Students and teachers gather on the dock

Catalina Martinez, expedition coordinator from the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration, briefs students and teachers gathered on the dock at Gulfport, MS, prior to their tour of the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown. Click image for larger view.

Port Call!

October 3, 2003

Catalina Martinez
NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration

On Wednesday, October 1, a Professional Development Institute (PDI) was conducted for 25 teachers from five states at the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center & Aquarium in Biloxi, MS. This event focused on NOAA Gulf of Mexico expeditions, and several scientists from past NOAA-sponsored cruises spoke with the teachers. One of the teacher participants arranged for more than 100 students from Gulfport Central Middle School to tour the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown and meet the scientists during the Port Call on October 3. About 50 seventh graders from St. John's Middle School in Gulfport, MS, also toured the ship today.

Students view live squat lobsters collected during the cruise

Mission scientist Mary Wicksten of Texas A&M University shows students live squat lobsters collected during the cruise, and demonstrates how she identifies specimens. Click image for larger view.

Upon their arrival at the pier in Gulfport, students and teachers were briefed on the Gulf of Mexico expedition, as well as general rules of safety to follow when boarding a research vessel. They received guided tours of the main science laboratories and talked to the scientists about the research conducted during the expedition.

Students and teachers saw live deep-sea crabs, corals, sponges, and other invertebrates, and learned about the diversity of deep-water corals and their significant ecological role in the Flower Garden Banks and other Gulf habitats. Marine archaeologists from C&C Technologies briefed the visitors on the upcoming expedition to survey the wreck site of the U-166 German submarine, and used a plaster model of the site to demonstrate their survey strategy.

During the tours, a video of dive footage ran continuously on a monitor in the main lab, providing a glimpse into the amazing undersea world of the Gulf of Mexico. The video also demonstrated the Sonsub pilots' nimble operation of the Innovator ROV (remotely operated vehicle), with images of the manipulator arm delicately collecting an individual branch from a coral, a single fragile leaf of algae, and even a tiny solitary coral, leaving the rest of a specimen or a community intact. The practice of sustainable collection is critical in the deep sea, since many species are rare, and all are precious. Although the Sonsub pilots made it look easy, it took significant skill, as well as greatly advanced technology, to successfully accomplish this task.

Students view some of the deep sea corals and sponges

Mission scientist Julie Olson of University of Alabama shows students some of the deep-sea corals and sponges collected during the expedition. Click image for larger view.

Sonsub technician, Ray Maza, speaks with students

Sonsub technician Ray Maza talks to students about the Innovator ROV. Click image for larger view.

The tour proceeded to the bridge of the Ron Brown, where NOAA Corps officers introduced visitors to the task of driving and navigating a massive research vessel. The last stop of the tour was the fantail, where the Sonsub technicians greeted the students and teachers and introduced them to the exciting world of ROV technology. The visitors stepped inside the ROV operations "van" from which the Sonsub pilots "fly" the ROV. The students noted that flying an ROV was very similar to working the controls of a modern video game.

NOAA corps LTJG Jennifer Pralgo introducing students to the bridge

NOAA Corps Lieutenant Junior Grade Jennifer Pralgo introduces students to the bridge of the Ron Brown and explains the ship's high-tech navigation capabilities. Click image for larger view.

All in all, the day was a huge success, as more than 150 students and teachers had the unique opportunity to experience NOAA’s flagship oceanographic research vessel at the completion of an exciting exploration of discovery. The Ron Brown's port call left a positive impression of deep-sea exploration on the communiity of Gulfport, MS, and goodwill that is sure to extend much farther.


Tours of the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown were made possible by the hard work of the ship's crew, the crews of Sonsub, Inc. and C&C Technologies, the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration, and the expedition scientists from the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, the University of Alabama, the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, the University of Oregon, Texas A&M University, the U.S. Geological Survey, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service in Galveston, TX, and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Thanks to all who enabled us to share the excitement of deep-sea exploration with the community of Gulfport, MS.