“We’re in the midst of a sea change in who has access to the core tools of marine scientific research,” Weekly Salvage: November 11, 2019

Transcript available below.


I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to be looking for here. 

Welcome to the Weekly Salvage.


As you probably know, we’re huge fans of tearing down barriers to ocean science by creating low-cost open-source tools to study marine environments. A recent article on the legendary hardware hacking blog Hackaday brought yet another useful tool to my attention – an open source AIS receiver. AIS, or automatic identification system, allows captains to instantly know what boats are around them and where they are. AIS receivers are essential for navigating busy waterways, find illegal fishing vessels, and, in some cases, track tagged marine animals. An open-source AIS receiver means you can build a Raspberry Pi powered chart plotter for a fraction the cost of a commercial unit. 

AIS receivers aren’t only ocean tools you can find on Hackaday, which hosts thousands of hardware projects on an unimaginable array topics. A quick survey reveals projects ranging from open source gliders that fly autonomously through the water using a buoyancy engine to large scale mesh sensor networks to monitor changing ocean conditions to a cyborg turtle eggs that measures movement in a turtle nest and alerts patrollers when a sea turtle next is about to hatch. And, of course, more recognizable projects like Shah Selbe’s FieldKit sensor package and various flavors of our own OpenCTD are on there as well. 

We’re in the midst of a sea change in who has access to the core tools of marine scientific research. This is an awesome moment to be involved in the development of low-cost ocean hardware. 

And here’s a teaser for you: My team and I have been working hard to finalize the documentation for the OpenCTD rev 2, the best oceanographic instrument that you can build to measure our changing oceans for less than $300. We don’t have a hard launch date yet, but are pushing hard to get the bill of materials, build guide, and instruction manual released as soon as possible. 

If you had access to all the tools of an oceanographic laboratory, what questions would you want to answer?


Dolphins don’t like drones. That’s not a punchline. Autonomous or uncrewed aerial vehicles stress bottlenose dolphins out. Shockingly, some of us have been writing about not harassing marine life with toy quadcopters for, oh my cod, half a decade

On the same token, low-cost underwater robots are revolutionizing our access to the ocean. And that’s awesome. Just don’t call them cheap. Just because they’re inexpensive doesn’t make them cheap.

Australians have been eating a mystery fish that turns out to be totally new to science. This undescribed grouper was being served in southeastern Australia as generic rockcod. By all reports, they are pretty tasty. 

Divers in Sweden salvaged 900 bottles of liquor from a century-old shipwreck. The ship, which went down with the help of a German U-Boat in 1917 was only rediscovered in 1999. The bottles of Cognac and Benedictine are now undergoing testing to determine if they’re still viable. Would you drink 100-year old Cognac from the bottom of the sea? Let me know in the comments below. 

And finally, everyone’s favorite trash interceptor, Mr. Trashwheel got a great write up in the New Yorker last week


We talk a lot about coral reefs in shallow, sunlit waters, but the deep sea also host tremendous and unexpected coral diversity. Around the volcanic hotspots of Hawai’i, coral forms on the edges of ancient lava flows, where hard structure provides a foundation for these gnarly cnidarians to settle. In Structure and development of Hawaiian deep-water coral communities on Mauna Loa lava flows, researchers looked at how deep-sea coral reefs form on lava flows in the deep waters around Hawai’i and how time and space and flowing lava shape where different corals grow. 

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