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Teacher Shows Us the Science Behind Marine Protected Areas

Teacher at Sea Marsha Skoczek counts lionfish in a photo taken by an ROV. 

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In its 22nd year, the Teacher at Sea program has provided more than 600 teachers hands-on marine research experiences varying from fish surveys in Alaskan waters to atmospheric research in the Atlantic Ocean. Upon return, the teachers bring their greater understanding and excitement back to the classroom, giving their students a glimpse into a scientific world that is otherwise inaccessible.

To meet all 25 teachers of the 2012 season and follow their adventures on research cruises, visit their blogs at the NOAA Teacher at Sea website


Teacher at Sea Marsha Skoczek drives the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). 

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July 30, 2012

This year, 25 teachers from across the country will set out to sea to work and live alongside NOAA scientists through the NOAA Teacher At Sea program—a program that bridges science with education. One of those teachers is Marsha Skoczek, a teacher at Olathe North High School in Olathe, Kansas. She sailed on NOAA Ship Pisces, which conducts surveys on a wide range of sea life and ocean conditions, including fisheries. We asked her to share some highlights of her trip with us. 

Tell me about the research you and NOAA scientists conducted on the Pisces.

In 2009, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) established eight Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)  to protect the spawning grounds for several species of grouper, snapper, and tilefish. I was fortunate enough to be a part of a research expedition studying the habitat and fish population of five MPAs to see if closing these areas to bottom fishing is a beneficial step in preventing the extinction of these species.

We would do between three and four Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) dives each day at selected sites both inside and outside the MPA. While on bottom, the scientists use the live footage from the ROV to take an inventory of the variety of different species found at each site.  This is part of a long range study to determine the effectiveness of these South Atlantic MPAs.

What was the most exciting thing about your research cruise?

I think the most exciting thing about my trip was interacting with the scientists and being a part of the research process. 

What was something new that your students learned?

One new thing that my students learned about is multibeam sonar. I did not know much about the newest method of mapping the ocean floor, so it was really cool to see it happening live and then be able to tell my students about it.

What are your plans for bringing your experience into the classroom? 

Where do I even start? I learned so much while aboard the Pisces. There are the obvious connections to marine biology and teaching my students about the species and habitats common to the South Atlantic. We will also discuss the invasive lionfish and the impact their spread is having on the ecosystem. Even careers in marine science and how to get there from Kansas will be a topic of discussion.

In my oceanography class, I will use my new knowledge about ROVs and multibeam mapping.  We will also discuss the politics of MPAs as well as commercial fishing limits and restrictions.

In my junior level earth science class, I will expand our unit on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to include ocean science applications.

In my senior research class, I will be able to talk about the scientific process and how research is not going to be a simple, short term project, but rather a long range experience that requires a lot of time and effort. I can even have my seniors communicate with some of the scientists that I met on the Pisces to gain real perspective on the trials and tribulations of scientific research.

To meet all 25 teachers of the 2012 season and follow their adventures on research cruises, visit their blogs at the NOAA Teacher at Sea website