Dana Kosztur: Sailing on the Gulf of Mexico, April 5 & 6, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Dana Kosztur

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

April 5-19, 2018

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 5 & 6, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Lat: 29o 22.895′ N      Long: 087o 59.992′ W
Air Temperature: 22.9oC (73oF)
Water Temperature: 22.83oC (73oF)
Wind speed: 14.89 knots (17.13 mph)
Conditions: partly cloudy skies and the seas are pretty smooth

Science and Technology Log

I have been aboard Pisces for over 24 hours.  I have learned a lot about the technology used on the ship.  This vessel has a Simrad ME70 multibeam echo sounder. This device will create a bathymetric map of the survey areas that have been randomly selected for this mission.

The crew is on the third leg of a four leg reef fish survey.  This SEAMAP survey will use cameras as its primary instrument to study the population of fish in the survey area. There are two types of camera arrays the scientist use.   The SatCam has 7 cameras that allow a 360-degree view of the ocean floor.  The RIOT is a double-stacked version with 12 cameras. The RIOT allows the same visuals as the SatCam but can also be used for fish measurement.

 

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RIOT (Reef Information Observation Tower) on deck

 

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SatCam ready to deploy

The SatCam and RIOT are rotated, one is deployed each site. The boat is positioned over the sampling site and the cameras are released into the water. The cameras free fall to the bottom and are buoyed. They are left to soak for 30 minutes before they are picked back up.  The camera begins recording 5 minutes after it hits the bottom to allow the sediment to settle, it then records for the remaining 25 minutes.

After the camera is sent into the water, the ship moves away and a CTD is released into the water in much the same way.  The CTD is an electronic instrument package that sends back real-time data of water conditions such as salinity, temperature, density, and light filtration versus water depth.

 

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CTD tests the water column for conductivity, temperature, and depth

 

Bandit reels are also used in this survey.  There are three of these reels mounted on the starboard side of the boat. The line on each has 10 baited hooks.  This leg of the trip we are only fishing every other stop. The first round of fishing with the bandit reels yielded no fish. The second time the stern bandit reel caught silky sharks.  Three sharks made it to the deck to be weighed, measured and then safely released. The next time we used the reels two large red snappers were caught. They were weighed and measured. The otoliths and gonads were removed from each specimen.  These will be used to determine age and reproductive abilities.

 

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Bandit Reel 1

 

 

 

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Red Snapper caught on Bandit Reels

 

 

I think I am getting adjusted to life aboard the ship. We are only working during daylight hours so I won’t have to change my sleeping schedule. I am working with a team of 4 scientists and they are doing a great job explaining everything and answering my questions. There is so much to learn about and I want to know it all.

I am taking medication to keep from getting seasick and it is working, but I was so exhausted yesterday that I went to bed after watching the sunset.  I hope that will get better in the coming days. I haven’t lost my excitement about being here.  Everything out here is interesting.

Did You Know?

A snapper otolith can tell the age of the fish.  The otolith is an ear bone. When removed from the fish and cut in half, the rings can be counted.

  • Animals Seen Today

Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)

Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)

Spencer Cody: A Floating City of Life, June 6, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 27 – June 11, 2014

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico
Mission:  SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Date:  June 6, 2014
 

Observational Data:

Latitude:  28˚ 18.164 N
Longitude:  92˚ 26.145 W
Air Temp: 27.7˚C (81.9˚F)
Water Temp: 25.5˚C (77.9˚F)
Ocean Depth:  86.1 m (282 ft.)
Relative Humidity:  76%
Wind Speed:  3.9 kts (4.5 mph)
Barometer:  1,011.5 hPa (1,011.5 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

Sargassum

The floating mats of Sargassum stay afloat due to a series of small air bladders. The floating brown algae provides habitat for a diverse assortment of sea life.

It has been the subject of many ocean myths and legends:  ships becoming trapped in mats of thick, unrelenting seaweed.  Of course, such stories are not true, but the giant mats of seaweed that inspired such fear in sailors hundreds of years ago are very real and are an important component of the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem.  The Carthaginians and later the Romans first described a portion of the Atlantic covered in seaweed.  By the 15th century, the Portuguese had named the area the Sargasso Sea after the sargaco rock rose that grew in their water wells back home, which appeared to be similar to the seaweed that grew on the surface of the water in stagnant parts of the Atlantic.  From this comes the genus name Sargassum or as it is commonly referred to along the Gulf coast as gulfweed.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Sargassum can form large mats acres in size.  These large mats of brown algae provide a floating micro-ecosystem in the Gulf.  Sargassum is a food source for many marine organisms.  The mats also serve as a nursery for fish and invertebrate eggs and developing young.  The thick mats provide structure and cover in an ocean environment that may be lacking in the necessary cover to support the development of their young and to keep them hid from potential predators.  Within the mats many types of marine herbivores can be found.  The presence of various herbivores draws in fish to feed on those organisms grazing on the Sargassum.  In fact, some organisms have evolved to look like Sargassum for protection.  One good example of this is a type of frogfish called the sargassum fish.  The sargassum fish can appear to be brown, yellow, or olive depending on whatever color they need to be in order to blend in with the mat of algae.

 

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Hardhat, life jacket, and work gloves are needed during operations on the weather deck. This is a picture of me placing a float on one of our bandit reel lines.  Credit Kevin Rademacher for the photo.

Personal Log: 

Safety is always a key concern when going on a survey aboard a research vessel such as the Pisces.  This is especially true when a ship is moving and lifting the sensors and equipment to facilitate the science the Pisces is carrying out.  Whenever we are launching or retrieving either the CTD or camera array, protective gear including a hardhat and a life jacket are required.  Whenever we are using a bandit reel, the same equipment is needed as well.  Losing someone overboard is a constant concern.  That is why these precautions are taken whenever operations are occurring on a weather deck and is why we have drills for a man overboard situation to recover someone as fast as possible.

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Water hoses along with other fire suppression equipment are tested during one of our mandatory fire drills.

As with any building, fire is a serious threat.  On a ship fire is a threat that endangers everyone onboard.  Everyone is given an assignment list on their bunk card.  Each bunk card lists the person’s individual emergency billet assignments for a fire, abandon ship, and a man overboard.  During a fire everyone may end up becoming a part of the fire suppression crew.  People need to report to there assigned stations.  During a drill a mock fire is assessed and contained, and fire suppression equipment is tested out.  The Pisces is designed to contain fire wherever possible by having heavy fireproof doors throughout the ship making it more difficult for fire to spread to other decks.

If an emergency requires the ship to be abandoned, people are required to report to specific life raft stations with life jackets, a survival suit, and other items in order to leave the ship behind.  Life jackets and survival suits are found in our staterooms and throughout the ship.  This is an act of last resort once every attempt to save the ship has been made.  The Pisces is specifically designed to prevent water from entering cabins and corridors by using water tight doors.  This is designed to either prevent taking on water or at least slow the process down enough to abandon ship.

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Survival suits are both water tight and thermally insulated keeping a person who needs to abandon ship dry and warm. A flotation device is wrapped around the neck, which inflates, keeping the floating person upright in the water.  Credit Adam Pollack for the photo.

Other general precautions must be observed onboard.  Passengers and crew are not allowed to run while onboard for several reasons.  The watertight doors come up from the floor by nearly a foot in addition to many other obstacles.  Places like any of the weather decks or the wet lab where we process fish specimens are often wet and slippery.  Perhaps the most obvious reason one should be careful moving around onboard is the movement of the ship itself.  Large waves and swells can send the ship into an unpredictable motion.  This makes even walking or standing difficult at times and is certainly disorienting.  The Pisces has several features to accommodate this problem.  Handle bars and railings are found throughout the ship in order to stabilize yourself during swells.  Having a handle bar in the shower may seem rather over the top, but when your morning shower starts to resemble a theme park ride that you may have been on before, then you will start to understand why that feature is there.  Cabinet and drawers are self-locking; otherwise, they would constantly slide in and out, which is why we had to tape down many of the drawers in the dry lab that do not have this feature.  When you are on a moving ship, everything takes a little longer to do than on land.  It is just something you have to get used to.

Did You Know?

Even water temperatures as high as 80˚F can be a hypothermia risk if exposed to it for long periods of time.  Water conducts heat away from your body 25 times faster than air of the same temperature.