Trinidad & Tobago Ocean Exploration

April 27 2018
sea
backyard

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. This is especially true for lesser economically developed countries. 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 to explore their own deep-sea backyards using low-cost technology, while building lasting in-country capacity.

April 27 2018

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Preparation Stage

All Aboard For The First Solo Deployment!


After a month of much-needed downtime after the training workshop, it was thrilling to hatch a plan with Offshore Innovators for deployments on September 29th. I knew not to solely trust my memory so to prepare, I delved back into my National Geographic Drop Camera User Guide and my personal journal from the week of the workshop.

The morning of the deployment, I had butterflies raging in my stomach. Laura-Ashley and I arrived at the Offshore Innovators’ office early Saturday morning. We met the three gentlemen who were driving the boat and advising on the best areas to deploy the camera. We quickly set to the task of assembling the Drop Camera as we were so eager to get out on the ocean to explore.

Nerves were tense as this was the first time we were deploying without the calm, all-knowing Alan (of National Geographic) present! In the event that we lost the Drop Camera, my plan was to jump straight into the sea and swim as far away as possible, whereas Laura had the much more practical idea of personally paying any amount for a SCUBA diver to retrieve it! All this in jest to ease the tension that we were both definitely feeling!

Our first hiccup arose when the password for the programming laptop didn’t work. After allowing ourselves to panic for two seconds, we, along with the help from the Offshore Innovator guys, learned how to change the password and enter the laptop’s programmes. Slowly and steadily, we loaded the programmes successfully, attached the GTR and the flag, double-checking each step. Finally, we were ready to head down de islands, as we say here in Trinidad!

Our very knowledgeable captain excited us on the way down as he knew a location where there are many bull-sharks. However, due to the tides and currents that day, as well as the fact that it was our first solo deployment, we opted to remain in a more sheltered area. After catching the bait fish and filling anchor bags with rocks, we deployed the Drop Camera in Turtle Bay. Of course, we were both struck with fear again as we watched the camera sink far below us (to approximately 50 metres depth). We crossed our fingers and toes and hoped we would see it pop to the surface once the mission was completed. And we did! About twenty minutes later we rejoiced to see the victorious orange flag bobbing in the water! Satisfied, we recovered the device and headed to the jetty to download our data.

To our dismay, the programming cables, laptop and camera wouldn’t cooperate. The camera lens wouldn’t open despite trying over and over again. After many trouble-shooting attempts, we decided it was time to wrap up and head back. A difficult call would be made to Diva, Alan and the rest of the training team to inform them that there was a problem.

Though disappointed our deployment did not produce the exhilarating footage we had hoped for, we learned vital lessons in remaining calm despite challenges and attempting to identify problems and subsequently solve problems as effectively as we could. These takeaways from the day’s events may be even more important in the long run. As Diva likes to say, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it!

This post was written by Hannah Lochan, a workshop participant and recent graduate from The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus with a B.Sc. Biology with Specialisations in Plant and Marine Biology.

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My Deep Sea, My Backyard: Participatory Ocean Exploration


In our lab at the MIT Center for Civic Media, much of our work centers around broadening participation in technology design (for example, the Make the Breast Pump Not Suck project). Lately, in collaboration with the MIT Open Ocean Initiative, we have also been thinking about how to broaden participation in scientific discovery. Traditionally, ocean exploration is done by those with formal degrees and access to costly equipment, but in order to fully explore and understand our vast oceans, we need to make it possible for new communities to join this effort.

There is inequity at play when we consider how scientific knowledge is distributed. 70% of nations have deep-sea environments within their maritime zones, yet only 15% of nations have the resources necessary to actually explore what is down in the deep. This can lead to exploitation by numerous industries (e.g. oil and gas, offshore energy, deep sea mining, fishing, etc.), poor resource management decisions, and missed opportunities to make use of undiscovered resources that will support life on land.

Using participatory design approaches, we’re working with the Open Ocean Initiative, National Geographic, and the University of the West Indies on a pilot project to develop training programs for researchers in the nations of Kiribati and Trinidad & Tobago. This August, I joined Diva Amon, Katy Croff Bell, and Alan Turchik in Trinidad & Tobago to explore opportunities for participatory ocean exploration. As part of the pilot phase of My Deep Sea, My Backyard, young researchers are learning how to use low-cost deep-sea drop cameras and teaching their peers how to use them, with the goal of building lasting in-country capacity and passion for exploration.

Our trip began with a large convening organized by Diva — bringing together scientists, engineers, government officials, energy industry stakeholders, conservationists, artists, and students — for a day full of talks about the deep ocean and technologies for exploration, as well as a participatory workshop on future opportunities to better understand the deep sea regions of Trinidad & Tobago. Following the workshop, we held a smaller 3-day workshop to train young researchers how to use the National Geographic low-cost deep-sea drop cameras. During some of the down-time between training (and waiting for boats to arrive!), we had the opportunity to interview several of the people who participated in the workshop about what motivated them to spend a week with us learning about the deep sea. Our participants had diverse interests, but a shared passion for exploration:

Hannah Lochan, a plant and marine biology student, told us about how she developed an interest in the ocean through a research project she did as an undergraduate. She and her fellow classmates developed fieldwork skills by studying the distribution of hard and soft coral in the Salybia Beach reef of Trinidad. “I’m excited to see how deep we can go with the Drop Camera!” Hannah told us, explaining her motivations for exploring the deep sea in addition to coastal environments, “We really have no idea what’s out there!”

Raquel Khan Ali, a marine biology and ecology student, told us she’s been drawn to the water ever since she was a child. “I want to know what’s out there,” she said, “things I can’t see, things I really can’t see.” She also described a lack of awareness about career opportunities related to the oceans, and told us how important it is that researchers like Diva Amon — the Trinidadian deep-sea biologist leading My Deep Sea, My Backyard — are bringing knowledge back to Trinidad to motivate more people to explore their own backyards.

Laura-Ashley Henderson, also a marine biology and ecology student, is excited by the opportunity to share research findings from the Drop Camera more broadly in Trinidad. “Not as many people go to the beach in Trinidad as one may think, they are not as interested as you may expect for an islander,” she told us, “whatever we find out there, I hope it’s interesting enough to get people excited about the ocean,” adding that she wanted more people to begin to see ocean technology and exploration as a possible career path.

Thera Edwards, a Map Curator from the Department of Geography and Geology at the UWI Mona Campus, Jamaica and technical advisor to the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust, told us about her interest in managing the ocean data that researchers will collect: “it’s not the sexy part, but it’s important…without organizing the data and making it useful, how does anything else happen?” She also described how DropCams and ROVs could help demystify the ocean and make it more accessible: “Before this, ocean exploration seemed like a scary ‘Jacques Cousteau, diving bell, risky thing’…but now there are pieces of equipment that enable you to get information remotely in a relatively safe way.”

Our team is currently synthesizing learnings from this pilot project (along with its sister effort in Kiribati, led by Randi Rotjan and Brian Kennedy) and exploring opportunities to expand the work. A core component of this project is to promote public understanding of and interest in the deep sea — as the project grows, we plan to work with our partners in each country to co-design educational and outreach strategies to include the broader public in ocean exploration efforts. We are also investigating opportunities for the co-design of easy-to-use and accessible technologies for this purpose, including software to facilitate collaborative data analysis, new sensors and sample collection tools, and much more.

*This article was first published on Medium by Alexis Hope: https://medium.com/@alexishope/my-deep-sea-my-backyard-b0e9f1136c9

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Our last and final day of the workshop started early! By 9am, we were on Sebastian’s boat to Gasparee Island, another small island off Trinidad. This was to be our base for the morning, while doing the final Drop Camera training.


We had planned our Drop Camera deployments to be close to shore in case, god forbid, the Drop Camera didn’t work as it should and we would have to rescue it with scuba divers. You might be thinking, ‘that would never happen’ but it’s exactly how the first deployment went during ‘My Deep Sea, My Backyard - Kiribati’: https://openexplorer.nationalgeographic.com/expedition/kiribatioceanexploration Thankfully, the team was able to execute two deployments with no help from Alan and the cameras came back as they should! Although, it was slightly concerning how far away from the deployment site we found them in very little time. The current must have been absolutely ripping!

Everyone was super excited to see what the cameras filmed later on so we headed back to the Offshore Innovators office! Once there we split into three groups rotating between different activities. While one group downloaded the data from the Drop Cameras, another group talked with Alexis about their workshop feedback and learnings from the week, and the third group learned how to download data from the Trident ROV and discussed general ideas for data management. Sadly, when we all crowded around the computer to see what the Drop Cameras had captured, we were met with water thick with particles that were flying by the camera in the very high current - it looked like a blizzard! Good thing no one needed to go diving to recover the camera!

At the end of the day, we came together to debrief on the week and discuss the logistics of using the Drop Cameras for the next several months around T&T, including revisiting the experimental design and work plan. Luckily, Offshore Innovators had a huge map of the area up on the wall so we were able to talk about possible opportunities to catch a ride on boats that may already be traveling to potential drop sites in the region.

This week seemed to fly by and as quickly as it began, it was over. Thera and Marcia headed back to Jamaica, Henri to Barbados, Richard to Tobago, Katy and Alexis to Boston, Alan to Washington DC and Diva to London. Now it’s up to the local team of Judi, Hannah, Raquel, Laura, Seb, Scott, and Keith to get that Drop Camera wet and make some discoveries in the deep sea around T&T!

This post was written by Alexis Hope of MIT Media Lab & MIT Center for Civic Media and Diva Amon of SpeSeas, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Natural History Museum, London, UK.

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Demystifying the “Dream Job


Today I posed a question to Alan, ”Are you doing your dream job?” Now, I expected to hear, “Engineer and inventor for National Geographic? You bet I am!” But his very honest answer surprised me. While there is absolutely no doubt Alan loves his job, he replied that it is often more about the opportunities that you may receive as well as the opportunities you must prepare for on your own.

This struck me deeply as I realized the magnitude of the truth in his response. For people like me who are now entering the world of work and/or higher studies, it is important to remember that an opportunity is not merely defined by what can be provided to us by someone else. It is also critical that we use the time afforded to us wisely, taking responsibility for our dreams, pushing the limits of what we thought we could ever accomplish for ourselves, working with passion and meticulous care, and building our character in preparation for opportunities that can propel us even further because, to be honest, the competition is real.

Oftentimes we find ourselves in awe, simultaneously motivated and intimidated by persons who seem to be living their dream job. But what do we actually know of the challenges they faced in order to achieve that? One thing that seems certain is that it was not a wish magically granted by a fairy godmother, but instead a wish and desire they themselves worked hard to fulfil. Despite trials and tribulations, they remained dedicated, confident and open to learning. Thus, although opportunities arrive differently for everyone, we are our own fairy godmothers and we must believe in the strength that lies within us to anticipate, adapt, and overcome obstacles to achieve our dream.

On this note, and as the training aspect of the workshop draws to a close, I would like to thank the team of leading scientists who were so inspiring. They arrived ready to share all of their knowledge and they have certainly mastered the ability to deliver instructions and explanations calmly and patiently. This workshop has greatly broadened my awareness of the vast possibilities in the field of deep-sea science and has made me very excited to be part of it. So again, I sincerely thank the team of Dr. Amon, Dr. Bell, Dr. Gobin, Mr. Turchik and Ms. Hope and all others who made this project possible. May your dreams for our planet become reality one day soon!

This post was written by Hannah Lochan, a workshop participant and recent graduate from The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus with a B.Sc. Biology with Specialisations in Plant and Marine Biology.

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Alan, Katy and I were treated to a Trini breakfast of Doubles, a local delicacy, before we met the gang for Yagi training! What’s that you said? You don’t know what a Yagi is?….well neither did I before working with the National Geographic Drop Cameras. A Yagi is a directional antenna that is used with the Drop Cameras to retrieve it after it comes back up to the surface at the end of the mission. At sea, when the Drop Cameras returns to the surface, it may be in a different location due to ocean currents, so the antenna is necessary to find it.


In the morning, we met at at Samaan Park in Chaguaramas Valley to test out the Yagi on land before heading to sea, where waves can make it more difficult to use. At the park, Alan hid the Drop Cameras in the bushes, and participants took turns closing their eyes, putting on headphones, and pointing the Yagi antenna around them in a circle to find it. The rest of us stood around them in a circle to simulate waves acting as interference! When the signal was strongest (i.e. when the antenna is facing the target), the chirps coming through the headphones were louder, but the difference takes some time to notice. Our group were quick learners though as by lunch, everyone had successfully located the hidden DropCam! On the way home, we were treated to a tour of Bamboo Cathedral, a beautiful part of Trinidad with thick bamboo groves where monkeys can be spotted!

In the afternoon, we headed back to the Offshore Innovators office for more Drop-Camera training. Participants, particularly those in Trinidad and Tobago who will be using the Drop Cameras in the months after the training, got a chance to take the Drop Camera through its entire cycle several times with Alan’s help: programming the mission, setting up the sandbags and preparing the hardware, and then dropping it in the water. Repetition is key!

In the evening, Katy, Diva, and I headed to an art show to see some amazing pieces created by emerging artists in Trinidad and Tobago. As the project goes forward, we hope to work with local artists (many of whom were at the show) to help include the broader public in ocean exploration efforts by creating pieces inspired by the sea and hopefully by amazing discoveries that might be captured by the DropCam!

This post was written by Alexis Hope of MIT Media Lab & MIT Center for Civic Media.

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While the training week for ‘My Deep Sea, My Backyard - Trinidad and Tobago’ has been going really well, it has not been without its setbacks.


Our original schedule had us out on the water today for our first Drop-Cam deployments but United Airlines put a stop to that. Some of Alan’s essential National Geographic Drop-Camera equipment did not arrive on Sunday, which meant they have been unusable for the last two days. Thankfully, United Airlines called early this morning to say that the equipment had finally arrived. So Alan scurried off to the airport, while Katy, Alexis and I met everyone else at the Offshore Innovators’ office in Chaguaramas. Despite not having the Drop Cameras, we were heading out on the water so everyone could get a feel for driving ROVs in the ocean, rather than in the pool :)

A boat load of 25 people, plus the COAST Foundation’s Blue Robotics ROV and SpeSeas’ Trident ROV, headed to Chacachacare, one of the uninhabited islands off Trinidad, as the waters are normally calm and clear. *Interesting side note: Once upon a time, Chacachacare housed a leper colony and colony of nuns. You can read an interesting article about the island’s history here.

Another complicating factor we faced was the weather. This week has seen an extreme amount of rainfall and given the proximity of Trinidad and Tobago to the Orinoco Delta, our seas looked like miso soup. The visibility was nearly the worst I’ve ever seen!. This was echoed when Henri Valles (University of the West Indies, Cave Hill) and JJ from the IDB jumped in for a quick scuba dive while we were setting up for training. I will emphasise that this was quick - about ten minutes - as the visibility was an abysmal foot or two. The visibility didn’t bode much better for the ROVs but everyone got some time piloting both vehicles and that was magical. There were squeals of delight the first time the seafloor and its sponge inhabitants were spotted.

After a busy morning, we headed back to the Offshore Innovators office to meet Alan and the Drop Cams. As they were finally fully functional, workshop participants were able to move from Drop-Cam set up, to deployment off the dock, all the way to the download of the data. Setting up and deploying the Drop-Cam is relatively straightforward, but hands-on practice is very important as participants will be doing future drops by themselves in the coming months. Everyone is excited to come back tomorrow and Friday to go out in the boat again and try to get a few more test drops in the water!

This post was written by Diva Amon of SpeSeas, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Natural History Museum, London, UK.

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Early Tuesday morning, we assembled at the Faculty of Science and Technology (FST) board room at UWI St. Augustine Campus. There was an icebreaker introduction session among participants from the Inter-American Development Bank, Tobago House of Assembly, and the University of the West Indies’ Mona, Cave Hill and St. Augustine Campuses. I personally loved hearing everyone’s backgrounds, especially as each person brought a different perspective to the table at the ‘My Deep Sea, My Backyard - Trinidad and Tobago’ project.


Afterwards, we walked across to the campus’s pool, took the Trident ROV out and began working our way through the pre-dive checklist. The set up was quick and easy, however, as we placed the Trident ROV into the pool, we quickly realized that it was sinking. Oops - the weights were still attached after being used in salty water in Narragansett Bay by Katy so the vehicle was too heavy. After a quick adjustment back ‘onshore’, the Trident ROV was ready to go! The group of approximately 15 persons, then took turns experimenting with the ROV. The joke of the day, was that the tilt down for the controls, required an upward movement on the tablet and the tilt up, required a downward movement. This was completely the opposite of what we expected!

COAST Foundation introduced everyone to the Blue Robotics ROV, which was controlled by a game controller as compared to the touch screen tablet for the Trident ROV. It was exciting and new to most of us and we quickly realized the frequent gamers had an obvious advantage! After the practical session in the pool, we were treated to a tour of the UWI Museum of Zoology. Lots of very interesting specimens from around the islands.

The afternoon session was lead by Alan Turchik of National Geographic, who went through the setup, deployment and data collection for the Drop Camera. However, we didn’t have all the parts for the Drop Camera (fingers crossed that we will get them soon) but I think the group got a good grasp of the new equipment. After, the team gathered around a map of Trinidad and Tobago to discuss ideas for areas for future deployments. It’s mind blowing that the discussions taking place in the boardroom of the Science and Technology Faculty at UWI will soon be put into action in the waters around Trinidad and Tobago!

This post was written by Laura-Ashley Henderson, a workshop participant and recent graduate from The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus with a B.Sc. Biology with specializations in Marine Biology and Ecology and Environmental Biology.

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We have hiked through our forests. We have snorkeled and scuba dived every inch of our coral reefs. We have surveyed the homes of the monkeys, manatees and much more in our expansive swamps. Now in our own backyard, it is our chance to become adoring paparazzi to our mysterious deep-sea diversity in the unexplored oceans of Trinidad and Tobago.


Good day! I am Hannah, a recent biology graduate of the University of the West Indies, also welcoming you to “My Deep Sea, My Backyard”, the Trinidad and Tobago experience, which has officially begun.

The event which was launched Monday 13th August 2018, at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad, enraptured a large audience of mainly students and professionals focused on marine sciences, as well as local artists who were invited in hopes that the deep-sea discoveries may inspire beautiful masterpieces.

Local influential scientists and diplomats began the talks, all stressing the amazing opportunity being afforded, especially as the Trident ROV will remain in-country for continued use, as well as the massive benefit of this deep-sea research, which can potentially identify new resources for the Caribbean. The three pieces of deep-sea equipment, a Drop Camera (loaned by National Geographic), a Trident ROV (donated by OpenROV) and the Blue Robotics ROV (loaned by the Coast Foundation) were then briefly introduced. Group discussions were encouraged giving the opportunity for the audience to share their opinions on which areas off Trinidad the deployments would be most useful and potentially more successful.

The following day, I was fortunate to be part of a focus group with various regional professionals that gained experience in operating and deploying the equipment. This was exceptionally fun as it was a totally new experience. The Trident ROV, small and compact, zipped satisfyingly speedily and with great agility through the UWI pool. The Blue Robotics ROV, larger with more features, seemed to move at a slow and careful pace, giving an odd impression of the former being a child and the latter being the adult! Seeing the camera view on our screens while we tried to locate our “marine organism” (a pool brush) in the pool, excited me as to all the life we are going to observe during ocean deployments, especially those which may have never been seen before! Also, as I love working on research projects, I cannot wait to actually download video data from the deep-sea deployments over the next few months to learn about all the research avenues in which it can be used.

We also learned about the Drop Camera, which is thrilling due to the magnificent depths it can reach (6000m). We won’t need to go that deep though as the waters around Trinidad and Tobago only get to about 4000m depth. Working with the Drop Camera should be fascinating as it is not tethered. This also means that efforts to deploy it safely to ensure minimal drama and chasing or searching are a key priority. Alan went through the safety checklist with us in extreme detail, and I left with the warning “REMOVE MAGNETS BEFORE DEPLOYMENT!” well drilled into my head☺!

These last couple of days have tremendously increased my enchantment with the deep sea and I must say my expectations of what I hope to see have skyrocketed. Maybe mussel fields, maybe some “Hoff” crabs, hopefully coral gardens but whatever it is, it will be truly special, because it is ours, it is Trinidad and Tobago’s!

This post was written by Hannah Lochan, a workshop participant and recent graduate from The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus with a B.Sc. Biology with Specialisations in Plant and Marine Biology

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After Katy, Judith, and Diva set the stage with a series of talks about the deep ocean, the history of deep-sea exploration, emerging ocean technologies, and the state of knowledge of the Trinidad and Tobago deep sea, we kicked into a lively community discussion about goals and priority locations for local exploration using the National Geographic Drop Cameras and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). In the room, we had artists, coastal engineers, government officials from marine and environmental sectors, energy industry stakeholders, science communicators, conservationists, students, and scientists — so there was no shortage of different interests, perspectives, and opportunities to learn from each other.


We broke into smaller, cross-disciplinary groups to give everyone a chance to get to know each other better and to encourage discussion. Our first question for the room was simple: what do you want to learn about the deep ocean right in your backyard? Participants were excited about a lot, including discovering new species, understanding relationships between ocean habitats, mapping the physical characteristics of the deep ocean, finding new resources for human use, collecting baseline data to document human impacts on the ocean — and yes, we all wanted to find the sea monsters, galleons, and marine diamonds!

Then each group was given a map of Trinidad and Tobago’s Exclusive Economic Zone (the area in which T&T has jurisdiction over) with bathymetric data showing the depth and shape of the seafloor, which they used to create Exploration Maps selecting drop sites for the camera and points of interest to explore with ROVs. Then they pinned up the maps so everyone could do a ‘gallery walk’ to see each other’s ideas and identify common themes across the plans.

Our last question to the room was perhaps the most fun: How can we encourage the public to get excited about and interested in ocean exploration? We heard so many creative ideas — a Carnival or jouvert band inspired by the deep sea, staging an underwater photography competition with the theme of “aliens on earth”, installing deep-sea photography exhibits in airports, setting up tax breaks for those who contribute to deep-sea exploration...and lots more!

After a full afternoon of great energy and conversation, we wrapped up a little early to give everyone a chance to make it home safely — in the middle of the afternoon it started raining buckets and there was some flooding around the island. Let’s hope the rain stops in time for our ocean deployments later this week!

Tomorrow we’ll be getting a smaller group trained up on the Drop Cams and ROVs at the university’s pool. Can’t wait!

This post was written by Alexis Hope of MIT Media Lab & MIT Center for Civic Media.

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I cannot begin to tell you how nervous I was on Monday 13th August 2018. Over the 45-minute car journey to the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine, I managed to chew off every single nail. This was my first time orchestrating a project of this magnitude, and more importantly, the first in my home country, Trinidad and Tobago, so making it a success was extra important. And to increase the pressure, Katy, Alexis, Alan and I barely got any sleep last night because of delayed flights and lost baggage. But despite all the nerves, I’m proud to report that the launch of ‘My Deep Sea, My Backyard – Trinidad and Tobago’ went extremely well!


The day was deep-sea-licious! The nearly-eighty attendees were greeted by deep-sea footage from across the Caribbean and an array of deep-sea samples from Trinidad and Tobago. For many, this was the first time they had ever seen anything like this! After warm greetings by Dr. Judith Gobin and Professor John Agard of the University of the West Indies, as well as Mr. Gerard Alleng of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), we were treated to a keynote speech by Mr. Eden Charles, former permanent representative to the United Nations for Trinidad and Tobago. The focal point of Eden’s talk were the linkages between ocean exploration and resource use, especially from a policy angle (which is his expertise). All speakers stressed the importance of the Blue Economy and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14. And of course, the launch culminated with the ‘My Deep Sea, My Backyard’ team, comprised of both local (UWI St. Augustine, SpeSeas, COAST Foundation, NIHERST) and foreign partners (National Geographic, IDB, MIT Media Lab, Boston University, OpenROV and DOSI) taking to the stage to introduce the project.

Lunch gave attendees a chance to recharge their energy levels, network, check out the deep-sea samples, and also decorate styrofoam cups! You’re probably wondering why on earth we would decorate styrofoam cups. Well, the deep ocean is a high-pressure environment — you gain one atmosphere of pressure for every 10 metres gained in depth. And styrofoam weighs barely anything because it has lots of air pockets. That combination means that when a styrofoam cup goes down into the depths attached to a piece of deep-sea equipment, the immense pressure squeezes all the air out, resulting in the cup shrinking to the size of a thimble! Check out #shrunkencupoff on Twitter for lots and lots of pictures of awesome shrunken cups created by deep-sea scientists all over the world! Over the next three months of deployments, these cups will be sent into the deep attached to the National Geographic Drop Camera, shrunken during the journey and then recovered and returned to the rightful owner, providing a reminder of their dabble in the deep ocean.

In our next blog, Alexis Hope will talk about the afternoon session on Monday which included deep-sea lectures and a participatory workshop on opportunities for deep-sea exploration in the region.

This post was written by Diva Amon of SpeSeas, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Natural History Museum, London, UK.

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I received the Trident ROV in the mail two days ago!! The little remotely operated vehicle (ROV) was generously donated by OpenROV to the 'My Deep Sea, My Backyard - Trinidad and Tobago' project.


We were cutting it a bit close for testing should I have any problems, so I plugged it in straight away to get the vehicle charged up. Randi Rotjan also advised that I fire up the tablet that we’d be using for the controller, download the OpenROV app, and pair it to the Trident. The set up worked perfectly, and I was even able to give the motors a spin on the kitchen counter!

The long (100 m) tether arrived yesterday afternoon, and today I packed up the little red wagon to take everything down to the beach and get it in the water.

We would be diving in the salty waters of Narragansett Bay, which would make the vehicle more buoyant than it would be in fresh water. So, I asked my daughter, Roxa, to screw on the trim weights before we brought the Trident down to the dock.

Lifejackets on, we hauled everything down to the dock and got ourselves set up. First, we attached the short (25 m) tether, waited until all three LEDs turned on, and opened up the app. The cardboard shipping box served as handy protection against the glaring sun. Note to self for future operational design considerations: it’s tough to see the video on the tablet without some shade.

We tested the motors one last time on the dock, placed her in the water, and off she went! The Trident ROV is pretty zippy so it took some getting used to the controller. Between the vehicle’s sensitive reaction to commands and having a hard time seeing the video in the sun, I definitely ran into the bottom more than once! But after a few minutes of playing around, seeing some fish (possibly Menhaden), slipper shells, and a whole lot of algae, I got a pretty good sense for how to operate the vehicle.

Once I got the hang of piloting the Trident, we decided to test the 100 m tether. Roxa asked if she could help, so after I rinsed and dried the contacts, she removed the short tether and attached the long one. We again waited for the system to fire up, tested the motors, and got it back in the water. This time, I let Roxa pilot, and she put the motors through their paces -- up, down, left, right, forward, back -- and sometimes it seemed like everything was happening simultaneously.

Fortunately, we didn’t burn out any motors, so I gave the system a rinse, packed it up, and we had lunch on the beach before heading home for the day. So easy a toddler could do it, right?!

I can't wait to give the Trident ROV a spin in the warm waters of Trinidad and Tobago in a few days! I guess I better get packing as Alexis Hope and I (MIT Media Lab), as well as Alan Turchik (National Geographic) will be flying out in two days!

This post was written by Katy Croff Bell, a director of Open Ocean, MIT Media Lab and a National Geographic Explorer.

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Ahoy hoy! This is my first contribution to Open Explorer and I am pretty psyched that it is to report on learning how to use the Nat Geo DropCam for our upcoming trip to Trinidad & Tobago.


Yesterday, Diva and I flew to National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, DC, to be trained by Alan Turchik on how to deploy the Exploration Technology Lab’s deep sea Drop Cameras. These systems can be dropped to 6,000 m deep in the ocean, are baited to attract animals, and can be programmed to record high definition video, depth, and temperature for up to 6 hours of record time.

We spent the first morning in the lab learning about all the systems, from programming to launch, recovery to data download. By lunchtime, Diva and I were able to step through the pre-deployment checklist without assistance.

In the afternoon, we drove out to Rock Creek Park to learn how to use the radio tracker to find the DropCam. Alan placed the DropCam across a field, and Diva and I took turns using the radio antenna to hear its signal and locate it with our eyes closed by listening to its signal. I was even able to get out of a wooded area and to the field to find it!

The next day, we rented a boat on the Chesapeake Bay so that we could go through the entire process of deployment and recovery in the water. We programmed the DropCam to remain on the bottom for 30 minutes. Deployment went off without a hitch - we dropped it in the water easily and down to the bottom it sank. Approximately 25 minutes later, Captain Keith took us off site so that Diva and I could again practice using the radio antenna to find the DropCam once it came to the surface.

In seawater, the burn wire should release in about 5 minutes, and pop right up to the surface. But it didn’t. We started to get concerned that the water was too fresh for the burn wire to work (it relies on accelerated rusting of a wire by running electrical current through it). It had just rained quite a lot (large input of fresh water), and the tide was going out (more water from the river coming into the Bay than water coming in from the ocean. And, I had to get back to DC to catch a flight home that afternoon. I kept listening, and listening, and listening for a ping…......

Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long. After about 10-15 minutes, Alan and Captain Keith saw it pop right up to the surface. It turns out that we hadn't tweaked the settings of the receiver as well as we could have. Oops! But this is why we do training, right?! Diva and I practiced tracking it with our eyes closed once again, and motored over to grab it with a boat hook.

We made it back to the dock, packed up our gear, and enjoyed some chocolate chip scones en route to the airport! We both feel a lot better about using the DropCam but are still looking forward to going through the motions many more times in Trinidad and Tobago in a few days!

This post was written by Katy Croff Bell, a director of Open Ocean, MIT Media Lab and a National Geographic Explorer.

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Expedition Background

Our pilot project is designed to provide ocean access and increased technological capacity in Trinidad and Tobago, a small island developing state. 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: An engineer and another team member will travel to Trinidad to deliver the National Geographic Drop Cameras, and other technology to train a group of scientists, engineers, students, and communicators in their use. The OpenROV Trident will be delivered before so that exploration and training can start as soon as possible. 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 Trinidad and Tobago (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 Trinidad and Tobago, 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 Trinidad and Tobago 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 Trinidad in early August 2018 to start the deep-sea journey with the Drop Cameras, but exploration and outreach using the OpenROV Trident will begin in July 2018.

Project collaborators: Randi Rotjan, Diva Amon, Brennan Phillips, Alan Turchik, Katy Croff Bell, Rafael Anta, Gerard Alleng, Kristina Gjerde, Gil Montague, Kate Furby, Alexis Hope

Trinidad and Tobago collaborators: University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, SpeSeas, National Institute for Higher Education, Science and Technology (NIHERST) and the COAST Foundation/Offshore Innovators.

This project will have a twin pilot in Kiribati, which you can read here: Kiribati Ocean Exploration

Stay tuned for updates coming soon!

This post was written by Diva Amon of SpeSeas, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Natural History Museum, London, UK.

Diva, this is so cool! Really excited to see how this and the Kiribati expedition develop.

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