Safety is very important on NOAA vessels. We did various safety drills while I was on board. We did a fire drill and a man overboard drill. We also did an abandon ship drill where we reported to our assigned lifeboats. During one of these drills, I was required to put on a “Gumby” suit. This survival suit is designed to keep you from getting hypothermia if you are to be in the water for long periods of time. For another drill, I donned a blindfold and found my way out my room and to the outside deck. This drill was to simulate an emergency situation with no lights. It was pretty scary to walk through the boat in the dark.
Blindfold deck escape
The final day of fishing and camera drops proved to be awesome. We had lots of fish on camera and caught fish all four times we dropped lines. I was able to collect the measurements and samples from those fish without any extra guidance. The mission scientist recorded and observed, but they didn’t have to assist me. Their confidence in me was a pretty great feeling.
The video below is an example of the videos collected by both SatCam and RIOT Cam. These arrays have 6 cameras. The video is the view from these cameras stitched together. The top camera is not included in the panorama. The NOAA scientists use the videos to count fish species they study during the SEAMAP reef fish survey.
As we were docking, I had mixed emotions as we approached the harbor. I disembarked in Tampa, Florida. I was very excited to get back home but I knew my journey on Pisces was coming to an end. I am proud of myself for taking this trip. I am grateful for all the support from my family, friends, team teachers, and administration. I would not have been able to sail without their help. I learned so much more than I imagined and I will treasure the memories I made on this adventure. Being a Teacher at Sea increased my appreciation of Gulf of Mexico and I want to pass that on to my students.
Tampa Skyway Bridge
Image from a rooftop webcam of us Docking
Cow on the plane
Life at home has returned to normal. I returned back to school this week. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to my students about my experience aboard the ship. They have asked tons of questions. They are very interested in every aspect of my time at sea and loved all of the pictures and videos. I love that they are so engaged in the lessons this week. We are in the last month of school and it is often hard to keep the student’s attention. My Teacher at Sea tales and lesson plans have kept them focused and on task. They claim to have missed me and I, of course, missed them.
Welcome home sign
Counting fish on camera footage for lesson
Students working on NOAA lesson
I do have a few pieces of advice for the others that have yet to embark on their Teacher at Sea journey.
It is amazing. You will love it.
Bring a water bottle and a backpack. I used both of these almost constantly.
Talk to everyone on the ship. Every member of the vessel has valuable knowledge.
Ask your students what they are the most curious about. After a brief overview of NOAA and the mission I was going on, I had my students write questions for me to get answered. It was a great way to gauge what they were most interested in and these also make great conversation starters.
Did You Know?
If there are not enough male grouper in a given area, the largest or dominant female will change from a female to male.
Lat: 29° 35.5335′ N Long: 084° 19.8126′ W
Air Temperature: 18.2°C (64.76°F)
Water Temperature: 20.43°C (68.77°F)
Wind speed: 28.11 knots (32.35 mph)
Conditions: stormy, Seas 7 to 9 feet
Science and Technology Log
While I have been at sea, I have spent time exploring Pisces and getting to know the people on board. This research vessel is 209 feet long, 50 feet wide, and it has a draft of 20 feet. It is large enough to hold 39 passengers. The crew of the vessel during my sail consists of 5 NOAA Officers, 5 deck crew, 5 engineers, 4 technicians, 2 stewards and 5 scientists.
Pisces is loaded with science equipment. It has the capability to run acoustic surveys, marine mammal surveys, and various fish surveys. The onboard wet lab is used to process the marine life brought in on trawls, long lines, or bandit reels. In the dry lab, the mission data is stored and processed by the scientists and survey technicians on the ship. There is a side sample station on the starboard deck where the cameras and ROVs are launched and the trawls are deployed on its stern. The centerboard, on the hull underneath the ship, has mounted sensors that send back various types of data for the scientist to use. This vessel was also engineered to be quiet while underway so it won’t scare marine life. The ship shares the oceanographic, hydrographic and weather data it gathers daily to the outside world.
sample station deck
The Commanding Officer gave me a tour of the bridge. The bridge is the navigation center. The vessel can be operated from one of four different stations. The science that is being conducted determines where the officer will navigate from. The technology on the bridge is quite amazing. The dynamic positioning system allows the vessel to stay within certain parameters when supporting science missions. It functions almost like an auto-pilot to keep the ship in the proper position.
NOAA Ship Pisces is like a floating city. I had the opportunity to explore the engine room with the ship’s first assistant engineer to see how this mini-city works. He showed me how they process sewage and garbage aboard the vessel. I learned how the vessel creates its own water and power. I saw the huge engines. This ship has two 8 cylinder engines and two 12 cylinders engines that power the ship. I also learned how the bilge/ballast system keeps the ship stable and how the bow thruster aids in steering
Most of the days pass quickly and I lose track of time. I can’t believe I have been at sea for 10 days. Having a different type of workday is very unusual to me. I have taught for almost 18 years so school days are what I know. It is different to work with adults all day instead of children. It is a definite change of pace. Today is a slow day. We are currently standing-by due to a weather delay. We have moved closer to shore and are riding out the storm. Hopefully, we will be able to be back up and running tomorrow.
I will surely miss the trips to the galley when I get home. I have probably gained five pounds on this trip. The stewards that cook on this ship do an amazing job. It is nice to have already prepared meals. I have gotten spoiled by not cooking too. I know will miss the view when I get back to land. Watching the waves never gets old. I could stare at the water all day. Even when it is stormy the ocean is beautiful.
Gulf of Mexico
Being away from home is hard. It’s difficult not to harass my team teachers about my classroom while I am gone. I know that my students are well taken care of but it is hard not to worry. The letters from my students, emails from family, texts from my husband, messages from friends, and sweet videos from my granddaughter help me combat homesickness.
Did You Know?
The Gulf of Mexico is home to 21 marine mammals and 5 sea turtle species
How many species of sharks are in the gulf? There are approximately 49 shark species in the gulf.
Lat: 29o 20.6309′ N Long: 087o 46.1490′ W
Air Temperature: 18.1oC (64.5oF)
Water Temperature: 22.29oC (72oF)
Wind speed: 10.81 knots (12.4 mph)
Conditions: cloudy, 1 to 2 ft seas
Science and Technology Log
The most important equipment on this mission are the camera arrays. Most of the data collected are dependent on these cameras. I mentioned in my last entry the two types of camera arrays used in this survey are the SatCam and the RIOT. The video taken from these camera arrays is stitched together in a five-panel single view. The videos are reviewed and each species that appears is counted and recorded. Images help the scientist determine the population of fish at a given site. The RIOT is a two-stacked spherical camera housing unit that contains 5 horizontal cameras and one upward facing camera. The RIOT is the more expensive of the two arrays, but it gives the scientist a greater ability to measure fish when they are captured in the dual videos.
Over the past few days, we have caught several species of fish on the bandit reels. We have caught red snapper, vermilion snapper, and red porgy. These lines have 10 baited hooks and they are dropped into the water on a randomly selected site. In order to obtain a proper sample of the fish, very little human interaction is made with the reel or the line. This leaves out any fisherman bias and allows for natural sampling of species on the site. The hook sizes are rotated with each drop. The hooks sizes are 8, 11, and 15. If reel 1 starts with size 8 hook, it will have size 11 on the next drop, and then 15 on the third. Each reel has a different rotating pattern. This allows each hook size to be in the water over the same site. The data will help determine if a certain hook type is favored by a species of fish.
My students will return to school tomorrow from spring break. I am a little sad I am not there with them. They wrote letters for me to read while I was away. I have read some of these already and they are pretty funny. I want to reassure them that I will not fall overboard and that I am eating well. I will answer student questions on the bottom of my blogs.
We are in the Gulf of Mexico about 70 to 80 miles offshore, on the Mississippi-Alabama Continental shelf. I have not been this far out in the gulf before today. It is pretty humbling to look out and just see blue water. The sunrises and sunsets are spectacular. You can’t always see them though. The weather has been pretty gloomy the last two days, so I was unable to see last night’s sunset or this morning’s sunrise. We had a storm yesterday followed by the much cooler weather today. I hope this is the only cold snap we get. I am not a fan of cold boat work.
sunset April 6
sunrise April 7
Did You Know?
Turbidity is how cloudy the water is based on the suspended solids. The higher the turbidity the more sediment, algae and other solids are suspended in the water. Clear water has low turbidity.
Questions from students:
What is hydrography?The science that measures and describes the physical features of bodies of water and land close to these bodies of water. Multibeam echosounders are used to obtain hydrographic data.
New species that I have seen: Red Porgy: Pagrus pagrus
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.
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.
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.
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.
My Name is Christopher Sanborn and I am a science teacher at Plymouth Regional High School (PRHS) in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Plymouth is considered the gateway to the beautiful White Mountains. I just finished up my 18th year teaching high school science. I feel extremely lucky to live and work in such a wonderful small town with so many outdoor opportunities. Numerous ski areas are located within a short distance of town as well as some of the most scenic hiking in the east. Plymouth is located in the Lakes Region of NH which includes the largest lake in NH, Lake Winnipesaukee and the beautiful Squam Lake. Having grown up in the outdoors I have always felt at home in the woods and mountains and have thoroughly enjoyed teaching Biology. I have also taught numerous other subjects including Physics, Chemistry, Earth Science, and Oceanography.
I can think of no better way to increase my knowledge than to embark on one of the highest quality, hands on, scientific research survey’s. I became involved in the Teacher at Sea (TAS) program to not only increase my knowledge, but to gain valuable tools to enrich the educational experience of my students. The most important part of teaching is to engage students to increase active learning opportunities. I am hoping my experience on the COASTSPAN survey will allow me the valuable tools to excite those students about their learning opportunity.
I am so excited to work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on this COASTSPAN survey which is part of the Apex Predators Program (APP) through the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). The purpose of this survey is to determine the relative abundance and distribution of sharks in the Delaware Bay Pupping grounds. The survey also originally helped to determine the location of the shark pupping and nursing grounds. The primary method of sampling will be through longlining. A longline is a long main line with weights on either end to hold it on the bottom with a line to the surface marked by a high flyer or buoy. Baited hooks are attached to the main line using a snap swivel with a 5 foot gangion. Each gangion is spaced by approximately 10 feet. These lines are considered fixed gear because they do not flow with the current. Biological data is gathered from all sharks and rays that are caught, they are tagged with a unique identifier and then released.
Today’s blog is all about post processing, or “cleaning up” the data and being on night shift. It is a balmy, sliver moon night at port here, in Kodiak. We have come a long way in the last two weeks, during which survey crews have been working hard to finalize a Cold Bay report from last season before they devote themselves entirely to North Kodiak Island. I am in the plot room with Lieutenant Junior Grade Dan Smith who is on Bridge Duty from midnight until 4 a.m. with Anthony Wright, Able Seaman.
People work around the clock on Rainier whether it be bridge watch, processing data, or in the engine room. One thing that makes the night shift a little easier is that there is no shortage of daylight hours in Alaska: within two months, there will be less than an hour of complete darkness at night.
In previous blogs, I described how the team plans a survey, collects and processes data. In this blog, I will explain what we do with the data once it has been processed in the field. Tonight, Lieutenant Dan Smith is reviewing data collected in Sheet 5, of the Cold Bay region on the South Alaskan Peninsula. In September, 2013, the team surveyed this large, shallow and therefore difficult to survey area. The weather also made surveying difficult. Despite the challenges, the team finished collecting data for Sheet 5 and are now processing all the data they collected.
While I find editing to be one of the most challenging steps in the writing process, it is also the most rewarding. Through the editing process, particularly if you have a team, work becomes polished, reliable and usable. The Rainier crew reviews their work for accuracy as a team and while Sheet 5 belongs to Brandy Geiger, every crew member has played a part in making the Sheet 5 Final Report a reality, almost. On the left screen, Lieutenant Smith is looking at one line of data. Each color represents a boat, and each dot represents the data from one boat, and each dot represents a depth measurement computed by the sonar. The right screen shows which areas of the map he has already reviewed in green and the areas he still needs to review in magenta.
While the plot room is calm today in Kodiak, there have been times when work conditions are challenging, at best.
The crew continues on, despite the weather, so long as work conditions are safe.
Several days ago, Lieutenant Smith taught me the difference between a sonar ping that truly measured depth, and other dots that were not true representations of the ocean floor. Once you get an eye for it, you kill the noise quickly. In addition, when Lieutenant Smith finds a notable rise in the ocean floor he will “designate as a sounding.” Soundings are those black numbers on a nautical chart that tell you how deep the water is.
If the line has dots that rise up in a natural way, the computer program recognizes that these pings didn’t go as far down as the others and makes a rise in the ocean floor indicated with the blue line. It is the hydrographer’s job to review the computer processed data. One of the differences between a map and a nautical chart is the high level of precision and review to ensure that a nautical chart is accurate.
Now let’s kill some noise on this calm May evening.
In this image of a shipwreck on the ocean floor most sonar pings reached the ocean floor or the shipwreck and bounced soundings back to the survey boat. Look carefully, however, and you see white dots, representing pings that did not make it down to the ocean floor. Many things can cause these false soundings. In this case, I predict that the pings bounced back off of a school of fish. Here, the surveyor kills the “noise” or white pings by circling them with the mouse on his computer. It wouldn’t be natural for the ocean floor or other feature to float unconnected to the ocean floor, and thus, we know those dots are “noise” and not measurements of the ocean floor.
Lieutenant Smith estimates that at least half of his survey time is spent in the plot room planning or processing data. The window of time the team has in the field to collect data is limited by weather and other conditions, so they must work fast. Afterward, they spend long, but rewarding hours analyzing the data they have collected to ensure its accuracy and to provide synthesized information to put into a nautical chart that is easy to use and dependable. Lieutenant Smith believes that in many scientific careers, as much time or more time is spent planning, processing and analyzing data than is spent collecting data.
As we post process our data, I too, begin post processing this amazing adventure. I am hesitant to leave: I have learned so much in these two short weeks, I want to stay and keep learning. But at NOAA we all have many duties, and my collateral, wait–my primary duty is to my students and so, I must return to the classroom. I will leave many fond memories and a camera, floating somewhere in Driver Bay, behind me. I will take with me all that I have learned about the complexity of the ocean planet we live on and share my thirst to know more back to the classroom where we can continue our work. I will miss the places I’ve seen and the people I met but look forward to the road or channel of discovery that awaits me and my students.
Did You Know? The Sunflower Sea Star is the largest and fastest moving sea star travelling up to one meter per minute.
Below are a few photo favorites of my time at sea.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Suzanne Acord (Almost) On board NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette March 17 – 28, 2014
Mission: Kona Area Integrated Ecosystems Assessment Project Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands Date: March 12, 2014
Aloha, from Honolulu, Hawaii! My name is Suzanne Acord. I teach high school social studies with Mid-Pacific Institute in Honolulu, Hawaii. More specifically, I teach Asian Studies, World History, and IB History. I also teach one Pacific Island History course with Chaminade University. In addition to teaching, I advise our Model United Nations delegation and coordinate our school’s History Day efforts.
Prior to teaching in Hawaii, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Yap, Micronesia. Two years of living a subsistence lifestyle in Yap helped me to understand our intimate and reciprocal relationship with our earth. Yap State Legislator, Henry Falan, sums up this relationship by stating, “In Micronesia, land is life.” Both man-made and naturally occurring disasters can be felt throughout the Pacific. World War II, El Nino, tsunamis, and nuclear testing are just a few world events that have left their mark on the Pacific Ocean. Their impacts on the reefs, the fish supplies, and the water quality are apparent daily.
I applied for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program to gain a better understanding of the human relationship with our oceans. My history students frequently determine how our relationship with the ocean changes as a result of environmental change, political change, economic change, and cultural change. My experiences during this cruise will allow my educational community to consider real world solutions for the environmental challenges we face and will face in the future.
I couldn’t be happier to set sail on NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Setteon March 17, 2014. We will travel from Ford Island (a WWII place of interest) to the Big Island of Hawaii, which is also known as Hawaii Island. The Big Island is the largest of the Hawaiian Islands and is the home of Volcanoes National Park. Most of our time will be spent on the Kona coast of the island. One of the many goals of the Kona Area Integrated Ecosystems Assessment Project is to gain “a complete understanding of the Kona ecosystem, from the land to the ocean…to provide scientific advice used in making informed decisions in the Kona area.”
The thorough NOAA Teacher at Sea training has given me peace of mind. I feel much better prepared for the TAS journey now that I have read the official requirements and the tips from past Teachers at Sea. The videos helped me to visualize the experience. Don Kobayashi, our Chief Scientist, has kept all members of the scientific expedition in the loop throughout the planning process. I was excited to see my name listed on the “science party” document and amused when I learned that my daily shift would span from 3 am to noon daily. I will surely experience amazing sunrises over the Pacific. This will definitely be an intellectually stimulating adventure!
My next blog will be written aboard the Sette. Aloha for now.
Now that we’ve talked about how we collect, sort, and measure our catch, let’s take a closer look at the way we measure, weigh and sex our critters.
When measuring the critters, we use a fish board that is activated by a magnetic wand to measure the animal to the nearest millimeter.
When the fish is placed on the measuring line, we touch the magnetic wand to the board and the length is recorded into our computer program, FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System).
Depending on the type of fish we catch, there are different ways to measure it.
When we are done measuring, the fish is placed on a scale to determine its weight to the nearest gram. When we confirm the weight of the fish, that weight is automatically put in the computer for us- no need to enter it manually.
Our last task is to determine the sex of the fish. For many fish, this is done by making an incision in the belly of the fish from their anus to their pelvic fins. It’s easiest to determine the sex when it is a female with eggs. In the males, you can see milt, or sperm, which is a milky white color.
For the flatfish, you can see the female’s ovaries when you hold the fish up to the light. Males lack this feature.
Because we were catching quite a few shrimp earlier in the leg, I got pretty good at sexing the shrimp. Remember, we take samples of 200 for each type of shrimp, and we often had more than one type of shrimp in each trawl. Male shrimp have a pestama on their first pleura to attach onto the females. The females are lacking this part. Although it’s not necessarily an indication of sex, on average the female shrimp tend to be larger than the males.
You know from my previous post what we do with the data we gather from the shrimp, but what about the other fish? With the other fish and critters we catch, we use the data to compare the distribution across the Gulf and to compare it to the historical data we’ve collected in the past to look for trends and changes.
Sometimes scientists also have special requests for samples of a certain species. Some scientists are doing diet studies to learn more about what certain types of fish eat. Other studies include: species verification, geographic range extensions, age and growth, and distribution. Through our program, we have the ability to create tags for the scientists requesting the samples, allowing us to bag and freeze them to send to labs when we return to land.
I’ve had a few people ask me what the living quarters and the food is like on the ship, so I wandered around the ship with my camera the other day to snap some shots of the inside of the Oregon II. There are 17 staterooms on board. Most of the staterooms are doubles, such as mine, and are equipped with bunk beds to sleep on. It makes me reminisce of my days at camp, as it’s been a while since I’ve slept on a bunk bed! We have a sink and some cabinets to store our belongings. Once a week they do room inspections to ensure our rooms are neat and orderly. Most importantly, they want to make sure that our belongings are put away. If we hit rough waters, something such as a water bottle could become a dangerous projectile.
My stateroom is on the bottom deck, where there are also communal showers and toilets for us to use. We can do our laundry down here, providing the seas aren’t too rough. Most of the staterooms are on this bottom deck, as the upper 2 levels are the “living areas” of the ship. On the main deck is the galley, where we eat all our meals, or where we head to when we are trying to make it through the shift to grab a snack or a cup of coffee. This tends to be right around 4:30/5:00am for me, especially when we aren’t too busy. I’ve gotten used to the night shift now, but it still can be tiring, especially when we have a long wait in between stations. Our stewards take very good care of us, and there is always something to snack on. Meals have been pretty tasty too, with plenty of fresh seafood. My favorite!
On the top deck we have the lounge, a place where we hang out in between shifts. We have quite a good movie selection on board, but to be honest we haven’t had the time to take advantage of it. They’ve kept us very busy on our shifts so far, and today is one of the first days we’ve had a lot of downtime. Outside we also have some workout equipment- a bike and a rowing machine- to use on our off time. When you set the rowing machine out on deck, it’s almost like you are rowing right on the ocean!
The other day, 2 of the NOAA Corps officers, LT Harris and LT Miller (who is also the XO for the Oregon II) and 2 of the deck crew, Chris and Tim, got ready to go out on a dive. NOAA Corps officers need to do a dive once a month to keep up their certification. Sometimes they may need to fix something that is wrong with the boat, and other dives are to practice certain dive skills. They dove in the Flower Gardens, which is a national marine sanctuary with a wide diversity of sea life. I was hoping they’d see a whale shark, but no such luck. We stopped all operations for the duration of their dive.
Favorite Catch of the Day: Here are a few cool critters we pulled up today. In addition to these critters, we also started seeing some sea stars, lots of scallops, and a variety of shells.
Critter Query: This isn’t a critter question today, but rather a little bit of NOAA trivia.
What is the oldest ship in the NOAA fleet and where is its home port?
Don’t forget to leave your answers in the comments below!