Trinidad & Tobago Ocean Exploration

Latest update September 9, 2019 Started on April 27, 2018

Many nations have deep-sea and mesophotic environments within their maritime Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), yet only a small portion have a way to explore them. This is especially true for lesser economically developed countries. This dearth of technological capability and knowledge leads to a lack of exploration, inappropriate or inadequate management decisions, and unaware populations. Our goal is to empower countries to explore their own deep-sea backyards using low-cost technology, while building lasting in-country capacity.

April 27, 2018
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After a full day of travelling, on Sunday 10th March, I met Alan Turchik (Nat Geo) and Brennan Phillips at the Clark Laboratory bright and early at 7:15am. Alan has travelled to all corners of the globe for the Nat Geo Drop Camera project and had recently returned from a trip to the Seychelles, off the coast of East Africa. Brennan Phillips is an ocean engineer and deep-sea biologist who was joining us to test out his latest equipment. The Clark Laboratory is located on the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) compound and the scenery is beautiful beyond words. BIOS is surrounded by calm, rich, turquoise blue waters and at dawn you can see the reflection of palm trees in the water, an amazing start to my day.

The plan for the day was to complete two drops with the Drop Camera from a 40ft Duffy lobster boat off the coast of Bermuda. The team, Tim Noyes, Kaitlin Noyes, Brenan Phillips, Alan Turchik and myself, headed offshore at approximately 9:30 am with perfect weather. I was by far the youngest onboard! We started with a quick safety briefing from Tim, after which I had to quickly regain my “sea legs” so I could comfortably manage the equipment. The set up was completed quickly with the Drop Camera checklist and Alan and I were ready for deployment.

At 12:41pm, we did our first deployment: the Drop Camera was baited with squid (to attract predators and scavengers), programmed for four hours, and dropped to around 1,000m depth. The excitement was beyond motivating.

For the second deployment, we travelled further offshore from our first drop location. Kaitlin, aka Aquawoman, went into the water to capture the moment when the Drop Camera was released into the unknown depths. The second drop was programmed for 22 hours, however, soon after we released it, we realised the bait container fell right off. That meant less marine life being attracted to the camera, but on the bright side, the camera was intact, so we were still going to get deep-sea video footage.

At around 2:00pm, we headed back to collect the first deployment. And then the day got even better as Tim caught a glimpse of a whale! It was whale watching season as the whales were migrating. We turned off the engines and waited, with fingers crossed, for the whale to re-surface. And then, there it was again: the tail of a calf (baby whale) less than 50m away as it dove back down after taking a breath. I’d never seen a whale before so the experience was surreal!

After two successful drops and approximately 6 hours at sea, around 7pm I was back in the Clark Laboratory anxiously waiting for the video footage to be downloaded onto the computer. It took close to an hour and 30 minutes to download! I quickly began skipping through over 4 hours of deep-sea video, noticing rattail fish and dogfish, which are quite common in the depths.. But then during the last hour of video… I heard a noise… a great, piercing screech. I was thinking to myself ‘what on earth?!’ when all of a sudden an ENORMOUS SHARK came into view! It was a large six-gill shark. My first reaction? I screamed! I was so amazed! My adrenaline was pumping. It was the first time that I had managed the deployment of the Drop Camera and it had filmed a true denizen of the deep. I was super excited and just wanted to rush back onto the boat to drop more cameras! However, it was off to bed for me. What an incredible way to end the first day of deloyments in Bermuda! Stay tuned for the next blog!

(Photo Credits to Kaitlin Noyes)

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Greetings lovely readers,

I hope you have been keeping up with this exploration!

If you read the Recap and FAQ blogs, then CARRY ON…. If not feel free to take a quick read by clicking the links below.

I was given the opportunity to go to the hidden gem of Bermuda. My missions were to experience offshore training using the Drop Camera to explore Bermuda’s waters, and in the process, increase my deep-sea knowledge .

It is pretty cool being a marine biologist from Trinidad and getting such an exciting opportunity especially as this is a relatively new branch of biology for me. In the Caribbean, most people study engineering or business and there are only a few people in the region investigating the deep-sea environment.

Day 1……... Lets Go!

I woke up at around 4:00am on Friday March 9th and headed to Piarco International Airport in Trinidad. I had prepared myself for five full days of training plus two days of travel. I was both excited and nervous as I haven’t travelled in a while since I was busy with university. Funnily, I joined the exodus of people leaving Trinidad after Carnival, so everyone had their signature carnival headpieces as their travel luggage.

I had a 9:30am flight to Miami, a lay over and then on to Bermuda. After 4 hours of travel, when I arrived in Miami, the difference in time zones really threw me off. In addition, I had ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE WHERE TO GO… I had to re-familiarize myself with the process of immigration and find my bearings through the airport. I followed everyone but Miami’s airport was huge and intimidating. Good news! I made it to my flight, bad news…the flight to Bermuda had a lot of turbulence but I managed to sleep for the entire time!

I had never been to Bermuda before so I had no idea what was in store. When I searched Bermuda on a map, it seemed like it was “in the middle of nowhere” off the east coast of the USA. The most I knew about Bermuda was the mysterious Bermudan Triangle where boats sank and planes crashed. Urban legend of course! I did learn that Bermuda is only 53.2km2 while Trinidad is 5,131km2 and Tobago is 300.4km2.

At around 10:00pm, after a day of traveling, I arrived at LF Wade International Airport in Bermuda. At the airport, I was greeted by Tim and Kaitlin Noyes from Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS). Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) is an independent, non profit, scientific research and educational organization, where I planned to stay. At BIOS, Tim is a research specialist in the Coral Reef Ecology and Optics Laboratory, while Kaitlin is the director of Ocean Academy.

By the time we got to campus, it was close to midnight so everything was dark and quiet. The building I stayed in, first impression, felt like a cabin. Everything was wooden and gave me a rustic feeling. I didn’t spend too much time wandering around as I had an early call time so straight off to bed for me!


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As this deep-sea project is not only a new endeavor globally, but also locally, the team tends to get a lot of questions! So I’m going to go through the top five FAQs here! If you do have more questions, please feel free to post below. You can also read more here,

  1. WHAT ARE THE AIMS OF THE ‘MY DEEP SEA, MY BACKYARD – TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO’? The aim is: i. to provide Trinidad and Tobago with low-cost technology to explore their deep sea ii. to increase the scientific and stakeholder knowledge of the deep-sea environment in Trinidad and Tobago iii. to build long-term in-country capacity by training scientists, students and science communicators

  2. WHO ARE THE COLLABORATORS ON THE PROJECT? Foreign Partners i. National Geographic ii. Inter-American Development Bank iii. MIT Media Lab iv. Boston University v. Open ROV vi. Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative Local Partners i. The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine ii. COAST Foundation/ Offshore Innovators iii. National Institute for Higher Education, Science and Technology (NIHERST) iv. SpeSeas

Three pieces of equipment are being used during fieldwork: the Nat Geo Deep-Sea Drop Cam, the Open ROV Trident and the Blue Robotics ROV.

  1. NAT GEO DROP CAMERA FAQs I. What data does the drop camera collect? - Video footage - Depth - Temperature II. What depth can the drop camera go up to? - 6,000m/ 19,685ft III. Is the drop camera tethered (tied to a rope or chain that restricts movement)? - Yes. It is attached to a weight while capturing video on the seafloor. This is released in order for the Drop Cam to return to the surface. IV. Does the drop camera give live video? - No V. Is the drop camera baited? - Yes, the oilier the fish, the better for attracting deep-sea scavengers.

  2. TRIDENT and Blue Robotics ROVs FAQs I. What does ROV stand for? - Remotely Operated Vehicle II. What do the Trident and Blue Robotics ROVs do? - They are underwater robots tethered to and controlled by a team on a ship or on shore that is each equipped with a camera to collect video, lights for illumination and propellers for movement. III. Do the ROVs give live video? - Yes

  3. WHAT DO WE HOPE TO LEARN AND DISCOVER DURING DEEP-SEA EXPLORATION OFF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO? I. New species, communities and habitats as over 99% of our deep ocean has never been explored II. A better understanding of the physical characteristics of the deep sea

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Hey! For the first time readers, let me re-introduce myself, my name is Laura-Ashley Henderson. I graduated from The University of The West Indies with a B.Sc. in Biology, with specializations in marine biology and ecology and environmental biology. I am an aspiring marine biologist, adventurer and 100% water baby and am currently lucky enough to be one of the lead team members for the upcoming expedition for this project!

It’s been a while since myself, Hannah Lochan, Stacey-Ann Sarjusingh, Diva Amon, Katy Croff Bell or Alexis Hope have written, so it’s good to recap. My Deep Sea, My Backyard, a pilot project aimed to increase ocean exploration, scientific knowledge and deep-sea awareness using low cost technology. We are using technology such as Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and Nat Geo Drop Cameras to explore Trinidad and Tobago’s waters. We hope to discover new marine species, communities and habitats. For further background information, check out this blog entry

• This pilot project began in August 2018 with a mega stakeholder workshop introducing the project , discussing ideas and networking. The workshop continued with a smaller team, to learn more about the deep-sea environment and usage of the Drop Cameras. We completed the workshop by successfully deploying the drop camera and ROVs multiple times Down De Islands. Read more

•After the workshop, we had a month of downtime and then our first solo deployment! Unfortunately, it did not go as expected… the Drop Camera was recovered however; (dun, dun, dun…….) we ran into trouble as the video footage could not be downloaded. The drop camera needed fixing, making this the first obstacle encountered. Read more

•To ensure that the camera was ready to use and “A-OKAY”, in December 2018, Alan Turchik from Nat Geo visited Trinidad to do repairs on the camera. Unfortunately, we realized the Drop Camera’s malfunction was a bigger issue than expected. The cameras needed to be returned to Washington DC for more complex repairs.

•In order to move the project forward, I was given the opportunity to go to the hidden gem of an island, Bermuda. My dream was becoming a reality. The trip allowed me to gain further training using the Drop Cameras in an offshore environment as well as network with experienced professionals. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting about my Bermuda Experience here! Blue waters, great video footage (hint: we saw some pretty cool stuff!), pictures and lots more so stay tuned!

WHAT’S NEXT? So here goes, I am CONFIDENT AND READY to find out what’s in Trinidad and Tobago’s unexplored waters. We will be writing and posting more blogs every week. Prepare for the behind-the-scenes, unfiltered details! We would love for you to join us on this journey!

Stay tuned!

Raising Awareness of the Deep at Sustain TT's Green Screen Environmental Festival

The Green Screen Environmental Festival 2018 which took place from 31st October to 3rd November 2018 was a great opportunity to screen the NIHERST Deep-Sea Wonders Video Series as well as give students some hands on action with deep-sea critters.

An exhibition and video screening of the Deep-Sea Wonders of the Caribbean – An Ocean of Opportunities (linked below) was held on 1st and 2nd November, 2018 at the IMAX Cinema, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. Approximately 400 students from various secondary schools in Trinidad and Tobago attended the video screening session and then interacted with the National Science Centre’s exhibits on the deep ocean, as well as virtual reality, computer simulation games and robotics.

The University of the West Indies partnered with NIHERST to display deep-sea specimens from the EV Nautilus expedition in 2014 and others from off Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada. With the assistance of Dr. Judith Gobin at UWI, NIHERST also invited coral-reef ecologist, Dr. Anjani Ganase, to deliver a career talk to students about the work of a scientist and to promote awareness of the multitude of fields related to marine sciences.

A key component of 'My Deep Sea, My Backyard' is to raise public awareness of the deep ocean. The exhibition was a great success in stimulating student’s interests in deep-sea science and other STEM fields. The students were in awe of the gigantism seen in some of the deep-sea specimens, a first for many of them. They also enjoyed the many interactive displays.

Students and teachers also learnt about the video and publication resources done in-house at NIHERST such as Deep Sea Wonders of the Caribbean, Natural Wonders of the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago Icons in Science and Technology, Caribbean Icons in Science, Technology and Innovation, Caribbean Women and their Careers, Making Maths Easy, and various Statistical survey publications. All these resources are available on our website for free download.

We look forward to many more events like this in Trinidad and Tobago over the next year!

This post was written by Stacey-Ann Sarjusingh, a workshop participant and research officer at the National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (NIHERST) in Trinidad and Tobago.

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What a great expedition goal! It looks like you are off to a great start with your conference. Once you get your OpenROV Trident incorporated into your program, it should be a tremendous outreach and educational tool for your work. I'm looking forward to watching your progress!

Thanks for your lovely comment, Dave! We are really excited and hoping to get some deep-sea imagery from the Drop Cam soon.

Risk Is The Downpayment For Success

The next day, Tuesday 30th October, the same team members gathered at the office of Offshore Innovators to test the Drop Camera to ensure it truly was fully functioning and "A-OKAY."

Achievements - We aimed for our first one hour mission to test the camera's efficiency and it was a complete success! The camera was dropped off the jetty in the back of the office building. The more deployments done the more confident I become. The setup becomes easier and is completed quicker than the previous deployment. I am familiar with majority of the equipments and parts.

Curiosity - We walked back out to the jetty to retrieve the camera. The water was clear and shallow enough to see the Drop Camera. For the first time I was able to see the camera lights still on. We were able to observe the recovery process. After the lights came off, it was interesting to me just how long the camera took to come up from what I deemed a shallow area. The camera took approximately 4 mins to reach the surface.The process of rising was slower than I expected and seeing it in person was insightful.

Top Tip - LAMINATE EVERYTHING - When we were deploying the Drop Camera off the jetty it began to rain... our Drop Camera User Guide got soaked! All the notes smudged!

‘My Deep Sea, My Backyard’ is quite a thrilling experience. Each deployment is different and the suspense and excitement waiting for recovery gets me every time.

Now we just need to get out to the deep sea.....

This post was written by Laura-Ashley Henderson, a workshop participant and recent graduate from The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus with a B.Sc. Biology with specializations in Marine Biology and Ecology and Environmental Biology.

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Help Is On Its Way From The Online Handy Man, Alan Turchik

On Monday 29th October, 2018, the Trinidad team members gathered at the unappointed meeting spot, Offshore Innovators office in Chaguaramas. The team included, Sebastian Lanser from Offshore Innovators, Stacey-Ann Sarjusingh from NIHERST and myself. We gathered around a laptop at around 12:00pm. The team had scheduled a video group chat with Diva (in London) and Alan (in Washington DC) to solve our first challenge.

The Challenge: Data Download Issue and Camera Lens Won’t Open.

Problem - On our last deployment, the National Geographic Drop Camera ran into some technical issues. After our deployment, Hannah and I could not download the video footage. Additionally, the camera lens was unresponsive for a new test mission.

Solution - Within five to ten minutes of our near-global video call, the problem had been solved! Alan walked us through a new method for data download, which involved rebooting a 1-minute test mission to retrieve video footage. This reboot then allowed the camera to respond to a new test mission. Yes, it was really that simple!

Cause - Alan said that this is a problem that the National Geographic team have encountered before and although they have an idea what is causing it, they aren’t 100% certain.

Personally, the worry was REAL before this call. I didn’t know how big the issue could be. There was talk about Alan even having to fly back to Trinidad to dismantle the sphere and get things working again. This would have been costly and pushed our deployments back even further! I was anxious to know what was wrong but then incredibly relieved to find out it was a recurring issue that was easily solvable. This also showed the power of remote troubleshooting, especially when working in less accessible places! We are so thankful to Alan for his quick problem-solving tactics.

However, we wanted to be sure that the problem really was solved so we needed to do a run in the field…...

This post was written by Laura-Ashley Henderson, a workshop participant and recent graduate from The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus with a B.Sc. Biology with specializations in Marine Biology and Ecology and Environmental Biology.

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All Aboard For The First Solo Deployment!

After a month of much-needed downtime after the training workshop, it was thrilling to hatch a plan with Offshore Innovators for deployments on September 29th. I knew not to solely trust my memory so to prepare, I delved back into my National Geographic Drop Camera User Guide and my personal journal from the week of the workshop.

The morning of the deployment, I had butterflies raging in my stomach. Laura-Ashley and I arrived at the Offshore Innovators’ office early Saturday morning. We met the three gentlemen who were driving the boat and advising on the best areas to deploy the camera. We quickly set to the task of assembling the Drop Camera as we were so eager to get out on the ocean to explore.

Nerves were tense as this was the first time we were deploying without the calm, all-knowing Alan (of National Geographic) present! In the event that we lost the Drop Camera, my plan was to jump straight into the sea and swim as far away as possible, whereas Laura had the much more practical idea of personally paying any amount for a SCUBA diver to retrieve it! All this in jest to ease the tension that we were both definitely feeling!

Our first hiccup arose when the password for the programming laptop didn’t work. After allowing ourselves to panic for two seconds, we, along with the help from the Offshore Innovator guys, learned how to change the password and enter the laptop’s programmes. Slowly and steadily, we loaded the programmes successfully, attached the GTR and the flag, double-checking each step. Finally, we were ready to head down de islands, as we say here in Trinidad!

Our very knowledgeable captain excited us on the way down as he knew a location where there are many bull-sharks. However, due to the tides and currents that day, as well as the fact that it was our first solo deployment, we opted to remain in a more sheltered area. After catching the bait fish and filling anchor bags with rocks, we deployed the Drop Camera in Turtle Bay. Of course, we were both struck with fear again as we watched the camera sink far below us (to approximately 50 metres depth). We crossed our fingers and toes and hoped we would see it pop to the surface once the mission was completed. And we did! About twenty minutes later we rejoiced to see the victorious orange flag bobbing in the water! Satisfied, we recovered the device and headed to the jetty to download our data.

To our dismay, the programming cables, laptop and camera wouldn’t cooperate. The camera lens wouldn’t open despite trying over and over again. After many trouble-shooting attempts, we decided it was time to wrap up and head back. A difficult call would be made to Diva, Alan and the rest of the training team to inform them that there was a problem.

Though disappointed our deployment did not produce the exhilarating footage we had hoped for, we learned vital lessons in remaining calm despite challenges and attempting to identify problems and subsequently solve problems as effectively as we could. These takeaways from the day’s events may be even more important in the long run. As Diva likes to say, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it!

This post was written by Hannah Lochan, a workshop participant and recent graduate from The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus with a B.Sc. Biology with Specialisations in Plant and Marine Biology.

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My Deep Sea, My Backyard: Participatory Ocean Exploration

In our lab at the MIT Center for Civic Media, much of our work centers around broadening participation in technology design (for example, the Make the Breast Pump Not Suck project). Lately, in collaboration with the MIT Open Ocean Initiative, we have also been thinking about how to broaden participation in scientific discovery. Traditionally, ocean exploration is done by those with formal degrees and access to costly equipment, but in order to fully explore and understand our vast oceans, we need to make it possible for new communities to join this effort.

There is inequity at play when we consider how scientific knowledge is distributed. 70% of nations have deep-sea environments within their maritime zones, yet only 15% of nations have the resources necessary to actually explore what is down in the deep. This can lead to exploitation by numerous industries (e.g. oil and gas, offshore energy, deep sea mining, fishing, etc.), poor resource management decisions, and missed opportunities to make use of undiscovered resources that will support life on land.

Using participatory design approaches, we’re working with the Open Ocean Initiative, National Geographic, and the University of the West Indies on a pilot project to develop training programs for researchers in the nations of Kiribati and Trinidad & Tobago. This August, I joined Diva Amon, Katy Croff Bell, and Alan Turchik in Trinidad & Tobago to explore opportunities for participatory ocean exploration. As part of the pilot phase of My Deep Sea, My Backyard, young researchers are learning how to use low-cost deep-sea drop cameras and teaching their peers how to use them, with the goal of building lasting in-country capacity and passion for exploration.

Our trip began with a large convening organized by Diva — bringing together scientists, engineers, government officials, energy industry stakeholders, conservationists, artists, and students — for a day full of talks about the deep ocean and technologies for exploration, as well as a participatory workshop on future opportunities to better understand the deep sea regions of Trinidad & Tobago. Following the workshop, we held a smaller 3-day workshop to train young researchers how to use the National Geographic low-cost deep-sea drop cameras. During some of the down-time between training (and waiting for boats to arrive!), we had the opportunity to interview several of the people who participated in the workshop about what motivated them to spend a week with us learning about the deep sea. Our participants had diverse interests, but a shared passion for exploration:

Hannah Lochan, a plant and marine biology student, told us about how she developed an interest in the ocean through a research project she did as an undergraduate. She and her fellow classmates developed fieldwork skills by studying the distribution of hard and soft coral in the Salybia Beach reef of Trinidad. “I’m excited to see how deep we can go with the Drop Camera!” Hannah told us, explaining her motivations for exploring the deep sea in addition to coastal environments, “We really have no idea what’s out there!”

Raquel Khan Ali, a marine biology and ecology student, told us she’s been drawn to the water ever since she was a child. “I want to know what’s out there,” she said, “things I can’t see, things I really can’t see.” She also described a lack of awareness about career opportunities related to the oceans, and told us how important it is that researchers like Diva Amon — the Trinidadian deep-sea biologist leading My Deep Sea, My Backyard — are bringing knowledge back to Trinidad to motivate more people to explore their own backyards.

Laura-Ashley Henderson, also a marine biology and ecology student, is excited by the opportunity to share research findings from the Drop Camera more broadly in Trinidad. “Not as many people go to the beach in Trinidad as one may think, they are not as interested as you may expect for an islander,” she told us, “whatever we find out there, I hope it’s interesting enough to get people excited about the ocean,” adding that she wanted more people to begin to see ocean technology and exploration as a possible career path.

Thera Edwards, a Map Curator from the Department of Geography and Geology at the UWI Mona Campus, Jamaica and technical advisor to the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust, told us about her interest in managing the ocean data that researchers will collect: “it’s not the sexy part, but it’s important…without organizing the data and making it useful, how does anything else happen?” She also described how DropCams and ROVs could help demystify the ocean and make it more accessible: “Before this, ocean exploration seemed like a scary ‘Jacques Cousteau, diving bell, risky thing’…but now there are pieces of equipment that enable you to get information remotely in a relatively safe way.”

Our team is currently synthesizing learnings from this pilot project (along with its sister effort in Kiribati, led by Randi Rotjan and Brian Kennedy) and exploring opportunities to expand the work. A core component of this project is to promote public understanding of and interest in the deep sea — as the project grows, we plan to work with our partners in each country to co-design educational and outreach strategies to include the broader public in ocean exploration efforts. We are also investigating opportunities for the co-design of easy-to-use and accessible technologies for this purpose, including software to facilitate collaborative data analysis, new sensors and sample collection tools, and much more.

*This article was first published on Medium by Alexis Hope:

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Our last and final day of the workshop started early! By 9am, we were on Sebastian’s boat to Gasparee Island, another small island off Trinidad. This was to be our base for the morning, while doing the final Drop Camera training.

We had planned our Drop Camera deployments to be close to shore in case, god forbid, the Drop Camera didn’t work as it should and we would have to rescue it with scuba divers. You might be thinking, ‘that would never happen’ but it’s exactly how the first deployment went during ‘My Deep Sea, My Backyard - Kiribati’: Thankfully, the team was able to execute two deployments with no help from Alan and the cameras came back as they should! Although, it was slightly concerning how far away from the deployment site we found them in very little time. The current must have been absolutely ripping!

Everyone was super excited to see what the cameras filmed later on so we headed back to the Offshore Innovators office! Once there we split into three groups rotating between different activities. While one group downloaded the data from the Drop Cameras, another group talked with Alexis about their workshop feedback and learnings from the week, and the third group learned how to download data from the Trident ROV and discussed general ideas for data management. Sadly, when we all crowded around the computer to see what the Drop Cameras had captured, we were met with water thick with particles that were flying by the camera in the very high current - it looked like a blizzard! Good thing no one needed to go diving to recover the camera!

At the end of the day, we came together to debrief on the week and discuss the logistics of using the Drop Cameras for the next several months around T&T, including revisiting the experimental design and work plan. Luckily, Offshore Innovators had a huge map of the area up on the wall so we were able to talk about possible opportunities to catch a ride on boats that may already be traveling to potential drop sites in the region.

This week seemed to fly by and as quickly as it began, it was over. Thera and Marcia headed back to Jamaica, Henri to Barbados, Richard to Tobago, Katy and Alexis to Boston, Alan to Washington DC and Diva to London. Now it’s up to the local team of Judi, Hannah, Raquel, Laura, Seb, Scott, and Keith to get that Drop Camera wet and make some discoveries in the deep sea around T&T!

This post was written by Alexis Hope of MIT Media Lab & MIT Center for Civic Media and Diva Amon of SpeSeas, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Natural History Museum, London, UK.

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Demystifying the “Dream Job

Today I posed a question to Alan, ”Are you doing your dream job?” Now, I expected to hear, “Engineer and inventor for National Geographic? You bet I am!” But his very honest answer surprised me. While there is absolutely no doubt Alan loves his job, he replied that it is often more about the opportunities that you may receive as well as the opportunities you must prepare for on your own.

This struck me deeply as I realized the magnitude of the truth in his response. For people like me who are now entering the world of work and/or higher studies, it is important to remember that an opportunity is not merely defined by what can be provided to us by someone else. It is also critical that we use the time afforded to us wisely, taking responsibility for our dreams, pushing the limits of what we thought we could ever accomplish for ourselves, working with passion and meticulous care, and building our character in preparation for opportunities that can propel us even further because, to be honest, the competition is real.

Oftentimes we find ourselves in awe, simultaneously motivated and intimidated by persons who seem to be living their dream job. But what do we actually know of the challenges they faced in order to achieve that? One thing that seems certain is that it was not a wish magically granted by a fairy godmother, but instead a wish and desire they themselves worked hard to fulfil. Despite trials and tribulations, they remained dedicated, confident and open to learning. Thus, although opportunities arrive differently for everyone, we are our own fairy godmothers and we must believe in the strength that lies within us to anticipate, adapt, and overcome obstacles to achieve our dream.

On this note, and as the training aspect of the workshop draws to a close, I would like to thank the team of leading scientists who were so inspiring. They arrived ready to share all of their knowledge and they have certainly mastered the ability to deliver instructions and explanations calmly and patiently. This workshop has greatly broadened my awareness of the vast possibilities in the field of deep-sea science and has made me very excited to be part of it. So again, I sincerely thank the team of Dr. Amon, Dr. Bell, Dr. Gobin, Mr. Turchik and Ms. Hope and all others who made this project possible. May your dreams for our planet become reality one day soon!

This post was written by Hannah Lochan, a workshop participant and recent graduate from The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus with a B.Sc. Biology with Specialisations in Plant and Marine Biology.


Alan, Katy and I were treated to a Trini breakfast of Doubles, a local delicacy, before we met the gang for Yagi training! What’s that you said? You don’t know what a Yagi is?….well neither did I before working with the National Geographic Drop Cameras. A Yagi is a directional antenna that is used with the Drop Cameras to retrieve it after it comes back up to the surface at the end of the mission. At sea, when the Drop Cameras returns to the surface, it may be in a different location due to ocean currents, so the antenna is necessary to find it.

In the morning, we met at at Samaan Park in Chaguaramas Valley to test out the Yagi on land before heading to sea, where waves can make it more difficult to use. At the park, Alan hid the Drop Cameras in the bushes, and participants took turns closing their eyes, putting on headphones, and pointing the Yagi antenna around them in a circle to find it. The rest of us stood around them in a circle to simulate waves acting as interference! When the signal was strongest (i.e. when the antenna is facing the target), the chirps coming through the headphones were louder, but the difference takes some time to notice. Our group were quick learners though as by lunch, everyone had successfully located the hidden DropCam! On the way home, we were treated to a tour of Bamboo Cathedral, a beautiful part of Trinidad with thick bamboo groves where monkeys can be spotted!

In the afternoon, we headed back to the Offshore Innovators office for more Drop-Camera training. Participants, particularly those in Trinidad and Tobago who will be using the Drop Cameras in the months after the training, got a chance to take the Drop Camera through its entire cycle several times with Alan’s help: programming the mission, setting up the sandbags and preparing the hardware, and then dropping it in the water. Repetition is key!

In the evening, Katy, Diva, and I headed to an art show to see some amazing pieces created by emerging artists in Trinidad and Tobago. As the project goes forward, we hope to work with local artists (many of whom were at the show) to help include the broader public in ocean exploration efforts by creating pieces inspired by the sea and hopefully by amazing discoveries that might be captured by the DropCam!

This post was written by Alexis Hope of MIT Media Lab & MIT Center for Civic Media.

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While the training week for ‘My Deep Sea, My Backyard - Trinidad and Tobago’ has been going really well, it has not been without its setbacks.

Our original schedule had us out on the water today for our first Drop-Cam deployments but United Airlines put a stop to that. Some of Alan’s essential National Geographic Drop-Camera equipment did not arrive on Sunday, which meant they have been unusable for the last two days. Thankfully, United Airlines called early this morning to say that the equipment had finally arrived. So Alan scurried off to the airport, while Katy, Alexis and I met everyone else at the Offshore Innovators’ office in Chaguaramas. Despite not having the Drop Cameras, we were heading out on the water so everyone could get a feel for driving ROVs in the ocean, rather than in the pool :)

A boat load of 25 people, plus the COAST Foundation’s Blue Robotics ROV and SpeSeas’ Trident ROV, headed to Chacachacare, one of the uninhabited islands off Trinidad, as the waters are normally calm and clear. *Interesting side note: Once upon a time, Chacachacare housed a leper colony and colony of nuns. You can read an interesting article about the island’s history here.

Another complicating factor we faced was the weather. This week has seen an extreme amount of rainfall and given the proximity of Trinidad and Tobago to the Orinoco Delta, our seas looked like miso soup. The visibility was nearly the worst I’ve ever seen!. This was echoed when Henri Valles (University of the West Indies, Cave Hill) and JJ from the IDB jumped in for a quick scuba dive while we were setting up for training. I will emphasise that this was quick - about ten minutes - as the visibility was an abysmal foot or two. The visibility didn’t bode much better for the ROVs but everyone got some time piloting both vehicles and that was magical. There were squeals of delight the first time the seafloor and its sponge inhabitants were spotted.

After a busy morning, we headed back to the Offshore Innovators office to meet Alan and the Drop Cams. As they were finally fully functional, workshop participants were able to move from Drop-Cam set up, to deployment off the dock, all the way to the download of the data. Setting up and deploying the Drop-Cam is relatively straightforward, but hands-on practice is very important as participants will be doing future drops by themselves in the coming months. Everyone is excited to come back tomorrow and Friday to go out in the boat again and try to get a few more test drops in the water!

This post was written by Diva Amon of SpeSeas, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Natural History Museum, London, UK.

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Early Tuesday morning, we assembled at the Faculty of Science and Technology (FST) board room at UWI St. Augustine Campus. There was an icebreaker introduction session among participants from the Inter-American Development Bank, Tobago House of Assembly, and the University of the West Indies’ Mona, Cave Hill and St. Augustine Campuses. I personally loved hearing everyone’s backgrounds, especially as each person brought a different perspective to the table at the ‘My Deep Sea, My Backyard - Trinidad and Tobago’ project.

Afterwards, we walked across to the campus’s pool, took the Trident ROV out and began working our way through the pre-dive checklist. The set up was quick and easy, however, as we placed the Trident ROV into the pool, we quickly realized that it was sinking. Oops - the weights were still attached after being used in salty water in Narragansett Bay by Katy so the vehicle was too heavy. After a quick adjustment back ‘onshore’, the Trident ROV was ready to go! The group of approximately 15 persons, then took turns experimenting with the ROV. The joke of the day, was that the tilt down for the controls, required an upward movement on the tablet and the tilt up, required a downward movement. This was completely the opposite of what we expected!

COAST Foundation introduced everyone to the Blue Robotics ROV, which was controlled by a game controller as compared to the touch screen tablet for the Trident ROV. It was exciting and new to most of us and we quickly realized the frequent gamers had an obvious advantage! After the practical session in the pool, we were treated to a tour of the UWI Museum of Zoology. Lots of very interesting specimens from around the islands.

The afternoon session was lead by Alan Turchik of National Geographic, who went through the setup, deployment and data collection for the Drop Camera. However, we didn’t have all the parts for the Drop Camera (fingers crossed that we will get them soon) but I think the group got a good grasp of the new equipment. After, the team gathered around a map of Trinidad and Tobago to discuss ideas for areas for future deployments. It’s mind blowing that the discussions taking place in the boardroom of the Science and Technology Faculty at UWI will soon be put into action in the waters around Trinidad and Tobago!

This post was written by Laura-Ashley Henderson, a workshop participant and recent graduate from The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus with a B.Sc. Biology with specializations in Marine Biology and Ecology and Environmental Biology.

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We have hiked through our forests. We have snorkeled and scuba dived every inch of our coral reefs. We have surveyed the homes of the monkeys, manatees and much more in our expansive swamps. Now in our own backyard, it is our chance to become adoring paparazzi to our mysterious deep-sea diversity in the unexplored oceans of Trinidad and Tobago.

Good day! I am Hannah, a recent biology graduate of the University of the West Indies, also welcoming you to “My Deep Sea, My Backyard”, the Trinidad and Tobago experience, which has officially begun.

The event which was launched Monday 13th August 2018, at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad, enraptured a large audience of mainly students and professionals focused on marine sciences, as well as local artists who were invited in hopes that the deep-sea discoveries may inspire beautiful masterpieces.

Local influential scientists and diplomats began the talks, all stressing the amazing opportunity being afforded, especially as the Trident ROV will remain in-country for continued use, as well as the massive benefit of this deep-sea research, which can potentially identify new resources for the Caribbean. The three pieces of deep-sea equipment, a Drop Camera (loaned by National Geographic), a Trident ROV (donated by OpenROV) and the Blue Robotics ROV (loaned by the Coast Foundation) were then briefly introduced. Group discussions were encouraged giving the opportunity for the audience to share their opinions on which areas off Trinidad the deployments would be most useful and potentially more successful.

The following day, I was fortunate to be part of a focus group with various regional professionals that gained experience in operating and deploying the equipment. This was exceptionally fun as it was a totally new experience. The Trident ROV, small and compact, zipped satisfyingly speedily and with great agility through the UWI pool. The Blue Robotics ROV, larger with more features, seemed to move at a slow and careful pace, giving an odd impression of the former being a child and the latter being the adult! Seeing the camera view on our screens while we tried to locate our “marine organism” (a pool brush) in the pool, excited me as to all the life we are going to observe during ocean deployments, especially those which may have never been seen before! Also, as I love working on research projects, I cannot wait to actually download video data from the deep-sea deployments over the next few months to learn about all the research avenues in which it can be used.

We also learned about the Drop Camera, which is thrilling due to the magnificent depths it can reach (6000m). We won’t need to go that deep though as the waters around Trinidad and Tobago only get to about 4000m depth. Working with the Drop Camera should be fascinating as it is not tethered. This also means that efforts to deploy it safely to ensure minimal drama and chasing or searching are a key priority. Alan went through the safety checklist with us in extreme detail, and I left with the warning “REMOVE MAGNETS BEFORE DEPLOYMENT!” well drilled into my head☺!

These last couple of days have tremendously increased my enchantment with the deep sea and I must say my expectations of what I hope to see have skyrocketed. Maybe mussel fields, maybe some “Hoff” crabs, hopefully coral gardens but whatever it is, it will be truly special, because it is ours, it is Trinidad and Tobago’s!

This post was written by Hannah Lochan, a workshop participant and recent graduate from The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus with a B.Sc. Biology with Specialisations in Plant and Marine Biology

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After Katy, Judith, and Diva set the stage with a series of talks about the deep ocean, the history of deep-sea exploration, emerging ocean technologies, and the state of knowledge of the Trinidad and Tobago deep sea, we kicked into a lively community discussion about goals and priority locations for local exploration using the National Geographic Drop Cameras and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). In the room, we had artists, coastal engineers, government officials from marine and environmental sectors, energy industry stakeholders, science communicators, conservationists, students, and scientists — so there was no shortage of different interests, perspectives, and opportunities to learn from each other.

We broke into smaller, cross-disciplinary groups to give everyone a chance to get to know each other better and to encourage discussion. Our first question for the room was simple: what do you want to learn about the deep ocean right in your backyard? Participants were excited about a lot, including discovering new species, understanding relationships between ocean habitats, mapping the physical characteristics of the deep ocean, finding new resources for human use, collecting baseline data to document human impacts on the ocean — and yes, we all wanted to find the sea monsters, galleons, and marine diamonds!

Then each group was given a map of Trinidad and Tobago’s Exclusive Economic Zone (the area in which T&T has jurisdiction over) with bathymetric data showing the depth and shape of the seafloor, which they used to create Exploration Maps selecting drop sites for the camera and points of interest to explore with ROVs. Then they pinned up the maps so everyone could do a ‘gallery walk’ to see each other’s ideas and identify common themes across the plans.

Our last question to the room was perhaps the most fun: How can we encourage the public to get excited about and interested in ocean exploration? We heard so many creative ideas — a Carnival or jouvert band inspired by the deep sea, staging an underwater photography competition with the theme of “aliens on earth”, installing deep-sea photography exhibits in airports, setting up tax breaks for those who contribute to deep-sea exploration...and lots more!

After a full afternoon of great energy and conversation, we wrapped up a little early to give everyone a chance to make it home safely — in the middle of the afternoon it started raining buckets and there was some flooding around the island. Let’s hope the rain stops in time for our ocean deployments later this week!

Tomorrow we’ll be getting a smaller group trained up on the Drop Cams and ROVs at the university’s pool. Can’t wait!

This post was written by Alexis Hope of MIT Media Lab & MIT Center for Civic Media.

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I cannot begin to tell you how nervous I was on Monday 13th August 2018. Over the 45-minute car journey to the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine, I managed to chew off every single nail. This was my first time orchestrating a project of this magnitude, and more importantly, the first in my home country, Trinidad and Tobago, so making it a success was extra important. And to increase the pressure, Katy, Alexis, Alan and I barely got any sleep last night because of delayed flights and lost baggage. But despite all the nerves, I’m proud to report that the launch of ‘My Deep Sea, My Backyard – Trinidad and Tobago’ went extremely well!

The day was deep-sea-licious! The nearly-eighty attendees were greeted by deep-sea footage from across the Caribbean and an array of deep-sea samples from Trinidad and Tobago. For many, this was the first time they had ever seen anything like this! After warm greetings by Dr. Judith Gobin and Professor John Agard of the University of the West Indies, as well as Mr. Gerard Alleng of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), we were treated to a keynote speech by Mr. Eden Charles, former permanent representative to the United Nations for Trinidad and Tobago. The focal point of Eden’s talk were the linkages between ocean exploration and resource use, especially from a policy angle (which is his expertise). All speakers stressed the importance of the Blue Economy and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14. And of course, the launch culminated with the ‘My Deep Sea, My Backyard’ team, comprised of both local (UWI St. Augustine, SpeSeas, COAST Foundation, NIHERST) and foreign partners (National Geographic, IDB, MIT Media Lab, Boston University, OpenROV and DOSI) taking to the stage to introduce the project.

Lunch gave attendees a chance to recharge their energy levels, network, check out the deep-sea samples, and also decorate styrofoam cups! You’re probably wondering why on earth we would decorate styrofoam cups. Well, the deep ocean is a high-pressure environment — you gain one atmosphere of pressure for every 10 metres gained in depth. And styrofoam weighs barely anything because it has lots of air pockets. That combination means that when a styrofoam cup goes down into the depths attached to a piece of deep-sea equipment, the immense pressure squeezes all the air out, resulting in the cup shrinking to the size of a thimble! Check out #shrunkencupoff on Twitter for lots and lots of pictures of awesome shrunken cups created by deep-sea scientists all over the world! Over the next three months of deployments, these cups will be sent into the deep attached to the National Geographic Drop Camera, shrunken during the journey and then recovered and returned to the rightful owner, providing a reminder of their dabble in the deep ocean.

In our next blog, Alexis Hope will talk about the afternoon session on Monday which included deep-sea lectures and a participatory workshop on opportunities for deep-sea exploration in the region.

This post was written by Diva Amon of SpeSeas, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Natural History Museum, London, UK.

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I received the Trident ROV in the mail two days ago!! The little remotely operated vehicle (ROV) was generously donated by OpenROV to the 'My Deep Sea, My Backyard - Trinidad and Tobago' project.

We were cutting it a bit close for testing should I have any problems, so I plugged it in straight away to get the vehicle charged up. Randi Rotjan also advised that I fire up the tablet that we’d be using for the controller, download the OpenROV app, and pair it to the Trident. The set up worked perfectly, and I was even able to give the motors a spin on the kitchen counter!

The long (100 m) tether arrived yesterday afternoon, and today I packed up the little red wagon to take everything down to the beach and get it in the water.

We would be diving in the salty waters of Narragansett Bay, which would make the vehicle more buoyant than it would be in fresh water. So, I asked my daughter, Roxa, to screw on the trim weights before we brought the Trident down to the dock.

Lifejackets on, we hauled everything down to the dock and got ourselves set up. First, we attached the short (25 m) tether, waited until all three LEDs turned on, and opened up the app. The cardboard shipping box served as handy protection against the glaring sun. Note to self for future operational design considerations: it’s tough to see the video on the tablet without some shade.

We tested the motors one last time on the dock, placed her in the water, and off she went! The Trident ROV is pretty zippy so it took some getting used to the controller. Between the vehicle’s sensitive reaction to commands and having a hard time seeing the video in the sun, I definitely ran into the bottom more than once! But after a few minutes of playing around, seeing some fish (possibly Menhaden), slipper shells, and a whole lot of algae, I got a pretty good sense for how to operate the vehicle.

Once I got the hang of piloting the Trident, we decided to test the 100 m tether. Roxa asked if she could help, so after I rinsed and dried the contacts, she removed the short tether and attached the long one. We again waited for the system to fire up, tested the motors, and got it back in the water. This time, I let Roxa pilot, and she put the motors through their paces -- up, down, left, right, forward, back -- and sometimes it seemed like everything was happening simultaneously.

Fortunately, we didn’t burn out any motors, so I gave the system a rinse, packed it up, and we had lunch on the beach before heading home for the day. So easy a toddler could do it, right?!

I can't wait to give the Trident ROV a spin in the warm waters of Trinidad and Tobago in a few days! I guess I better get packing as Alexis Hope and I (MIT Media Lab), as well as Alan Turchik (National Geographic) will be flying out in two days!

This post was written by Katy Croff Bell, a director of Open Ocean, MIT Media Lab and a National Geographic Explorer.

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Ahoy hoy! This is my first contribution to Open Explorer and I am pretty psyched that it is to report on learning how to use the Nat Geo DropCam for our upcoming trip to Trinidad & Tobago.

Yesterday, Diva and I flew to National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, DC, to be trained by Alan Turchik on how to deploy the Exploration Technology Lab’s deep sea Drop Cameras. These systems can be dropped to 6,000 m deep in the ocean, are baited to attract animals, and can be programmed to record high definition video, depth, and temperature for up to 6 hours of record time.

We spent the first morning in the lab learning about all the systems, from programming to launch, recovery to data download. By lunchtime, Diva and I were able to step through the pre-deployment checklist without assistance.

In the afternoon, we drove out to Rock Creek Park to learn how to use the radio tracker to find the DropCam. Alan placed the DropCam across a field, and Diva and I took turns using the radio antenna to hear its signal and locate it with our eyes closed by listening to its signal. I was even able to get out of a wooded area and to the field to find it!

The next day, we rented a boat on the Chesapeake Bay so that we could go through the entire process of deployment and recovery in the water. We programmed the DropCam to remain on the bottom for 30 minutes. Deployment went off without a hitch - we dropped it in the water easily and down to the bottom it sank. Approximately 25 minutes later, Captain Keith took us off site so that Diva and I could again practice using the radio antenna to find the DropCam once it came to the surface.

In seawater, the burn wire should release in about 5 minutes, and pop right up to the surface. But it didn’t. We started to get concerned that the water was too fresh for the burn wire to work (it relies on accelerated rusting of a wire by running electrical current through it). It had just rained quite a lot (large input of fresh water), and the tide was going out (more water from the river coming into the Bay than water coming in from the ocean. And, I had to get back to DC to catch a flight home that afternoon. I kept listening, and listening, and listening for a ping…......

Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long. After about 10-15 minutes, Alan and Captain Keith saw it pop right up to the surface. It turns out that we hadn't tweaked the settings of the receiver as well as we could have. Oops! But this is why we do training, right?! Diva and I practiced tracking it with our eyes closed once again, and motored over to grab it with a boat hook.

We made it back to the dock, packed up our gear, and enjoyed some chocolate chip scones en route to the airport! We both feel a lot better about using the DropCam but are still looking forward to going through the motions many more times in Trinidad and Tobago in a few days!

This post was written by Katy Croff Bell, a director of Open Ocean, MIT Media Lab and a National Geographic Explorer.

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This looks like a really great project! Any pics from the DropCam to share?!

Not yet! Hoping to get some soon!

Expedition Background

Our pilot project is designed to provide ocean access and increased technological capacity in Trinidad and Tobago, a small island developing state. This approach will have three aims:
1) Access to emerging ocean technology that can be used from any platform

2) Training for an in-country scientist, student, and communicator to enable use and dissemination of findings from that technology

3) Provision of a MSc scholarship for a student

This three-pronged approach will build long-term in-country capacity for ocean exploration, detailed below:

Aim 1:

Technology: We will utilize innovative technology developed by OpenROV, National Geographic, and others. The tech can be used in a multitude of ways, including to determine species presence, check bathymetry accuracy, revisit sites over time, explore new locales, or image sites of interest (e.g. shipwrecks). Data collected may necessitate knowledge of species, habitats, image analysis and statistics.

Aim 2:

(a) In-country technology training: An engineer and another team member will travel to Trinidad to deliver the National Geographic Drop Cameras, and other technology to train a group of scientists, engineers, students, and communicators in their use. The OpenROV Trident will be delivered before so that exploration and training can start as soon as possible. Technology will then be left in-country with plans to deploy them at least ten times before (b).

(b) In-USA analysis and media-products training: Following (a), we propose that three representatives from Trinidad and Tobago (a scientist, a student, and a communicator to be identified during (a)) travel to the USA for further training in data analysis and creating outreach materials. We envision that the scientist and student will collaborate to analyse the captured imagery, whereas the communicator will generate media products to disseminate information in-country, in whatever format they deem culturally-appropriate. Outreach and artistic materials will be created at the MIT Media Lab. This trip will coincide with the National Ocean Exploration Forum, so it is expected that partners will share their experiences and results there.

Aim 3:

Masters-level training: The OpenROV Trident will remain in Trinidad and Tobago, so that local scientists and students can continue to explore their own backyards, however, the interpretation and use of data will require higher capacity. For example, how will a country know if a new species has been discovered without taxonomic or ecological expertise? To enable lasting scientific capacity, we propose to have a student matriculate in a masters program at Boston University, which will enable students to engage more fully in the global community of benthic marine experts. MSc-level training is part of our program to ensure that Trinidad and Tobago has the necessary tools to put their exploratory findings into the relevant scientific context. The appropriate student will be identified during Aim 2 via a scholarship RFP in-country. Applicants will be evaluated by the team and asked to apply to the appropriate graduate program; if accepted, the scholarship will be applied towards their degree.

We plan to visit Trinidad in early August 2018 to start the deep-sea journey with the Drop Cameras, but exploration and outreach using the OpenROV Trident will begin in July 2018.

Project collaborators: Randi Rotjan, Diva Amon, Brennan Phillips, Alan Turchik, Katy Croff Bell, Rafael Anta, Gerard Alleng, Kristina Gjerde, Gil Montague, Kate Furby, Alexis Hope

Trinidad and Tobago collaborators: University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, SpeSeas, National Institute for Higher Education, Science and Technology (NIHERST) and the COAST Foundation/Offshore Innovators.

This project will have a twin pilot in Kiribati, which you can read here: Kiribati Ocean Exploration

Stay tuned for updates coming soon!

This post was written by Diva Amon of SpeSeas, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Natural History Museum, London, UK.

Diva, this is so cool! Really excited to see how this and the Kiribati expedition develop.

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