By John Tapley
For many scuba divers, their first introduction to the world beneath the waves came about at a young age and in a simpler time: glued to the television set, up-and-coming aqua explorers joined the adventures of Jacques Cousteau and his Undersea World, and the thrilling exploits of aquanaut Mike Nelson in Sea Hunt. Captivated by these explorations into unfamiliar territory, the youth’s imaginations sparked, leading into futures as aqua explorers, marine biologists, and maritime historians. In today’s world, three channels have been replaced by a myriad of options; and in turn, online streaming is rapidly overshadowing modern television.
The same spirit that drove Cousteau and his contemporaries still exists to this day, and thanks to technological advancements, can now be enjoyed and studied from across the planet in real time. Utilizing these systems, Nautilus Live, in partnership with Washington State’s Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS), and other groups and individuals dedicated to maritime history and exploration, conducted a special live stream on August 25: shedding light in deep waters; connecting people to the past; and enlightening viewers from shore to shore.
Nautilus Live is a project managed by the scientific exploration vessel E/V Nautilus, itself part of the Ocean Exploration Trust: a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded by acclaimed oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard, which focuses on conducting scientific research in the fields on geology, biology, maritime history, archaeology, and chemistry.
James Delgado, Senior Vice President of Search Incorporated (a company, which focuses on cultural resources and developing new avenues for marine archaeology and uncovering human history) and seasoned wreck diver and historian elaborates on the strong bonds between NOAA and Ocean Exploration Trust:
“NOAA has a longstanding relationship with Robert Ballard and the Ocean Exploration Trust is one of the key partners in the ongoing mission of NOAA exploration and research: to better understand; get out there; to boldly go and understand what’s in the deep ocean environment.
“As of late, that has included an increased focus on the waters adjacent to the United States and our exclusive economic zone. To that end, part of it has been looking at the National Marine Sanctuaries: to incorporate the cultural side from submerged paleo environments to modern shipwrecks. In that, not just doing it for those resources alone, but combining it in a cost-effective way to do all sorts of science in the deeper ocean: biology; colonization; geology and geography; how the environment influences them.
“The team on Nautilusis exceptional: they are highly professional with a variety of experiences, and work as a team, particular with those of us on shore thousands of miles away. We work as part of that team as if we were in the control shed itself.”
Nautilus Live shares the voyages of the E/V Nautilusin real time, and through these expeditions, the mysteries of the deep are revealed: unveiling the majesty of a world largely unknown, and producing data to fuel and enhance further oceanic research. Media feeds converge at the University of Rhode Island’s Interspace Center, and are then broadcasted to viewers at home, in the classroom, and out in the field.
Working closely with Ocean Exploration Trust, OCNMS Deputy Superintendent George Galasso, lauds this streaming technology, or telepresence:
“The telepresence technology they have developed for the Nautilusis a way to bring this information to the public, and allows collaboration from the science community and other experts to participate in real time with the cruise. For an archaeologist to go out for that cruise, the logistics would have been difficult: they would commit a week of their time riding the ship for a few hours’ dive, which isn’t practical. This technology has some added benefits, [though] not all research vessels have this capacity.”
The mission streamed from within OCNMS was part of a larger 16-day mission to survey the area – itself, part of a much greater expedition the E/V Nautilus has conducted throughout 2017 from British Columbia to Baja, California – and telepresence, combined with the usage of remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) made the day.
“Nautilushas three primary systems onboard: a deep ocean sonar mapping system; the Hercules and Argus ROV system; and telepresence. Sometimes [it can] run ROV projects from shore in real time, explains Frank Cantelas, current Acting Director for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries’ Maritime Heritage Program (an initiative of the National Marine Sanctuaries Program (NMSP)). “[The] purpose is to explore areas that have never been seen before: to see what’s living in the deep ocean off the west coast. And part of it is looking for cultural heritage as well, like shipwrecks.”
Finding and surveying shipwrecks in Washington State offers a veritable treasure trove, and the OCNMS contains a plethora of vessels ripe to be found: out of 197 historic shipwrecks, only eight have been fully discovered. During the telepresence stream, the E/V Nautilusshed light on the wreck of the USS Bugara: a World War II submarine, which fought in the Pacific, sinking merchant ships and enemy vessels; and participated in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. Although the Bugarahad been previous mapped by the Okeanos Explorer vessel in 2009, this summer’s expedition presented more detailed information concerning its intact condition and clues pointing to its sinking: prior to a torpedo test, it gradually filled up with water, and sank 800 feet below the surface.
The Bugarafindings weren’t the only treasure the Nautilus crew, its partners, and viewers enjoyed throughout the cruise. Sharing the history of this vessel was 96-year-old veteran Officer Ed Edner, who participated as a subject matter expert at the ECC (Exploration Command Center) at NOAA headquarters in Silver Springs, Maryland. From his position, thousands of miles away, the vet relayed important details concerning his time on the Bugara. For the parties involved in this expedition, Edner’s stories were critical in showcasing the vessel’s history.
“We do these missions so not only do we better understand and have a better catalogue of what’s out there; we do it in a way that’s transparent and takes place in front of scientists and the public,” says Delgado. “By having the participation of Commander Edner, we have an opportunity to share the stories of their service, and the sacrifices of those, like Bugara, that remain down there.”
Technology changes, but the drive for exploration and a greater understanding of our mysterious blue world is something deeply ingrained in humanity. From 007’s exploits to the hard sciences that discern and protect our waterways, media will be there to highlight thrilling adventures and ignite scientific curiosity. And from shore to shore, Nautilus Live will carry these aspects into the future.
“As we do this work, we go back and look at these ships not just as a ‘thing’: she reflects an important part of our history – sitting on her element on the bottom,” Delgado says. “It’s part of a larger museum that’s not just in the sanctuaries, but in the waters of the world.”
Check out the adventures of the E/V Nautiluslive at www.nautiluslive.org.