View From The Masthead

Advancing science and engineering for Earth's final frontier

In his opening remarks at The Oceanography Society’s inaugural meeting in 1989, David Packard explained how his family founded the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and how that led to the creation of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). He began by saying:

“This event has a rather special personal significance for me because, over the past 10 years or so, I have become addicted to the vision that within the next few years, the Monterey Bay will become one of the major world-class centers for ocean science.”

He went on to add:

“In my humble opinion, the oceans are a more important frontier for research that will bring more tangible benefits to the world than space, or high energy physics, or other areas that have received a high level of public interest and, therefore, political support. It is about time someone gave ocean science more attention.”
David Packard stands next to MBARI's remotely operated vehicle, Tiburon.

Packard believed that the ocean was one of the last true frontiers on Earth. Disciplined technological innovation, fueled by teams of scientists and engineers working as peers, could transform the field of oceanography and make it possible to address challenging ocean science problems in new and novel ways. Undoubtedly this would lead to many groundbreaking discoveries.

Reflecting on Packard’s words 30 years later offers a profound perspective. The Monterey Bay region now hosts over 30 institutions representing academic, non-profit, governmental, philanthropic, and for-profit businesses that have made Monterey Bay a mecca for professional marine scientists and engineers.

Immersed in that culture and driven by Packard’s vision, MBARI has focused on developing new technologies and approaches to overcome challenges that have historically limited our ability to explore the sea. This year’s Annual Report showcases just a few of these technologies that are finding use from the seafloor to the sea surface. The following articles will leave no doubt that a great deal remains to be learned about the ocean, its basins, and its inhabitants—even within the confines of Monterey Bay. Each year brings new findings that lend credence to Packard’s vision of an “ocean frontier” awaiting discovery.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report details the triple threat of climate change to ocean ecosystems: warming, acidification, and deoxygenation. Illustration by Emily Hess.

At the same time, we now live in a world that has profoundly changed in recent decades. The Earth has reached an inflection point. Human activities—the burning of fossil fuels, mineral and food extraction, and waste dumping—threaten marine life and related ecosystems that benefit society. This leaves us in a race against time to document, understand, and communicate the consequences of known human impacts on the sea, while simultaneously devising innovative tools and techniques to foster ocean exploration and discovery. Future stewardship of ocean resources will depend on a greater understanding of factors that affect the diversity and abundance of marine species, as well as the function of the ecosystems they inhabit.

The emerging footprint of human influence is increasingly clear—fossil fuel emissions are harming the ocean. Photo by Todd Walsh.

This modern-day realization shapes the work we do and builds on Packard’s vision. In addition to our core mission of pursuing ocean exploration, we are strategically applying our talent and technology to direct fundamental research in ways that can transform resource management, advance conservation action, and inspire the next generation of ocean champions. Strengthening our unique partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a primary means by which we are implementing this strategy.

MBARI’s partnership with the Aquarium provides a powerful platform to advance public understanding of ocean science and conservation. Each year the Aquarium welcomes nearly two million visitors with exhibits and lectures. It reaches over 80,000 students through field trips and teen programs that are free of charge and provides immersive professional development opportunities for hundreds of teachers. In 2019, the Aquarium expanded its science education platform for students and teachers by opening the Bechtel Center for Ocean Education and Leadership. The $42 million center is a historic investment in ocean science education and youth development—evidence that the shared goal of responsibly managing ocean resources for the benefit of future generations is within reach.

Presley Adamson, the producer for the Monterey Bay Aquarium film and video team, films MBARI ROV pilot Knute Brekke during a research expedition. The MBARI and Aquarium video and social media teams have been collaborating closely to amplify outreach for both organizations.

Looking ahead, we at MBARI remain steadfast in the belief that disciplined technological innovation can transform our understanding of the ocean as well as our ability to address the urgent threats it faces. In the coming year, we will continue to draw on our unique strengths to impact ocean science and technology meaningfully. We are working toward a future where our ocean is truly visible, a future where our locally grown technology is scaled globally to monitor and predict change, and to foster exploration.

Please join us as we continue our journey by visiting our website, and subscribing to our Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram feeds. We love sharing stories about the work we do—oceanography is a contact sport! And we especially like hearing from you, so keep in touch and be a part of our team.

Chris Scholin

President and Chief Executive Officer

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