Founded by deep-sea explorer Dr. Katy Croff Bell, the Ocean Discovery League’s mission is to accelerate deep-ocean exploration by developing accessible systems to broaden the community of those who explore and understand the deep sea.
The deep-sea covers two-thirds of our planet, yet over 99% remains unexplored because present-day ocean exploration is exclusive, expensive, and slow. We aim to create equity in deep-ocean exploration by co-designing accessible, low-cost opportunities and systems for ocean explorers worldwide. This will dramatically increase and accelerate our ability to observe, manage, and protect the ocean, resulting in humankind thriving on earth now and in the future.
A discovered, thriving ocean
The ocean is critical to life on earth, providing more than half of the oxygen we breathe, supplying 20% of the average per capita animal protein intake to 3.1 billion people, and supporting a growing $1.5T global ocean economy. Despite humankind's reliance on the ocean, we have barely explored a fraction of the largest and most crucial component of the earth's biosphere. In addition, recent studies have shown that we are changing the environmental conditions of the deep sea before we even know what is there. As a result, we don't fully understand how to wisely use and protect it now and in the future.
Our limited understanding stems from today's inefficient, expensive, and elite approach to exploration. Our technologies are too slow—it would take 10,000+ years to see the entire seafloor at the current rate. Existing robotic vehicles cost millions of dollars and require large ships at tens of thousands of dollars per day. Because of their expense, the few existing technologies are owned and operated by wealthy nations and individuals.
With a growing global population and increasing anthropogenic pressures on earth, the time for a bold initiative to explore, understand, and share the full depths of the oceans is now. We need to invest in new technologies, research methods, and social systems to transform what it means to explore and discover in the 21st century.
By creating a suite of low-cost, distributed tools and supporting a community of explorers around the globe, we will make significantly more progress in understanding our planet than ever before.
The Ocean Discovery League was founded in 2021 and is led by National Geographic Explorer Dr. Katy Croff Bell. Before founding ODL, Bell was the Founding Director of the Open Ocean Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. After four years at the Media Lab, it was necessary to break from the traditional academic structure and start a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization to focus on operationalizing deep-ocean innovation, understanding, and community building.
ODL’s ideas, philosophies, and projects are a continuation of her team’s work in deep-sea exploration over the past 20 years, specifically three initiatives that began during Bell’s time at the Media Lab:
1. Development of low-cost, easy-to-use systems for deep sea exploration, reducing the barriers to access of deep-sea data collection.
2. Ocean artificial intelligence development, advancing underwater imagery and environmental data analysis.
3. Capacity development with underrepresented communities, focusing on those who have been historically excluded from deep sea exploration and research.
Initial pilot projects partnering with strong community leaders and deploying effective, low-cost technologies have proven successful. ODL is bringing forward our learnings to scale up deep-sea data collection, analysis, and training to work with new communities on these important initiatives worldwide.