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

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).