All Hands on Deck: A collective call to action

Post by Clarisse Sullivan

Nainoa Thompson speaking about Polynesian voyaging at All Hands On Deck. Photo by Jon Tadiello.

“What is more dangerous? The rogue wave, the pirate, the hurricane? Or staying tied to the dock?” Nainoa Thompson of the Polynesian Voyaging Society asked the audience this question during the National Ocean Exploration Forum, All Hands On Deck, at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In November 2018, this 2-day forum spearheaded by Katy Croff Bell brought together ocean enthusiasts from various backgrounds including science, film, arts, policy, and industry to reflect upon and address the need to protect our ocean biosphere through exploration, research, education, and community involvement. As an Ocean Discovery Fellow, I had the privilege to be a part of that conversation. I participated in highly interactive and inclusive panel discussions and workshops during the forum, as well as the Boston Ocean Day activities at the New England Aquarium. These discussions and workshops were unique opportunities where people representing many different specialities brain-stormed solutions to better educate and engage the public through the themes of play, imagine, immerse, create, explore, and connect.  

Engaging in play can be a powerful way to spark curiosity and creativity in both children and adults. So how can we promote curiosity and deeper learning for our oceans through play? Andre Fountain (Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program) and Reece Pacheco (World Surf League) suggest engaging the community through recreation. Play in the water and start from there! You can teach your friends and family how to swim or surf (or point them in the direction of those who can) so they can learn more about their local waters. If you don’t have an ocean in your backyard, you can incorporate hands-on activities like marine themed Lego projects, knot tying or maybe even nautical board games and escape rooms! Both kids and adults will be, in the words of Reece, even more “stoked” to learn and care about the oceans when they are engaged in play.

Participants building ducks out of Legos during the Play panel discussion. Photo by Jon Tadiello.

What about imagination? Our imaginations can run wild once curiosity sets in and this workshop focused on harnessing imagination to generate creative solutions to current ocean issues. Ella Al-Shamahi, a paleoanthropoligist at UC London and a stand-up comedian, uses humor to do just that. Her suggestion: make fun of the issue and use sarcasm to enlighten and educate people. You can demonize many of the problems we face including overfishing, using single-use plastic, deep sea mining, and other detrimental anthropogenic activities that contribute to climate change, through light-hearted comedy. Steven Gould and Steven Wendland (Technicolor) suggest the use of science fiction in movies and tv, respectively, to further amplify the human imagination about the ocean and stimulate engagement.

Photo I took with a view from the top of the New England Aquarium’s “Giant Ocean Tank” exhibit on Caribbean reefs.

Another way to foster engagement is through immersion. Vikki Spruill (New England Aquarium) reiterated that aquariums are the ultimate immersive experience as they bring the ocean, or at least a piece of it, to the public, which is especially important for those who have never been to the ocean. A different, and more accessible immersive way of instilling that excitement can be through film and documentaries that feature amazing clips of the ocean biosphere. Carlos Toro, an underwater photographer and filmmaker (Steer Digital) hopes that these open-access clips are used to bridge the privilege gap as not everyone can afford to go to aquariums or pay for ecotourism excursions.   

After the immersion session, I attended the Transmedia Storytelling workshop, which broadened my perspectives on the use of creative storytelling. Effective use of media and technologies can turn facts and figures into a digestible narrative, so that your audience can tip toe, wade, and eventually completely dive into your story. I had a blast thinking of innovative ways of recreating the joy of ocean discovery through immersive experiences during the Shared Exploration Beyond the Screen workshop. Our group suggested the creation of a virtual reality microbe experience where guests would walk into a first room, which we  termed Zoom Level 1,  featuring a coral reef display drawn and painted to scale with additional facts on the wall about coral reef ecosystems. This hypothetical exhibit would continue into a second room (Zoom Level 2), that essentially would allow the public to see the environment at an even higher magnification, bringing them closer to microbe level where free-living and coral-hosted microbes would again be drawn to scale. The room would have a scale bar so that guests could compare their height to the length of the microbe and feature microbial fun facts to help them better visualize and understand marine microbes. The workshops were indeed a great way to spend the second half of the first day of the forum!

Dr. Hansi Singh (University of Victoria) showing off knitted sea critters. Photo by Jon Tadiello.

The second day kicked off with a panel discussion on the importance of channeling our creative tendencies through art. I, for one, am a visual learner and saw the value in using tangible media as a way to teach concepts and maybe even learn a new skill.  Atmospheric chemist Dr. Hansi Singh demonstrated how that is possible by knitting sea critters and sharing her passion through her how-to knitting books. But why stop there? The marine world can be manifested in many artistic ways such as through sculpture, which is what engineer-turned-glass blower Whitney Cornforth has done through his ocean themed glass sculptures. But if knitting or glass blowing intimidates you, you can try other creative outlets like painting, drawing or making music as your medium for teaching about the ocean biosphere. All creative tendencies are encouraged to better connect with and impact our diverse communities.  

Participants checking out glass art work by Whitney Comforth (MIT Glass Lab). Photo by Jon Tadiello.

After the create panel discussion, the focus shifted to engaging participants in relation to ocean exploration and highlighted the technologies that currently exist like submersibles, depth profilers, ultra high definition cameras, and mapping technologies, which allow researchers to discover and study wider and deeper expanses of the ocean and the organisms that dwell there. The panel was optimistic that with increased scientific inquiry and technological advances, more cost effective, open-source, and user-friendly tools for communication, optical sensing, and data storage and distribution will become available and widely accessible. This would hopefully create more opportunities for public support and participation through citizen science, by allowing the public to explore their own marine (or freshwater) backyard!   

My view of Antonella Wilby (UC San Diego) researcher and National Geographic Young Explorer discusses her ROV used in studying and 3D mapping coral reefs.

The last, yet not least, theme of the forum was connection and the presentation that impacted me was from Margarita Mora’s (MIT Media Lab and Nia Tero) talk on the importance of securing indigenous guardianship of ecosystems. Local groups rely on ancestral knowledge to steward and protect their homes and key ecosystems for food, environment, and freshwater security. Since we are all connected by the oceans we too rely on the security of these resources so it serves everyone well to support and learn from their ways if we are to collectively create more sustainable solutions to climate and environmental issues.

The All Hands On Deck festivities culminated with Boston Ocean Day at the Simons IMAX Theatre at the New England Aquarium where both kids and adults were treated to a special viewing of select episodes from “The Deep”. This new animated sci-fi series reveal the wonders of the deep sea biosphere through the eyes of the Nekton family as they explore and investigate nautical mysteries rooted in natural phenomena. What made this event even more special was the post-show Q & A with oceanographers and marine science experts where audience members further dove into the topics discussed in “The Deep”, which ranged from whale entanglement and deep sea volcanoes to the twilight zone.

Poster for “The Deep”, a new cartoon series about the Nekton family who explore the sea. Slide from Steven Wendland (Technicolor).

To reiterate Nainoa’s sentiments, I believe that what is most dangerous is staying tied to the dock and passing up the opportunity to explore, learn and act. The 2018 National Ocean Exploration forum, All Hands on Deck, was truly an amazing experience and a call to action that serves as a reminder of our shared humanity and responsibility for the very thing the connects us all: the ocean. All Hands on Deck reinvigorated the dialogue on ocean preservation, education and outreach by incorporating the themes of play, imagination, immersion, and creation through art, exploration, and connection. I am thankful to Katy and the MIT Media lab for organizing this event and to NOAA, the National Geographic Society, Schmidt Ocean Institute and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation for making this experience possible.

This blog post was written by Clarisse Sullivan in the Rappé lab, a graduate student in the Biological Oceanography M. S. program at UH Mānoa.


Fall in Love With Marine Science at the Bishop museum



A future scientist explores a drop of seawater inside our marine microbe cube

Marine microbes are everywhere in the ocean. They come in different sizes and shapes and are a (mostly) beneficial and crucial part of the ecosystem. These were the main points the Rappé Lab wanted to deliver at the Fall in Love with Science Discovery Day on March 11th, which took place at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. This is a cool event, which I would highly recommend parents and caretakers bring their future scientists to, as over 40 organizations from across the islands were represented with booths explaining diverse topics in layman’s terms accompanied by fun projects and crafts for the kids. The Rappé Lab represented the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) alongside Dr. Eva Majerová from the coral ecology lab of Ruth Gates.

Our microbe personality quiz and coral bleaching activity at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology table at the Fall in Love with Science event 2018


Sarah Tucker and Lizzy Monaghan of the Rappé Lab run the booth.

Sandwiched between a booth with live cave fish and another with tiny shells kids could take home, we knew that we would have to be creative to get kids and parents interested in a display on microbes. Most children had no idea that the microbial world in the ocean was so vast, and most parents associated marine microbes with illness or harmful algal blooms. In order to demonstrate how abundant and diverse microbes in the ocean are, we tested out two interactive displays.




Clarisse Sullivan of the Rappé Lab explains that a single microliter of seawater can contain 10,000 viruses.

Our first activity involved building on a “Microbe Personality Quiz” borrowed from University of Hawaii’s Center for Microbial Oceanography. During the quiz, kids answer simple questions relating  to physical and behavioral traits of 20 different microbes. Once they finish the quiz, they were given trading cards with an image of the microbe that best matched their personality to take home. The microbe most similar to my personality was Thalassiosira weissflogii, a cylindrical diatom, because I like a clean bedroom, similar to how it organizes its cellular components into organelles leaving a tidy interior.

For our second display we really had a chance to  get crafty. Borrowing an idea from one of our graduate classes, we wanted to create a visual representation of the relative size and abundance of the different microbes that would exist in a drop of seawater. We settled on using different sized beads to represent cyanobacteria, picoeukaryotes, and bacteria, Styrofoam balls to represent diatoms, and glitter to represent the countless number of viruses that would be present in that tiny drop. After stringing everything up inside a cube we constructed from PVC, the “marine microbe cube” turned out to be an excellent attention-grabber for the kids passing by and opened the door for discussions on what each different object represented and why they were important. Unfortunately, our relatively to scale copepod (aka whale pool float) was not ready in time for this display but may make an appearance at our next event.


Dr. Eva Majerová of the Gates Lab demonstrates coral bleaching.

Our final activity demonstrated the tie between marine microbes and coral health, revealing how reef health can be affected by climate change. The Gates Lab provided model corals that change from red (healthy coral) to white (bleached coral) when moved from cool water to hot. This color change represents how corals expel their photosynthetic zooxanthellae when exposed to environmental stressors such as increased ocean temperatures, essentially starving the coral. Much like in real corals, not all of these model coral will “bleach”, opening up for discussion the potential resilience in certain species or individuals to changes in the environment.

Overall, the Fall in Love with Science event went well, as kids left our booth with an enhanced awareness of the microbial world, some might have been inspired with new career aspirations, and a few kids ended up unconvinced of these invisible organisms. As marine microbiologists who think about the microscopic world, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is familiar with the world of tiny organisms in our ocean, invisible to the human eye and incredibly diverse and abundant. It is important to spread awareness of this environment to create interest in groundbreaking research and new discoveries. The 2019 Fall in Love with Science Discovery Day has yet to be announced, but keep your weekends free next March and an eye out for an enhanced version of our marine microbe cube. 

Contributed by Elizabeth Monaghan, a graduate student in the M.S. program at in the Marine Biology department of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

A day in the life of the K-Bay monthly time series


Jason Jones and Sarah Tucker planning the route to the next sampling site in K-Bay. Photo credit: Evan Barba

It’s not easy, but it’s exceptionally rewarding. Overall, that is how I feel about our monthly sampling of surface seawater marine microbes from Kāneʻohe Bay, Hawaiʻi. Leading up to the target date we scan our favorite websites for wind, wave, and weather forecasts, checking and double-checking for the most accurate report. Sometimes planning is easy and there are weeks of little wind- and wave-action. These past few winter months however, have not been so straightforward. Forecasts change quickly in Hawaiʻi and, often so do our sampling plans. Fortunately, we are based at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) on the island of Moku o Loʻe in the Southern portion of Kāneʻohe Bay, Oʻahu. HIMB is equipped with a boat fleet and quick access to this idyllic, coral-dominated tropical embayment; K-Bay as we lovingly refer to it.

Sampling at sunrise, and a view of the morning glass on Kāneʻohe Bay. Photo credit: Evan Barba

Once we finally have sufficiently good weather, its time to get out and sample! You may be asking, “what and where exactly are we sampling?” We have a long list of samples to gather including collecting cells on filters to collect DNA and RNA from the microbial community, filtering water to collect the phytoplankton pigments and water samples for nutrient analysis. We also preserve samples for cultivation experiments, counting cells via flow cytometry, and single cell sorting. Lastly, let’s not forget those important in situ YSI measurements including dissolved oxygen, temperature, salinity, and pH. Overall, we focus on gathering these samples across the coastal to oceanic interface, and have 10 sampling sites total. These ten sites send us navigating between coral patches and over, between, and across oceanic swells, from the Southern portion of K-Bay to a parallel with Mokoliʻi (aka Chinaman’s hat) in the north of K-Bay.

Kelle Freel, Mike Rappé and Sarah Tucker, sampling on K-Bay.

The goal of the monthly sampling is to examine the population dynamics of marine microbes. This monthly sampling will occur for the next three years and ideally for much longer than that. Very few marine microbe-focused time-series are available for coastal environments and even fewer for tropical coastal systems. Thinking about the number of potential projects and information provided by this type of comprehensive dataset is overwhelmingly exciting. Almost as exciting as all of this field work that I am elated to be a part of.

Despite having less predictable weather these past few months, during our February monthly collection we were pleasantly surprised to be joined by a pod of humpback whales while collecting at our offshore sites.  The peak of whale season in Hawai’i is from January to March, but I am hopeful for another encounter this coming month. Although, this wasn’t our first “wildlife sighting”; we often spot sea turtles and seabirds like brown boobies and occasionally spot manta rays or a Trichodesmium bloom in action; spotting whales while collecting microbes has made February my favorite sampling trip thus far. Thinking about life and its metabolic, evolutionary, and ecological mechanics at these two extremely different but interrelated scales is just astonishing. Who knows what excitement and surprises our field and lab work over the next three years will bring!

A perfect morning view of the Koʻolau Range, we definitely enjoy the good weather, especially when sampling. Photo credit: Evan Barba

Contributed by Sarah Tucker, a graduate student in the Ph.D. program at in the Marine Biology department of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.



Wrapping up the North Pond 2017 expedition!

Aloha again from the Atlantic Ocean! The cruise is wrapping up, we’re getting near the end! The Rappé lab representatives have finished up our last dive. We managed to collect more crustal fluid from the deep sea CORKs we’ve been sampling. As was the case every time we sent our equipment down to ~4,500 meters, we were anxious to see our bags filled and on deck, definitely wanted to end the expedition on a high note.

Continue reading

12 Days on the water

The transit to North Pond took just about a week, we arrived Monday afternoon at our sampling site. We had spent the transit cleaning and prepping our gear. Monday morning was filled with a little bit of anticipation and plenty of preparation for sending our sampling equipment down to the seafloor.


Clarisse and I are here to collect fluid from borehole observatories installed previously called Circulation Obviation Retrofit Kits (CORKs). These CORKs allow us to access the fluid under the seafloor. We essentially hook a hose up to the CORK and fill specially designed bags with the crustal fluid. The bags are held on Jason in one large box on the front of the ROV (the “front porch”) and six smaller boxes on the back. To fill the smaller boxes, we divert the water to a manifold with multiple ports. In addition to the boxes, there are ports connected to filters so that we can pass water through them while Jason is sitting on the seafloor. From the Jason control van (aka the command center), we can change which port the water is flowing through, so our routine includes filling up all the bags in the boxes and passing fluid through the filters.IMG_4039


Monday evening the anticipation built as we strapped our equipment onto Jason and the Jason engineers then went through their pre-dive to check that everything was ready to roll. We wrapped up yet another fantastic meal (the food has been seriously amazing), then Jason was hoisted into the air, over the side of the ship, into the rolling swells. Deploying the ROV at night made for a dramatic first dive, but…life is full of challenges, even more of them when you’re working at over 4,000 meters deep, and not long into the dive one of the hydraulic arms started leaking oil in a steady stream, the dive was definitely over.


After a 3 hour ascent, time to repair the arm, and a quick look to make sure everything was still strapped on tightly, Jason was sent back down to about 4,300 meters. Another few tasks were accomplished before yet. another. leak. Major bummer, we didn’t get to start collecting fluid samples and already two dives had met untimely ends. Jason was hauled onto the deck yet again, but this time they didn’t just do a quick fix, the whole ARM was replaced. Rough night for Jason, undergoing surgery before heading back to work.


Third time’s a charm though, and on that dive numero tres we managed to collect over 100 liters of crustal fluid. Everyone was happy to grab their bags of water, and I can’t tell you how stoked Clarisse and I were that it was a success. We might be the main people orchestrating the water collection, but these samples are key to multiple experiments for different labs on the ship.


Whew, what a relief! We unloaded our first set of boxes, and turned around to load the next set up – when working to get everyone’s samples and experiments in, time is of the essence! We had two more successful dives after that first round, this week has been a packed cycle of pulling samples off the ROV and loading everything back up to do it again. The actual fluid sampling process takes about 7 or 8 hours in the control van and as I type, equipment for our last sampling run is sitting on Jason on the deck ready to head down to the bottom.

In addition to whatever experiments and gear we have to deal with on board, all of the scientists are assigned a 4 hour block of time during the day or night to go oversee logs as well as take photos and videos of any experiments performed during the dive. The watch is only required if Jason is in the water, so we get to spend time sitting in the control van.


I was a lucky duck yesterday morning since there was some time to kill before the dive was ended and I got a few minutes to sit in the driver’s seat and fly Jason around the sea floor. Probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done, and not to be forgotten soon. More water sampling is on the way, our fingers are crossed for the next round!

Contributed by Kelle Freel, a postdoc at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.


IMG_3711The last few days before leaving port were spent on prep: securing equipment and supplies, troubleshooting (of course), and buying crucial items (chocolate and cable ties). However, Monday morning, everyone stopped to wave to a crowd waiting to see the ship off as we left port. This cruise is our captain’s last before retiring, and in his honor the ship even fired off cannonballs as we departed. The weather was beautiful, not a cloud in the sky, and the sailing has been smooth. Let’s hope this day is a sample of what will come over the next 30.

The main command center where the Jason pilot, additional engineers, and science team sit during Jason dives is called the ‘control van’. Along the front wall there are big beautiful screens to track what’s going on, a network of cables and wires that line the walls, and it is very VERY well air conditioned. We spent a few days testing communications between our equipment and the sampling gear on Jason in the control van. While we’ve checked this in the lab, going through the motions on the ship has, of course, has presented a few unexpected hurdles.

IMG_3743As I said in the last post, we’re heading to a deep sea observatory, but I didn’t really explain what that is. To study processes under the sea floor, equipment referred to as Circulation Obviation Retrofit Kits (CORKs) can be used. We are heading to North Pond where multiple CORKs were previously installed. This site is unique since the sediment in this basin stops seawater exchange from under the crust with the deep ocean, allowing researchers to focus exclusively on what is happening under the sea floor.

Clarisse Sullivan in the Rappé lab has been leading our group as we set up equipment to collect fluid from under the seafloor. As you might guess, we have customized sampling gear that connects to the cork, and using a manifold we can extract fluid and shunt it directly into specialized bags or pass it through filters as the ROV is stationed at each site.

We have a laptop with 3 key cables that hook into the control van, these three cables will let us (1) let us tell a pump to start and stop collecting water as well as regulate the pumping speed, (2) record data from an oxygen optode, and (3) let us switch the outlet of where the water being pumped will be sent to (e.g. either to a bag or a filter).

Sunday’s attempt to get our laptop to command the pump and sampling manifold on Jason was not completely successful, although in the evening we thought we had cleared up the problem. We ran into a similar hiccup Monday, and eventually figured out one cable needs to be replaced. The head electrical engineer for Jason also had to switch a few connections. In the end, we finally managed to get the pump pumping, data from the optode, and the manifold switching shunts, whew! It is still going to be a challenge to replace the cable but at least we know what the issue is.

IMG_3776On Tuesday evening, the winch that deploys Jason was tested in order to safely lower equipment into the ocean. In the meantime we have continued setting things up for our first dive at North Pond. It’s absolutely great to be out at sea with such a talented and interesting group of people, we’re looking forward to the days to come!

Expedition to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge on the Research Vessel Atlantis


Equipment loading on the R/V Atlantis at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

A few Rappé lab members, as well as representatives from Grieg Steward’s lab also at the University of Hawaii, recently made the treck from Oahu to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

We are currently preparing for an expedition to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge on the WHOI research vessel (R/V) Atlantis. In just a few days, we’ll be heading to North Pond,  located along the western flank of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.


Troubleshooting on Jason

Our first day on the boat was mainly spent unpacking all of our carefully stacked and labeled boxes filled with (hopefully) everything we’ll need to deploy our sampling setup. We sorted out the contents of the pallets we had shipped to WHOI from Hawaii with everything from custom designed equipment to lab gloves, bungee cords, and cable ties (so many cable ties).

We will be deploying our sampling equipment on Jason, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) built at WHOI. It’s key to get everything we need attached and functioning smoothly on Jason as soon as possible. We have a few more days in port to set things up, get it all running, and prepare for deployment to the deep sea.


Preparing equipment in the lab

As our expedition gets underway, we’ll post more descriptions of how and what will be sampled at North Pond with Jason on this expedition. One of our main pieces of equipment consists of a large frame containing boxes with custom designed bags inside to hold seawater collected from an existing subseafloor borehole observatory. Yesterday, while attempting to mount our gear on Jason, we realized some changes would be required if everything was going to fit. Since some modifications were made to Jason since the last deployment of this equipment, what used to slide into place snugly on the ROV is now too large. With some troubleshooting, a workshop to make changes, and some creativity, it looks like everything will work out fine, but I might knock on wood just in case.

Hopefully, there won’t be too many more bumps in the road, although it’s inevitable that there will be some challenges….but honestly, where’s the fun when everything’s easy? We look forward to keeping you posted on our progress on this exciting expedition, more to come from our journey at sea soon!

Contributed by Kelle Freel, a postdoc at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.


Sun setting on our first day of prep at WHOI