NOAA research vessel opens doors to the public

Groups of children, students, and adults toured the Oscar Elton Sette, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel, last Saturday at Charlie Dock in Puerto Rico.

The vessel had just finished the first leg of its 30-day research in the Northern Islands.

The first leg lasted from June 19 to July 3 and included research on fishery resources around the islands of Uracus, Maug, and Asuncion.

Scientists and crew who were apart of the expedition led tour groups around the Sette, explaining various parts of the ship important to its operations and the scientific research done aboard.

The vessel’s crew is led by Lt. Commander Stephanie Koes, its commanding officer, while the research group was led by Dr. Robert Humphrey, chief scientist on the trip.

Tom Castro, one of those who toured the ship, said the open house offered “a better perspective of what was going on up there [in the Northern Islands].” Castro would like to see more open houses like these to give the public more ideas for career opportunities.

Ensign David McVay, the navigation officer of the Sette, explained to the visiting group the education and experience needed in order to man the NOAA vessel. He said a bachelor’s degree in mathematics or science combined with maritime experience allowed him to work on the vessel. He had worked for the Coast Guard for four and a half years.

Guides like McVay took groups across the deck, up ladders, and different rooms of the ship. Rooms like the “wet” lab are where scientists store fish and fish parts they collect for study.

Humphreys explained they take the otolith, the ear bone of a fish, to study marks on the bone that help determine a fish’s age and longevity. He hopes the data can tell scientists about the lives and sizes of the fisheries being studied.

McVay explained the uses of research instruments like the Conductivity Temperature Depth Cast, or CTD, which collects water samples from the ocean at various depths.

The CTD is attached to a cable up to 2,000 meters long and is comprised of sampling bottles equipped with depth sensors. At various depths, sensors are triggered and a bottle’s cap pops open to collect samples that can be used to measure oxygen, temperature, salinity, and pH at different depth.

Other features of the tour were small outdriven boats stationed on deck and hydrochemistry and computer labs used by the scientists.

The research vessel is 224 feet long and 43 feet wide and has a cruising speed of 10.5 knots. The vessel had around 20 scientists and 20 crewmembers on their trip north, according to Koes.

John Manahan, a 5th grader from Oleai Elementary School, who came with a group of friends his age, said he enjoyed the open house and found the scientists and crews living quarters to be the most interesting part. “It was fun,” he added.

Hung “Doc” Tran, the only physician on the vessel, was there to greet groups in the mess hall where brochures detailing NOAA careers and programs and refreshments awaited visitors.

One program was “NOAA Teacher At Sea,” which brings hands-on ocean research experience to students in the classroom. For more information see http:/

The Sette supports NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service Honolulu Laboratory and does its research in the Western Pacific.

The vessel is named after O.E. Sette, the first director of the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Services Honolulu laboratory. He is known to many fisheries scientists as the father and pioneer of modern fisheries oceanography in the United States. (Dennis B. Chan)

Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at

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