Marine Conservation in South La Jolla

Latest update July 2, 2019 Started on May 21, 2018

Follow WILDCOAST’s Explore My Marine Protected Area (MPA) Project as we integrate underwater remote operated vehicle (ROV) technology into our student-led research trips in local MPAs and cultivate the next generation of ocean stewards!

May 21, 2018
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In The Field

The ROVs have been a hit with the kids on the Floating Labs. When we received the S.E.E. Trident our plan was to allow for the kids to drive the ROV. Previously, they would assist with the tether and filling out data sheets for the transect. On 6/13/2109 we set out of Mission Bay with a plan to splash the new Trident for the first time and see how the kids do on the controls. The Trident requires a bit of a touch to dive in a controlled manner which is important when diving near kelp beds. The plan was that I would get them to the bottom, with the ROV set to stabilized mode and low power, and allow them to slowly move around. I figure the kids would pick it up quickly as I have witnessed in other projects and I would be close by to help keep them out of trouble. I also have a larger ROV that could be used to rescue the Trident if need be. Well, this plan had to be put on hold until the fall when we resume the Float Labs. After an exciting morning of being interviewed by the local TV station and we set out with light winds and swells. I say swells because there were two smalls swell rolling through, from opposite directions, that made for some rolling seas. After a few minutes of doing the plankton trawl we starting losing kids to seasickness. When we stopped, starting doing the water quality and launching the ROV for the transect, we lost another group of kids to sea sickness. After only about five minutes into the transect the call was made to pack it up as it was turning into a puke fest. No Trident driving for the kids on this day. The red tide didnt help either, see video. One positive from this trip was one student who took an interest in the ROV and was eager to learn as much as she could. She knew her stuff and looks like WildCoast found an internship for her this Summer. Whatever college she ends up in will be lucky to have this particular student and seeing her enthusiasm is what makes outreach work so worth while.

360/VR video from the day.

News Clip


We are super excited to start the new WILDCOAST Float Labs season. This year we hope to add multiple OpenROV Tridents to the line up and improve upon our underwater aspect of the Float Labs. The VR goggles have proven to be unreliable and ill suited for a saltwater environment. We are hoping the between the new OpenROV controller with built in screen and Toughbook laptop with sunlight viewable screen will be able to accommodate a larger group of kids for live viewings. I have also experimented with a few different apps that will give us the ability to stream a live fed to an onboard TV and WILDCOAST iPads. Apowermirror works between the Android control device and an apple products such as iPhone and iPad with hardly any lag.

We have several Float labs scheduled for April. Be sure to check back for updates.

So the Float labs are done for the year and the ROV aspect is taking shape.

The kids in the ROV group get a quick run down of the ROV before it is deployed. We then run a random transect for about 10 minutes, time permitting, we will run a second transect. Line transects would produce better data but the outreach aspect would suffer as a result. Checking cracks and structures produces a lot more wildlife viewing opportunities. I have adopted diver protocols from California reef check to use with the ROV and we fill out their data sheets. In future we hope to make them a data partner and further adapt their protocols for the ROV. The reef check guide is helpful in identifying species in the water. See it here...

WildCoast also put together a little video with some footage.

Here is some experimental footage with the 360 camera rig...


The Trident is really portable and can be operated using an Android phone. My set up consist of Galaxy S8 Active to a USB/HDMI adapter then to the Cinemizer VR glasses via HDMI cable. The Trident transmits from the topside adapter, seen in the middle of the tether reel, to any WIFI device(beta versions are only working on Android devices but that will change). An app controls the ROV with touch controls on the phone or with a standard gamepad. The touch controls work well and the phone is waterproof, most game controllers are not. The phone screen works well enough to pilot the ROV but details do get washed out in the sunlight. The VR glasses eliminate the glare problem, give you a second live view to share, and are a totally awesome way to ride along.

The other ROV is much bigger and has several steps to operate, both pre-dive and post. The electronics tubes need to be warmed up, seals triple checked, computer connected, and a host of other little things. It uses Blue Robotics thrusters and the 360 cam/light cube housing come from them as well. These thrusters are less likely to get wrapped up, can easily run in murky water, and will be caged to hopefully keep the eel grass out. This ROV will also the the ability to go a little deeper and is wired to accept a payload. Payload could be anything from a gripper claw to a water sampler. There are also two laser 10cm that can help measure things. Electronics and software come from OpenROV. The frame was cold molded from HDPE in my garage.

Both ROVs are capable or transmitting via Wifi to multiple devices and we will be experimenting with that in future expeditions. They can record depth and heading, have heading and depth hold, are really not that difficult to pilot.

The Garmin 360 camera I choose because it is so flexible. The batteries can be swapped, it can be plugged into a battery pack, lens can be replaced, HDMI out, and takes an micro SD card. No one makes a waterproof housing for it yet, thus the DIY one I pieced together from Blue Robotics. The editing software is super intuitive but i should confess, I have always been a fan of Garmin products. Just keep in mind some of things I mentioned above when searching for a 360 camera. The technology is moving fast so this could be outdated already.

The camera, with its housing and light, is too heavy to attach to the trident without also adding buoyancy. While there are mounting holes on the bottom to add future attachments, there is no clean way to add anything to the top. the buoyancy has to be on top and towards the outside edges to maintain a functional center of buoyancy. I may just strap some on with zipties or mold some plastic straps to mount in the bottom and loop around the top. See future posts to follow that progress.

I will also experimenting with solutions to keep the props from getting wrapped. I am going to try and mount a worn down cutting disc behind the props. The disc will be big enough to cut grass but too small to go all the way through a finger.

Getting the hang of the 360 camera with a pod of Pacific Whitesided Dolphins. Note the video below was shot in 4k to save battery power. Adjust the settings on the player to 4k for better quality video than default and be sure to scroll around.

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Expedition Background

Aimed at building multi-generational conservation capacity, WILDCOAST's award-winning Floating Laboratory program equips students with invaluable first-hand knowledge of cutting-edge survey techniques and exposes participants to the challenges and incredible rewards of a career in marine biology. The students on these expeditions are collecting real data that is then sent off to our data partners to be analyzed and documented.

You can read more about the The Float labs and MPAs here...

and here...

Early in the Float Lab program a GoPro camera was lowered overboard in an attempt to gather species information and create a visual timeline of the La Jolla MPAs development. We would watch the video back at the dock but the lack of visibility and limited viewing area produced little exciting results, the GoPro station was dropped. About that same time did a presentation for the MPA Collabrative that used a ROV to capture some truly remarkable footage and discoveries.

Inspired, I set off into the interweb to see what was available to the average Joe. That led to OpenROV and a kickstarter order for a Trident ROV( I could not wait for OpenROV to perfect the Trident so with the help of some Mar Vista High School students we built an OpenROV 2.8 kit. That was a cool little ROV but the design was just not suited to run in our kelp and eel grass packed environments around here. The propellers would get wrapped up and break off and the shape was prone to hooking seaweed. After a lot more research I decided to build a small ROV with larger thrusters, payload capable, and able to shed kelp easier. This ROV carries 360 camera, an HD camera, a bunch of lights, measuring lasers, and is payload capable. I carelessly fried the electronics while testing buoyancy but will post more details on this ROV when I finish getting it back up. Fortunately, the Trident has arrived and is pretty much idiot proof, even I will have a hard time messing it up.

The OpenROV Trident is not only super easy to use, it is also fast and agile. Just looking at it inspires curiosity and will undoubtedly will become an important outreach tool in the future. The ability to connect with kids in a natural environment while incorporating the technology they have become accustomed too is powerful. By matching a students abilities with the challenge at hand, you tap into their flow(see chart). A 360 camera attached to the ROV will serve to fully immerse the students in an underwater environment while simultaneously gather much more video data than a standard forward facing camera. Time is short on the water, we can watch the video the back at the dock while we look at plankton and water quality results. For this task a 5.7k 360 camera is preferred as 4k 360 cameras don't produce a sharp enough image underwater, its 4k stretched out over 360 degrees. We are using a Garmin Virb 360 with a DIY housing for the camera and external light. The camera, light and housing are little too heavy for the trident without adding buoyancy but that can be solved.

Future posts will document all the trials and tribulations of incorporating the use of underwater ROVs into WILDCOAST's effort to inspire and educate youngsters on the Floating Labs. Hopefully, no ROVs or students are lost on these expeditions.

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