Amy Orchard: Headed Out to Sea! September 5, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
(Soon to Be) Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Fish Survey (Cubera Snapper and Black Grouper)
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: September 5, 2014

Pre-Trip Introduction

Greetings from the sunny Sonoran Desert.  My name is Amy Orchard and I live in Tucson, Arizona, USA.  This is a wonderful time of the year to be in the desert.  Although the day-time temperatures can soar into the 100’s (100 degrees F/37.8 degrees C) the monsoon rains are falling and the desert is lush with many hues of green.  Plants that appear to be dead most of the year have sprung alive with a bounty of leaves.  Below is a close up of one of my favorites, the Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)  If you look closely you can see that the stem itself has some green on it as well, this is how they photosynthesize when there isn’t enough water to support leaf growth.

Foquieria splendens - Ocotillo

Desert monsoon rains bring to life plants that appear to be dead the rest of the year. Zoom in to see the chlorophyll present in the STEM of the plant which allows it to photosynthesis when it is too dry to support leaf growth.

I am lucky enough to have my dream job!  Actually, I work two jobs, and both are dreamy.  On the side, for fun and for my personal growth, I teach yoga.  Most of my students are Middle School aged, but I teach K-adult as well.  Yoga is a great way to chill out, become strong and learn to be flexible (physically and mentally.)

My full-time job, the one that opened up this wonderful opportunity to be a Teacher At Sea with NOAA, is as an Education Specialist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  It is an amazing place that is all at once a museum, a zoo, a botanical garden, an art institute and an aquarium.  We only display plants and animals native to the Sonoran Desert Region.  This makes it a very unique place.  I work with live animals such as tarantulas, snakes, hawks, tortoises, toads, porcupines and skunks.


Mephitis macroura - Hooded Skunk

Do not worry! He is de-scented.

I also work closely with the wildest of all animals – teenagers!  I run the youth programs at the museum including our Earth Camp summer expeditions and the teen volunteer program – the Junior Docents.  I love working with students in middle school and high school.  They are so curious about the world around them and have a passion to work towards protecting it for the future.  They are eager to learn through my adventures on-board the Nancy Foster.  I will challenge them to increase their understanding of the natural world by providing a “Challenge Your Understanding” section at the end of my posts.  (Prizes for anyone who answers ALL of my questions while on board!)  Feel free to take the challenge questions yourself, even if you aren’t a wild teenager.

Earth Campers at Arches National Park

This rugged group of teens and I traveled the Western United States exploring the issue of water use. We hiked, backpacked, river rafted and drove many, many miles through the beautiful, open lands of Arizona and Utah.

I will miss my family while I am gone.  They are the coolest people on earth… well the Earth Campers and Junior Docents I have worked with over the last 15 years are superbly awesome as well, but my family takes the cake!  I’m not exactly sure that my daughters will miss me very much.  They are busy on their own adventures.  Sonora, my oldest, is in China for 4 months teaching English.  Naomi, a Junior in High School, is attending an Environmental Stewardship boarding school in Northern WI called Conserve School until Christmas.  I hope they will find time to follow my blogs!  And I hope my poor husband will get along without his three ladies to keep him entertained.

Orchard Family

We aren’t always this nicely dressed. We are most often found in biking, hiking or rafting gear.

I am thrilled to have been selected to be a Teacher At Sea.  There were nearly 200 applications this season and only 24 of us were chosen.  It seems like a miracle they picked me.  However it came about, I couldn’t be more honored.  I love learning new things and cannot imagine all the knowledge I will gather aboard my 14-day scientific cruise.  Even though I live in the desert, I am very interested in ocean acidification, sea level rise and melting glaciers.  I understand that the changes happening to our climate affect all of us, no matter how far in-land we live.  I look forward to understanding more about changes in fish populations and coral reef health from my time about the Nancy Foster using ROVs and multi-beam sonar to survey fish populations.  I will be eager to take my new knowledge back to Tucson and enhance the way we share our new aquarium and information about the oceans with the 50,000 visitors to our museum.

You may be wondering why we have an aquarium at a desert museum!  Check out the map below to understand that we have sharks and sea stars in our desert!  It is a part of our landscape, weather systems and culture.  That leads me into the my first Challenge-Your-Understanding question.

Sonoran Desert Region Map

The Sea of Cortez, or Gulf of California, is sandwiched right in the middle of our desert.

Challenge Your Understanding

(mark any that apply)

Bonus Points to anyone who adds a comment and defines the word ENDEMIC!

Sue Cullumber: Can’t Wait to Head Out As a NOAA Teacher at Sea! May 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
(Soon to be) Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5– 24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 5/21/13
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf


My students on a field-trip to the desert.


Howard Gray School in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Personal Log:

Hi my name is Sue Cullumber and I am a science teacher at the Howard Gray School in Scottsdale, Arizona. Our school provides 1:1 instruction to students with special needs in grades 5-12 and I have been teaching there for over 22 years!  In less than two weeks I will be heading out to the Atlantic coast as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I am so excited to have this opportunity to work with the scientists aboard the NOAA ship Gordon Gunter.

I applied to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for the following reasons:

First, I feel that directly experiencing “Science” is the best way for students to learn and make them excited about learning. To be able to work directly with NOAA scientists and bring this experience back to my classroom gives my students such an amazing opportunity to actually see how science is used in the “real world”.


Visit to Española Island – photo by Pete Oxford


Students holding “Piggy” and our other baby Sulcata tortoises.

Secondly, I love to learn myself, experience new things and bring these experiences back to my students. Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to participate in several teacher fellowships.  I went to the Galapagos Islands with the Toyota International Teacher Program and worked with teachers from the Galapagos and U.S. on global environmental education. From this experience we built an outdoor habitat at Howard Gray that now houses four tortoises.  Students have learned about their own fragile desert environment, animal behavior and scientific observations through access to our habitat and had the opportunity to share this with a school in the Galapagos. I worked with Earthwatch scientists on climate change in Nova Scotia and my students Skyped directly with the scientists to learn about the field research as it was happening. Last summer I went to Japan for the Japan-US Teacher Exchange Program for Education for Sustainable Development. My students participated in a peace project by folding 1000 origami cranes that we sent to Hiroshima High School to be placed in the Hiroshima Peace Park by their students. We also  held a Peace and Friendship Festival for the community at Howard Gray.


Completion of the 1000 cranes before sending them to Hiroshima.


Japanese teachers learn about our King Snake, Elvis, from the students.

This year we had a group of Japanese teachers visit our school from this program and students taught them about many of the sustainable activities that we are working on at school.  Each has brought new ideas and amazing activities for my students to experience in the classroom and about the world.


Dusk at the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Lastly, Arizona is a very special place with a wide variety of geographical environments from the Sonoran Desert (home of the Saguaro) to a Ponderosa Pine Forest in Flagstaff and of course the Grand Canyon!  However, we do not have an ocean and many of my students have never been to an ocean, so I can’t wait to share this amazing, vast and extremely important part of our planet with them.

So now I have the chance of a lifetime to sail aboard the NOAA ship Gordon Gunter on an Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. We will be heading out from Newport, RI on June 5th and head up the east coast to the Gulf of Maine and then head back down to Norfolk, Virginia. Scientists have been visiting this same region since 1977 from as far south as Cape Hatteras, NC to the an area up north in the Bay of Fundy (Gulf of Maine between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia).  They complete six surveys a year  to see if the distributions and abundance of organisms have changed over time. I feel very honored to be part of this research in 2013!

Gordon Gunter

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter (photo credit NOAA)

One of the activities I will be part of is launching a drifter buoy. So students are busy decorating stickers that I will be able to put on the buoy when I head out to sea.  We will be able to track ocean currents, temperature and GPS location at Howard Gray over the next year from this buoy.  Students will be studying the water currents and weather patterns and I plan to hold a contest at school to see who can determine where the buoy will be the following month from this information. While out at sea my students will be tracking the location of the Gordon Gunter through theNOAA Ship Tracker and placing my current location on a map that one of my students completed for my trip.


Spending time with my husband, Mike, and son, Kyle.

Outside of school, I love to spend most of my free time outdoors – usually hiking or exploring our beautiful state and always with my camera!  Photography is what I often call “my full-time hobby”.  Most of my photos are of our desert environment, so I look forward to all amazing things I will see in the ocean and be able to share with my husband and son, students and friends!  One of my passions is to use my photography to provide an understanding about the natural world, so I am really looking forward to sharing this fantastic adventure with everyone through my blog and photos!


Enjoying the view during one of my hikes in the Sonoran Desert.