3-legged turtle swims past
Stuck in tropical storm
Boating past small island
I'm once again on the island of Utila conducting research with Operation Wallacea. I'm leading a team of four students 3D mapping the coral reefs here and retrieving 3D printed artificial reefs we placed last year. Our studies will help reveal how how reef structure, or architectural complexity, affects marine communities. My upcoming papers and thesis will be on the topic! Stay tuned!
Today for World Oceans Day I did a Google Hangout with school kids in Canada and the US. It was hosted by non-profit Exploring By the Seat of Your Pants, which aims to connect students with guest speakers to give them "virtual field trips" around the world. The founder, Joe Grabowski, calls it "knocking down classroom walls." This World Oceans Day they broadcasted 12 hours (6am - 6pm EST) of ocean-themed talks. You can watch my full talk here, or see the snippets from Q/A below.
This Memorial Day I'm thinking of those who lost their lives in military service both on land and at sea. There are a few good books on the subject of military underwater exploration. My favourites are Sealab: America's Forgotten Quest to Live and Work on the Ocean Floor, Blind Mans Bluff: The Untold Story of Cold War Submarine Espionage, and The Silent War: The Cold War Battle Beneath the Sea, although much of the research work is still classified.
I'm also thinking about my Grandma Bonnie, who passed away earlier this year. She served in the Air Force as a captain and nurse who ministered to many servicemen and women.
This autumn I was in Malta for a hot second filming for U-Boat Worx submarines with my friend and Mission 31 fellow crewmate Billy Snook. They make some beautiful submarines, mostly for yachts and yacht-owners (and their explorer friends). Check them out on their website. This was my first time in a submarine. It was thrilling!
Part I: In Malta on a Submarine
I created this "book" in a cool app called Steller (https://steller.co/).
Part II: Above and Below the Waves in Malta
Photos from the books laid out below...
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...
I'll also be talking at Somerville College in Oxford as part of their "Will Power Lunch" on May 21st.
... and again at Somerville College, on May 23, as part of a series on emotional well-being in research and fieldwork. Please message if you'd like more details.
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.
The MIT campus paper I wrote for as an undergrad, The Tech, is re-doing its website, so I thought it was a good time to revisit and compile my articles from back in the day. I wrote quite a bit as a staff writer and Arts Editor (and now I miss having a press pass to cultural events!). Next academic year I'm hoping to do some freelance arts writing for other publications; if anyone has ideas, please let me know. Meanwhile, feel free to browse the archive below.
Thanks Council for the Arts at MIT for making the experience so great. Most are surprised to see MIT ranked as the world's second-best school for art and design (QS Rankings).
I wrote the following piece for TerraMar; it's published online here.
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:
With the popular hastag #ILookLikeAnEngineer, it was a sweet surprise to see my sister Isabel's article (below). When I began in robotics, there were no girls involved at my school. Studies now show having role models in science and engineering that shatter stereotypes can be powerful for young girls who may be thinking about math, science, and engineering.
For three weeks over Christmas I'll help sail SailFuture's vessel Defy the Odds across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to the US Virgin Islands. See previous posts about SailFuture's #SailforJustice program (why the boat is currently in the Canary Islands) and about my time onboard last July.
After landing in the US Virgin Islands, Defy the Odds will take guests on week-long trips between January and April before the next iteration of its central mission -- providing high-risk juvenile offenders a transformative alternative to incarceration through training and teamwork at sea. Learn more about their "Vacations with a Purpose," and maybe you'll wind up on the boat as well!
I likely won't have Internet again until about January 6th. More updates to come after that! I'll be taking plenty of photos and keeping a journal, so until then, bon voyage!
I spent an incredible week on the #SAILFORJUSTICE boat in July (see post). The nonprofit SailFuture helps troubled teens break the cycle of behavior that keeps them in the criminal justice system by living, learning, and training together on a donated racing yacht and other sailing programs. You can read about their fantastic success and transformational program on their website.
Their crew of formerly incarcerated teens is now training for a 2,700-mile race across the Atlantic Ocean. Follow their story by signing up for updates. Here's the most recent status report from the program's founder and executive director, Michael Long:
Trying and learning is all part of success. See important update from the #SAILFORJUSTICE team.
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.
This event is also advertised on the Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth website.
Thanks to all who joined! You can watch a recording of the talk here.
I'm one part shy of finishing Snyder and Murphy's The Wake, a graphic novel about ocean exploration gone awry. I recommend! And for other action-packed stories of ocean adventure, check out Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson (a true story!) and the Dirk Pitt Adventures by Clive Cussler (whose son Dirk visited us in Aquarius during Mission 31!).
Sneak peak of The Wake
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
Grace Young is an MIT ocean engineer, aquanaut and ocean explorer. She was a scientist/engineer with Cousteau's Mission 31. She's currently a PhD student at University of Oxford, chief scientist for the Pisces VI deepsea submarine, and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer.