An extremely active hurricane season, collapsing ice sheets, massive oil spills, and sexual harassment in shark science – What’s up with the Ocean this week?

August 12, 2020

Buckle up and bunker down. NOAA has upgraded its predictions for the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season to Extremely Active. We enter peak hurricane months without the buffer of a protection dust cloud swirling out of the Sahara, a reminder that climate systems on this planet are profoundly interconnected. We may see up to 25 named storms, eleven hurricanes, and six major hurricanes

Disaster in Mauritius. Mauritius, a small island nation off the coast of Madagascar, has declared a state of emergency following a massive oil spill. The MV Wakashio bulk carrier ran aground on the island’s fringing reef, spilling thousands of tons of fuel oil into the fragile ecosystem. Strapped for equipment, Mauritius is now soliciting hair donations (human hair will absorb oil, but not water) from its residents in a last ditch effort to get as much oil out of the wreck as possible before it breaks apart. 

Collapsing Milne. Canada’s Milne Ice Shelf has collapsed. The last intact ice shelf in Canada split apart in the days leading up to August 2. The satellite images released by Planet Labs are truly astounding. 

The only thing you should care about this Shark Week. Dr. Catherine Macdonald writes for Scientific American on the dark side of being a woman in shark science. Critical reading for anyone working or thinking about a career in marine science. 

Upwelling (the part where Andrew gets on his soapbox)

Earlier this week, we got news of a Evangelical missionary flying into the highlands of Papua New Guinea to preach to an “uncontacted” tribe. Now, I’m just a humble country deep-sea ecologist, but I did teach a robotics class through the University of Papua New Guinea and I have more than a few contacts out there who were happy to point out that the uncontacted tribe was making fun of this dude on Facebook, but it makes me furious that during a pandemic, ostensibly religious folks would put their own personal need for pride and attention ahead of the health and safety of a relatively secluded group of people. We have the potential to be better than the worst of us.

Bioprospecting in Practice: How a drug goes from the ocean to the clinic.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of the Deep-sea Mining Observer. It is reprinted here with permission. For the latest news and analysis about the development of the deep-sea mining industry, subscribe to DSM Observer here: http://dsmobserver.com/subscribe/

Bioprospecting, the discovery of new pharmaceutical compounds, industrial chemicals, and novel genes from natural systems, is frequently cited among the critical non-mineral commercial activities that yield value from the deep ocean. Isolating new chemicals or molecular processes from nature can provide substantial benefits to numerous industries. The value of products derived from marine genetic resources alone is valued at $50 billion while a single enzyme isolated from a deep-sea hydrothermal vent used in ethanol production has an annual economic impact of $150 million. 

In contrast to other extractive processes, bioprospecting is driven by and dependent on biodiversity. The greater the diversity and novelty of an ecosystem, the greater the likelihood that new compounds exist within that community. Bioprospecting is also viewed as light extraction, compounds only need to be identified once–actual production happens synthetically in the lab–thus leaving ecosystems relatively undisturbed compared to more intensive industries.

Despite the promise and importance of bioprospecting, there is generally a relatively poor understanding of what the process of discovery entails. How do researchers go from sponges on the seafloor to new antiviral treatments? 

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Hurricanes, Sharks, Mining the Deep Sea, and the Great American Outdoors – What’s up with the Ocean this week?

August 5, 2020

Holy Mola we are back! Bass my flounder for I have finned. It has been Half A Year since I last posted anything on Southern Fried Science. Granted, that year is 2020, so I think we can all give each other all the slack we need. I have missed this place, my weekly ocean news round ups, and my less frequent deep dives into ocean science, conservation, and exploration. So let’s get back to it: What the heck is up with the ocean this week?

Hurricane Isaias. Hurricane Isaias ripped across the eastern seaboard, striking the Bahamas as a category 1 hurricane before slowing as it approached the United States. It briefly ramped back up to a category 1 storm as it strafed the North Carolina coastline. Isaias spun off hundreds of tornadoes as far north as Delaware as it crawled towards Maine and the Canadian Maritimes. It is the ninth named storm of 2020, the earliest ninth storm to form on record, and the second consecutive hurricane of the season. 2020 is projected to be an exceptionally intense year for Atlantic hurricanes, because of course it is.  

An osprey braces itself against the wind as Isaias passes over the Maryland Eastern Shore. Photo by Andrew Thaler.

Woman killed by Great White Shark. A woman was killed by a Great White Shark last week in Maine’s first recorded lethal shark encounter. Though Great Whites are uncommon, they are not unheard of in northern waters and the recovery of shark populations in the north Atlantic is in general regarded as a success story. With rebounding populations, interactions between humans and wildlife will increase, although such tragic outcomes are still rare. In a strange twist, the victim in this case was an acquaintance of our own resident shark specialist

We still don’t know how to assess the impacts of deep-sea mining. In Deep-Sea Misconceptions Cause Underestimation of Seabed-Mining Impacts, Smith and friends outline the numerous potential misconceptions that may dramatically affect our estimations of the impact of deep-sea mining. These misconceptions include the scale of the operation, the rate of recovery, and the compounding impacts of other human-induced insults to the seafloor. 

Upwelling (the part where Andrew gets on his soapbox)

Yesterday, the President signed the Great American Outdoors Act, a largely bipartisan effort to dramatically increase funding for land conservation across the US; an act that was necessary following decades of Republican leadership gutting funding for the National Parks Service and deferring essential repairs. The $9 billion in funding for deferred maintenance will go towards offsetting over $12 billion in critical repairs that have accumulated since the 1980s, the last decade in which the Park Service budget was significantly increased. It also guarantees almost $1 billion per year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is predominantly funded though royalty payments from offshore oil and gas. 

It’s a great law made necessary by decades of leadership failure. 

Saltiness aside, it comes at a time when access to the outdoors could not be more essential. With the country in the midst of an historic pandemic and travel significantly curtailed, access to green space is at a premium. And, unsurprisingly, nature deficit disproportionately affects historically marginalized communities, particularly those within urban areas where vast green spaces come in the form of literal walled gardens. 

Even with the Great American Outdoors Act, this administration has done more to destroy the environment than any modern presidency, and we can only hope that this will help lay the groundwork for the next president’s Green (and Blue) Awakening.

A decade of failures in Science Communication.

Eleven years is a long life for a science blog. Southern Fried Science was born in 2008, when the main writers were all graduate students. Over the last decade the online landscape has changed. Science Communication changed with it, adapting and evolving to meet an ever-shifting ecosystem. Looking back on the last decade and thinking about the next, it’s becoming easier to see where we went wrong. It’s not quite as easy to determine what we need to correct the course.

This is not a scientific assessment, this is my own personal observations from the last decade of running Southern Fried Science, from teaching Social Media for Environmental Communications for the last 7 years, from working with Upwell, one of the most dynamic and visionary ocean NGOs ever conceived, from helping build and launch multiple online platforms, dozens of novel programs, and hundreds of outreach campaigns, and from spending a lot of time since November 2016 reflecting on what we’ve done wrong.

That Hideous Deficit

Do we really need another 200 words on how bad the deficit model is and why it needs to die?

Apparently, yes.

The basic premise: that science perception and policy is shaped by an information deficit and that if we just make good science education content and spread it, we can combat the spread of misinformation, people will learn, and everything will get better.

It doesn’t work. It never worked. And it ignores the reality that misinformation is manufactured for political and financial gain, with tremendous incentives and, often, far better funding than science outreach campaigns. But beyond that, multiple studies have shown that, when confronted with information that challenges their fundamental world view, people don’t throw out their worldview, they reject the science, creating a more entrenched and intractable audience.

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Probing the submerged caves of Bermuda with Trident

Dr. Blanco-Bercial pilots the Trident ROV in one of Bermuda’s submerged caves.

Conservation research in submarine caves is among the clearest and most compelling use-cases for a small observation-class ROV like Trident, which is why, last week, we delivered the very first ROV for Good Sofar Ocean Trident to Dr. Leocadio Blanco-Bercial at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences to study the hidden biodiversity in Bermuda’s Anchialine Caves.

Dr. Blanco-Bercial is a marine biologist who studies the diversity and evolution in invertebrates, especially those in marine cave ecosystems. Bermuda is home to a network of anchialine caves (caves connected to the sea through underwater passageways) which are home to a diverse array of rare and ancient arthropod lineages, many of which are unique to Bermuda. These species are under threat from land development and other human activities.

“From the science standpoint,” says Dr.  Blanco-Bercial, “the Trident will give us independence from specialized divers availability, and will simplify the logistics associated with the sampling process – the Trident is easy to carry even by a single person – and sampling attachments and other gear is easily transportable by another colleague.”

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We want to give you an ROV!

Sofar Ocean Trident
What will you explore?

If you have access to a small, observation-class remotely operated vehicle to explore the ocean, where would you go? Would you use it to discover something new about marine ecosystems? Would you give students the opportunity to journey beneath the waves and learn about their local waterways? Would you hunt for lost lobster traps, track ocean plastic, deliver sensor payloads down into the mesophotic zone, or identify and protect critical spawning habitats?

Or would you undertake an expedition so novel that it has yet to be conceived?

Conservation X Labs in collaboration with Schmidt Marine Technologies and Sofar Ocean is delivering 20 Sofar Ocean Trident ROVs to researchers (both formal and informal), educators, citizen scientists, and ocean conservationist to help further projects to study, understand, or protect the marine environment, with a broad focus on marine conservation. Grant recipients will receive a Trident ROV with all the fixings!

Sofar Ocean Trident represents the next-generation of underwater drone. It is an out-of-the-box solution for ocean stakeholders that can perform many of the same functions of major research ROVs for a fraction of the cost and with no specialized training. Small enough to be stored in carry-on baggage, the ROV is extremely portable and has been deployed from vessels ranging in size from small kayaks to ocean-class research vessels to Polynesian voyaging canoes. Trident is fast, with simple controls. It is rated to 100m. The vehicle provides live video footage to the pilot through a kevlar-reinforced tether which can also serve as a recovery line. It has a series of ventral M3 mounting points that allow users to affix a variety of sensors, collectors, and payloads to expand its utility. It is one of the few consumer accessible vehicles capable of performing scientific research, documentary observation, conservation monitoring, and exploration from the surface of the ocean down into the mesophotic zone.

The application is simple and streamlined to get you out exploring the ocean.

Apply today and let’s discover the ocean together!

The next generation of low-cost, open-source oceanographic instruments is here! Meet the OpenCTD rev 2!

Four generations of OpenCTD. Left to Right: Prototype 2, which went through sea trials in Lake Superior, rev 1, rev 1 in the smaller form factor (this one was deployed in Alaska), and OpenCTD rev 2.

In 2013, Kersey Sturdivant and I embarked upon a quixotic quest to create an open-source CTD — the core tool of all oceanographic research that measures the baseline parameters of salinity, temperature, and depth. We weren’t engineers; neither of us had any formal training in electronics or sensing. And, full confession, we weren’t (and still aren’t) even oceanographers! What we were were post-doc marine ecologists working with tight budgets who saw a desperate need among our peers and colleagues for low-cost alternatives to insurmountably expensive equipment. And we had ties to the growing Maker and DIY electronics movements: Kersey through his work developing Wormcam and me through my involvement with OpenROV. 

We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. 

The very first OpenCTD prototype.

Seven years and five iterations later, we are releasing the long anticipated OpenCTD rev 2 as well as the comprehensive Construction and Operation Manual! OpenCTD rev 2 builds on over half a decade of iteration and testing, consultation with oceanographers, engineers, developers, and makers around the world, extensive coastal and sea trials, and a series of workshops designed to test and validate the assembly process. 

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Finding the best dirt-cheap, field-tough 3D printer for science and conservation work: six months later.

A fully upgraded Ender-3.

Four years ago, I had the chance to lead a research cruise on Lake Superior to explore the potential of low-cost, open-source tools for marine field work. This was the proving ground for the OpenCTD, the Niskin3D, the OpenROV 2.7, and the idea that, rather than packing cases and case of gear, we could put everything we needed on a flash drive and print it at sea. 

During that cruise, as my trusty Printrbot, was churning out Niskin bottles, we caught a wave and the 3D printer was thrown to the ground. I came down hours later to find it upside down on the floor of a retrofitted fish hold, happily chugging along. I picked it up, put it back on the counter, and went back to sleep. The print didn’t even fail.

That is the kind of beast we need. 

Over the years, whenever someone asked me what the best 3D Printer for field work was, the answer was always the same: The Printrbot Simple Metal. But Printrbot is gone (for now) and we needed a replacement.

Half a year ago, we completed an exhaustive review of the cheapest 3D-printers on the market, with an eye towards low-cost, robust tools that would endure the rigors of field work without blowing our grant budget. We wanted 3D printers that were workhorses. They didn’t have to be pretty, they didn’t have to produce perfect prints, they just had to spit out strong serviceable parts with minimal fuss. They had to be reasonably portable. And they had to be able to take a beating and keep on printing.

We never found a replacement for the absolute tank that is the Printrbot Simple Metal, but after months of testing, settled on a pair of good alternatives (notably for a fraction of the cost of the Printrbot when it was still in production): for those who need big build volumes, the Creality Ender-3. For those who need portability above all, the Monoprice Mini-Delta

But that was six months ago. I promised to put these two machines into heavy use. After several hundred hours of printing, we’re ready to update our review of both machines. 

Executive Summary. My recommendation still stands, both both printers need a few modifications before you can call them the ultimate field machine. 

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