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Maka Niu Workshop with the Quinault Indian Nation

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

Reflections on cultivating collaborations with the Quinault Indian Nation

Lake Quinault. Photo credit Jessica Sandoval.

Last month, we had the great honor of co-hosting a two-day training and deployment workshop with the Division of Natural Resources of the Quinault Indian Nation in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, in an effort spearheaded by Scott Mazzone, marine and shellfish biologist for the tribe. Mazzone and the Division of Natural Resources are the newest members of the Maka Niu community and were the first recipients of our new Maka Niu Light Module.

On the first day, prior to jumping into the training session, we were hosted at the Taholah School District to speak with students about the important work of deep-sea exploration. This speaking event was arranged by educator Jerry Walther, who has been bringing hands-on underwater exploration and fisheries topics into the high school classroom.

From the school, we performed a mini-deployment of the Maka Niu Camera and Light Modules off of the docks of the Quinault Pride Seafood packaging house. It was a treat walking into the facility and seeing all of the fresh fish and seafood getting carefully packaged for shipment across the country. The Maka Niu imaging and sensing system was readied on the docks, fastening it into its new aluminum armature, and hand-lowered to the river below. While the modules were deployed in the Quinault River, we watched American Bald Eagles fly in the distance, their calls resonating off of the water. Members of the tribe were very kind in sharing a bit of their history and that of the tribe, explaining the legacy of fisheries for the nation. Throughout the generations and over the course of history, the Quinault Indian Nation remains ever-resolved on the sustainable and protected care of the land and sea. This great care is evident in the pristine waters there along the river and coast.

View out to the Quinault River from the dock at the Quinault Pride Seafood. Photo credit Jessica Sandoval.

Upon retrieving the Maka Niu system, we were able to download the videos and watch as small juvenile salmon flitted about in front of the camera. This excited flurry of fish was increased as fishermen added roe and bits of fish from the processing facility to the area in front of the camera. At just a few meters depth, it was surprising the abundance of life. Through this footage, we were observing juvenile salmon before they start their journey of maturation and venture out from the mouth of the river into the sea.

On the second day, we went to Lake Quinault, where we first stopped by a fish tagging and sorting station hosted by the fisheries department. This mobile tagging and sorting facility was an impressive feat, within which fish of different sizes zoomed by to be autonomously tagged, classified, and sorted within a matter of seconds. It was very much a scene out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, except in this case, instead of candy, these were juvenile fish (but arguably even tastier).

At Lake Quinault, we ferried a boat to the middle of the lake to the floating hatchery rearing pens, which raise fish for their eventual release into the river system. There, we met back up with Jerry and two high school students who were testing out the latest and greatest low-cost ROVs. As an ROV pilot myself, I was very impressed by the maneuverability of the little six thruster vehicle; it had such agility I could have been convinced that it was doing some form of water aerobics.

From left to right: Scott Mazzone and Alan Sarich carry the Maka Niu Modules along the hatchery rearing pens at Lake Quinault. Alan hand deploys the Maka Niu System from the deck to 30 m depth. Photo credit Jessica Sandoval.

We readied the Maka Niu Camera and Light Modules within the aluminum armature and hand deployed it off the side of the hatchery rearing pens to 30 m depth. And there we waited, looking out to the surrounding mountains and hills lined with abundant forest. Not a bad day at work with a view like that. While waiting, we opportunistically lowered a second Maka Niu Camera Module into the belly of a rearing pen. The footage was certainly a flurry of juvenile fish, both inspecting and shying away from the lens of a camera. The field day was a success, with two deployments to 30 m. The day passed quickly, as seems to happen when you are in a pristine location surrounded by kind and friendly individuals. But we are ever grateful for the experience and excited for the sea and lake trials that Scott and the team have in store.

We are very excited to be working with the Ocean Discovery League and to be given the opportunity to field test the Maka Niu. For the longest time, we have been looking for an inexpensive platform to explore and document the underwater ecosystem which comprises our Usual and Accustomed (U&A) fishing area off the coast of Washington State USA. - Scott Mazzone, Quinault Indian Nation

At ODL, we are committed to our mission statement that, in order to explore our global oceans and bodies of water, we must all honor the traditions, history, and cultural values of the local communities to ensure a respectful and inclusive atmosphere. The Quinault Indian Nation has a profound, significant, and unique heritage and connection to their environment, as demonstrated in the care for their waters and land. Being able to participate in the deployments on the reservation and be included in the retellings of oral history was a distinctive honor. The successful workshop was a testament to the power of collaboration and the commitment that every community should have the opportunity to explore and cherish their natural surroundings.

The training workshop and development of the Maka Niu Light Module were funded with great generosity by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and NOAA Ocean Exploration.

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