Jeff Miller: Getting Ready to Sail, August 19, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
(Almost) Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 19, 2015

Personal Log

Hello from Phoenix, Arizona.  My name is Jeff Miller and I teach biology at Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) in Avondale, AZ.  EMCC is one of ten community colleges in the Maricopa Community College District, which is one of the largest college districts in the United States, serving more than 128,000 students each year.  I have been teaching at EMCC for eight years.  I currently teach two sections of a general biology course for non-majors (that is students who are majoring in subjects other than biology) and one section of a human anatomy and physiology course primarily taken by students entering healthcare-related fields.

Jeff Miller

A photo of me at Tuolomne Meadow in Yosemite National Park

EMCC is an outstanding place to teach because of all the truly wonderful students.  EMCC serves a diverse set of students from recent high school graduates to adults seeking a new career. EMCC students are also ethnically diverse. Thus, students bring a wide range of knowledge, ideas, and talents to our classrooms. Despite this diversity, one thing most students lack is real world experiences with marine organisms and environments. We are, after all, located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert.  Arizona does, however, possess many unique and amazing environments and when I’m not in the classroom, hiking and exploring nature with my family is one of my favorite things to do.

Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock in Sedona, AZ

Great Horned Owl

A Great Horned Owl perches on a log in the desert near Tucson, AZ

Saguaro

A saguaro cactus in the Sonoran desert near Tucson, AZ

White Mountains

Arizona is home to the largest unbroken Ponderosa Pine forest in the world. My wife (Weiru), daughter (Julia), and dog (Maya) in the White Mountains of Arizona

I applied to the Teacher at Sea program to deepen my knowledge of marine systems as part of my sabbatical.  A sabbatical is a period of time granted to teachers to study, travel, acquire new skills, and/or fulfill a personal dream. I have always loved the ocean and even worked with sea urchin embryos in graduate school.  However, my knowledge and experience of marine organisms and ecosystems is  limited.  Therefore, participation in the Teacher at Sea program will give me the opportunity to learn how marine biologists and oceanographers collect and analyze data and how their investigations can inform us about human impacts on marine ecosystems. I plan to use the knowledge and experiences I gain to develop curriculum materials for a marine biology course at EMCC that to helps my students gain fundamental knowledge of and appreciation for our world’s oceans. I hope to foster greater curiosity and excitement about marine science and the scientists who explore our oceans and help students see why it is so important to protect and conserve the oceans resources for future generations.

To help fulfill my dream of learning more about the oceans, I have the opportunity of a lifetime – to sail on the NOAA Ship Oregon II.  I will be working with the crew and scientists aboard the Oregon II to perform part of an annual longline shark survey.  The goal of the mission is to gather data about shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast.  Some of the data collected includes length, weight, and sex of each individual, collection of tissues samples for DNA analysis, and collection of environmental data.  Please visit the main mission page or the Oregon II Facebook page for more detailed information and images, videos, and stories from recent cruises.  Also check out a recent article from the Washington Post featuring Kristin Hannan, a fisheries biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Services describing the shark research being conducted aboard the Oregon II.

Longline Shark Survey Map

Map showing the region of the Gulf of Mexico where I will participate in the longline shark survey aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II

Needless to say, I am extremely excited, though a bit nervous, about my upcoming cruise.  I have little experience sailing on the open ocean and have never been up close to a shark let alone actually handled one in person.  All that will change soon and I know that I will treasure the knowledge and experiences I gain aboard the Oregon II.  I am currently packing up my gear and preparing myself for the experience of a lifetime.

The next time you hear from me I will be in the Gulf of Mexico on my mission to learn more about sharks.

Kathleen Gibson, Preparing to Leave for the Mississippi Coast, July 10, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Gibson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 – August 8, 2015

Mission: Fisheries – Conduct longline surveys to monitor interannual variability of shark populations of the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast.
Date: July 10, 2015

Introduction

Town of Trumbull, Fairfield County , CT

Town of Trumbull, CT

My name is Kathleen Gibson and I bring you greetings from Trumbull, CT where live and teach. In two weeks I will travel to Pascagoula, MS, located on the Gulf of Mexico, to join NOAA Corps members, research scientists, and the crew aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, as a  2015 NOAA Teacher at Sea.

I work at Trumbull High School and currently teach Biology to sophomores and two elective courses for seniors–Marine Science and AP Environmental Science.  I’m passionate about environmental education and am always looking for opportunities to engage students in the world outside of the classroom.  Trumbull has a large amount of protected green space, wetlands, streams and a river, and while we aren’t on the coast, we are only a few miles from Long Island Sound.  The woods and the shoreline have become our laboratory.

Pequonnock River, Trumbull, CT

Pequonnock River, Trumbull, CT

I’m open to adventures and new experiences that help me grow both personally and professionally.  I’m fortunate to have an awesome family, terrific colleagues and open-minded students who are willing to go along with my ideas; whether it be be hiking around volcanoes and rift zones, looking for puffins, or wading in nearby streams looking for life below.

About NOAA and Teacher at Sea

NOAA Ship Oregon II Photo Credit: NOAA.gov

NOAA Ship Oregon II
Photo Credit: NOAA.gov

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency within the United States Department of Commerce that seeks to enrich life through science.  While NOAA is somewhat familiar to many of us– thanks to the abundance of weather data that is collected and disseminated to the public–that’s not all that is happening  there. NOAA is working to increase our understanding of climate, weather and marine ecosystems, and to use this knowledge to better manage and protect these crucial ecosystems.  In addition to the abundant educational resources available to all teachers, NOAA provides unique opportunities for teachers and students.  The Teacher at Sea Program  brings classroom teachers into the field to work with world-renowned NOAA scientists.

The Mission

The Mission of the cruise I will be a part of is to monitor Shark and Red Snapper populations in the Gulf of Mexico in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast. Data collected will be compared to findings from previous years, as a part of the ongoing research studying inter-annual variability of these populations. We are scheduled to embark on July 25, 2015 and plan to sail from Pascagoula, MS, down the west coast of Florida and up the Atlantic Coast as far as Mayport, FL.

I am honored to have been selected to be a Teacher at Sea for the 2015 Season  and look forward to a number of “firsts”. I’ve never been to Mississippi nor have I been at sea for more than 24 hours. Also, I’ve only experienced sharks as preserved specimens or through aquarium glass.  I’m also looking forward to meeting my shipmates and learning about career opportunities and the paths that led them to be a part of this Oregon II cruise. I’ll share as much as I can through future posts. I’m excited to bring my students and others along with me on this journey.

Trumbull to Pascagoula.  Longline survey area is marked in blue.

Trumbull to Pascagoula. Longline survey area is marked in blue.

Next Up?

My next post to you should be coming later this month from off the Mississippi coast.  However, the first rule of being on board is FLEXIBILITY, so things may change.  Either way, I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, please check out some of the TAS 2015 blogs written by my fellow NOAA Teachers at Sea, and spread the word. There is so much to learn.

Did You Know?

  • While some sharks release eggs into the water where they will later hatch, as many as 75% of shark species give birth to live young.
  • Shark babies are called pups.

David Walker: Florida, Speciation, and Learning All Over Again (Days 13-15), July 8, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Walker
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 24 – July 9, 2015

Mission: SEAMAP Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 8, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Weather Log 7/7/15

NOAA Ship Oregon II Weather Log 7/7/15

The seas have remained incredibly calm, again with waves normally no higher than 1 ft.  July 7, 2015 was a beautiful day, with few (FEW, 1-2 oktas) clouds in the sky (see above weather log from the bridge).  Visibility from the bridge was 10 nautical miles (nm) throughout the day.

Science and Technology Log

After a run of around 16 hours, we finally arrived on the west coast of Florida to continue the survey.

Wow!  The organisms caught on the west coast of Florida were entirely different from those caught west of the Mississippi.  In our first trawl catch, I almost didn’t recognize a single species.

Fisheries biologist Kevin Rademacher shared with me an article, “Evidence of multiple vicariance in a marine suture-zone in the Gulf of Mexico” (Portnoy and Gold, 2012), that offers a potential explanation  for the many differences observed.  The paper is based on what are called “suture-zones.”  A suture-zone, as defined previously in the literature, is “a band of geographic overlap between major biotic assemblages, including pairs of species or semispecies which hybridize in the zone” (Remington, 1968).  In other words, it is a barrier zone of some kind, allowing for allopatric speciation, yet also containing overlap for species hybridization.  As noted by Hobbes, et al. (2009), such suture-zones are more difficult to detect in marine environments, and accordingly, have received less attention in the literature.  Such zones, however, have been discovered and described in the northern Gulf of Mexico, between Texas and Florida (Dahlberg, 1970; McClure and McEachran, 1992).

Portnoy and Gold note that “at least 15 pairs of fishes and invertebrates described as ‘sister taxa’ (species, subspecies, or genetically distinct populations) meet in this region, with evidence of hybridization occurring between several of the taxa” (Portnoy and Gold, 2012).  The below table delineates these sister taxa.  On this table, I have highlighted species that we have found on this survey.

Sister Taxa

Sister taxa found in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Highlighted are species we have encountered on this survey (Portnoy and Gold, 2012).

The figure below geographically illustrates distribution patterns of two pairs of sister species within the northern Gulf of Mexico.  We have seen all four of these species on this survey, and our observations have been consistent with these distribution patterns.

Distributions of sister taxa within the northern Gulf of Mexico

Distributions of “sister taxa” within the northern Gulf of Mexico (Portnoy and Gold, 2012)

Prior to Portnoy and Gold, hypothesized reasons for the suture-zone and allopatric speciation in the northern Gulf included “(1) a physical barrier, similar to the Florida peninsula, that arose c. 2.5 million years ago (Ma) during the Pliocene (Ginsburg, 1952), (2) an ecological barrier, perhaps a river that drained the Tennessee River basin directly into the Gulf, that existed approximately 2.4 Ma (Simpson, 1900; Ginsburg, 1952), (3) a strong current that flowed from the Gulf to the Atlantic through the Suwanee Straits approximately 1.75 Ma (Bert, 1986), and (4) extended cooling during early Pleistocene glaciations occurring c. 700–135 thousand years ago (ka) (Dahlberg, 1970)” (Portnoy and Gold, 2012).  Another explanation has been offered by Hewitt (1996), involving marine species being forced into different areas of refuge during the glacial events of the Pleistocene, allowing for allopatric speciation.  Following the retreat of the glaciers, according to this hypothesis, these species would have been allowed to come into contact again, allowing for hybridization.

Portnoy and Gold used mitochondrial and microsatellite DNA sequence data from Karlsson et al. (2009) to “determine if estimated divergence times in lane snapper were consistent with the timing of [the above] hypothesized variance events in the suture-zone area, in order to distinguish whether the Gulf suture-zone is characterized by a single or multiple vicariance event(s)” (Portnoy and Gold, 2012).

Their results suggest that the divergence of lane snapper in the northern Gulf occurred much more recently than the hypothesized events described by Ginsberg (1952), Bert (1970), and Dahlberg (1970).  These results also suggest that the explanation offered by Hewitt (1996) is an unlikely explanation for the divergence of lane snapper, for even though the time of multiple glaciations is consistent with the time of lane snapper divergence, water temperatures across the Gulf are estimated to have been within the thermal tolerance of lane snapper during these glaciations.  Evidence also suggests that a shallow shelf existed during these glaciations, representing a habitat in which lane snapper could have lived.

The explanation that Portnoy and Gold favor, in terms of explaining lane snapper divergence, is one suggested by Kennett and Shackleton (1975), as well as by Aharon (2003).  This explanation involves “large pulses of freshwater from the Mississippi River caused by a recession of the Laurentide Ice Sheet between 16 and 9 ka” (Portnoy and Gold, 2012).  This explanation would have also allowed for potential sympatric or parapatric speciation, because it contains multiple lane snapper habitat types (carbonate sediment, as well as mud and silt bottom).

Notably, the fact that the above explanation is favored by Portnoy and Gold for lane snapper divergence does not discount the explanations of Ginsberg (1952), Bert (1970), Dahlberg (1970), and Hewitt (1996), in terms of explaining the many other examples of species divergence exhibited within the northern Gulf.  It is most probable that many geological and ecological causes worked, sometimes in confluence, to create the divergences and hybridizations in species observed today.  A geographical depiction of many of the hypothesized explanations described by Portnoy and Gold is below.

Geographic Depiction

Geographical depiction of hypothesized triggers of species divergence in the northern Gulf of Mexico (Portnoy and Gold, 2012)

In addition to the species divergence observed in our survey, another interesting difference noted in our catches along the western coast of Florida was the emergence of lionfish.  These invasive species are native to the Indian Ocean and southwest Pacific Ocean, and they were most likely introduced by humans into the waters surrounding Florida.  There are two lionfish species that are invasive in Florida, P. miles and P. volitans (Morris, Jr. et al., 2008), and the earliest records of their introduction into Florida’s waters are from 1992 (Morris, Jr. et al., 2008).  Many characteristics have allowed these species to be successful alien invaders in these waters – (1) they are formidable, with venomous spines and an intimidating appearance, (2) they reproduce incredibly quickly, breed year-round, and mature at a young age, (3) they outcompete native predators for food and habitat, (4) they are indiscriminate feeders with voracious appetites, and (5) they take advantage of a sea that is over-fished, in which many of their predators are regularly being eliminated by humans (Witherington, 2012).

Life cycle of the lionfish

Life cycle of the lionfish

This invasion mechanism hauntingly reminds me of that of the Cane Toad, a very famous alien invader which has decimated the flora and fauna of Australia.  One of the main worrisome effects of lionfish around Florida is on coral reefs.  Lionfish “can reduce populations of juvenile and small fish on coral reefs by up to 90 percent…[and] may indirectly affect corals by overconsuming grazing parrotfishes, which normally prevent algae from growing over corals” (Witherington, 2012).

One of the ways in which Floridians are trying to eliminate this problem is through lionfish hunting tournaments.  CJ Duffie, a volunteer on this survey from Florida, has participated in these tournaments and also participates in lionfish research directed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.  CJ harvested the gonads of the lionfish we caught on Day 13 to take back to the lab for further analysis.  Floridians also actively promote the lionfish as a delicacy, in an attempt to encourage more people to eat the invasive species.  CJ described the fish as the best he has ever tried, so I was very easily intrigued.  A fillet was prepared from the large lionfish caught on Day 13 fish, and Second Cook (2C) Lydell Reed was able to cook it on the spot.  I agree with CJ – white, flakey, slightly sweet, this is the best fish I have ever tasted.

Personal Log

The survey is nearly over, and this will be my last post.  We are in transit back to Pascagoula, Mississippi, the ship’s home port.  I leave by plane from Mobile, Alabama for Austin on Friday, July 10, 2015.  I am eagerly anticipating walking on land, as I’ve heard it’s strange at first after being on a boat for awhile.  Apparently this weird feeling has a semi-formal name — “dock rock”.

This experience has truly been one of the best of my life, especially in terms of the raw amount I have learned every day.  Coming in, the sole knowledge of fish life I had derived from my stints fly fishing with my father, and most of this knowledge concerns freshwater fish.  I now feel as though I have a much more comprehensive knowledge of the biodiversity that exists in the Gulf of Mexico and a much greater appreciation for the diversity of life as a whole.  I have taken over 200 photos to document this biodiversity, accumulated a diverse collection of preserved specimens, and collected a wide variety of resources (textbooks, scientific papers, etc.) on marine life in the Gulf of Mexico.  These resources will surely make the preparation of a project-based activity for my students focused on this research a much easier feat.

Sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates)

Having fun with a sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates) during analysis of the last trawl catch

I have also learned how a large portion of marine field research is conducted.  We have surveyed dissolved oxygen levels in the water, plankton biodiversity, and bottomfish biodiversity throughout the northern Gulf, using established (and quite popular) research methods.  The knowledge I have gained here can be applied to the biodiversity project portion of my geobiology class, in which students conduct biodiversity surveys in local Austin-area parks and preserves.  I anxiously await the comprehensive results of this summer’s NOAA survey – the complete dissolved oxygen contour map, the biodiversity indexes for different regions of the Gulf, and plankton biodiversity data from Poland.  These data will definitely help me come to even more conclusions about the marine life in the Gulf and the factors affecting it.

Through this experience, I have also gained much appreciation for the diversity of careers that exist on board a NOAA research vessel.  I have learned about the great work of the NOAA Corps, a Commissioned Service of the United States.  I have learned from the fisherman, engineers, stewards, and other personnel on the boat, all required for a successful research survey.

First and foremost, I have to thank the science team on the night watch – fisheries biologists Kevin Rademacher and Alonzo Hamilton, FMES Warren Brown, and volunteer CJ Duffie.  These individuals were instrumental in helping me identify organisms, label my photos, and craft my blog posts and photo captions.  Kevin Rademacher provided me with most of the papers which I have referenced in this blog, and with no internet connectivity on the boat for around half of the trip, his library of information was essential.  For the “Notable Species Seen” section of this blog, Kevin also individually went through all of my species photos with me to help me add common and scientific names in the photo captions.  This took a great deal of his time, almost every day, and I am incredibly appreciative.

Night Watch

The rest of the night watch. From left to right — FMES Warren Brown and NOAA Fisheries Biologists Kevin Rademacher and Alonzo Hamilton

I also definitely need to thank Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols and Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin for their mentorship with CTD data collection and plankton sampling.  In addition, many thanks to Field Party Chief Andre Debose and Lieutenant Commander Eric Johnson for proofreading my blog entries and ensuring that my experience on the ship was a good one.  I enjoy learning from people much more than I enjoy learning from books, and these have been some of best (and most patient) teachers I have ever had.

Lastly, thanks so much to the NOAA Teacher at Sea staff for your work on this great program.  It truly makes a difference for many teachers and many students.  I have had an amazing time, and I am positive my students will benefit from what I have learned.

Survey Plot

The ship’s path during the survey, thus far. I have been on the boat for Leg 2, drawn in black.

Did You Know?

Lionfish venom is not contained within the tips of the fish’s spines.  Rather, glandular venom-producing tissue is located in two grooves that run the length of  each spine.  When skin is punctured by a spine, this glandular tissue releases the venom (a neurotoxin), which travels up the spine and into the wound by means of the grooves (Witherington, 2012).

Venomous Spines

Anatomy of the lionfish spine

Notable Species Seen

David Walker: Slowly Getting the Hang of Things (Days 3-5), June 29, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Walker
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 24 – July 9, 2015

Mission: SEAMAP Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Monday, June 29, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Weather Log 6/28/15

NOAA Ship Oregon II Weather Log 6/28/15

Weather remained quite calm through Days 3-5.  I observed a couple minor rain showers during the night shift.  As noted in the above weather log from the bridge, hazy weather (HZ) on multiple occasions during Day 4.  Sky condition on Day 4 went from 1-2 oktas in the morning (FEW), to 5-7 oktas (BKN), to 8 oktas (OVC) by midday.  The sky cleared up by the evening.

Science and Technology Log

Day 3 was incredibly busy.  There were no breaks in the 12 hour shift, as there were many trawl stations, and each catch contained a very large amount of shrimp.

According to many on deck, the shrimp catches on Day 3 would have been deemed successful by commercial shrimping standards.  I got lots of good practice sexing the shrimp from the catch — I sexed over 2000 shrimp on Day 3 alone.  Sexing shrimp is fairly easy, as the gonads are externally exposed.

I also learned how to sex crabs.  This is also a simple process, as there is no cutting involved (see graphic below).  The highlight of the day was the landing of a really large red snapper.  They let me take a picture with it before taking it inside for processing.  I was absolutely exhausted at the end of Day 3 and completely drenched in a mixture of sweat, salt water, and fish guts.

Day 4, in contrast, was very slow.  The trawl net broke on one of the early stations, so the research was delayed for quite awhile.  In fact, in my entire 12 hour shift, we only had to process two catches.  We were able to complete all CTD, bongo, and Neuston stations, however, quite efficiently.  I have gotten to the point where I can serve as the assisting scientist for the CTD, bongo catch, and Neuston catch on my own.  This data also requires two fisherman on hand — one to operate the crane, the other (along with me) to guide the device or net into the water.  The fishermen with whom I most commonly work are Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols, Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin, and Fisheries Methods and Equipment Specialist (FMES) Warren Brown (see photo).

On Day 5, I got great practice sexing a wide variety of fish.  An incision is made on the ventral side of the fish, from the anus toward the pectoral fin.  After some digging around inside the fish, you will find the gonads — either ovaries (clear to yellowish appearance with considerable vasculature, round in cross-section often many eggs) or testes (white appearance, triangular in cross-section).  As you might guess, larger fish are much easier to sex than smaller ones, and the ease of sexing is also species dependent.  To make matter even worse, many fish are synchronous hermaphrodites (containing both male and female sex organs), and some are protogynous hermaphrodites (changing from female to male during the course of life).  The ease of sexing is also species dependent.  For instance, I have found the sexing of adult puffer fish and lizardfish to be quite easy (very easily defined organs), however I have experienced considerable difficulty sexing the Atlantic menhaden (too much blood obscuring the organs).

Field Party Chief Andre DeBose provided me with a hypoxia contour chart (see below), representing compiled CTD data from Leg 1 and the beginning of Leg 2.  According to DeBose, these contour charts are generated by the National Coastal Data Development Center (NCDDC) once out of around every 10 stations, and they represent an average of data taken by station near the ocean floor.  A data point is defined as hypoxic if the dissolved oxygen content is below 2 mg/L.  On the below chart, you can see that many hypoxic areas exist along the Texas coast, near the shore.

Bottom Dissolved Oxygen Contours

Dissolved oxygen contours for water at ocean bottom — Plotted data thus far from the SEAMAP Summer Survey (June 9 – 26, 2015)

I could not wrap my head around why this trend exists in the data, as I figured that shallower water would be warmer, allowing for more plant life in greater density, and accordingly more dissolved oxygen in greater density.  Fisheries Biologist Alonzo Hamilton helped me better understand this trend.  The fact that the water is warmer in shallower areas means that more of the dissolved oxygen leaves the surface of water in these areas.  In addition, while plant life is indeed in greater concentration in shallower water, so is the concentration of aerobic microbes.  These organisms use up oxygen through respiration to decompose organic matter.  You can see on the above graphic that the greatest hypoxia is found in areas near major runoff (e.g. Matagorda Bay and Galveston Bay).  Among other things, this runoff feeds nitrates from plant fertilizer into the ocean, which supports growth of more algae (in the form of algal blooms).  Aerobic microbes decompose this excess organic matter once it dies, taking further oxygen from the water. Although it seems counterintuitive, at least to me, the greater heat and greater organism density actually leads to a more hypoxic environment.

I am slowly getting better with the species names of aquatic organisms, but as of now, I am still focusing on common names.  The common names often relate to the fish’s phenotype, and this helps me recall them with more ease.  Common name knowledge, however, is fairly useless when it comes to entering the organisms into the computer during species counts, as the computer only has scientific (Latin) names in its database.  I hope to learn more scientific names as the week progresses.

I am also slowly amassing a really interesting collection of organisms to take back with me to LASA High School.  CJ Duffie taught me how to inject crabs with formaldehyde to preserve them.  Upon return to port, I will spray these crabs with polyurethane, to preserve the outer shell.  I have also been preserving different organisms in jars with 20/80 (v/v) formaldehyde/saltwater.  If you know me, you know I love collecting things, so this process has been particularly enjoyable.  Fisheries Biologists Alonzo Hamilton and Kevin Rademacher have been very supportive in helping me collect good specimens for my classroom.

Personal Log

Life on the ship is very enjoyable.  My bed is comfortable, the work is exciting, the meals are excellent, and the company is gregarious.  However, I have completely lost track of time and date.  My “morning” is actually 11 PM, and my “evening” is actually 1 PM.  Accordingly, my “lunch” is actually breakfast, and my “breakfast” is actually lunch.  I also never have any idea what day of the week it is.  I called my girlfriend yesterday and was surprised to hear that she was not at work (it was a Sunday).

Regarding this blog, I have finally found the optimal time to write and upload photos.  As the satellite internet is shared by all of the ships in the area, it is not possible to access WordPress during the daytime.  Accordingly, I do all of my uploading and most of my writing between 2 and 6 AM.  This works for me, as long as I can find time for the blog between research stations.

I really enjoy the people on the night shift.  Kevin Rademacher, Alonzo Hamilton, and Warren Brown provide such a wealth of knowledge.  These three are absolute experts of their craft, and it is a true honor to work with them.  I am nearing the end of my first week on the ship, and I am still learning just as much as I was on my first day – this is incredibly exciting.

I have found that Alonzo really enjoys the TV show, “Chopped,” as it seems to be on every time I enter the dry lab.  It is pretty interesting to observe him watching the show, as he enthusiastically comments on all of the dishes and regularly predicts the correct winner.

I am also getting well through one of the books I brought – Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safron Foer.  It is a very odd read, but it has been enjoyable so far.

I am looking very forward to every new day.

Did You Know?

The scorpionfish that we are catching are some of the most venomous creatures in the world (see Scorpaenidae) .  These fish have spines that are coated with a venomous mucous, and their sting is incredibly painful – just ask CJ Duffie!  These fish are also incredible masters of camouflage, changing in color and apparent texture to disguise themselves, so as to catch more prey.

Notable Species Seen


David Walker: Lots to Do, Lots to Learn (Days 1-2), June 26, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Walker
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 24 – July 9, 2015

Mission: SEAMAP Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, June 26, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Weather Log 6/26/15

NOAA Ship Oregon II Weather Log 6/26/15

Weather was quite calm on Days 1 and 2.  As noted in the above weather log, the only real disturbance was a small squall (SQ) observed at 7 AM on Day 2.  Sky conditions are estimated in terms of how many eighths of the sky are covered in cloud, ranging from 0 oktas (completely clear sky) through to 8 oktas (completely overcast).  FEW in the above log represents 1-2 oktas of cloud coverage.  SCT represents 3-4 octas, and BKN represents 5-7 oktas.

Science and Technology Log

I have been assigned the night watch, which runs from 12 midnight to 12 noon.  Accordingly, on Day 1, I went to sleep around 2 PM and woke up around 10 PM to prepare for watch. My first day consisted mostly of general groundfish biodiversity survey work, one of the focuses during the summer being on shrimp species.  Data collection points have been randomly plotted throughout the Gulf, and data is collected via trawling the seafloor, which consists of the boat pulling a fishing net behind the boat, along the seafloor, for a predetermined length of time.  To allow for collection along the seafloor, the net has rollers on the bottom.  The net also contains a “tickler chain” to stir up organisms (mainly shrimp) from the seafloor, so that they can be captured with the net. The trawl catch is transferred to the boat, where the following steps are completed:

Tranferring catch to boat

CJ Duffie transferring a trawl catch to the boat.

1. The total catch is weighed.
2. The catch is run along a belt, and the three significant shrimp species (white, brown, and pink) are taken out and saved. In addition, multiple unbiased samples are taken from the catch and saved.  The sample should contain at least one of each species encountered in the catch.
3. The entire taken sample is sorted by species.
4. Individuals within each species are counted.
5. Length, weight, and gender are recorded for shrimp individuals within a significant species (white, brown, and pink).
6. Length measurements are taken for all other species individuals within the sample. Weight and gender are recorded for one individual out of every five within a species, for species other than shrimp.
7. Everything is returned to the ocean.

Sorting by species

Sorting the catch by species along the belt. Left to Right — Volunteer CJ Duffie, Equipment Specialist Warren Brown, me, and Research Fisheries Biologist Kevin Rademacher.

On Day 1, we completed the above process for 4 separate catches.  Aside from my lack of knowledge, the only other mishap was that my middle finger accidentally got pinched by a fairly large Atlantic Blue Crab.  I was amazed at the amount of force of the pinch, as well as the amount of pain caused.  I ended up having to break the crab’s claw off in order to free myself.

Also on Day 1, I got to observe the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) sensor in action.  A CTD’s “primary function is to detect how the conductivity and temperature of the water column changes relative to depth” (NOAA).  The salinity of the seawater can be determined from this conductivity and temperature data.  On the Oregon II, the CTD also contains a dissolved oxygen sensor for measuring levels of dissolved oxygen in the seawater.  In addition, the CTD is housed in a larger metal frame (called a “rosette”) with water bottles, allowing for sampling at various depths.  Various data collection points have been randomly plotted throughout the gulf, and data collection consists of sending the CTD (+ dissolved oxygen sensor and water bottles) to and from the ocean floor.  The photo at right shows the data output – the y-axis represents water depth, temperature is recorded in blue (two data points taken at each scan), salinity is recorded in red, and dissolved oxygen is recorded in green (2 data points taken at each scan).  The ocean floor was at a very shallow depth (between 10 and 20 meters) for all sampling done on Day 1.

CTD data output

CTD data output

On Day 2, we completed more shrimp survey work and CTD sampling.  I also got to participate in a plankton survey at the beginning of my shift.  This entailed dropping two fine-mesh nets into the water – a dual-bongo and a neuston – and dragging them through the water to collect plankton.  The dual-bongo is lowered to a predetermined depth, while the neuston remains at the surface.  Obtained plankton is transferred to a jars with salt water and formaldehyde (for preservation) and sent to a lab in Poland (with which NOAA has a partnership) where it is categorized, measured, etc.

Personal Log

I have already met all of the scientific personnel and most of the other core and crew on the ship.  Andre Debose is the Field Party Chief, and he heads up all scientific operations on the ship.  The Executive Officer of the ship is Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Eric Johnson, a NOAA Corps Officer.  These are the two people who approve of all of my blog posts before I submit them to NOAA. The night watch (12 AM – 12 PM) consists of me, Kevin Rademacher, Warren Brown, and Alfonso Hamilton (watch leader).  The day watch (12 PM – 12 AM) consists of Adam Catasus, Jeffrey Zingre, Joey Salisbury, and Michael Hendon (watch leader).  CJ Duffie completes his watch from 6 AM to 6 PM. Adam, Jeffrey, and CJ are volunteer graduate students from Florida.  This is their first NOAA research cruise, but they have already completed a two-week leg, so they know much more than I do.  Alfonso, Kevin, Warren, Adam, and Joey are all seasoned NOAA veterans, have completed many years of research cruises, and have a wealth of knowledge.

Stateroom

My stateroom

My stateroom is quite nice.  There is sufficient storage space for all of my clothing and equipment, such that I am able to keep most everything off of the floor.  I am rooming with Joey Salisbury (I have top bunk), but as Joey is on the day shift, we do not see too much of each other.  I am quite paranoid about not waking up on-time, so I tethered my cell phone to a pipe on the boat, directly above my head.  This way, the phone alarm blares directly toward my face, and there is no danger of my phone falling off of the bunk.

I have not yet experienced any seasickness, although I am still taking preventative medication every day.  Andre noted before we left that ginger helps with seasickness, so I brought some ginger ale and ginger cookies.

The food served on the ship is amazing, definitely much more than what I was expecting.  There are multiple course options for each meal, and everything I have had so far has been exceptional.  The highlight was the made-to-order omelet that I had for breakfast after 7 hours of sorting and measuring fish.

Notably, I also got to experience two boat safety drills on Day 1 – a fire drill, and an abandon ship drill.  For the abandon ship drill, I got to try on my survival suit.  It is made out of neoprene, so in that regard it reminds me of fly fishing waders.  However it feels quite claustrophobic once you put your arms in it and zip it
halfway up your face.  I needed much assistance in putting it on.

Survival suit

In my survival suit, during an abandon ship drill

Did You Know?

NOAA has a Commissioned Service, one of the seven Uniformed Services of the United States.  The NOAA Corps consists only of Commissioned Officers (i.e. no enlisted personnel or Warrant Officers).  The Corps first became a Commissioned Service in 1917, during World War I, as the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey Corps.  In 1965, this Corps was renamed the Environmental Science Services Administration Commissioned Corps, and in 1970, was again renamed the NOAA Corps (Source — NOAA).

Notable Species Seen

David Walker: Introduction, June 22, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Walker
Anticipating Departure on NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 24 – July 9, 2015

Mission: SEAMAP Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 22, 2015

Introduction

Greetings from Austin, Texas.  My name is David Walker, and I will be posting here over the next couple of weeks to chronicle my participation in the second leg of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) SEAMAP Summer Bottomfish Survey in the Gulf of Mexico.  I leave for Galveston tomorrow and could not be more excited.

Backpacking Big Bend

On a recent backpacking trip to Big Bend National Park

About Me: I am about to begin my sixth year as a high school teacher at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA) in Austin, Texas.  LASA is a public magnet school which draws students from the entirety of Austin Independent School District.  Currently, I teach three courses — Planet Earth, Organic Chemistry, and Advanced Organic Chemistry.  Planet Earth is a project-based geobiology course with a major field work component, which consists of the students completing field surveys of organisms in local Austin-area parks and preserves.  Organic Chemistry is an elective course which covers the lecture and laboratory content of the first undergraduate course in organic chemistry.  Advanced Organic Chemistry is an elective course framed as an independent study, in which students address the content of the second undergraduate course in organic chemistry.  I also sponsor our school’s Science Olympiad team, and we compete around the nation in this science and engineering competition.  This year, LASA Science Olympiad placed third in the nation, this representing the best any team from Texas has ever performed!  Outside of teaching, my interests include backpacking, fly fishing, ice hockey, birding, record collecting, photography, dancing, and karaoke, in no particular order.

About NOAA:  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a scientific agency of the United States government whose mission focuses on monitoring the conditions of the ocean and the atmosphere.  More specifically, NOAA defines its mission as Science, Service, and Stewardship — 1) To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, 2) To share this knowledge and information with others, and 3) To conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.  NOAA’s vision of the future consists of healthy ecosystems, communities, and economies that are resilient in the face of change [Source — NOAA Official Website].

About TAS: The Teacher at Sea Program (TAS) is a NOAA program which provides teachers a “hands-on, real-world research experience working at sea with world-renowned NOAA scientists, thereby giving them unique insight into oceanic and atmospheric research crucial to the nation” [Source — NOAA TAS Official Website].  NOAA TAS participants return from their time at sea with increased knowledge regarding the world’s oceans and atmosphere, marine biology and biodiversity, and how real governmental field science is conducted.  This experience allows them to enhance their curriculum by incorporating their work at sea into project-based activities for their students.  They are also able to share their work with their local community to increase awareness and knowledge of the state of the world’s oceans and atmosphere, and current research in this field.

My Mission: I will be participating in the second leg of the 2015 SEAMAP (SouthEast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) Summer Bottomfish Survey in the Gulf of Mexico, aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II.  The survey will span two weeks, from June 24 – July 7, 2015, beginning in Galveston, Texas, and ending in Pascagoula, Mississippi

The Oregon II research vessel was built in 1967 and transferred to NOAA in 1970.  Its home port is Pascagoula, Mississippi, at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Mississippi Laboratories.  More information about the ship can be found here.

Oregon II

NOAA Ship Oregon II in 2007
[Source — NOAA Website]

The Chief Scientist for the survey is Kim Johnson (NOAA Biologist), and the Field Party Chief for my leg of the survey is Andre DeBose (NOAA Biologist).  According to Ms. Johnson, the survey has three main objectives — shrimp data collection, plankton data collection, and water column environmental profiling.

1) Shrimp data collection involves catching shrimp in a 40 foot shrimp net, towed at 2.5 knots.  Caught shrimp will all be weighed, measured, sexed, and taxonomically categorized.  This is completed for 200 individuals in each commercial shrimp category, and real-time data is distributed weekly (see SEAMAP Real-Time Plots).  This data is of incredible importance to the commercial fishing industry, especially considering that the season-opening is in late July.

SEAMAP

SEAMAP shrimp survey data from 2014
[Source — GSMFC Website]

2) Plankton are drifting animals, protists, archaea, algae, or bacteria that live in the ocean water column and cannot swim against the current [Source — Plankton].  Regarding plankton data collection, the Oregon II houses two types of collection nets — dual bongos and a neuston net.  As many plankton are microscopic in size, these nets contain a very fine mesh.  The dual bongos are used to sample the water column at an oblique angle, while the neuston net is used to collect surface organisms (“neuston” is a term used for organisms that float on top of the water or exist right under the water surface — see Neuston).  This data is used to “build a long term fishery-independent database on the resource species important to the economy of the Gulf of Mexico” [Source — NOAA Plankton Surveys].

3) The third mission of the survey is water column environmental profiling.  These profiles are completed using a CTD (conductivity-temperature-depth) device, which is sent back and forth between the surface and the ocean floor (the entire water column) and allows for the collection of real-time data.  The main focus of this survey is the measuring of dissolved oxygen levels in the water to identify and monitor areas of hypoxia.  In aquatic ecosystems, hypoxia “refers to waters where the dissolved oxygen concentration is below 2 mg/L. Most organisms avoid, or become physiologically stressed, in waters with oxygen below this concentration. Also known as a dead zone, hypoxia can also kill marine organisms which cannot escape the low-oxygen water, affecting commercial harvests and the health of impacted ecosystems” [Source — Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Watch].  NOAA has partnered with the National Coastal Data Development Center (NCDDC) and other agencies to centralize this data, which has been collected and analyzed for 15 years.  This summer’s survey is quite important, as the large amount of rainfall over the past two months could have significantly affected levels of dissolved oxygen in the ocean, and accordingly, zones of hypoxia.

My Goals: Through this program, I hope to accomplish four main objectives —

1) Learn as much as I can about the biology I encounter, especially in terms of taxonomic classification and biodiversity.  This will be directly applicable to the biodiversity unit and project in my Planet Earth class.

2) Understand in detail the methods by which NOAA real-time data is collected, plotted, and presented to the public.  This will be directly applicable to updating the data analysis and presentation portions of the biodiversity project in my Planet Earth class.

3) Upon my return, create a project-based activity for my Planet Earth students, based on the research I conduct aboard the ship.  Students will use the real-time data from my leg of the survey (to be posted online) to come to conclusions regarding the biologic and environmental profile of the Gulf of Mexico.  This will become part of the Planet Earth course unit global biodiversity.

4) Present my research experience and resulting project-based curriculum to the science faculty of LASA High School, emphasizing the value of research-based activities and projects in high school science.

That’s it from me.  My next post will be from the Gulf of Mexico!

David Walker
NOAA Teacher at Sea
LASA High School
Austin, Texas

   

June Teisan, Tuna: From Plankton to Plate (and a side of STEM careers), May 15, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
June Teisan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 1 – 15, 2015

Mission: SEAMAP Plankton Study
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, May 15, 2015

Science and Technology Log:

tuna

Tuna (photo from NOAA Fisheries)

Bluefin tuna are incredible creatures. Remarkably fast predators, they can swim at speeds up to 40 miles per hour and dive deeper than 3000 feet. They hunt smaller fish and invertebrates, and grow to between 6 to 8 feet long and weigh in at 500 pounds on average. Bluefin tuna are prized for their meat in the US and in other countries. Because bluefin tuna are relatively slow-growing, they are more vulnerable to overfishing than species that are faster growing or more productive. Atlantic bluefin tuna spawn in the western Mediterranean and the Gulf of Mexico. Since the early 1980s, NOAA has worked to conserve and manage the stock of bluefin tuna by monitoring stock in the Gulf of Mexico.

The data collected on plankton cruises provides one piece of the complex puzzle of the regulation of commercial and recreational fishing. Ichthyoplankton data is added to findings from trawl teams catching juvenile sizes of certain species, analysis of gonads and spawn from adult fish caught on other cruises, and other stock assessment information. Data analysis and modeling examine these information streams, and serve as the basis of stock assessment recommendations brought to policy makers.

Below is how we collect the plankton:

Hosing down the Neuston net to collect plankton in the codend.

Hosing down the Neuston net to collect plankton in the codend.

Plankton from codend is transferred to sieve.

Plankton from codend is transferred to sieve.

Sieve is tilted and plankton is transferred to sample jars.

Sieve is tilted and plankton is transferred to sample jars.

Transferring plankton to sample jar.

Transferring plankton to sample jar.

Sample jar is topped off with preservative solution.

Sample jar is topped off with preservative solution.

Jars are labeled and boxed for analysis in the lab.

Jars are labeled and boxed for analysis in the lab.

Spring ichthyoplankton surveys have been conducted for over 30 years, and my Teacher at Sea time has been an amazing glimpse behind the scenes of NOAA’s critical work maintaining the health of our fisheries.

SEAMAP Full Cruise (3)

SEAMAP Cruise Track May 1 – 15, 2015

Personal Log:

I expanded my career queries beyond the NOAA science team to interview a few of the ship’s crew members aboard the Oregon II and heard some terrific stories about pathways to STEM careers.

Laura

ENS Laura Dwyer – Navigation Officer, Oregon II

 

ENS Laura Dwyer – Navigation Officer, Oregon II

Path to a STEM Career: Laura’s career path began with a bachelor’s degree in International Business. After college she spent time as caretaker for her aging grandmother, then moved to Bali and certified as a scuba instructor. When she returned to the states, Laura investigated the NOAA Corps, and took more university courses for the science credits she needed to apply. In doing so she earned her Master’s in Marine Biology. Laura began her Basic Officer Training in NOAA Corps in January 2013, graduated, and now serves her country as Ensign on the Oregon II.

Best Part of Her Job: Laura knows she has a ‘cool’ job: she gets to pilot a 170 foot vessel.

Favorite Teacher: Mrs. Coppock. Laura’s 3rd grade teacher…She was in her late 60s or early 70s but every year Mrs. Coppock would start the school year by doing a head stand in front of the class. The inspirational lesson behind this gymnastic move was two-fold: Women can do anything they set their mind to, and age is just a number.

Larry

LTJG Larry Thomas – Operations Officer, Oregon II

Path to a STEM Career: Larry earned a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology.  He worked as a fisheries observer out of NOAA’s Galveston, Texas lab, and volunteered as a guest biologist on NOAA vessels Gordon Gunter and Oregon II. Larry was raised in a military family with both parents serving in the Army, but had not known about the NOAA Corps until he met Corps officers during his time on NOAA vessels. Larry graduated with BOTC 116 in June 2010 and serves as Lieutenant, Junior Grade (LTJG)on the Oregon II.

Best Part of His Job: Larry appreciates that his work allows him to do and see things most people don’t experience, like being up close with 8-10 foot tiger sharks brought in on long line survey cruises or a rare encounter with sea turtles that have been tagged and released.

Favorite Teachers: Frank Ramano and George Cline, both college professors who were passionate about their work and helpful with any questions, offering guidance when Larry needed it.

Olay

Olay Akinsanya – Junior Engineer, Oregon II

Olay Akinsanya – Junior Engineer, Oregon II

Path to a STEM Career: Olay chose a career in the military because it was a great combination of hands on work and potential for training and further education. He served 8 years in the Navy, earning a GSM certification (Gas turbine Systems Mechanic). After his military service, he took exams with the Coast Guard to certify to be able to stand engine watch, which means qualified to be responsible for entire engine room. Olay then found out about NOAA through a friend and now works as a junior engineer on the Oregon II. He enjoys the work and finds it a good fit for his schedule; the shorter trips allow him to visit on shore with his daughter regularly.

Best Part of His Job: The opportunity to continue to build his skills and experience, to advance his career. And the food is good!

Favorite Teacher: Adrian Batchelor, a teacher at Mid-Atlantic Maritime School. “Mr. Batchelor is retired military, holds a GSM, and spent a lot of time with me, explained the job, encouraged me to reach out at any time. He’s been a great mentor.”

Classroom Fish ID Activity:

Correctly identify the “by catch” fish we brought up in our plankton nets. (Hint: we netted Flying Fish, Mahi Mahi, Half Beak, Little Tunny, File Fish, Sargassum Trigger Fish, Chub, Burr Fish, and Sargassum Fish). Enter your answers as a comment to this post!

B

Specimen A

C

Specimen B

A

Specimen C

G

Specimen D

E

Specimen E

F

Specimen F

 

D

Specimen G

Shout out to the students in Ms. Meredith Chicklas’ classes at  in Troy, Michigan, and in Ms. Kelly Herberholz’s classes at Dakota High School in Macomb, Michigan! 

A BIG thank you to the NOAA Fisheries Staff in Pascagoula, Mississippi, to the officers and crew of the Oregon II, and the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program Staff for this incredible adventure.