Julia Wester is the Director of Program Development for Field School. She received her PhD from the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami in 2016. Her dissertation studied the psychology of decision making about the environment, specifically with regard to limited water resources. She also received a Msc with Distinction in Biodiversity Conservation and Management from Oxford University and worked as a Legislative Aide in South Florida, focusing on environmental policy. She has consulted with nonprofit programs to evaluate their educational programs and assisted with training staff to conduct effective public outreach.
The folks at Southern Fried Science, as part of their commitment to research and education, have generously given us this platform to talk about our educational start-up, Field School. (Thanks, SFS!). They’ve also been kind enough to get excited about working with us to develop and test new research techniques, study awesome animals and ecosystems, and improve marine science field education—so stay tuned for some of those upcoming collaborations!
What is field school?
Field School is a hybrid company on a mission to support field research in marine and environmental science, and create high-quality educational and training opportunities for students and the public. We offer hands-on, research focused courses on a variety of topics, from corals to sharks, on our 55’ custom live-aboard research vessel.
Field School offers researchers and students opportunities to engage with and study tropical marine ecosystems. Photo credit: Kristine Stump
Part of what makes Field School special is the team we’ve brought together. Our captain and crew all have doctoral and/or masters degrees in marine or environmental science, have authored numerous scientific publications, and have a combined 25 years of experience in field education and outreach. We have developed short- and long-term training and mentoring opportunities for students, teach highly reviewed and award-winning university courses, and work with partner non-profits to create outreach programs for the public. We collaborate closely with our scientific advisory board and partner universities to develop the conservation and research projects our students work on, ensuring their time in our courses is professionally relevant and meaningful.
Joey Maier is a biology professor at Polk State College where he uses every possible opportunity to encourage his students to spend time in the water, play with technology, and do #CitizenScience. As an undergraduate, he did a stint as an intern for Mark Xitco and John Gory during their dolphin language experiments. He then spent the years of his M.Sc. at the University of Oklahoma thawing out and playing with bits of decaying dolphin. After discovering that computers lack that rotten-blubber smell, Joey became a UNIX sysadmin and later a CISSP security analyst.
While his pirate game is weak, he is often seen with a miniature macaw on his shoulder. His spare time is spent SCUBA diving and trying to hang out with people who have submersibles. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
There’s a Klingon bird of prey hanging from the ceiling in my office.
I may teach biology, but at heart I’m a sci-fi nerd. Naturally, I’m interested in futurism, robots, lasers and all manner of techy paraphernalia. I’d been watching the OpenROV project for a while, but hadn’t gotten one yet. They were obviously awesome little machines that gave me a serious case of gadget envy, and I knew that some of our students would love to pilot an ROV. I needed a much better reason than that, however, to justify getting one. There’s no line item in our budget for, “Wow, that’s cool!” and I was fairly certain that the college administration would tend to favor lower cost and more familiar forms of student engagement
Photo courtesy Joey Maier.
This tweet changed everything. When I found out that Andrew had designed a mini-Niskin bottle, the wheels in my head started turning. Assembling an OpenROV would, naturally, be a very STEM-oriented project. The times our students piloted the ROV could become water sampling field trips, and the kids could analyze their samples back at school as a laboratory activity. If students recorded the process, they could make a short film. I mulled over the possibilities and bounced ideas off of my dive buddies during the hours we spent traveling to and from the coast. Read More
Earlier today SeaWorld announced to the media that it was making major changes in its practices when it comes to marine wildlife. The announcement comes after years of bad publicity and failing stock prices as the result of the documentary Blackfish, criticism from marine mammal and marine conservation scientists and an unrelenting social media campaign by online activists. The changes announced are a major paradigm shift for the company and include:
Six months ago, my buddy Andrew Middleton and I launched What the Farm?! a podcast about small scale farming, by two people at the very beginning of their exploration in self-sufficiency. Small-scale and backyard farming has been one of the subtle themes of Southern Fried Science for years. While on the surface it may seem like practical farming articles have nothing to do with marine science and conservation, the reality is that how we produce food is inextricably linked to the future of our oceans.
As environmentalists, becoming self-sufficient on our own land, with both meat and produce that we have complete control over the chain of custody, from dirt to dishwasher is the ultimate expression of walking the walk. We’re not there yet, but through What the Farm?! we invite you to follow us on our journey.
By now, you’ve almost certainly seen this photograph, making the viral rounds, of a Franciscana dolphin in South America, attached to headlines like the following: Endangered baby dolphin dies after swimmers pass it around for selfies, A Baby Dolphin Died Because Tourists Wanted Selfies With Her, A selfie mob in Argentina may have killed a dolphin.
I hate these news stories, but not for the reasons you might think.
These stories represent a kind of technological puritanism in ocean outreach, where we draw weirdly unfounded conclusions about the way humans relate to their tools to somehow absolve us of social responsibility. It’s not people mistreating a dolphin, it’s a selfie-crazed mob. We chuckle and move on, because we don’t take aggressive selfies. We’re better than that.
This is not correct. Read More
Last month, I returned to Baltimore for the National Ocean Exploration Forum. While there, I paid a visit to my old friend, Mr. Trashwheel.
The Inner Harbor Water Wheel is in its second year of operation, cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay to the tune of up to 50,000 pounds of trash per day. I have written about this cool piece of engineering and ingenuity several times.
Charm in the fall.
So why do I keep writing and revisiting this project?
Update 2: Seabin has moved to Indiegogo. Find them here.
Update: Due to issues with the platform, Seabin has suspended its Kickstarter campaign. We will update if there is a relaunch.
Seabin Project. An automated rubbish bin that lives in the water of marinas and collects floating rubbish, oil, fuel & detergents 24/7
Seabin Project. Cleaning our oceans one marina at a time.
The accumulation of trash in our oceans is a big deal, and while there are some very good systems designed to remove garbage from local waterways, there is also a plethora of questionable projects as well. Seabin, an automated trash collector that catches floating waste, oil, fuel and detergents from marines and other confined, high traffic waterways, fits squarely in that first group. A small, shore-powered, suction driven system draws floating trash into a container, separates oil, fuel, and detergents, and returns clean seawater back to the marina.
This Mallorca-based team has been developing Seabin for several years, and, by all accounts, have poured their time and savings into validating a functional prototype. They’ve been working with marinas and other ocean-tech groups to develop a system that is simple to use and easy to service by a single operator. While the Seabin currently draws high voltage shore power, they have visions of a future alternative-energy system.
Onward to the Ocean Kickstarter criteria! Read More
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.
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.
- Educate yourself about species invasions generally and specifically about current issues in the area you’re working.
- Inspect your gear.
- Soak your gear in freshwater between dives.
- Soak your gear in weak bleach between expeditions.
- 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.
Several images circulate on the internet that capture the plight of rapid Arctic climate change, a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification. This image, for me, is the most alarming:
It’s been a big week for papers here at Southern Fried Science. This morning, Amy, myself, William (of Bomai Cruz fame), and Dominik and Erika of OpenROV published our guidelines on minimizing the potential for microROVs to act as invasive species vectors in Tropical Conservation Science. The abstract:
Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) present a potential risk for the transmission of invasive species. This is particularly the case for small, low-cost microROVs that can be easily transported among ecosystems and, if not properly cleaned and treated, may introduce novel species into new regions. Here we present a set of 5 best-practice guidelines to reduce the risk of marine invasive species introduction for microROV operators. These guidelines include: educating ROV users about the causes and potential harm of species invasion; visually inspecting ROVs prior to and at the conclusion of each dive; rinsing ROVs in sterile freshwater following each dive; washing ROVs in a mild bleach (or other sanitizing agent) solution before moving between discrete geographic regions or ecosystems; and minimizing transport between ecosystems. We also provide a checklist that microROV users can incorporate into their pre- and post-dive maintenance
Read the whole, open-access paper over at TCS!
Robots as vectors for marine invasions: best practices for minimizing transmission of invasive species via observation-class ROVs.