What are you currently exploring?
I’m working on several projects while finishing up my PhD at Oxford. My thesis is focused on 3D mapping coral reefs and the correlation between reef structure and the health of its ecosystem. I’m monitoring the structural complexity of the reef, how it changes over time and how fish interact with the 3D structure. It’s an inter-disciplinary project involving zoology and engineering that requires a lot of time underwater studying the reefs off the coast of Honduras. I’m also helping to rebuild a deep-sea research sub, Pisces VI, that will allow us to discover more deep-sea species and better understand how ocean ecosystems function. Finally, I’ve just started a project developing new technology to enable us to genetically analyse sea creatures in their natural environment; this project is in its very early stages though.
What’s so fascinating about coral reefs?
Coral reefs are the mega-cities of the ocean. They host as much as 25% of all marine life, but they cover less than 1% of the ocean floor. One of the reasons they are able to do that is because they have this gorgeous structural complexity that creates niches for species to hide from predators or weather storms and a great surface area for a diversity of creatures to feed on.
Grace dances outside Aquarius, her underwater home for 15 days during Mission 31. Photo: Fabien Cousteau - Mission 31.
How much of your study involves fieldwork?
I spend three months of the year doing fieldwork and the rest doing data analysis or developing testing technologies here in Oxford.
Where do you conduct your fieldwork?
My doctoral thesis is based on a fairly remote island called Utila, in the Caribbean, a couple of hours by boat from mainland Honduras. There are only about 4,000 people who live there, and there’s just one main road on the island – you could take a golf buggy around the island in a day. We have a field station there that’s been operational for about a decade, operated by a conservation group, Operation Wallacea. We chose the site because it’s been monitored for several years so we have a baseline.
It sounds like paradise!
Not quite - it’s like a glorified weight loss camp! We’re busy every day. I’m up at 7am, I grab breakfast of rice and beans at the dive centre, then put on dive gear and do three or four dives per day, each about an hour underwater. I never dive alone. I always have at least one dive buddy, usually a research assistant. We set up experiments and collect data. Last summer I did a lot of heavy lifting. We had a series of concrete tiles underwater that we were growing coral on – we had to put them down and then bring them back to the surface. Each tile weighed 2.5 kilograms (5 pounds) and there were 200 of them – that’s half a ton! I come back from fieldwork in the best shape of my life!
Grace enjoys a cup of tea with Fabien Cousteau, while living underwater for more than a fortnight.
How do you keep in touch with friends and family when you’re on Utila?
It’s not easy. I’m often working in areas with limited to no internet or mail services, so the typical means of communicating with loved ones aren’t available. Recently I’ve started to write and exchange a bunch of letters with close friends before I leave. We can read them each week I’m away and so stay in each other’s thoughts. I also periodically treat myself to an internet connection – although this sometimes requires literally walking across the island. That’s a serious commitment to sending a text message!
Do you miss important news?
I remember coming out of the water after a dive and someone told us that Britain had left the EU. I wasn’t sure I had heard right, but I had several more hours of diving that day, so I couldn’t confirm it. Because the internet is so spotty on the island, we rely on word of mouth for news. You cannot surf the news as normal. When I’m away people joke, “have you been under a rock?,” and I reply, “no, I’ve been underwater.” On the plus side, being offline and away from everything allows me to really focus on my research. Also, I try to compensate for the isolation by reading more books and longer form works.
Have you even been in danger?
People often ask me this – weren’t you scared of living underwater? Of diving with sharks? Of sailing across the ocean? Of diving at night? The list goes on; but really, everything I’ve done is safe. I wouldn’t do it otherwise. Before an expedition we do risk assessments to think through every emergency situation and determine how we should respond. The danger really isn’t from sea creatures so much as it’s from carelessness,. Overall I’m probably in more danger walking across the street in Oxford.
Where would you most like to be right now?
I’m always happiest on or in the water; but I try to live in the moment, so I’m very happy here in Oxford – although I miss the ocean.
Which luxuries do you sneak into your luggage before every trip?
I always wear my Doxa dive watch, which I got on a previous expedition, called Mission 31, when we lived underwater for 15 days in the Aquarius habitat. The watch has an iconic orange face.
NatIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Interview About conducting Research, Living Underwater, and STAYING CONNECTED DURING Fieldwork
Last week I hopped across the pond for the opening of National Geographic’s first immersive entertainment experience. “Ocean Odyssey” in Times Square draws visitors under the sea to experience ocean life thanks to clever videography, staging, virtual and artificial reality. Virtual explorers witness a battle between Humbolt squid, get lost in a kelp forest, and see a whale leap from the depths to feed on a school of fish. They can also play quiz games that show how they can improve the ocean.
Pictures tell the story best. More information about how you can visit the exhibit is in the Act Now page of this blog. Your ticket purchase supports the National Geographic Society’s great work!
Other Update from Yellow Rectangle
My interview from time at CERN just published in Symmetry magazine. Excerpt below.
What unique experience did you take away from CERN? CERN had a huge impact on my development as a scientist and engineer. My experience was truly transformative. My first experience was when I was age 17. A classmate and I won a week-long trip to CERN from the Intel Science Fair for a physics project. It was a dream come true; I'd read so much about CERN. I'm still incredibly thankful to Wolfgang Von Rueden for organizing that trip and becoming a mentor. A year later, CERN’s openlab took a chance on a first-year MIT student and let me into its summer internship program. I got to work with phenomenal people and write software to help physicists (perform Dalitz analysis within the ROOT data analysis framework).
Although I veered away from physics into ocean engineering (I like to sail and I love the water), CERN taught me many things that I often think back to. One is the genuine power in community. It's not just about putting capable people in the same place -- it's about having those people, from diverse disciplines work together to solve discrete problems, and work towards a common purpose. Another thing it taught me is that fundamental science pursued for the sake of science (or art) spawns innovation.
Even my visitor's badge to CERN reinforced its core purpose. I thought the text on the badge aptly described CERN's mission and motivation. It read:
What value do you see in the CERN alumni network? I see the alumni network as a potentially powerful tool. Of course it's a great way to stay in touch with friends, make new ones, and enhance career connections. Its greatest value, however, may be in harnessing the power of our great community to solve big problems like CERN proper does. Alumni know the value of cooperation and the power of working across disciplines, across cultures, public-private sectors, and that's a powerful thing.
What’s next for you? I'd like to create a CERN-for-the-ocean. Right now we don't understand how the ocean works -- how it holds so much biodiversity, how it maintains weather, sequesters so much carbon. At the same time it faces big problems including overfishing, pollution, acidification and warming. These require technical and policy solutions. I'd like to copy CERN's model for research and innovation and apply it to the equivalent for the ocean of confirming the Higgs boson.
ANOTHER NOTE ON POSITIVE MESSAGES
Last week I had the honor of attending National Geographic’s first-ever Explorers Festival. It was many things: It was a gathering of explorers from all disciplines and corners of the globe; it was my introduction to the NatGeo “family;” it was an excuse for NatGeo to roll out the 'yellow carpet' for James Cameron, Sylvia Earle, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Bob Ballard, and other explorer-celebrities.
As a 2017 Emerging Explorer, I gave a 10-minute talk about my work and dreams and then contributed to a panel discussion on “Transformative Technology;” both are online here.
The week was a gear-shifting process for me. For the past several months I’ve been up to my ears in my PhD thesis. This week forced me to take a few steps back and think big-picture, about major goals and priorities in terms of ocean technology development. It also forced me to reflect on my personal story --- the twists of fate that pushed me to where I am now.
NatGeo focuses on human elements of any story; I believe this is one reason why it effectively engages across disciplines. Explorers are encouraged not just to talk about their work, as they might at an academic or technical conference, but also to speak of their motivations – how and why they got to their unique position. Usually these stories take us back to childhood, but not all the time – sometimes the story starts later in life. Distilling one’s life into a story is a difficult task if you overthink it. How can one figure out which moments of the past millions and millions of moments to cut and which to mention? How do our brains remove the signal from the noise? Only in hindsight have I identified some of the more transformative moments. The storytellers at NatGeo helped me bring out the bits of my story that linked my path in ways I hadn’t considered before. For that I’m very thankful to the NatGeo community.
Next week we are hosting what we think is the FIRST LIVE UNDERWATER SEMINAR at Oxford! Come along if you're in the area! It'll also be video-recorded/posted online at a later date.
Aside: A piece titled "We Need a New Approach for Saving the Oceans!" for the International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources by David Wills mentioned
my 2015 TIME op-ed article about a new vision for ocean research, including creating a CERN-like organization for the ocean. David supports the vision, and explains why fisheries management based on “maximum sustained yield” must be revised (snippet below).
Read David's full article here.
"Because we share nothing so completely as our ocean, each of us also shares the responsibility to protect it.” ~ US Secretary of State John F. Kerry
In Washington D.C. last week I attended the Our Ocean conference hosted by US Secretary of State John Kerry at The State Department and the affiliated Ocean Leadership Summit hosted by Georgetown University. Following the main events, I spoke on a panel at the French Embassy for an event on climate, ocean preservation and scientific cooperation with Fabien Cousteau (Ocean Conservationist, Mission 31), Dr. Sylvia Earle (Oceanographer, National Geographic Explorer-in-residence, former NOAA Chief Scientist), Dr. Margaret Leinen (Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, and UCSD’s Vice Chancellor for Marine Sciences), Dr. Françoise Gaill (Research Director at CNRS, Scientific Committee Coordinator of the Ocean & Climate Platform), and Bertrand Delorme (PhD candidate, Stanford).
The concurrent two-day events, Our Ocean and the One Future Leadership summit, were jam-packed with activities from early morning breakfast meetings to late night working dinners all focused on solving our oceans most urgent problems with leading scientists and policy makers from around the world.
The first day ended with a concert at the Kennedy Center for visiting dignitaries (and student attendees!) featuring singers Grace Potter and Norm Lewis. The last time I was in the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower theatre I was performing in Washington Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet. After the concert, I waited around the corner from the stage door, under the Center’s iconic huge golden pillars, for my mom, who picked me up just like she did countless times during that performance nine years ago.
The second day ended with dinner at the French Ambassador’s residence with the other panelists and Segolene Royal, France’s Minister of Environment, Energy and Marine Affairs, and President of COP21.
I arrived at the conference with little expectations; if anything I was feeling discouraged about the state of our ocean. I left, however, feeling more educated, inspired and optimistic than ever about our ocean’s future. Secretary Kerry reported that during the conference $5.24 billion was committed towards sustainable oceans from a combination of governments and foundations. He emphasized his deep personal connection the ocean (he grew up sailing) and alarming facts about the ocean. For example, it will contain more plastic than fish by weight in 2050 if we do not change our ways (on a bus I sat next to the State Department that proudly wrote that fact into his speech; everyone can help in this fight!). I asked Secretary Kerry about the US’s commitment to the ocean, especially regarding the Law of the Sea Convention, last spring when he gathered Rhodes and Marshall scholars at a pub in Oxford (that story here). I knew he was dedicated to ocean issues, but I hadn’t realized the full extent of his work, nor did he necessarily allude to all of it in that first response. Now I am really impressed. President Obama expressed the same sentiment:
Also at the conference, nations committed to designating 1.5 million square miles of ocean as a marine protected area (MPA). Yet MPA designation doesn’t necessarily mean protection in practice. It must be monitored and enforced; otherwise it is a “paper park.” Plenty of attendees, including Secretary Kerry, acknowledged this, and solutions were discussed, combining new technology with policing. These are works-in-progress; but are an excellent start.
Secretary Kerry announced key features of his Safe Ocean Network, which aims to build a global community to better combat illegal fishing. “Various nations are working hard to track and address illegal fishing, but the fact is no nation is currently capable of policing the entire range of the oceans,” he said. Enforcement is where technology can play a huge role in how we manage and protect the oceans, so this gets into my particular area of interest. Various uniformed members of the military explained aspects of the Safe Ocean Network, as well as representatives from partners including Google, SkyTruth, and Oceana. It was a beautiful example of public and private sectors working together for a common goal. This diagram (that I can't find online; pardon bad quality scan) explains the facets of their operations well:
True to their mission of getting other nations involved, the State Department flew out nearly 50 student leaders from select countries, particularly those reliant on fishing, for a two-week tour of NOAA operations in California and New Hampshire, culminating at this Our Ocean conference. I met the student representatives from Fiji, Philippines, Indonesia, Italy, and many more, each of whom is leading or involved with an ocean project, ranging from simple but effective initiatives such as installing mooring buoys around dive sites, to more nuanced like initiating culinary ventures that educate consumers about the ecosystem.
I was incredibly impressed by the Georgetown University student group Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA), which co-hosted the Leadership Summit alongside the State Department. It was founded by Daniela V. Fernandez (who, fun fact, is a fellow recipient of Glamour magazine’s “Top 10 College Woman of the Year” scholarship).
During the Summit, I was put into a group of about 30 engineering-minded young people to roundtable with David Lang and Monica Medina. Lang spoke of the low-cost underwater robotics company he co-founded, openROV. I assembled one of their products last year to use in Honduras and have collaborated with some of their employees, so we had a good deal to talk about. Medina, Deputy Director of the Walton Family Foundation’s Environment Program, spoke about what it took to get whales protected in Boston shipping channels. She didn’t gloss over anything. She impressed on us the need for perseverance and patience in order to achieve practical results. If I were based in DC again, I’d love to sit in on the ocean governance class she’s teaching at Georgetown University as an adjunct professor.
I look forward to watching several new films introduced at the event, including Sonic Seas, A Plastic Ocean, A Fragile Legacy, Nuclear Sharks, Second Century Stewardship, Vey nou Lagon, and Wild Galapagos, Pristine Seas.
Now it’s time to bottle up all the inspiration and hunker down in Oxford to finish reporting the results from coral reef fieldwork (and finishing my thesis!).
Last week I had the opportunity to join a handful of Marshall and Rhodes Scholars for an informal discussion with US Secretary of State John Kerry at the King's Arms pub. He'd just finished a speech at the Oxford Union and was kind enough to chat with us for a hour or so before dashing off to dinner with the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street.
I asked Secretary Kerry: If the US won't ratify the Law of the Sea, how can we stay a leader in global ocean policy? The conversation was off-the-record, but it's fair to say he basically reiterated his stance from his 2012 Huffington Post op-ed "Law of the Sea: A National Security Issue that Unites," yet was more pessimistic (or perhaps realistic in light of the political gridlock of the last four years) about getting Congress to pass anything. You can read more about his position and the issues in Chapter 5: Possibility of US Accession to the LOS Convention and its Potential Impact on State Practices and Maritime Claims in the South China Sea by Yann-huei Song in the book:
In early 2009 when President Obama entered office and Senator Kerry took over chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty was one of his priorities:
In his 2012 op-ed, he reiterated then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's support:
Again in 2014, Kerry stressed law, not coercion, is the key to resolving sea disputes.
Yet the the Law of the Sea is still not US law 34 years after we negotiated the treaty. We are the only major country that hasn't ratified this treaty while 166 countries and the EU have done so. If we are to remain leaders in global ocean policy we must keep this issue at the forefront of discussion until the Senate takes appropriate action.
Other than the above, there isn't much photographic evidence of our encounter. On the US Department of State's Flickr, however, my shoulder makes an appearance, which is pretty exciting.
Yes, that is my shoulder. (Credit US Department of State Flickr: "U.S Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with U.S. Rhodes and Marshall Scholars attending Oxford University who assembled at the historic King Arms pub in Oxford, U.K., on May 11, 2016, after the Secretary delivered an address to the Oxford Union membership.")
From the inside...
SUMMARY OF OUR VISION
Here are some facts that struck me emotionally from former trainer John Hargrove's article "I trained killer whales at SeaWorld for 12 years. Here's why I quit."
SeaWorld's predicament and the ethical issues it faces are highlighted in the documentary Blackfish and subsequent media focus. The film isn't perfect, however; it has been criticized in this Medium article by Isaac Wadd and SeaWorld refutes the film's claims. That said, SeaWorld must make changes in order for it to not only remain a viable business, but also stay true to its mission of providing inspiring, exciting, and educational experiences to its visitors.
Thanks especially to the University of Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, especially its deputy director, Clair Linzey, for helping us prepare. Also thanks to Professor Tom White, author of In Defence of Dolphins, for his inspirational talk last November at the Centre for Animal Ethics.
Press release from the Centre for Animal Ethics: "Oxford University Animal Ethics Society Wins at IBECC 2016."
Last fall (or "autumn" as they say here in England) I attended the Global Ocean Commission's symposium on the future of the High Seas hosted by my Oxford college, Somerville. A summary of the symposium and its recommendations is in the Commission's most recent (and last) report, The Future Of Our Ocean: Next Steps and Priorities. This report, as well as the Commission's initial report, From Decline to Recovery: A Rescue Package for the Global Ocean, are now available to download online here. I highly recommend both, especially the first for its straight-forward, engaging, and well-researched perspective on the political actions needed for a healthy ocean.
I’m sitting in the St. Thomas airport waiting for my flight to Heathrow. Toting a hiking bag stuffed with salt-encrusted clothes, I search for an outlet to charge my laptop; it’s been dead nearly three weeks. My hair is still wet from this morning’s dip in the ocean.
“You get off a boat?” asked the man ahead of me at check-in. I wondered what gave it away. Was it my freckled skin and I-don’t-care ponytail? My callouses? My travel partner joking about peeing in a bucket?
As I sit down to write this blog entry, I find reflecting upon the last 22 days somewhat overwhelming. In that time we, eight friends, sailed a 65’ boat across the Atlantic. Every aspect of my daily routine changed dramatically and abruptly during those days at sea. I was pleasantly surprised that, apart from friends and family, I didn’t miss land much. It feels as if a year, or several, passed in those days. It was an adventure of a lifetime.
For me the journey started about three weeks before we left port. While out in London at a celebration, I received the following text from a friend:
The friend is the founder of a non-profit called <SailFuture>. The reason behind the last minute request is a somewhat of long-story, see <previous blog post>. We chatted details, but all I could say initially was “still trying to work out logistics; haven’t forgotten.” Finally it worked out, in large part to the encouragement of my friend Elizabeth (“Bizzy”) Walton, and the support of other friends and family.
Before I explain the sail further, let’s get some “FAQs” that usually come up in conversation out of the way.
I really trusted our Captain, Mike. One of the first things you see below deck is a handwritten sign reading “No Bullshit” taped in the galley. When I agreed to join the crossing, I trusted him not only to lead us safely across the Atlantic, but also to pull together a competent crew with good group dynamic. Here’s a story from our fourth day at sea that confirmed our faith in the Captain; it’s taken from an excerpt of my journal entry three days before Christmas.
People make the boat.
We had no Internet or contact with the “outside” world during our crossing, apart from a satellite connection reserved for emergencies. This meant that all of us onboard couldn’t hide behind our phones or laptops; we had to hang out old-school style. It took perhaps two or three days to shake the habit of wanting to check my phone for updates. It took us no time to get to know each other. I guess hours and hours of uninterrupted conversation does that to people. If there was ever a lull during a night shift we’d play “would you rather” or go around telling stories. When our phones were all dead and unchangeable, we sang songs totally out of key.
We got on like a house on fire. Thank goodness, because this would be a very different crossing if not. Maybe the circumstances forced us to get along, but I don’t think so. We actually did all get along. Mike, the one who brought us all together, must’ve had a feeling we all would.
People dynamics have the potential to make all things sour when you’re living confined in close quarters 24/7, everyone out of their comfort zone in some way or another. If one person is in a funk it quickly infects the group.
There was only one day that I felt we got anywhere close to the “Mutiny” scene in Life Aquatic. I won’t go into the details, as they are mundane and have lost context; but we got over it by listening to each other and saying nice things before the evening meal.
There’s an unspoken rule for me when living in any form of inescapable tight quarters: If a person has headphones on or has retreated to a spot on the boat away from others, leave them alone. On land if you saw your friend sitting at an edge of a café you’d of course approach them even if only for a quick hello. On the boat there is zero private space. There are times when you feel superfluous, question your usefulness, and become insecure. Other times when you, rather vainly, think what would this boat do without me?
We’ve plenty of sea stories. I kept a detailed daily journal. Nearly all of it I wouldn’t publish. It’s personal, but also needs a good deal of context. Maybe I’m just a bad storyteller, but chatting with friends I quickly realize only a few of the stories really click, even if they weren’t the most telling for me. Here’s one of them: On Boxing Day, I woke up in the middle of the night from what I thought was me falling asleep at the helm. I tried adjusting the wheel to the heel of the boat that I felt, but it was pitch black. We’re use to sailing in just moonlight, a small light illuminating our heading on the compass. I woke up the crewmember sleeping next to me. “Turn on the compass and windex lights! I can’t see anything! The boat isn’t responding!” They were confused. I was dreaming, of course, a very vivid dream. I laughed, relieved, once I realised I was in my bunk. Two days later another helmsman had the same dream. It became a recurring phenomenon.
Family and friends were the only things I genuinely missed about land. I especially missed my sister on her 18th birthday. She was playing squash for Team USA at the British Junior Open for squash (yes, she’s impressive) in England and I was supposed to be there. I wondered if she was going out for a drink since she’d be legal in the UK. I wondered how she was feeling about her game. I wondered if she was mad at me for missing her. Thinking more about it made me sad.
I also reflected on the high seas from a geopolitics perspective, something related to my PhD work. Appropriately, the week before departing I attended a workshop on the high seas sponsored by the <Global Ocean Commission> at my college in Oxford. All the proposed suggestions had a very tangible meaning now that we were out here on the high seas.
Many have likened the high seas to the Wild West. It’s true that you can get away with anything out here. There’s no one around. It is lawless. Check out the <New York Times’ fantastic expose on “Lawlessness on the High Seas">. On one side of the debate, there is the beautiful dream that the high seas could be a place, indeed an opportunity, for international peace and cooperation. But humans largely need a sense of ownership to act responsibility. I’m no exception. I remember sharing a bedroom with my sister when we were younger. She’s messy and I’m neat. There was a line in the room, dividing messy from neat. I never cleaned her side although she wouldn’t mind it. I’m also thinking of the high seas in terms of the game we often played on nightshifts. Would you rather have to respond to a radio call from a government every time you entered a country’s territorial waters, and perhaps even pay a toll for sailing across their waters? Or, would you rather have total freedom, but allow the ocean decline from overexploitation? What’s the balance? This issue begs for a longer discussion in a separate piece.
The thing I most wondered about before the trip was, how would it feel to be completely surrounded by nothing but ocean? For 22 days we saw nothing but ocean to all edges of the horizon. There was no reference for size or location. You could easily go crazy. If you didn’t trust the compass or maps you’d wonder, have we moved at all? Never have I seen so many consecutive sunsets and sunrises. Every day the sky put on a different show, between sunset, moonrise, and sunrise. Bizzy, a keen eye, saw nearly three-dozen shooting stars during the voyage.
My six-hour flight back to England over the same ocean was surreal. I’ll never look out the window during one of those crossings and view that ocean the same way.
Here’s a “FAQ” to end with:
Q: Would you do it again?
Jan 24, 2015 Many thanks to Stuart Young (@STUARTLIVEART), founder of Illustration Station, for creating this illustration during my TEDx Talk last weekend.
Feb 16, 2015 Teen Vogue ran a profile after the talk; full piece here.
Dec 15, 2015 The talk is finally live! Check it out at out on the TEDx YouTube channel:
I wrote an op-ed that TIME Magazine published about the need to create a multinational research effort (like CERN) for the oceans. It's a timely piece, with the UN General Assembly meetings starting in NYC this week and the UN's International Conference on Sustainable Development next week at Columbia University. Read more at TIME.com/4029379/cern-for-the-oceans/
Image and text via Pew Charitable Trusts.
I'm currently on Utila, an island off Honduras, collecting data. I'm working with Operation Wallacea and two other graduate students from Oxford. Regular updates are on my Instagram and our expedition Facebook page, "Thinking Deep."
Right to left that's Dom, Jack and me, the Oxford underwater research team.
A few weeks ago I was a guest on the Oceans Project Podcast hosted by Roger Overall and Sarah Weldon. Check it out! Episode 43: The Lady Who Lived Under the Sea
Many thanks to Stuart Young, founder of Illustration Station, for creating this illustration during my TEDx Talk last weekend! The video of the talk will be up on the TED website in a month or so.
Thank you Fusion for the nice profile! In the video I share (in 1 minute!) why the ocean is important and my goal to explore and more sustainably manage the ocean using marine robotics.
Check out other videos in their "genius" (flatteringly named) series too:
This morning Fabien and I dove in the hard helmets for two hours, collecting and labeling the jars with plankton samples from last night and then collecting DNA samples of the sponge species A. Felix.
Around lunchtime, we had an extra special visit from Fabien's sister, Celine Cousteau, who just returned from an expedition in the Amazon. She's an incredible women. I was excited to meet her! She even brought us real food -- a baguette and wedge of cheese -- to enjoy, and borrowed one of my spare Mission 31 wetsuits because we're the same size. I loved hearing her and Fabien talk about their adventures, switching between French and English. Celine said one thing she values most about living away from her comfort zone is the ability to gain a new perspective. Down here, we are "connected," so to speak -- we have Internet and regular visitors -- but we are also disconnected from our normal lives. After their filmed interview, Celine FaceTimed with her son and husband, and then we all took a selfie ...
Time has flown by. I've lived with the same five people for the past 13 days underwater, with two more days to go. Honestly, it's been more comfortable than I expected living underwater. I miss my friends and family, although we've kept up via Skype. In terms of health and comfort, I'm no worse for the wear. The ear infection I had last week is cleared up, although I'm still on prescribed ear drops. Our Navy doctor made a house call today and looked at my ear in the wet porch. I happened to meet Celine as she got out of the shower (to wash the salt off) and I was getting my ear exam on the step of the wet porch -- it's tight quarters here!
Observing the vibrant ecosystem in our backyard never gets old. It's different every day. This evening, we saw Wrasse mating. Our photographer Matt spent an hour filming a grouper at a cleaning station, letting cleaning shrimps go in and out of its gills. Matt said it took days for the grouper to get comfortable enough with his presence there.
In the afternoon, Liz, Professor Brian Helmuth, Francis from Northeastern, and I live chatted with the Boston Museum of Science from the coffee table at Aquarius. We told them all about our research, and how and why we're living underwater. The audience asked intelligent questions, like had we seen a particular type of coral, what was the future of Aquarius, and why is exploring the deep ocean such a challenge. It was a fun chat; the video is here.
On our evening dive, Liz and I deployed the 12 plankton traps for Amanda's research. It's our second-to-last day setting plankton traps, and we set them up in record time -- 30 minutes. The first time we set them up it took us a little over an hour. We used the extra time to look for two elusive species of sponge for DNA samples. We haven't found them yet; but tomorrow is another day.
The Northeastern surface team also posted some some beautiful images of sea life from around Aquarius in their blog Perks of Underwater Science with this video of a Goliath grouper who hangs around the habitat and is nicknamed JYC (after Jacques Yves Cousteau).
Now off to dinner, then bed!
There's more Grace Under Pressure blog at Aquarius Day 4: Science and Ballet Arts Undersea.
It's scary how fast time as flown by since living and working undersea. Only one day left on Mission 31 and there's so much we'd like to do! In a way, feel like we're just getting started. The research, ocean outreach, great people involved and connected with Mission 31, and experience exploring the ocean have been fantastic.
I was asked, "Have you been scared underwater?"
1. Spooked, but Not Scared
A reporter just asked if I've encountered anything scary on Mission 31. The answer is that I haven’t felt scared; but I have been spooked. I was in the water for over an hour setting up the Edgertronic camera, focusing so intently on the scene we were filming that I didn't notice day had changed to night. When I looked up, it was pitch-black around me. I shined my dive light to my left, and a reef shark brushed right past me! I was spooked, but not scared. We are always in communication with our support teams while diving via the communications line in our helmets, and are trained to deal with any sort of emergency. We also run through a checklist before every dive. I always feel safe down here. I also had a staring contest with a barracuda on one of my first Mission 31 dives.
Last summer I was working on a robot for NOAA in Hawaii and was scuba diving with a few friends there. We were about 20 ft. underwater. One of my friends is a marine biologist, and while we were swimming, I turned around and there was an octopus (about the size of a scuba tank) wrapped around him! My first instinct, of course, was to freak out! But I looked at my friend, and he looked so peaceful. He was playing with the octopus. The octopus was on him for a couple of minutes and then he swam away. It was one of those moments where you learned to balance emotion and logic. (Learn more about the amazing octopus in my blog.)
2. Scared, but Hopeful
In general, my greatest fear is that we’ll destroy many of our fragile marine ecosystems before we even know they exist, or have learned what they can teach us. As I said in our Mission 31 chat from Aquarius with National Geographic, "I find it incredibly frightening that we have the technology to completely destroy the ocean in my lifetime." The oceans are mankind’s life support system. They produce up to 70% of our oxygen, absorb huge amounts carbon dioxide that would otherwise asphyxiate us, filter vast quantities of natural and man-made toxins, and provide essential food for billions of people. Yet we know more about the dark side of the moon than we do about two-thirds of our own planet! We know our survival depends on the oceans, yet we’re killing them with overfishing, pollution, and acidification cause by greenhouse gases, not to mention the implications of rising temperatures. Based on current trends, experts believe all marine life will become extinct in my lifetime unless we start managing our oceans better -- now.
"We have to start with knowledge; there is so much more to learn and discover about our oceans."
How much plastic is in the ocean? Way too much. This infographic by One World One Ocean explains. We can do simple things, like reuse and properly recycle. We can also ask if the plastic we're using is necessary, such as straws.
Here's an earlier post from my blog: Hey, now you can buy clothes made from that plastic that's polluting the ocean.
Northeastern's magical Mission 31 talisman, the glowing dolphin. Credit Liz and the AAT Project
Fabien, Liz and my interview with National Geographic is now online at:
P.S Also check out the article on fellow Intel/CERN alum Taylor Wilson at the end of the NatGeo Mission 31 article. Keep up the great work Taylor!
"I find it incredibly frightening that we have the technology to completely destroy the ocean in my lifetime." -- Grace Young
Grace Young (B.S., MIT, Ph.D, Oxford) is an ocean engineer, aquanaut, and explorer currently working at X. She lived underwater as a scientist and engineer on Fabian Cousteau’s Mission 31, and is a National Geographic Explorer.