Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
2017 Gray's Reef Research Cruise Photos
Mission Information

Gray's Reef Research
Expeditions 2017

Wednesday: June 14, 2017
Log Day 6

Aria Remondi
Gray's Reef Deputy Superintendent for Operations (Detail)
Savannah, GA

NOAA ships are run by the Commanding Officer (CO) with the support of the second in command, Executive Officer (XO). On the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, the CO is Donn Pratt and the XO is Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Tony Perry. Pratt is a civilian Master (one of only two in NOAA) and as CO is responsible for the entire vessel, safety of the crew and ensuring mission success. The CO has the ultimate responsibility and authority on the vessel. The CO works closely with the Chief Marine Engineer and the Executive Officer to ensure vessel and personnel readiness.

XO Perry (far left) ensures boats are launched and helps the dive team board safely.

XO Perry (far left) ensures boats are launched and helps the dive team board safely.
(Photo: Aria Remondi, NOAA)

Perry is in the NOAA Corps and as XO is responsible for all things administrative as well as serving as second in command and responsible for ensuring safety, training and mentoring junior officers and department heads. Often the XO also serves as emergency on scene investigator and safety officer for operations, along with a myriad of things.

I spoke with them about what it is like to operate science missions on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster. This ship is a unique platform that supports science missions across NOAA. Fish habitat studies, seafloor mapping surveys, and physical oceanography studies can all be done off this ship. Pratt tells me "No ship can turn around between projects as quickly as the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster." Pratt quickly follows up to tell me that this ship is the only ship to perform missions for all six of NOAA's line offices in one year. It's true, working with NOAA's ocean or fisheries line office is routine but in October this ship even worked with NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, (NESDIS), to validate data from one of NOAA's Satellites.

This octopus is checking out a shell near his ledge.

This octopus is "checking out" a shell near his ledge.
(Photo: Peter Auster, UCONN, Mystic Aquarium)

Their favorite missions, though, are dive projects like the one we are on now. "You get to see the science more with diving. You feel more involved with what is being done and there is a buzz around the ship" Perry tells me. With many other missions the crew and officers facilitate scientists as they collect data or samples, but then the final product - whether charts or results of samples - is put together later when the scientists get off the ship. It is different with diving. When the divers surface they tell their coxswain what they saw underwater, and that spreads. Everyone on the ship can talk about what they saw, or someone saw, that day. And the divers bring up photos, videos, and sometimes lionfish which means everyone can take part in the science as it is happening.

As mentioned in previous posts, there are many science missions going on for this trip, all of which the CO and XO support. But at the same time they have other missions going on that the science team is not involved with. One is safety. "I am always looking out for the safety of the ship and the people on board" Pratt says. He tells me he is always making contingency plans and contingency plans for those plans. Another mission is protection of life on the water. Last night, for example, a small civilian boat capsized in the vicinity so the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster headed that way. It is the U.S. Coast Guard's mission to respond to events like this, and they were on site last night when the we arrived. However they required the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster to assist with communication to the shore. "If we are the closest asset and we can assist, we will" Perry says. This is part of being on the water, ships help each other and it seems everyone shares that responsibility across missions. While all of these missions are going on, Pratt, Perry and their team are also training the new folks on the ship. There are new crew members and new officers on this cruise, and it seems that everyone is helping everyone learn the ropes (literally!).

This branching vase sponge is normally found in sub-tropical climates but has made a home in Gray's Reef.

This branching vase sponge is normally found in sub-tropical climates but has made a home in Gray's Reef.
(Photo: Alicia Reigel, LSU)

It's hard to be out here, living on and running this ship. So why do they do what they do? Perry and Pratt have different answers for this. Perry supports the mission of NOAA as a whole, especially being good stewards of the ocean. He also likes being part of the NOAA Corps and the diversity of career paths and positions available to someone in the Corps. Pratt too supports the NOAA mission but really he does this for the people. "I care about these guys" he says of the officers and crew. It is clear to me that both also care a lot about public service when I ask them about the coolest thing they have seen or done on a NOAA ship. Pratt tells me about being on the first NOAA ship to respond to Deepwater Horizon in 2010. Perry speaks of being part of the national response to Hurricane Katrina, as well as performing marine debris recovery surveys after the Japanese tsunami in 2010 and evacuating islands in American Samoa after the 2009 Chilean earthquake.

As for that buzz Pratt and Perry were talking about that comes with dive trips? Today the dive teams saw a curious octopus come out from under his ledge, tomtate, huge red snapper, butterfly fish, a sub-tropical sponge, and dolphins.


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