Ask a NOAA Marine Scientist
Ask a NOAA Marine Scientist
NOAA scientists Tim Battista and Chris Taylor are researching underwater habitats in the Caribbean.
Learn how you can ask them questions about their work!
Author: The JASON Project Date Posted: 4/20/2011
Tim Battista, a marine scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is leading a group of researchers as they try to locate and map the sensitive coral reef ecosystems and habitats important to fish in the U.S. Caribbean. Over the course of three weeks, the group will explore a large area of the open ocean south of the islands of St. Thomas, St. John and eastern Puerto Rico (Figure 1).
Fig. 2: The NOAA Ship Nancy Foster is a state-of-the-art oceanographic research vessel
that will serve as the floating headquarters for the scientists.
Photo credit: NOAA NCCOS CCMA Biogeography Branch
The data collected will be used to create seamless habitat maps of the sea floor. Identifying the location and distribution of coral reefs and other habitat types in this manner is critical for resource managers and scientists. Much like the maps we use above water to find streets and buildings, coral reef ecosystem scientists and managers use the sea floor maps to locate important habitats they need to study, monitor and protect. These maps are also useful to ship and ferry captains who need to safely navigate their vessels to avoid contact with the reef that can damage both the sensitive habitat and their vessels.
Twenty-four hour operations take place aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, a 187-foot oceanographic research vessel equipped with all the tools needed for complex mission like this one (Figure 2). From there, researchers use technologies like sonar to create images of the sea floor through a process that’s very similar to how a bat or dolphin uses sound to locate an object. The team also uses an underwater robot called a remotely operated vehicle (or ROV) to capture live underwater video feeds, as well as small drop cameras and other tools to collect data.
Chris Taylor, an ecologist with NOAA, is one of the scientists on the mission. He’s interested in fish behavior and how they relate to their surrounding environments. While aboard the Nancy Foster, he will use sonar and other high-tech gadgets to study fish movements and how fish use certain habitats.
Marine scientists have more fun! As a marine scientist Tim Battista has a dream job exploring, researching and visiting ocean communities all over the world. Tim grew up in, around or under the water and is an explorer at heart. He recalls that as a child nothing was more fantastic then wading by foot in the marshes of the Chesapeake Bay, with the mud oozing through his toes, birds and fish scattering, as he looked for the tastiest oyster to pop open with a pocket knife and slurp down. The road to becoming a scientist was a natural progression of both wanting to explore the infinite questions he had (and still has) about how and why marine life grow and survive.
Tim went to Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont where he majored in biology and had a minor in creative writing. While Vermont was far from the sea, college taught him skills on how to think analytically, develop and test research questions, but more importantly how to convey those findings to others. After graduating from Middlebury College, he earned a master’s and doctorate in Oceanography from University of Maryland Horn Point Lab. Tim is now a marine scientist and oceanographer with NOAA where he enjoys applying the new technologies to various aspects of marine science. Aside from conducting research, Tim wants to encourage, expose, and excite the next generation of young scientists.
How does a kid from the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota become interested in coral reefs? Chris Taylor will tell you that the closest he got to the ocean as a child was watching NOVA and Jacques Cousteau specials on public television. In fact, he didn’t set foot in saltwater until he was in seventh grade. Chris always enjoyed science and math in school. And he knew he wanted to study aquatic environments, but had only really gotten his feet wet in a few of the 10,000 lakes and headwaters of the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota. During a field trip to the Gulf of Mexico, he became interested in marine fish and marine biology. He went to graduate school and earned a master’s and doctorate in zoology and statistics at North Carolina State University.
Now, he is a marine ecologist with NOAA’s National Ocean Service at the Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research in Beaufort, North Carolina. He is particularly interested in fish behavior and fish habitat ecology and using high-tech tools to spy on fishes without disturbing them or their habitats. But he never turns down an opportunity scuba dive and observe the coral reefs with his own eyes. When not on research missions, Chris tries to spend as much time outside and on the water as possible. He shares this time with his wife, Larisa Avens (a sea turtle biologist, also with NOAA), twin six-year-old boys Kai and Lukas, dogs Molly and Cedar, and box turtles Lucky and Helen.