ROVing the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, Quintana Roo

June 2 2016

Here in Quintana Roo, Mexico, communities are working to save sharks, sustain fish, and transform dying coral reefs back to colorful, thriving ecosystems. Non-profits, universities, and private individuals will share an Open ROV to explore the incredibly biodiverse aquatic life.

June 2 2016

Did you know that the National Geographic Society is currently offering Explorers a variety of funding opportunities in the fields of conservation, education, research, storytelling, and technology? To learn more and apply for a grant click here.
If you're not interested in applying for a grant, click continue below
Funded by:
Mission Underway

Here's the screenview video that Ingmar captured January 2nd from the cockpit. Cool to watch the controls as it maneuvers and navigates.

I think we can ROV around the sculpture, Zoe, and through the reef balls (the cement orbs with holes in them) if we replace all the cable with the buoyant one. Next on our list is to find how and where to get some. Is it here in Mexico?

I can't wait to share a video with you from Jan 2nd when we used our ROV in Cozumel at the site of Zoe for the first time. It's the cockpit view. As soon as I receive it from our driver, Ingmar, I'll upload it to vimeo. It's cool to see the controls overlaying the underwater scene.

It was a very special way to ring in 2017 to have Shaan Hurley of Autodesk in town with his drone (aerial shots coming soon), and some new friends from Nat Geo helped us make sure the cable didn't snag. LOVE the buoyant cable it made all the difference. Seemed the motors might need to be a bit stronger to muscle through the light current.

Here are a few shots of ROVing that I took with my GoPro. I'm uploading a short video I took that shows some of the surroundings. There really are more corals in the area, but not a lot since the hurricane, pollution, and careless navigation with flippers and tanks has taken its toll.

It was really fun to see how the drone and ROV immediately invited new people to participate as a seamless crew working together.

image-1 image-1 image-1 image-1

Awesome! Great shots. Excited to see the video!

Just a quick bit of WHAT's UP?! We had some computer hang ups. Sorry for that all around since we are so grateful to have the ROV, never expected this detour. No computer was being allocated to go in small boats where they could be potentially wettened. (that's a word). Luis Lombardo of Saving Our Sharks says he may have one. Very exciting. Later tonight or tomorrow I should learn what kind and memory capacity and fingers crossed - it is time to start really ROVing. Thanks for patience!

Something a bit exciting to share, we installed Zoe - the Living Sea Sculpture (in the opening video) into the sea. You can livestream and observe from our underwater webcam at and our Living Sea Sculpture YouTube channel here


That sculpture is beautiful! Will definitely check out the livestream.

With this 25m of buoyant cable, we can avoid snags. Huge thanks to Brian Gau and David Lang for getting us hooked up! Weather systems and currents should lighten up soon.


Our ROV cable got stuck on little rocks and twigs at times. Marisol Rueda Flores from Healthy Reefs to the rescue. We'll be adding a buoyant tether to avoid this next go.

Just had incredible tour of OpenROV headquarters in Berkeley, CA with the warm and dedicated, David Lang. Great to see their Trident, latest ROV, in the works and meet the awesome team that's been helping us by Internet with any questions.


Basic maneuvering in a smaller cenote at Dos Ojos so the crew could take turns driving and navigating. We're using a GoPro to catch some video, and still working to get the ROV to start recording. Like to add a GoPro onto the ROV as everyone suggests to get better footage.

Preparation Stage

Last Sunday we went to Dos Ojos to test the ROV with more of the team in a real cenote. We're still working to get video to record, but the great news is that no leaks and all was working well with the controls. We want to figure out how to keep the cable from getting caught on tiny twigs and rocks that are everywhere in cenotes. Adding some lights will be for sure when we go into tunnels. Glad we are underway with getting into the ecosystems and people are getting comfortable with driving.


We had our first swim yesterday! Success! Our own pequeño post 4th of July pool party... which only means anything to me locally, I guess, with my US roots - Independence Day and my Grandmother Flanigan's Birthday (she was amazing!!!)

Only small issues we encountered were with glue not holding tight on a battery tube towards end of trial and the lasers unfocused and shifted spacing. Going to try a bit of stronger plastic glue instead of Super Glue.

It was so fun to be swimming with him/her (still need to come up with a name:) and learning to maneuver through the water. Flashbacks to my little remote control Porsche as a kid, but a MILLION times better with the camera and excitement for exploring the ocean!!

Wow! I normally don't like long-wise video, but this looks really, really good. So exciting!

Thanks!! we're figuring out where we swim next..hopefully next weekend!

Woohoo we have power!


Excellent! Can't wait to see video!

:) right?! Yesterday we had video in the house (lightning outside.) Today = swim (pool) !

Ingmar worked long hours to build the ROV so we could inspire new generations of ocean, cenote, and mangrove explorers here. It's SO close to being done! Great crowd of people at Planetario SAYAB in Playa del Carmen learning about the regional ecosystems. For their 1st environmental festival, was incredible turnout. Really exciting for me to connect about reefs and learn how many people love them and want to care for them directly. Serious interest and fascinating conversations about underwater exploration. We met possible new collaborators all day!


I love that! What a crowd! Can't wait to see it in the water.

:) ! yes it's getting exciting how close to ready. You guys made such a work of art with that many precise perfect steps and wow. Thanks! Today dumping rain and electrical storm. If not early next week, beginning July after trip to NY it swims.

We're on it! Ingmar is hard at work with some local delays finding the glue and a few supplies. We had to let go our june 4th launch, but fortunately he has a pretty flush tool kit. We'll be sharing the ROV at SAYAB Playa Del Carmen Planetarium this Saturday, June 11th from 3 - 7 as part of their first environmental festival.


Great to hear he got the tools!


Yesterday I met with Stuart Fulton, the Coordinator of Marine Reserves in QR with the non-profit COBI, Comunidad y Biodiversidad: Asociación Civil. He showed me their ROV and shared some stories from their initial outings, gave some good tips about putting it together and using it. And so generously, he offered to loan the batteries to us so we can keep aiming for June 4th to launch. Our batts will be flying down the following week ;)

To find out more about their expedition~


You get a cool OpenROV knit hat, too. Nice! Ingmar Gonzalez Krotzsch got to Florida today to be first to greet our ROV. A mechanical engineer, he'll likely be doing most the assembling, so only seems natural that he begins bonding with our yet-to-be-named new robot first.


What an inspiring first meeting! AND Jeronimo Aviles Olguin from the Instituto de la Prehistoria de América A.CA is now bringing another historical dimension to our subaquatic adventure.

He wants to investigate paleontological underwater cave sites, including Pit Cenote and Crustacea Cave. At Pit, they can send the ROV to 42-50 meters deep and 25 linear m from the platform to survey a site they excavated and found remains of 2 humans and a saber toothed cat.
Having an ROV will help see this deep site with a clear head and capture images of the area to map it. Would be very cool if they identified more mysteries, both living and fossilized.
As for Crustacea, located south of Puerto Morelos, his team has been exploring this cave for a decade, but only a few years ago they found a connection with the sea. Jeronimo wants to survey the tunnel which is 12 - 20 meters deep and document how the cave fauna changes as we go further inside the tunnel connecting the cave to the sea and write an article / edit a video with Dr. Luis Mejia from Universidad de Cozumel and PhD and Jill Yager from the Smithsonian Institute about the distinct zones of the cave fauna regarding the water depth, quality, and linear distance from sunlight of the the open sea.
Crustacea Cave is very unique because of its fauna, it holds the largest number of remipedes in the world with thousands of them along with other endemic cave crustaceans. Crustacea Cave has yielded a new species of remipede and it was found to be poisonous. Over 20 articles have been published about the fauna of this cave, excepting this new direct connection to the sea.

When we were talking about this tunnel connecting to the sea, Marisol lit up about the significance of revealing this obscure canal that can be such a powerful tool for linking the health and water quality of cenotes with the health of reefs.

We're all anticipating! The ROV is waiting for us in Florida ready to come back down late this week. We plan to take our first run in The Pit.

That's Jeronimo on the left.


Awesome news! What a team! Excited to follow along. Keep us posted!

It's thrilling, David! Ingmar (next to me far right in photo) landed in Florida today to meet the ROV. Hoping the batteries can join him on his flight back this Sunday!

Expedition Background

The coast of Quintana Roo has been developing rapidly for tourism over the past 45 years. In that time, the impact of humans is taking its toll. Fortunately, natural resources and sustainability are gaining attention and value. Leaders are taking steps to live in harmony and create healthier balance in our dynamic, interconnected world. Just like floating pollution has no real boundaries, communities can flow together from various disciplines and sectors to counteract the ominous deterioration through creativity, cultivation, and management.

Our expedition arises from the desire to revive and protect the endangered Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Living Sea Sculpture, led by Colleen Flanigan, combines art with science, as seen in the video. While working towards installing Zoe, the coral refuge sculpture, she has spent much of the last year collaborating with amazing non-profits and scientists in the region who are responsible for conservation and progressive action. Living Sea Sculpture will use the ROV to explore locations that would benefit from coral and beach restoration with Biorock sculptures (artificial reefs), and also capture footage for a sculpture and stop-motion project she is working on with local kids about regenerating coral ecosystems.

M.C. Marisol Rueda Flores, Mexico’s Coordinator for the Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative will use the ROV to help them document the shape, habitat, and species found in each of their sites to complement other information they are collecting. They will share how they work and the relevance their data has on the health of the reef and the economy. All their sites are between 2-20m of depth, and are located in 5 sub-regions : Northern Q. Roo (Cancún, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen), Cozumel Island, Central Q. Roo (Sian Ka’an), Southern Q. Roo (Mahahual and Xcalak) and Banco Chinchorro. They use the AGRRA methodology to survey the reef, taking 4 indicators to create a Reef Health Index (RHI). These indicators are coral cover, macroalgae cover, herbivorous fish biomass (parrotfishes and surgeonfishes), and commercial fish biomass (groupers and snappers). The ROV will offer new eyes and views as they start monitoring for their biennial Report Card on the Health of the Mesoamerican Reef to come out in 2017. The Healthy Reefs Initiative works in the whole Mesoamerican Reef with more than 65 partners among these countries : Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and Mexico. It is an international collaborative initiative that gathers once a year to promote, plan, and organize the data into Report Cards or Eco-Audits.

And what will Saving our Sharks, led by Luis Lombardo Cifuentes, find at 90m with the Open ROV? Hopefully the invasive, sometimes evasive, lion fish to help reduce their negative impact on juvenile fish stocks while providing plentiful fish to feed people. The main problem with this species is that is has no predators and it feeds voraciously from smaller fish. Of course there is the fact that they release around 2,000 eggs every 2 days. This fish has already been eradicated from the common diving sites, but the big ones are still out there and there is strong evidence that they are in the deeper areas. With the ROV, they can monitor those populations in order to efficiently hunt them and get a unique peak into those depths, something not a lot of people have seen. This would be really helpful with their environmental education program. Additionally, this vehicle can monitor big animals during touristic operations. They don't want it to become a bull shark snack, but whale sharks, mantas, and sailfish would be incredible subjects.

Please join us as we start our adventure this summer! These missions greatly appreciate support and your input to rev up our capacity to heal and study the second largest barrier reef in the world. It is part of a gradual process to introduce new means of economic sustainability to a region that depends on the organisms, shore protection, and beauty of coral reefs to survive.


Contribute to this expedition

Email Address
Number card
Postal Code

Review Your Contribution

You have chosen to contribute to expedition.

Confirm your details:

  • Name:

  • Email:

  • Last 4 digits:

Click below to proceed.

Thank You for Your Contribution!

Fundraising Details:


Tell us how raising these funds will impact your expedition
You're almost there, we just need to know three more things:
Is any part or component of your project funded by the National Geographic Society or a National Geographic Society Grant?
Is anyone on your expedition/project team affiliated, either currently or in the past, with the National Geographic Society?
Did you apply for a grant/funding from the National Geographic Society for this project?
You have a goal to raise by for:
Is any part or component of your project funded by the National Geographic Society or a National Geographic Society Grant?
You’ve responded:
Is anyone on your expedition/project team affiliated, either currently or in the past, with the National Geographic Society?
You’ve responded:
Did you apply for a grant/funding from the National Geographic Society for this project?
You’ve responded:

Thank You

Fundraising is almost live!
Thank you for applying to collect contributions! We will review your request and follow up with next steps via email.
Feel free to email us if you have any questions.