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- 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 email@example.com. References: Jang J. (2020) “Marine snow tracking stereo imaging system.” Master’s Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Program in Media Arts and Sciences. https://hdl.handle.net/1721.1/129279.
- 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.
- Welcome to the Ocean Discovery League Blog
Featuring stories of ocean exploration and innovation from around the globe. For the past two years, Ocean Discovery League has been partnering with individuals around the world focused on one key goal: the acceleration of ocean exploration. Want to Share Your Ocean Story? The Ocean Discovery Blog will feature stories from around the world, including first-hand perspectives from our teams in the field. We're interested in guest bloggers with an ocean story to tell! If you would like to contribute, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.