is a focus of the survey. “It’s tasty,” he says. I can’t believe he finds grouper tastier than salmon.  NOAA is making sure that we know what fish we have and make sure we save some for later, so that everyone can decide which fish is the tastiest when they grow up.

I have so many questions keeping me up at night as I prepare for my adventure. What do I need to know about fish to do my job on the ship?  Will I see evidence of the largest oil spill in U.S. history, the Deepwater Horizon spill? How crowded will we all be aboard Ship Pisces? If I dissect fish, will it be gross? Will it stink?  Will I get sea sick? With my head spinning with questions, I know I am learning. Yet there is nothing more I can do now to prepare myself for all that I will learn, except to be early to the airport in Portland, Oregon, and to the ship in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on May 3rd.

I will get home in time to watch my daughter, Elizabeth, graduate from high school.  Ever since I returned from the NOAA cruise in Alaska, she has been studying marine biology and even competed in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl.

liz with a crab

 

During research in the Gulf of Mexico with the crew of Ship Pisces, I will learn about the many living things in the Gulf of Mexico and about the technology they use to protect and manage commercial fisheries.  Soon, you will be able to watch me collect data about our ocean critters. Hope for fair winds and following seas as I join the crew on Ship Pisces, “working to protect, restore, and manage the use of our living ocean resources.”

Jennifer Petro: Getting Ready to Set Sail, July 1, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Petro
Aboard NOAA ship Pisces
July 1 – July 14, 2013

Mission: Marine Protected Area Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: South Atlantic United States
Date:  July 1, 2013

Weather Data:
Air temperature: 28 Degrees C (82 Degrees F)
Barometer: 1013.1 mb
Humidity: 74%
Wind direction: SW
Wind speed: 11.29 knots
Water temp: 29.6 C
Latitude: 30.39°N
Longitude: 81.43°W

Science and Technology Log

Hello from aboard NOAA ship  Pisces.  We are gearing up to set sail so I will take this opportunity to introduce myself before we get underway!  My name is Jennifer Petro and I am an 8th grade Science Teacher at Everitt Middle School in Panama City , Florida.  I am particularly excited about this mission as I am working alongside scientists from the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Lab located on Panama City Beach.  I will also be working with scientist from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute as well as Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. The focus of this mission is to survey fish and invertebrate populations in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) from Florida to North Carolina.  We will also be doing mapping of new areas to determine future MPAs.

The scientist have been busy setting up and calibrating their equipment.  We will be using an ROV, Remotely Operated (underwater) Vehicle, to view the MPAs.  There are several cameras attached to the ROV which the scientist will use to identify and count species.  There are many feet of wire and cables being set up in the dry lab.

DSCF1919
NOAA Scientists Stacey Harter and Stephanie Farrington setting up equipment for ROV dives during our Marine Protected Area surveys.

Personal Log

Currently we are still at port and are scheduled to set sail in a few hours.  The Pisces is a rather comfortable vessel.  We arrived yesterday afternoon so I already have one night’s sleep on board under my belt.  I imagine things will change when we are out at sea, but for the moment she is gently swaying in port.  I share a room with one of the scientists and we in turn share a bathroom.  Pretty great so far! The Pisces is currently moored at NAS in Mayport , FL and is dwarfed in size to all of the naval vessels that surround her!

DSCF1922
NOAA Ship Pisces
NOAA ship Pisces
NOAA ship Pisces

Today’s post is going to be rather short.  My excitement is definitely building.  we set sail in just about an hour so my next post will be from sea!

Fair weather and calm seas to all.

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.

Carmen Andrews: News from Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean off the Coast of Georgia, July 9, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – July 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coasts of Georgia and Florida
Date: July 9, 2012

Location Data:
Latitude: 30 ° 54.55’   N
Longitude: 80 ° 37.36’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 28.5°C (approx. 84°F)
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wind Direction: from SW
Surface Water Temperature: 28.16 °C (approx. 83°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log

Purpose of the research cruise and background information

The Research Vessel, or R/V Savannah is currently sampling several species of fish that live in the bottom or benthic habitats off the coasts of Georgia and Florida.

Reef fish study area
The coastal zone of Georgia and Florida and the Atlantic Ocean area where the R/V Savannah is currently surveying reef fish

These important reef habitats are a series of rocky areas that are referred to as hard bottom or “live” bottom areas by marine scientists. The reef area includes ledges or cliff-like formations that occur near the continental shelf of the southeast coast. They are called ‘reefs’ because of their topography – not because they are formed by large coral colonies, as in warmer waters. These zones can be envisioned as strings of rocky undersea islands that lie between softer areas of silt and sand. They are highly productive areas that are rich in marine organism diversity. Several species of snapper, grouper, sea bass, porgy, as well as moray eels, and other fish inhabit this hard benthic habitat.

Reef fish
Hard bottom of reef habitat, showing benthic fish — black sea bass is on left and gray trigger fish is on right side of image.

It is also home to many invertebrate species of coral, bryozoans, echinoderms, arthropods and mollusks.

Bottom organisms pulled up with fish traps
Bottom-dwelling organisms, pulled up with fish traps deployed in the reef zone.

The rock material, or substrate of the sea bottom, is thought to be limestone — similar to that found in most of Florida. There are places where ancient rivers once flowed to a more distant ocean shoreline than now. Scientists think that these are remnants of old coastlines that are now submerged beneath the Atlantic Ocean. Researchers still have much to discover about this little known ocean region that lies so close to where so many people live and work.

The biological research of this voyage focuses primarily on two kinds of popular fish – snappers and groupers. These are generic terms for a number of species that are sought by commercial and sports fishing interests. The two varieties of fish are so popular with consumers who purchase them in supermarkets, fish markets and restaurants, that their populations may be in decline.

Red snapper close up
Red snapper in its reef habitat

At this time, all red snapper fishing is banned in the southeast Atlantic fishery because the fish populations, also known as stocks, are so low.

How the fish are collected for study

The fish are caught in wire chevron traps. Six baited traps are dropped, one by one from the stern of the R/V Savannah. The traps are laid in water depths ranging from 40 to 250 feet in designated reef areas. Each trap is equipped with a high definition underwater video camera to monitor and record the comings and goings of fish around and within the traps, as well as a second camera that records the adjacent habitat.

Chevron fish trap
Fish swimming in and out of a chevron fish trap

I will provide the details of the fish trapping and data capture methods in a future blog.

Who is doing the research?

When not at sea, the R/V Savannah is docked at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SKIO)on Skidaway Island, south of Savannah, Georgia. The institute is part of the University of Georgia. The SKIO complex is also the headquarters of the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The facility there has a small aquarium and the regional NOAA office.

The fisheries research being done on this cruise is a cooperative effort between federal and state agencies. The reef fish survey is one of several that are done annually as part of SEFIS, the Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey. The people who work to conduct this survey are located in Beaufort, North Carolina. SEFIS is part of NOAA.

The other members of the research team are from MARMAP, the Marine Research Monitoring Assessment and Prediction agency, which is part of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources . This team is from Charleston, South Carolina.

Carmen, suited up to retrieve fish from traps
Mrs. Andrews, on deck near the stern of the R/V Savannah, getting ready to unload fish traps

NOAA also allows “civilians” like me — one of the Teachers at Sea– as well as university undergraduate and graduate students to actively participate in this research.

Lesley Urasky: Do You See What the Pisces “Hears”?, June 22, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 22, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 18.5472
Longitude: -65.1325

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 28.6°C (83.5°F)
Wind Speed:  9 knots (10.5 mph), Beaufort scale: 3
Wind Direction: from SE
Relative Humidity: 77%
Barometric Pressure: 1,014.80  mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28.1°C (82.6°F)

Science and Technology Log

Another aspect (much more technical) of the scientific research conducted on this cruise is the collection of acoustic data.  This field is continually evolving as the detection resolution improves allowing scientists to more precisely identify fish.  This has been used with more success in fisheries farther north because the schools of fish are more likely to be monospecific (a single species).  However, the technique still needs improvement in warmer waters where the fish assemblages tend to be multi-specific (having a much greater variety of fish).

General idea behind an acoustic sounder being used to detect fish. (Source: www.biosonicinc.com)

This field of study is called Hydroacoustics (hydro- means water, and acoustics refers to sound).   It is the science of  how sound moves through water. Leonardo da Vinci noticed how sound travels through water in 1490.  He noticed that, “If you cause your ship to stop and place the head of a long tube in the water and place the outer extremity to your ear, you will hear ships at a great distance from you.” (Urick, Robert J. Principles of Underwater Sound, 3rd Edition. New York. McGraw-Hill, 1983.)  World War I helped promote innovation in the field, especially with the need for anti-submarine detection devices (Wood, A. B., From the Board of Invention and Research to the Royal Naval Scientific Service, Journal of the Royal Naval Scientific Service Vol 20, No 4, pp 1-100 (185-284)).

Hydroacoustic instruments utilize SOund Navigation and Ranging, more commonly referred to as SONAR.  The ship Pisces is equipped with a system located on the center board; this is a flat structure that can be raised/lowered through the water column beneath the center of the ship.

Line drawing of the NOAA ship Pisces showing the location of the center board.

The system used is a sonar beam that is split into quadrants.  This instrument is used to assist in determining fish abundance and distribution.  The premise is relatively simple: an echo sounder transmits a pulse of energy waves (sound), when the pulse strikes an object, it is reflected (bounced) back to the transducer.  The echo sounder is then processed and sent to a video display.  This is the same general process behind the recreationally available fishfinder.

Acoustic beam split into quadrants (Source: http://www.htisonar.com
A short burst of energy is focused into a narrow beam.  When this beam encounters an object such as a fish, a school of fish, plankton, or other object, some of the energy bounces back up through the water to the transducer.   It is the detection of these reflections that allow scientists to determine location, size, and abundance of fish.  These reflections show up on our video monitor.  These measurements are combined with groundtruthed data (for example, fish collected in the field, camera images).

One of the difficulties in data interpretation is that often, the signals that appear on the computer monitor have false readings.  This is a result of the sound wave bouncing multiple times.  It travels to the bottom from the transducer, strikes an object, returns to the ship, bounces off the ship back toward the bottom, strikes another object, and is detected yet again.

Real-time annotated echogram at sampling site.

The Pisces is actually home to one of six multi-beam acoustic instruments in the world.  Of the six in existence, NOAA has five of them.  The benefit of running a multi-beam instrument is that each beam can be set to measure a different frequency (kHz), thus enabling detection of many more features (different species of fish, etc.)

Scientific multibeam echo sounder (Source: www. simrad.com)

Personal Log

Last night the crew of the Pisces carried out a task that they don’t normally perform.  The Pisces was created for fisheries research projects – it focuses on collecting fish samples either by bandit reel, longline, or trawling.  This particular operation was to deploy the anchor for a buoy that will be attached at a later date.  When the buoy is ready to be attached, another vessel will bring it out to the site and divers will go down to the anchor to make the final attachment.

The anchor consists of a huge rebar-reinforced concrete block with a very long chain that has marker floats attached at the end.  Logistically, this took some planning; the A-frame had to be raised and the anchor lifted with the Gilson winch with a 1″ spectra line (has an enormous tensile strength).  The gate to the ship’s ramp was lowered and the A-frame (or as the deck hands call it, the “Tuna Tower”)  repositioned so the anchor was hanging over the water.  The rope holding the anchor, chain, and float was cut through, and the anchor plunged to the ocean bottom.  Again, the crew made the operation go smoothly and demonstrated their ability to complete unexpectedly assigned tasks.

Today was a slow fishing day – no fish at all.  Without any fish to “work up” (collect samples from), the day goes more slowly and we have more down time.  With the extra time, I had a chance to interview Kevin Rademacher, the Chief Scientist on the cruise.

LU: What is your official job title and what are your job duties?

KR: I’m a Research Fisheries Biologist.  I work for the Reef Fish Unit at the NOAA Fisheries Lab in Pascagoula, MS.  I am the Senior Tape Reader/Reviewer, in charge of the readers that analyze  the video data we collect from Reef Fish Surveys.  I also help plan, organize, and run the surveys.  Additionally, I participate in trawl surveys and anything else the lab needs done.

LU: When did you first become interested in the ocean and marine sciences?

KR: I guess that would have been when I was really young.  There is a photo from the Panama City, Florida newspaper, two weeks after I was born with my parents pulling me in a homemade wagon along the beach!  I knew in junior high school that I wanted to be a cross between Jacques Cousteau and Marlin Perkins of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

LU: It’s such a broad field; how did you narrow your focus down to what you’re currently doing?

KR: I got lucky and kind of fell into reading underwater videos at the initial stages of the project and fell in love with being the proverbial “fly on the wall”! It has allowed me to see the fish in their natural  habitat, different color phases, behavior, etc.

LU: If you were to go into another area of ocean research, what would it be?

KR: Marine Mammal Studies.  After college I trained dolphins and sea lions and put on shows with them for a local Oceanarium on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

LU: What is the biggest challenge in your job?

KR: Communicating with people and writing papers.

Ariane Frappier and Kevin Rademacher reviewing a dichotomous key in order to determine the species of a fish we caught.

LU: What do you think is the biggest issue of contention in your field?

KR: The impression that commercial fishermen have regarding the work we do to regulate the fisheries they work in.

LU: What are some effects of climate change that you’ve witnessed during your career in fisheries research?

KR: The decline of coral reefs and overfishing of some species.

LU: In what areas of marine science do you foresee a lot of career paths and job opportunities?

KR: Ecosystem management and data modelers.  There has also been a decline in taxonomists over the past few decades.

LU: How would you explain your work to a layperson?

KR: I use underwater cameras to help assess populations of reef fish, especially snappers and groupers.  The data collected is used to manage those fisheries.

LU: If a high school student wanted to go into your field of study/marine science in general, what kinds of courses would you recommend they take?

KR: Math, Biology, Chemistry, and any other science courses available.

LU: Do you recommend students interested in your field pursue original research as high school students or undergraduates?  If so, what kind?

KR: Most definitely! Whatever they are interested in would be beneficial.

Well, only two more days left with the scientists before we pull into San Juan, Puerto Rico.  We have 17 more daytime sites to sample and then this survey will be over.  The scientific crew will be flying home on the 25th, and once home, their work will really begin.  Back in the lab, they will be analyzing the data and reviewing the video.  Some of them will be going back out on other cruises.  Kevin Rademacher will be going out on another reef fish survey in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.  It is currently delayed because of the potential formation of tropical storm Debby.  Joey Salisbury has a couple more; he will be going on a longline cruise and then another reef fish survey, both of which will be in the Gulf of Mexico.  Arian Frappier will be heading off to begin a masters program in marine systems and coastal studies at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

After a day’s shore leave in San Juan, I’ll continue on to Mayport on the Pisces.  During this time, I’ll focus on the crew members and their jobs.  The cruise will definitely take on a different feel at this point, but it will give me an opportunity to explore other ocean related careers.

Carmen Andrews: Introduction June 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 6 – 18, 2012

Carmen Andrews
Carmen Andrews

Hello! 

Happy Summer Solstice Day! I am Carmen Andrews.  I work as a science specialist at  Six to Six Interdistrict Magnet School in Bridgeport, CT.  I have just finished my 5th year at this school.  I create science curriculum for grades pre-K through 8. I also teach many classes to help teachers improve their understanding of science concepts and inquiry methods.

Six to Six Magnet School
Six to Six Interdistrict Magnet School, Bridgeport, CT

Our school has a unique academic program that incorporates partnerships with the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT and the Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden, CT.  Our students visit many other places, including the Yale Peabody Museum and Yale Leitner Family Planetarium and Observatory in New Haven. We also allow our students to remotely operate the Gold Apple Valley Radio Telescope in California. My favorite places to teach classes are the unspoiled outdoor sites in Connecticut where we take our students for field studies.

4th Grade Marsh Field Study
4th Graders on a Marsh Field Study
Kindergarteners Investigating Invertebrates
Kindergarteners Investigating Marine Invertebrates
Sixth Graders
6th Graders Counting Intertidal Organisms Using a Quadrat

I love research!

One of my passions as an educator is creating opportunities for students to investigate real world problems using science inquiry. This year my 6th and 7th graders took on a big environmental research project. They were asked to research bioremediation and to develop a creative solution to a major problem in their community  — toxic oil spills. The work was funded by a NSTA/Toyota Tapestry Grant award, which enabled us to find out about blue and gray oyster mushrooms’ ability to metabolize oil spills in soil. Our project is called Going Green in Brownfields: A New Diet for Mushrooms. You can see our blog here: mushroomdiet.info 

Mushroom Harvest
A 7th Grader Massing Blue Oyster Mushrooms Grown in Motor Oil

My Teacher at Sea Adventure

The NOAA Teacher at Sea program was created to provide teachers with experiences in science research. We share our knowledge with our school communities using blogs, teaching and writing articles when we return from our Teacher at Sea assignment. I am very excited to learn about the work of NOAA in monitoring fisheries in U.S. coastal waters. I am eager to share this  scientific research with students. I also want to expose students to the variety of maritime and marine science careers that they can consider pursuing in later life.

I will be departing on the R/V Savannah in about 2 weeks to participate in a reef fish survey.  The next time I write, I will most likely be somewhere near Skidaway Island, GA.  My target audience for my blogs while I am at sea, are students, colleagues and friends of all ages. Please feel free to post your comments and questions about this important science research.

Kristy Weaver: What’s a Reef Fish Survey? May 30, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristy Weaver
Aboard The R/V Savannah
May 23 – June 1, 2012

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Location: 44 miles off the coast of Jacksonville, FL
Date: May 30, 2012

Current Weather: 80 degrees and sunny

Science and Technology Log

Today is our last full day at sea.  We have caught about 2,000 fish in the past week!  A lot of them were thrown back into the water because we only need to keep a fraction of them for the reef fish survey.  The fish that we keep are studied by the scientists for a few reasons.

First, every fish we catch is measured and weighed.

David, a fisheries biologist, measures every fish that we catch

Then we have a sheet that tells us which fish we “keep” and which fish we “toss” back into the ocean.

Stephen writes down the length of every fish as David calls out the numbers
After Stephen writes down the length he uses this paper to tell David to keep the fish or toss it back into the ocean
Every fish that we keep gets its own ID number and envelope.

After it gets dark we stop fishing and go inside to the lab to collect information about the fish we caught that day.  Every single fish that we keep gets its own ID number, and gets weighed and measured again.  We write everything down.  These notes are data.

Here I am writing down the length and weight of each fish as Stephen weighs and measures them

When you make observations using your senses you are collecting data too!  Can you think of a time you collected data or made an observation like a scientist?

After we  record the length and weight I give Stephen the envelope and the other scientists come get the fish.

Passing Stephen the envelope for the fish he just measured and weighed
Scientists Jennifer and David take parts of the fish that they will study under a microscope later

Once all of the information is brought back to the scientists at the lab, they look at different parts of the fish using a microscope.  This will tell the scientists three main things…

1) Is the fish a male (boy) or a female (girl)?

2)How old is the fish?

And

3) Are these fish from all different families, or are they all related to each other?

Once the scientists answer these questions, they can decide if its okay for people to go fishing for certain types of fish, or if too many fish are being taken out of the ocean and need to be protected.  Right now fisheries are not allowed to take Red Snapper out of the Atlantic Ocean.  That fish is a very important part of our survey.

Special thanks to Captain Raymond and the crew and of the R/V Savannah and to Zeb, the chief scientist, and his team of scientists for a great experience!

Ok, I got him!  He was heavy!
This Red Snapper nearly knocked me over

Kristy Weaver: Ms. Weaver Goes to Sea


NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristy Weaver
Aboard R/V Savannah
May 23 – 31, 2012

Hello from Hillside, New Jersey! First, for any out-of-state readers, allow me to say that despite what you may have seen on “reality” television about this beautiful state, we do not all tease our hair and have VIP memberships to tanning salons.  (Okay, so I may tease it a little, but only for special occasions!  Yes, this is my attempt at humor; bear with me.)  All kidding aside,  thank you for visiting.  I am excited to tell you about the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program!

Perhaps I should introduce myself before I start making corny jokes.  I am Kristy Weaver and I am happy to say I have been a first grade teacher here at The A. P. Morris Early Childhood Center for the past 12 years.  Our building is home to every pre-k, kindergarten, and first grade classroom in the district, and we  are currently a community of 668 students.

Hillside is part of the Partnership for Systemic Change which is a collaboration between the Merck Institute for Science Education (MISE) and six other urban or semi-urban school districts.  Through this partnership I have been a part of the Academy for Leadership in Science Instruction, which is an intensive staff development series that takes place over the course of three years.  I have also been a Peer Teacher Workshop facilitator and have had the opportunity to discuss effective science instruction at length with my fellow science teachers and professionals from MISE and partner districts.

Here is a little video trailer my class helped make to tell everyone about my trip.  See if you can spot the cameo appearance from our beloved class pet, Jerry.  My students had the responsibility of casting him in this role and are all super excited that Jerry will now be “famous.”

The purpose of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program is to provide teachers with real life experiences with scientific research and for us to then share that knowledge with the community upon our return.  This will strengthen my own content knowledge and expose our students to scientific research and science careers while increasing environmental awareness.  I am passionate about the pedagogy behind effective science instruction and while I hope that this experience will be shared with many classes, it will definitely be utilized to its fullest potential in my district.  This opportunity already inspired an impromptu math lesson when I showed my class my ship,  the R/V Savannah.  In order to grasp how big the 92 foot vessel is, we used 60 inch measuring tapes and counted by fives until we got to 90 feet.  Then we estimated two feet to help us get a sense of the size of the R/V Savannah.

This is my class, 92 feet down the hall! Wow! The R/V Savannah is larger than we thought!

I love being a teacher, and it is definitely where my passion lies.   However,  when I was a child I never  felt that being a scientist was an option for me because I didn’t know where to begin.  I had an innate curiosity about the water, but didn’t know that I could have built a career around it.   It’s my job to make sure that my students are afforded every opportunity, know that their dreams are within their reach,  and feel as if the world is at their fingertips- because it is!

How Did I Hear About Teacher at Sea?

Two years ago I attended the National Science Teachers Association Convention in Philadelphia, PA.  One of the booths at the exhibition center was for NOAA‘s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Teacher at Sea Program.  It was fascinating to talk with teachers who had gone out to sea with NOAA in the past, and I immediately knew it was something I would pursue.  My whole life I had lived vicariously through scientists on various nature shows, and I was thrilled to learn that I even had the possibility to experience something like this first hand.

What the Research Says

So how is this going to help first graders?  In 2011 Microsoft Corp. commissioned two national surveys with Harris Interactive for parent and student opinions on how to motivate the next generation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professionals.

For most, the decision to study STEM started before college.

  • Nearly four in five STEM college students said they decided to study STEM in high school or earlier (78 percent). One in five (21 percent) decided in middle school or earlier.
  • More than half (57 percent) of STEM college students said that before going to college, a teacher or class got them interested in STEM.

This gives me, a first grade teacher, the opportunity to plant the seed early and expose children to STEM careers before they even reach the second grade.  If I can motivate just one child with this experience, or prove to them that they too should chase their dreams, then any amount of seasickness will be worthwhile.

Speaking of Motivation…Here is Mine:

Barnegat Lighthouse
“Old Barney”
Long Beach Island, NJ
Photo by Captain Al Kuebler

I have always been fascinated by the ocean and how something could be equally tranquil and ferocious.  As a child I never “sat still” and my boundless energy had me bouncing from one activity to the next with less than a heart beat in-between.  Yet, even as early as three years old, I can remember sitting on my grandfather’s lap in Long Beach Island and just staring out at the water for what seemed like hours.  In retrospect it may have only been 15 minutes, but regardless, just looking at the ocean had me calm, captivated, and thoroughly entertained in the silence of my own thoughts.

Feeding Sea Turtles at the Camden Aquarium

When I was young I always loved the underwater pieces in my parents’ National Geographic magazines, but it never crossed my mind that I could someday be a diver.  When I grew up a little I decided that it was something I would definitely do “someday.”  I finally realized that someday never comes unless you make your “someday” today.  I became a certified diver three years ago, and up until this point, it is one of the best things I have ever done.  As an adult, I have always watched nature shows, but never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I would someday have the opportunity to experience something like Teacher at Sea.  I think this helps send an important message to my students: You should always  go out and experience everything you want in life.  I did a shipwreck dive to 109 feet, have fed sea turtles, swam with sharks, flew a helicopter, , and have been on a trapeze in two different countries.  Yet somehow, I have a feeling that all of these things will pale in comparison to the adventure I am about to have.

Me at the Saltwater Marsh in Stone Harbor, NJ
Photo by Myron Weaver- Hi Dad 🙂

So What’s Next?

I am getting ready to head out to sea and my students and I are so excited.  The next time I write I will most likely be somewhere near Savannah, GA where I will be setting sail on the R/V Savannah for an 8 day reef fish survey.  While the first grade students are my target audience for my blogs while I am at sea, I encourage people of all ages to follow me along my journey.  I hope that everyone will be able to get something out of it, and that secondary teachers will be able to use this experience as a starting point for some of their lessons as well.

Please feel free to post your comments or questions, and I will do my best to bring back the information you are most curious about!

Marian Wagner: Preparing for Departure, August 12, 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: August 12, 2011

Introductory Log

Naturalizing at my home beach in Seattle, Golden Gardens

I’m off to live the life of a NOAA research scientist aboard the Research Vessel (R/V) Savannah Our work is part of a population monitoring mission (estimating number of fish in population), doing fishery-independent sampling of reef fishes in the Atlantic off the coasts of Georgia and Florida.  See “terms defined” below to learn more.

Preparing to work with and make the most of my time with a team of scientists as a NOAA Teacher at Sea (TAS) participant means I have a lot to learn in a short amount of time!  This morning, I leave Seattle, and tonight I arrive in Savannah, GA.  I can’t believe this day has finally arrived!

I teach 3rd and 4th grade at Salmon Bay School in Seattle Public Schools, and students and families will tell you teaching SCIENCE! is my passion.  Central to my passion in teaching science is the importance of teaching students and teachers that we must better understand and protect the earth’s resources with which we are interdependent, and develop a more responsible and sustainable relationship with how we use these resources.  The fundamental goal of all my various ways of incorporating this NOAA research experience into my teaching will be to help students and teachers understand the ocean better and our relationships with it, and use this knowledge to protect the world’s oceans.

I have never had first-hand experience in conducting field research (outside of research with children for educational purposes), and I believe it is especially essential in the leadership roles I have come to serve in science education that I have this foundational knowledge first-hand of HOW research is conducted in the field.  I look forward to getting my hands dirty! (salty?)

A few days ago I received word that I have passed all my requirements to be endorsed to teach 6-12 grade biology and this experience will stretch me beyond coursework and provide a true field research experience, especially essential if I decide to use my biology endorsement to teach middle school or high school level biology, where I will draw upon this research experience in many valuable ways, especially by sharing methods of conducting research and by exposing students to the career options of working as a field scientist.

My 3rd and 4th graders (and my alumni too, I hope!) are sure to hear extensively about this field science research experience that I am about to dive into!  Time to dress for the airport!

Terms Defined:

Fishery-independent sampling means data are collected separately from the landings of any commercial fisheries, and thus can be separated from economic factors that would compromise population trends based on how many fish are caught in a year (e.g., price of fish or fuel).  So fishery-independent data are the closest we can come to a census, and are some of the most reliable data fed in to a “stock assessment”. The data we collect will have direct implications for stock assessment of these fish and ecosystem-based management of southeast U.S. marine fisheries.  Here’s a link  to more information on the work we are doing.

Seattle-ites: For more information, here’s a link to Federal stock assessment work in the Seattle area, perhaps more helpful because you might recognize your local species and habitats.

Elizabeth Warren, July 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher At Sea: Elizabeth Warren
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

Mission: Reef Fish Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July, 15 2010

A case of the Upy-Downy’s

By breakfast on the last day we had already spotted land.

Land Spotted
Land Spotted
Crew of the Pisces
Crew of the Pisces

I went up to the flying deck and could not have been more disappointed to see the Mississippi Coast. I couldn’t believe how quickly my trip went by. I learned a lot!

Scientists on my cruise
Scientists on my cruise

The crew of the Pisces and the NOAA scientists were some of the nicest (even with all the teasing) people I have ever met. I’m so grateful that I was able to have this experience. I said goodbye to as many of the crew I could find, many take off as soon as they get into port or go to sleep, and each one told me I should come back again. I would love to! I’ve already asked and plan on applying again for next year.

Now, I’m home in Seattle, Washington. . As I was flying in,  I was greeted by one of the reasons I live on the West Coast.

Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier

As a result of having been aboard a ship,  I have a case of the upy-downy’s (getting my land legs back). The world keeps moving like I’m still on board the ship. The upy downy’s are also affecting my mood.  I’m happy to be home, sleep in a real bed, see my family and my neph-puppy but I’m also sad that my adventure is over. I can’t wait to get back in the classroom and share all that I have learned with my students!

Thank you for reading my blog and again thank you to NOAA and the Pisces!

Anne Marie Wotkyns, July 10-11, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Marie Wotkyns
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 7 – 13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Anne Marie Wotkyns
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Saturday July 10, Sunday, July 11, 2010
Latitude: Saturday 27⁰54.8057 N Sunday 27⁰51.098 N
Longitude: Saturday 093⁰18.2990 W Sunday 093⁰04.100 W

Weather Data from the Bridge

Air Temperature: Saturday 30.3⁰C Sunday 30.4⁰C
Water Temperature: Saturday 30.5⁰C Sunday 30.35⁰C
Wind: Saturday 2.55 knots Sunday 1 knot
Other Weather Features:
Saturday 62% humidity, cloud cover 20% Sunday 67% humidity, cloud cover 35%
Saturday Swell Height .2 meter Sunday .4 meter
Saturday Wave Height .05 meter Sunday .25meter

Science and Technology Log

Temperature Depth Recorder
Temperature Depth Recorder

Temperature Depth Recorder
Temperature Depth Recorder

There are several types of sensing equipment we have been using on this cruise. Each time we drop the camera array at a site attached to the array is a little device called a Temperature Depth Recorder or a TDR. As the camera array sinks to the bottom, the TDR records the temperature and depth. When the camera array is brought back on board the ship one of the scientists, or one of us teachers, unclips it and brings it into the lab. To get the information off you hit it once with a magnet that communicates with the chip inside telling it you want to download the information. Then you place a stylus on the device and it downloads the information to the computer. The data is saved under the name of the site and then the information is entered into a spreadsheet that converts the information from the psi(pounds per square inch) to meters of depth. To clear the TDR you hit it four times with the magnet and when it flashes red it is clear! Liz and I learned to do this the first day we did stations and we usually took turns entering the information. This was done 8 times on Saturday and 7 times on Sunday.

At every station, a CTD is also dropped into the water. A CTD (Conductivity Temperature Recorder) gives a hydrographic profile of the water column. The CTD is attached to the bottom of a rosette or carousel that also contains water sampling bottles. Attached to the rosette is a conductive wire that sends information to the lab. Mike, the survey technician, comes into the lab after every camera array is dropped and runs the CTD process. The CTD is placed in the water and allowed to acclimate for 3 minutes before they begin taking readings. The CTD is dropped to the bottom of the seafloor and then raised again. Mike monitors this from the dry lab. Once a week he uses the water bottles to take water samples. To take a sample he uses a remote from inside the dry lab to trigger the bottles at a given depth to close them. The CTD can also be programmed to close different bottles at different depths. It was very interesting to watch the EK60 echo sounder screen as the CTD lowered and raised.

Data from CTD
Data from CTD

CTD
CTD

Each morning, Chief Scientist Kevin goes through the video footage from the previous day. For each site he identifies what the bottom substrate was (“sandy flat bottom”, “coralline algal bottom”, “malacanthus mounds,” etc) and then he identifies briefly any fish that he sees. When he is doing this, he will call us over and explain how he can tell what the species is or what behavior a fish is exhibiting.

Video footage
Video footage

Video footage
Video footage

Saturday, we dropped the camera array at 8 different stations on Bright Bank sites. The two chevron fish traps brought up NO FISH! On the bandit reel we caught one fish. It was a sand tile fish, Malacanthus pulmieri, a “banana shaped” bottom dweller that lives in large rock-covered mounds. Wearing rubber gloves, I weighed and measured him quickly and then we threw him back alive. He was 494 mm (49.4 cm) long and weighed .550 kg. I’m not very comfortable touching the fish or the bait we’ve been using, so I was quite proud of myself!

Sand-tile fish
Sand-tile fish

Measuring
Measuring

Weighing
Weighing

Frustrated Kevin
Frustrated Kevin

That was the only fish we caught all day! Today was a little frustrating. It even got Kevin a little down!

Sunday brought our last day of work on the reef survey. The Pisces was on the north half of Geyer Bank, still off the coast of Louisiana. I was determined to fully participate in all aspects of the science, so I bravely donned my gloves and baited the bandit reel’s 10 hooks with chunks of mackerel. We were positive we would catch more fish today!

Baiting the bandit reel
Baiting the bandit reel


The camera cage came up with some interesting “hitchhikers” aboard. One was a round sponge, about the size of a softball. At first we thought it was a rock, but when I grabbed it, it was soft and squishy. Sponges are filter feeders which draw in water through many small , incurrent pores. Food and oxygen are filtered out and then exit through one or more larger excurrent openings.

In the fish lab, Kevin found a large cymothoid isopod, a crustacean that attaches to fish using its hook-like legs and scavenges food as the fish feeds. It reminded me of a cockroach more than a “rolly-polly”, the land isopod found in our gardens.

Cymothoid isopod
Round sponge

Cymothoid isopod
Cymothoid isopod

The day continued with seven camera drops, the bandit reel deployment, and two chevron fish traps. Despite positive thinking and Liz doing her “fish dance,” both fish traps came up empty. So the 2nd bandit reel was our last chance for fish. We were excited to see the “fishing pole” part of the reel bouncing up and down. It was reeled in and here’s what we caught!

Barracuda
Barracuda

Barracuda
Barracuda

It was a great barracuda, Sphyraena barracuda, 939 mm (93.9 cm) long and weighing 3.49 kg. Joey measured and weighed it, carefully avoiding its sharp teeth. He released the large predator and our last catch quickly swam away.

An interesting souvenir I will be taking home are some fish otoliths. Otoliths are fish earbones. Bony fish lay down layers of bone on their otoliths as they age, similar to the rings on a tree. Scientists use the otoliths to determine the age of a fish. Kevin collected the otoliths from a yellowedge grouper one of the crew caught and gave one each to Liz and I. Then he helped me remove the otoliths from a red porgy – quite a messy procedure, but very rewarding to cut open the skull and see the earbones!

Otoliths
Otoliths

In tomorrow’s log, I’ll share what we learned on our tour of the engine room, and about the different job opportunities on the ship.

Personal Log

Two nights ago, the ship’s captain (Commanding Officer Jerry Adams) had invited Liz and I up to the bridge to help “steer” the ship. He explained that we were driving a 52 million dollar vessel with 30 lives on board, so we were feeling pretty nervous! The Pisces was moving to the next day’s work area so the bridge crew would be driving all night. I got to steer first, my hands tightly gripping the wheel Captain Jerry and Ensign Kelly Schill explained how to drive and the proper language to use. When steering, you are following a set course using a gyroscopic compass as well as a digital heading read out. You are steering the rudder by degrees. The heading is stated in single digits so 173 would be one seven three.

We were sailing at night, so all the bridge lights were kept turned off to better see the lights of other boats and oil rigs. The bridge crew even had red flashlights so they wouldn’t ruin their night vision. Liz and I both got a chance to steer the ship in circles. I even did a Williamson turn, which is done when there is a man overboard. You turn 60⁰ in one direction and then turn the other direction so you are back on your reciprocal course to pick up the person who is overboard. While I was doing this, the ETA (estimated time of arrival to our next destination) display changed from “ 6:10 am” to “NEVER.” We both laughed pretty hard about that!

The Dynamic Positioning system (similar to an automatic pilot system) is called Betty. She can talk to the crew on the bridge and is reportedly extremely polite. I find is amazing how the ship can maintain such a steady course, with the computers adjusting for the constant changes in current, wind, and other factors which affect the ship’s steering. The DP also keeps the Pisces in one place when we are at a science station. The Captain promised to show us more about the DP on our next bridge visit. Everything on the bridge is electronic. You can click a button and see how much fresh water is on board, how much fuel, which engines are working and even wake someone up! The technology is truly amazing. I keep thinking about my grandfather who sailed in the Swedish Merchant Marines in the 1930’s. What would he have thought all this?

Where has Pascy the penguin been in the last 2 days? Check out his pictures!


Pascy helps me write my log entry out on the back deck at sunset!

Safety is very important! Pascy wears his hardhat whenever he works out on the deck with equipment.


On the lookout for other ships and oil rigs!


Pascy helps with the Pisces’ navigation. He’s double checking the computer’s course.


Pascy in the captain’s chair on the bridge.


Pascy at the helm of this $52 million dollar ship!

Elizabeth Warren, July 11-12, 2010

NOAA Teacher At Sea: Elizabeth Warren
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

Mission: Reef Fish Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 11-12,  2010

Winding down

NOAA SHIP: Pisces
Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, July 11th- Monday July 12th, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Temperature: Water: 30.4 ℃ (which is 86.9℉ ) Air: 30.5 ℃
Wind: 1 knots
Swell: .2 meters
Location: 27. 51° N, 93.04° W
Weather: Sunny, Humidity 67%, 35% cloud cover

Science/Technology Log:
On Sunday, Anne-Marie and I were given a tour of the Engineering spaces. The Pisces has an integrated diesel electric drive system. There are two propulsion motors on the shaft that generate 1,500 horsepower each that are electric. Chief Engineer Garret explained that it is similar to a little remote control toy boat, except of course that the Pisces is much bigger. The Pisces is 208.6 feet long, 50 feet wide (breadth), and the Captain standing in the bridge is 37 feet above the water.

Propulsion Motor
Propulsion Motor

There are 4 generators on board, two 16 cylinder and two 14 cylinder that runs what the Chief Engineer called the “hotel load”, keeping the lights on. Another really cool thing about the Pisces is that it was designed to be a quiet vessel because underwater noise can influence how fish behave and can limit what the scientists are able to on board, not to mention that a noisy ship is harder to sleep on. The International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES) established standards to improve the noise onboard research vessels and the Pisces was designed to meet those standards.

Electrical Board
Electrical Board

Throughout the engineering room there are giant electrical boards that are constantly kept cool by the air conditioning that is constantly running on the ship. The interesting thing about the air conditioning is that the engineering deck and the labs are kept cool using regular air conditioning methods but the staterooms and other decks are kept cool using cold water! This is also the method used to keep the two propulsion motors cool as well!

Cold Water Air Conditioning
Cold Water Air Conditioning

When we entered into the belly of the ship we were given earplugs because it gets loud and really hot down in the very bottom. Garret showed us that if the bridge ever lost power that there is a secondary way to steer. The crew steers using a hydraulic steering system rather than the electrical one on the bridge. The crew uses a sound powered telephone to communicate with the bridge during any power outages (or drills).

Garret showing the hydraulic steering system
Garret showing the hydraulic steering system

One very important piece of the engineering deck is the Freshwater system. The ship pulls in sea water and uses heat from the engine to make freshwater through distillation. They heat the sea water and catch the evaporation which is fresh water. There are two distillers on board and they can make 1,850 gallons a day.

When we were down there we witnessed Junior Engineer Steve repairing the blown diaphragm that had interfered with the system. When we are in the area that NOAA has labeled as a 95% uncertainty trajectory regarding the presence of oil, we do not take in water as it could be contaminated and damage the system. This is why the first two days and the last two of the cruise we were asked to conserve water.

Steve, Junior Engineer
Steve, Junior Engineer

Personal Log:

Latte = happy
Latte = happy

The tour was very exciting! We began in the galley where Garret made Anne Marie and I lattes. They were beautiful! When we went into the loud part of the deck we put on ear plugs from the ear plug dispensing unit, which I had to take a picture of. Once again I was impressed with how patient the crew can be with us, although I do think we are a source of amusement for many of them.

Going down to the bowels of the ship
Going down to the bowels of the ship

When the tour ended Captain Jerry took us to the very bowels of the ship and showed us the transducer well, this is the part of the ship that keeps the water out and keeps us from sinking.

Transducer
Transducer

Sunday was the last day of this leg of the survey. I did the banana song today in hopes that we would find something in the fish traps, unfortunately it did not work! As the day went on I was able to help more and more. I helped throw in the chevron fish trap, baited the bandit reel, pulled the rope to let the camera array drop. On the last bandit reel though we finally got some action! We were all pretty excited even Watch-leader Joey!

When the reel came up we discovered that we had caught a barracuda on the line! He was huge! We (okay so it was Joey) rushed through all of the measuring so we could throw him back in quickly! We still had a chance to get some pictures of him though. There is a limited amount of time to get all of the camera arrays into the water during a day and we were getting pretty close to running out of time so Captain Jerry and Kevin decided to do a camera array on the “fly”. We had to be ready! As we approached the site we got the camera over the side and as soon as the signal was given we dropped it.

Flexing on the deck
Flexing on the deck
Barracuda
Barracuda

As I said before we have a lot of down time in between drops. I broke out my I-pod touch and we played a bunch of games. For awhile we played Would you rather? My favorite question was: Would you rather be saved by superman or meet Winnie the Pooh? Can you guess which one I picked? Then I introduced Joey to Madlibs. I couldn’t believe he had never played. Finally, Joey and I started a battle with the Bubble Wrap game. The idea is to pop as many of the bubbles as you can within 45 seconds. It got very heated! Right now the record is 254 and I’m sad to say that Joey is the record holder. I still have some time though… it could happen.

Jerry playing a game on my ipod touch
Jerry playing a game on my ipod touch
Playing games on ipod touch
Playing games on ipod touch

It’s a good thing Anne Marie and I had gotten a tour on Sunday because today, Monday, there was a Steering drill. We knew exactly what was going on. The Captain announced the drill and then at the end said the Teachers At Sea should head down so we could drive. The experience is completely different. You are down in the depths of the ship and there is a crew member using headphones to talk to the bridge. Instead of a steering wheel, there are two things with bubbles at the top that you push down to change the angle of the rudder. Each of the bubbles steers the ship either left or right. I have to say we did a fantastic job, especially with all of the help!

Me on the bridge
Me on the bridge
NOAA Corps Officers on the Bridge
NOAA Corps Officers on the Bridge

Something to think about: For me this has been an adventure, but a lot of the people that I’ve met do this all year round. They live and work on ships 264 days a year. When they get off of work at the end of the day, they can’t really go anywhere. A lot of the time they share a room for three weeks with someone they’ve never met before. There are movies, satellite tv, internet, places to work out, and time to fish. Imagine being “lovingly incarcerated” as a class, all 32 of us on a ship for weeks on end? That would be an interesting change. What I have noticed is that everyone seems to love what they do and most have traveled all over the world with various nautical employments (Navy, Exxon, NOAA).

Otoliths
Otoliths

As an outsider, on board for a short amount of time I’m still counting my time here as a once in a lifetime, educational adventure! Although, I wouldn’t mind staying.

Me on the deck
Me on the deck

Yesterday, I left out some rubber ducks for the crew to sign for me! Here they are with Anne Marie’s friend Pascy!

Rubber Ducks
Rubber Ducks

Anne Marie Wotkyns, July 9, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Marie Wotkyns
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 7 – 13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Anne Marie Wotkyns
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, July 9, 2010
Latitude: 27⁰51.20
Longitude: 91⁰48.60

Weather Data from the Bridge

Air Temperature: 29.6 ⁰ C
Water Temperature: 30.5⁰C
Wind: 2 knots
Other Weather Features:
70% humidity, approx. 30% cloud cover
Swell Height: .3 meter
Wave Height: .2 meter

Science and Technology Log

Friday started bright and early as we met in the dry lab on the Pisces to plan our day. Today would be the first day of work on the SEAMAP reef fish survey, the main purpose of our cruise.

The Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP) is a long term survey of offshore reef fish designed to provide an index of the relative abundance of fish species associated with topographic features such as banks and ledges located on the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico in the area from Brownsville, Texas to the Dry Tortugas, Florida. For this cruise, the sampling occurred off the coast of Louisiana.

The SEAMAP offshore reef fish survey began in 1992. Bathymetric mapping (as was conducted yesterday on the Pisces) provided scientists with contour maps of the ocean floor, then sampling sites measuring 10 nautical miles by 10 nautical miles (“blocks”) were selected in areas with known topographic features. Within each “block”, specific sampling sites are chosen randomly.

The main equipment used in the survey are 4 camera units housed in a special metal “cage”. Each camera unit holds two black and white still cameras and a digital video camera, for a total of 8 still cameras and 4 video cameras which download images to a 1ZTB GB hard drive. The camera pod is lowered to the bottom and left for 45 minutes. The cameras record for 25 minutes of bottom time. Each night the images and videos are downloaded onto another external hard drive, then later recorded onto blue ray discs. Scientists view the video to identify and count all fish observed.

Camera Array
Camera Array

Close up of they camera array
Close up of they camera array

Capturing video from camera Array
Capturing video from camera Array

During a sampling day, some sites are randomly chosen to collect fish for measurement and sampling. One method used is a chevron fish trap, a large wire cage which is baited with squid, lowered to the bottom, and left for 60 minutes. Another collection method is the bandit reel, which deploys a vertical line strung with 10 hooks baited with mackerel pieces. This line is lowered over the side until the bottom weight touches the substrate and left for 10 minutes, then reeled back in.

Chevron Trap
Bandit Reel

Bait
Bait

When fish are caught in the chevron trap or on the bandit reel, they are identified, measured, weighed, and gender is determined. Then if the fish is a species commercially or recreationally fished, it is frozen and returned to the NOAA National Seafood Inspection Lab to be available for further analysis.

Holding a Red Snapper
Holding a Red Snapper

Measuring a red snapper
Measuring a red snapper

So now that I’ve explained the science behind the reef fish survey, here’s a description of our first day assisting Chief Scientist Kevin Rademacher and Joey Salisbury, Field Party Watch Leader. Liz and I arrived in the dry lab (headquarters for the surveying and sampling activities) at 7:00 am, excited to begin working. The Pisces arrived at the first site and the camera array was lowered at 7:17 am (one hour after sunrise.) The camera “cage” was lowered using a hydraulic A-frame which extended over the starboard side of the ship. For the first “drop” we watched through windows from inside the lab, as well as on a video monitor. Then as the camera “soaked” for 45 minutes, the crew deployed a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth recorder.)More about the CTD in the next journal entry!

By the second site, or “station” we were outfitted with a hard hat and PFD (personal flotation device), required attire when working on deck. As the day went on, we learned to reset the cameras after each station, assist with fish collection and measurement, and enter data collected from the TDR (temperature-depth recorder) into the computer. Throughout the day, we followed a routine of

1) deploy cameras

2) deploy and retrieve CTD

3) on selected stations, move to second site and drop chevron fish trap

4) return to first site, retrieve cameras

5) on selected stations, use the bandit reel to deploy a vertical fishing line

We repeated this process for 7 stations.

No fish were caught in the chevron traps, however, fish were caught both times the bandit reel was used. Each reel station brought in a red snapper Lutjanus campechanus and a red porgy Pagrus pagrus. Liz measured and weighed the fish and Joey determined the sex of the fish. The snapper were frozen to be taken back to NOAA’s National Seafood Inspection Lab.

When there was no work to do on deck, we spent time reading fish identification books, learning about other aspects of the reef fish survey, visiting the bridge, checking in with the bird observers, and watching for dolphin or whales. On one break we took turns using a handline to fish off the side – I caught 2 blue runners, Caranx crysos and Liz caught one. We worked until approximately 7:15 pm. The cameras do not use any artificial light, so the work stopped as dusk fell. We’ll see what tomorrow’s stations bring!

Personal Log

After the first night’s rough seas, I was thrilled to wake up to calm seas on Friday, with the crew promising even smoother seas to come. I really enjoyed the variety of work we assisted with. We were initially disappointed after the first fish trap came up empty. After waiting for an hour while the trap soaked, then donning our hard hats and PFD’s, when the empty trap emerged from the dark depths, we compared it to being “all dressed up with no place to go!” But Kevin reminded us that “The hardest thing to learn about science is that ‘0’s are numbers too!”

I am somewhat “technologically challenged” so I was happily surprised how quickly I learned to log the TDR (temperature depth recorder) data. I was also happy that I remembered much of the physical oceanography I learned years ago.

Liz and I are becoming familiar with the ship-the lab and galley are on the main deck, our cabin is on the 01 deck, other cabins are on deck 02, the bridge is the 03 deck, and above the bridge is the 04 deck. And there are decks 2, 3, and 4 below the main deck, Each deck can be accessed by indoor or outdoor ladders (not stairs!) that are much steeper than your stairs at home. The interior doors are heavy and it’s hard to remember whether to push or pull, this has been a source of much amusement for us! The hatches (doors to outside decks) are very heavy and secured with a wheel that often takes two hands and a lot of muscle to open or close. And don’t forget to step up over the approximate 13” step. There are many reasons we only wear closed-toe shoes!

Hatch
Hatch

Opening hatch
Opening hatch

Ladder
Ladder

After we finished with our fish survey work, Liz and I went out to the back deck with our laptops to work on our journals. Some of the crew started fishing with fishing rods off the side of the ship. Within a few minutes they had caught a small mahi-mahi and a few other fish when one of the deck hands slowly started reeling in something big. Of course, our computers were put aside so we could watch as he slowly hauled in a 55+pound greater amberjack – it was huge!!!Lots of excitement and picture taking followed! Then he caught another one – just a bit smaller! Another rod brought in a large yellowedge grouper. I have never seen such large fish! It was very exciting to watch! We thought maybe since we didn’t catch much during the day, we saved our fishing “luck” for the evening! The fishing ended around 9:00 for the night as the ship needed to start moving to tomorrow’s location. We headed up to the bridge to take the CO up on his offer to steer the ship. More on this in the next journal entry!

55 lb greater amberjack
55 lb greater amberjack

Holding the amberjack
Holding the amberjack

Even Pascy the Penguin agreed this was one big fish!

amberjack and yellow-edge grouper
Amberjack and yellow-edge grouper

While I’ve been working with the science team, Pascy has been exploring the Pisces. Look at all the places he’s been!


This was the only thing we caught in the fish trap today!


This was the only thing we caught in the fish trap today! Pascy wants to ride on the block when they raise the large A-frame on the back deck.


In case of emergency, report to your life raft station!


Which flags are we flying today, Pascy?


I’m the KING OF THE WORLD!!

Elizabeth Warren, July 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher At Sea: Elizabeth Warren
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

Mission: Reef Fish Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July, 8 2010

I’m Here!!!

After a day of travel I’m on the ship! I flew from Seattle in through Atlanta. I went for a walk in the Atalanta airport during my layover, when I finally sat down there were two people laughing about the oil spill. I couldn’t believe it! Of course after they had moved on I thought of all different things I could have said to them.

From Atalanta I flew into the Gulfport Airport in Biloxi. I met the other teacher at sea; Anne-Marie from Los Angeles. Anne Marie teaches 3rd and 4th grade science and language arts at a magnet school. She had spent the previous couple of weeks traveling around the south. We were met by a young marine biologist working on his Master’s degree named Travis.

Travis
Travis
At the Shed
At the Shed

Travis is working with NOAA and getting paid to get his Masters degree. Gotta love the sciences! He is doing research on a specific type of shark. He will be going out on a smaller vessel doing long line fishing technique. As the bottom of the scientist barrel he was sent to collect the teachers and a birder named Scott. Travis took us to a fun little outdoor BBQ place called The Shed. According to Travis, The Shed has been on the travel channel. I can understand why.. it was good and very quirky. I love listening to the people here talk with their southern accents.It’s been “darlin”, “hon”, and “ya-all” all over the place.

Signs indicating the impact of Katrina
Signs indicating the impact of Katrina

Yesterday before the ship left Anne Marie and I went on an adventure in Pascagoula. The town was tiny! We were able to walk the entire down town in under an hour. I was trying to find a rubber ducky to bring with me on the ship so we went in every little store we could find. In one of the antique shops we met a retired teacher and her two little dogs. She told us all about the town and how Katrina impacted their lives. She told us how the water in her store had been up to her waist and how businesses can’t survive int he downtown. Everywhere we went there were signs of the impact Katrina had on this area and also the spill. In the downtown one of the shops had been taken over by BP as a claims office. People could go in and file claims due. As if the community hasn’t gone through enough.

More later today….

Elizabeth Warren, July 5, 2010

NOAA Teacher At Sea: Elizabeth Warren
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

Mission: Reef Fish Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 5, 2010

Getting Ready..

I’m all packed and ready to go. It was hard to do as my practical side was at war with my fashionable side. No you do not need to bring those shoes, no you do not need to bring those earrings… basics here basics. I did decide to leave my rubber boots at home since they don’t fit in my suitcase.

I spent some time over the last couple of days reading the other blogs of the teachers who were on the first leg of the Reef Fish survey. Melinda Story’s blog was very interesting. She saw a tiger shark attack a whale carcass! Check it out on TAS’s website! I’m imagining the many creatures and sights I’m going to see along the way.  After today my blog is going to change a bit to follow the TAS guidelines. I’ll say where we are, give a scientific update on what we are doing, and  a personal update. I plan on posting a ton of pictures!

It’s going to be a great trip. I am so glad it is finally here!