Surviving a Double Hurricane (a first person report of the Puerto Rico disaster by Heather Cooke)

Heather Cooke graduated with an environmental science degree from George Mason University and studied marine biology. She is now a dive instructor and runs Culebra Divers on Culebra Island. This article was written during brief moments of power on Culebra Island.

As General Manager of Culebra Divers in Culebra, Puerto Rico for the last 2.5 years, I have enjoyed our semi-arid island with its brief storms. Known for one of the safer harbors in the Caribbean, my husband and I watched tropical storm after tropical storm and hurricane after hurricane pass us by. What I am writing is based on our experiences and what others around me have experienced or shared from their families on our sister islands.

Culebra the smallest of 3 islands that make up what you know as Puerto Rico (the “mainland”, Vieques, and us) and we’re 17 miles from the mainland itself.  To get here you fly from San Juan or take a ferry from the mainland’s east coast. We get all our food and fuel via that same ferry system. Our water and power travel under the ocean from the mainland through Vieques and then to us so if anything happens to either of those islands, we are screwed.  The island has a rag tag rental generator and no desalination plant.

As I write this, it has been 34 days since Maria and 48 since Irma and we still lack non-generator power, reliable daily water, and cell service not provided by some other island.

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The many, many ways I screwed up my first science crowdfunding campaign.

Four generations of field hardened OpenCTDs.

It’s been over five years since Kersey Sturdivant and I launched Oceanography for Everyone – The OpenCTD, my first attempt at crowdfunding science. Over the years, that initial effort has grown into Oceanography for Everyone, a community of researchers, educators, and citizen scientists, and has created new open-source tools for open-source, open-science hardware. The OpenCTD is the finest oceanographic instrument that you can build in your own home for less than $300.

The crowdfunding campaign was a total disaster.

Since then, I’ve written several articles on how scientists can launch and managed crowdfunding campaigns:

…but I’ve never written explicitly about what we did wrong during that campaign and how it impacted our success. Now that the final reward from that campaign has been delivered (yes, five years later, talk about the eternally delayed crowdfunding campaign), it’s the right moment to look back and think about how everything went so wrong.

went with lesser-known platforms. We launched the OpenCTD on RocketHub. At the time, RocketHub was hosting the #SciFund Challenge, a campaign to encourage scientists to launch science crowdfunding campaigns. Both the #SciFundChallenge and RocketHub were relatively small players in the nascent crowdfunding world. RocketHub doesn’t even appear to do crowdfunding anymore, they’ve pivoted to a “social network for entrepreneurs”. The old OpenCTD campaign page is long deprecated. #SciFund Challenge’s website hasn’t been updated in almost half a year.

Here’s the thing with crowdfunding, and especially crowdfunding in the early days: There are two dominant communities that you can rely on. There’s the community of people who want to support what you’re doing and there’s the community of people enamored with the idea of crowdfunding. Being a crowdfunding “investor” is a hobby in and of itself and many of the biggest donors are people who support dozens of different campaigns. So the larger and more popular the platform, the more crowdfunding enthusiasts you’ll attract. Heck, since backing the very first OpenROV, I’ve backed 23 other projects on Kickstarter, most recently Public Lab’s Balloon Mapping kits.

By going with RocketHub, I committed our campaign to a smaller potential audience. Considering Kickstarter was garnering huge press at the time, this was a near-fatal mistake.

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How to spot a scam shark documentary producer

Many aspects of science-ing are not explicitly taught, and scientists become accustomed to mastering the deep end.  While this tactic can make you stronger, there are situations where the deep end is a vulnerable place where nasty critters are very happy to take advantage.

One such area?  How to handle being contacted by “producers.”  In my experience, for every 1 exceptional producer you speak with, you will be contacted by at least 4 scammers.  Scam producers will particularly target naïve early-career scientists, just like white sharks and seal pups.  In light of this week, I’ve put together a guide to aid YOY scientists rising in the ranks of popularity and make the deep end a little safer.  Here are 13 ways to spot scam shark documentary producers, with a few 🚩🚩:

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The Worlds First Empirical ‘How-To’ Get Into Graduate School Book

Many years ago as a graduate student at the College of William & Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, my former officemate (Noelle Relles) and I came up with a novel idea: take all the disparate information out there about strategies for getting into graduate school in the natural sciences and coalesce them into a single concise yet comprehensive text. Essentially develop a How-To book about graduate school. But we wanted the book to be more than just instructional anecdotes. We were scientist, and thought it would be useful to add a level of empiricism to the book. We wanted to write a How-To book where the conclusion were driven by results from a national survey of graduate admissions offices in the USA. At the time, writing a book based on a national survey of graduate programs seemed like quite a long-shot as we were both a number of years removed from getting our PhDs, and the most pressing issues in our lives at that time were graduating and finding free food and alcohol.

Living the life of a graduate student at VIMS’ infamous Fall Party. (Photo credit: Kersey Sturdivant)

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Ocean Outreach in an Evolving Online Ecosystem: Transforming the Narrative

This is the transcript of the keynote I delivered at the Fourth International Marine Conservation Congress in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It has been lightly modified for flow.

Read Act I: Science is Storytelling. 


In Act I I discussed the underlying structure that frames narrative storytelling, but now I want to talk about how we can use the tools available to us on the internet to transform that narrative into something even more potent.

But before we can do that I have to tilt at some windmills.


When we talk about good outreach, we often look to people like Neil deGrasse Tyson, like Bill Nye, like David Attenborough, and like Carl Sagan. These are the paragons of scientific outreach, the icons that we often hold up as examples for what constitutes good outreach. We talk about things like Cosmos, both Sagan’s and deGrasse Tyson’s, Bill Nye the Science Guy and his more recent work combating climate change, or David Attenborough and his astounding Nature Documentaries. Read More

Trading blue collars for scarlet robes, my working-class experience of academic life

More people are going to college, graduate school, and obtaining PhDs in STEM fields than ever before (Figure 1), and a growing minority of these PhD candidates are non-traditional or not white affluent males. While we celebrate this change, let us not forget that academia was built by – and for – the “traditional” student. My favourite analogy to explain this type of ingrown privilege is bicycles on USA streets. Bicycles are legally allowed to be on streets, some streets even have extra space just for bicycles, but streets were designed for automobiles. You may be allowed and, in some areas, encouraged to get on the street with your bicycle, but biking a street is going to be intrinsically more difficult than if you were driving a car.


Like Marconi and La Bamba in a city built on rock and roll, you will inevitably end up in situations that conflict with your way of life. You will not receive a warning before you stumble upon these bumps, and you will be judged by how quickly you accept traditional standards (if you can).  I remember a conversation with traditional tenured and tenure-track scientists discussing proposals for a large grant scheme. One tenure-track scientist was lamenting the process of shopping for editors for his proposal. He talked about it freely, how there were two companies that charged different rates and he was in talks with one but that company felt a conflict of interest that he had worked with another rival editing company. The rest of the traditional scientists nodded in mutual understanding. Finding good, cheap editors to improve your work is hard. My working-class ethos was busy screaming inside my head.  How can hiring someone to edit and improve written works that you will ultimately be rewarded for be so blithely acceptable? You’re not allowed to hire editors for any task throughout your training. You learn how to write from earning disappointing grades (or failing grant applications). You read more, you study written works, you develop a voice, and you try again. The results get better until you are at an appropriate level to move up another notch on the ladder, right? Not for traditionals.

Here are some more bizarre “traditional” customs you should expect if you are biking down the academic street:

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My favorite story about Craig McClain



Today marks the last day of Craig McClain week for our friends over at Deep Sea News. We’ve celebrated his science, his outreach, and his tremendous spirit. Over the last decade, I’ve been lucky enough to co-author two papers with Craig: Digital environmentalism: tools and strategies for the evolving online ecosystem and Sizing ocean giants: patterns of intraspecific size variation in marine megafauna, both of which have quickly become seminal in their related fields. Craig is a titan, and my one regret is that I didn’t try hard enough to convince him to determine the author order for Sizing Ocean Giants by our respective sizes.

One time, in New Zealand, he tried to impersonate a Sasquatch.  Read More

Why scientists sometimes need to be a bit more Sith and a bit less Jedi


Darth Maul

Being a scientist can be very frustrating, even infuriating. It might well be because of the inequalities and unfairness of academic life (such as incompetent administrators, a lack of funding, poor career prospects, or academic bullying and harassment ). However, if you work in the conservation field, the frustrations will positively abound. In addition to the depressingly high likelihood that you will see your study habitat or species disappear before your eyes, there  are potentially the vexing roadblocks of your science being ignored  – or being actively distorted  – by policy makers, other scientists actively working against your efforts – either through their naivety or by deliberate design  – or being attacked by crazy whacktivists because they think your approach is the wrong one .

Stress is often high among scientists, especially those involved in conservation. However, I have found one of easiest solutions to relieve the stress is to write about your problems. Putting all the anger and frustrations down on paper (or on screen) can be sublimely cathartic. You can feel your blood pressure literally dropping points with every word you write.

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Singing Science: Weather vs. Climate with lyrics for teachers

The month of February 2016 just broke a global temperature recordpreviously held by… January…2016.

While the Trubama climate plans are being praised, the comments section of this Guardian article was still inundated with “Well, it’s cold where I am” posts.  Perhaps we need to create more awareness about the difference between weather and climate…

I know, I’m not supposed to talk about this, but I love to sing.  Every neighbor, flat mate, and unwilling car passenger knows this.  In fact, the only thing I love as much as singing is teaching science, but the metaphorical light bulb didn’t come on until I attended a SciComm workshop in Portugal.  Why not sing about science like many others?  Maybe even weather and climate??

Adele songs were the obvious choice, both for singability and availability of karaoke versions on YouTube, so I began my research.  I asked facebook if this would be a valuable addition to the internets, or best not to talk about it ever again, and the response was significantly positive.  Thus, #SingingScience was born and with it a commitment to do more of these when I have free time.

Enjoy, Weather vs. Climate set to Adele’s “Hello”

**Note (because evidently it’s not obvious):  This is not real meteorological data.

Here are the lyrics for any science teachers who would like them: Read More

A year of 3D printing in the home: does it live up to the hype?

3D Printing. No new technology in the last decade has been heralded with as much hope and hyperbole as the promise of desktop replicators fabricating whatever object you need at the push of a button. 3D printing has made huge steps forward, with more sophisticated machines at lower prices, new materials that vastly expand the printer’s capabilities, and the breathless optimism that foresees a printer in every home, as mundane and easy to operate as a conventional printer*.

A Printrbot in the home.

A Printrbot in the home.

And yet, for all the hype, most personal 3D printers are pressed into service fabricating plastic tschotskes — low quality, low function items of little to no utility. While the raw potential of 3D printing continues to expand, the promise of personal printers seems mired in the sandbox: an expensive toy for grownups. A toy that produces heaps of plastic detritus that will eventually find it’s way into the environment.

I posit here that, while it is true the the vast majority of people currently have no practical need for a 3D printer, under the right circumstances, a personal 3D printer can be an incredibly useful tool in the modern home.

A little over a year ago, we bought a personal 3D printer. It’s a Printrbot Simple Metal, a tough, no nonsense machine that works as well in my home office as it does at sea. Its footprint is small, and it can handle object up to 150 mm by 150 mm by 150 mm. Not huge, but big enough to be useful. And yes, this printer has primarily been used to fabricate parts for Oceanography for Everyone and other scientific endeavors. You can read more about that here: A 3D-printable, drone and ROV-mountable, water sampler and Oceanography for Everyone: Empowering researchers, educators, and citizen scientists through open-source hardware. I’m not talking about the scientific utility of the printer, but rather, how it fits into our homestead.

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