Teacher at Sea sonar mapping voyage sends environmental educator John Bilotta to the bottom of the ocean and into experiential learning

Bilotta was one of 18 environmental teachers selected in a nation-wide search by NOAA to participate in the sonar mapping of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the South Atlantic Ocean. Scientists are concerned about the health of oceanic habitat of the grouper and tilefish, considered at risk due to low population and overfishing. Information gathered by the Nancy Foster crew will provide a picture of how effective MPA management is in protecting habitat and fisheries between Port Canaveral, Florida and Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Multibeam sonar sensors create detailed maps of the ocean floor, to guide Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) outfitted with multiple cameras and measuring equipment as they record the terrain of the ocean floor. A team of researchers identified and recorded the information sent back to the surface from the ROVs, to measure the effectiveness of current habitat management efforts in MPAs.

Over the next year, the scientists will study the observations of the sea life and habitat retrieved from the ROVs and the resulting report will guide the management plan of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which oversees commercial and recreational fishing in the area.

As for Bilotta, who is director and an instructor at Earth Adventure, he hopes to bring his adventures at the bottom of the Atlantic home to his Earth Balloon classroom. He will also apply lessons learned to Nemo’s watershed game which he presents to civic leaders to generate ideas for stormwater management and pollution prevention strategies.

“It’s up on the land where we as humans often have the greatest impact that ultimately impact oceans, lakes, and rivers. The aspiration of my teaching is that we can minimize those impacts through increased knowledge and awareness. My Teacher at Sea experience has given me new perspectives and tools that I can use in all my teaching venues.”

Bilotta remote operating vehicleThe remote operating vehicle pictured here with Bilotta is equipped with a full spectrum camera, a digital camera, and lasers which allow scientists to measure objects on the ocean floor.