Over the last two weeks, our team completed the ROV education and mentoring module of the NOAA sponsored “Crossing the Channel” outreach program. It is embedded in the respective Marine Science Academies at Channel Islands High and Frank Middle Schools. The students successfully designed and piloted eight different PVC ROVs!

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For the final module, both the high and middle school students took a two day trip to our Santa Rosa Island Research Station! Last Friday our team went to pick up the students from the island aboard the NOAA research vessel, the Shearwater.

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Once the students were aboard, our team worked with the crew of the Shearwater with the goal of collecting preliminary research on fish behavior using our OpenROVs. Unfortunately the weather did not co-operate, we had to anchor just off shore of the island, instead of in the Santa Barbara channel, which we had planned. Despite the wind, we were able to launch two of our units. We demonstrated how we use the ROVs in research, and then allowed the K-12 students to get some hands on experience piloting!

Our ROV Control Center
Our ROV Control Center.
Students observing the data collection process.
Students observing the data collection process.

After about an hour, the surge and wind started picking up. In order to find fish, we were diving the ROVs near kelp beds, but the conditions and diminishing visibility resulted in kelp entanglement! We attempted to recover the ROV by navigating through, but in the end, we had to send down a diver to retrieve it. The ROV made it out unscathed; luckily we had a very experienced diver. The trip was a great experience for the middle, high and undergraduate students alike!

The semester is quickly coming to a close, there are roughly two weeks left, and the team still has a lot of work to do! The senior members of our team are preparing to present their projects and findings at the SAGE Student Research Symposium. In addition, they are working furiously to complete their final capstone project papers.

In exciting news, we have begun to collaborate with Dr. Mike Allen and his master’s student Guy Trimby, a team from Plymouth Marine Laboratory, which is located in the United Kingdom. They are working on methods of specific biological molecule detection near coral reefs, using ROVs. We hope to aid them with their OpenROV modification and development, and in the future, with data collection. We are also preparing for our upcoming trip to the Cook Islands this summer, where we will be characterizing some of the reefs surrounding the islands!

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