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Broadening the Ocean Exploration Community with OceanX’s Young Explorers Program

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

As part of the Ocean Discovery League team, Nadiah Rosli served as one of the instructors and delivered lessons on 'Impactful Storytelling' and 'Ocean Justice.’

The OceanXplorer research vessel as seen from am aerial view.

Mentimun bulat, panjang ta’ lebar, Ketiga dengan biji-biji-nya;

Lautan embun, karang terbabar,

Alam bergerak dengan sendiri-nya.

The cucumbers are round, long but not wide, Their seeds they make three; The sea is covered in dew, the coral out-spread, The world moves on its own and free.

This is a 'pantun,' a traditional Malay poetic form of rhymed quatrains and widely celebrated in maritime Southeast Asia through music, song, and writing. The verses likely trace back to the Orang Laut (a generic term encompassing the inhabitants in seafaring communities along the coastline of the Malay Peninsula, east Sumatra, and Borneo, as well as on islands offshore), and eloquently depict life at sea and the locals' profound relationship with the ocean. The pantun was collected by Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir Munshi, a prominent literary figure and thinker in the Malay world in the 19th century, and stands as a testament to the rich maritime heritage of my region. As an environmental journalist from Malaysia, my writings delve into these maritime cultural threads and deep-seated connections to the ocean - intricate and intimate facets of life such as foodways, celebrations, ceremonies, fishing practices, and folklore, among others.

Therefore, the irony of my situation was not lost on me during my maiden expedition at sea in August 2023 while on board the OceanXplorer. I realized early on that even invoking the strength of my seafaring ancestors couldn't keep seasickness at bay. And I'm sure I wasn't the only participant of OceanX’s fourth Young Explorers Program (YEP IV) questioning their life choices during those choppy first nights at sea. Amidst the rolling waves and gathering tips from those on board about how to deal with queasy stomachs, I began to reflect on the significance of fostering a sense of community in ocean exploration. Over the course of the 10-day expedition, which embarked from Bergen, Norway, and headed to Brest, France, I had the opportunity to explore the meaning of community building at sea and beyond, particularly its importance in ocean advocacy and conservation.

It was a tremendous honor and joy to learn with and from this YEP IV group, whose collective curiosity, excitement, and insight kept me engaged through the packed schedule and late nights. Image Credit: OceanX

YEP IV brought together 16 undergraduate students from colleges and universities across the US including Spelman College, Howard University, Yale University, Stanford University, University of Southern California, Maine Maritime Academy, Sacred Heart University, Western Washington University, Dartmouth College, and Worcester Polytechnic. All were pursuing various academic disciplines, including the sciences, filmmaking, mathematics, engineering, small vessel operations, and politics & economics. Throughout the education program, the students were mentored by faculty and staff from Spelman College, Black in Marine Science, Stanford University, and Ocean Discovery League (ODL) alongside the OceanX team and the OceanXplorer crew. Students participated in hands-on scientific demonstrations and workshops in ocean science, storytelling and media, and marine operations. The program also aimed to introduce the multidisciplinary nature of ocean science and help the students see the various career paths available in ocean exploration.

Despite the size of the ocean, which covers approximately 70% of the planet, only 5% of the ocean has been explored, and as of this year, 24.9 of the global seafloor had been mapped. To help answer the question of what's down there, the OceanXplorer is equipped with advanced ocean exploration tools such as the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) device, Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), submersibles and multibeam sonar to map ecosystems of the deep sea. Having watched numerous online videos of these devices, seeing them up close when they are deployed was an incredible privilege. Still, I also had to ask myself, "When will I have the chance to see this amazing technology again?"

Gallery Image Credits: OceanX/ODL/Susan Poulton

Ocean exploration and marine science face significant challenges due to their reliance on advanced technology and substantial financial investments, further exacerbated by inequitable access to existing tools and resources worldwide (Partelow et al., 2020; Bell et al., 2023). While these barriers to ocean exploration require huge changes within the sector, OceanX’s Young Explorer Program is taking steps to address some of these issues. For instance, participants have access to experts and resources on board, including OceanXplorer's state-of-the-art research facilities and media lab. In turn, they are given plenty of space to discover a holistic approach to ocean research and problem-solving relevant to their studies and fields.

YEP IV participants are astonished when they discover that Manu Prakash's microscope also has WiFi.

OceanXplorer's multinational crew and the Young Explorers Program’s faculty members also facilitated participants to envision an ocean science community that better reflects their own backgrounds and experiences. The field of marine sciences has long grappled with a lack of diversity, both ethnically and racially, making it one of the least inclusive STEM fields. Moreover, there remains an under-representation of scientists from the global South and East in the marine conservation and science arena (Johri et al., 2021).

Students try out their photography skills on board the ship. Image Credit: ODL/ Susan Poulton

An OceanXplorer crew member from the deck department explains the ship's operations to YEP IV students. Image Credit: ODL/Susan Poulton

Dialogues concerning justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion can be awkward, uncomfortable, and even exhausting in many settings. It was refreshing that we did not need to force these conversations during the program. Whether at the workshops, coffee breaks, or dinners, I appreciated that the crew, students, and faculty could openly discuss difficult topics. The students, in particular, articulated their thoughts with grace, empathy, and a strong sense of purpose. These exchanges have also inspired me to think about what I can recalibrate in my own work as a Malaysian journalist, especially within the context of decolonizing media narratives about the ocean.

Dr. Casandra Newkirk, a marine biologist, talked about her research on coral reefs and her involvement with the non-profit Black in Marine Science. Image Credit: ODL/Susan Poulton

The culmination of the expedition was marked by the students' science and media presentations. From spoken poetry and audio clips to videos, short films, photography, and PowerPoint slides, their creative projects not only conveyed their growing appreciation and awareness of the ocean's beauty and significance but also their dedication to effecting positive change in their communities and schools. They are determined to utilize their newfound knowledge and leadership roles to promote ocean literacy and inspire others from similar backgrounds to protect the ocean and pursue marine science or ocean-adjacent careers.

YEP IV students present their impressive media and science projects at the end of the expedition for the program's participants and the ship's crew members, including a candid presentation about coding. Credit: ODL / Nadiah Rosli

My own journey in ocean advocacy has not been straightforward or effortless, and I am grateful for the support, resources, and opportunities I've had over the years. So, while "the world moves on its own and free," I hope that the experiences, memories, and networks from this expedition will assist the students in navigating and charting their own path in the marine space and sustaining their passion and interest in all things ocean-related…for at least another 20 years, please?

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