Amy Orchard: Day 1, 2 and 3 – Cool Scientists, Multibeam, Setting Traps, Cetaceans, September 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Fish Tagging
Geographical area of cruise: Riley’s Hump: Tortugas Ecological Reserve South
Date: September 14, 15, 16, 2014

Weather: September 16, 2014 20:00 hours
Latitude 24° 30’ 30’’N Longitude 83° 09’ 9’’W
Few clouds, clear.  Humidity 10%.
Wind speed 7 knots.
Air Temperature: 28° Celsius (83° Fahrenheit)
Sea Water Temperature: 30.4° Celsius (86.7°Fahrenheit)


Getting to Know the Nancy Foster

Scott Donahue, Science Coordinator for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Chief Scientist for this cruise, brought me aboard and gave me a tour of the Nancy Foster early in the day.  Also there was Tim Olsen, Chief Engineer, who I had met on the plane from Atlanta to Key West.  I was overwhelmed with the capacity of the ship.  It is huge and fully equipped for a wide variety of scientific endeavors, diving, mapping, surveying, launching large equipment etc.  I feel lucky to be a part of what is going on.

Click on these two photos for more information

Short Jaunt into Key West

After taking some time to see Key West, I headed back to the ship where I met Cammy Clark from the Miami Herald who will be with us for one week reporting on our experience. Cammy and I spent the night on the ship awaiting the science team to arrive early tomorrow morning.  The ship is in dock so I can’t yet be sure if I will suffer from sea sickness.  However, I hear that there is 100% survival rate if it does occur!

Click on these two photos for more information


Meeting the Scientists

During the two weeks aboard, I will be working with 10 scientists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), 7 NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary scientists and 2 ROV pilots from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.  I am excited to be a part this interagency collaboration.  Seems like an efficient way to communicate and share experiences.

Guess which photo shows the scientists I will be working with…

Answer:  PHOTO ON THE RIGHT.  FWC scientists from left to right: Mike McCallister, Jeff Renchen,Danielle Morley, Ariel Tobin (in front), Ben Binder, Paul Barbera.  Not as reserved or stodgy as you might picture a group of scientists, but they are incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated to their work.  They are unbelievably cool people!  They have amazing stories to tell, are easy-going and love to have a good time.  I want to be like them when I grow up!

Preparing to Do Science

One of the many things we will do this week is tagging fish.  To do this, we will travel away from the ship on small boats to set fish traps.  Once the right fish are contained, the dive team will surgically insert an acoustic tag which will allow them to monitor the fish’s movements throughout different reaches of the sanctuary.  This information is important to see the effectiveness of protected areas vs. non-protected areas.

The divers perform this surgery underwater (usually at depths of 95-110 feet) in order to reduce stress on the fish and to avoid air bladder expansion.

Today the divers went out to practice their diving skills before the intense work begins.  I got to travel with them in the small boat.  Even though I am certified to SCUBA dive, only American Academy of Underwater Sciences divers and other divers with official reciprocity are allowed to dive off NOAA ships.  (reciprocity is the word of the day – look it up!)  The diving these scientists do is much more technical than the recreational diving I do in Mexico, but they enjoy it just as much.

Best note of the day:  No sea sickness!  (yet)

dive boat being lowered
The 4 small boats sit on the back deck of the ship and are lowered over the side with a large crane. Once the boat is on the water, we climb down a rope ladder (which is swinging ferociously in the waves!)
me on the small dive boat
The Nancy Foster has four small boats. Three for dive operations and one reserved as a rescue boat. It was exciting to have a different perspective and to see the Nancy Foster out at sea from the small boat. Photo by Linh Nugyen


Multibeam Sonar

Last night was the first night I slept on the ship while it was out to sea.  I had a really hard time sleeping as I would awaken every half hour feeling as if I were going to roll over and fall out of my top bunk!  This movement was due to the fact that science is being done aboard the Nancy Foster 24 hours a day.  During the night time, Nick Mitchell and Samantha Martin, the Survey Technicians, are running the Multibeam Sonar which determines ocean depth and creates a map of the sea floor contours.  Using 512  sonic beams, sound is emitted, bounces off the sea bed, then returns to the ship.

See these videos for more information:

The ship would travel out about 3 miles, then turn 180° to make the next pass.  Cruising at about 1 mile every 10 minutes (walking speed) we were turning about every 30 minutes, explaining my rockn’ night!

More on MSB in upcoming posts.

Click on these two photos for more information

Setting Fish Traps

I joined the divers on the small boat to set out the first two traps.  We used cooked and peeled shrimp as bait.  The traps were still empty late afternoon.  Let’s hope they take the shrimp so the tagging can begin!

modified chevron trap
Here sits the modified chevron trap Ben and I will be deploying from our small boat. Divers on a second small boat will follow us, dive down and be sure the trap sits on the ocean floor upright and will set the bait.
trap over board
I am making sure the rope which attaches the float buoys to the trap doesn’t get caught on the boat as the fish trap is deployed into the water. Photo by Nick Mitchell
Here Ben Binder & Survey Technician, Nick Mitchell, record the exact Latitude and Longitude where the trap was set.  Can you figure out the general GPS coordinates for the Tortuga South Ecological Reserve?
Here Ben Binder & Survey Technician, Nick Mitchell, record the exact Latitude and Longitude where the trap was set. Can you figure out the general GPS coordinates for the Tortuga South Ecological Reserve? Need help? Go to

We are focusing on two species during this trip: the Black Grouper and the Cubera Snapper.  These two were selected because they are commercially and recreationally important species.  The FWC’s aim is to monitor the seasonal movement of these species to better understand how the fishes are utilizing the protected areas, as well as those outside of the reserve, so they can make the best management decisions.

I will attach photos of each species that will be taken from the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) in my next blog since this one is getting long…

Challenge Your Understanding

Identify this animal.

I took this photo and video on day 1.  We have seen them each day since!

cetaceans jumping
Am I a porpoise, dolphin or vaquita?

The species in my photo/video is part of the Order Cetacea and the suborder Odontoceti (or toothed whales) which includes the porpoises , dolphins, vaquitas, narwhals and killer whales (to name only a few – there are 67 species in this suborder.)

Go to this website to help you find the correct answer


Bonus Points – make a COMMENT and share some information you have found about the VAQUITA.

Cool fact – all members of Odontoceti can echolocate.

Junior Docents – add that to your bat interpretations!

The question from my last post about the relationship between Tucson and the Sea of Cortez could be answered with all of the first four answers.  Glad NO ONE chose the last answer!  The sea is an integral part of our lives no matter how far we live from it.

Karen Rasmussen, June, 27, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Rasmussen
Ship: R/V Tattoosh
Geographical area of the cruise: Olympic Coast NMS
Date: June 27, 2011
Cruise to: Port Angeles Harbor
Crew: Nathan Witherly, Karen Rasmussen
Time: Start 10:30 – End 12:2

The first part of mission is to conduct Multibeam mapping and to collect ground-truthings at the LaPush/Teahwhit areas of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. We will also service  the OCNM buoy, Cape Alava 42 (CA42). The second week of this mission is to explore the  Teahwhit Head moorings, ChaBa and sunken ships, and North and South moorings.

Weather Data
Calm seas/wind

Science and Technology Log

The Tatoosh at dock
The Tatoosh at dock

We began this morning at 8:00 a.m. Tatoosh had been dry  docked at the Port of Port Angeles to have the multibeam  fixed. This mission was to  have started last week but had  to be postponed because of a small leak in the multibeam. This morning the Tatoosh was  lowered into the water to take the measurements in order to  check the accuracy of the multibeam. Nathan drove the boat to Hollywood Beach (Port Angeles, WA) so we could help take readings. Rick and Nancy stayed onshore and used a surveyor’s tripod with an optical level. I held the surveyor’s rod and we completed a dynamic draft measurement of the Tatoosh. Rick took 3 readings from each position the Tatoosh was in over approximately two hours. Later Nancy and I entered their data into the Hypack software program. I read the data as she typed it in. We finished and found that our computer software programs are not interfacing with each other.

Here we are on the Tatoosh trying to work with the computer programs that will collect the data we need.
Here we are on the Tatoosh trying to work with the computer programs that will collect the data we need.

The HYPAK Program Inc. is Windows-based software created for the hydrographic
and dredging industries. It includes ways to complete surveys, collect data, process it, and generate final products.  It can be used on small or large vessels and is also used to collect environmental data.

HYSWEEP is a module of HYPACK and is used with multibeam and side scan sonar.  It gives on-the-spot information  about the ocean’s bottom  condition and data quality from  your multibeam devise.

HYSWEEP measures:

  • Depth – Nadir beam depth in survey units (ten units to one foot)
  • Time (Event)
  • Tide  Corrections
  • Draft Correction
  • Heave (in survey units, positive upward)
  • Roll – port side
  • Pitch – bow up
  • Heading
  • Easting/Northing (Like XY coordination, X= Easting, Y=Northing)

Personal Log
My learning curve is tremendous today and I am extremely tired. Last night I stayed at the Red Lion in Port Angeles. I was up until almost 4 a.m. Apparently, they are having teenager issues. Lots of horn blowing, yelling, and fighting all night long. I am hoping that tonight will be better.

I really enjoyed being part of the team today. Nancy, Rick, and Nathan have been wonderful with answering all of my questions.  Some of the questions I’ve been asking must seem so obvious to them, but my knowledge of underwater geography is so limited. Every aspect of this day has been interesting. I am truly amazed at what these people are doing with the limited and older materials they are using.

Melissa Fye, April 8, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melissa Fye
Onboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
April 4 – 25, 2005

Mission: Coral Reef Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Northwest Hawaiian Island
Date: April 8, 2005

Seabirds on Tern Island
Seabirds on Tern Island

Location: Latitude: 28.5 N, Longitude: 49.3 W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: 42
Wind Speed: 16 kts
Sea Wave Height: 3 feet
Swell Wave Height: 3-4 feet
Sea Water Temperature: N/A
Sea Level Pressure: 1021 mb
Cloud Cover: 3/8 SC, AS, Ci

Science and Technology Log

The HI’IALAKAI continued running survey lines laid out by scientists across the Pacific Ocean to add to data for the creation of benthic habitat maps. Approximately 10 AM this morning several scientists deployed the AHI research boat with 2 computer engineers aboard from our ship. The engineers were on board to get the new sonar system up and running and correct any glitches as they occurred.  Their services did not require them to be on board for the whole cruise, so they went on the AHI this morning to Tern Island to rendezvous with a small plane to fly them back to Honolulu. I began interviewing Scientist Kyle Hogrefe in the dry lab and he showed me a slide show regarding the GhostNet project and the subtropical convergent zone.  The projects concern the studies of winds and currents converging in the Pacific Ocean, sometimes coming together near the Hawaiian Islands, which entangles and clumps debris from humans (fishing nets, Bic liters, toothbrushes-things littered into the sea) and damages coral reefs and kills marine life, choking or strangling them.

Visiting the seabird sanctuary
Visiting the seabird sanctuary

Many dead sea animals have been found, the cause of death due to their bodies being full of garbage like lighters and plastics, which ends up getting entangled in their organs or choking them. Mr. Hogrefe works as a Marine Debris Specialist and often goes on diving trips which reclaim some of the pollution that endangers ocean ecosystems. An hour later I boarded a shuttle boat with the Commanding Officer (CO), a deck hand, and chief boatswain to also go to Tern Island and take a tour of the bird, monk seal, and turtle refuge, run by the Fisheries Dep’t (Dep’t of Interior)on the island.  Jennifer, the manager of the sanctuary, led the CO and me on a tour of the half mile long island, which is nothing more than a few research barracks, a landing strip, and thousands of birds. The studies they are conducting for Hawaii’s bird population proved to be very interesting.

At this time, a manager and 3 volunteers are stationed on the island for a minimum of 4 months at a time to count bird eggs, tag chicks, and count the adult species.  Tern Island bird sanctuary has the largest collection of data in the world on the species of birds which spend their lives flying over the ocean and which are indigenous to the Hawaiian Island Chain. The data has been collected for over 30 years, the reproductive rates of the birds are improving, and the work there will lead to the Albatross bird being put on the endangered species list. More than 90 percent of Hawaii’s bird population uses the island as a mating area.  The birds which reproduce on Tern, once adult, may spend up to 4 years flying over the ocean without ever stopping and their bodies have a way for the bird to rest or sleep while in flight. We learned about adaptations, like a waterproofing gland at the base of the bird’s body to protect them from ocean water, and we also saw a monk seal, and 5 huge sea turtles. A binder was also given to me about a unit of lessons called “Navigating Change”, involving the Northwestern Hawaiian Island Chain that can be used to teach respect and understanding of the ocean and environment to 4th and 5th graders. It was an invaluable gift! We then boarded the shuttle back to ship for the 15 minute ride across the ocean. Returned to the HI’IALAKAI at approximately 4:30 PM. A CTD cast was made (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth measurement in the ocean) at approximately 6 pm.  Deck hand/Surveyor Jeremy Taylor lead a group of new surveyors through the steps to conducting a cast and retrieving the data sent up through the cable. Survey lines continued to be performed by the ship at 7 knots.

Bird action!
Bird action!

Personal Log

I was very busy today and it was the most exciting day of the trip so far. I arose to eat breakfast and send out my computer logs, answer emails, and send pictures to my class via the internet.  I soon interviewed scientist Kyle Hogrefe aboard the ship and learned a lot about marine debris, as mentioned in the science log above. I then boarded the shuttle boat to Tern Island, watched the computer engineers take off in their small Cessna plane and took a fantastic tour of the place. The bird sanctuary teemed with thousands of birds!  As soon as you stepped foot on the island, you saw thousands of birds flying and roosting below. Literally thousands of birds blanketed the entire island except for the landing strip in the middle.  The entire place is covered with bird feces and I was rightfully inducted as a visitor when a bird pooped on my leg!  Ha Ha!

There are many interesting species of birds living on the island and the 4 people living there are tracking the reproductive rates of the birds. The sounds the birds make are actually the same sound bites used in the movie, “The Birds!” After a great tour of the place, I saw my first monk seals and gigantic sea turtles and took many pictures.  After returning to the island I spent the afternoon learning how to edit data on the survey computers, so I could help the survey scientists, and I told many members of the crew about the trip to Tern Island since only 4 of us had permits to go.  It was quite an informative and exciting day.  It was energizing to ride across the ocean on a raft type engine boat and see the coral reef beneath!

QUESTION OF THE DAY for my fourth grade students:  If a small plastic bag was found floating in the ocean, and a bird or shark went to eat it, what do you think that small bag looks like to the sea animal (what ocean animal)? After reading the information above, why is it important for humans to recycle?