Salinity: 35.9301 PSU, Conditions: sunny, no clouds, small waves
Science and Technology Log
There are several ways data is collected for the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey in order to have a more complete understanding of the reef system. One of them is fishing with vertical long lines with Bandit reels. We are fishing for snapper species (Lutjanus sp.), grouper species (Serranidae sp.), and certain species of amberjack (Seriola sp.). There are three reels mounted on the vessel’s starboard side. The fishing works by dropping a weighted line with ten mackerel-baited hooks per reel, which then ends with an orange float. The boat is kept as still as possible and we wait a designated period of time before reeling up the lines.
I fished with deckhand James and Texas A&M graduate student, Jillian. The other lines were fished by NOAA scientists Joey, Kevin, John, and other deckhands. Our first try we caught two large spinner (Carcharhinus brevipinna) sharks that escaped back to sea. The other lines caught smaller sharks and a couple red snappers. We ended up catching and returning six sharks.
Even though we were not aiming to catch sharks, they are part of the ecosystem and the data is collected. The data is written down on paper first and then transferred to computer databases. Some of the sharks required wrangling and less data was collected before releasing them live to prevent harm to shark and people.
The red snappers were weighed, measured in different ways, sexed, the sexual development was determined, and then retained, meaning we kept the fish. The otoliths (ear bones) and gonads (reproductive parts) were also weighed, labeled with an unique bar code, and stored for later analysis down at the Panama City Lab.
Determining variability of fish ages is possible due to this important work. Otoliths work similar to aging tree rings. Under a microscope you can clearly read each year. By comparing fish size to gonads, it has been determined a thirty-year-old red snapper can produce more eggs than 30 one year old red snappers. It is easy to see the research conducted on NOAA Ship Pisces is vital to managing and protecting our nation’s seafood supply.
The movement aboard a ship this size is different than smaller vessels I’ve been on such as a ferry, lobster boat, and other research vessels. Right now we are expecting to not work Thursday due to high seas and wind. The NOAA Ship Pisces’s 208 feet sways in every direction-up, down, all around. The adjustment period for acclimating to this unpredictable movement is referred to as, “getting your sealegs.” This is also an apt metaphor for my time adapting to life on board.
Other than research protocols, Teachers at Sea need to learn what to do in case of emergencies. The science staff, including myself, received a safety briefing before leaving port. Each person is assigned a muster station where they are to report if there is a Fire or Man Overboard. A separate location is assigned for Abandon Ship. Each emergency has a designated series of short or long horn blasts from the ship so it is clear to all what is happening.
It’s Gumby suit time!
Later, the whole ship drilled Abandon Ship. As fast as possible, we each carried our personal flotation device (PFD) and survival suit (referred to as a Gumby suit) to our life raft station. I then practiced how to get the suit on in less than a minute.
Did You Know?
As a New Englander, I talk faster than most people on NOAA Ship Pisces, whose home port is Pascagoula, Mississippi.
There are a lot of oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. We have not seen any other vessels out here, but can often see a half dozen rigs at a time. In fact, NOAA Ship Pisces was recognized for, “outstanding and successful emergency mobilization by providing acoustic monitoring survey operations under hazardous and arduous navigation conditions in support of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill recovery efforts.”
Oil rigs in sight as equipment is brought back aboard.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Leah Johnson Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces July 21 – August 3, 2015
Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast Date: Sunday, July 26, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Time 12:38 PM
Water Temperature 23.75 °C
Salinity –No Data-
Air Temperature 28.6 °C
Relative Humidity 68 %
Wind Speed 12.6 knots
Wind Direction 67.01 degrees
Air Pressure 1014.8 mbar
Science and Technology Log: The primary purpose of this cruise is to survey reef fish. Our main task is to collect data pertaining to presence and number of fish species, species length frequency, and sample materials for fish age and growth. However, other types of measurements are being made as well. For example, the CTD is an instrument that measures different properties of ocean water with depth. It is deployed every time the fish traps are dropped.
The CTD sits on the starboard side of the deck of NOAA Ship Pisces.
The acronym “CTD” stand for conductivity, temperature, and depth. The instruments that measure these properties are affixed to a metal cylinder called a rosette. A range of sensors can be attached depending on what needs to be measured. Additionally, containers can be attached to the frame in order to collect sea water samples at different depths. When the ship reaches the designated coordinates, the survey technician calls to the deckhands and instructs them to use the winch to lower the CTD to a designated depth, and then haul it back up.
Deckhands assist with lowering the CTD.
Below you can see a graph of the data collected earlier in the week:
The y-axis represents depth in meters. The CTD actually measures water pressure, which is then converted to depth. Pressure and depth are directly related: as depth increases, pressure increases.
There are several different properties represented on the x-axes, shown in different colors:
light green = oxygen (mg/l)
orange = conductivity (S/m)
dark green = temperature (°C)
purple = salinity (PSU, or ppt)
What do these measurements mean? As depth increases, temperature decreases. Sunlight warms the sea surface, and wind and ocean currents distribute this heat energy throughout the upper waters. Beneath this mixed layer, temperature decreases steadily with depth. In deeper water (not at this location), this rate of change decreases and the temperature of deep ocean water is nearly a constant 3 °C. Salinity refers to the concentration of dissolved salts in the water. Average ocean salinity is 35 ppt (parts per thousand), though this varies by a few parts per thousand near the surface. Increased precipitation, runoff, or melting of sea ice can decrease salinity, and evaporation and ice formation can increase salinity. Conductivity (measured in Siemens per meter) is a measure of how much current can travel through the water, and this is affected by both salinity and temperature. Finally, fish and other marine organisms require dissolved oxygen to breathe. By measuring the amount of oxygen at different levels in the water column, we can determine how much sea life can be supported in a given area. Dissolved oxygen in the ocean comes from mixing at the surface, and is also produced by photosynthetic organisms. As temperature and salinity increase, dissolved oxygen levels decrease. Additionally, temperature and salinity data can be used to determine the water density, or the mass of water per unit volume. Different fish can tolerate certain ranges of all of these chemical and physical parameters.
With respect to the fish survey, this information is important because we can monitor the conditions of the water near the ocean floor where the traps are located. For scientists who are interested in characterizing reef fish habitat, this data is a critical component of their research.
There are other ways in which this data can be used. The depth profiles of each of the chemical and physical properties at a given site can be compared to other local sites in order to identify any spatial anomalies. This is of great interest for seafloor mapping and ocean exploration cruises. For example, a change in conductivity and temperature at a site in the middle of the ocean could indicate the presence of a hydrothermal vent. Or, a decrease in salinity in a region along a coastline could indicate freshwater runoff.
Additionally, as measurements are made at similar locations over a period of time, temporal changes may be observed. This could reveal seasonal changes, or a long-term trend. Because we are observing an increase in average global temperatures and experiencing global climate change, it is critical to collect data that can be used to assess changing ocean conditions.
Personal Log: “Will you be eating a lot of fish on the ship?” I heard this question a lot before I left for this cruise. I wondered myself. It seemed reasonable that fish would be prepared for meals because, well, we will be living at sea! On the other hand, I wondered if everyone on board would be sick to death of fish because we would be looking at them all day. As it turns out, fish is prepared for nearly every meal; however, there is often another meat option, as well as a variety of other non-meat dishes. Now we know!
Did You Know? There are many fish that make a grunting sound. When we have tubs full of tomtates in the wet lab, it sounds like a bunch of miniature pigs making snorting noises!
Still from video of tomtates near a trap. A nurse shark can be seen in the background.
Latitude: 27˚ 50.503 N
Longitude: 93˚ 46.791 W
Air Temp: 26.3˚C (79.3˚F)
Water Temp: 23.3˚C (73.9˚F)
Ocean Depth: 126.8 m (416 ft.)
Relative Humidity: 84%
Wind Speed: 7.8 kts (9.0 mph)
Barometer: 1,009.5 hPa (1,009.5 mbar)
Science and Technology Log:
It was not until the Pisces arrived at its first survey area off the coast of Texas that I was able to appreciate the volume of scientific data collection that this vessel could collect. It took most of the 27th and all of the 28th to arrive at our initial survey area. While in transit, the Pisces is constantly collecting data. Data such as air temperature, wind direction, relative humidity, wind speed, and barometric pressure are recorded and periodically reported back to NOAA and the National Weather Service and from other marine vessels to improve data on meteorological events in the Gulf and weather forecasts.
In addition to collecting meteorological data, the Pisces uses a fishery acoustics system called the ER-60 to track depth and various sea floor features. This system can also be used to monitor biomass such as fish, coral, and even plankton. Once we arrived at our initial survey area within the SEAMAP survey grid, the amount of science conducted increased dramatically. In the survey areas, the camera array is dropped to the sea floor to survey fish populations. In most cases we are looking at fish habitat from 50 to 120 m deep. Video and still photos are taken of fish attracted to the bait bag filled with squid. To ensure that sampling is both consistent and unbiased for the survey, pictures and video are pulled at random from all four cameras on the camera array. It is important that the same procedures are carried out throughout the SEAMAP survey gird concerning data collection in order to be able to reliably compare different survey areas and track species development and abundance.
In order to assist the camera array in obtaining accurate information about precisely how deep the camera array is when it is recording fish population data, a Temperature Depth Recorder or TDR is attached to the camera array to compare position in the water column to what the ship’s fishery acoustics system is displaying. This is necessary in case the camera array has fallen off an underwater cliff or is hung up on some other topographic feature.
The Conductivity Temperature and Depth or CTD submersible probe can measure the salinity of the water, temperature, pressure, plankton concentrations, dissolved gases, and water samples at different depths.
The Conductivity Temperature and Depth submersible aids the ship’s acoustic equipment in determining an accurate depth of the ocean bottom. Since sound travels at different velocities in water that has different densities and temperatures, information regarding the salinity and temperature of the water must be fed into the ship’s fishery acoustics system to calibrate the system for it to accurately read the bottom depths. If temperature or salinity are not taken into account, the depth will either be too shallow or too deep compared to the true value.
The Pisces not only has the ER-60 for fishery acoustics, but it also has a state of-the-art multi-beam echo sounder, the ME-70, that has 27 transducers that are aligned in a configuration allowing for scans of wide swaths of the ocean bottom. In fact, the Pisces has engines that are specifically designed to run quietly enough to accommodate such advanced acoustic equipment. The ME-70 is used for mapping various sample areas of the SEAMAP survey.
While the camera array can be used to measure the length of some of the fish viewed, it cannot reliably determine characteristics such as age or sex. Determining age or sex just through appearance can be very tricky in the Gulf and is frequently unreliable. Many species of fish will grow at different rates depending on available forage and other environmental factors. This is an issue that is also commonly encountered among freshwater fish in South Dakota. Complicating fish characteristics even further, many reef fish are one or the other sex at different phases of their lives. They are not strictly male or female but change roles depending on complex physical or environmental factors. With so many factors complicating these characteristics, live catches are necessary to determine the full story of what is going on with reef fish in the Gulf.
For live catches we use bandit reels. Bandit reels are similar in concept to a standard fishing rod and reel except they are built for heavy duty sea fishing. The reel and rod are attached to the side of the ship. One hundred pound test line is used with a five pound sinker weight. Each line for the bandit reels has ten hooks, a small float that keeps the hooks in a vertical column, and a large float that keeps the ten hooks just above the ocean bottom. Again, in order to guard against bias in the results, we use the bandit reels with a set procedure. For our survey we are using three bandit reels at a time each with ten hooks. The bandit reel stations are in radio communication with the dry lab, where the chief scientist is coordinating the sampling, and the bridge, which is keeping the ship in position for the lines preventing lines from running under the ship. Since we want to be as objective as possible without contributing to any type of bias in the sampling, each line was in the water for exactly five minutes. Even though it may have went against every natural inclination of most fishermen and fisherwomen, we were not allowed to jig our lines or do anything that might attract more fish to our bait. In addition to standardizing the number of hooks and the length of time spent fishing, three different sizes of hooks are used and rotated out from each bandit reel station; consequently, one of each of the three hook sizes is always being used for each survey area.
White, nickel-sized disk-like structures called otoliths can reliably age fish. They are inner ear structures that grow in size as a fish ages allowing calcium carbonate deposits to form over the course of its life. Scientists can read these calcium carbonate deposit rings like rings in a tree to determine the age of the fish. Credit Harriet Nash for the photo.
After all the measurements are taken of the fish and their otoliths and gonads have been sampled, the information must be added to the database for use in the SEAMAP Survey. Credit Adam Pollack for the photo.
After five minutes of fishing, the lines are brought up and fish are tagged one through ten to keep fish identified with a specific hook and depth. The tagged fish are then taken to the wet lab for measurement readings. In the wet lab, fish length, weight, sex, and phase of reproductive development are recorded. Since reproductive development, and sometimes even sex, can be difficult to determine, a sample of each fish’s gonads (ovaries or testes) are removed and placed in a labeled specimen vial for confirmation in the lab back on land. The otoliths (inner ear bones) are removed from the fish, as well, in order to reliably age the fish back in the lab. Once the measurements are recorded, they need to be added to the database to be compiled with the gonad and otolith specimens. This is just a small piece of the monitoring that is occurring in the Gulf through NOAA. The Gulf of Mexico is a remarkably diverse expanse of ocean and requires significant scientific research in order to understand and track fish populations and the habitat and forage that sustain them. Without these types of intensive scientific studies on the ocean, we could not possibly manage or attempt to conserve a natural resource that we would, otherwise, have little to no understanding of.
Since we had arrived off the coast of Texas a couple of days ago, we have been slowly back tracking to Pascagoula as we go through our survey areas. The weather has been beautiful the last couple of days; however, sea swells do cause the boat to jostle around a bit. Each day we see more species on the surface of the water and through our camera array under the water. Since the science log is rather long for this post, I will talk more about life at sea and the different types of organisms we are encountering in future posts.
Did You Know?
Fish identification can be a tricky business in the Gulf of Mexico. Many species of Gulf fish alter their physical appearance depending on their reproductive development, environmental factors, or phase of physical development. Fish will even appear to have different patterns depending on whether they are viewed under our out of water.
This is the aftermath of a fire early Sunday morning that destroyed most of the high school in Hoven. My classroom is in the lower left of this picture. Credit Jill Cody for the photo
I see the pictures, the video, and the news stories, and it is still hard to accept the reality of what happened Sunday morning. For those of you who are not familiar with my town and the events surrounding it, our community suffered a great loss over the weekend by losing much of the high school to a fire. Since I was on vacation when it happened and had to leave directly from that to the Pisces, I never saw the fire or the resulting damage, and I suppose reality will finally sink in three weeks from now when I see my school and classroom in person to see what science materials and equipment is salvageable. My sympathies to those affected by this tragedy. However, I am heartened by my community’s initial response of determination to rebuild our school and to continue our tradition of offering high quality education to rural South Dakota. Though the future remains uncertain, I stand with those who support saving our school district and will be there to help see this transition through. I will proceed with the NOAA Teacher at Sea program while keeping in mind that I am now helping move forward the recovery from this tragedy by advancing and enhancing the future of science education in Hoven and beyond.
Back in the Gulf, I flew into Gulfport, Mississippi, on Monday, May 26, and took a taxi to the Pisces in Pascagoula, Mississippi. By chance I met a crewmember who noticed the NOAA Teacher at Sea t-shirt I was wearing at the airport. He too had flown in on the same plane that I had from Atlanta. He was very interesting to talk to learn about many of the diverse backgrounds needed to operate a ship like the Pisces. In our conversation he had talked about why he joined NOAA and some of his past work that had given him the experience necessary for the job. Since he is a crewmember on the deck crew, experience at sea and ship operations is a necessity. The crew allows for day-to-day operations, ensures safety of the ship and the passengers, and assists with the research in its logistics and implementation where necessary. The crewmember I talked to had extensive experience working at sea on cargo ships and looked forward to his future work with NOAA and was very interested in all the science that the Pisces carries out. In general, the crew can be divided up into the following categories: deck crew, officers, stewards, technicians, and engineering. The deck crew carries out the implementation of operations and day-to-day maintenance of the decks. The officers are members of the NOAA Corps, one of seven uniformed services of the United States. The stewards maintain the galley (kitchen) and mess (dining room) providing meals to everyone on the Pisces. The technicians process data and maintain data collection systems and other electronics. Engineering operates and maintains the ship’s engines, equipment, and various electrical and operational systems. Whether it is the deck crew, officers, stewards, technicians, or engineering, all are needed to make the science carried out by the science party possible.
A picture of me on the top deck of the Pisces as we leave Pascagoula, Mississippi, for the Flower Gardens off the coast of Texas. The USS America is in the background. Credit Harriet Nash for the photo.
I arrived at the Pisces during the afternoon on the 26th. This was very helpful in giving me some time to explore the area in Pascagoula and the ship before takeoff the next day. I was assigned a very nice stateroom that I am sharing with another member of the science party. I was surprised that our accommodations were so spacious. We get our own desk, tv, sink, bathroom, and shower. It reminded me of living in the college dorm my freshman year minus the group showers; so, I was more than pleased with the living arrangements. Looking around Pascagoula directly adjacent to where the Pisces was docked, I was amazed at all of the heavy industry concentrated around the Pascagoula River. The river hummed with activity day and night with trains, cargo ships, tugboats, oil and gas well repair work, ship repair work, fishing operations, and tourism. It was quite remarkable to see where some of the goods that we buy in stores back in South Dakota first make their landing on the North American continent and to get a sense of the scale of the sea-based operations needed to make international trade possible. The ocean is how you are able to sell your beans to Brazil or wheat to China. It is the economical lifeblood that connects all of us, but we seldom think of what happens to our goods beyond the retail store or the elevator. We just know the system works and take the infrastructure behind it for granted. Though South Dakota is more than a thousand miles from the Gulf of Mexico, it is linked by trade with the rest of the world through the Gulf.
The NOAA ship Pisces is a state-of-the art research vessel. Even when in transit to a specific operational location, it is always recording data and making observations of the ocean and the atmosphere.
Onboard the ship I was able to explore the different decks. The Pisces is a large ship, but it is not until you move around on the decks that you realize how much space is needed to carry out all of the diverse series of scientific operations. The Pisces is equipped with a hydraulic crane with the ability to lift 10,000 pounds, which is needed to raise and lower science equipment and remove and replace the gangway, the walkway needed to board and get off the ship while it is docked. The ship also has a giant spool called a net reel where they store the fishing nets used for trawling missions and a series of winches with thousands of feet of wire to lower scientific instruments into the depths of the ocean. Even when the Pisces is not carrying out any specific operations while in transit to an operation point, the ship is utilizing every opportunity to gather data on the ocean and the atmosphere. The Pisces is specifically designed to run quietly to allow for state-of-the-art acoustic sensors to gather information on topographic features of the bottom and even information on various types of biomass in the water column such as fish, plankton, and the different types of coral on the ocean bottom. The ship is also always taking meteorological readings for scientific use, calibration, and navigation. Wind speed, wind direction, relative humidity, water temperature, barometric pressure are just some of the observations that are constantly being compiled; therefore, even in the dead of night in our transit, the Pisces is carrying out valuable scientific research and monitoring.
Science and Technology Log:
We are enroute to the Flower Gardens, one of the northern most reef forming corals in the world. In fact, the Flower Gardens were not officially documented to have extensive coral reefs until the early 1960s when researchers started to investigate rumors of coral reefs in the northern Gulf of Mexico. What research divers found was amazing: a pristine coral reef not touched by poaching or pollution. We are scheduled to arrive at the reefs this evening, May 28. We will begin the fish surveys using the camera array and bandit reels tomorrow, as well, to document fish populations among the coral reef structures.
One means of surveying fish abundance and size is using this submersible camera array. It is equipped with four cameras that are used for random sampling for survey data. The array is fitted with a bait bag filled with squid in order to attract fish such as grouper and snapper.
Did you know?
The world’s coral reefs contain a remarkably rich and diverse multitude of life, yet they are threatened by poaching, pollution, disease, invasive species, and increasing ocean temperatures and acidity.
Geographical Area of the Cruise: along the continental shelf edge off the coast of Louisiana
Date: May 9, 2014
Pole of inaccessibility…I admit I was shocked to see that South Dakota claimed such a dubious geographical title in a recent issue of National Geographic. South Dakota is technically not the geographical center of North America; that title goes to North Dakota. South Dakota, however, does carry the rather obscure title of being a pole of inaccessibility for the North American continent, the point farthest from all North American shorelines. Basically, if you live in South Dakota, you live at least 1,000 miles from a coast…any coast! Perhaps our isolation from the ocean is more than a physical measurement on a map. How often do South Dakotans think of living on an ocean planet? Indeed, our perception of the world is seemingly skewed considering we live smack in the middle of that 30% we call land. Living in South Dakota, it is easy to forget about the ocean and its impact on our daily lives. We live as far from it as one can in North America; yet, we are inseparably bound to it. The seafood you eat, the nearly subconscious purchases of foreign goods you make, the moisture we receive, the crops you sell, and even a large portion of the air that we breathe link us all to the ocean’s central value in our lives; therefore, understanding the ocean and the ocean sciences is vital to our daily lives even to landlocked South Dakotans.
South Dakota, a sea of former and current grassland! (Credit Spencer Cody for photo)
Here is where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Teacher at Sea program come into play. It has become obvious to me since my selection as a Teacher at Sea that very few people in this region associate NOAA with ocean research. They seem to know that NOAA plays a role in researching the atmosphere such as working with the National Weather Service to forecast storms, but they never make a connection to the ocean even if it is the second word in NOAA’s namesake.
It is understandable that South Dakotans in general would assume this because the only exposure we have to NOAA in this part of the country deals with storm and weather forecasting. In reality NOAA operates a fleet of ocean research vessels that cover the expanse of U.S. waters and beyond in order to increase our understanding of what we really have in our oceans and how it all interacts with each of its differing component parts. Also, NOAA has its own uniformed service called the NOAA Corps, which keeps the fleet operational and aids and assists in ocean research. My goals as a Teacher at Sea are twofold: connecting NOAA’s oceanic and atmospheric work to the classroom and connecting students to the education and training-related pathways that could potentially lead to NOAA careers. Essentially, I am to learn and document as much as I can on my cruise and use this experience to enhance the education of my students and to provide access to possible careers in oceanic and atmospheric work through NOAA. I am greatly thankful and humbled to receive such an opportunity through the NOAA Teacher at Sea program. This is truly a great opportunity for learning for both me and my school.
I enjoy geology, paleontology, and many other sciences. It is probably a safe guess that a large dinosaur left this track behind.
More about me…I will be starting my ninth year of teaching in Hoven this August. I teach 7-12 science: Earth, Life, Physical, Biology, Biology II, Chemistry, and Physics. I enjoy teaching all of the varied sciences. It is hard to get bored when you teach everything. Hoven is a very nice town to live and teach in. It reminds me a lot of growing up in Veblen, another small, rural South Dakota town. I have always been an advocate for rural education and strongly believe that small schools like Hoven offer an exceptional learning environment for students.
Unfortunately, I will have to leave my wife, Jill, and my daughters, Teagan and Temperance, behind for a few weeks. I will miss them, but also realize that my four-year old daughter being present on a research vessel would make any productive research almost impossible. She is very rambunctious.
I am counting down the days until I fly out on the 26th to Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the Pisces will be leaving and returning after the mission is completed. I am very excited about the research involved in my upcoming mission. Researching fish species abundances associated with the topography of the Gulf of Mexico has so many implications because our mission is just a small piece of a giant survey puzzle that includes nearly the entire edge of the North American shelf in the Gulf of Mexico. Ships in the survey area have been using many innovative ways of monitoring reef fish abundance. I look forward to learning more about this technology and will report more on the subject once I am underway. For more information about the Pisces, visit the Pisces homepage or track our movements using the NOAA ship tracker.
My wife and two kids on vacation at Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Jennifer Petro Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces July 1 — 14, 2013
Mission: Marine Protected Area Surveys Geographic area of cruise: Southern Atlantic Date: July 7, 2013
Weather Data Air temperature: 27.°C (81.5°F)
Barometer: 1022.50 mb
Wind direction: 195°
Wind speed: 6.1 knots
Water temp: 26.6° C (79.3°F)
Latitude: 34 44.62 N
Longitude: 75 91.98 W
Science and Technology Log
Today we find ourselves off of the coast of northern North Carolina where we will be for the next few days. An exciting aspect about this cruise is that we will be multi-beam mapping (a blog about that very soon) and sending the ROV down for surveys in new areas off of North Carolina. For the past few days I have been working with the team from the Panama City Southeast Fisheries Science Center identifying fish. This can sometimes be a very difficult prospect when the ROV is flying over the fish at 2 knots. The team from SEFSC consists of Andy David, Stacey Harter and Heather Moe. David is a 23 year veteran of NOAA and has been working on the MPA project since 2004. Stacey has been working on this project since its inception as well. Heather is new to the team and is just coming off of a 1 year assignment with the NOAA Corps at the South Pole.
There are several major objectives of this survey cruise.
There are several major objectives of this survey cruise.
(1) To survey established MPAs to collect data to compare to previous years’ surveys.
An important aspect of these cruises is to establish the effectiveness of an MPA. In some MPAs there is usually no fishing allowed. This includes trolling. bottom fishing (hook and line) as well as all commercial methods of fishing. The MPAs we are studying are Type II MPAs where trolling is permitted. They are looking for seven specific target species.
According to Andy, these species have been chosen due to their commercial value. During each dive a record is taken as to the type of species seen. We are specifically looking for the target species but we are keeping track of ALL the species that we see. I think it is fantastic to see scientists get excited about seeing something new. So far we have seen Oceanic Sunfish (2), Redband Parrotfish, Tautog (a more northerly found fish), Longsnout Butterflyfish and one fish species that we have not identified yet. There is an emphasis on Lionfish counts to assist in gauging how the introduction of this invasive species is affecting the overall fish populations. In some areas the Lionfish numbers have increased dramatically over the years. Today we actually saw one try to eat a smaller fish! They are very abundant in some locations and not in others but they have been present in 95% of our dives.
A Speckled Hind seen inside the North Florida MPA.
A Warsaw Grouper seen inside the North Florida MPA.
Stacey Harter, LT JG Heather Moe and I watching the big monitor and calling out the fish that we are seeing to be recorded.
(2) Survey outside of the MPAs.
You may ask “Why survey outside the area?” We want to know if the MPAs are indeed doing what they were designed to do: protect fish species. That was very evident in Jacksonville where the numbers and size of Gag Grouper and Scamp far exceeded the numbers and size outside the MPA.
Andy David recording for the ROV video log species of fish we are seeing on the dive.
(3) Survey new sites for possible MPA designation.
There is a process that is followed when determining if an area is a suitable MPA candidate. What we are doing on this cruise is both mapping and surveying new areas that have been proposed as MPA sites. This is the ground level stage. The MPAs in the region that we are in are ultimately determined by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.
A Gray Triggerfish protecting a nest of eggs. Seen in the Edisto MPA as well as in a proposed site off of North Carolina.
Data during the dives is collected in a few ways. There are several video monitors that we watch and we call out species that we see. A data keyboard, like the one Harbor Branch uses for invertebrates counts, is used to keep track of types and number of each species seen. During every dive a video from the camera on the ROV is recorded and species are highlighted and recorded on to the DVD. This data will be analyzed thoroughly back at the lab and then sent to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.
I am happy to announce that I have finally gotten my sea legs. It wasn’t as bad as I had envisioned but I was definitely concerned that it would be a major issue. We had some weather on Thursday, July 4 and that was the worst of it for me. I now hardly feel the vessel move. It has been fun over the past several days. We are in the lab most of the days so we only get to really see the crew at mealtimes and after dinner. The crew, from the CO to the engineers, are all great people. They are happy to answer questions, point you in the right direction and are quick to say hi and ask you about your day. Yesterday afternoon one of the engineers, Steve, gave us a tour of the engine room. All of the ship’s infrastructure is supported by this room. The engines run the generators for power, support the a/c, house the desalination filters (all the fresh water on board comes from salt water) as well as getting the boat from point A to point B. I was impressed!
One of the 4 Caterpillar engines that keep Pisces running ship shape.
Today after our last ROV dive, a school of Mahi mahi followed it (the ROV) up to the surface. The fishing was on! The crew brought out rods, reels and bait and the fishing commenced. Collectively we managed to land one bull or male and 2 smaller Mahi mahi. It was a nice diversion for all of us, scientists and crew, as we were back to work all too quickly. Fish tacos for dinner!
Hoping I can land this one!
Fair weather and calm seas.
Did you know that…
Some grouper can grow to be so huge that when they open their mouths to feed, they create a suction that is powerful enough to inhale small prey.
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 18, 2012
Location: Latitude: 17.6568
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 28.5°C (83.3°F)
Wind Speed: 17.1 knots (19.7 mph), Beaufort scale: 5
Wind Direction: from SE
Relative Humidity: 75%
Barometric Pressure: 1,014.80 mb
Surface Water Temperature:28.97 °C (84.1°F)
Science and Technology Log
Alright, so I’ve promised to talk about the fish. Throughout the science portions of the cruise, the scientists have not been catching the anticipated quantities of fish. There are several lines of thought as to why: maybe the region has experienced overfishing; possibly the sampling sites are too shallow and deeper water fish may be more likely to bite; or they might not like the bait (North Atlantic mackerel) since it is not an endemic species/prey they would normally eat.
So far, the night shift has caught more fish than the day shift that I’m on. Today, we have caught five and a half fish. The half fish was exactly that – we retrieved only the head and it looked like the rest of the body had been consumed by a barracuda! These fish were in the grouper family and the snapper family.
Coney (Cephalopholis fulvus)
Blackfin snapper (Lutjanus buccanella). This little guy was wily enough to sneak into the camera array and steal some squid out of the bait bag! The contents of his stomach – cut up squid – can be seen to the left between the forceps and his head.
Once the fish have been caught, there are several measurements that must be made. To begin, the fish is weighed to the nearest thousandth (three decimal places) of a kilogram. In order to make sure the weight of the fish is accurate, the scale must be periodically calibrated.
Then there are several length measurements that are made: standard length (SL), total length (TL) and depending on the type of fish, fork length (FL). To make these measurements, the fish is laid so that it facing toward the left and placed on a fish board. The board is simply a long plank with a tape measure running down the center. It insures that the fish is laid out flat and allows for consistent measurement.
Standard length does not measure the caudal fin, or tail. It is measured from the tip of the fish’s head and stops at the end of the last vertebra; in other words, if the fish is laying on its side, and you were to lift the tail up slightly, a crease will form at the base of the backbone. This is where the standard length measurement would end. Total length is just as it sounds – it is a measurement of the entire length (straight line) of the fish. Fork length is only measured if the type of fish caught has a forked tail. If it does, the measurement begins at the fish’s snout and ends at the v-notch in the tail.
How to measure the three types of lengths: standard, fork, and total. (Source: Australian Government: Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population, and Communities)
Red hind (Epinephelus guttatus) on the fish board being measured for standard length. Ariane’s thumb is on the crease marking the end of its backbone.
Once the physical measurements are made, the otoliths must be extracted and the fish sexed. You’re probably anxious to learn if you selected the right answer on the previous post’s poll – “What do you think an otolith is?” An otolith can be thought of as a fish’s “ear bone”. It is actually a structure composed of calcium carbonate and located within the inner ear. All vertebrates (organisms with backbones) have similar structures. They function as gravity, balance, movement, and directional indicators. Their presence helps a fish sense changes in horizontal motion and acceleration.
In order to extract the otoliths, the fish must be killed. Once the fish has been killed, the brain case is exposed and peeled back. The otoliths are in little slits located in the underside of the brain. It takes a delicate touch to remove them with a pair of forceps (tweezers) because they can easily break or slip beyond the “point of no return” (drop into the brain cavity where they cannot be extracted).
Otoliths are important scientifically because they can tell many important things about a fish’s life. Their age and growth throughout the first year of life can be determined. Otoliths record this information just like tree ring record summer/winter cycles. More complex measurements can be used to determine the date of hatch, once there are a collected series of measurements, spawning times can be calculated.
A cross-section of an otolith under a microscope. The rings are used to determine age and other life events. Source: Otolith Research Laboratory, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Because they are composed of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), the oxygen component of the chemical compound can be used to measure stable oxygen isotopes; this is useful for reconstructing temperatures of the waters the fish has lived in. Scientists are also able to look at other trace elements and isotopes to determine various environmental factors.
Extracted otoliths. Often they are around 1 cm long, although the larger the fish, the slightly larger the otolith.
The final step we take in measurement/data collection is determining the sex and maturity of the fish. To do this, the fish is slit open just as if you were going to clean the fish to filet and eat it. The air bladder must be deflated if it isn’t already and the intestines moved out of the way. Then we begin to search for the gonads (ovaries and testes). Once the gonads are found, we know if it is female or male and the next step is to determine its stage or maturity. This is quite a process, especially since groupers can be hermaphroditic. The maturity can be classified with a series of codes:
U = undetermined
1 = immature virgin (gonads are barely visible)
2 = resting (empty gonads – in between reproductive events)
3 = enlarging/developing (eggs/sperm are beginning to be produced)
4 = running ripe (gonads are full of eggs/sperm and are ready to spawn)
5 = spent (spawning has already occurred)
Ovaries of a coney (grouper family). These are the pair of flesh colored tubular structures running down the center of the fish.
Today is my birthday, and I can’t think of a better place to spend it! What a treat to be having such an adventure in the Caribbean! This morning, we were on our first bandit reel survey of the day, and the captain came on over the radio system, announced my birthday and sang Happy Birthday to me. Unbeknownst to me, my husband, Dave, had emailed the CO of the Pisces asking him to wish me a happy birthday.
We’ve had a very successful day (compared to the past two days) and have caught many more fish – 5 1/2 to be exact. The most exciting part was that I caught two fish on my bandit reel! They were a red hind and blackfin snapper (see the photos above). What a great birthday present!
Father’s Day surf and turf dinner
My birthday fish! The blackfin snapper is on the left and the red hind on the right.
I even got a birthday kiss from the red hind!
Last night (6/17) for Father’s Day, we had an amazing dinner: filet mignon, lobster, asparagus, sweet plantains, and sweet potato pie for dessert! Since it was my birthday the following day (6/18), and one of the scientists doesn’t like lobster, I had two tails! What a treat!
Our best catch of the day came on the last bandit reel cast. Joey Salisbury (one of the scientists) caught 5 fish: 4 blackfin snapper and 1 almaco jack; while Ariane Frappier (another scientist) caught 3 – 2 blackfin and 1 almaco jack. This happened right before dinner, so we developed a pretty good assembly line system to work them up in time to eat.
Dinner was a nice Chinese meal, but between the ship beginning to travel to the South coast of St. Thomas and working on the computer, I began to feel a touch seasick (not the best feeling after a large meal!). I took a couple of meclazine (motion sickness medication) and still felt unwell (most likely because you’re supposed to take it before the motion begins). My roommate, Kelly Schill, the Operations Officer, made me go to bed (I’m in the top bunk – yikes!), gave me a plastic bag (just in case!), and some saltine crackers. After 10 hours of sleep, I felt much, much better!
I had some time in between running bandit reels, baiting the hooks, and entering data into the computers,to interview a member of the science team that joined us at the last-minute from St. Croix. Roy Pemberton, Jr. is the Director of Fish and Wildlife for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The following is a snippet of our conversation:
LU: What are your job duties as the Director of Fish and Wildlife?
RP: I manage fisheries/wildlife resources and try to educate the population on how to better manage these resources to preserve them for future generations of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
LU: When did you first become interested in oceanography?
RP: I’m not really an oceanographer, but more of a marine scientist and wildlife biologist. I got interested in this around 5-6 years old when I learned to swim and then snorkel for the first time. I really enjoyed observing the marine environment and my interest prompted me to want to see and learn more about it.
LU: It’s such a broad field, how did you narrow your focus down to what you’re currently doing?
RP: I took a marine science class in high school and I enjoyed it tremendously. It made me seek it out as a career by pursuing a degree in Marine Science at Hampton University.
LU: If you were to go into another area of ocean research, what would it be?
RP: Oceanography – Marine Spatial Planning
Roy Pemberton holding a recently caught coney.
LU: What is the biggest challenge in your job?
RP: It is a challenge to manage fisheries and wildlife resources with respect to the socioeconomic and cultural nuances of the people.
LU: What do you think is the biggest issue of contention in your field, and how do you imagine it will resolve?
RP: Fisheries and coral reef management. We need to have enough time to see if the federal management efforts work to ensure healthier ecosystems for future generations.
LU: What are some effects of climate change that you’ve witnessed in the reef systems of the U.S. Virgin Islands?
RP: Temperatures have become warmer and the prevalence of disease among corals has increased.
LU: In what areas of Marine Science do you foresee a lot of a career paths and job opportunities?
RP: Fisheries management, ecosystem management, coral reef diseases, and the study of coral reef restoration.
LU: Is there an area of Marine Science that you think is currently being overlooked, and why?
RP: Marine Science management that takes into account cultural and economic issues.
LU: What are some ideas a layperson could take from your work?
RP: One tries to balance resource protection and management with the cultural and heritage needs of the population in the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
LU: If a high school student wanted to go into the fish/wildlife division of planning and natural resources, what kinds of courses would you recommend they take?
RP: Biology, Marine Science, History, Botany, and Math
LU: Do you recommend students interested in your field pursue original research as high school students or undergraduate students? If so, what kind?
RP: I would suggest they study a variety of life sciences so they can see what they want to pursue. Then they can do an internship in a particular life science they find interesting to determine if they would like to pursue it as a career.
Too many interesting people on the ship and so little time! I’m going to interview scientists as we continue on to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Once they leave, I’m continuing on to Mayport, Florida with the ship. During this time, I’ll explore other careers with NOAA.