Tag Archives: r/v savannah

Benthic chambers and the R/V Savannah

By Debbie Jahnke

Editor’s Note: Rick and Debbie Jahnke were long time fixtures at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. Rick was a faculty scientist and, for a short time, interim director. Debbie was his research coordinator. They retired in 2008 and now reside in Port Townsend, Wash.

Wandering through the latest Skidaway Campus Notes (Fall 2017), I encountered “R/V Savannah Demonstrates a Broad Geographic Range in 2017,” and there was a photo of an autonomous vehicle being recovered by the R/V Savannah in the Gulf of Mexico. That particular autonomous vehicle appears to be one of a family that started life as a BECI (Benthic Experimental Chamber Instrument), first built at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and then trucked across country in 1987 when the Jahnkes moved to Savannah and the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. (Back then, we weren’t “the Jahnkes” yet. That didn’t happen until 1999.)

Two more BECIs of this type were built at Skidaway Institute but Lee Knight (emeritus Assistant Director/Engineer) had them constructed with hexagonal structural horizontals rather than the circular original. Skidaway Institute’s machine shop didn’t have the equipment to make the round bend. One of the BECIs was lost at sea on the Ceara Rise, an underwater feature off the east coast of Brazil in 1994.

When we departed Skidaway for our “left coast” retirement in 2008, Martial Taillefert (Georgia Tech) was kind enough to adopt the old BECIs and various other benthic instruments and all their paraphernalia. It’s a pleasure to see what appears to be a BECI or a close relative in active use. There’s an additional float on her frame now, which must mean there is also more of a scientific payload to buoy.

It is a bonus to note that the BECI is going to sea on the R/V Savannah, as Rick had been closely involved in the design of the vessel and was acting director of Skidaway Institute when Trish Windom christened our brand-new, almost-finished ship in the Bath, Maine shipyard. Rick served briefly as acting director between Herb Windom’s retirement and the arrival of Jim Sanders as new director.

The completed R/V Savannah arrived from the shipyard in Maine just after midnight on September 12, 2001. Rick and I were waiting on the Skidaway Institute dock with Lee Knight when our ship appeared out of the dark downriver, heading for her new home. The World Trade Towers had just fallen, and chaos was in force. The crew hadn’t had radio contact, so we didn’t even know if they were okay. Skidaway Institute had a muted commissioning celebration for our new ship.

Now, Skidaway Institute has gained a new director who originally arrived as a post-doc quite a few years ago, and now has quite a bit of gray in his beard (Congratulations, Clark!). We’ve been retired more than nine years, but the BECI and her benthic companions are still hard at work. We wish the BECIs, the R/V Savannah and all their human collaborators past, present and future, a happy and successful 2018.

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Teachers join UGA Skidaway Institute research cruises

JoCasta Green became a teacher after she was told as a child she couldn’t be a scientist because she was a girl. In May, the pre-K teacher from Decatur, Georgia, achieved a small piece of her childhood dream by joining a research cruise on board the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography’s Research Vessel Savannah. Green was one of two teachers on the overnight cruise, some of the first to participate in a cooperative program between UGA Skidaway Institute and Georgia Southern University’s Institute for Interdisciplinary STEM Education (i2STEM).

“Because I am an elementary teacher, I was afraid that maybe I shouldn’t have applied,” Green said. “However, once I got here and everyone was so interested and wanted to share, I really did learn a lot.”

Green (left) learns to set the spring-loaded bottle plugs on a conductivity-temperature-depth sensor array with the help of Natalia Lopez Figueroa from Hampton University.

JoCasta Green (right) learns how to prepare a conductivity-temperature-depth sensor array for deployment with the help of Natalia Lopez Figueroa from Hampton University.

UGA Skidaway Institute scientist Marc Frischer led the cruise with the aim to hunt, collect and study doliolids — a small gelatinous organism of great significance to the ecology and productivity of continental shelf environments around the world. Green and middle school teacher Vicki Albritton of Savannah were the only teachers on board and were able to actively participate in the research activities.

“I think giving any teacher the opportunity come to out to sea is an amazing experience,” Frischer said. “I think it’s transformative, but to have them integrated into the research, we haven’t really done that before.”

Marc Frischer chats with JoCasta Green during the cruise.

Marc Frischer chats with JoCasta Green during the cruise.

Green and Albritton participated in the deck activities. They helped launch the CTD (conductivity-temperature-depth) sensor packages mounted on heavy metal frames and deployed plankton nets that concentrated a wide variety of tiny marine creatures into a small container. The two teachers then worked with the science team in the darkened wet lab to sort through gallons of water and to isolate the doliolids they were seeking.

“I was hoping to see science in action, and I did that all day long,” Albritton said. “I got to participate and learn what was going on and take many pictures, and now I have a wealth of information to take back to the classroom.”

Albritton says an experience like the cruise raises teachers’ credibility in the classroom, because the students see the teachers going out to learn more themselves. “If I want them to be perpetual learners, then I need to demonstrate that same trait,” she said.

Although Green admitted she was nervous about the cruise initially, she credited the scientists with making her comfortable. “They were great teachers,” she said. “I understood what we were doing and why we were doing it.”

Albritton echoed Green’s thoughts and cited the graciousness of everyone she encountered on the cruise. “There wasn’t condescension or an implication that we didn’t know anything,” she said. “There was genuine respect for all of us as professionals in our fields. That was really wonderful.”

A research cruise on the 92-foot R/V Savannah will never be confused with a luxury vacation cruise. Green and Albritton agreed the food was good, but the working spaces were tight and the bunks and cabins even more so.

Green and Albritton were the second group of teachers to join an R/V Savannah research cruise through the partnership with Georgia Southern’s i2STEM program. The goal of the i2STEM program is to improve the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics at all levels from kindergarten through college throughout coastal Georgia.

Vicki Albritton (left) and JoCasta Green

Vicki Albritton (left) and JoCasta Green

The partnership between UGA Skidaway Institute and i2STEM is expected to grow. Five additional doliolid cruises are scheduled this year with space available for as many as four teachers on each cruise. UGA Skidaway Institute will also offer two half-day cruises this month as part of i2STEM’s summer professional development workshop for teachers.

According to Frischer, the ultimate goal of scientific research is to generate and communicate information. “Teachers are some of our most important communicators,” he said. “They communicate to the next generation, so I think it is really special to be able to bring teachers right to where the research is happening. It gives them a total perspective, not only on what we are doing, but how research works and to communicate that to their students.”

Both Green and Albritton said they would encourage their fellow teachers to take advantage of opportunities like this. “You would be crazy not to, in terms of learning and what you can bring back to the kids in your classroom,” Albritton said. “It’s an experience you will never forget.”

Skidaway Marine Science Day to feature Georgia’s first oyster hatchery

A close-up look at Georgia’s first oyster hatchery will be one of the featured attractions at Skidaway Marine Science Day on Saturday, Oct. 24. The campus-wide open house will be held from noon to 4 p.m. on the University of Georgia’s Skidaway Island campus, located on the north end of the island.

The oyster research team will provide behind-the-scenes tours of the new hatchery, which is a project of the UGA Marine Extension’s Shellfish Laboratory and Georgia Sea Grant, units of UGA Public Service and Outreach. It is hoped the oyster hatchery will make the Georgia oyster industry more durable, contribute to aquaculture diversification and elevate one of Georgia’s best-kept culinary secrets from the backyard roast to the tables of the finest restaurants from Savannah to Atlanta and beyond.

The hatchery tour is just one feature of a lengthy program of activities, displays and tours making the annual event one that attracts thousands of visitors each year.

The UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography’s 92-foot ocean-going Research Vessel Savannah will be open for tours and will exhibit science displays.

Tour the Skidaway Institute’s ocean-going Research Vessel Savannah.

Tour the Skidaway Institute’s ocean-going Research Vessel Savannah.

Elsewhere on campus, Skidaway Institute will present a variety of marine science exhibits and hands-on science activities, including the ever-popular Microbe Hunt and Plankton Sink-Off. Skidaway Institute scientists will present a series of short, informal talks and question-and-answer sessions on current scientific and environmental issues.

The UGA Aquarium, operated by UGA Marine Extension, will be open to visitors with no admission fee. Aquarium educators will offer visitors an afternoon full of activities including a hands-on reptile exhibit, behind-the-scenes peeks of the aquarium, fish feedings and microscope investigations.

The Reptile Experience fascinates nature lovers of all ages.

The Reptile Experience fascinates nature lovers of all ages.

A brand new touch tank exhibit will allow guests of all ages to get up close and personal with common coastal invertebrates.

Touch tanks allow visitors to experience sea creatures   up close.

Touch tanks allow visitors to experience sea creatures up close.

Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary will offer visitors the experience of using the tools of the trade. They can explore an underwater reef with a remotely operated vehicle and find out how youth can participate in Savannah’s own MATE ROV competition. ROVs are underwater robots used on NOAA research vessels worldwide and are crucial for data collection in marine environments.

"Fly" an underwater ROV with Gray's Reef.

“Fly” an underwater ROV with Gray’s Reef.

A photo booth will allow visitors to visualize themselves SCUBA diving at Gray’s Reef or in other exotic settingsand will be able to post their pictures on social media.

Along with the campus organizations, Skidaway Marine Science Day will also include displays, demonstrations and activities from a wide range of science, environmental and education groups, such as The Dolphin Project, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and The Nature Conservancy. Georgia Power will be on hand to provide information on the upcoming wind turbine project planned for the Skidaway Institute campus.

All activities at Skidaway Marine Science Day are free. For additional information, call 912-598-2325, or see http://www.skio.uga.edu.

Shrimpers, others join UGA Skidaway Institute Black Gill research cruise

UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientists are studying a condition in shrimp found along the Southeast Coast known as Black Gill. As part of this effort, a group that included UGA Skidaway Institute scientists and representatives from Georgia Sea Grant, UGA Marine Extension, Georgia DNR, the shrimping industry and researchers from North and South Carolina joined a one-day research cruise on board the R/V Savannah on October 9. The focus of the cruise was to collect shrimp for the Black Gill research project, and also to give the various groups the opportunity to exchange ideas. This account of the project comes from UGA Skidaway Institute scientist and cruise-organizer Marc Frischer.

We had 20 people on board (not including the ship’s crew), representing three states (Ga. S.C. and N.C.) and interests from the industry, management, research, and education/outreach communities. Although sometimes the conversations were outside of my comfort zone, I found the discussions and interactions that I had interesting, significant and useful. I found particularly interesting the perspectives from some of the professional shrimpers who were onboard made it clear to me that a research priority should be investigating the relationship between shrimp mortality in the field and the incidence of Black Gill. Discussions with the management community also provided me new insights into the difficulties we are facing with management and regulation. Conversations with those charged with communicating with the broader public remind me to choose words carefully to avoid misunderstanding.

A shrimp with the Black Gill condition clearly evident.

A shrimp with the Black Gill condition clearly evident.

In terms of the science, the day was largely successful despite the very low shrimp catches. Our priority was to collect enough live shrimp to conduct experiments to investigate black gill transmission and to explore the effect of ciliate infection on molting frequency. Although there were not many shrimp caught, we caught enough to conduct our planned experiments, and we were able to bring live shrimp into our facilities with almost no mortality. Utilizing the relatively large R/V Savannah and being able to dock within feet of our labs made this possible.

Skidaway Institute professor Marc Frischer examining a shrimp.

Skidaway Institute professor Marc Frischer examining a shrimp.

Thanks goes to the director of the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (Jim Sanders) for making the vessel available to us. Cost for the ship is not covered by funding provided by Georgia Sea Grant and was provided as matching funds by the Institute.

Experiments got underway immediately upon our return and will continue for the next several weeks. If anyone is interested and wants to visit the lab for an update you are welcome to do so.

DNR's Pat Geer and Sea Grant's Jill Gambill sort through the marine life caught in a trawl.

DNR’s Pat Geer and Sea Grant’s Jill Gambill sort through the marine life caught in a trawl.

In addition to collecting live specimens, we were able to collect and preserve samples for a large variety of other analyses that will contribute to our identification of the Black Gill agent and to understanding its impact on shrimp. Several of the samples we collected are now on their way to various labs around the world where researchers with expertise beyond ours will study them.

Also, for the first time, we, collected water and sediments to be examined using our novel molecular-based diagnostic tools that are just now coming online. These studies will form the basis of a student project and thus generate both new information and new talent.

The team from the October Black Gill cruise.

The team from the October Black Gill cruise.

Unfortunately, because we were not able to catch more shrimp, we were not able to quantify the prevalence of Black Gill along the transect we sampled (offshore Wassaw Island, Wassaw Sound, and the Wilmington and Skidaway Rivers). However, this is a task valiantly undertaken by the GA DNR who had just visited the area in September and will be at it again. However, in addition to observing that catches were low everywhere, we were able to estimate a prevalence in the neighborhood of 50 percent. Except for offshore where we only caught one shrimp and it had black gill (so 100 percent). Two insights from this experience — first, our observations agree very well with DNR’s estimates and it is clear that we are probably not sampling sufficiently. Second — engaging the fishing community in this effort, if we can do so in a scientifically sound manner, will be truly helpful.

R/V Savannah getting an overhaul

The Research Vessel Savannah is currently out of the water and up on blocks at Savannah Marine Repair for biannual maintenance and repair.

RV Savannah Haulout 1 w

RV Savannah Haulout 2 w During this shipyard period, the vessel exterior will be prepped and completely repainted. Propellers, propeller shafts and shaft bearings will be replaced. All fuel tanks will be opened and cleaned and all sea valves will opened, inspected and repaired or replaced as necessary.

A five-year inspection by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) is being conducted to ensure standards of hull integrity and sea-worthiness. The vessel crew is also undertaking various maintenance tasks prior to the full start of another busy year.