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  • Great Reads for Kids: Women in Ocean Science

    As a child, my favorite books were the Nancy Drew mysteries. Nancy was a smart, adventurous, independent young woman who solved many mysteries with just a hint of danger. I wanted to be just like her. At the time, there were very few children’s books with strong female characters, let alone ones about real women in ocean science. As a result, I never saw myself as an oceanographer until much later in life. The tides have begun to change in recent years. There are now several children’s books that have been published about women who have contributed to ocean science and marine careers, many of whom I knew nothing about until I read picture books about them to my own children. These are some of our favorites: Jeanne Villepreaux-Power was an accomplished French seamstress who married English merchant James Power, and together, they moved to Sicily. There, she became a naturalist with a particular interest in marine biology. She invented the first aquarium to aid her studies of cephalopods and other marine life, resulting in groundbreaking discoveries. Jeanne Villepreaux-Power is featured in Secrets of the Sea: The Story of Jeanne Power, Revolutionary Marine Scientist, by Evan Griffith (2021) and The Girl Who Built an Ocean: An Artist, an Argonaut, and the True Story of the World's First Aquarium by Jess Keating (2022). Half a world away, Eleanor Prentiss learned navigation from her master mariner stepfather while growing up in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Eleanor married Captain Josiah Creesy and served as a navigator on board his vessels. In 1851, they left New York aboard the maiden voyage of the clipper ship Flying Cloud, bound for San Francisco. Eleanor studied all the most modern information about winds and currents, resulting in a record-breaking voyage of 89 days and 20 hours. In 1854, the Creesys broke their own record, which stood for 135 years. Eleanor Prentiss Creesy is featured in Dare the Wind: The Record-breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud, by Tracey Fern (2014). Almost 100 years later, Marie Tharp revolutionized our understanding of the shape and evolution of the seafloor. Using echosounder data collected by Bruce Heezen (women weren’t allowed on research vessels at the time), Tharp and Heezen undertook the first systematic attempt to map the entire ocean floor, discovering rift valleys and significantly contributing to continental drift theory. Marie Tharp is featured in Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor by Robert Burleigh (2016), Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean's Biggest Secret by Jess Keating (2020), and Marie's Ocean: Marie Tharp Maps the Mountains Under the Sea by Josie James (2020). There are so many more amazing stories out there, and I'll add to this list as my children and I find more. Happy reading!

  • Career Profile: Kylie Pasternak, Lead Maka Niu Project Engineer, Ocean Discovery League

    The following are excerpts from an interview with Ethan Altamirano, ODL Communications Intern. Kylie Pasternak is the Lead Maka Niu Project Engineer at Ocean Discovery League. She has been a submersible vehicle operator and marine technician since 2018 and is currently pursuing her Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of Rhode Island. Question: What sparked your initial interest in your career? Kylie Pasternak: I’m from a blue-collar city and learned that after graduating high school, it was very hard to support myself.  So, when I was 24, I started an engineering Associate’s degree program at my local community college. I didn’t know any engineers, and I didn’t really even understand what an engineering career would look like, but I knew that I liked to know how things worked and that I liked working with my hands. One of the engineering electives I took was called Ocean Technology. Each week, we learned about the evolution of ocean technology, which has been used since the 1700s. I was left with so many questions: What do we use now to study the ocean? What do we still have to learn? How will this technology evolve in the future? I didn’t grow up on boats, or with any marine experience, but when I found ocean technology, it felt like the right direction to focus my engineering career on. Question: What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career like yours? Kylie Pasternak: If you have no idea where to start, start by learning the language—building context for yourself is a great first step. I started with learning the names of tools and hardware. It enabled me to get tools for the people I was learning from which helped me build camaraderie and feel purposeful. And when you have the opportunity to work with others, don’t be shy to ask questions - the goal is to learn! I also recommend subscribing to a scientific or technical journal to learn what is currently happening in the industry. If you are a student, you can usually subscribe for free. The journals are great because they also act as a bulletin for jobs, conferences, internships, and the like. You can even reach out to companies that you find in journals to learn more about their product, services, or facilities and ask about career opportunities they might have available. Volunteering is a great means to participate in the industry. The ocean technology industry is a small world, and the connections you make through volunteerism are very valuable. Volunteering with a local STEM group helped me build my confidence in my skills, and the group organizers wrote the recommendation letters that helped me get my first-at-sea experiences. Last and most importantly, remember that anyone from any walk of life can have a career like mine. You just have to start. Build your knowledge, seek out opportunities, and establish connections—rinse and repeat. Question: What makes you passionate about ocean exploration? Kylie Pasternak: I'm a technician at heart, and my formal training is in engineering, but I also really love ocean sciences. So, what makes me feel fulfilled is contributing to ocean research in a way that suits my talents by providing scientists with tools that enable them to access, sample, and investigate marine ecosystems.

  • Career Profile: Katy Croff Bell, President & Founder, Ocean Discovery League

    The following are excerpts from an interview with Ethan Altamirano, ODL Communications Intern. Katy Croff Bell is the founder and president of Ocean Discovery League, where she oversees the organization's operations and is responsible for its success. Her passion for ocean engineering began while she was at MIT, where she discovered her love for the field and knew that it was the path for her. Question: What sparked your initial interest in your career? Katy Croff Bell: My first experience with hands-on ocean exploration was on a trio of fishing boats outfitted with sonar and a small ROV (remotely operated vehicle) in the Mediterranean. I used sonar to scan the seafloor for targets and then used ROV to investigate these targets. This was an amazing experience that affirmed my love of deep ocean exploration and oceanography. Question: What are some of the highlights of your career in ocean exploration? Katy Croff Bell: There have been so many! Becoming a National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2006 was an incredible honor, and then I became a National Geographic Fellow in 2017. My work with National Geographic has connected me to dozens of amazing explorers around the globe and generated lifelong friendships. I also had the incredible privilege of overseeing all operations for E/V Nautilus for the Ocean Exploration Trust. I was in charge of the logistics of running a 220-foot exploration vessel with a rapidly rotating crew of scientists and researchers. I worked with a team to oversee expedition planning and our research objectives. I also participated in numerous Nautilus expeditions as Chief Scientist, researching and exploring underwater volcanoes, seamounts, and ocean archaeological sites. In 2022, a statue of me was placed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as part of the IF/THEN She Can Exhibit highlighting women in STEM careers. Visiting the statue with my daughter and having her learn about so many of my colleagues in ocean science was a delight. However, starting my own organization and pursuing my passion for bringing the tools of deep ocean exploration to as many people as possible has to be one of the greatest highlights so far, and I'm looking forward to many more! Question: Where did you learn about building or starting an organization? Katy Croff Bell: After my first Mediterranean adventure, I was selected to be a Knauss Marine Policy Fellow, where I worked with the newly created NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration, the only federal program dedicated to exploring the deep ocean. There, I learned how to build and manage highly effective organizations, which gave me the toolkit to run the Open Ocean Initiative and now Ocean Discovery League. Question: How was Ocean Discovery League founded? Katy Croff Bell: The Open Ocean Initiative was started at MIT Media Lab, where I was hired as a Director’s Fellow and Research Scientist to run the program. I worked on developing solutions for limited access to deep ocean exploration, leading to the development of innovative projects like Maka Niu and Wayfinder, and also outreach initiatives like LILLI, which is now part of the Volvo Ocean Race. In the summer of 2021, I decided it was time to spin out of MIT Media Lab to continue the important work of the Open Ocean Initiative with Ocean Discovery League. The organization was created, and we continue to build systems that bring more people to deep ocean exploration. My goal is to make deep ocean exploration accessible to everyone and to help people understand the importance of ocean exploration.

  • The Future of Exploration: Accessing the Deep

    As a deep ocean explorer, I've dedicated my life to discovering and understanding the remarkable ecosystems concealed in the depths of the ocean. The future of deep sea exploration is not only critical but also immensely exciting. The deep ocean has always fascinated me. It's a world where the sun's rays do not penetrate and the pressure is crushing. Yet, despite these harsh conditions, life thrives in unexpected ways. I recently contributed an essay to the book The Future of Exploration, a collection of writings from over 35 lifelong explorers about the future of exploration. In the essay, I delve into the strategy of Ocean Discovery League (ODL), the organization I founded with the goal of democratizing deep ocean exploration. We believe that the more people who have access to the tools and knowledge needed for exploring the deep sea, the better equipped we will be to protect and preserve these fragile ecosystems. "As I have grown throughout my career, I have become committed to opening up the field of deep ocean exploration to help others navigate it and to provide the support and tools necessary to make deep ocean exploration accessible to all. I have made a commitment to mentor other women through this process, providing advice and guidance wherever possible." One of the critical aspects of our strategy is the development and distribution of lower-cost and easier to use exploration tools. Traditionally, deep sea exploration has been prohibitively expensive, limited to a select few who could secure funding for costly research expeditions. This exclusivity has hindered our understanding of the deep ocean, leaving vast areas unexplored and countless species undiscovered. Lowering the cost of exploration tools is a game-changer. It means that more scientists, researchers, and explorers from around the world can participate in deep ocean expeditions. It means that small organizations and even individuals with a passion for the deep sea can make meaningful contributions to our understanding of this unique environment. Picture local researchers in countries with extensive coastlines conducting vital deep-sea surveys without relying on the support of large research institutions. This vision is within our reach, and ODL is leading the way. "Our limited understanding of the deep sea stems from today’s inefficient, expensive, and inequitable approach to exploration. Our technologies are too slow—it would take more than ten thousand years to see the entire seafloor at our current rate of exploration. The robotic vehicles that exist today cost millions of dollars and require large ships at a rate of tens of thousands of dollars per day. Even if we were to add ten or a hundred times more vessels and vehicles to the global fleet, it would still not be enough to catch up with the pace at which humans are changing the environmental conditions of the deep sea before we even know what is there." You can read more below in my essay in The Future of Exploration and I encourage you to purchase a copy, as all proceeds from the sale will go toward grants for future explorers. The book contains first-hand accounts of adventure and discovery from world-renowned public figures, including Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle, Bob Ballard, Richard Branson, Yvon Chouinard, Paula Kahumbu, Nainoa Thompson, Sven Lindblad, and more. Read Full Essay: Purchase The Future of Exploration:

  • The Story of Modern Ocean Exploration

    The story of modern ocean exploration is a testament to human curiosity, innovation, and our need to understand the natural world. With each expedition, we move one step closer to unraveling the secrets of the deep ocean. In this post, we'll dive into how modern ocean exploration has evolved over the past 150 years and its impact on our understanding of the deep ocean. A Groundbreaking Voyage Our timeline begins with the Challenger Expedition, a landmark scientific endeavor that set sail in 1872. This legendary voyage marked a pivotal moment in the history of oceanography, as it was the first to focus exclusively on the ocean depths. HMS Challenger circumnavigated the globe, collecting samples, measuring oceanographic data, and laying the foundation for the modern study of marine science. As oceanography progressed, so did the technology at our disposal. Innovations like echo sounders, sediment samplers, and advanced navigation tools greatly enhanced our ability to explore the ocean's depths. These technological leaps allowed researchers to delve deeper into the mysteries of the sea, setting the stage for more ambitious endeavors. The Submersibles Revolution The 20th century witnessed a revolution in deep-sea exploration with the introduction of submersibles like the Turtle and Nautilus. These crewed vehicles offered scientists unprecedented access to the ocean's depths, revealing a world teeming with life and wonder that had remained hidden for millennia. Turtle was one of the earliest submarines in history and was created by American inventor David Bushnell in 1775. The submarine was propelled by a hand-cranked and pedal-powered propeller and featured a diving chamber for the operator. Despite its limited success, Turtle is considered an early precursor to modern submarines and played a significant role in the development of underwater technology. In the 20th century, the advent of submersibles like the Bathyscaphe Trieste, which reached the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench, marked a significant milestone. This descent, undertaken by Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh in 1960, took humans to the deepest point on Earth, a depth of nearly 10,911 meters, a feat that has only been repeated a handful of times since. Technological Advancements and Deep-Sea Vehicles Modern ocean exploration extends beyond crewed submersibles. Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) allow for precision research at extreme depths, gathering valuable data without the risks associated with human presence. These advanced tools continue to expand the frontiers of deep-sea exploration. These uncrewed vehicles, controlled from the surface, can stay underwater indefinitely, allowing for extended observations and detailed studies of the deep sea. The Development of Telepresence The evolution of deep-sea exploration technology is not just about going deeper but also about increasing our presence in the deep sea. With the advent of telepresence technology, scientists worldwide can participate in deep-sea expeditions in real time without leaving their offices. They can observe the live video feed from the ROVs, discuss findings with the onboard team, and even guide the exploration. Low-Cost Technology and the Future of Deep-Sea Exploration As we look to the future, the possibilities for deep-sea exploration appear boundless. At Ocean Discovery League, the next frontier is broadening access to the deep sea by developing low-cost systems that accelerate ocean exploration. As we continue to push the boundaries of technology and accessibility, we can expect to gain a deeper understanding of our world and our place in it. Image References (1) "A History of Sea Power" By William Oliver Stevens, Allan Westcott, Allan Ferguson Westcott Published by G. H. Doran company, 1920, pg. 294. Public Domain. (2) Retrieved from NH 96801 U.S. Navy Bathyscaphe Trieste (1958-1963), Art collection, U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command website. Public Domain. (3) NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2019

  • Ancient Fascination With the Deep Sea

    Human fascination with the ocean's depths dates back thousands of years. Long before the age of modern technology and oceanography, there was a natural curiosity to explore and discover what lay beneath the surface. 5,800 BCE - present: Freediving into the Unknown Evidence of shells and 8,000-year-old pearls discovered at archaeological sites suggests that the people of Mesopotamia were one of the first to engage in primitive underwater exploration primarily focused on freediving for pearl oysters. Freediving has a rich and extensive history, from the Ama divers of Japan to the Yahgan Indians of the Cape Horn region. Many coastal communities relied on food from the ocean and were prepared to push the boundaries of their bodies whilst gathering shell fish, seaweed, pearls and other resources. 500 BCE: Legendary Ancient Divers Scyllias and Cyana Among the most renowned freedivers of their time were Scyllias and his daughter Cyana, famed for their salvaging work. These divers specialized in recovering cargo from sunken vessels. In 500 BCE, they were commissioned by the Persian King Xerxes to carry out their salvage work during one of the numerous conflicts between the Persians and Greeks. Not wanting to lose these invaluable divers, Xerxes refused to permit their return home upon completing their work. In retaliation, they destroyed one of Xerxes' fleets by diving into a stormy sea and cutting the mooring lines of the vessels at anchor. 325 BCE: Early Attempts at Measuring Ocean Depth Early mariners were the first pioneers of deep-sea exploration, albeit with limited tools and technology. They would drop weighted lines overboard to gauge the depth of the ocean, a method known as sounding. One of the earliest documented efforts to measure ocean depth was by the Greek philosopher and historian Pytheas, who lived in 325 BCE. Pytheas ventured around north-western Europe, creating some of the earliest known maps of the region. His explorations marked an early attempt to understand the vastness of the ocean. The details recorded by Pytheas were interpreted 500 years later by Ptolemy in 200 AD. 345 BCE - 1500 AD: The First Diving Bells As humanity's desire to explore the ocean's unknown depths increased, one intriguing tale from Aristotle, published in 1886 in France, suggests that Alexander the Great, at the age of 11, entered a glass case reinforced with metal bands and was lowered into the sea by a chain over 600 feet long. Aristotle's account mentions, "...they enable the divers to respire equally well by letting down a cauldron, for this does not fill with water but retains the air, for it is forced straight down into the water." As scientific inquiry blossomed, inventors experimented with various diving designs. For example, Leonardo da Vinci sketched several diving systems and prototypes of modern goggles and fins over 500 years ago. While these early machines may not have achieved full functionality, they symbolize humanity's fascination with the deep sea, and the legacy of this curiosity lives on in today's oceanic endeavors. Lessons learned from early seafarers and explorers have paved the way for the birth of modern ocean exploration. References E.A. Wallis Budge, The History of Alexander the Great, Vol. 2 (1893), p. 190

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

    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.’ 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?

  • A Strategy for Improved Accessibility and Sustainability of the Low-Cost Ocean Technology Community

    From October 2nd to October 5th, the Ocean Discovery League hosted a workshop at the Collective Solution Accelerator held by the Deep Ocean Observing Strategy (DOOS). This accelerator was a four-day event focused on bridging communities within the deep-ocean observing space to develop action-oriented solutions. The accelerator was broken into five concurrently running Mini-Workshops (Cheap & Deep Technology, Deepening the Decade, Habitat Mapping, Ocean Mixing, and Seafloor Microbial Ecosystem Services). ODL hosted the technology-oriented workshop “Cheap & Deep Technology as a Means for Capacity Development.” Our workshop had a star-studded group of fourteen technology users, developers, providers, program coordinators, and funders from six countries. We aimed to assess the current state of low-cost ocean technology, generate a set of common language and technical standards, prioritize gaps in access, and develop a roadmap of low-cost technology goals for sustained ocean observation. We had our work cut out for us, and off we went! The three-day mini-workshop encompassed nine 1.5-hour sessions during which we churned through a wide array of topics, priorities, and activities. Workshop attendees spent most of the time interactively engaging with each other while discussing the material. The excitement and camaraderie in the room were palatable as we churned through our topics (and, coincidentally, many post-it notes). After three days of intense workshopping, we arrived at pages worth of invaluable notes, a concrete set of recommendations to the low-cost ocean community, and larger coordinating organizations, such as the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). We are in the process of consolidating these findings and conclusions in a publicly available white paper. While our results are too numerous to summarize in this short blog post, we wanted to review several early learnings. Communication: The disparate nature of the low-cost ocean tech community means we are using different definitions or standards. During our workshop, we focused on coming to a consensus on a set of language and standards, which started with the definition of “Deep” within the context of our field. Unlike hard-and-fast scientific definitions of “deep,” this is much more nuanced as it is highly relative and contextualized by access within user communities. For “deep,” we came to the consensus that it should be defined as “anything below diver depth (40 m) where access gets difficult, and system complexity otherwise increases.” When considering the definition of “low-cost,” there was an overwhelming consensus to move away from the term “cheap,” as it implies low quality. So much for the catchy slogan! Connecting the Community: We need to work to bring together the low-cost ocean tech community, from the providers to the users to funding bodies. We must bring all stakeholders together when creating best practices, technology designs, or visions for the future. Building Infrastructure: Our field is currently fragmented and siloed. Our workshop group recommended that we need an overarching program or coordinator to sew together all low-cost ocean tech efforts across the globe to ensure field longevity. We generated ambitious goals during the workshop, but our collective enthusiasm and momentum remain strong to continue to push the boundaries in this field. Now is the time to put these words into action. We want to sincerely thank the “Lean, Mean, and Extreme” Team (our new name for the workshop). Workshop attendees were (by order of last name) Titus Cañete, Collin Closek, Christine de Silva, Carlos Dominguez-Carrió, Patrick Gorringe, Brian Kennedy, Kim Martini, Erika Montague, Breanna Motsenbocker, Kaitlin Noyes, Tim Noyes, Adam Soule, Sheena Talma, and Amy West. Images from the “Cheap & Deep Technology as a Means for Capacity Development" workshop. Image Credits: Jessica Sandoval, Brian Kennedy, Océane Boulais

  • Illuminating the Deep with the Maka Niu Light Module

    Announcing our newly developed light module, supported by National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and NOAA Ocean Exploration. Light Module for Maka Niu imaging and sensing system. Photo credit Kylie Pasternak Over the past year, we have been developing a deep-sea light module, serving as a new addition to the suite of tools within the Maka Niu imaging and sensing system. Last month, our new light module came online and debuted while on deployment with the Quinault Indian Nation. We are excited to share the details of our newest addition and hope its added functionality will continue to bring deep-sea exploration closer to the hands of communities across the globe. The newly developed Light Module (left) is connected to the Maka Niu Camera Module (right) using a custom waveguide armature. Photo credit Jessica Sandoval. The light module features a very similar form factor to the Maka Niu camera module (about the size of a flashlight). The preliminary work on the new lighting addition was co-ideated by our fabrications expert, Lui Kawasumi, and our undergraduate researcher in 2020/2021, Margaret Sullivan. The final light module created in 2023 can dive to 1500 m and provide illumination to the darkness of the deep sea. The module has four different light intensity modes and is programmable, all selected by the user using an intuitive rotating collar. Like all modules within the Maka Niu family, the light module does not have any cables associated with it and communicates wirelessly to the camera module. Once the light and camera are paired, you can program missions into the Maka Niu camera (such as a time series), and the light will turn on and off accordingly. This wireless pairing and communication may seem easy in the air; however, this gets considerably more complicated underwater. The very presence of water hampers the use of wireless communication underwater. To solve this, we relied on waveguides, which use a medium connecting a source and receiver to propagate a signal and relay the commands from the camera to the light module. This newly evolving field of subsea communication has shown promise in syncing up cameras and strobe lights without the need for cables (Jang J. 2020). For the Maka Niu, the waveguide armature is a custom apparatus that connects the communication of the camera and the light modules and also assists in deployments by providing ample space for hose clamps, U-brackets, and mounting plates. The user can adjust the angle and length of the armature to fit the desired lighting needs. We strived to make the armature highly customizable to the deployment needs of the users. This exciting step forward in underwater lighting lowers the financial barrier to entry for users looking to explore their own deep-sea backyard. The novel form of underwater communication also reduces the reliance on subsea cables, which may be expensive or require routine maintenance and servicing. Together, we anticipate that the new addition of the light module and the Maka Niu imaging and sensing system will continue to lower the technical and financial requirements on the user to execute a deep-sea mission successfully. This work was supported by a generous grant from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and NOAA Ocean Exploration. The Maka Niu Light and Camera Modules are available through our lending program. For inquiries, please reach out to References: Jang J. (2020) “Marine snow tracking stereo imaging system.” Master’s Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Program in Media Arts and Sciences.

  • Maka Niu Workshop with the Quinault Indian Nation

    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.

  • Latinas in Ocean Exploration

    Photo Credit: Erin Ranney This month is Hispanic Heritage month, and it provides an interesting moment to reflect on what it means to me to be a sea-going Latina in ocean exploration. When I started working at sea seven years ago, I was the only female, let alone the only Latina, on an entire ROV engineering team. This sensation was not necessarily new to me, as this was a similar reality that I experienced throughout university up through my doctorate. However, this familiar sensation did not imply that there were no moments in which I felt isolated (which is only compounded when you factor in that I was in the middle of the ocean). Luckily, I have been fortunate during my time at sea to be a part of ROV and engineering teams that have been very accepting, supportive, and open to change. Being a part of a supportive team makes a world of difference in shaping one’s sea-going experience. It is not uncommon to hear stories of “old boys clubs,” as ocean engineering groups that are dominated by white male figures are sometimes referred to. But now, it feels like we are at a precipice. A new wave of ocean engineers and explorers has brought with it fresh new perspectives, backgrounds, and identities. I now have the distinct privilege of working with many incredible engineers, navigators, visionaries, and explorers of diverse backgrounds and identities, rejuvenating my spirits by seeing a more balanced representation in ocean exploration. I feel encouraged to see how far we have come in the sea-going community in the past few years. There is much work left to do, and we must push for more balanced representation; however, the strides forward feel significant. It is my hope that by broadening participation coupled with increasing advocacy, more Latinas will see themselves reflected in the field of ocean exploration and join the new wave of sea-going engineers, scientists, seafarers, and explorers. Photo Credit: Ed McNichol Dr. Jessica Sandoval is the Systems R&D Lead Engineer for Ocean Discovery League and an accomplished ocean explorer, engineer, and scientist. She specializes in the fields of bioinspired robotics and deep-sea exploration technologies and is a contracted pilot of Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). In 2022, she was named by the Explorers Club as one of "50 Explorers to Know."

  • IF/THEN Statues on the National Mall

    In celebration of Women's Futures Month, the Smithsonian Institution hosted #IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit, the largest number of women statues ever assembled in one location, at one time. This exhibit is part of the AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador initiative because "a 2016 study led by former US Treasurer Rosie Rios found that the ten largest US cities publicly displayed fewer than six statues of real women." I was honored to be included as one of the 122 3-D printed statues of contemporary female STEM professionals and role models from various industries, including exploration, entertainment, sports, business, and academia. In March, my family road-tripped to Washington, DC, to see my statue at the National Museum of Natural History. I expected it to be a cool experience, but it isn't easy to articulate how powerful it was to see so many women honored in a place that generally has few (if any) statues of women. My first trip to DC was with my Dad when I was 11 years old. If someone had told me 30 years ago when I went to the Smithsonian for the first time that a statue of *me* would be standing in those hallowed halls, I probably wouldn't have believed it. Many of the other statues are holding symbols of their work–microscope, globe, shovel, and brain to name a few. I couldn’t bring a ship or big ROV with me so I went small–on one wrist is a felt bracelet that my then-4yr old daughter made for me and my MIT Brass Rat…and on the other is my Vostok Amphibia, the same watch that Steve Zissou wears in The Life Aquatic, which was a gift from my husband (with advice from my brother). The most incredible part of the trip, however, was the impact of the exhibition on others, particularly my daughter, who hugged big orange me as soon as we arrived. She could have spent a week finding and learning about women in STEM, many of whom I have the pleasure of knowing and working with throughout my career (Allison Fundis, Jess Cramp, and many more!). We met a lovely family from Austin with three young children who were in awe that they met one of the orange statues in real life!! I also overheard many, many people reading about the statues throughout the city and commenting on how amazing the exhibit was. I can’t wait for my baby son to not even know what a huge deal this exhibit is–because, hopefully, he will just think that gender representation like this is normal.

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