Leah Johnson: Fish Identification & Pisces Farewell, August 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Saturday, August 1, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:13 PM
Latitude 033.995650
Longitude -077.348710
Water Temperature 24.37 °C
Salinity 36.179 ppt
Air Temperature 27.4 °C
Relative Humidity 83 %
Wind Speed 15.95 knots
Wind Direction 189.45 degrees
Air Pressure 1012.3 mbar

Science and Technology Log:
I am still amazed at the wealth of data collected aboard the Pisces on this survey cruise. I am getting better at identifying the fish as they are hauled up in the traps, as well as when I see these fish on video. Because of light attenuation, many fish look very different in color when they are underwater. Light attenuation refers to the gradual loss of visible light that can penetrate water with increasing depth. Red light has the longest wavelength on the visible light spectrum, and violet has the shortest wavelength. In water, light with the shortest wavelength is absorbed first. Therefore, with increasing depth, red light is absorbed, followed by orange, then yellow. Fish that appear red in color at the surface will not appear red when they are several meters below the sea surface where they are captured on camera.

For example, we hauled in some blackfin snapper earlier this week. At the surface, its color is a distinct red like many other types of snappers, and it has a black spot near the base of its pectoral fin. When I looked at the videos from the trap site, I did not realize that all of the fish swimming around with yellow-looking tails were the very same blackfin snappers that appeared in the traps! When I remembered that red light is quickly absorbed in ocean water and noticed the black spot on the pectoral fin and shape of the dorsal fin, it made more sense.

Top: Blackfin snapper collected from trap.
Bottom: Video still of blackfin snappers swimming near trap.

I tell my geology students every year that when identifying minerals, color is the least reliable property. I realize now that this can also apply to fish identification. Therefore, I am trying to pay closer attention to the shape of the different fins, slope of the head, and relative proportions of different features. The adult scamp grouper, for example, has a distinct, unevenly serrated caudal fin (tail) with tips that extend beyond the fin membrane. The tip of the anal fin is elongated as well.

scamp grouper

Scamp grouper

Another tricky aspect of fish identification is that some fish change color and pattern over time. Some groups of fish, like wrasses, parrotfish, and grouper, exhibit sequential hermaphroditism. This means that these fish change sex at some point in their lifespan. These fish are associated with different colors and patterns as they progress through the juvenile phase, the initial phase, and finally the terminal phase. Some fish exhibit fleeting changes in appearance that can be caught on camera. This could be as subtle as a slight darkening of the face.

The slight shape variations among groupers can also lead groups of scientists to gather around the computer screen and debate which species it is. If the trap lands in an area where there are some rocky outcrops, a fish may be partially concealed, adding another challenge to the identification process. This is no easy task! Yet, everyone on board is excited about the videos, and we make a point to call others over when something different pops up on the screen.

warsaw grouper

We were all impressed by this large Warsaw grouper, which is not a common sight.

I have seen many more types of fish and invertebrates come up in the traps over the past week. Here are a few new specimens that were not featured in my last “fish” post:

Did You Know?

Fish eyes are very similar to those of terrestrial vertebrates, but their lenses that are more spherical.

lens from fish eye

Lens from fish eye

Personal Log:

I love being surrounded by people who are enthusiastic about and dedicated to what they do. Everyone makes an extra effort to show me things that they think I will be interested to see – which I am, of course! If an interesting fish is pulled up in the trap and I have stepped out of the wet lab, someone will grab my camera and take a picture for me. I continue to be touched by everyone’s thoughtfulness, and willingness to let me try something new, even if I slow down the process.

me, standing on the deck at the stern

Me, on the deck of the ship. We just deployed the traps off the stern.

As our cruise comes to an end, I want to thank everyone on board for letting me share their work and living space for two weeks. To the NOAA Corps officers, scientists, technicians, engineers, deckhands, and stewards, thank you for everything you do. The data collection that takes place on NOAA fishery survey cruises is critical for the management and protection of our marine resources. I am grateful that the Teacher at Sea program allowed me this experience of a lifetime. Finally, thank you, readers! I sincerely appreciate your continued support. I am excited to share more of what I have learned when I am back on land and in the classroom. Farewell, Pisces!

Susan Kaiser: Ready, Set, SCIENCE!! July 29, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Friday, July 29, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 36 min N
Longitude:  83 deg 20 min W
Wind Speed: 5.8 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 29.5 C
Air Temperature: 29.5 C
Relative Humidity: 67.0%

Science and Technology Log

Marine Scientist, Danielle Morley, ready for the signal to dive and retrieve a VR2.
Marine Scientist, Danielle Morley, ready for the signal to dive and retrieve a VR2.

Science is messy! Extracting DNA, observing animals in their native habitat or dissecting are just a few examples. On board NOAA Ship Nancy Foster it may even be stinky but only for a little while. That is because the divers are retrieving the Vemco Receivers also called VR2s for short. These devices have been sitting on the ocean floor quietly collecting data on several kinds of grouper and snapper fish. Now it is time to download the VR2s recorded information and give them new batteries before placing them at a new site. So, why are they stinky? Even though the VR2s are enclosed inside another pipe, sea organisms have begun to grow on the top of the VR2. They form a crust that is stinky but can be scraped away with a knife. Any object left in the ocean will soon be colonized by sea creatures such as oysters, algae, and sponges to name a few. These organisms will grow and completely cover the area if they are undisturbed. This crust smells like old seaweed drying on an ocean beach.

VR2 ready to download data and replace batteries.
Clean VR2 ready to download data and replace batteries.

Really, it isn’t too bad and after a while you don’t notice it so much. Besides this is the only way scientists can get the numbers out of the VR2. These numbers tell scientists which fish have been swimming by and how often. Some of the VR2s have collected over 21,000 data points but most have fewer. This information alone helps scientists understand which areas of the ocean floor each species of grouper and snapper prefer as their home or habitat. These data points can even paint a picture of how these fish use the habitat space over the period of an entire year.

Have you been wondering what the VR2s are listening for? You may be surprised to learn it is a signal called a ping from a tracking device that was surgically implanted while the fish is still underwater! The ping is unique for each individual fish. The surgeries were completed when the study began in 2008. First, the fish are caught in live traps. If the trap is in deep water (>80ft) divers descend to perform the surgery on the ocean floor. The fish’s eyes are covered and it is turned upside down. Then a small incision is made in their abdomen and the tag is inserted below the skin. Stitches that dissolve over time are used to close the incision. Once the fish has recovered a bit it is released. An external tag is also clipped into the dorsal fin so other people will know the fish is part of a scientific study. Fish caught in the upper part of the water column may be brought up to the surface slowly and kept in a holding tank while the surgery performed on the boat. Scientists have noted the fish are less stressed by being caught, handled and tagged using this method.  This is a factor for collecting enough data to gain a real understanding of these fishes behavior.

Scientists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) are able to conduct this study with support from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant. They have also worked with other agencies on this research including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS)  the area where the VR2s are positioned. Since 2008 they have learned a great deal to better understand how grouper and snapper use habitat. Both fish are good for eating and are found on the menu in many restaurants around the world. They are commercially harvested and fished by recreational fishermen like you and me. Fishing is a big industry in all coastal locations and especially in Florida. In fact, commercial fishing alone accounts for  between 5-8% of total income or jobs in the local economy of the Florida Keys.  Knowledge gained from this study will help FWC and FKNMS guide decisions about fishing and recreation in the FKNMS and be aware of negative impacts to these fish populations in the future. Stinky air is small sacrifice to help preserve populations of groupers and snappers.

Jeff Renchen describes the features of the ROV.
Jeff Renchen describes the features of the ROV.
Mrs. Kaiser wearing the virtual reality glasses. Photo by Jeff Renchen
Mrs. Kaiser wearing the virtual reality glasses. Photo by Jeff Renchen

You can see that exploring marine habitats takes time, trained people and resources. Luckily a device has been developed to help scientists explore the ocean floor in an efficient and safe way. This little gem is called a Remotely Operated Vehicle or ROV. It is a cool science tool operated with a joy-stick controller.  The ROV can dive and maneuver at the same time it sends images back to the operator who is using a computer or wearing virtual reality glasses. Yes, I said virtual reality glasses! The operator can see what the ROV can “see” in the depths of the ocean. I had the opportunity see the ROV in the lab and then ride with the ROV team as they tested the equipment and built their skills manipulating this tool in dive situations. The beauty of the ROV is that it can dive deeper than is allowed for a human diver (>130 feet) and it can stay down for a longer period of time without stopping to adjust to depth changes like a human. If a dive site has a potential risk due to its location or other factors, the ROV can be sent down instead. Scientists can make decisions based on the ROV images to make a plan for a safe live dive and save time and resources. Science is messy, sometimes, but it is cool too!

Personal Log

The weather has been simply amazing with calm crystal clear seas and very smooth sailing. Still, spending the day in the sun saps your energy. However, that feeling doesn’t last too long after a nice shower and a trip to the mess to enjoy a delicious meal prepared in the galley. There Chief Steward Lito Llena and 2nd Cook Randy Covington work their magic to cook some terrific meals including a BBQ dinner one evening on the upper deck. They have thought of everything, especially dessert! I will be paying for it later by running extra laps when I get back home but it will be worth it.

Mrs. Kaiser's stateroom on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.
Mrs. Kaiser’s stateroom on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.

My stateroom is a cozy spot with everything one would need and nothing more. A sink is in the room but showers and toilets are down the hall a few doors. One item that is missing is a window. It is so very dark when the lights are off you can’t see your hand in front of your face. It is easy to over sleep! Surprisingly noise has been minimal since the rooms are very well insulated. I share this space with three female scientists but we each have a curtain to turn our bunks into a tiny private space. I enjoy climbing up in my top bunk, closing my little curtain and reading my book Seabiscuit, An American Legend before being rocked to sleep by the ship.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers and crew have been wonderful hosts on this cruise. All have patiently answered my questions and helped me find my way around to do what I need to do. I am curious about their life at sea and the opportunities it affords them to see new places, meet new people and engage in new experiences too. I hope to learn more about their careers as mariners before this voyage ends. The ship truly is a welcome place to call home for these two weeks.

Carmen Andrews: Transforming Fish into Data, July 15, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida
Date: July 15, 2012

Latitude:      28 ° 50.28   N
Longitude:   80 ° 26.26’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 28.6° C (83.48°F)
Wind Speed: 18 knots
Wind Direction: from the Southeast
Surface Water Temperature: 27.6 °C (81.68°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and Fair

Science and Technology Log

How are fish catches transformed into data? How can scientists use data derived from fish to help conserve threatened fish species?

The goal of the Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey or SEFIS is to monitor and research reef fish in southeast continental shelf waters.  Marine and fisheries scientists have developed sophisticated protocols and procedures to ensure the best possible sampling of these important natural resources, and to develop fisheries management recommendations for present and future sustainability.

During the cruise, important commercial fish in the snapper and grouper families are caught over as wide an area as possible; they are also taken in large enough numbers that they can be worked up into statistically reliable metrics. In addition to counts and measurements, biological samples are also taken at sea for future analysis in land-based research labs.

Gag grouper ready for its work up
Gag grouper ready for its work-up

Scientists strive to render an informative snapshot of reef fish stocks in a given time interval. Reports that analyze and summarize the data are submitted to policy-makers and legislators to set fisheries rules, restrictions and possible quotas for commercial and sports fishermen.

After fish are caught and put on ice, processing includes several kinds of measurement that occur on deck. This data is referred to as ‘Length Frequency’. Tag information from the trap follows the fish through all processing.  Aggregate weight measurements for all the fish of one species caught in a trap are made and recorded in kilograms.

David is weighing the gag grouper, with Adam P. looking on
David is weighing the gag grouper, with Adam P. looking on

The length for each fish in the trap is noted, using a metrically scaled fish board. Not all fish are kept for further processing.

David measuring the length of the gag grouper
David measuring the length of the gag grouper

Species-specific tally sheets randomly assign which fish from the catch are kept and which ones are tossed back into the ocean. These forms, which specify percentages of fish identified as ‘keepers’, are closely consulted by the data recorder and the information is shared with the scientist who is measuring the catch.

Shelly is recording length frequency measurement data
Shelly is recording length frequency measurement data
Length frequency data entries
Length frequency data entries
Red Porgy keep/toss percentage sheet
Red Porgy keep/toss percentage sheet

Kept fish are put in a seawater and ice slurry. The others are thrown over the side of the boat.

Age and reproductive sampling are done next in the wet lab.

Small yellow envelopes are prepared before fish work up can begin. Each envelope is labeled with cruise information, catch number, fish number, and the taxonomical name of the fish, using  binomial nomenclature of genus and species.

Adam P. and Shelly labeling envelopes and plastic specimen containers
Adam P. and Shelly labeling envelopes and plastic specimen containers

A small color-coded plastic container (the color indicates fish species tissue origin), with the fish’s source information riveted at the top, is also prepared. This container will store fish tissue samples.

The fish trap catch number is documented on another data form, along with boat and science team identification, collection method and other important information about the circumstances surrounding the fish catch.  Each species’ data is separately grouped on the data form, as individual fish in a catch are sequentially numbered down the form.

Me, transcribing fish weight & length data
Me, transcribing fish weight & length data

Each fish is weighed, and the weight is noted in grams. The scale is periodically calibrated to be sure the fish is weighed accurately.

Vermilion snappers and scamp, labeled and  ready for dissection
Vermilion snappers and scamp, labeled and ready for dissection

Three length measurements that are made: standard length (SL), total length (TL), and if the fish species has a fork tail — fork length (FL). The fish is laid, facing left on a fish board. The board is long wooden plank with a metric measuring scale running down the center.

Standard length does not include the caudal fin or tail. It begins at the tip of the fish’s head; then the fish measurer lifts the tail up slightly to form a crease where the backbone ends. Standard length measurement includes the fish’s head to end of backbone dimension only. Total length is the entire length of the fish, including the caudal fin. In fork-tailed species, the fork length measurement begins at the fish’s snout and ends at the v-notch in the tail.

Fish length measurements
Fish length measurements

Source: Australian Government – Department of Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Part of the dissection of every fish (except gray triggerfish) is the extraction of  otoliths from the fish’s head. An otolith is a bone-like structure made of calcium carbonate and located in the inner ear of fish. All vertebrates have similar structures that function as gravity, balance, movement, and directional indicators. Otoliths help fish sense changes in horizontal motion and acceleration.

To extract the otoliths, the scientist makes a deep cut behind the fish’s head and pulls it away from the body. The left and right otoliths are found in small slits below the brain. They must be removed carefully, one at a time with forceps. They can easily break or slip into the brain cavity.

Red snapper with removed otolith
Red snapper with removed otolith

Otoliths reveal many things about a fish’s life. Its age and growth throughout the first year of its life can be determined. Otoliths have concentric rings that are deposited over time. The information they show is analogous tree ring growth patterns that record winter and summer cycles. Other otolith measurements can determine when the fish hatched, as well as helping to calculate spawning times in the fish’s life.

The oxygen atoms in calcium carbonate (CaCO3) can be used to assay oxygen isotopes. Scientists can use these markers to reconstruct temperatures of the waters the fish has lived in. Scientists also look for other trace elements and isotopes to determine various environmental factors.

Each pair of otoliths is put into the small labeled yellow envelope.

The otoliths on the gray triggerfish are too small to be studied, so the spine from its back is collected for age and growth analysis.

Spine removed from a gray triggerfish
Spine removed from a gray triggerfish

The last step standard data collection is determining the sex and maturity of the fish. The fish is cut open at the belly, similar to preparing the fish as a filet to eat it.

Making a cut into a vermilion snapper
Making a cut into a vermilion snapper

If the fish is big, the air bladder must be deflated. The intestines are moved or cut out of the way. The gonads (ovaries and testes) are found, and the fish can be identified as a male or female. (Groupers can be hermaphroditic.) The fish’s stage of maturity can also be determined this way.  Maturational stages can be classified with a series of codes:

U = undetermined

1 = immature virgin (gonads are barely visible)

2 = resting (empty gonads – in between reproductive events)

3 = enlarging/developing (eggs/sperm are beginning to be produced)

4 = running ripe (gonads are full of eggs/sperm and are ready to spawn)

5 = spent (spawning has already occurred)

Dissected gonad specimens are removed from the fish and placed in a plastic containers, snapped shut and stored in a formalin jar to preserve them. These preserved samples will be analyzed later by histology scientists. Histology is the science of organ tissue analysis.

Dissected fish gonads
Dissected fish gonads

Red snappers have their fins clipped to provide a DNA sample. They may also have their stomachs removed and the contents studied to better understand their diets.

Video data from the underwater cameras is downloaded in the dry lab. This data will be analyzed once scientists return to their labs on land.

Personal Log

Many different kinds of echinoderms and other invertebrates have been pulled up in the fish traps. Several are species that I’ve never seen before:

Basket Star
I am holding a basket star. It is a type of brittle star in the echinoderm phylum.
A red sea star
A red sea star
Spikey sea star
Spikey sea star
Small crab, covered in seaweed, shell and sand
Small crab, covered in seaweed, shell and sand

We also catch many unusual large and small fish in the traps and on hooks. Several of these have been tropical species that I’ve only seen in salt water aquariums.

Lizardfish
Lizardfish
Sargassumfish
Sargassumfish
Hooked blacktip shark
Hooked blacktip shark
Scrawld Filefish
Scrawld Filefish
Spotted butterflyfish
Spotted butterflyfish
Jack knife fish
Jack knife fish

Marsha Skoczek: North Florida MPA, July 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6 – 19, 2012

Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise:  Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of Florida
Date:  July 7, 2012

Location:
Latitude:  30.262610N
Longitude:  80.12.403W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature:  29.2C (84.5F)
Wind Speed:  6.07 knots
Wind Direction:  from the SSW
Relative Humidity:  76%
Barometric Pressure:  1016.8
Surface Water Temperature:  30.82C (87F)

Science and Technology Log

North Florida MPA

Today we made our way about 50 nautical miles off shore to the North Florida Marine Protected Area (MPA) accompanied by dolphins and flying fish.  The North Florida MPAs were closed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to bottom fishing in order to sustain and repopulate the following species of fish:  snowy grouper, yellowedge grouper, Warsaw grouper, speckled hind grouper, misty grouper as well as golden and blueline tilefish.  A second part of our science team is looking at the benthic invertebrates such as corals and sponges as they provide a habitat for the grouper and tilefish to live in.  The types of corals and sponges we expect to see in this area include: black coral, whip coral, purple gorgonian, Tanacetipathes, and the stink sponge.

Pisces deck hands launch the ROV

We did three Remotely Operated Vehicle  (ROV) dives with the Phantom S II.  Each dive was between one and two hours long depending on the bottom conditions.  The winch from the Pisces would lower the ROV to the bottom of the ocean approximately 50-60 meters deep (164 to 196 feet).  The area in the MPA we were looking at had been mapped the night before using the ship’s Multibeam Sonar to give the scientists a better idea of where to look and what type of bottom features they will see.   The current at the bottom for a couple of the dives was about 1.5 knots.  This made it pretty difficult to spend quality time looking at the species.  The Scientists will take this data back to the lab where they can spend more time with each video to fully catalog each species we saw today.

Stephanie Farrington and myself are logging data.

Once the ROV’s cameras were rolling, the science team was able to begin logging all of the different species that they saw.  Each part of the transect line is carefully documented with a date and time stamp as well as a latitude, longitude and depth.  Also mounted on the ROV is a small CTD to collect the temperature and depth every 15 seconds.  This will help the scientists match up all of the details for each habitat that we saw with the video on the ROV.  While the ROV is at the bottom collecting data, there are several different stations going on in the lab at the time.

John Reed and Stephanie Farrington are looking mostly at the benthic invertebrates, Stacey Harter and Andy David are cataloging all of the fish they are able to see and identify, and Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor are manning the ROV.  There is also a fourth station where one of the scientists uses a microphone to annotate the video as it is being recorded onto a DVD.  Today John, Stacey and Andy all took turns at the video annotation station.  Basically they are verbally describing the bottom features and habitat they see as well as all the different species of fish and corals.  This will make it easier for the scientists when they get back into their home labs as they process their data.  For each one hour of video taken it will take Stacey between four and eight hours to catalog each fish found as the ROV passed by.  This information is compiled into a report that will be shared with the South Atlantic Council to show if the targeted species are actually making a comeback in these MPAs.

The snowy grouper is one of the targeted species. We found this one using the ROV swimming back into his burrow.

Today some of the species we saw include reef butterflyfish, vermillion snapper, filogena coral, blue angelfish, purple gorgonian,yellowtail reef fish, black corals, bigeye fish, squirrelfish, wire corals, scamp grouper, hogfish, ircinia sponges as well as a couple of lobsters and a loggerback sea turtle.

Tomorrow we will make several more dives at another site outside the North Florida MPA so we can compare this data with the data taken today inside the MPA.

Personal Log

As part of the abandon ship drill, we had to be able to don our immersion suit in less than three minutes.

Life on the ship is really different in some ways compared to life on land.  There is the constant rocking of the ship, which my inner ears are not very fond of. The bedrooms are not the biggest and we each share with one other person.  I am rooming with Stephanie Farrington and she is very easy to get along with.  The food has been great — it would be very easy to gain weight while working on the Pisces.  The stewards do a fantastic job preparing meals for everyone on the ship.  Meal times are the same each day, breakfast is from 7-8 am, lunch is from 11am to noon, and dinner is from 5-6pm.  If someone is working the night shift, they can request that a meal be set aside for them so they can eat later.

Ocean Careers Interview

Stacey Harter

In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday.  Today I interviewed Stacey Harter, the Chief  Scientist for this mission.

What is your job title?  I am a Research Ecologist at NOAA Fisheries Panama City Lab.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  My responsibilities are to acquire funding for my research, as well as plan the trips, go on the cruise to gather the data, and analyze the data when I get back.  I am also collaborating on other projects with NOAA Beaufort in North Carolina and St. Andrew Bay studying the juvenile snapper and grouper populations in the sea grass found at this location.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I got my Bachelors degree in Biology from Florida State University and my Masters degree in Marine Biology from University of Alabama.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  My best experience I’ve had was getting to go down in a manned submersible to a depth of 2,500 feet to study deep water corals and the fish that live there.

What is your best advice for a student wanting to become a marine biologist?  Do internships!  This is the best way to get your name out there and to make connections with people who might be able to get you a job after college.  I had an internship at the NOAA Panama City Lab while I was in graduate school which helped me to get my job with NOAA when I graduated.

Carmen Andrews: Introduction June 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 6 – 18, 2012

Carmen Andrews
Carmen Andrews

Hello! 

Happy Summer Solstice Day! I am Carmen Andrews.  I work as a science specialist at  Six to Six Interdistrict Magnet School in Bridgeport, CT.  I have just finished my 5th year at this school.  I create science curriculum for grades pre-K through 8. I also teach many classes to help teachers improve their understanding of science concepts and inquiry methods.

Six to Six Magnet School
Six to Six Interdistrict Magnet School, Bridgeport, CT

Our school has a unique academic program that incorporates partnerships with the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT and the Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden, CT.  Our students visit many other places, including the Yale Peabody Museum and Yale Leitner Family Planetarium and Observatory in New Haven. We also allow our students to remotely operate the Gold Apple Valley Radio Telescope in California. My favorite places to teach classes are the unspoiled outdoor sites in Connecticut where we take our students for field studies.

4th Grade Marsh Field Study
4th Graders on a Marsh Field Study
Kindergarteners Investigating Invertebrates
Kindergarteners Investigating Marine Invertebrates
Sixth Graders
6th Graders Counting Intertidal Organisms Using a Quadrat

I love research!

One of my passions as an educator is creating opportunities for students to investigate real world problems using science inquiry. This year my 6th and 7th graders took on a big environmental research project. They were asked to research bioremediation and to develop a creative solution to a major problem in their community  — toxic oil spills. The work was funded by a NSTA/Toyota Tapestry Grant award, which enabled us to find out about blue and gray oyster mushrooms’ ability to metabolize oil spills in soil. Our project is called Going Green in Brownfields: A New Diet for Mushrooms. You can see our blog here: mushroomdiet.info 

Mushroom Harvest
A 7th Grader Massing Blue Oyster Mushrooms Grown in Motor Oil

My Teacher at Sea Adventure

The NOAA Teacher at Sea program was created to provide teachers with experiences in science research. We share our knowledge with our school communities using blogs, teaching and writing articles when we return from our Teacher at Sea assignment. I am very excited to learn about the work of NOAA in monitoring fisheries in U.S. coastal waters. I am eager to share this  scientific research with students. I also want to expose students to the variety of maritime and marine science careers that they can consider pursuing in later life.

I will be departing on the R/V Savannah in about 2 weeks to participate in a reef fish survey.  The next time I write, I will most likely be somewhere near Skidaway Island, GA.  My target audience for my blogs while I am at sea, are students, colleagues and friends of all ages. Please feel free to post your comments and questions about this important science research.

Jennifer Goldner: Ready to Sail, August 2, 2011

 NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Goldner
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 11 — 24, 2011

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Southern Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 2, 2011

If you asked me 35 years ago, “Who is your hero?”  My reply would’ve been, “Wonder Woman.”  If you asked me the same question today, my answer would be “lifelong learners.”  It is due to these people that solutions are being found for clean water, that animals are being saved, and that people are being educated at just how fragile our earth is right now.  NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is full of such people (Jennifer Hammond, Liz McMahon, Rob Ostheimer, Elizabeth Bullock, for starters).  I have been in contact with each of these individuals.  They have one thing in common: a passion about learning.  To this end, NOAA has a Teacher at Sea program. This season over 30 were chosen out of the United States.  Each of us will be on a different voyage. This is where I come in because I am a 2011 Teacher at Sea.  So, who am I?

Jennifer Goldner, NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Goldner, NOAA Teacher at Sea

My name is Jennifer Goldner.  I teach 5th grade science in Room 8 in Jay Upper Elementary School in Jay, Oklahoma.  Our town is small in size, but we have big ideas.  If we don’t have resources, we find a way to get a project done.  Here are just a few of the things we have done: our class has been featured in Popular Science and on Channel 6 News; we’ve worked with U.S. Satellite and Laboratory and NASA; and we’ve designed and built a tree house.  We recently took a trip to Space Camp where we took home top honors of having the highest accuracy in completing our missions. 

Speaking of mission, let’s get down to business: my NOAA Teacher at Sea assignment.  Though I have been to the ocean, I have never sailed on a ship. 

Take the poll to tell me if you have traveled on the ocean. I will be traveling aboard the Oregon II in the Gulf of Mexico, August 11-24th.

Oregon II
NOAA Ship Oregon II

There are 3 main types of ships:   1. fisheries research ship, 2. hydrographic survey ship, and 3. oceanic and atmospheric ship.  I am on the most physically challenging of all the cruises: the fisheries cruise.  I, along with the crew, will be doing 12 hour work shifts.  We will be doing a shark and snapper longline survey.  I am privileged to be studying with Chief Scientist Mark Grace.  His work precedes him.  I have already been told he is top notch.  He is the Shark Unit Leader.  I cannot wait to learn from him!  The crew consists of about 30 people, including officers, fishermen, deck crew, engineers, electronics crew, cooks, scientists, and 1 teacher (that would be me). NOAA Ship Oregon II, also referred to as “O2”, is headed by Commanding Officer, Master Dave Nelson.  Again, I have heard rave reviews about him.  I am anxious to meet him in person!

As for my travel plans, I will fly in to Jacksonville, Florida.  I will then spend the night on my new “home away from home,” NOAA Ship Oregon II, in Mayport, Florida.  We will depart on August 11th and sail around the entire coast of Florida. O2 will travel to Pascagoula, Mississippi, arriving on August 24th.  You can follow us on the Ship Tracker.

Current Cruise (8-2-11) for Oregon II on The Ship Tracker
Current Cruise (8-2-11) for NOAA Ship Oregon II on The Ship Tracker

While at sea I will be posting 2-3 blogs a week.  Please join in on our polls, read along about our voyage, and post comments and questions.  Let’s show NOAA that we are lifelong learners who value the importance of oceanic research.  Besides, if you have read this entire blog entry, that makes you my hero.

Maureen Anderson: Introduction, July 15, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maureen Anderson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 — August 9, 2011

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Southern Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 15, 2011

Personal Log

Maureen Anderson, Science Instructor, MS442, Brooklyn NY
Maureen Anderson, Science Instructor, MS442, Brooklyn NY

Hello!  I’d like to introduce myself.  My name is Maureen Anderson and I teach middle school science at MS442 in Brooklyn, NY.  In one week, I will be leaving for my NOAA Teacher at Sea trip aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II.  I’m very excited to be a part of this survey!  I don’t have a very strong background in science (I have 4 years of teaching experience – 3 in math and 1 in science), so I’m eager to learn as much as I can and share it with my students and community when I return.

Here’s a little bit of information about the trip.  I will be helping scientists survey various fish species in the Gulf of Mexico, with a focus on sharks and snapper.  Our boat leaves from Pascagoula, Mississippi on 7/25 and returns to Mayport, Florida on 8/9.  We will cruise from one station to another to do hauls and sort through our catch.  In this way, scientists get an idea about how many species are  in this area and the overall health of these species.

A lot of people have already told me many shark jokes, or given me tips for how to handle a shark.  But guess what?  I won’t be dealing with sharks in the water directly (no diving on this trip).  My students ask me tons of questions about sharks.  While I sometimes encounter them during scuba diving, I really don’t know too much about them.  So I’m looking forward to learning more about how to identify different shark species and finding out about the their overall health in this area of the world.  Overall, I’m also eager to learn about how everything works on a ship, and about the different kinds of science jobs and careers of the crew.

Red Snapper
Red snapper (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.org)
Atlantic Sharpnose Shark
The Atlantic Sharpnose Shark (photo courtesy of Discovery.com)

I have never slept on a boat before, so I’m hoping that I have no problem adjusting to life at sea for 16 days.  I have a ready-to-go seasickness patch just in case…  Other than that, I am excited and eager to learn!

I will aim to make a blog post about 3 times a week, so please check back.  Feel free to post your comments, feedback, and questions along the way!

John Taylor-Lehman, June 26, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea 
John Taylor-Lehman 
Onboard R/V Savannah 
June 24 – July 1, 2011 
NOAA Teacher at Sea: John Taylor-Lehman 
Ship: R/V Savannah 
Mission: Fisheries Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Continental Shelf off of Florida
Date: Monday 26, June 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge 
South West Winds 10-15 knots
Cloudy
Barometric Pressure 29.73

Science and Technology Log 

I assisted in deploying and retrieving 6 “chevron” fish traps at a time. This was done several times at designated sites. The traps are pushed off the back of the boat (fantail) and winched up along the starboard side. Two buoys are attached to each trap. The traps rest on the bottom of the Atlantic between 45 and 230 ft. deep. Locations are determined before the cruise but can be changed if necessary. Ideal locations have hard bottom with some relief.

taylor-lehman_log02_page_1_image_0001
Here I am (left) getting traps ready with the crew

Traps are baited with 24 “menhaden”, which is a type of fish. Some of the bait is suspended in the trap while other rests on the bottom. The traps “soak” for 90 minutes before being retrieved. There is great anticipation as each trap is being winched aboard the ship. We are all hoping for large numbers of our target fish: grouper and snapper.

This collection technique has been used for 22 years, which allows valid comparisons of data over time. The fish found in the traps thus far are: gag grouper, Warsaw grouper, red snapper, vermillion snapper, sand perch, black sea bass, gray triggerfish.

Personal Log 

Flying Fish
Flying Fish

The entire science staff and ship crew have all been very kind and helpful to me, the novice. They have readily answered all my questions, whether it is about the ship operations or the research being conducted. They have gone out of their way to bring to my attention items or events they think would be of interest to me.

Last evening we spent the last hours of our shift processing black sea bass. I learned how to remove the otoliths from the skull and the reproductive organs from the body cavity. The former can be used to age the fish and the latter to determine maturity and sex.

This is called an oyster toad fish
This is called an oyster toad fish

While walking on the back of the boat last night I heard a great deal of splashing in the water. The lights from the ship were bright enough to illuminate the water below me, so in I was able to see 6 dolphins in the water. They were feeding on the many flying fish that were attracted to the ship’s lights. I imagine a few of the fish were able to escape because the dolphins remained for at least 1.5 hours. Some of the dolphins were able to grab the fish out of the air.

Unusual sights: 4 cruise ships heading south, a double rainbow, oyster toad fish

Taylor Parker, April 24, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Taylor Parker
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19-29, 2009 

Mission: Hawaii Bottom fish Survey
Geographical Area: South side of Oahu
Date: April 24, 2009

Sunset with glassy water
Sunset with glassy water

Weather Data 
2ft rolling swells.
Air temp: 75F.
Slightly cloudy with variable winds 3-5 Knots.

Science and Technology Log 

One of the things that I’ve figured out is that fisheries scientists like nets. Big nets, small nets, blue nets and red nets. While I won’t go any further with the rhyme, the nets do collect some rather Suess-like creatures. Tonight, we worked a big net and found those creatures. The big net is the biggest on the boat and is called a Cobb trawl. The Cobb is deployed at night and is designed to capture pelagic organisms at deeper depths than the I/K or regular dip nets.

Lowering the net into the water
Lowering the net into the water

The target species for this trawl is snappers. It is deployed at night for two reasons: 1) at night there is a better chance the fish won’t be able to avoid the net because they can’t see it and 2) a lot of the fish targeted follow the amount of light that penetrates the surface, they stay at the bottom during the day and swim up at night – this is called vertical migration.  The Cobb is about 30 feet long and has a mouth opening of 7.5 feet that gradually tapers down to a foot long detachable cod-end. It can be dropped to different depths depending on the amount of line let out. There is a 2:1 difference, so if 1,000 feet of net is released then it will drop to 500 feet below the surface. The Sette motors at 3 knots for about 3 hours while the Cobb is busy collecting the ocean denizens. The cod-end is only in the water for two of those hours. The scientists have been either targeting two depths and spending an hour at each or have been staying at one site for two hours.

Bringing in the catch
Bringing in the catch

It takes a crew of at least 4 line-handlers, a crane operator, engineers working on the hydraulics and synchronizing between the officers piloting the boat from the stern and those on the fly-bridge just to keep the large net in the water safely. It is a long and coordinated process to retrieve the necessary sample of a couple pounds.

The catch, ready to be analyzed
The catch, ready to be analyzed

For safety reasons, the scientists are required to stay away from the net until everything is on deck and the winch holding the net is off. But once the Cobb is brought up, it is like horses at a track: there is a rush to see what was caught. And I’ve never seen such large 8-year-olds as the scientists; mesmerized by the hundreds of fish, larvae, jellies and other fascinating creatures the group piles in around the sampling trays and quietly picks through trying to find the rare and unique. The haul is definitely something to get lost within. With so many different fish stacked on top of each other and the seemingly infinite number of marine invertebrates, trying to find a juvenile Snapper or rare Lantern fish with a pair of small forceps is much like those claw-games that keep eating your quarters. Of course, the rare and interesting species are analyzed but the rest of the fish need to be sorted also. While trawling took 3 hours, going through the collection was easily a couple hours.

A hydro-lab full of scientists
A hydro-lab full of scientists

In the end, I was most intrigued by the eel larvae, the Snaggletooth and the flat fish. If you’ve ever had monsters in your dreams these are probably the culprits. The eel larva is flat, nearly transparent and when stretched out is almost a foot long. It has a black spot (maybe two but it is hard to tell) at the front of its body (you can’t tell that either, really) that I am supposing is its eye. Imaging this creature swimming around my feet is already making me shiver. The Snaggletooth is probably the most horrifying. They are only 5 inches or so but if they were the size of, say, my arm, I would never go in the ocean again. The flat fish babies are just gross. While all of these creatures are going make me sleep with the lights on tonight, they are marvelous representatives of the ocean creatures these NOAA scientists are studying.

Personal Log 

The snaggletooth
The snaggletooth

The Cobb is interesting because it starts 7.30pm and is a whole lot of nothing with bookends of activity. There is a lot of action to get it out, you watch the net in the water for 3 hours, a lot more activity to get it in and then for two hours is the fish sorting. I knew this before-hand and that is why it took me a week to stay up for it. But today I took a nap in the afternoon and was determined to wait for the net.

Flat-fish larvae
Flat-fish larvae

I’m very happy I did because I wouldn’t have seen the stars in the cloudless Hawaiian sky on the moonless night, nor would I have been privy to the green bioluminescence off the bow wake. Also, the catch was a catalyst for the scientific banter in the hydro-lab where everything was sorted. Names of fish were flying past me at exceedingly high speeds and were volleyed by the appropriate guttural sound of “ohh” and “awe” from across the lab. It was well worth a late night bed time, even if the Snaggletooth is waiting for me.

Did You Know? 

Scientist Bruce Mundy with eel larva
Scientist Bruce Mundy with eel larva

The net is named after John N. Cobb who lived from 1868- 1930. He was, among other things, Dean of the College of Fisheries at University of Washington in 1919, the only college of fisheries at the time. My roommate on the Sette, scientist Bruce Mundy, told me another interesting thing. Just off of where we stationed for the Cobb trawl is the site where Captain Cook was killed by the local Hawaiian population on Valentine’s Day in 1779. He was the first European to reach Hawaii on his way to discover the Northwest Passage. Everything was good on the first trip. After a year, however, he returned and he didn’t manage the local politics well. Hawaiians stole one of his boats and he was subsequently beaten and stabbed after trying to take the Hawaiian’s King as a hostage for ransom of his boat. Nevertheless, the local peoples honored him as they would have their own royalty, giving his funeral similar rites.  Apparently there is shrine dedicating his place of death in Kealakekua Bay.

A “caught and released” seahorse
A “caught and released” seahorse
Kealakekua Bay
Kealakekua Bay

Chris Monsour, June 26, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Monsour
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 26, 2007

Above is an example of the bluestriped snapper that was caught off of Necker Island. This species has become a nuisance since it was introduced to the Hawaiian Islands.
Bluestriped snapper that was caught off of Necker Island. This species has become a nuisance since introduced to the Hawaiian Islands.

Science and Technology Log 

Today we hauled our first set of lobster traps at Necker Island.  I must say the Chief Scientist was right when he said there would be less lobster here.  I think we may have caught 25 lobsters out of 160 traps. Very disappointing numbers, less than one lobster per trap. It is possible that the traps were in too deep of water and the substrate being sand made conditions unfavorable. We will be here for 13 more days or for 13 more sets, depending on how you want to look at it. A majority of what we caught today were different types of crustaceans and bluestriped snapper.

The bluestriped snapper is a non-native species that was brought to Hawaii from French Polynesia in the 1950’s. The fish’s native distribution is the Indo-Pacific from east Africa – Tuamotus; north to southern Japan; south to New Caledonia. The fish was brought to Hawaii to fill a vacant niche in the reef community, a shallow water snapper.  The bluestriped snapper does not have a good reputation.  In Hawaii, the bluestriped snapper share the same habitat with native fishes and this may result in competition for habitat use and food sources. Evidence has been documented which suggests that bluestriped snapper may displace native fish from important refuge habitat.  However this remains a controversial topic and more research investigating the ecological niche of L. kasmira is needed. From what I saw today though, the most common fish brought up from the traps was the bluestriped snapper.

NOAA Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour holds up an example of a sponge crab that was captured off Necker Island.
Chris Monsour holds up an example of a sponge crab that was captured off Necker Island.

When I searched the internet for “bluestriped snapper” and “Hawaii”, I found that many of the links discussed the fish as being a great aquarium fish and really no other use.  Yes, I will admit the fish are great to look at, but what will be the future impact?  The discussion of the bluestriped snapper led into the problems which exists in Lake Erie with the invasive round gobi, zebra mussel, and purple loosestrife.  The main difference here in Hawaii is that this species was introduced intentionally and the impact is yet to be seen. Granted, it has been over 50 years since the bluestriped snapper was introduced, but most of the people I have talked to on the ship see it as a nuisance and not a threat.

Today, as mentioned earlier, I saw more species of crustaceans, especially crabs. There were two groups that I have been seeing quite a bit and that is hermit crab and sponge crab.  Anyone who has explored a tide pool is familiar with the hermit crab.  Although an external skeleton like other crabs covers their front parts, their long soft tails are not protected.  Hence, they use empty snail shells for protection and are very difficult to remove.

One of the many hermit crabs that was caught during OSCAR ELTON SETTE’s cruise of the North West Hawaiian Islands poses for a picture.
One of the many hermit crabs that was caught during the cruise poses for a picture.

The other species that has really caught my attention is the sleepy sponge crab. The sleepy sponge crab is considered to be the most evolutionary primitive of the true crabs. As I found out, they are very slowing moving and nocturnal. They use their hindmost legs to carry a piece of sponge over its back. The crab uses the sponge for camouflage and within the sponge is living a whole myriad of other organisms like sea stars and forminifera (algae).  Unfortunately as I found out, when the sponge comes off the back of the crab, you can’t put it back on.

Personal Log

I was posed this question by the CO (commanding officer) of the ship: What does a Teacher at Sea do on a transit day after a hard week of lobstering at Maro Reef? 

Transit days are spent catching up on reading, laundry and rest.  I finished up one book and read the first half on another. On Sunday at twilight we had a pyrotechnic display on the fantail of the ship. Essentially we had to get rid of the expired flares, so we had a good time setting them off.  Then on Monday before we set the gear, we had four sets of drills which included a quarters escape drill.  Right now though, I am glad to see Necker Island, the first land I have seen in a long time (it resembles Abe Lincoln’s profile).  So with this I will be posting another log in a few days.

Questions of the Day 

1. What type of relationship exists between the sponge crab, the sponge on it’s back , and anything living in the sponge?  Commensalism, mutualism, or parasitism?

A hui hou,… Chris