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Teacher At Sea

An extraordinary opportunity crossed my path this past September as an invitation to apply for a Teacher at Sea program right here in Santa Barbara County. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reviewed my application and selected me to participate in a study in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) with the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) in October. I was to aid in a study involving the use of a large remotely operated vehicle (ROV) outfitted with a laser sizing system to estimate the size of specific species of rock dwelling fish in the CINMS. The purpose of this survey was to see if the protected non-fishing areas are playing a positive role in allowing fish to grow to maturity and to compare results with other sizing methods. Since I was three months pregnant at the time my participation was limited to observation, logging data and running the ROV through the pre and post launching checks. Below are my daily logs of my once in a lifetime adventure.

Day 1 – Sat. Sept. 29 Arrived at Santa Barbara Harbor dock and boarded the Shearwater to meet the crew and stow my gear. We laid out new Phantom HD ROV tether and marked depth with electrical tape and added clips every so often to attach ROV to hoist cable.

Day 2 – Sunday, Sept. 30 This morning we tied fishing line filament onto about 50 model fish. There are seven species of fish being researched which included blue, copper, flag, and vermillion rock fish, as well as lingcod, sheepshead, and kelp greenling. The fish were attached to rebar rods to keep them at the bottom and divided into four bags. Each bag will be taken down to a 50 meter transect line and the fish will be randomly placed on either side of the line by divers. We then traveled out to our first location called Albert’s Cove on Santa Cruz Island. The model fish are placed below and the ROV was sent down to fly test runs along the transect line and “paint” the model fish with the lasers.

Day 3 – Monday, Oct. 1 Overnight the ship’s anchor snagged on the transect line, but only dragged it about 10 feet. Divers went down to fix the line and replace any fish that were damaged. More ROV runs were continued at this location and then we moved to Gull Island to run actual transects with live fish along a pre- chosen site at the bottom. In the late afternoon it was decided to move to San Miguel Island. We went through the “potato patch” which is a rough sea area between the islands, which put me out of commission for the rest of the trip. We spent the night here, but the site was too rough for any ROV runs.

Day 4 – Tuesday, Oct. 2 Traveled to Anacapa Island and were permitted ashore, which I was so grateful for. We hiked around the island to scout out future sites by looking over the edge of the cliffs. The water was so clear you could see bat rays gliding along the sandy bottom. Reluctantly, I climbed back aboard the Shearwater and was instantly hit with my nemesis--seasickness. That evening we ran night ROV runs along the north end of the island. Later in the evening the ROV’s tracking system went down. This meant that we were flying the ROV blind, not knowing which direction we were going or how deep we were. It was decided to return to the harbor to try to fix the tracking system. We docked after midnight.

Day 5 – Wednesday, Oct. 3 Santa Barbara Harbor: We were unable to fix the tracking system and since we had been successful in gathering enough data the remainder of the trip was aborted. Since I had not felt well or eaten anything for the past 36 hours I opted to leave as well, taking a wonderful experience with me.

Retrospective This opportunity to expand my ROV knowledge was worth every bit of seasickness that I experienced. The working knowledge that I gained form this trip was so closely related to our school’s ROV program that it has allowed me to expand horizons and enhance the curriculum. I will soon be receiving data from the DFG and will be incorporating it into the class’s activities. One of my main goals was to make a stronger correlation between skills learned in our program and the use of ROVs in the scientific field. This trip has enhanced my ability do so. As part of my Teacher at Sea assignment I created a video diary that will soon be available to view on our Aquarium website.

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