NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces
July 16– August 1, 2013
Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)
Geographical area of cruise: southeastern US Atlantic Ocean waters (continental shelf and shelf-break waters ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC to Port St. Lucie, FL)
Date: July 20, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge
Science and Technology Log
Each day the fish traps aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces are baited and prepared with cameras, and sent to the ocean floor where they must sit for ninety minutes. It is necessary to keep this time consistent for all locations and traps so we can compare apples to apples. We call this a “control variable”. The particular parameter that someone measures that is a constant and non-changing point of comparison in an experiment or scientific observation is a controlled variable for consistency.
After being on the bottom for the time allotted, the officers on the bridge drive the ship back to the number one trap and drives alongside the trap’s buoys. Approximately, half way down the ship is the side sampling deck. From the side sampling station, approximately halfway down the ship, we take a grappling tied to a long rope and hurl it over the side, aiming between the two buoys. It is important that we hit it on the first attempt.
If we miss, the ship has to take vital time to maneuver around to make another attempt at the buoys. Have we missed? Honestly, yes but only a couple of times. If we have done our job correctly, we pull in the grappling hook and with it the buoys, and rope. The buoys are then unhooked from the rope and the rope is threaded into a pot hauler, which is a large tapered wheel that grabs onto the rope without slipping. The pot hauler then hydraulically pulls the rope and trap up to the surface. Once at the surface, another hook and winch is connected to the trap and the entire rig is pulled up on the side sampling deck. It is at this time that our team attacks the trap by taking off the cameras and unloading its cargo of fish. If we have fish, they are taken to the wet lab and all the measurements are taken. Once empty, the trap is carried to the main aft deck and prepared for the next round of trapping. It really is a lot of heavy work but it is all worth it to understand the ecology of our ocean reefs.
Today started around 12:30 am. It was not something that I intended to do. The night before we went to bed around 10:00 pm. I was sore and very tired from the long and hard day we had fishing. For some reason I woke up and looked out the window and saw that it was very bright outside. I thought it was daybreak and it was time to get up. I looked at my clock and it said it was 12:30. But that could not be. It was too light outside for just pass midnight. I actually thought my clock was broke so I fired up my computer to check the time. Sure enough, it was 12:30.
The moon was so bright and reflecting off of the water in a way that the light was coming right into my room. Crazy. After the confusion, I finally made it back to sleep. Around 5:30 my internal alarm clock went off. I actually never need an alarm clock to wake up, ever. For some reason I always have been able to just think about when I want to get up and I do. Anyway, I got up, brushed my teeth and headed to work.
At 6:15, I met up with my brothers and sisters of the trap setting team which consists of Doug Devries – NOAA Scientist; Patrick Raley – NOAA Scientist; Jenny Ragland – NOAA Scientist; Julie Vecchio – volunteer Scientist; Zach Gillum – graduate student / Scientist, and me – the new guy scientist. Have you ever watched Star Trek? Usually each show’s scientific mission consists of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Bones, Lt. Uhura, who are all in one color uniform, and a new guy who is in the red shirt. The mission goes something like this. Captain Kirk will say “Mr. Spock go check out the nondescript rock. Bones see if you can get some readings on that green flower over there, Uhura please open up a channel to the ship, and New Guy, go check out that purple pulsating blob over next to the cliff.” I really hope these guys don’t watch Star Trek…..
To be completely honest, it is nothing like Star Trek at all. Our team is amazing. I am very humble that they have accepted me into their family. They are so fun to be around and I could not be more thankful for their friendship and guidance. Each of us has to play many vital roles in the mission. This expedition would not work if we did not have each other to rely on. I don’t want to let my teammates down, and I will do anything to make sure that does not happen.
Anyway, back to the traps….. We set our first set of traps of the day and ninety minutes later we discovered that our return was not very good. Our second set of traps, on the other hand, were much better and netted many fish. Some of the fish included Black Sea Bass, Grey Trigger, Tomtate, White Grunt, and one of the most desirable fish on the market, the Red Snapper. Red Snapper is a fish that can grow upwards of 40 lbs. and live as long as 50 years if it can escape being caught. This amazingly beautiful red fish has had much pressure from commercial and sport fishermen and as a result their numbers have dwindled. After speaking with Zeb Schobernd, our mission’s Chief Scientist, it is his hope that due to strict regulation of the harvest of the species, we will see an increase of the population. The data we are collecting will help develop a better survey for reef fish populations in the future, especially grouper and red snapper.. Lunch was at 11:00 and what a lunch it was. Crab legs, and prime rib. Man, the crew of the Pisces eats very well and I am thankful. My wife is a great cook, and I would say that the ship’s chief steward is a close second. After lunch, we quickly we set our third series of traps and were able to increase our catch exponentially. Dinner consisted of Jamaican jerk chicken, pork roast, green beans, lettuce salad, and cheese cake. After dinner I took a little time to visit the team in the acoustics lab. The acoustics lab is responsible for mapping out the ocean floor to determine where we should put traps out the next day. I will probably touch more on them in my next blog.
Did you know?
Did you know that NOAA ships do not just stay in one particular location of the world?
The Pisces has sailed from Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico, and down to Venezuela and back. Not to mention the Pisces is one of the fastest ships in the NOAA fleet capable of reaching speeds greater than 17 knots with a following current.