Sandra Camp: A Day in the Life of a Marine Biologist, June 17, 2015

Lookout fish!

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sandra Camp
Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
June 14 – 24, 2015


Mission: Main Hawaiian Islands Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands, North Pacific Ocean
Date: June 17, 2015

Weather Data: mostly cloudy, showers, visibility > 7 NM (nautical miles), winds east 10-15 KT (knots), air temperature 80° F, water temperature 80° F


Science and Technology Log

Days at sea begin early for the scientists aboard the Hi’ialakai. There are push-ups on the bow at 0630 (not mandatory), followed by breakfast at 0700. After breakfast, everyone meets outside on the deck at 0730 for a meeting about the day’s diving. Safety procedures are always reviewed during this meeting.

Morning Meeting
Morning meeting at 0730 in the fantail

Afterwards, the divers suit up, get their gear together, and get ready to board small boats, which will take them to the day’s scheduled diving sites. The way the small boats are lowered into the water with their passengers and gear from the larger ship is nothing less than a carefully orchestrated ballet of synchronized movement, line management, and communication.  The chief boatswain (“bosun” for short), the senior crewman of the deck department, is in charge of this process.  You can see him in the first photo, operating the crane.  Anyone on deck during this time must wear a hardhat for safety purposes.  You would not want to get hit in the head with moving cranes, hooks, or cables!

First, the small boats are lifted from the upper deck with a crane and lowered over the side of the ship.

Then, gear and passengers are loaded onto the boat, and it is carefully lowered into the water. Lines are released. and the boat drives away.

After that, the coxswain, the driver of the boat, takes the divers to the first survey site of the day. As we learn in class, a very important part of any scientist’s job is to gather evidence and data. Three to four groups of divers in separate small boats will gather data from 5-7 different sites each per day. After this project is complete, scientists will have gathered data from hundreds of different sites around the main Hawaiian islands.  At each site, they do fish counts and benthic (sea floor) analysis. They estimate the amount of coral present on the sea floor, and then list fish by their species and quantity. Each diver takes a clipboard with a waterproof piece of paper attached to it on which they record their data. They also carry waterproof cameras with them, as well as a small extra tank of oxygen called a RAS (Redundant Air System) that they can use in case their tank runs out of air.

After data is recorded for several different sites, the small boats return to the ship no later 1700, which makes for a very long day out on the water. Dinner is from 1700-1800, and afterwards, scientist divers head to the dry lab, where all the computer equipment is located, to enter the data they gathered on fish during their surveys.


Scientist Interview

While we were out at diving sites today, I had the opportunity to interview Jonatha Giddens, one of the divers on the boat. Jonatha is a graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She has an undergraduate degree in coral reef fish ecology, and she is currently studying the effects of an introduced grouper (a species of fish that is not native to Hawaii) on the local marine ecosystem for her Ph.D.

Jonatha Giddens
Jonatha warming up after a dive

What are your primary responsibilities? Being part of the fish team, scuba diving, doing fish surveys, and entering the data collected during the day into computer systems at night.

What do you love most about your job? Being on the water!

What kind of education do you need to have this job? An undergraduate degree in marine biology

Do you have any advice for young people interested in your line of work? Get involved with research as early as possible. Find out what kind of research is going on in your area, and volunteer. Do summer internships at places that are farther away. You learn so much just by jumping into it.

Jonatha followed her passion and learned all she could about it. Now she has won an award from ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists) for her work in conservation ecology. ARCS is a foundation organized and run entirely by women to encourage female leadership in STEM careers. Go Jonatha!


Personal Log

Ninja Snorkeler
Don’t mess with this snorkeler!

I can sometimes go snorkeling while the divers are completing surveys, as long as I stay far enough away from them that I do not interfere with their work (they do no want me to scare the fish away).  I have to wear a knife strapped to my leg while snorkeling, in case I become tangled in fishing net or line (or in case there is a shark!).  Again, it is all about safety on the Hi’ialakai.


Did You Know?

The underwater apparatus held by Raymond Boland in the above photo is a stereo camera. It is composed of two separate cameras encased in waterproof housing. When a diver uses it to photograph a fish, two simultaneous pictures are taken of the fish. NOAA scientists calibrate the images using computers to get an accurate measure of the length of fish.


New Terms

chief boatswain – the person in charge of the deck department

coxswain – a person who steers a ship’s boat and is usually in charge of its crew.

benthic – relating to, or occurring on, the bottom of a body of water

Clare Wagstaff, September 18, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Key West
Date: Saturday, September 18, 2009

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (information taken at 12 noon) 
Weather: Sunny Visibility (nautical miles): 10
Wind Speed (knots): 0 (in port)
Wave Height (feet): <1
Sea Water Temp (0C): 30.4
Air Temp (0C): 32

Science and Technology Log 

Right: Black-band Disease on Montastraea annularis. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley
Black-band Disease on Montastraea annularis. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley

With the last dive of the cruise over, the group has completed 175 dives, which equates to 7.5 days underwater! Most of the planned coral reef sites have been surveyed even with our lack of a third small boat. The weather has stayed relatively calm and has been surprisingly supportive of our cruise. The mad rush is now to input all the remaining data before we disembark the ship later today.

An area that I have only briefly referred to in previous logs, are the types of coral diseases present and being studied. Chief Scientist, Scott Donahue, commented to me that there has been a trend over the last decade of decreasing coral coverage. This is believed to be related to anthropogenic stresses such as water quality and climate change. By comparing spatial and temporal patterns against trends in coral reef disease, over different geographic regions and reef types, it is hoped that a greater understanding of how these patterns are related to different environmental conditions. The team was specifically looking at ten disease conditions affecting 16 species of Scleractinian corals and Gorgonian sea fans. Although I tried to identify some of the diseases, it was actually quite difficult to distinguish between individual diseases and also other causes of coral mortality.

White-band Disease on Acropora cervicornis. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley
White-band Disease on Acropora cervicornis. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley

Black-band Disease is a crescent shaped or circular band of blackish material that separates living material from white exposed skeleton. It is caused by a cyanobacteria in combination with a sulfide oxidizing bacteria and a sulfur reducing bacteria. White-band Disease displays a margin of white tissue decay. It can start at the base of a colony or in the middle. It affects branching corals and its cause is currently unknown. Corals have a pretty tough time living out in the ocean and have many problems to overcome. If its not a boat’s anchor crushing it could be any number of the following; a parrot fish (predator) eating it; deterioration of the water quality; a hurricane; an increase in major competitors like algae or tunicates, and to nicely top it all, it can always get a disease too!

Most of the scientists on the Nancy Foster are volunteers, giving up their own free time to be part of the trip. Kathy Morrow is a Ph.D. student who has extensively studied the ecology of cnidarians for the past 9 years. She is currently researching her dissertation on the community structure and stability of coral-algal-microbial associations based on studies conducted off the coast of Summerland Key, Florida and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. On one of the last dives of the trip Kathy takes time to collect mucus samples (she refers to this fondly as coral “snot”), from a site she has previously visited numerous times over the last few years. The objective is to collect mucus samples so that they can be studied later for their bacteria composition.

Morrow collecting coral mucus. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley.
Morrow collecting coral mucus. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley.

Once Kathy has collected these samples she must process them so that they can be stored until she has the opportunity back in the lab, to analyze them. Although I was not present when Kathy was collecting the samples, I did help her in the wet lab with the final stages of storing her collection of samples. Having collected multiple mucus samples from each of the preselected coral species in syringes, the samples were then placed into a centrifuge to extract the bacteria present. This material is denser, so sinks to the bottom ad forms a darker colored pellet. My job is then to remove the excess liquid, but preserve the bacteria pellet so that it can be frozen and stored for later analysis. Back in the lab at Auburn University, Kathy will chemically breakdown the bacteria to release their DNA. This DNA is then replicated and amplified allowing for Kathy to perform analysis on the bacteria to identify the types present in the corals. Kathy will spend the next year studying these bacteria samples and many more she has collected.

Personal Log 

Here I am helping Kathy Morrow preserving coral mucus specimens. Photo courtesy of Cory Walter
Here I am helping Kathy Morrow preserving coral mucus specimens. Photo courtesy of Cory Walter

So here we are back in port after an amazing time on the Nancy Foster. I was initially concerned about being out at sea with people I did not know, studying an area of science I really knew very little about, in an environment I knew would probably make me sick, but didn’t thank goodness! But everything turned out to be a thousand times better than I could have imagined. I have had seen so much and learnt an amazing amount that my head is spinning with all the ideas I have to use with my classes back at school. Yet, there are things that I just rang out of time to look more closely at and part of me wishes we had been out at sea longer. My second time as a Teacher At Sea, has left me with some wonderful memories of the most professional and dedicated scientists and crew you could wish for, but also of how amazing corals are and how much we still have to learn. Thank you everyone who was involved in making this a truly remarkable and memorable experience.

The 2009 coral research team and Teacher At Sea, Clare Wagstaff on board the Nancy
The 2009 coral research team and Teacher At Sea, Clare Wagstaff on board the Nancy Foster

Clare Wagstaff, September 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Dry Tortugas National Park
Date: Saturday, September 16, 2009

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (information taken at 12 noon) 
Weather: Sunny with scattered showers with thunder storms
Visibility (nautical miles): 10
Wind Speed (knots): 4
Wave Height (feet): 1
Sea Water Temp (0C): 30.6
Air Temp (0C): 30

Science and Technology Log 

Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) and numerous Sergeant Majors (Abudefduf  saxatilis)
Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) and numerous Sergeant Majors (Abudefduf saxatilis)

Today I am with a new survey group. As the days go by and each of the scientists gets more dives under their belts, there is some fatigue starting to set in. So on a rotation basis, the divers are taking rest days to catch-up on sleep, emails and data entry. This morning I am with Lauri, Lonny and Sarah. The first dive site is about 33  feet deep and although I can see the bottom from our small boat, the water is extremely green and doesn’t allow me to see anything in real detail when I snorkeled. A little disappointed at the clarity of the water, I am definitely perked up by the next site, CR03. At just 8 feet deep, I can see much more and the water appears less green.

A lobster hiding in the coral
A lobster hiding in the coral

This site was something special! Even from above the water, we could observe large and impressive Acropora palmata. It looked like a large underwater forest. There was a massive diversity of fish specie present that appeared to be supported by the micro-ecosystem that the Acropora palmata created by its large lobes that fan out across the ocean floor. They provide plenty of nooks for green moray eels and multiple lobsters I saw to hide in. This coral grows approximately 10cm a year, but as with all coral species, this growth can be affected by various factors including the most recent hurricanes.

We were surveying in an area known as a Sanctuary Preservation Area or commonly a “No Take Zone”, yet a small boat located within the marking buoys appeared to be spear fishing. The Coxswain on our boat noted that the group brought numerous fish up into their boat while we were underwater. Within a short distance we also observed two other lobster pot buoys located within this zone. Lauri, called this into the Nancy Foster and asked that the Chief Scientist report this to the Marine Law Enforcement office, so that they could send a patrol boat out to investigate. This activity is not permitted in this zoned area.

Coral identification 

Diploria strigosa
Diploria strigosa

Today, I tried to indentify all the different varieties of coral I had photographed. Dr. Joshua Voss, the ship’s expert of coral identification looked over my attempt at scientifically naming 30 different photos. Much to my delight, I got 28 correct! Now I just need to remember them when I am underwater! My greatest difficulty seems to be differentiating between Montastraea spp.annularis, faveolata and franksi, as they have quite similar morphotypes. I just have to keep practicing and asking for help when I’m not sure. What makes me feel a little better is sometimes even the pro’s have trouble distinguishing between certain corals, particularly if they are trying to identify a hybrid which is a mixture of two different species.

Personal Log 

Diploria clivosa
Diploria clivosa

I am always amazed at how resourceful divers can be. Somehow duct tape comes in useful wherever you are. Today was no exception! Geoff, who forgot his dive booties (a type of neoprene sock that you wear inside you fins) has made himself a pair out of another team member’s white socks and a few lengths of duct tape. He does look very entertaining, but they do seem to be working!

Acropora palmata
Acropora palmata

I am feeling very privileged to be surrounded by so many intelligent, passionate and brilliant people. Not only are most of people on the survey teams volunteers and so not getting paid, they are also embracing each part of the cruise with a great sense of humor and consistent high spirits. Even though they are all tired (to date they have accumulated 133 dives between them this cruise), they still banter back and forth with one another in a lighthearted way. All but myself and Mike Henley are returning for their third, fourth, even 13th time, to help collect this vital data. Even though diving has many hazards and is dangerous work, these folks are real experts and I truly feel lucky to be around such inspiring people. I have been diving for five years, but I don’t think I will ever look at a reef in the same way again. They have opened my eyes, and now my job is to go back to chilly Buffalo and develop a way to get this across to my 6th and 8th grade science classes. If I can inspire even just one child, like Joshua’s science teacher did for him as a teenager, then perhaps they too will go on to become a marine biologist, who study some of the smallest, yet most important creatures on our planet.

 Montastraea annularis
Montastraea annularis

As 7pm draws close, the science group gather on the front deck to watch the sunset. It is a beautiful sky, but just to make the evening more special, along come three dolphins riding the wake of the bow of the Nancy Foster. I leap up like a child and run to the edge of the ship to get a closer look, having never seen dolphins in the wild before! They are so graceful and as we all lean over and cheer as the breach the water and splash their fins, you start to wonder, if they are actually watching us as much as we are watching them. Such grace and natural beauty brings another day aboard the Nancy Foster to an end. I’m just not sure how each day keeps topping itself, and with two left to come, who knows what adventures may become this team!

“Animals Seen Today” 

Three bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncates) riding the wake of the Nancy Foster 

Bottlenose dolphins riding in the Foster’s wake
Bottlenose dolphins riding in the Foster’s wake

Clare Wagstaff, September 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Dry Tortugas National Park
Date: Saturday, September 15, 2009

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (information taken at 12 noon) 
Weather: Partially sunny, with scattered showers and thunder storms
Visibility (nautical miles): 10
Wind Speed (knots): 2
Wave Height (feet): 1
Sea Water Temp (0C): 30.6
Air Temp (0C): 30

Science and Technology Log 

I am starting to get used to the scientific names of the corals, but it is taking a while. I keep wanting to refer to them by their common name which is generally descriptive of their physical appearance, but makes little to no reference to which other coral it is more closely related to Dr. Joshua Voss, one of the scientists on board pointed out that the common names could vary depending on who is identifying them, yet the scientific name remains the same. Hence why the whole team refers to the scientific names when referring to the corals.

So what are corals? 

Parts of a coral (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/ corals/media/supp coral01a.html)
Parts of a coral

Corals are members of the Animal Kingdom and are classified in the Phylum Cnidaria. People often mistake    these creatures for plants, because they are attached to the rock, show little movement, and closely resemble plants. Corals consist of a polyp, which are a cup-shaped body with one opening, which is its mouth and anus.

Zooxanthellae (zoo-zan-thel-ee) are single cell plants (photosynthetic algae) that grow within the polyps’ tissue. It forms a mutalistic symbiotic relationship with the polyp. The algae gets a protected environment and the compounds it requires for photosynthesis, whilst the algae provides the polyp with the materials necessary to produce calcium carbonate, which is the hard “shell” that surrounds the polyp.

So why is this cruise surveying corals? 

Clare Wagstaff, Teacher At Sea, snorkeling
Clare Wagstaff, Teacher At Sea, snorkeling

There has been a decreasing trend in coral coverage over the last decade. One theory is that this is due to anthropogenic stress related to water quality and climate change.  Coral’s require certain environmental factors to be within sensitive boundaries, such as water temperature, salinity, clarity of water, and water movement. Although most species only grow a few centimeters each year, they are the backbone to a massive underwater ecosystem, hence their extreme importance to the success of our oceans. By studying the trends in species distribution, size and disease over various geographic regions, their corrolations can be desricbed in better detail.

Personal Log 

Palythoa spp. observed covering most of the reef at station RK02 and Watercress Alga (Halimeda opuntia). Polythoa is not a coral and in fact competes with coral for space in the reef.
Palythoa spp. observed covering most of the reef at station RK02 and Watercress Alga (Halimeda opuntia). Polythoa is not a coral and in fact competes with coral for space in the reef.

This morning I once again join Team C that composes of Dr. Joshua Voss, Kathy Morrow and Mike Henley to survey three dive sites called RK01, RK02 & RK03. We have now got into a comfortable routine and everyone seems to work well together. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for the boat, NF4! During our last dive on Monday, the boat started to leak oil and is now out of commission for the rest of the cruise. Instead we are on the much smaller and less luxurious, NF2, which also happens to be much slower! However, after the usual dive brief we set out for a day of adventures upon the open sea. The second dive site today proved to be the best for snorkeling and I was able to observe a large variety of plants and animals from on the surface.

“Did You Know?” 

Here I am pointing to the waterspout
Here I am pointing to the waterspout

Waterspouts are simply tornadoes over water. They are common in tropical areas where thunderstorms regularly occur, such as the Florida Keys! Today we saw a prime example of one within a few miles of the NANCY FOSTER.

“New Term/Phrase/Word” 

Anthropogenic – caused or produced by human activities such as industry, agriculture, mining, and construction.

The final survey site, RK03 was very shallow at around 8 ft. The dive team decided to make their observations snorkeling rather than diving. Unfortunately, Kathy was so engrossed in her work that she did not see a moon jellyfish swim right into her face! She put on a very brave front and we quickly returned to the NF2 and back to the NANCY FOSTER. The medial treatment for such a sting is to drench the area in vinegar, which neutralizes the nematocysts that may still be clinging to the skin. Luckily, Kathy made a quick recovery, even if she did smell a little like vinegar for the rest of the day!

Clare Wagstaff, September 13, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Dry Tortugas National Park
Date: Saturday, September 13, 2009

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (information taken at 12 noon) 
Weather: Sunny with scattered showers and thunderstorms
Visibility (nautical miles): 10
Wind Speed (knots): 14
Wave Height (feet): 1-2
Sea Water Temp (0C): 29.8
Air Temp (0C): 32

Science and Technology Log 

Hermit crabs at Fort Jefferson
Hermit crabs at Fort Jefferson

Today the dive plan was to survey some of the deeper sites in the FKNMS (Florida Keys National Marine Sancturay) Tortugas Ecological Reserve, referred to as Sherwood Forest. The dive depth varied between 65 to 80 feet. That meant that snorkeling would probably result in me observing very little. My slightly sunburned forehead, needing to get some of my logs composed in more detail, as well as the diving situation, gave me a prime opportunity to stay on the boat for the majority of the day.

So this morning after the dive brief I waved off the team and set out to do some exploring of the ship and do a little more research about what happens before the team actually gets into the water.

The survey teams are planning on making two separate dives on each site to complete the whole of the radial arc transect. The amount of gas each diver requires, depends on a number of variables, including depth, level of physical fitness and amount of activity undertaken in the water. Scuba diving is also limited by a number of factors such as available air, blood nitrogen level, etc.

What is scuba diving? 

Scuba is an acronym for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. The first commercially successful scuba was developed by Emile Gagnan and Jacques-Yves Cousteau, in 1943 and is now widely used around the world as a recreational sport. Sports divers are normally restricted to 130ft, where as technical deep divers can reach depths much greater. During this trip the maximum dive site depth will not exceed 80ft.

Dive brief – Safety First! 

The Wet Lab on the Nancy Foster
The Wet Lab on the Nancy Foster

Before each dive the cruise’s Dive Master, Sarah Fangman gives the scuba divers a brief run through of the priorities for today’s diving. As usual, this means safety is the top priority and Sarah highlights important factors, such as watching your air consumption and making sure that each diver returns with at least 500psi, that each team goes over their dive plan (how deep, for how long, what they will do during the dive), check that all equipment is functioning correctly, and that all the dive data is being recorded. This means prior to the divers getting into the water, their tanks air pressure, Nitrox percentage, name, and time of entry into the water must be logged. Once the dive has ended and the divers are back on the boat, they must once again record their tank air pressure (must be more than 500psi), their bottom depth and sometimes time in the water. Even after the dive is done, the whole team is responsible for each other and has to monitor everyone’s condition for at least the next 30 minutes.

What do the divers breath? 

The divers are breathing Nitrox. Regular scuba has a very specific ratio of nitrogen to oxygen; it tries to mimic the air found on the surface of the Earth as closely as possible. Nitrox diving, on the other hand, tweaks this mixture to maximize bottom time (i.e., the diver’s time spent underwater) and minimize surface intervals (i.e., the time the diver must stay on the surface before diving back in). Before each dive, the individual diver must check his or her own tank for the gases composition and record the oxygen content on their tank. This is because at depths oxygen can actually become toxic.

Science Data Processing 

wagstaff_log3b
A coral species count and bleaching data sheet showing the tally of Montastraea annularis

There are two main areas on the Nancy Foster designated for the science research, the wet lab and the dry lab. The dry lab is where the computers for data entry and processing are located. It is here that the survey team meetings happen every morning and afternoon to discuss which dives site will be surveyed and how the data entry process is going.

Lauri MacLaughlin is the ship’s resident expert on each dive site and gives a detailed map of each site. This includes compass bearings relating to certain underwater features and the GPS coordinates. The wet lab, is just as the name suggests, wet! This is where any experiments can be carried out and also where the scuba tanks are refilled with Nitrox.

Data entry 

wagstaff_log3cEach of the scientists has to transcribe all the data they observed at each dive site. Underwater, the two scientists that are recording data each have a clipboard with the relevant waterproof data forms attached. These forms have a standardised and detailed table, which they then write on using a regular pencil. The data collected on three sheets refers to coral disease, coral bleaching count (for quantity of each species and percentage of bleaching) and coral measurements.

Tally charts and acronyms are a plenty, making it difficult for me to understand the hand-jotted notes of the various scientist. Each of them describes the species of coral by its scientific name. However, my limited knowledge is based upon the common name for most species. I did help Lauri input some of her data today. The tally charts of the number of observed specie are simple enough that I can read and enter the data, along with the size of the first ten individuals of each species. However, after that, the real experts need to get involved! This data must be entered after each dive into a spreadsheet database so that all the information can be collaborated and processed by the end of the cruise.

Personal Log 

Geoff Cook entering data from his dive onto a central database in the dry lab.
Geoff Cook entering data from his dive onto a central database in the dry lab.

This evening our group had the chance to go for a night snorkel around the sea wall of Fort Jefferson. This use to be a fort during the civil war and in more recent years it has been a prison. The objective of the snorkel trip was to hopefully witness the coral spawn. Scientists’ observations indicate a strong connection between the coral spawn and seasonal lunar cycles. Though the polyp release cannot be guaranteed to happen on an exact date, approximately three to ten days after the full moon in late August, early September, the majority of corals in the Caribbean spawn in the late evening. Spawning is when the male and female polyps release their gametes (sperm and eggs). This synchronizing means that there is a greater chance of fertilization. Clues that spawning may take place are swelling that appears at the polyps mouth/anus, where the gametes are released from, as well as brittle stars and fire worms gathering in readiness for a feeding frenzy!

Clare Wagstaff barely visible behind two Caribbean Reef Squid. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley.
Clare Wagstaff barely visible behind two Caribbean Reef Squid. Photo courtesy of Mike Henley.

Unfortunately, we did not witness the spawning but we did observe a green moray eel, two Caribbean reef squid, a conch, a scorpion fish, and multiple sea urchins, sea stars, and moon jellyfish. Perhaps one of the most unusual sights of the night was witnessed on our way back to the dock after our snorkel. We observed a tree trunk covered in hundreds of hermit crabs, varying in size.  They made a horrible crunching sound as they climbed over each other on their way up the tree and as we accidentally stepped on them in the dark!

One of my lasting memories of the evening will be the night sky. It was the most brilliant picture I have ever seen. With no light pollution for miles and a clear evening sky, it made the most perfect picture. It looked like there wasn’t a clear inch in the sky for any more stars to fit in it. It was just beautiful and a great way to end the day!

 

Clare Wagstaff, September 12, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Dry Tortugas National Park
Date: Saturday, September 12, 2009

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (information taken at 12 noon) 
Weather: Sunny with scattered showers and thunderstorms
Visibility (nautical miles): 10
Wind Speed (knots): 10
Wave Height (feet): 2
Sea Water Temp (0C): 30
Air Temp (0C): 30

Science and Technology Log 

Mike Henley, Kathy Morrow and Dr. Joshua Voss, the survey team aboard NF4.
Mike Henley, Kathy Morrow and Dr. Joshua Voss, the survey team aboard NF4.

With another early start under our belts, the science team and I are up, breakfast eaten, briefed on today’s mission, and ready to embark on another day of coral surveying. The ship deployed three v-hulled small boats for us to reach our dive sites. The divers have been split up into three teams and I get to go along with Joshua, Kathy and Mike on the NF4. Out of the boats, this is the newest and fastest, much to the delight of our science team! Having done the practice run yesterday at the QA site, the divers seem keen and eager to get into the water and identify the coral.

So how do they actually survey the area? 

Each group works in a team of three, surveying a radial arc belt transect. Each of the sites has already been previously marked, normally with a large metal or PVC pipe inserted into the area to be surveyed.

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 11.57.12 AM

Mike is the line tender, which means that his job is to hold the ten meter line straight out from the post, just a few feet above the coral. He slowly moves the line around the pole in an arc. The line is marked at eight and ten meters. At each of these lengths a short marker hangs down to signal the two-meter survey area. The objective is then for Kathy and Joshua to observe the coral and note the number of species of coral present, their size and how they interact with each other, while also recording the presence of disease (type and percentage cover) within the 113.1m2 area.

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 11.58.01 AM

Chief Scientist, Scott Donahue showed me some of the months of paperwork that was required for this mission to happen. Scott stated that he started work on preparing for this trip nearly four years ago, first requesting time aboard the Nancy Foster and then proceeding with recruiting scientists and permits. Today we are required to have a ‘Scientific Research and Collecting Permit’ for the surveys in Dry Tortugas National Park.

Personal Log 

Survey team of Kathy Morrow (top, middle), Mike Henley (top, left) and Dr. Joshua Voss (bottom, right) surveying site LR6.
Survey team of Kathy Morrow (top, middle), Mike Henley (top, left) and Dr. Joshua Voss (bottom, right) surveying site LR6.

What a great day! I am starting to find my feet and get more comfortable with how the ship works, getting to know the science team, and learning more about the actual coral. I haven’t been sea sick, which seems pretty remarkable to me considering my past history with boats! The sun has been shining and the water is clear and reasonably warm at around 30 oC.

Even though the water may sound warm, I am still wearing my wetsuit, much to the amusement of some of the other divers who are complaining that they are too warm in the shorty wetsuits (only to the knee and elbow). I classify myself as part of the “wimp divers” association. I was quite content and comfortable in my 3mm, full body wetsuit and had hours of enjoyment snorkeling around. However, wearing a full wetsuit does let you forget that there are some parts of your body that still get exposed to sunlight. The tops of my hands are bright red and are nicely sunburned from being in the water most of the day with no sunscreen on them! Oh well, I’ll remember next time.

“Did You Know” 

Being a novice at coral identification, Blade Fire coral (Millepora complanta) looks similar to Fused Staghorn coral (Acropora prolifera). However, they are actually very different. Fire coral is a hydroid and is in fact more closely related to the Portuguese Man ‘O’ War than other classes of coral! Hydrozoans usually consist of small colonies of polyps that are packed with stinging cells called nematocysts on the tentacles of the polyps. Watch out though, it can give you a very nasty sting and rash!

For more information: http://www.reef.edu.au/asp_pages/secb.asp?FormNo=18 

“Animals Seen Today” 

Long-spined Urchin (Diadema antillarum) and Boulder star coral (Montastraea annularis)
Long-spined Urchin (Diadema antillarum) and Boulder star coral (Montastraea annularis)

The variety of marine wildlife observed was much greater today than previous dives. The dive sites were much shallower, which meant that as a snorkeler I could really observe much more and in more detail. At only eight to ten feet in depth and with good visibility, this made for a great and interesting dive. One of the science team commented that it was good to observe these echinoderms in the coral reefs. They eat algae that can negatively compete with the coral. So there presence is excellent news for the coral.

Clare Wagstaff, September 11, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Clare Wagstaff
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 11 – 18, 2009 

Mission: Florida Keys coral reef disease and condition survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys – Key West
Date: Saturday, September 11, 2009 (Day 1)

Contact Information 
Clare Wagstaff Sixth and Eighth Grade Science Teacher Elmwood Franklin School 104 New Amsterdam Ave Buffalo, NY 14216
cwagstaff@elmwoodfranklin.org

Weather Data from the Bridge (12 noon) 
Weather: Overcast early am and sunny pm
Visibility (nautical miles):  10
Wind Speed (knots):  2
Wave Height (feet): <1
Sea Water Temp (0C): 30.4
Air Temp (0C): 27.5

Science and Technology Log 

“The first few days are always a settling in period,” commented one of the scientists this morning. It seems as if there is so much to do and already there may not be enough time!  The majority of the science crew and I arrived yesterday afternoon into the warm and sunny Key West. A pleasant change to the cold, Autumnal weather I had been experiencing in Buffalo, NY. We boarded our new home for eight days, the NOAA ship Nancy Foster. The objective of the eight-day research cruise is to survey multiple preselected coral reef sites and study the coral for its condition and the presence of disease. The assessment of each dive site will be done by a group of NOAA qualified SCUBA divers who are also trained scientists, mainly marine biologists. This study has been performed for the last 13 years and has so far amassed a large quantity of data that has produced technical memorandums, peer review papers, and an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) publication based on the data from cruises 1997 through to 2002 cruises.

I have been kindly invited along as a Teacher At Sea to witness the science team in action and serve as part of the project’s outreach messaging service. The objective is to give the general public a broader understanding of the cruise’s mission.

The science team on board the Nancy Foster is made up of the following people:

Scott Donahue – Chief Scientist NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Interesting Fact: Scott’s main inspiration to study lobsters early on in his academic research, was partially based on the fact that he loves to eat them! Scott commented that there are always a few lobsters leftover after a study, but that they never go to waste!

Geoff Cook – Co-Principal Investigator George Mason University, Virginia. Interesting fact: Geoff is currently writing his dissertation for his Ph.D. on comparing bacterial communities associated with diseased and apparently healthy corals.

Lauri MacLaughlin – Co-Principal Investigator NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Interesting Fact: Lauri has close to 2,000 dives logged and has personally mapped the majority of the coral reef sites this cruise is studying. She has a special rapport with the ocean and corals, knowing individual coral heads and jokingly referring to them as her “babies!”

Josh Voss, Ph.D. – Co-Principal Investigator Robertson Coral Reef Program 

Lonny Anderson – Survey Team Member NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Florida. Interesting Fact: Lonny used to help his parents with their commercial spear fishing business, catching grouper and red snapper off Daytona Beach. Now Lonny is working to protect the things he used to kill!

Paul Chetirkin – Videographer Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary 

Mike Henley – Survey Team Member Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park, Washington D.C. Interesting Fact: Mike is interested in all invertebrates and will happily skip the panda bear exhibit at the zoo in preference to watching the cutle fish!

George Garrett – Survey Team Member City of Marathon 

Sarah Fangman – Cruise Dive Master and Survey Team Member NOAA’s Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary 

Interesting Fact: Originally from Minnesota, as a young child Sarah went to the Grand Cayman on vacation. She became so captivated with the underwater life there that even when she got extremely sunburned she still wanted to snorkel and was only allowed to fully clothed! Sarah has also ventured 10,000 ft down in the submersible ALVIN in the Gulf of Mexico.

Kathy Morrow – Survey Team Member Auburn University, Alabama. Interesting Fact: Kathy is actually studying coral “snot” as part of her Ph.D. program. Strangely enough, she is extremely passionate about it and has had a great interest in marine biology since she went to Sea Camp in 6th grade!

Cory Walter – Survey Team Member Mote Marine Laboratory’s Tropical Research Lab, Florida. 

Day one begins with a 7am breakfast followed by a gear check and a brief meeting with the science team. The ships Operations Officer and Chief Scientist go over the day’s dive plan. The objective today is to ensure that all the divers are identifying the correct species of coral, correctly estimating their size, and identify any coral disease present.

The dive teams quickly collected all the necessary dive gear and prepared to board two small boats borrowed from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. These take us from the Nancy Foster to the shallower dive sites. The first location today is set within the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary and is located near to one of the 5 lighthouses in the area that mark the shallow reefs. Certain areas have been marked off with buoys that signal a “No Take Zone”, where extractive activities are not allowed (e.g. fishing, collecting coral, catching lobsters).

Each of the dive sites that we will be surveying has a unique name. The sites to be surveyed were originally randomly generated by a computer program when the research first began in 1997. The first dive site we visit today is called Sand Key Reef also referred to as SK01. This is the location for QA/QC dive survey, which stands for quality assurance/quality control. The objective is for each diver to assess the same area of coral and identify each species over 10cm in diameter (except Agarica (all species) and Dichocoenia stokesii which are measured if they are over 5cm). This site is always used to establish a baseline in identification. Inter and intra quality assurance takes place, checking not only each diver against each other, but also against themselves by each diver repeating the surveying process of surveying this site twice.

Where are we? 

A map of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
A map of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

The Florida Keys is a chain of islands at the southern most tip of Florida. About 100,000 years ago the area was under the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and existed as a string of living coral reefs at the edge of the continental shelf. The sea level was 25 feet higher then than today. As the last glacier period (the Wisconsin) began, the ocean receded and the sea level dropped, exposing the coral reefs. The combination of various environmental factors killed the coral, but left bedrock of limestone exposed as land. As the climate and sea level changed over the preceding years, the lower elevation limestone has partially resubmerged and allowed living corals to attach and grow again, forming a new coral reef “highway”, 4 to 5 mile offshore. The science team will be surveying coral reef sites inside the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Dry Tortugas National Park.

Staghorn Coral (Acropora cervicornis), in the same family as the Elkhorn (Acropora palmata)
Staghorn Coral (Acropora cervicornis), in the same family as the Elkhorn (Acropora palmata)

On the third dive site for the day, Lauri MacLaughlin pointed out multiple Elkhorn Corals (Acropora palmata) whose appearance is just as its name suggests! Lauri noted that these were relatively young corals, perhaps just a few years old due to their size. She also stated that they had reproduced through sexual reproduction because there was no fragmentation of their flattened branches, which would happen in asexual reproduction. This coral is on the United States Endangered Species list and classified as threatened.

Because we departed early this morning on board the sanctuary boats, the science team missed the safety drills that are performed within 24 hours of each ship departing port. Instead the Operations Officer, Abigail Higgins gave us a run down of the safety procedures. We were also required to try on our survival emersion suits.

Personal Log 

The science team and Teacher at Sea, Clare Wagstaff (right) in their survival suits
The science team and Teacher at Sea, Clare Wagstaff in their survival suits

Well here I am at last! My second attempt at being a NOAA Teacher At Sea! In May of 2008 I was on board the JOHN COBB studying harbor seals when the engine crankshaft broke just a few days into the mission. The JOHN COBB was not only the smallest, but also the oldest ship in NOAA’s fleet. With a crew of just eight, everyone knew each other well and lived in very close proximity. However, the NANCY FOSTER is very different. At 187ft in length it is nearly doubles the size of the JOHN COBB. In fact, the NANCY FOSTER has it beaten on almost all fronts regarding scale. Built originally as a Navy yard torpedo test (YTT) craft, she was outfitted in 2001, to conduct a variety of oceanic studies along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts and within the Caribbean Sea. It is crewed by 21 people and can accommodate 15 scientists. It seems quite strange to be at sea again on a NOAA ship, but in such very different circumstances. I keep comparing it to the JOHN COBB and I still feel a little sad that I was on the JOHN COBB’s last mission before it was decommissioned.

I am sharing the smallest room with one of the ships crew, Jody Edmond.  Jody is a Mate in Training. It is a simple, yet comfortable room, with two bunks, a small wardrobe, a desk and a sink. However, for two people to both standup in the same space let a lone get dressed or brush your teeth, it is very difficult due to the cramped conditions! Jody is living on the boat full time and so has a lot more “stuff” than I, so I am trying very hard not to take up too much room. Because the ship needs to be constantly manned 24 hours a day, the crew on the bridge is on a shift system working 12-4 (am and pm), 4-8 (am and pm), or 8-12 (am and pm). Some of the crew even work a schedule of 12 hours on and then 12 hours off, a pretty long day! Jody is on the 12-4 shift, which means during the majority of the time I am a wake she is sleeping. This isn’t uncommon so everyone on the ship has to be respectful of the noise level and keep relatively quiet during all hours of the day near the sleeping berth areas.

One of the many barracuda that would circle around snorkelers
One of the many barracuda that would circle around snorkelers

Unfortunately, although I am a qualified NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) scuba diver, I am not certified by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to dive. This means that during the dives I will only be able to snorkel and so I must watch from above what the scientists are doing below. I thought this would lead to some frustration on my part, as I would love to be working side by side with the science team 30 feet below the surface.

However, while the divers survey the area, I snorkel around on the surface watching them. I am not alone though! I am surrounded by moon jellyfish and one rather large barracuda that seemed to take quite a liking to me. I am very careful to avoid swimming into the jellyfish, which can cause a nasty sting and keep my hands close to my body incase the barracuda thinks my fingers might be dinner!

“New Term/Phrase/Word” Hyperplasia – is a general term referring to the proliferation of cells within an organ or tissue beyond that which is ordinarily seen. This can be seen in coral species such as symmetrical brain coral (Diploria strigosa). Geoff Cook described this as a coral looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger or a coral having Botox!

A brain coral
A brain coral

Coral Mucus or “coral snot”– secreted by the coral. When too much dirt (sediment) collects on the sticky mucus layer, the coral sloughs it off and makes a new one, acting as a replaceable defense mechanism. Some corals also use it to catch food and it is loaded with microbes, not unlike our skin.

“Who are they?”

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary 
Established in 1990 it was done so to protect a spectacular marine ecosystem. It encompasses 2,800 square miles. It is the only sanctuary that completely surrounds a community, that of all the Florida Keys.

NOAA 
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Formed in 1970, it is a Federal agency focused on the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere. It encompasses, daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings and climate monitoring to fisheries management, coastal restoration and supporting marine commerce.

 “Did You Know?” Key West got its name after the Spanish conquistadores reportedly found a beach in the southern most islands stern with the bleached bones of the Native Americans. They called the key, Cayo Hueso (pronounced KY-o WAY-so) or “Island of bones”. Bahamian settlers pronounced the Spanish name as Key West!

Flamingo Tongue on a common sea fan (Gorgonia ventalina)
Flamingo Tongue on a common sea fan (Gorgonia ventalina)

“Animals Seen Today” 

Among many different species of coral and other animals, was a personal favorite of mine Flamingo Tongues. These are a variety of snail that are predators that feed on gorgonians (sea fans). 

Miriam Hlawatsch, August 6-7, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Miriam Hlawatsch
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 29 – August 10, 2007

Mission: Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina
Date: August 6-7, 2007

The science team awoke to this notice on Monday, August 6th.
The science team awoke to this notice on Monday, August 6th.

Personal Log 

Bad news… late Sunday night the ship’s main computer, the Integrated Vessel Monitoring and Control system failed. The IVMC functions as the brain of the ship —monitoring engineering related systems such as propulsion, ship’s power, fire main, tank levels, alarms, etc. CDR James Verlaque returned NANCY FOSTER to the Ft. Macon Coast Guard Station.  We awoke to find the mission on hold—so, for two days; I became a Teacher in Port. At one point during our stay, NANCY FOSTER was relocated from the Coast Guard station to the state port in Morehead City. To everyone’s delight, we learned we would be underway again at 0900 hours, August 8th. As most of the scientists live nearby, they returned to their homes and jobs at the NOAA research facility in Beaufort, NC. The ship was very quiet while they were away…

CDR James Verlaque supervises as ENS Marc Weekley docks NOAA ship NANCY FOSTER in the Morehead City port.
CDR James Verlaque supervises as ENS Marc Weekley docks NOAA ship NANCY FOSTER in the Morehead City port.

Science Log 

Objective #6: Deploy and retrieve temperature sensors… 

Understanding that lionfish are tropical and their survival is dependent upon temperature, Chief Scientist Paula Whitfield continues to collect data to answer questions regarding the role temperature plays in lionfish distribution in North Carolina waters. Along the North Carolina shelf, temperature in waters deeper than 90 feet are moderated year round by the warm Gulf Stream current. Data collected from surveys on this research cruise suggest lionfish are not found in high numbers in water shallower than 90 feet. Laboratory studies have revealed lionfish will not tolerate temperatures below 11ºC (52ºF) and it appears they stop eating at temperatures below 16ºC (61ºF). Lionfish will die at 10ºC (50ºF). To better understand the role temperature plays in limiting lionfish distribution, temperature sensors were deployed along the seafloor to monitor seasonal bottom water temperatures. Sensors deployed during the 2006 mission were retrieved and will be analyzed. New sensors are being deployed during this mission and will be retrieved in 2008.

NOAA divers, Thor Dunmire and Roger Mays analyze air supply tanks during our stay in the Morehead City port.
NOAA divers, Thor Dunmire and Roger Mays analyze air supply tanks during our stay in the Morehead City port.
How do the warm waters of the Gulf Stream contribute to lionfish distribution along the southeastern coast of the US?
How do the warm waters of the Gulf Stream contribute to lionfish distribution along the southeastern coast of the US?
Gulf Stream winter temperature gradient for Onslow Bay, NC.
Gulf Stream winter temperature gradient for Onslow Bay, NC.
Chief Scientist Paula Whitfield
Chief Scientist Paula Whitfield

Miriam Hlawatsch, August 5, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Miriam Hlawatsch
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 29 – August 10, 2007

Mission: Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina
Date: August 5, 2007

Crew of the NOAA ship NANCY FOSTER deploys a small boat at a pre-marked dive site.
Crew of the NOAA ship NANCY FOSTER deploys a small boat at a pre-marked dive site.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: 0º
Wind Speed: 0
Sea Wave Height: 0 ft.
Swell Wave Height: 2-3 ft.
Seawater Temperature: 29ºC
Sea Level pressure: 1015.5 mb (millibars)
Cloud Cover: 0-1 oktas

Personal Log

The weather continues to be extremely favorable for dive operations and I look forward to assisting as dive tender again tomorrow morning. For the past week, I’ve observed as the NOAA divers and crew of the NANCY FOSTER work together to facilitate the study of lionfish in their watery habitat. Also, I’ve watched with great interest as the divers prepared themselves for their underwater excursions. Having purchased a wet suit in preparation for my Teacher at Sea adventure I thought I had an appreciation for these preparatory activities. Imagine my surprise when Coxswain Leslie Abramson informed me my wetsuit was too big (I couldn’t imagine squeezing into anything smaller). NOAA diver Roger Mays clarified the issue noting, tongue in cheek, that the proper fitting wetsuit should take at least five minutes to put on and the experience should hurt. Obviously there is more to diving than the wetsuit “experience,” so I asked Doug Kesling from NOAA’s Undersea Research Center (NURC) for specific information regarding diver training and specialized equipment.

A team of NOAA divers leaves the NANCY FOSTER. Small boats are used to transport the scientists and their equipment to and from the actual dive sites.
A team of NOAA divers leaves the NANCY FOSTER. Small boats are used to transport the scientists and their equipment to and from the actual dive sites.

Science Log 

Doug Kesling addressed three key components–training, equipment and dive operation procedure. All divers on the NOAA Ship NANCY FOSTER are certified to dive with standard open water SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) techniques. Additional training in scientific diving research methods is provided by the NOAA Diving Program and the NOAA Undersea Research Program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Divers use standard dive equipment that consists of dive mask, fins, snorkel, cylinder, buoyancy compensator, scuba regulator, dive computer and wet suit. Additional tools–tape measures, quadrates, goody bags, video and still photographic equipment–also must be transported by the divers to the sea floor. To conduct their underwater research, the scientists dive to depths of 100 to 120 feet. Prior to each dive, the divers fill their Scuba cylinders with an enriched air nitrox (EANx) mixture to 3500 psig. Each mix must be analyzed to ensure a safe breathing mix for the targeted depth. Compared to tanks of compressed air (21 % oxygen), the enriched mixture enables the scientists to double the amount of time they can spend underwater. In preparation for their dive, divers don wet suits and load their equipment onto the small boats. The boats are lowered from the mother ship onto pre-marked dive sites. Working in buddy teams of two or three, the divers’ underwater work times range from 25 to 30 minutes. To return to the surface divers first ascend to a depth of 20 feet. At this point they conduct a safety stop of three to five minutes to allow off gassing of nitrogen (inert gas) from the body before surfacing. Divers then surface and are recovered by the small boats.  The boats return to the mother ship where they are hoisted back on deck and off loaded.

NOAA diver Roger Mays conducts a safety stop to decompress before surfacing.
NOAA diver Roger Mays conducts a safety stop to decompress before surfacing.
Dive Team A: NOAA divers, Brian Degan, PaulaWhitfield, Doug Kesling, and Wilson Freshwater
Dive Team A: NOAA divers, Brian Degan, PaulaWhitfield, Doug Kesling, and Wilson Freshwater
Dive team B: NOAA Divers Jenny Vander Pluym, Thor Dunmire, and Roldan Muñoz (left) and Dive team C: NOAA divers Brad Teer, Roger Mays, and Tom Potts
Dive team B: NOAA Divers Jenny Vander Pluym, Thor Dunmire, and Roldan Muñoz (left) and Dive team C: NOAA divers Brad Teer, Roger Mays, and Tom Potts (right)

Miriam Hlawatsch, August 4, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Miriam Hlawatsch
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 29 – August 10, 2007

Mission: Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina
Date: August 4, 2007

On the Bridge, XO LT. Stephen Meador and CO CDR. James Verlaque plot the course for NOAA ship NANCY FOSTER.
On the Bridge, XO LT. Stephen Meador and CO CDR. James Verlaque plot the course for NOAA ship NANCY FOSTER.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: 215º
Wind Speed: 1 knot
Sea Wave Height: 1 ft.
Swell Wave Height: 2-3 ft.
Seawater Temperature: 28.5ºC
Sea Level pressure: 1016.0 mb (millibars)
Cloud Cover: 3-5 oktas, cumulous

Personal Log

While on the Bridge today, Commanding Officer James Verlaque allowed me a brief opportunity to steer the ship and set the course for a new dive location. Activity on the Bridge continues to fascinate me. It takes tremendous attention to detail to keep NANCY FOSTER safe in the water. It is most evident that the success of the scientific mission and the safe efficient operation of the ship are a result of the true spirit of cooperation between the crew and scientists aboard. The fact that everyone (crew and science) shares the mess during meals serves to reinforce the team approach. Certainly, it afforded me an opportunity to get to know many on an individual basis.

NOAA Officers keep NANCY FOSTER safe and on course.
NOAA Officers keep NANCY FOSTER safe and on course.

Science Log

Objective #5: Conduct multi-beam sonar transects using RV NANCY FOSTER at multiple locations.  

NANCY FOSTER is one of a fleet of research and survey vessels used by NOAA to improve our understanding of the marine environment. She is equipped with sonar technology to conduct hydrographic surveys of the sea floor. Chief Scientist Paula Whitfield explains that, for this mission, specialized multi-beam sonar technology is used to create detailed maps of potential dive areas. Habitat mapping is important because it provides specific information that will allow her to make decisions about where to send divers for sampling; otherwise, there could be a great deal of wasted effort, both in terms of time and resources. Multi-beam Bathymetric Sonar is technology that provides detailed, full-coverage mapping of the sea floor using multiple sonar beams (sound waves) in a fan-shaped pattern or swath. The ship goes back and forth in straight lines over a pre-determined area much like a lawn mower goes back and forth over the grass, making sure the entire area has been covered. In addition to habitat mapping, multi-beam hydrographic surveys have many applications such as navigation safety and civil engineering projects.

Example of a Multi-beam swath
Example of a Multi-beam swath
Multi-beam survey results
Multi-beam survey results
NOAA scientists Paula Whitfield and Brian Degan compare bottom topography for dive site selection (left) and hydrographic survey technicians Missy Partyka and Mike Stecher (left).
NOAA scientists Paula Whitfield and Brian Degan compare bottom topography for dive site selection (left) and hydrographic survey technicians Missy Partyka and Mike Stecher (left).

Miriam Hlawatsch, August 3, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Miriam Hlawatsch
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 29 – August 10, 2007

Mission: Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina
Date: August 3, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea Miriam Hlawatsch recording weather data on the Bridge of the NANCY FOSTER.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Miriam Hlawatsch recording weather data on the Bridge of the NANCY FOSTER.

Weather Data from Bridge
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: 186º
Wind Speed: 11 knots
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 ft.
Swell Wave Height: 2 ft.
Seawater Temperature: 28.6ºC
Sea Level pressure: 1017.3 mb (millibars)
Cloud Cover: 8 oktas, cumulous, cumulonimbus

Personal Log

I’ve been recording weather data for the last two days and spent three hours on the Bridge learning the responsibilities of the watch crew. When NANCY FOSTER began hydrographic multi-beaming at 1500 hours, there were several ships (tankers and small craft) in the area. The NOAA Officers on watch had to keep a careful eye on those vessels and, at times, let them know survey work was going on … so move over, please! Also, I’ve been able to watch as our dive locations were plotted on the nautical chart of Onslow Bay. Ensign Lecia Salerno explained that, as Navigation Officer, one of her duties is to update the nautical charts when NOAA informs her of changes. She must record these updates by hand as new charts are only printed every few years.

NOAA Teacher at Sea Miriam Hlawatsch attempting to read sea swells and sea wave height from the Bridge.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Miriam Hlawatsch attempting to read sea swells and sea wave height from the Bridge.

Science Log

Objective #3: Conduct cryptic/prey fish sampling using a special enclosure quadrat net. 

In order to collect cryptic (small) prey fish, NOAA scientist Dr. Roldan Muñoz sets up a special enclosure net during his dive rotation. Divers in the next rotation retrieve the net with captured specimens. Dr. Muñoz examines the catch to determine the type and number of prey fishes (what lionfish may be eating) within a square meter. Such data provides a better understanding of the habitat community.

Objective #4: Characterize and quantify habitat and macroalgae with digital still photography and specimen collections. 

Currently, not much is known about off shore Hard Bottom habitats where lionfish appear to be thriving. In order to understand the impact an outside force (i.e. lionfish) has upon a marine community, scientists must first examine the community in its original state. In other words, a baseline must be established. When Marine Phycologist Dr. D. Wilson Freshwater dives, his goal is to identify habitat characteristics and existing macroalgae. This is done via still photographs and specimen collections gathered every five meters along the transect line.

Dr. Freshwater’s photo showing seven types of algae.
Dr. Freshwater’s photo showing seven types of algae.

Back in the lab, Dr. Freshwater processes his samples for species identification and DNA analysis. He reviews the photos, creates a list of everything he sees, then uses the computer to establish the percentage of cover and frequency of occurrence for each species. A comparison of the different sites is made and, from this empirical data, an overall picture of the community structure begins to emerge.

Note: I learned the term Hard Bottom refers the rocky outcrops that cover much of the continental shelf along the southeastern US from Cape Hatteras, NC to Cape Canaveral, FL. Fish are drawn to the hard bottom outcroppings; here, they find a source of food and shelter on what is otherwise a vast sandy sea floor. It explains why recreational fishermen often seek out hard bottom areas.

Dr. D. Wilson Freshwater processing algae specimens in the lab aboard NOAA ship NANCY FOSTER.
Dr. D. Wilson Freshwater processing algae specimens in the lab aboard NOAA ship NANCY FOSTER.
NOAA scientist Dr. Roldan Muñoz counting cryptic fish collected.
NOAA scientist Dr. Roldan Muñoz counting cryptic fish collected.
Hard Bottom habitat with lionfish invader.
Hard Bottom habitat with lionfish invader.

Miriam Hlawatsch, August 2, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Miriam Hlawatsch
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 29 – August 10, 2007

Mission: Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina
Date: August 2, 2007

NOAA Junior Officer Emmons with NOAA Ship NANCY FOSTER in the background.
NOAA Junior Officer Emmons with NOAA Ship NANCY FOSTER in the background.

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: 060
Wind Speed: 11 knots
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 ft.
Swell Wave Height: 2 ft.
Seawater Temperature: 28.3ºC
Sea Level pressure: 1016.8 mb (millibars)
Cloud Cover: 3-5 oktas, cumulous, cumulonimbus

Personal Log

Today I served as assistant dive tender for two dive rotations. That means I stay in the small boat with the coxswain (driver) and keep track of the divers by watching their bubbles. While the divers were working below I took the opportunity to converse with NOAA Junior Officer Trey Emmons and learned a great deal about the NOAA Officer Corps. Trey received a degree in Meteorology/Marine Science from NC State, Raleigh and will serve on the NANCY FOSTER for two years. During one outing I actually put on my snorkel gear and took some underwater shots of divers ascending to the surface.

NOAA diver Brad Teer ascending to the surface.
NOAA diver Brad Teer ascending to the surface.

Science Log

Previously, I mentioned the multi-faceted nature of Paula Whitfield’s current lionfish research. Having done my homework before joining the cruise I was familiar with her lionfish work since 2004. Paula explained how her research has evolved from finding, counting and sampling lionfish for life history analysis to her current objectives that now include analysis of the native habitat community. With the aid of hydrographic surveys (mapping the sea floor) using multi-beam sonar technology, Paula hopes to expand the search area to determine lionfish distribution changes since 2000. Paula has an ambitious plan to accomplish her objectives and I will attempt to translate and provide an explanation for each. Feel free to email any questions to me at mhlawatsch@mac.com.

Objective #1: Conduct visual transect surveys to quantify lionfish and native fish populations, and characterize habitat at locations within Onslow Bay. 

Paula’s divers will count lionfish and native fishes. They will also examine and define lionfish habitats by setting up visual transect surveys at pre-selected locations within Onslow Bay. A transect survey is set up by running a tape measure for 50 meters (transect line). The divers will observe and record what they see for five meters on either side of the transect line.

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Note: I always thought the term fish was both singular and plural and found myself confused to hear the scientists use the term fishes. Scientist Thor Dunmire explained that using fish was appropriate when referring to many fish of one species. However, the use of fishes applies when referring to several different species of fish.

Objective #2: Conduct video transect surveys to quantify, smaller potential prey fish populations and characterize habitat. 

Identify what lionfish may be eating by using visual observation and video cameras to record the smaller fish populations within the habitat. Video footage can be reviewed after the dive for more detailed information.

NOAA Diver Roldan Muñoz working with a transect line.
NOAA Diver Roldan Muñoz working with a transect line.

Miriam Hlawatsch, July 29, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Miriam Hlawatsch
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 29 – August 10, 2007

Mission: Lionfish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina
Date: July 29 – August 1, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Miriam Hlawatsch, dons a survival suit
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Miriam Hlawatsch, dons a survival suit

Day 0

Personal Log

I report to the NANCY FOSTER a day early and find all is quiet. Tim Olsen, Chief Engineer and Lt. Sarah Mrozek, Officer of Operations were the first to greet me. Sarah and Tim help me to my stateroom where I stow my gear and settle in for my adventure. Later in the evening I meet several other shipmates, including Lt. Stephen Meador, the ship’s Executive Officer, or XO.

Day 1

Personal Log

I’m awake and dressed by 0600 hours. The ship is still quiet but not for long. The scientists come aboard early and we are underway by 0930 hours. At 1000 hours, Chief Scientist, Paula Whitfield, conducts a science briefing for the eleven-scientists/research divers involved in the lionfish mission. Additionally, Lt. Sarah Mrozek, Operations Officer and Lt. Stephen Meador, XO, brief the scientists on ship procedures and safety. During the Abandon Ship drill everyone aboard must put on a survival suit. The suits are all the same size and it was quite comical to see me, at 5 ft, wearing the same suit as someone who is 6’2” tall.  After lunch the NANCY FOSTER reaches the first dive site located in Onslow Bay, approximately 19 nautical miles, S/SE of the Beaufort Inlet. It’s exciting to watch the divers ready themselves and deploy to sea.

Divers from the NANCY FOSTER ready themselves for the first dive of the mission.
Divers from the NANCY FOSTER ready themselves for the first dive of the mission.

Day 2

Personal Log 

I thought I had the seasick thing beat because I wore the anti-seasick wristbands my student, Troy Wilkens, gave me. Unfortunately, at about 1800 hours, I became sick while discussing the mission with Paula. On her advice I took some medication and went to bed. I did not find my “sea legs” until this evening at about 1900 hours. Apparently, sleep is the best remedy but I lost most of the day. I feel well enough to begin my work so I spend what is left of the evening viewing underwater video shot during today’s dives. Divers today visited two sites at 210 Rock, 27 miles almost due south of Beaufort Inlet.

Day 3

Divers take a small boat to the dive site.
Divers take a small boat to the dive site.

Personal Log

While discussing the mission with Paula I realize that, unlike similar missions in the past, her 2007 research is multi-faceted. I will elaborate on the facets when I better understand how they all relate. At the moment I am feeling a bit overwhelmed…  Today’s dive site is located 24 nautical miles S/SE of Beaufort Inlet.

Scientific Log: What are Lionfish? 

Common name:  Lionfish, Red lionfish, and turkey fish. Scientific Name: Pterois volitans (Pisces: Scorpaenidae). Lionfish are identified by their distinctive red, maroon and white stripes; fleshy tentacles above the eyes and below the mouth; fan-like pectoral fin and long separated dorsal spines. These tropical fish can grow to approximately 17 in. / 38.0 cm or more. Native to Indo-Pacific waters, the scope of their territory is huge. They can be found from western Australia and Malaysia, to southern Japan and southern Korea, as well as throughout Micronesia.

A lionfish swims in the Atlantic Ocean, not its native habitat
A lionfish swims in the Atlantic Ocean, not its native habitat

Why Research Lionfish in North Carolina?  

Non-native (meaning invasive) to waters along the southeastern United States Coast lionfish are now established and reproducing along the continental shelf from Florida to North Carolina. Since 2000, lionfish have been primarily found in water depths greater than 130fsw (feet sea water) due to warmer water temperatures created, year round, by the Gulf Stream. Now, there is evidence the lionfish population is increasing and surviving closer to shore than researchers originally thought.

Why is the Invasion of Lionfish a Problem? 

There are several reasons lionfish are a potential problem.

  • Lionfish are members of the Scorpion fish family and known for their venomous spines. Although there have been no known fatalities caused by lionfish stings, they are reported to be extremely painful. As they increase in numbers, and move closer to shore, there is a greater risk of encounters with humans.
  • Lionfish have no known natural predators in the Atlantic. They are voracious feeders and may compete with native species for food that would be disruptive to the ecosystem. They also may pose a threat to the commercial fishing industry.

Ginger Redlinger, July 26–27, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ginger Redlinger
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 15 – August 1, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Baranof Island, Alaska
Date: July 26–27, 2007

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility:  10 Nautical Miles
Wind directions: 110°
Wind Speed: 10 Knots
Sea Wave Height:  0-1 feet
Seawater Temperature: 14.4° C
Sea level Pressure: 1012.9 millibars (mb)
Cloud cover: Cloudy
Temperature:  16.7° C, (62° F)

Mariner Word of the Day: Scuttlebutt. A scuttlebutt on an old sailing vessel was the barrel where drinking water was stored.  People would gather and talk casually, or gossip, as they drank water.  This led to the second definition of scuttlebutt, “a rumor.”

ENS Pereira, Divers-Physical Scientist Campbell and LT Yoos, Coxswain O’Connor review safety checks and dive plan.
ENS Pereira, Divers-Physical Scientist Campbell and LT Yoos, Coxswain O’Connor review safety checks and dive plan.

Science and Technology Log 

We moved the ship from Steamboat Harbor to Bocas de Finas near Bush Top Island because winds were picking up. The ship is safer when it is not anchored in a high wind area! Weather matters a great deal when you are working on the water.  Winds contribute to sea waves, swell heights, and can create less-than-ideal conditions for hydrographic surveying. Weather is taken into account in planning when, and where the ship will travel to work. It also determines what should be done first. Specifically, determining the day’s priorities can depend on what time the winds and seas are expected to change. While seaworthy vessels can work effectively in rough waters as is sometimes necessary, knowing when the water will be rough makes for better planning.  What I have come to appreciate on this ship is the accuracy of the weather predictions aboard the RAINIER. If the Orders of the Day (OOD) read that it is going to rain – it rains. If it tells me that there will be swells in the afternoon from 3 to 4 feet – there are!  Now I don’t know about you, but I have noticed when I am at home the only accurate weather forecast I get is when I look out the window.

Divers begin their descent.
Divers begin their descent.

What is it about the weather information that is used on board that makes it so reliable? First, there are many sources of information about the weather that are available, and second, they use them!  The Officers on board know a great deal about the earth, from surface to upper atmosphere, so they know what information is necessary for a good analysis. There are many resources available to the RAINIER that you can access too. For example, there are text-based discussions of the weather based on the use of different global models, there are local forecasts, there are infrared satellite maps updated every 30 minutes so you can see where clouds are forming and how they are moving, there are also satellites that collect data in order to show the visibility spectrum, or how much light is available –every 30 minutes.  (It tells you the amount of radiant-light energy entering the area.)  Another is QuickSCAT that creates a chart of the wind’s movement in an area (with lots of small arrows) so you can see exactly what directions it is moving (wind swirls and moves like water around rocks – it doesn’t just go in one direction all the time!).  Lastly, there are grids that tell you the extent of high and low pressure systems, how strong they are, and where they are likely to move.  Pressure systems impact the direction of the winds, and their strength.

Sporting Goods - Craig, Alaska
Sporting Goods – Craig, Alaska

With all of this information, you can take into account many variables that affect navigation: visibility, wind speed and direction, cloud cover, precipitation (which also impacts visibility), water movements, (direction and speed of waves, and swells).  I should also add a non-weather related variable that impacts planning – tides.  Considering all these variables together helps predict conditions in order to choose the best time of day to complete work, and move vessels through the water SAFELY!  As everyone starts their day they know what to expect so they are well prepared.

Website for weather information related to the RAINIER’s work (thanks to CO Noll):

And graphics:

Survey Tech Krynytsky and ENS Villard-Howe (Navigation Officer) gather and examine bottom samples.
Survey Tech Krynytsky and ENS Villard-Howe (Navigation Officer) gather and examine bottom samples.

Yesterday’s work

Tide Gauge check – Nossuk Bay. We traveled to Nossuk Bay to inspect a Tide Gauge, as it was not sending data correctly. Tide gauge inspections require SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.) The divers were going to 40 feet below the surface.  The pressure is greater underwater every 33 feet, so it is harder to move and to breathe.  A specialized crew is sent for this job since it requires specific training in order to execute perfect communication, keen observations, and precise movements of the boat.

After ensuring the underwater section was working properly attention shifted to the land-based components.  The crew, except the coxswain, went ashore to inspect the rest of the equipment.  Since we noticed fresh bear sign in the area, we talked loudly and kept our eyes open. After everything checked out ok we returned to the ship. I had fifteen minutes to eat lunch and return to the boat for sediment surveys and a run to Craig, AK to pick-up two officers joining the RAINIER for the trip back to Washington. One is a Junior Officer returning to the RAINIER for the trip back to Sand Point. The other is the new Commanding Officer, who will be replacing CO Noll.  CO Noll’s commission with the RAINIER ends with the completion of this journey.

Checking the transmission equipment to ensure it is working properly.
Checking the transmission equipment to ensure it is working properly.

We gathered samples from seven different locations where ships and boats anchor when they enter Boca de Finas. Knowing the bottom type can ensure safe anchorage. Not knowing what the bottom is made of when you drop anchor can be dangerous. Surveying the bottom consists of dropping a line with a scoop to the bottom, and examining the contents once the sample is back on board. The contents are compared to a descriptive chart to be sure the correct classification is selected.  This information will appear on NOAA charts to help navigators in this area.

Personal Log 

The crew jests that the official footwear of Alaskans is a boot called XTRA TUF. When in Craig, we stopped in at the local sporting goods store and I noticed how neatly arranged everything was – with one exception – the boots in the picture below. I asked the man behind the counter about this and he said, “The contents of those boxes will be gone in the next 48 hours – so we don’t bother to mess with them.  So I think the crew is correct. At about 10:00 last night, I asked ENS Villard-Howe some questions about ropes, navigation & direction vocabulary. We started to talk about all sorts of nautical topics. She went to her cabin and brought me three very important books – her top three if you want to know anything about maritime topics! The Eldridge Tide and Pilots Book (first written in 1854), American Merchant Seaman’s Manual, and The Ashley Book of Knots. (If anyone wants to get me books for my classroom – these are the three on my wish list!  Young potential mariners and marine scientists can learn a great deal from them! )

We talked for another forty-five minutes. As we started to yawn in between sentences we said “enough.” (It wasn’t the company or the topic we were exhausted.)  I have to admit, I felt like I was talking with someone who knows and loves the history, knowledge, and skills of her work. She has a true passion for maritime work and her work on the RAINIER.

For my students, I wish them the same level of passion for their endeavors and appreciation for the contributions and history in their yet-to-be chosen field. It is this kind of dedication that makes a great worker, teammate, and leader. There are many examples of this on board – I just happened to spend the later part of the evening exploring the depth of knowledge of one crewmember!

Personal milestone – Sea legs: I ate greasy-yummy pizza on the way back from Craig, AK (a small port town on Prince of Wales Island), while bouncing and rocking across 2-3 foot swells for an hour and it didn’t bother me one bit!  : )

Villard-Howe’s top three books.
Villard-Howe’s top three books.

Question of the Day 

Topic 1: What websites can you use to learn about tomorrow’s weather in your area? (Start from the ones that are listed above, and see if you can’t find the links from the SE Alaska sites to your local information.)  What information is used to forecast weather in your area?   Using the information on the website, try to forecast the weather tomorrow – (temperature, precipitation, general conditions.)  See what the “news forecasters” say. Check to see how you did. What would you do different the next time you try to forecast the weather?

Topic 2: How do satellites gather satellite information?  How many weather satellite systems are on the NOAA website?  Where is the closest NOAA weather station in your area?

Topic 3: What is a Merchant Marine? Where do Merchant Marines work?

Dena Deck, July 13, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dena Deck
Onboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
June 26 – July 30, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: July 13, 2006

Science and Technology Log

Dolphins from the large Kure Atoll pod.
Dolphins from the large Kure Atoll pod.

One of the great joys of being in a place as remote as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is that it offers the possibility of exploring… and discovering. It is the joy of coming to this place with a mission agenda, and have unexpected additions to it. Last week, when we were at Kure Atoll, the discovery of a sailing vessel wrecked for more than 100 years brought to us the sudden thrill and excitement of exploration. This newly found vessel had it all – magnificently preserved structures, records of its rescue mission, a link to Hawaiian history in the late 1800s, and a peculiar story of its serendipitous discovery while we were in the area.
It turned out that no one had seen it before. She notified the maritime archeologists onboard the NOAA launch HI-1, who quickly checked out the site, and concurred in that it was a site even new to them. The archeologists then invited the educators to check out this previously undiscovered site.Cynthia Vanderlip, an experienced field researcher who has spent many years returning to the atoll and conducting dolphin counts over time, was conducting surveys with the pod living in Kure’s lagoon, which includes more than a hundred members. On July 2, 2004, waters were calm with excellent visibility. Her team had followed the dolphins to the opening of the atoll. When looking down in the mirror-like waters, Cynthia’s brother Brad, a volunteer for the state, noticed a large wreck laying under their small boat, a wreck that even Cynthia had not seen before.

 Large metal structures, showing the inside of the bottom hull section of the ship.

Large metal structures, showing the inside of the bottom hull section of the ship.

We felt extremely fortunate to be able to dive on a wreck the second day after it was discovered, after 120 years under the sea. Our group of educators reached the wreck site just a few hours after the maritime archeologist had seen it for the first time since 1886. And the magnitude of the wreck was enough to leave a lasting impression on novices like us, only recently introduced to the field of maritime archeology. Normally, you see archeologists study at length the significance of many small pieces that litter a wreck site. It is only their experience and combined work that can bring all those numerous pieces together in a cohesive picture, a drawing that they arduously put together after many hours of painstaking labor underwater. It is only in this drawing, which they do on a page several feet long, that the rest of us can see all of the significant details. But this wreck was a bit different. It laid there, in the seafloor in all of its immensity, in a manner that fully displayed its former sailing glory. The Dunnottar Castle was a large ship – almost 260 feet in length – and was built in 1874. Home ported in Scotland, it was bound from Sydney, Australia to Wilmington, California, with a load of coal.

Another large section of the Dunnottar Castle, now home to a lively marine ecosystem.
Another large section of the Dunnottar Castle, now home to a lively marine ecosystem.

Because it struck the reef at full speed, it lodged itself securely on the outside of the Kure Atoll. When free diving this wreck site, resting at a depth of about 25 feet, we could see much of the structures still mirroring the original layout of the ship. Large metal frames rested on the bottom of the seafloor, stretching for over a hundred feet of us. More than a century after its aquatic burial, the anchor, one of the most emblematic pieces of any ship, was found laying upright on the sea floor.

Watching these metal pieces encrusted by corals and home to fish, it is easy to not think about the historical context of the ship, and the wreck. But every wreck has a story, and the wreck of the Dunnottar Castle story has links to the history of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Seven of the crew members, including its Chief Officer, took one of the surviving boats and sailed, for 52 days, to Kauai. Upon being informed of the tragedy, the British Commissioner in Honolulu organized a rescue mission. But Hawaiian officials feared that the British might take the opportunity to claim Kure Atoll, and offered to pay for part of the rescue mission, also sending a commissioner to claim it for Hawaiian Kingdom. The concern over a British claim of Kure in relationship to theDunnottar Castle wreck adds meaning to its discovery on July 3, the day before America celebrates its independence.

Standing upright on one of its flukes, the anchor of the Dunnottar Castle seems to have been carefully positioned on the seafloor.
Standing upright on one of its flukes, the anchor of the Dunnottar Castle seems to have been carefully positioned on the seafloor.

When free-diving this wreck, we felt the thrill of seeing a ship larger than the one which is now our home at sea, the NOAA ship Hi`ialakai, laid on the ocean floor as if it had been arranged by careful museum curators. A Galapagos shark was seen later on the wreck area, reminding us that this is no museum. This is Kure Atoll, part of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands that still offer much left to explore.The rescue mission came back to Honolulu with the same amount of people it had sailed out with. No survivors were found on the atoll, except for two fox terriers and a retriever.  Maritime archeology, unlike the terrestrial counterpart, almost always involves a tragic event. But there was no further tragedy on theDunnottar Castle. All of the survivors had been picked up earlier by a passing vessel and were on route to Chile. Upon arrival, on September 20, 1886, Kure Atoll was claimed for the Kingdom of Hawai`i by James Boyde. To help future castaways, this rescue mission built a structure and left water and supplies, and also planted coconuts, kukui trees, monkey pod trees, and others. Concerns about introducing alien species did not run very high back then.

Jeff Lawrence, May 27, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Lawrence
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 22 – June 2, 2006

Mission: Hydrography survey
Geographical area of cruise: Alaska
Date: May 27, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge
Visibility: Fog 0.0 miles
Wind direction: 310 deg. NW
Wind Speed:  8 knots
Sea level pressure: 1011 mb
Present weather: Very foggy with small swells
Temperature:  46 deg. wet/dry 46 deg.

Launch boat in action in Wrangell Narrows
Launch boat in action in Wrangell Narrows

Science and Technology Log 

Yesterday I was invited out on a boat launch with LTJG Abigail Higgins, Junior Survey Tech Tonya Watson, and Deck Utility Man Kenneth Keys.  We were sent out to set a couple of buoys to mark locations where divers from the RAINIER could go down later in the day and take a closer look at some peculiar features from the sonar soundings.  We also had to run a couple of survey lines around an object near Petersburg Harbor on something peculiar Captain Guy Noll had spotted in the sonar record.  I was able to pilot the launch for part of the trip and DU Keys gave me a quick course on navigation around marked points in the Wrangell Narrows.  This was really cool!  LTJG Higgins showed me how the boat collects data to take back to the RAINIER where it is processed to be used on navigation charts.

When on a boat launch you may have to take lunch with you because you will not be back to the RAINIER in time for lunch. The skies were clear and full of intense Alaskan sunshine, which makes it feel warmer than the actual temperature outside. It was a beautiful day enjoyed even the more by having lunch on the boat. When the launch boat returns to the RAINIER the data is downloaded to the ships computers where it is processed so that charts and graphs can be made or updated. Below physical scientist Shyla Allen from the Pacific Hydrographic Branch assist ENS Laurel Jennings in making plans for running lines at the next stop near Sitka. ENS Jennings is in her first year on the RAINIER and a part of the NOAA officer corps aboard the RAINIER.

Crunching the numbers are: Shyla Allen (back) and ENS Laurel Jennings (front)
Crunching the numbers are: Shyla Allen (back) and ENS Laurel Jennings

Personal Log 

Today was an absolutely beautiful day in SE Alaska.  I really enjoyed working with the survey technicians and people aboard the RAINIER.  I have learned much more than I thought ever existed when comes to navigating the waters, coastlines, and harbors of Alaska. Today we are traveling to Biorka Island, which is northwest of where we were the previous week.

Questions of the Day 

When approaching a green buoy from sea in a channel in North America which side should your boat approach on?

When approaching a red buoy from sea in a channel in North America which side should your boat approach on?

Assignment 

Plot a course if you were the pilot of the RAINIER that you would follow from Wrangell Narrows near Petersburg to Biorka Island.

Linda Armwood, April 29, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Linda Armwood
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 25 – May 5, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Date: April 29, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 200 °
Wind speed:  15 kt
Sea wave height: 1 ft.
Swell wave dir: 280
Swell wave height: 2-3 ft.
Seawater temp: 7.2
Sea level pressure: 1016.6mb
Present weather: Overcast
Temperature:  °C~ 8.2dry/6.5wet

Science and Technology Log 

My assignment today was to work with the benchmark descriptions and level run team.  The responsibility of the team is to accurately and completely describe the benchmarks.  The description must include the following items:

  • directions for location
  • exact location relative to other structures including the tide gauge
  • sketch of location
  • latitude and longitude
  • above datum of tabulation in meters
  • date of establishment/recovery
  • photograph of benchmark
  • statement that benchmark disk is flush in raised concrete

The team is also responsible for completing the level run assignment.  The purpose of the level run is to level the primary benchmark to the staff stop.  This procedure provides the elevation of the staff stop. In helping with the level run, I assisted the Tides Director in the recording of rod readings. These measurements are read in three parts: top thread, middle thread and bottom thread.  Ideally, thread intervals should be equal.  However, if the thread intervals are not equal, they must be within 2 to be an acceptable reading.  Many of our readings were acceptable upon the first recording.  For the few readings that were not acceptable, the software in the I-Pod associated with the 3 stadia leveler would indicate as such.  Readings were redone accordingly.

In addition to providing assistance to the Tides Director as a recorder, I participated in holding the rod at benchmark locations for level readings.  The indication that the rod would be level is when the surveyor succeeds in moving the rod so that the bubble inside the gauge would sit on the center circle. The tide staff observation was my third assignment for the day.  The completion of these observations provides you with the elevation of your orifice to your staff stop. The tide gauge is located on the pier leg facing the benchmarks.  The boat was placed in a vantage spot that enabled a survey tech and I to monitor and record the tide height every 6 minutes for three hours.  This recorded data would later be compared to the data received by the tide gauge set-up on the pier.

Personal Log 

It was great to get out of the bitter, cold, sleeting weather conditions to the warmth of the ship. The food on the FAIRWEATHER is absolutely delectable!

Question of the Day 

Environmental Science and Geospatial Semester Students 

In which two months are the largest tidal ranges?

Mrs. Armwood

Linda Armwood, April 28, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Linda Armwood
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 25 – May 5, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Date: April 28, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 190 °
Wind speed:  13 kt
Sea wave height: 1 ft.
Swell waves dir: 310
Swell waves height: 2 ft.
Seawater temp: 7.3
Sea level pressure: 1012.4mb
Present weather: Mostly cloudy
Temperature:  °C~ 6.5dry/5.0wet

NOAA divers preparing to install a tide gauge at Noyes Island, AK
NOAA divers preparing to install a tide gauge at Noyes Island, AK

Science and Technology Log 

The project’s first priority for the day was to get the tide gauge installed and to set tidal benchmarks.  The tides party consisted of three onshore crews: the reconnaissance and planning team; the benchmark recovery and installation team; and the dive and install team.  I was assigned to the dive and install team boat in order to observe the divers install the tide gauge. I did not observe the underwater installation below the pier; however, the secure installation of the above water equipment was a major undertaking!  The tide gauge installation involves the proper placement of the following items:

  • satellite antenna
  • gps antenna
  • hydro gauge
  • solar panel
  • 12-volt battery
  • nitrogen cylinder
  • nitrogen regulator

I assisted in drilling with the benchmark recovery and installation team.  The historic benchmark was located about 15 feet from the low water line and the next four benchmark locations were set at 200 feet apart from one another in somewhat of a straight line from the historic benchmark.  Benchmarks are important because they represent permanent marks of the land leveling system.  The tidal gauge will automatically read water pressure which it then converts to depth every six minutes over the next 30 days in order to determine the constituents of the tide-generating force. Determining these constituents allows the survey technicians to form possible hypotheses related to ranges, heights, rates and future directions of tides.

Ensign Matthew Glazewski drills to establish a benchmark on Noyes Island, AK.
Ensign Matthew Glazewski drills to establish a benchmark on Noyes Island, AK.

Personal Log 

At the time of this writing, the weather was as stated above; however, during the tides party the weather was miserable with intermittent showers of sleet followed by sunshine and overcast.  The kindness extended to the crew by the Noyes’ Island caretaker will be remembered.

Question of the Day 

Environmental Science and Geospatial Semester Students 

Give some possible non-human factors that may have an effect on the decision-making of tide gauge location.

Mrs. Armwood

The Tidal Party recovered this historic benchmark recovered from Noyes Island, AK
The Tidal Party recovered this historic benchmark recovered from Noyes Island, AK

Melissa Fye, April 22, 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 Islands
Date: April 22, 2005

Location: Latitude: 23*36.3’North, Longitude: 164*43.0’W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 10
Wind Direction:90
Wind Speed: 14 knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Swell Wave Height: 5-7 feet
Sea Level Pressure: 1018.8
Cloud Cover: 2/8 Cu, As, Si
Temperature outside: 24.4

Science and Technology Log

At 0500, surveying of the ocean floor was concluded and transit to Honolulu began.  Scientists in the lab compiled more data and finished up the survey trip with a benthic habitat map of the French Frigate shoals. There are still a few bits of editing to do on the map and some borders need to be added to the final form, but overall it is complete. Scientist Joyce Miller showed me an overview of the completed work using Fladermouse, or a computer mouse, that gives an onlooker the view a bat would have flying over the map. It is a 3-D view of the map, giving its operator the ability to zoom in on underwater pinnacles, sand waves, and coral reefs from any direction.  The contours of the ocean floor were very apparent and Joyce Miller commented that the AHI, new software, etc., enabled the scientists to create the final product much faster; this being the first time they had all the data compiled into map form before the end of a cruise. It was exciting to see all the surveying work put into one picture. With surveying complete for this cruise, and much of the editing done, scientists and crew spent the day doing laundry, finishing up tidbits of work, watching the sunset, etc. The HI’IALAKAI is expected to arrive in the University of Hawaii’s port by 0800, Saturday, April 23, 2005.

Personal Log

I spent the day answering the last of the emails from students, printing off previously completed emails and logs, and snapping pictures of the ship and persons aboard.  Scientists showed me completed benthic maps in the lab and I began packing up my things. It has been a terrific experience and I was lucky to be onboard with such hospitable people. I have truly enjoyed my time aboard the HI’IALAKAI and I have learned so much about ships, coral ecosystems, the Hawaiian islands, scientific data collecting, and those people on board this cruise.  I’m taking back to my classroom a wealth of resources like maps, charts, a binder of lessons, and many photographs and digital movies to weave into science lessons.  But more importantly than those things, I will be bringing back to the classroom real-life enthusiasm for the application of science in the real world.  I have experienced first hand, biological ecosystems, weather instruments and measurements, and map making, in a real life context. I want my students to know that life is not a collection of things, but a collection of experiences. I hope this trip (the resources and anecdotal stories I bring back to the classroom) encourages them to explore opportunities as they arise in their own lives. As a teacher, my underlying goal is to teach my students that learning should be a life long adventure!  And isn’t that what this trip is really all about? Even with all the pictures I have taken and emails I have written, no one will ever have an experience like I have had on board the HI’IALAKAI. Thank you to NOAA, CO Kuester, Lead Scientist Scott Ferguson, and everyone else I have encountered on this trip!

QUESTION OF THE DAY: There are “rivers” of water in oceans that are called currents.  What is name of the current that runs the entire length of the east coast? How does it affect people on the east coast?

ANSWER TO YESTERDAY’s Question:  CO Kuester (commanding officer) has given commands for the ship to arrive at the entrance to Honolulu Harbor by 0700 on Saturday, April 23rd. The ship has 260 nautical miles to still cover, and we travel ten knots an hour.  1) How many hours will it take us to reach our destination? 26 hours 2) A nautical mile > a statute mile (mile on land)  if…

1 nautical mile (1 knot) = 1.15 statute miles  then… 260 knots = 299 statute miles

Melissa Fye, April 20, 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 Islands
Date: April 20, 2005

Location: Latitude: 23*36.3’North, Longitude: 164*43.0’W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 10
Wind Direction:90
Wind Speed: 14 knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Swell Wave Height: 5-7 feet
Sea Level Pressure: 1018.8
Cloud Cover: 2/8 Cu, As, Si
Temperature outside: 24.4

Science and Technology Log

Early before daybreak we arrived at Nihoa island to conduct a CTD cast (conductivity, temperature, and depth measurements).  By three o’clock a.m., the HI’IALAKAI began running north/south and east/west survey lines of the ocean floor. The ship continued throughout the day, surveying the ocean floor using the multibeam system for benthic habitat mapping.

Personal Log

The trip is winding down and as the end approaches, I am finishing my interviews with the crew of the HI’IALAKAI.  I sent out word that I would take anything that anyone has to give away. Several of the officers and crew have been kind enough to give me CDs of past diving trips, maps, and photographs taken on board that I may have missed. I have been reading some of the weather and ocean resources aboard also. We did have an unexpected visitor aboard today. A four foot Wahu fish was caught on the chief steward’s fishing line and filleted for dinner. Its scales were a silvery blue/green color and it had rows of very sharp teeth. I’ve included pictures of it in this log.  I also concluded some interviews with other members of the scientific team. Information on scientists Scott Ferguson, Kyle Hogrefe, Emily Lundblad, Jonathan Weiss, and Rob O’Connor are included in this log.

Lead Scientist Scott Ferguson works for the University of Hawaii and acts as a contract scientist for NOAA. He is originally from Colorado and Tennessee and went to college in Boston. While in high school, he remembers becoming interested in oceanography and also recalls opening a National Geographic Magazine as an adolescent, which contained hand drawn maps of the ocean and may have subsequently planted the seed for his current specialization in benthic habitat mapping. He obtained a degree in biology, specializing in genetics, while an undergraduate student in Boston. His current assignment is based on grant work submitted by a group of scientists to collect data, based on the most available science, about the sea floor in the Northwestern Hawaiian Island chain. The data collected from this trip, which in turn will be made into maps, will be made available to any managers of the various resource management groups (including the Fisheries Department, state agencies, agencies which protect sea turtles, monk seals, etc.). Nautical charts available at this time are inadequate for use for management of resources in the area, so the multibeam sonar and the scientists aboard have been collecting much more detailed data about the ocean floor for these agencies.  The information gathered will determine fishing guidelines, etc., and will help determine boundaries for sanctuary designation of this ecological system. Mr. Ferguson finds this career interesting because it is not routine and provides opportunities for problem solving. The tool he uses most is the computer to collect data.  He comments that someone interested in this field of science should build knowledge through mathematics courses, computer classes, and be able to express themselves well through written medium. Persons who consistently pay attention to detail and are inquisitive are well suited to this work, according to Mr. Ferguson.  Mr. Ferguson and his wife, scientist Joyce Miller, will spend 3-4 months a year on assignment in the Pacific Ocean.  As an added side note, he, his wife, and their cat take up permanent residence on a boat when not working in the office or out to sea!

Marine Ecosystem Specialist, Kyle Hogrefe, spoke to me in an earlier log about the Ghost Net Project and marine debris trips he has taken part in. I took the time today to interview him more thoroughly about the work he does.  Mr. Hogrefe is originally from Medina, Ohio and obtained an undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado in environmental science.  He has worked as a debris specialist, fisheries observer in Alaska, and taken jobs related to data management and mapping to increase his knowledge base. His duties on this cruise involve the deployment and retrieval of oceanographic data platforms.  His job is important because these devices collect long term data about ocean currents, temperatures, etc. which may effect populations of aquatic species of plants and animals over time. Mr. Hogrefe comments that the best part of his job involves the sense of adventure, travel, and diving he gets to do. He comments images from childhood watching Jacques Cousteau may have led to his career choice.  He will spend roughly 6 months at sea this year and the drawbacks of his career involve time away from friends and family. The tool he uses most often is his brain to make decisions and a physical piece of equipment he utilizes often is a lift bag. Patience and an ability to put personal differences aside while working with colleagues are attributes one should possess; according to Scientist Hogrefe.

GIS (Geography Information Systems) scientist Emily Lundblad is originally from the state of Texas and has a master’s degree in Marine Resource Management. Her interest in mapping was sparked from a guest speaker who spoke at her high school. It is a very math/science oriented field and the computer is her most important tool.  She believes the best part of her job is the travel and the ability to see the application of her work. She enjoys going to sea to help collect the data, whereas she would normally just edit and process it. Miss Lundblad will take part in three cruises at sea this year to help collect mapping data.  She mentions that her job on land requires normal eight hour days, but time at sea is different , requiring 12 hour shifts.

Sea floor mapping specialist Jonathan Weiss is a Northern Virginia native, originally from Alexandria, and a graduate of William and Mary. His undergraduate degree is in Geology and he received a graduate degree in Marine Geology from the University of Hawaii. He comments that he has always been curious about the earth and its structure and that research on plate tectonics has revolutionized this field of scientific research. His job requires him to work on backscatter to process the imagery data about the sea floor texture and his most important tool is the computer.  He encourages anyone interested in this line of work to take lots of math courses and a broad overview of the sciences. He enjoys his first post graduate job because the hours are flexible enough for hobbies (like surfing), his bosses are encouraging, and he works with many people his own age. He will spend roughly four months at sea this year in the field.

Rob O’Connor, GIS specialist, originates from Texas but has spent most of his life in Maui, Hawaii. His educational background includes an undergraduate degree in Geography from the University of Hawaii. He comments that the computer is also his most important tool for his job and that he became interested in aspects of the earth after taking some introductory geography courses in college. His duties include data processing and cartography (map making). The travel is an added benefit for this line of work and Mr. O’Connor adds that a person should possess good interpersonal skills and computer knowledge to be successful in this occupation.  This is his first cruise of the year as a GIS specialist.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: I have seen many sea creatures around the Northern Hawaiian Islands coral reef ecosystem. Animals such as the whitetip shark,  sea turtles, and monk seals. These animals are all living things that eat other living things for energy. In a food web, they are called _______________________.

ANSWER TO YESTERDAY’s Question: Ms. Fye saw a humpback whale near the starboard side of the ship the other day. It was performing an adaptive behavior.  Fill in the blank to find out what adaptation the whale was performing.  The movement of an animal from one region to another and back again is called migration.

Melissa Fye, April 14, 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 Islands
Date: April 14, 2005

Location: Latitude: 23*36.3’North, Longitude: 164*43.0’W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 10
Wind Direction:90
Wind Speed: 14 knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Swell Wave Height: 5-7 feet
Sea Level Pressure: 1018.8
Cloud Cover: 2/8 Cu, As, Si
Temperature outside: 24.4

Prepping the launch
Prepping the launch

Science and Technology Log

Today’s operations involved launching the AHI once again, with 3 scientists onboard, to do more benthic habitat mapping around the more shallow areas of the French Frigate Shoals. Mapping operations were cut short early today for a little rest and relaxation for the crew, scientists, and some NOAA corps members.  Around two o’clock pm, the AHI was recovered and the ship launched speedboat HI#1 with 7 members of our ship to Tern Island for a barbeque. Tern Island, as mentioned in previous logs, is a bird sanctuary run by the Fisheries Service of the Department of Interior. In has anywhere from 6-14 personnel at a time counting, tagging, and collecting data on reproductive rates of bird species on the island. The scientists and volunteers on Tern Island invited the HI’IALAKAI for some rest and good food, in turn for a tour of the ship. After the first shuttle was launched, it brought back 4 members of Tern Island to take a tour of the ship, and it then turned around and took 10 more of the crew to the barbeque. The shuttle ran all day, some members of the HI’IALAKAI also went fishing instead of visiting Tern.

At Tern Island, a tour was lead by the manager of the sanctuary, and after a feast of hamburgers and hot dogs and the like, we were lead on a snorkeling trip on the north side of the island. We were careful not to disturb the birds, and entered the ocean to snorkel the underwater ecosystem. Other scientists, Corps officers, crew, engineers, and myself, dove below the surface to see several colorful fish, a small whitetip reef shark, sea slugs, sea turtle, and a submerged barge.  It was very clear and the inhabitants of the reef ecosystem were easily seen.  The last shuttle returned to the ship around 6:30 p.m., and data editing and sonar mapping resumed on board.

Personal Log

After breakfast this morning, I typed logs and answered email.  By mid morning, I helped the chief engineer, below deck, do engine room check of all the machinery below.  He showed me how to check the temperature readings and gages on the engines and systems.  This type of check, is done three times a day to make sure all machinery is running smoothly.  Where there were no gauges to be read, Lobo used a Raytek Thermal Sensor gun, to take readings through pipes. Next, I ate lunch and prepared for the trip to Tern Island.  I borrowed snorkeling gear from several members of the ship and embarked on another great adventure.  I never thought I would have had so many chances to see the underwater ecosystems of the Northern Hawaiian Islands while out to sea. It is wonderful to explore underwater, and it is new and different every time.  The water was particularly clear near Tern and I took pictures of things like brain coral. Its name stems from the fact it looks like a brain and it was a bright green color.  I also took pictures of the birds, like the albatross, concentrating this time on recording images of their adaptations (like beak shape and feet formation) to use in later lesson plans. It was a wonderful day and the snorkeling thoroughly wore me out by day’s end.

QUESTION OF THE DAY for my fourth grade students: Use a reference source. 1) What is the name of the wettest place on earth? (Hint: it somewhere in Hawaii.)  2)List the name of the reference source you used (this includes websites remember!)  3)The annual average rainfall of this place is 661 inches a year.  How many feet of water is that?___  How many yards?____

ANSWER TO YESTERDAY’S Question: If the ship rolls 9 times in one minute in 1-2 foot seas, how many times will it roll in one hour? 9×60=540 times How many times will it roll in one 24 hour period?  24×540=12,960 times!  Imagine how many times the ship rolls when there is a storm at sea!

PICTURES OF THE DAY: Ship HI’IALAKAI, Tern Island Bird Adaptations (many of the underwater pictures I am taking cannot be posted at this time because they are on film that hasn’t been processed (not digital)

Melissa Fye, April 10, 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 Islands
Date: April 10, 2005

Location: Latitude: 23*36.3’North, Longitude: 164*43.0’W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 10
Wind Direction:90
Wind Speed: 14 knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Swell Wave Height: 5-7 feet
Sea Level Pressure: 1018.8
Cloud Cover: 2/8 Cu, As, Si
Temperature outside: 24.4

Dive expedition at Lincoln’s Head
Dive expedition at Lincoln’s Head

Science and Technology Log

The plan of the day was to arrive back at Necker Island around 8:00 AM. (We were traveling back forth often between the middle of the island chain). Around 8:30 AM the AHI research boat was deployed to run survey lines around the more shallow areas.  9:00 AM brought the deployment of the HI #1 speed boat into the sea. The purpose of its voyage was to replace a SST buoy (Sea Surface Temperature buoy) and anchor an ODP (Ocean Data Platform) at Mokumanamana.  I came along to photograph the work put in to these diving operations.  The transport was rough as it was as warm as normal, and the seas were very choppy.  We arrived at the rock outcropping, and using GPS navigational systems, located the coordinates for where the ODP was to be located on the sea floor. Divers prepared themselves (Scientist Jeremy Jones, Kyle Hogrefe, and Joe Chojnacki, along with ENS Sarah Jones) and all 4 descended about 75 feet under the water to find the device. After 30 minutes they resurfaced unable to find the ODP. They came aboard and regrouped.

A school of dolphins encircled our boat while tactics were being discussed. In effort to conserve air and because the current was strong and pulling them under the water, they decided to only send 2 divers to try to locate the ODP a second time.  Joe Chojnacki and Jeremy Jones resurfaced again after the second try only to be frustrated. The pinger was losing and gaining pings erratically and was found to be useless.

In a last attempt the driver of our boat, Keith Lyons, decided to drive the boat over top of the boat’s GPS coordinates, instead f referring to the diver’s handheld GPS, and asked the divers to put the pinger right into the water to see of they picked up any signal.  The pinger again was unreliable. Finally, Joe Chojnacki stuck his head over the boat, and looking through his snorkeling mask saw the ODP right below us!  Kyle Horgrefe and ENS Sarah Jones scrambled to gear up and went below to tie off a buoy to the ODP so they could resurface and know its location.  The last dive required 3 of the divers to replace the ODP with a new data platform.  An ODP gathers information but that information can only be used once its been retrieved from the ocean’s bottom; unlike a Sea Surface Temperature Buoy which can relay information in real time because it stays on the surface and satellites receive the information all the time. The divers connected a bag, like balloon, to the new ODP to move it into place and reposition it over the former data platform.  The dive was completed but air tanks were low so we drove back to the HI’IALAKAI and exchanged air tanks, dropped off ENS Sarah Jones, and myself. The 3 divers continued on to replace a SST buoy. I didn’t stay aboard for the remainder of the dive because of the rough seas and I was freezing because I didn’t have a wet suit.

Lincoln’s Head (volcanic rock) near dive site
Lincoln’s Head (volcanic rock) near dive site

Personal Log

I awoke and ate breakfast. I then began to prepare to go on a dive operation with 3 scientists and ENS Jones this morning.  I slathered on SPF and a bathing suit, shorts, and a rash guard (thin shirt often worn by surfers as protection from salt water irritation).  I donned a hard hat and life vest and borrowed a snorkel and fins from members onboard in case we were in shallow enough waters to snorkel and so I could see the divers working.  We loaded the HI #1 speed boat with tons of equipment and were lowered to the ocean on a pulley system.  The sea was extremely rough and the boat finally broke free from the ship to the rock outcropping where the dives were to be performed. The rock outcropping is nicknamed Lincoln’s Head because the side view looks like Lincoln’s profile. We arrived and performed the diving operations aforementioned in the science log. It was exciting to see the work being done and how precarious diving can be.  It requires a lot of equipment and effort, especially when weather conditions are less than ideal.

Dolphins swam right up to the boat at one point and the divers saw sharks down below. They assured me they were just curious and not very big sharks! Other than that the divers said we were in too deep of water to snorkel and the water was churning because of underwater currents. I couldn’t dive so I sat onboard and photographed the trip and proceeded to get wet from sea spray. Tern birds flew overhead the entire time biting at the buoy, lines, antennae on the boat, and the air bubbles that surfaced from the divers.  The birds mistake anything out of place for food.  Because I wasn’t doing the dive work I got very cold and decided to return to the ship when we dropped off ENS Sarah Jones.

I didn’t get to snorkel this day but hopefully I’ll have another chance in the next 2 weeks. I spent the evening trying to warm myself and recover from the bumps and bruises incurred from getting on and off the HI#1. Everything is very slippery on those boats and it’s easy to lose you balance. Plus, every time we ride up next to the ship, we get doused with water coming out of the bottom of the ship.

QUESTION OF THE DAY for my fourth grade students:  The 2 devices (the SST buoy and the ODP) are put in the ocean by divers so that scientists can gather information about the conditions in the ocean over a long period of time.  By now, in class, you are beginning to learn about different ecosystems in science class. Cause and effect: What are some examples of conditions that could change in the ocean ecosystem that could be discovered from the data being collected by these buoys (name at least 3)? Try to think how weather or man can affect an ecosystem. Here is an example to get you started ……

  1. ocean temperatures could gradually be getting warmer…….. killing the coral reef……..loss of habitat for fish
  2. (hint: salinity (saltiness))
  3.  (hint: ocean water currents)