Connecting our Keiki to their Deep-Sea Backyard

Latest update December 23, 2018 Started on October 22, 2018

It is our mission, as oceanography graduate students, to provide hands-on learning opportunities about oceanography to keiki (children) across the Hawaiian Islands. The ocean is an integral part of life and culture in Hawai’i and we seek to share our knowledge with the next generation outside of our research centers on O’ahu. We believe in spreading a greater appreciation and understanding of the wet world that surrounds and connects us all.
To do so, we are taking our research and the tools we use to study the ocean on a tour of the Hawaiian Islands in a series of on-going outreach activities. The first will be a visit to the 3 high schools on the island of Kaua’i highlighting the use of technology for the study of deep-sea physics, chemistry, and biology.

October 22, 2018
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In The Field

The Next Stage: OpenROV Trident for STEM Education and Outreach in Hawai’i

We are very excited to announce that we have graciously received a Trident OpenROV from the Science Exploration Education Initiative! This will be the perfect tool for us to expand our capacity for STEM outreach and education in the Hawaiian Islands. At a recent national robotics competition (RobotX, see previous post) we were able to test pilot a Trident ROV and hand the controls over to middle and high schoolers who were excited to explore even the little pool we had. Naturally, everyone could see how simple it would be to explore their own oceanic backyard with the ROV.

We are continuing to plan logistics about how to incorporate this tool into our outreach toolbox. We envision taking the compact ROV to schools and ocean locations across the Hawaiian Island to provide a hands-on way of teaching about ocean exploration and how to conduct scientific expeditions (e.g. video transects).

We are very thankful for this generous donation and the opportunity to utilize this fabulous tool for outreach and education in local communities of Hawai’i. From all of us, Mahalo.

Stay tuned for updates as we get the ROV out into the field!


STEM Expo at RobotX Maritime Challenge 2018 in Honolulu, HI

On December 11-12th, we had the amazing opportunity to attend the STEM Expo in connection with the 2018 RobotX Maritime Challenge competition held in Honolulu, Hawai’i. This event brings highly skilled robotics teams from across the nation together annually for a week of fierce competition. Their mission is to create an autonomous vehicle that can detect and navigate several marine obstacle courses. For more information about the program visit: The ingenuity these teams have was simply mind-blowing to see. While the teams were all working diligently on their vehicles and prepared for the semi-finals, we hosted groups of middle and high schoolers at a STEM Expo to showcase smaller-scale robotics, education programs and our scientific research.

In collaboration with OpenROV (,,) we were lucky enough to have a Trident ROV available to pilot in the test pool along with various other ROVs and programs (e.g. SeaPerch, The Trident is piloted simply with a tablet or smartphone and can capture stunning high-definition video footage as deep as 100 m! The maneuverability was phenomenal. We handed over the controls to several students and watched as many swiftly navigated the pool avoiding obstacles and other vehicles. The students couldn’t believe how fun and easy it was and many wanted to take it out into the harbor as soon as possible to see what was out there!

As part of our display, we also showcased preserved animals that we’ve collected with ROVs or other equipment, played ROV footage from a science ROV, and provided information about undergraduate programs at the University of Hawai’i. We spoke with many students preparing for college and interested in what different science careers might be available to them. We also spoke to several teachers who were excited to share the Trident and our samples with more of their students. We are already in the process of setting up a lab visit with up to 72 students for early 2019!

Overall, it was a fabulous 2 days at the RobotX Maritime Challenge and we are excited to get out and do much more!

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For video from the Trident:

Thanks for sharing! Looks amazing! Wish I could have been there.

Recently I was asked at an outreach event, "What got you into marine science?". I told my bit of story which truly started as a childhood interest in polar exploration. A student prepared to attend college in the fall in nursing then said, "Man, I might just have to change my career" semi-jokingly anyway. The experience did highlight for me that some of the smallest outreach may have a very large impact on someone's life. As graduate students and educators, we have a great opportunity to connect with the younger generation and show that there is a whole world of opportunities before them. This can be extremely challenging when the group is highly underrepresented in your field.

There is an alarming lack of representation of Hawaiian students at higher education institutes in STEM fields. The Mānoa Education and Talent Search (METS) Program is working to change that. Students from underrepresented groups and underprivileged schools are provided with opportunities to explore options for college and future careers in STEM. As PhD students studying in Hawai’i, we greatly value the connection our local community has to the ocean and earlier this month, our labs at the University of Hawai´i at Mānoa hosted 30 high school students from Waianae and Nanakuli high schools. These students are part of the METS program and on the track for college. Students in two deep-sea ecology labs showcased the kinds of research we do here at the university and taught about the fish and invertebrate life in the deep-sea. Students learned about deep sea fish adaptations like photophores (cells which emit light) and strange body plans like having a giant mouth to engulf rare prey. They also learned about the kinds of bizzare animals that live on the seafloor miles beneath the ocean surface in one of the most isolated places on the planet; Antarctica. The work we do may seem more than an ocean away for these students, but hopefully through meaningful dialogue about our paths to science and the amazing opportunities we've gained here in Hawai'i, it will feel more in reach than ever before.

Success on Kaua'i!

We set out for the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i in early November, our sea glider in tow, ready to teach. In three short days, we visited the three high schools on the island and met with almost 300 students.

Day 1: After flying in and assembling the glider in the back of our minivan (a hilarious sight from the hotel lobby I'm sure), we headed to Waimea High School to meet their Ocean Bowl team. The Ocean Bowl is a national competition of ocean knowledge in which schools form teams, train by learning about the ocean, and compete. In Hawai'i, they will fly in early 2019 to O'ahu for the competition. Once at Waimea, we talked with ~10 students about how we use technology to study ocean physics, chemistry, and biology. The students had fabulous questions about how the robotics work, how much our research using tools like these can cost, and what can go wrong. Kelly, a physical oceanography graduate student, told the story of her first sea glider piloting session in which a shark bit off the antenna. Students also learned how to use robots to study the animals living miles beneath the ocean. We watched video from the seafloor and learned how to identify the animals and calculate diversity from these measurements. We look forward to sharing much more of our ocean knowledge with the team and others at Waimea High School in the future.

Day 2: The next morning, we headed for Kapa'a High school. Here, we were greeted by four science teachers of subjects including biology, physics and environmental science. Classes of 25-30 eager high schoolers listened and watched as we introduced what we study. They learned what makes deep-sea ecosystems and particularly the animals living there so unique but also why this is such a difficult place to study. We watched footage from a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) which scanned the seafloor for animal life. As the ROV moved along the seafloor, miles beneath the surface, we saw sponges, anemones, and sea cucumbers in all shapes, sizes and colors. Students laughed and gasped as we watched a suction sampler (essentially an underwater vacuum cleaner) suck up a delicate sea cucumber so we could bring it safely back to the surface to study.

In the next session, students learned about sea gliders and how they maintain buoyancy with very simple physics. The students were amazed to learn that there are approximately 3000 autonomous gliders in the ocean right now! They guessed how much the instrument costs; $5000?...$20,000??...surely not $100,000? That's right, about $165,000! The Ferrari of underwater drones. And that ship which hauls the ROV and 30 scientists out to sea? That goes for about $80,000 per day. Students were stunned to learn how costly oceanographic research can be but also got to learn why studying the ocean can be such a feat of engineering. Down in the dark, cold depths of the ocean, we need a lot of special engineering to see what lives there or to collect it.

A very long, satisfying day getting to meet and talk with over 150 students who all seemed to have a new appreciation for the deep sea right offshore.

Day 3: Our last day on Kaua'i took us to Kaua'i High School. We set up once more and showcased our research and robotics. The students were again amazed at the life at the bottom of the ocean, and how technology allows us to access this unseen world below. They had fabulous ideas about how to modify the glider to be more shark-proof and some eager video game loving students saw their skills put to the test piloting the ROV. I think we found some of the next generation of scientists and engineers!

We left Kaua'i hoping to return again bringing new technology and showing students on our neighboring islands what they can do in oceanography. We've made the first step in initiating a great relationship between our islands and we hope to see this grow in the coming years.

Video Credit: Kapa'a High School Photo Credits: Nancy Borilez, Kapa'a High School

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Expedition Background

It is important to provide hands-on learning opportunities to the next generation and help to build a connection with the deep ocean that surrounds us. Here in Hawai’i, the ocean is an important part of life for all, from providing food to recreation. Though the islands can often feel separated by the vast sea between us, we can share our knowledge of oceanography beyond O'ahu and spread an even greater appreciation for the wet world that connects us.
Technology allows us to study some of the most inaccessible places on our planet.

To study the deep sea, we rely on robots such as gliders and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) which help us view and sample the water and animals that live miles below the surface of the ocean. Autonomous vehicles like gliders have allowed us to sample the world’s oceans constantly without having to take a ship and crew of people out to sea for months at a time. This means we can get near real-time data from around the world even when we are at home! Gliders collect data that helps us understand the circulation of the ocean and how it changes in time and space. We use ROVs to study the deep sea by seeing it. Like with gliders, using a robot means that we don’t have to endanger human lives to see the seafloor deep below the surface. Instead, an ROV is a robot that is tethered to a ship and piloted by people at the surface like a video game. We can take videos, pictures, sample the sediment on the seafloor, scoop up animals and even pick up rocks. ROVs can also be used to explore shipwrecks and other archeological features which have historic and cultural significance.

As the first phase of our on-going oceanographic outreach on neighboring islands, we are packing up some of our deep-sea research here at the University of Hawaii on O'ahu and taking it over to Kaua'i to share with local high schoolers. Students will get to play with cartesian divers which teach them how gliders maintain and alter their buoyancy to profile the world’s oceans. They will also get to see a real glider in person and learn about its various sensors and what we can do with them. Students will get to work with real ROV footage from around the Hawaiian Islands to compare different deep-sea habitats and identify some typical deep-sea animals. In future, we hope to implement this activity with an OpenROV so students may learn how to pilot the ROV, and collect and analyze their own footage from their local ocean.

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