OceansOnline: How can internet tools help marine scientists and conservationists?

#SciComm, BloggingOctober 20, 2015

IMCCNext summer’s 4th International Marine Conservation Congress will include an optional full day add-on called OceansOnline. This add-on day, inspired by 2013’s successful ScienceOnline Oceans, will focus on how social media and other internet tools can help ocean scientists and conservation professionals with research, collaboration, and public outreach.

OceansOnline is suitable for total beginners who want to learn how to use these tools as well as advanced users who want to learn much more about their applications.  Scientists and professionals who are advanced users of internet tools are encouraged to attend this meeting even if ocean conservation biology is not your primary research specialty.

OceansOnline will consist of three types of events: workshops, presentations, and facilitated discussions:


Politely optimistic: What do the Canadian election results mean for ocean science and conservation?


Julia skate trawlJulia Whidden completed her Masters in Biology with a focus on marine conservation from Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 2015. Her project evaluated population demographics and species identification of two at-risk species of skate in the inner Bay of Fundy. She joins Dr. Neil Hammerschlag’s lab at the University of Miami for the year as a Fulbright Student and shark research intern. Follow her on twitter! 

DCIM101GOPRORachel Skubel graduated with an M.Sc. in Environmental Science from McMaster University where she studied climate impacts on water cycling in temperate forests, and a B.Sc. from the University of Western Ontario. Her current research interests revolve around how oceanic predators will be impacted by anthropogenic environmental changes. She is a currently a shark research intern with Dr. Neil Hammerschlag’s lab at the University of Miami. Follow her on twitter! 

Up until this past year, the thought of Canadian politics had probably never crossed your mind. For some of you, your introduction to the topic may have been via the astute criticisms of John Oliver published this past weekend. His YouTube video currently skyrocketing at just under 3 million views in less than 48 hours, may have even been the introduction to Canadian politics for some Canadians. Let’s face it: in comparison to the flashy and sometimes trashy race of our neighbors to the south (ahem, you Americans), Canadian politics are usually tame, boring, and dry. In 2011, our last major election, 61.1% of Canadians voted (14.8 million), but up until the election last night, at least 68.5% have actively contributed to changing the dire political and environmental landscape formed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative cronies over the past 10 years. This voter turnout is the highest since 1993, and certainly demonstrates that – not unlike your defeat of Republicans following the Bush years – Canadians were ready for change.

To our newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, we say welcome and we’re ready for action.


Oceanography for Everyone: Empowering researchers, educators, and citizen scientists through open-source hardware

Oceanography for EveryoneOctober 19, 2015

Three years ago, Kersey Sturdivant and myself launched an ambitious crowdfunding project–the OpenCTD–with the plan to produce a low-cost, open-source CTD for thousands of dollars less than the commercial alternative. That campaign fizzled, bringing in barely 60% of our target goal. After taxes and fees, that amounted to about $3500 available to us to play around with. The OpenCTD wasn’t dead, but it was on life support.

We had a vision: to make to tools of oceanography accessible to the widest range of people, not just ocean researchers, but citizen scientists, boat-owners, fishermen, surfers, swimmers, any one who enjoyed the ocean and wanted to better understand their local waterways. The OpenCTD was ambitious, not only in its scope, but also in our ignorance of the knowledge required to achieve that goal. In the three years since, I moved to California (and then moved back East) to meet with some of the best underwater engineers in the open-source movement. We added Russell Neches, an experienced hardware hacker to our team. We partnered with OpenROV to learn from their vast experience. And I’ve spent the time re-skilling: learning to code, design and fabricate 3D printable materials, build electronic components from the ground up, and manage an open-source project.


Contribute to science communication research, take the Southern Fried Science reader survey!


AWe have partnered with Dr. Paige Brown Jarreau, a science communication researcher, to create a survey of Southern Fried Science readers. By participating, you’ll help contribute to scientific understanding of blogs and blog readership. You’ll also get some free science art from Paige’s photography, as well as chances to win a t-shirt and other prizes. Every participant will be entered into a drawing for a $50 Amazon.com gift card, there are 2 set aside for readers of this blog.

You can find the survey here. Please consider taking 10-15 minutes to answer these questions. Thank you!

In the future all scientific research will be funded by Taco Bell …

Personal Stories, Science, Science fundingOctober 15, 2015


At my university, we recently received a missive from the academic powers that be that faculty research productivity (and thus promotion, raises and tenure) will primarily be measured by the “amount of research funding (direct and indirect) received by the department and the college”.

I think this is a major problem and is a common one across universities.

It’s well known that some fields have lots of research funding available, while other fields don’t (for example). So effectively the above missive means that academic hiring and promotion decisions will not be done on a level playing field. (more…)

How to pitch an Ocean Kickstarter for us to review

BloggingOctober 12, 2015

I put this up as a closer on our last Ocean Kickstarter selection, and am posting here as a standalone for anyone who may have missed it.

Email me at [email protected] with the subject heading: Ocean Kickstarter: Your Project. This isn’t limited to Kickstarter, projects on IndieGoGo, RocketHub, GoFundMe, or any other site are eligible for an Ocean Kickstarter of the month. We will review based on three criteria:

1. Is it sound, reasonable, and informed by science?

2. Is there a clear goal, timeline, and budget; and are they partnering with the people who have experience hitting those marks?

3. Do some of the parties involved have a successful record with other crowdfunding projects and experience delivering on rewards.


Watch my Nerd Nite talk, “everything I needed to know in life I learned from a shark”

marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharks

AOn Thursday, October 8th, I presented at Nerd Nite Miami. A YouTube link to view my talk, “everything I needed to know in life I learned from a shark,” can be found below.

CAUTION: the talk contains some NSFW language. 

Thanks to Ta-Shana Taylor for filming my talk!

Ocean Kickstarter of the Month: Meet Norman the Nurse Shark

Education, ScienceOctober 6, 2015

In this book kids learn about sharks and the oceans as they travel with Norman on his adventure through the Bahamas.

Sharks4Kids First Book: Meet Norman the Nurse Shark

Sharks4Kids is an educational non-profit based in Florida that produces curricula and media designed to teach primary-school age kids about sharks and shark conservation. They also conduct Skype-in-lessons, classroom visits, field trips, and shark tagging camps. For their first Kickstarter campaign, they’re producing a book, targeted at elementary-school students.

Sharks matter, according to my co-author who uses the handle WhySharksMatter, and ocean outreach literature targeting younger students is often light on solid educational content. Online media is great, when available, but not everyone has reliable access to the internet. One of the campaign goals is to distribute this book to schools in the Bahamas, which is a major benefit to a region where persistent, high-bandwidth internet is not always a given.

Onward to the Ocean Kickstarter criteria!

1. Is it sound, reasonable, and informed by science? Sharks4Kids has a solid tract record producing entertaining and scientifically literate content that appeals to a younger audience. I have no doubt that Norman the Nurse Shark, though necessarily anthropomorphized, will provide fact-based, pseudoscience-free information about nurse sharks.  (more…)

Fun Science FRIEDay – Dude, I’m Glowing!

biodiversity, biology, evolution, Fun Science Friday, marine science, Natural ScienceOctober 2, 2015

Happy Fun Science FRIEDay! After a brief hiatus, due to life, hoping this installment represents the regular…err, semi-regular, occurrence of FSF.

So this hit the interwebs pretty big earlier this week, the first documented reptile to glow. That honor belongs to the Hawksbill a sea turtle, observed first by  David Gruber, of City University of New York.

Fluorescing hawksbill sea turtle. (Photo credit: David Gruber, of City University of New York)

Fluorescing hawksbill sea turtle. (Photo credit: David Gruber, of City University of New York)

Lets get one thing out of the way before we delve into the glowing version of Crusher (for my finding Nemo aficionados). The sea turtle is not glowing, its fluorescing… there is a difference. In the ocean lots of organisms fluoresce at longer wavelengths (green, yellow, red) in response to shorter wavelengths (UV, blue, violet). It is a typical property of many biological materials and is noticeable if viewed through restrictive long pass filters, as is the case here.

That being said, documenting a sea turtle fluorescing is still pretty freaking cool! Like many scientific discoveries this was totally by happenstance. David was in the Solomon Islands to film biofluorescence in small sharks and coral reefs. And during his observations of sharks and corals glowing Crusher just swims by like, “Dude, I’m all glowing and stuff.”

Checkout the awesome video of it below, and Happy FSF!



Robots Versus Aliens – Anticipatory conservation in technology-drive initiatives

#OceanOptimism, Conservation, Environmentalism, ScienceSeptember 30, 2015

This week, I and a team of marine ecologist, explorers, and ocean technologists published Robots as vectors for marine invasions: best practices for minimizing transmission of invasive species via observation-class ROVs. This paper, conceived and largely produced during the ROV2PNG Marine Science Short Course in Papua New Guinea, represent the current best practices for minimizing or eliminating the spread of invasive species via portable, low-cost underwater robots.

Zebra mussels observed via OpenROV. Photo by author.

Zebra mussels observed via OpenROV. Photo by author.

Species invasion, particularly in the ocean, is a huge problem. Invasive species are ruthlessly good at out-competing native fauna. Without any natural predators, they can flourish, causing massive, irreparable damage to marine ecosystems. As scientists, explorers, and conservationist, we have to be proactive in ensuring that our actions don’t negatively impact the ecosystems we’re trying to save. Our guidelines are simple, but effective, and, most importantly, easy to follow.

  1. Educate yourself about species invasions generally and specifically about current issues in the area you’re working.
  2. Inspect your gear.
  3. Soak your gear in freshwater between dives.
  4. Soak your gear in weak bleach between expeditions.
  5. Avoid moving your equipment between geographic regions, when possible.

Technology can be a powerful tool in the aid of conservation. Around the world, people are using low-cost robotics to count elephants, detect poachers, protect tortoises, even seek-and-destroy invasive sea stars. As I discuss over at Motherboard, these robots are a transformative component of 21st century marine science and conservation, they fundamentally reshape the way we interact with the ocean. And with the explosive success of the latest OpenROV launch, there are about to be a lot more robots in the water. This is a good thing. The more eyes we have in the sea, the more people that actively contribute to ocean exploration, the more people with access to the tools necessary to explore, study, and understand our oceans and how they are changing, the better off we will all be.


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