SMART Chesapeake Bay ARC

Latest update November 11, 2018 Started on February 17, 2018

The Strategic Mobilization of Autonomous Research Technologies for Bay Assessment, Restoration, and Conservation. This pilot project will address the need for a program that combines novel technologies with persistent outreach and education, focusing on citizen scientists and students, engendering community involvement and activity. This approach supports a road-map towards a Chesapeake bay holistic 4D assessment such that restoration and conservation can better support the ecology and economy of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This program is designed such that it fulfills this need and lays a foundation for continual outreach and community engagement by bringing together technology subject matter experts from public and private sectors as educators and infuse development and deployment skills needed to continue restoring the Chesapeake Bay to a vibrant and strong economically sound biologically diverse ecosystem.

February 17, 2018
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Preparation Stage
MILESTONE! Greetings enthusiasts, We been out an about, gathering support for the pilot outreach program here in the Chesapeake and we are very pleased and honored announce that we are collaborating with the Watermen's Museum,, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science,, The Chesapeake Bay Foundation,, Tethys Oceanix LLC,, and representatives from NASA GLOBE, This is amazing!!!! We have kicked off course planning and will post course details in the upcoming month. We are looking to host the course in and on the York river early next year (yes, in a few months). So stay tuned!

Congrats Jim! We are looking forward to being a part of this exciting effort!

Greetings enthusiasts!
Another great test outing has been ongoing. As mentioned in previous posts, here in the Yorktown River, there lies the Sunken Fleet of Cornwallis. If you aren't familiar with the Battle of Yorktown, I suggest you go here:

and here:

In summary, on October 19, 1781, the British surrendered to French and American revolutionary forces in what would become the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. The French fleet, lead by de Grasse, blockaded Yorktown while French and American troops, Lead by Washington and Rochambeau, advanced on British General Cornwallis' defenses at Yorktown. In fear of an amphibious attack, Cornwallis sunk his fleet to barricade the beachhead. Approximately 50 vessels, either sunk by enemy fire or scuttled, lie at the bottom of the York River.

~50 What does this have to do with bay assessment and conservation? Well, think about it, That's a good deal of material sitting at the bottom, plus marine life congregate around such areas. Assess the biodiversity surrounding these wrecks and looking at what impacts these wrecks are having is a valuable piece of datum in holistic understanding of the bay's ecosystems. In addition, shipping in the Chesapeake has been ongoing since at least 1607. And, ship wrecks have a way of romanticizing ocean exploration.

We've learned a few things about these wrecks. One, most of them are buried under layers and layers of silt. Two, most of them are unidentified. Three, nobody knows where most of them are. Now, the Watermen's museum, see link above, has invested in this historical site for years. In 1988, NOAA and National Geographic funded a full excavation of what was later identified as the HMS Betsy. The team, lead by Dr. John Broadwater, erected a steel cofferdam around the wreck to allow divers to excavate the site without current and turbidity issues that persist in the river.

I encourage you to read more about it! Check out June 1988 issue of National Geographic or visit the Watermen's museum either in person or at

We want to dive the wreck, but first we had to find the site. We've been learning about sonar technology for the pilot outreach course (information coming soon) and we picked up a Garmin echomap 44cv down chirp system. Great for a kayak or small fishing boat. We were amazed at how the sport fishing industry has brought the cost of high fidelity sonar into the hands of the layman. The Garmin was a great introductory peice of kit. We could have gone out and bought a $1200 sidescan from Hummingbird, but we wated to learn the lit first and really understand what we could do with a cheaper system, ~ 200, and see if it would do the job. We are still learning but the answer is, yes, it's great for this type of work. The kit also does bathymetry mapping and 260Hz, 455kHz and 800kHz sonar frequencies.

Take a look at the attached photos. You can see the cofferdam of the 1988 excavation, and the release JRS Explorations,, sonar images of a recent assessment in April of 2018. Our fish finder, though distorted due to a number of factors we are investigating, definitely returned the cofferdam corrugated plates that now lay 2-4 feet from the bottom, covering the excavation site( done to protect the wreck).

We are very excited about this and are currently planning a multi-ROV dive in the coming month! Stay tuned! (Arial image of excavation site from National Geographic, June 1988. Circular sonar image of HMS Betsy survey, JRS Explorations.)

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so excited to see that modern technologies will be deployed top evaluate and protect these treasures.

If we send an ROV down there, would the wrecks be visible by just looking at the bottom of the estuary? We should do a wintertime survey, when the water is clearest.

Hi Donglai, I directed the study of these shipwrecks back during the 1980s and am still interested in them. For the most part, they are buried, with only a few frames ("ribs") protruding above the riverbed. However, at least two have mounds of ballast stones that could be examined with an ROV. As you say, wintertime is best for visibility, even though it's still rarely more than a meter or so.

Thanks John, I wonder if there are ultracompact sonars that can be mounted onto the Trident or even towed with an aerial drone that can be used to map wrecks below the riverbed.

Greetings Enthusiasts!
Another catch-up post. On July 30th, we managed to return to Indian lake, in Somerset County, PA. We needed to get back into the quarry, and we did. However, we hit the end of our 25m tether long before the bottom, as we were deploying off an island ans not directly over the trench.

Some interesting bits in the video. Certainly have fish of various types, and corroding metal pole protruding from the stone and mud. We took a look at the island support stones as well.

We also took some time to record hydrophone data. As you can imagine, engine/prop screw noise was dominant. This is unprocessed raw feed, so it's noisy.

Sorry for the delay!
We've been busy and have not been able to post as often as we would like. I'll be taking the next few posts to catch you all up.

We've made a few DIY hydrophones and have been gathering data around the Chesapeake. We've also returned to Indian Lake, in PA, and have dove deeper into the quarry. Additionally, we've made some dives at VIMS, in Gloucester Point, VA, working towards 3D modeling from the video feed of the oyster reefs in the area.

Oldest first: Yorktown, VA. 06/29/18 This was another kayak deployment. First we paddled past the beautiful 105 ft. Schooner, the Alliance to a ship mooring near where the HMS Betty was cofferdammed and excavated in1982.

Though we didn't find the cofferdamm as station keeping in the kayak with strong wind is nearly impossible, we did that some Hydrophone data. We are still post processing and trying to identify sounds sources, be them human or marine species origin.

You can hear, what we believe to be blue crabs clicking away, plus a yet to be identified possible cetacean call. Here's a snap-shot:

We then went across the York River and looked at some of the Oysters on the breakwaters.

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Greetings Enthusiasts!
Some updates on our preparation/learning phase. We've done some testing with deployment from a kayak at two sites. The beautiful Ft. Munroe/Comfort Point Mill Creek, and in Poquoson in White House Cove.

The Poquoson site had a good amount of trash, old crab pots on the marsh, signs, garbage...sad. Was having dive issues as well, no good video. The shot with the kayak and shallow water shot below are from Fort Munroe, the two garbage pictures are White House Cove.

The amount of trash in White House Cove is sad, it's right outside of the Plum Tree island National Wildlife Reserve.

The Fort Munroe site was excellent. So much here, and so much history!

Though, we've read that oysters spit...but seeing it is just amazing. Unfortunately, I didn't get any footage of it as the tide was going out and I forgot an anchor for my kayak, so much time was spent station keeping.

The raw ROV footage of some oyster reefs and test dives are below.

There were some issues. Sunlight was one of them as the kayak set up, well, wasn't really ready. However, this was a learning set of dives. And that we did.

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Love Kayak deployments. Videos not working for me, though. Did you make them public on Youtube?

Oh yeah. Sorry. They are now public.

Ticks...there are a large numbers of ticks in Virginia. But, that aside, we managed around ten bags of trash.

The trash was as mixed. Plastic, of course, was in the majority, along side glass beer bottles and tin cans, we found Styrofoam, tennis balls, a watering can, an oil pan, and cardboard. Strangely, as it park is also a fishing spot, we didn't find fishing line or old nets. Encouraging.

We also spooked a black snake...well, I think he spooked us more. Around 4 foot long.

All in all, the day was well spent. I encourage you to read more about the Bay restoration efforts from the links bellow.

Coming events, we are talking with 757 Makerspace about short course forthe marine robotics outreach. We hope to update you soon!

And additional upcoming events. We are nearing our Oyster Reef Assessment pilot expedition. More to come soon! Stay tuned.

Back Creek park Photos Continued.

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Wow, what a day. Clean the Bay Day!

We spent the morning of Saturday, June 2nd, at Back Creek park and boat landing, walking the area and picking up the flotsam and jetsam.

"While litter is easily prevented and can be picked up by anyone on any given morning, tackling the major unseen threats to the Bay watershed, like habitat loss, sediment, and nutrient pollution, requires broad and focused support. Clean the Bay Day often serves as a gateway program through which children and adults embrace environmental stewardship of their waterways. We hope you will help us in our mission to Save the Bay by learning more about the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, our best and perhaps only chance to finally restore and protect the Bay and her rivers and streams." -- CBF

The morning started with unidentified fish breaching for their breakfast at 830am, as numerous fiddler crabs scurried about.

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A Surprise return to the western edge of the Chesapeake watershed. Back in beautiful Appalachia.
In a prior post we wrote about the Blue Hole Spring in Forbes state forest. Well, we found ourselves on an unplanned visit back to the area and able to explore the local famed swimming hole. And what a time we had. Crystal clear water. Crawfish, brook trout, and enticing rocky overhangs. Check out the videos!

We thought there might have been a cave opening but, alas, none was found. Total depth was about 2 meters.

We also had a chance to return to Indian lake, but alas we were driven out by a thunderstorm and could return. But we learned some more about the quarry that we started to dive and we were told about interesting things at about 80 ft. That the locals believes to be there. We will return to confirm! More on that later. Take a look at the short video that we captured. Not much to see but rock, but the dark depths we weren't able to get to are incredibly inviting.

I would like to mention that twice during this short dive, the ROV was hit by something...twice. couldn't capture what it was. No idea. You can see when in the video as the ROV suddenly pivots. We definitely need to return!

So, what does this have to do with the project? As stated before, the watershed is vast, and logging the tributaries is important in understanding what is happening, downstream, in the bay today.

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Lynnhaven Inlet Oyster Reef Assessment Proof of Concept Trials

Greetings Explorers! We are back in the Bay and have an exciting technology POC mission being planned with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. We are working on a Concept of Operations (ConOps) mission plan to test two of our ROV platforms using on-board video and GoPro payloads to visually assess targeted oyster reefs in the Lynnhaven inlet here on the beautiful Chesapeake Bay. Not only are we taking video, but we will be using the GoPro to capture images for the 3D reconstruction of the reefs, modeling and assessment tasks.

Structure from Motion, SfM is a photogrammetry technique that ranges camera distance from a sequence of images. Solving the camera resectioning problem, we can determine range, and inversely, structure through the sequence. In short, we solve the local camera position problem and build a 3D representation of an object. To learn more, please refer to Structure from Motion wiki.

You can do some pretty neat things with this. For instance,

Yes, cool indeed. Moving on, there is a scientific 'why?' here. Oysters are a big deal. Really big. Sure they taste good, fried, steamed, raw. They rock. But they represent something else, something far bigger then you are probably aware. Directly from the University of Maryland,, "The most widely known ecological function of the oyster is that they filter the water. Oysters are considered the vacuum cleaners of the Chesapeake Bay. They filter the water removing organic and inorganic particles from the water column resulting in cleaner water which positively impacts other species." But, oysters reefs also provide habitat and shelter for other species of marine life in the Bay and sustain a multi-tiered ecosystem, supporting life from the vary smallest, to the bigger bay fishes and, of course, us.

They are key indicators of Bay health and are fundamental to the ecosystem, which we are also a part of. Also, oyster reef, the naturally occurring ones, orient themselves perpendicular to prevailing currents. I had no idea that they did this. This is awesome. It makes sense, they are filter feeders so orienting themselves this way allows them to take advantage of the natural tidal currents generated, maximizing food intake. Studying this behavior is a key interest to the marine science community. (Also, Alan Turing had the math that explained behaviors like this modeled this in the '50s. Morphogenesis, look it up!)

Hopping of the soap box, we look forward to getting into the water in the next month, before it starts to get really warm here and the water tends to get more turbid. We'll update on expedition dates with in the week.

Other things to consider for this trek:

  • Best times for observations. Tides are a big deal. Slack tides may prove best for water clarity and weak tidal currents.
  • Volunteers needed...always. We have 1 boat with two guides from CBF. It would be better if we had two teams. (This is a call for volunteers, please contact me!)
  • General logistics. Working on this now.
  • ROV training. If you volunteer, you'll get this.
  • Assessment planning
  • Data post-processing and report.

Well, I hope this piques your interest. More to come soon!

Image of restoration sites citation: Lipcius RN, Burke R P, McCulloch D N, Schreiber S J, Schulte D M, Seitz R D and Shen J. (2015) Overcoming restoration paradigms:value of the historical record and metapopulation dynamics in native oyster restoration. Front. Mar.Sci.2:65. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2015.00065

This is awesome, Jim. Has Gil and Eric sent you the file for the GoPro mount prototype for Trident?

Not yet. As soon as I get it, I'll get it made and start testing. Thanks!

Additional Tech Shake Down:

As with all expeditions, the unexpected happens, always. This past weekend, we did not get to Indian Lake due to a logistics issue that, though not hanging up the weekend, did put us into contact with the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, a positive way!


Saving the dive weekend, we adjusted our target to this small man made treasure in the middle of the PA Appalachian Mountain Range....and we are glad we did. Now, spoiler, we didn't see anything spectacular on this dive, however, we did learn something.

It turns out that this used to be a very popular local swimming hole since the 1930's when it was built in the middle of Forbes State Forest. They built it by blocking up Kooser Run. This is a historical site as well. It was the site of a large Native American battle and was crossed by participants in the Whiskey Rebellion 1791-1794.

That's pretty fantastic!

If you are unfamiliar with the Whiskey Rebellion, I encourage you to look it up. It's perhaps one of the lost episodes of the developing factors of our country and why we do some of the things we do as a government, today.

Anyway, not to get side tracked, since we are responsible servants of the public, we decided to stop by the ranger's office to ensure we had permission to dive the ROV on state lands (you'd may be surprised what some states can get excited about), and we were glad we did. We met a very nice Ranger who let us fly the ROV in the lake. It is also important to note that the Lake part of the park was technically closed to the public that day.

Moving on, the link below provides some of the videos we took and photos of the trip. It was cold the morning of March 31st.

Raw Video Feeds:

Dives and Pilot Training 1 Dives and Pilot Training 2 Dives and Pilot Training 3

There wasn't much to see here, but we had fun. While flying, we noticed something. This was a fishing hole that was apparently restocked recently. Not only that, there was a great deal of silt, though the visibility was good since it was damn near freezing, with beautifully clear melt water running down into the lake from the adjacent mountain side. We weren't prepared for a water sample of silt sample, again due to the logistic hiccup, and hindsight being what it is, this got us thinking.

Now, Kooser Lake used to be a popular swimming hole. Very popular. But not anymore. We were told that is shut down indefinitely in 2012. A little searching, we found an article,

Well that's just sad. We did notice aquatic vegetation through the clear water while walking to the lake, and the office ranger did mention that an upcoming silt removal program was about to happen, as noted in the above link to the DCNR site.

Algal Blooms...and silt...mmm for those of us learned about bay issues, we know that the two tend to go hand in hand when you have run off with high amounts of nutrients in it.

Given, it's 2018, the swimming aspect of the park has been closed for 6 years.

If you take a quick look at Google Maps, above the lake on the mountain, what do you see? Yep, a golf course, part of the Beautiful Hidden Valley Ski Resort. I've been there, it's a great resort, super bummer.

Now, we have no data to point to the Course as a source of the nutrients and sediment that have been plaguing the Lake, but we have common key indicators that point a problem and a near by possible source. But we also must not that there are houses up stream, on Kooser Run, and if you look at the map you see, right next to Hidden Valley, a Stone and Lime Quarry.

Man, this just keeps getting worse. Now we really need to have a conversation.

We spoke with some folks about the lake. Some swam there all their lives...until now. Wait, aren't we supposed to be getting better at this environmental stuff? We are better equipped and educated these days, aren't we?

Well, it's a problem that needs to be addressed. This marks a site that is in decline, in our books.

We need data, the DNRC needs your help!

I hope this is a flag to you. Our waters are not clean.

But let's not get depressed, let us be energized and take this as an indicator that we need constant vigilance and to get out there and explore.

Now, what to do with Kooser? We are working on this...if you have ideas and energy, please let us know. If you live in Somerset County and want to do something about this, let us know!

Also, we know that this was not a full and well done assessment. Far from it, but it peak our interest and we plan to return and provide information for the Ranger's Office, DNRC.

The Ranger's Office also informed us about another destination that no one knows what the bottom looks like....well if that's not a call to action, I don't know what is. Blue Hole...yes, that's it's name. A local fishing and swimming hole. That will definitely be a target when we get back into the area.

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Great work Jim!

Its unfortunate that your original plans were undermined, but I'm glad to see that you did not let this stop you from finding an alternate place for a launch.

I look forward to seeing how things unfold as access to Indian Lake becomes available.


Sadly, we did not get our funding from a recent call. But no worries, we are still pushing forward!

Our 1st Watershed dive will be this weekend! In beautiful south western PA. Indian Lake, located in Central City, PA, is a fresh water horseshoe shaped man made lake that was established in 1966.

Indian Lake is located at 40°2′51″N 78°51′33″W

Total Size 4.35 sq mi (11.26 km2) • Land 3.56 sq mi (9.23 km2) • Water 0.79 sq mi (2.04 km2)

The lake is separated via a dam from it's neighbor lake, Stony Creek lake, which is part of the Stony Creek River. It is also 1.5 miles from Flight 93 National memorial.

This site is important environmentally because of the housing developments that surrounds it. Water quality assessments and benthic observations will be taken and posted once ready.

We'll also be shaking down the fresh water characteristics of the OpenROV and BlueRobotics vehicles. We'll post on that as we come to it!

Stay tuned...


Excited to see what you find. Also, stay tuned for next weeks updates regarding funding options.

Greetings Enthusiasts!

We had a few minutes before a meeting at the Virginia Aquarium and decided to take the Trident for a spin. Though the water was very murky, we took a look at a few the pier and found a nice little blue crab. Take a look at the last minute or so of the below video.

We will be running through our Blue Robotics BlueROV 1.5 kit this weekend as well. We'll post more as we go.

Stay tuned for project updates as we are awaiting pitch results from Here Be Dragons symposium and ideathon we attended at MIT Media labs.

Additionally, we have good news for the Bay! The new federal budget signed not hours ago restored funding to the Bay program!

This is great news, and now we hope to continue helping the Bay. Hopefully, we'll supplement the program with this great opportunity to for outreach and innovation!


Greetings Enthusiasts!

Some preparation dives with the OpenROV Trident. Here are some videos of a few dives. This was a checkout run, getting used to the controls and what not in the app.

Trident Test Dives, SMith Landing, Poquoson River.

The Trident is one such platform that is intended to execute many of the tasks envisioned in this project. Next week, we will test a version of the Blue Robotics BlueRov kit as well, to start generating local interest in the project.

More to come! Please do not hesitate to contact me if you are interested in joining!

We are currently looking for funding for the pilot program here in the Hampton Roads area. We are setting up the funding options on the page and will update you when ready.

In the meantime, we are working on project documentation, budget estimates and schedules. We will post them shortly. We will also post some of the pitches we have done or are doing as we move forward with this effort.

We need your help! Please contact us if you feel you would like to contribute in any way.

I'd love to talk with you about this. Please email me directly,

The Bay is under siege. Our federal government has slashed the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program by 90 percent!

We must find new ways to help our beloved ecosystem. For our economy, our children, and our planet.

Our government representatives don't see that they are crippling themselves and our country. Let's educate and solve this problem together, let's innovate and become the stewards of our world as we were meant to be.

The gap has been identified in the reluctance of our representatives to continue to steward our country, let's take this as an opportunity to be active, creative, and educate one another, care for one another, and help each other understand the importance of the Bay and maintaining a healthy balance between economics and ecology. Let's forgive shortsightedness and press ever forward!

We are better than this!

Picture from Chesapeake Bay Magazine: Trash & debris on the Susquehanna River. Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program


This is a great project Jim. Did you know the National Park Service was born from a similar breakdown in federal support for protected places. The pendulum can swing back, and this project is a step in the right direction.

Thanks David! I just spent 2 days at MIT Here be Dragons with Gil, great time and interesting opportunities there. More to come

Expedition Background

The Chesapeake Bay is a dangerously out of balance ecosystem. Concerning a 64,000 square mile watershed, populated with 18 million people, and housing 3,000 different species of plants and animals, daily stresses on the bay have negatively impacted the ecology. This has triggered the need for agreements between Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Delaware that recognized the need for the cleanup of the bay in 1983, with a target year of 2000. The 40 percent reduction agreement was reaffirmed in 1992 and led to the first state of the bay assessment in 1998, rating the health of the bay at 27 out of 100 (100 representing pristine waters). This signified that though the watershed states wanted to clean the bay, the Chesapeake was far from healthy and clean.

When it became apparent that the 2000 deadline would not be met, the states convened and signed a third agreement. The Chesapeake 2000 agreement set a goal of improving water quality in the Bay sufficiently to get it off the Clean Water Act's "dirty waters list" by 2010. Among other steps, the 2000 agreement required a 40 percent reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. In 2006, EPA admitted the terms of the 2000 agreement would not be met by the 2010 deadline—indeed likely not until 2020 or later, and in 2010, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation rated the bay in a "State of the Bay" report card, grading it a 31 out of 100.

Though improvements had been made, it is clear, with the current rating of 34, there is still a great deal of work needed to continue the trend to obtain a grade of at least 70, which is considered a saved state.

The figure below details the 3 primary windows into the health of the bay with associated key indicators. As can be seen, the indicator grades are very low for the pollution level and fishery health windows, with only slightly better scoring for the habitat window.

Yet so much more needs to be done to ensure the current increase in Bay health continues. Alongside advocacy groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Chesapeake Bay Program that continue to work with both industry and government to push legislature and monitoring initiatives, there is a constant need for community involvement for stewardship of the delicate bay ecosystem.

We propose a pilot program that targets students and citizen scientists using novel low cost technologies to educate, stimulate, and motivate stewardship while deploying a web-based interactive science platform(s) for assessment, restoration and conservation of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.


The pilot program will lay the foundation to bring together citizen scientists and students over a 6 week period to become educated on the Chesapeake Bay ecology and science technologies and to design/build and deploy project platform(s) that are tied into an integrated data collection system(s) and allow for remote observation/operation for continued ecological monitoring in the York river.

This Pilot effort will introduce new technologies and educate public through the use of low cost science platforms such as Buoys, remotely operated vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and aerial systems. This pilot program will also utilize the VECOS, CBIBS, GLOBE, and OpenExplorer platforms for data reporting and remote collaboration.

The pilot effort is currently working on collaboration efforts between government and private industry helping bring together the program and platform(s). The potential of a public/private collaboration for science outreach has great potential in accelerating education and advocacy regionally, and with the help of industry partners, the potential to be recognized not only nationally, but globally as a cutting edge program should invigorate and incentivize local communities, local and state leaders. The objective is clear; get more people involved into taking greater consideration for the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem while teaching and inspiring the next generation of government and industry leaders.


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