Challenge

Many nations have deep-sea environments within their maritime Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), yet only a small portion have a way to explore them. Lesser economically developed countries have restricted access to their deep oceans despite their occupying substantial parts of their EEZs. This dearth of technological capability and knowledge leads to a lack of exploration, inappropriate or inadequate management decisions, and unaware populations. Our goal is to empower countries around the world to explore their own deep-sea backyards using low-cost technology, while building lasting in-country capacity.

Approach

Our pilot project is designed to provide deepwater access and increased technological capacity in two developing nations. This approach will have three aims:

1) Access to emerging deep-ocean technology that can be used from any platform

2) Training for an in-country scientist, student, and communicator to enable use and dissemination of findings from that technology

3) Provision of a MSc scholarship for a student from each country

This three-pronged approach will build long-term in-country capacity for deep-sea exploration, detailed below:

Pilot Countries:

We will work with two small island developing states, the Republic of Kiribati and Trinidad and Tobago. These countries represent the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, which have different cultural, institutional, and physical environments. Strong local links exist within our group (Amon is from Trinidad and Tobago, Rotjan works closely with Kiribati).

Aim 1:

Technology: We will utilize innovative technology developed by National Geographic’s Exploration Technology team (ExTech). We have chosen Deep-Sea Drop Cameras because they collect compelling imagery but require minimal resources and expertise. They can be used in a multitude of ways, including to determine species presence, check bathymetry accuracy, revisit sites over time, explore new locales, or image sites of interest (e.g. shipwrecks). Data collected may necessitate knowledge of species, habitats, image analysis and statistics.

Aim 2:

(a) In-country technology training: We propose that an engineer from National Geographic ExTech and another team member travel to each country to deliver the National Geographic Deep-Sea Drop Cameras to train a group of scientists, engineers, students, and communicators in their use. Technology will then be left in-country with plans to deploy them at least ten times before (b).  

(b) In-USA analysis and media-products training: Following (a), we propose that three representatives from each country (a scientist, a student, and a communicator to be identified during (a)) travel to the USA for further training in data analysis and creating outreach materials. We envision that the scientist and student will collaborate to analyse the captured imagery, whereas the communicator will generate media products to disseminate information in-country, in whatever format they deem culturally-appropriate. Outreach and artistic materials will be created at the MIT Media Lab. This trip will coincide with the National Ocean Exploration Forum, so it is expected that partners will share their experiences and results there.

Aim 3:

Masters-level training: The Deep-Sea Drop Cameras will be on long-term loan, so that each country can continue to explore their own backyards, however, the interpretation and use of data will require higher capacity. For example, how will a country know if a new species has been discovered without taxonomic or ecological expertise? To enable lasting scientific capacity, we propose to have two students matriculate at either Boston University (with Rotjan) or the University of Rhode Island (with Phillips), with other team members serving as committee members or collaborators to leverage the full intellectual heft of our team. This will include access to the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative and Deep-Sea Biology Society, which will enable students to engage more fully in the global community of deep-sea experts. MSc-level training is part of our program to ensure that the country has the necessary tools to put their exploratory findings into the relevant scientific context. Subject to funding availability, a scholarship from National Geographic and/or external partners will be offered to each student to use Deep-Sea Drop Cameras as part of their project. The appropriate student will be identified during Aim 2 via a scholarship RFP in-country. Applicants will be evaluated by the team and asked to apply to the appropriate graduate program; if accepted, the scholarship will be applied towards their degree.  

Additions

Excited by our proposal, OpenROV has pledged two Trident ROVs to enable concurrent mesophotic exploration.

Unknowns

Ultimately, this project will enable the exploration of entirely or mostly unknown deep-sea environments. As a result, the habitats and communities that will be encountered are unknown, which is exciting! Specific deployment locations are also unknown, but will be decided within the first project months. Likewise, ships of opportunity for deployments and retrievals are currently unknown, although we are confident that appropriate vessels will be found. The partners are also unknown, but Rotjan and Amon can help to facilitate via their contacts. Lastly, we are unsure how the knowledge gained from this pilot project will be applied in each country. This is a deliberate choice as we will provide guidance on this matter only if requested.

Resources

Available:

  • Two National Geographic Deep-Sea Drop Cameras

  • Technological expertise from National Geographic

  • Two Trident ROVs

  • Academic expertise and training programs at Boston University, University of Rhode Island, and MIT Media Lab

  • Strong local partnerships in the Republic of Kiribati and Trinidad and Tobago

  • Access to ships and other resources in the Republic of Kiribati and Trinidad and Tobago

  • Science-communication expertise from MIT Media Lab

  • $15,000 USD towards the Trinidad and Tobago component from the Inter-American Development Bank

Required:

  • Travel expenses

  • Partial funding for scholarships

Pending:

  • Tuition waiver from University of Rhode Island for 1-year MSc

  • Tuition support from the Phoenix Islands Protected Area Trust for the 2-year MSc

Timeline

Team Members

Diva Amon, Natural History Museum London / Deep-Sea Biology Society / Trinidad and Tobago

Rafael Anta, Inter-American Development Bank

Katy Croff Bell, MIT Media Lab

Kristina Gjerde, Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative / International Union for Conservation of Nature

Brennan Phillips, University of Rhode Island

Randi Rotjan, Boston University / Phoenix Islands Protected Area / Republic of Kiribati

Miriam Simun, MIT Media Lab

Alan Turchik, National Geographic