Ocean Discovery League Newsletter | December 2022

Ahoy hoy!

As we near the end of the Ocean Discovery League’s first full year of operations, I want to express my sincere gratitude for your continued support of our mission.  

It has been challenging to build an organization and community through the ongoing pandemic. I am so proud of the ODL team for everything we have accomplished, including the release of the Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment and the support of our partners worldwide as they establish deep-sea exploration and research programs of their own.

I can’t wait to dive into 2023, starting with the inaugural Ocean Exploration Day on January 23, 2023. Please save the date to celebrate the anniversary of the first dive to the deepest point in the ocean, including a live event with deep sea explorers Don Walsh and Dawn Wright.

I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season and health and happiness in the new year!

Dr. Katy Croff Bell
Founder & President
Ocean Discovery League

2022 Year in Review

Low-Cost Sensors & Systems

Throughout 2022, we continued the testing and research on our low-cost sensor prototype, Maka Niu, with 12 units currently deployed in nine countries. Our global test, design, and engineering leads reached several new milestones this year.

Critical to expanding the capabilities of Maka Niu at depths beyond ambient light, we developed an accompanying lighting module, initially designed in 2020 by a then-MIT undergraduate researcher, Margaret Sullivan.

In early July 2022, Sheena Talma deployed Maka Niu on three dives to 900-1400 m in the Indian Ocean, and just recently, Tim Noyes achieved a record depth of 1,500 meters on a dive in Bermuda.

This year also saw the publication of two fundamental papers on our sensor development work. In November, our design and engineering teams published Maka Niu: A Low-Cost, Modular Imaging and Sensor Platform to Increase Observation Capabilities of the Deep Ocean in the open-access journal Frontiers in Marine Science. As a result of the collaborative design work done prior to development, we also published Low-Cost, Deep-Sea Imaging and Analysis Tools for Deep-Sea Exploration: A Collaborative Design Study in the open-access journal Frontiers in Marine Science in August.

What's Next? Modular Ocean Discovery System (MODS)

Our next phase of sensor development will build on our previous learnings and codesign work to create a fully modular ocean sensor system with a depth rating of 6,000 meters. Inspired by the LEGO® building system, it will be a low-cost, low-logistics exploration system composed of stand-alone, modular components (both sensing and operational) that a user can configure in any imaginable way.

Accelerating Ocean Data Analysis

One of our core initiatives is accelerating ocean discovery by advancing AI-enabled underwater image and environmental data analysis. In 2022, we worked with Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) on Ocean Vision AI (OVAI), a comprehensive tool leveraging artificial intelligence to accelerate the processing of—and access to—ocean video and imagery. In October, it was announced that ODL will be co-leading Phase II of this $5M NSF-funded Convergence Accelerator project.

We also continued our work on FathomNet, the open image database for training machine learning algorithms to help analyze ocean images and video, with inclusion in the Nature Scientific Reports publication, "FathomNet: A Global Image Database for Enabling Artificial Intelligence in the Ocean."

This year saw the implementation of our work on our National Geographic AI for Earth grant, in partnership with Microsoft, to build tools to accelerate the image database by aggregating iconic image data from existing online databases. We are excited to include this work in the broader OVAI and FathomNet initiatives in 2023.

What's Next? Ocean Vision AI Development

Next year, we will work to implement the second phase of the OVAI project with the full Convergence Accelerator team. We will also explore developing an Ocean Video Preservation Project to identify, digitize, and preserve all existing deep ocean video before it is damaged beyond repair.

Community and Capacity Building

Broadening the community of deep-sea explorers who have been historically excluded from ocean exploration and research is core to our mission.

The release of the 2022 Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment, the most comprehensive assessment of the technical and human capacity for deep-sea exploration and research in every coastal country and territory with deep ocean worldwide, represented a culmination of over 18 months of effort by the entire ODL team. This report documented significant global inequities in deep-sea exploration worldwide, and the data will guide our efforts—and the actions of many others—moving forward.

October marked another exciting month for ODL as we co-hosted an ocean exploration workshop in the Cook Islands with Sharks Pacific and the Sharks Pacific Cook Islands Trust to train early career researchers in ocean exploration, engineering, and research techniques. Over two weeks, several young women received hands-on experience with Maka Niu and other low-cost technologies for studying the ocean.

Katy Croff Bell participated as an instructor in the inaugural 2022 Deep-Sea Expedition Planning Master Class for the Crustal Ocean Biosphere Research Accelerator (COBRA) with Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. The mission of COBRA is to accelerate research on the structure, function, resilience, and ecosystem services of the crustal ocean biosphere to inform decision-making.

We are also proud to partner with the Experiment Foundation on the Ocean Solutions Fund this year and beyond. This fund provides a fundraising platform for local ocean projects worldwide.

What's Next? Ocean Discovery Fellowship

Informed by the baseline data collected by the capacity assessment, ODL is working on designing the Ocean Discovery Fellowship. This fellowship will be ODL's flagship equity program to identify, train, and support ocean explorers and researchers from historically excluded backgrounds worldwide. We aim to foster a demographic and generational shift that will change how we understand and care for our oceans.

Our mission is to accelerate deep ocean exploration by developing accessible systems to broaden the community of those who explore and understand the deep sea.

ODL In the News

In addition to several published papers, we were excited to have our work featured in multiple news outlets this year.

Smithsonian Magazine: This Low-Cost Device Could Make the Deep Sea Accessible to Everyone
Hakai Magazine and Smithsonian Magazine highlighted our Maka Niu camera system and the future of low-cost sensor systems.
Read Article

Popular Science: Your gaming skills could help teach an AI to identify jellyfish and whales
Ocean Vision AI will engage community members at all levels, including the general public, through a gaming interface to accelerate image classification.
Read Article

In celebration of Women's Futures Month, the Smithsonian Institution hosted #IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit, the most women statues ever assembled in one location, at one time. This exhibit was part of the AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador initiative because "a 2016 study led by former US Treasurer Rosie Rios found that the ten largest US cities publicly displayed fewer than six statues of real women."

ODL President and Founder Katy Croff Bell was included as one of the 122 printed statues of contemporary female STEM professionals and role models from various industries, including exploration, entertainment, sports, business, and academia.

Ocean Exploration Day, January 23

Live Event with Don Walsh and Dawn Wright

On this day, January 23, in 1960, Jacques Piccard and US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh reached a record depth of approximately 10,911 meters (35,797 ft) in the research bathyscaphe Trieste in the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench near Guam in the Pacific. Their dive fueled public interest in the deep ocean and opened the door to possibilities never before available. Today, worldwide, we celebrate the wonder of and need for deep-sea research and exploration. 

In July, 2022, Dawn Wright, Chief Scientist at ESRI, became the first Black person to reach Challenger Deep, the deepest known point in the ocean. Her expedition aboard Limiting Factor with Victor Vescovo continued her work with deep ocean mapping by testing a new side-scan sonar never before used below 6,000 meters. 

Join us for a live discussion with Don Walsh and Dawn Wright, hosted by Katy Croff Bell to celebrate their contributions to ocean exploration.

Ocean Discovery League is excited to announce the launch of our platform to receive individual contributions from supporters. As a small non-profit organization, we rely on the generosity of donors and grant funds to support our critical work. We would be honored if you considered us in your year-end giving plans. 
Photo Credits: Tabby Berg, Vanessa Kahn, New England Aquarium
Copyright © 2022 Ocean Discovery League, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ocean Discovery League is a 501(c)3 Non Profit Corporation

Our mailing address is:
PO Box 182, Saunderstown, RI 02874

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