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Kiribati Ocean Exploration

April 17 2018

Many nations have deep-sea and mesophotic 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 mesophotic and 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 ocean backyards using accessible technology, while building lasting in-country capacity.

April 17 2018


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Preparation Stage

Getting ready!

Our Atlantic Ocean field tests did not happen because we have been totally distracted with getting packed, getting our other tech all sorted out, and spending hours on the phone with Fiji Airways booking and re-booking flights due to some last minute changes. But you know, that's field work....

Once we are on the plane on Friday, all of that will be done, and we will be able to focus on the mission at hand. But until then, as the boxes start to pile up, I have come to the realization that I need more stickers on my Pelican cases. I have some, to be sure, but a well-stickered Pelican case is high-fashion luggage in the science world.

Taking any and all sticker suggestions... !!

Back to packing,



How about some Open Explorer stickers? We’ll send you some!

Meet our new Trident underwater drone from OpenROV. This cool robot will soon be headed to the equatorial Pacific, to the Republic of Kiribati, to help explore the shallow and mesophotic reef ecosystems of remote Pacific Islands.

But right now, she’s in Boston, getting pool- and field- tested for her upcoming expedition to her new home in Tarawa. We are proud to report the following field-test success stories:

1 - The robot survived the Boston University pool! She successfully was able to navigate from underwater pool ring to underwater pool ring (a brilliant navigation / obstacle course plan set in motion by Rotjan Lab member, Chloe Brown).

2 - The Trident survived the Lazy River! Boston University has a fairly high current, snorkel-snake section of pool. Rotjan Lab member Emma Martin piloted The Trident against the current and around the bend, which was really awesome! We haven’t yet measured the current, but it was pretty strong, and so we are thrilled to see that the Trident could handle it.

3 - The Trident survived the Charles River! Seaweed in her propellers and all, she zipped and zoomed along the banks, noticing river rocks, algae, a few river plants, and thankfully, no dead bodies. Whew. We were a bit nervous on that one. The Charles River surprisingly looks like… well, like a river. :-)

We are excited to explore with this Trident in some really cool parts of the world in just a few short weeks. We arrive in Tarawa June 25.

But for now - back to field-testing. Tomorrow’s test… the Atlantic Ocean. Until soon!

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Expedition Background

Our pilot project is designed to provide ocean access and increased technological capacity in Kiribati, a least developed nation. This approach will have three aims:

1) Access to emerging 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

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

Aim 1:

Technology: We will utilize innovative technology developed by OpenROV, National Geographic, and others. The tech 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 and another team member travel to Tarawa (in Kiribati) to deliver the OpenROV Tridents, National Geographic Drop Cameras, and other technology 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 Kiribati (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 OpenROV Trident will remain in Kiribati, so that local scientists and students 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 a student matriculate in a masters program at Boston University, which will enable students to engage more fully in the global community of benthic marine experts. MSc-level training is part of our program to ensure that Kiribati has the necessary tools to put their exploratory findings into the relevant scientific context. 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.  

We plan to visit Tarawa in late June 2018 to start this journey.

Project collaborators: Randi Rotjan, Diva Amon, Miriam Simun, Brennan Phillips, Alan Turchik, Katy Croff Bell, Rafael Anta, Kristina Gjerde, Gil Montague, Kate Furby

Kiribati collaborators: Betarim Rimon, Tooreka Teemari, Tekateteke Mettai, and others - coming soon!

This project has a twin pilot in Trinidad & Tobago - you can follow along here: Trinidad & Tobago Ocean Exploration

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Randi, this looks like a great project! Can't wait to learn more

Love this Randi! Excited to be following along here.