Ocean lover returns to the water


POSTED: Sunday, July 26, 2009

A body boarder who spent every day at the beach before going to college is the new commanding officer of the Ka'imimoana, the only National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship dedicated to climate research.

Lt. Cmdr. Stephanie Koes, 40, said she was introduced to the NOAA Corps while working in Arizona and saw it as an opportunity to “;do something different”; and get back to the ocean.

She didn't expect to command a 224-foot, 2,300-ton vessel when she became a NOAA Corps ensign, she said in an interview. “;I'm shocked they gave me such an opportunity in only 7 1/2 years.”;

Koes graduated in 1987 from Kalani High School where she was on the basketball team, then went on to Colorado State University and Arizona State University where she earned a degree in chemical engineering.

She worked at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality before joining the NOAA Corps and rising quickly through the ranks.

Her mother, Eleanor Koes, retired Straub Clinic and Medical Center medical technician, was among those present at an informal change of command ceremony July 10 on Ford Island.

Ford Island is home port for three NOAA ships—the Ka'imimoana, Oscar Elton Sette and Hi'ialakai. The Ka'imimoana (Hawaiian for “;Ocean Seeker”;) just returned after nine months at sea replacing and repairing buoys along the equator in NOAA's Tropical Atmosphere-Ocean Project.

An array of more than 70 ATLAS (Autonomous Temperature Line Acquisition System) buoys transmit real time ocean current, temperature and salinity information to the National Data Buoy Center.

The information is used to forecast El Ninos and La Ninas—ocean phenomena that affect global climate. An El Nino is developing now with warming of ocean water in the central and eastern tropical Pacific.

The buoys look big on the ship but “;not when you're trying to find them out there,”; Koes said, explaining it takes all day to get to a buoy and six to eight hours to recover one.

They're often missing or damaged—a loss of costly equipment and valuable data—largely because fishermen tie lines to the moorings to collect fish, she said.

Emily Rose, 25, junior officer and navigation officer on the Ka'imimoana, called Koes “;a great mentor that I can aspire to be.”; Rose graduated in 2006 from the University of Hawaii where she was on the soccer team and has been in the NOAA Corps 1 1/2 years.

“;I love it,”; she said. “; I am learning so much. I grew up in Wyoming, for goodness sake. Navigation? What's that? On the ship, you find your little niche and learn what you can.”;

Koes said her goal is to be commanding officer of the Hi'ialakai, which does coral reef mapping and supports the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Koes became executive officer of the Ka'imimoana in May 2007 and took command June 12, relieving Lt. Cmdr. James Illg, who went to NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle as associate director of operations.

She said it's fun but she has trouble sleeping at sea. “;It comes with the job because ultimately I have responsibility for the safety and lives of everyone aboard.”;

Koes chose the NOAA ship Rainier for her first sea assignment, spending three years doing hydrographic surveys of the Pacific Coast and Alaska. She was at the South Pole in Antarctica for a year and had an eight-month assignment in American Samoa.

Her next assignment after April or May will be at the NOAA laboratory in Seattle for three years, she said, admitting she'd rather be at sea.

The Ka'imimoana is expected to be here until Aug. 2, then go out for 35 days to work on buoys near the Marquesas, Koes said.

Meanwhile, she's enjoying “;having mom cook me dinner”; in the Kaimuki home where she grew up. “;Whatever mom makes works for me. I will have mangoes for sure and I might go diving.”;




History of NOAA Corps dates back to 1917

        The NOAA Corps, smallest of the seven uniformed services, was formed in 1917 as a descendant of the former U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey launched by President Thomas Jefferson for a “;Survey of the Coast.”;

It has about 300 commissioned officers, mostly scientists and engineers, and it was the first uniformed service in 1972 to recruit women on the same basis as men.


The officers operate the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's ships and aircraft to support its missions, ranging from flying snow surveys in Alaska to servicing buoys in the tropical Pacific and launching weather balloons at the South Pole. They also manage research projects, conduct diving operations and serve in NOAA staff positions.


Source: NOAA