Ocean Discoveries: 2012 Nancy Foster Mapping Mission/Day 6 – The ROV

By Antares Ramos Alvarez

Peep on the Foster, Credit: NOAA/CRCP

It was ENS Jamie Park’s birthday today (HAPPY BIRTHDAY JAMIE!!), so it was a day of celebrations all in all! Happy Easter! Just because you live on a ship it does not mean that you don’t celebrate the holidays!  Today we all woke up with the sweet surprise of having been visited by the Easter Bunny.  There were Easter eggs all over the ship, filled with yummy gee-dunk!  And of course, the traditional Peeps were also part of our day.  As part of the festivities, we also had a BBQ out in the O-1 deck.  It was a great change of scenery to have a meal outside.  Soda and all included!

BBQ on the O-1 Deck. Credit: NOAA/CRCP

Lito and Kurt in full BBQ mode. Credit: NOAA/CRCP

The ROV has already made thirteen dives!  I have to admit that observing how the operation works, being able to see what is 200 meters below the surface, and helping identify fish species has been the most exciting experience I’ve had on the ship.  I felt like I was onboard Capt. Nemo’s Nautilius (from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – no giant squid though, but we have seen many lion fish (more on this below) which could be the marine monsters of this era). Living this experience made me wonder how Jack Cousteau must have felt when he had his first dive with his Aqua-lung regulator and was able to explore the marine world, like no one else had before.

ROV operator Lance hard at work! Credit: NOAA/CRCP

I had the opportunity to pilot the ROV for a while today, during its 12th dive. I have to say, it was amazing!  Can’t even wipe the smile off my face (and I’m quite smiley as it is!).  It’s very similar to piloting a plane in terms of the directions and how to maneuver it, but with the added complication that there are living organisms that we want to make sure not to harm. Once you get the hang of it, you’re pretty much flying underwater…  Sharing that moment with my fellow scientists of seeing the sea floor around the Northeast Great Reserve and for the first time and ground truthing what is there felt pretty amazing…  One of those experiences I’ll never forget.

Me piloting the ROV. Credit: NOAA/NCCOS

Bryan working on his ROV piloting skills, Credit: NOAA/NCCOS

The ROV is launched on the port side of the ship.  It takes at least four persons on the deck and one in the lab (this is the person that actually pilots the ROV).  A “J-frame” crane is used to lift the ROV in the water: one or two crew members are up on a tower controlling the crane, and three scientists are on the deck below watching over the cable that powers the ROV.  Once in the water, the ROV operator takes charge.

ROV on deck with Lance and Tim, Credit: NOAA/CRCP

The screen tells the pilot the depth the ROV is at, direction of travel, and how far it’s from the bottom.  There is constant communication with the bridge to coordinate the heading and speed of the ship to be sure we are indeed covering the precise area we are to be exploring.  The time it takes to get to the bottom will depend on how deep it’s going to.

ROV monitors, Credit: NOAA/CRCP

A 200m dive could take about 10mins before it reaches the bottom.  There are two laser pointers that go out in front that are 10cm apart which give an idea of size for what is observed on the screen as well as a digital still camera and video camera.  There’s a probe at the front which is used to make contact with the substrate to be certain it is soft or hard substrate, fine sand or rock, etc.

During an ROV dive: Tim, Glenn (operator of ROV), Antares and Bryan, Credit: NOAA/NCCOS

So where does the ROV go?  The ROV is used to groundtruth what we are picking up with the multi-beam.  It’s a way to be sure that the acoustic data from the sonar are actually what we thought they were.  It also gives an opportunity to look at what type of fish are in the area (special focus on groupers, snappers and lion fish).  Each dive is about 2.5hrs after which the process is reversed.  The ROV starts heading up and the crane starts pulling the line, until it is hanging port side and placed on top of the deck.  Until the next dive!

ROV heading back to the ship, Credit: NOAA/CRCP

(Stay tuned for a future blog on the ground-truthing work from Bryan Costa!)


Lionfish. Credit: NOAA

We have seen 83 lionfish so far, which is not good news.  They are amazing looking fish but detrimental for the ecosystem.  Lion fish are an invasive species, which means they are not native to these waters.  They come from the Pacific Ocean.  The problem with invasive species is that they do not have predators in the area, so can reproduce at higher rates.  They also take over habitat of native species in addition to eating juvenile species (fish or inverts) important to our ecosystem and ecology (for example, groupers).  Native species still do not recognize lion fish as food, so it’s an even greater challenge.  In Añasco, Puerto Rico some restaurants offer lion fish as a dish.  I have not tried it yet but have been told it’s very tasty.  Can’t wait to try it!  At this point, it’ll be quite hard to eradicate the species, but making it part of our palate could be a good way to control its population size.  So next time you go to seafood restaurant, ask if they have lion fish! For more information on lionfish, check out the podcast with NCCOS researcher James Morris.

Hasta Luego!
Well, this is my final blog for this cruise. It’s been an amazing opportunity…one that I’ll definitely never forget!  Tim, thank you for making me part of your team, looking forward to continue collaborating towards the protection and conservation of Puerto Rico’s marine resources.  To the science team, it’s been a pleasure to work with you, hope it’s the first of many to come.  And to the Nancy Foster crew, it’s been an honor to get to know you and be able to learn a bit more about what life at sea is all about.  Hasta luego!

Hasta luego! Puerto Rican sunset observed from the Nancy Foster, Credit: NOAA/CRCP

To see the the Nancy Foster throughout the 2012 mapping mission, visit the NOAA ship tracker site and click on “Enter NOAA’s Ship Tracker link, then scroll down to “NF – Nancy Foster” in the box on the upper right of the screen to see where she is at any given time!

Be sure to visit this blog often for field updates, pictures and videos posted by members of the science team.

This entry was posted in Benthic Mapping, Biogeography Branch, Caribbean, Caribbean Research, Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment, Coral, Coral Reef Conservation Program, General, Marine Regional Planning, Nancy Foster Exploration, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, NOAA Marine Protected Areas, NOAA's National Ocean Service, Ocean Exploration, Ocean Field Work, Ocean Research and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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