My middle school baseball team was bad. Really bad. Ball droppingly, bat throwingly, pitch ditchingly bad. It was a good inning if four of our batters made it to the plate. A great inning if the other team didn’t rotate through it’s entire line-up, twice. Our MVP was the kid who caught a ball. And if you think this is going to be one of those articles about how one tough player (me?) turned a bunch of scrappy underdogs into winners, it is not. I played right field, and not particularly well. We lost, often.
In peewee sports, at least in the US, there’s something called a “slaughter rule”. The slaughter rule ends the game if a team is losing by more than a certain number of points. In our case, it took something like a 20 run difference to trigger a slaughter. The slaughter rule exists so that outmatched teams don’t have to slog through 7 innings of a brutal losing streak, racking up demoralizing 112 to zero defeats. Once, we got slaughtered in the first inning.
Were it not for the slaughter rule, I would probably still be out somewhere in right field, wondering if maybe I should sign up for the Latin team next year.
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?
From simple sand dollars to life-sized hammerhead shark skulls, 3D printable ocean objects present an incredible opportunity for ocean outreach. Many commercial biological models are expensive, fragile, and often overkill for educators’ needs, where simple, robust, and easily replaceable anatomical models suffice. Over the last year, I’ve been honing my 3D printing skills, learning how to design 3D-printable objects, and mastering 3D scanning using free software and the now-ubiquitous smartphone. My designs, along with the open-source objects used for Oceanography for Everyone, can be found on my YouMagine profile (though Patreon supporters get early access to most prints).
Earlier this year, I wrote about how the ability to essentially photocopy a three dimensional object in a matter of hours revived my Ocean Optimism and opened up a whole new world of outreach possibilities. Since then, I’ve been working behind the scenes on some bigger projects that depend on 3D printing, one of which, Oceanography for Everyone launched last month. It’s a big ocean out there, and one person can’t possibly come close to producing a comprehensive collection of ocean objects. With several successful 3D scans under my belt, I think it’s time to share the process and invite the rest of the ocean-loving world join me in my efforts to scan the sea.
123D Catch, the software that powers it all.
Our planet is an ocean, and it is almost entirely unexplored. OpenROV, and their new Trident underwater drone is one of many tools that will help change that by democratizing exploration, conservation, and ocean science. We are poised atop the crest of a wave that may change how humans interact with the ocean as profoundly as the invention of the aqualung.
Earth is not the only body in our solar system that hosts an ocean. As we (slowly) venture out into the stars, could OpenROV Trident dive in extraterrestrial seas?
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.
Introducing the spoon-billed sandpiper:
(c) Roland Digby/WWT/PA Wire, originally published here.
Spoon-billed sandpipers are migratory wader birds that breed in the sub-Arctic and winter in southeast Asia. Best estimates point to less than 100 breeding pairs left in the wild due to a decrease of breeding habitat in the Arctic and increase of bird-hunters in Asia. Don’t worry, this is a story about #OceanOptimism…
This year’s International Congress for Conservation Biology had a special double symposium on conservation marketing. What is conservation marketing I hear you ask? Well it’s using the tried and tested techniques from the advertising field, behind which there is a significant amount of research, to increase public awareness and especially change public behavior to aid conservation. Conservation marketing is already being used by several NGOs and initiatives – RARE for example. The Society for Conservation Biology has recently set up a working group for Conservation Marketing and Engagement* as it’s believed that this technique could help highlight many endangered species and highlight important conservation issues.
In this symposium myself and several colleagues had a presentation on why the advertising campaigns of conservation NGOs are doing things wrong – specifically these campaigns are often geared towards fundraising, telling members and especially donors what a great job they’re doing, launching surveys or petitions that do little to help conservation, oh and more fund- raising. The general public has a dire understanding of the need for biodiversity conservation or endangered species, and instead of increasing awareness and getting the public to change their behavior to act in a more pro-conservation manner, NGOs are instead concentrating on …hey did I mention fund-raising?!
As the result of many requests for copies of the presentation slides, I’ve decided to make them available for Southern Fried Science. Most of the slides are self explanatory. Feel free to copy and steal memes you like and count up the number of geeky references ….
Carcharocles megalodon is the largest shark that ever lived. It roamed the oceans from 15 to 2.5 million years ago. Its teeth can be found at fossil beds around the world, but especially in Yorktown and Pungo River formations in the coastal Eastern United States. Megalodon teeth are incredibly useful teaching tools, allowing educators to convey just how massive these animals were and open up discussions about evolution, extinction, and ecology while instilling a sense of wonder.
Now you can print your own piece of prehistory with this 3D printable Megalodon tooth!
Last night, I was in the mood for some Cousteau. The classics from the Undersea World, Odyssey, River Expeditions, and host of other long running series, still hold up as some of the best ocean documentaries of all time. So I picked a few of my favorites, pulled some people together online, and called it #JacquesWeek, an alternative to Shark Week for those who either don’t get the Discovery Channel or just want something different.
“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
Jacques Yves Cousteau
I’ll be honest, I’m burned out on Shark Week. After several years of intense livetweeting, post-show debunking, and high-level critique (look for my and Shiffman’s paper on best practices for responding to fake mass media documentaries in Ocean and Coastal Management later this year), I find that I just don’t have much more to say. Some shows will be good. Some shows will be great. Some shows will be bad.
Jacques Cousteau has never let me down. Sure, sometimes the science is off (pretty much everything in Blind Prophets of Easter Island is incorrect, for example), but that’s because the Calypso crew was working at the boundaries of human knowledge, and their work comes off earnest, heartfelt, and compassionate. And so full of wonder. Much of what Cousteau’s team did was done for the very first time.
Two years ago, I moved to San Francisco. It was… an experience. I had the opportunity to meet some incredible technologists, leaders in the emerging world of citizen exploration, and developers, coders, and makers using their skills and expertise to help save the environment. I met some amazing drone builders developing platforms and tools to measure the world. I also learned that West Coast living was not for me. The southern Atlantic coast called me back. But before I left, I led a small team across the Pacific to Papua New Guinea, where we taught undergraduates from the University of Papua New Guinea and the University of the South Pacific how to build and operate OpenROVs and incorporate them into marine ecology research.
The West Coast was good to me. It helped refine my vision for bringing low-cost, open-source technologies into the marine science and conservation world. Citizen science is becoming increasingly important, and the need for both democratizing and decolonizing science will drive much of the evolution of the scientific community in the 21st century. Tools that are effective, cheap, and open-source will play a major role in this transition. I returned east and began planning the next phase of this vision.
The Chesapeake Bay (San Franciscans take heed, you can keep your “Area” but “The Bay” will always be the Chesapeake) is the largest estuary in the United States, is economically important for shipping, fisheries, and tourism, and also happens to be the body of water that I grew up on. I learned to swim, fish, sail, and motor in one of the Bay’s many tributaries. It’s also home to more than a dozen research institutes, which work, sometimes in coordination and sometimes not, on studying and protecting the Bay.