View from the Masthead

MBARI’s continued commitment to give the ocean the attention it deserves

In 1987, David Packard addressed an audience at the inaugural meeting of the Oceanography Society, noting:

“In my humble opinion, the oceans are an important frontier for research that will bring more tangible benefits to the world than space or high energy physics… It is about time someone gave ocean science more attention.”

Thirty-five years later, we have come to appreciate that the global ocean not only represents the most important frontier as Packard saw it but that it also plays a vital role in sustaining all life on Earth—human civilization included. It is also abundantly clear that we have only begun to explore our ocean, visualize its interior and the seafloor, and comprehend the intricacies of its inner workings.

A new staging building is under construction at the end of Sandholdt Road, extending MBARI’s campus. Our location at the center of Monterey Bay allows access to the deep ocean and the continued pursuit of Packard’s vision to give ocean science more attention. Image: Todd Walsh © 2021 MBARI

At the start of this year, looking back on the events of 2020, I was struck by Packard’s 1987 charge and the circumstances we found ourselves in. MBARI, like all organizations, had faced what can only be described as an unprecedented year: the emergence of COVID, a need to develop new work practices, and a rash of destructive wildfires that threatened communities surrounding MBARI, to name but a few of the unprecedented hurdles we had faced—all of which played out against the backdrop of a global call for social justice.

Business as usual was no longer a viable option, and innovation on all fronts was needed for us to continue our mission of ocean exploration for the betterment of all, as Packard intended. The successful partnership among engineers, scientists, and marine operations professionals that Packard foresaw being so transformative when he founded MBARI and gave his 1987 speech has paid dividends. Autonomous systems and telecommunication capabilities now provide a means for bolstering our collective presence on shore and at sea, and engaging the public at large—illustrating how engineering is changing ocean science and how ocean science is driving engineering innovation. Our commitment to making MBARI an inclusive workplace has strengthened, and as a team, we ushered in a host of exciting discoveries despite the apocalyptic hangover of 2020.

Now, exactly one year after reflecting on 2020, we look back on 2021. The widely anticipated “return to normal” did not materialize. The second year of the COVID pandemic has unfolded, bringing with it many familiar challenges. A “new normal” is emerging as we build on the hard-won lessons of 2020, backed by readily available medical advances that help defend us against the worst of what COVID offers. Similar to 2020 and all of MBARI’s years that have preceded it, 2021 was once again marked by resilience, adaptation, innovation, and a host of remarkable discoveries as the coming pages so vividly chronicle.

Despite the challenges of the second year of the COVID pandemic, MBARI’s at-sea operations continued. Image: Darrin Schultz © 2021 MBARI

Looking towards 2022, our hope and optimism remain steadfast. The “new normal” taking shape in the wake of such challenging times points to an opportunity for a brighter future where we have new tools and techniques not only for revealing the awe-inspiring beauty of our global ocean and the incredible diversity of life that it sustains but also for managing and conserving its resources wisely in ways that were not possible before. We also foresee ocean science and engineering being a more inclusive and attractive career opportunity for everyone. The ocean plays a critically important role in sustaining global economies, governing weather and climate, and shaping land-based ecosystems—it is the proverbial 1,000-pound gorilla in the room. People from all walks of life have a stake in the fate of the sea and in ensuring its health, regardless of their background or where they live.

Design rendering of the R/V *David Packard*. Illustration: Glosten © 2021 MBARI

Living up to Packard’s charge to “give ocean science more attention” is a multi-generational, multidisciplinary call to action that requires an unwavering commitment to teamwork, vision, a willingness to take risks, and a culture of practice where new ideas have a chance to flourish regardless of the status quo. Never has that been more apparent than this past year as many of MBARI’s longtime employees retire and move on, and the opportunity for new ocean enthusiasts to take the helm takes root. Indeed, over the course of 2021, we welcomed two new principal investigators and several other staff members who will be central figures of that budding cohort, with more to follow in 2022. MBARI’s investment in new state-of-the-art shoreside facilities and a custom-designed flagship research vessel, the R/V David Packard, all of which are under construction now, offer the coming generation a chance to dream of what is possible and the means to tackle problems in transformative ways precisely as Packard envisioned decades ago, directed by the needs of modern times. There has never been a better moment to get involved in what is arguably the most pressing issue of our lifetimes: coming together as a global community to fully understand our amazing blue planet and preserve it for future generations.

Monterey Bay Aquarium is bringing the deep sea to land with a new exhibition in the spring of 2022. This exhibition builds upon the expertise of their animal care staff and scientists, their partnership with MBARI, and nearly four decades of MBARI experience. Image: © Monterey Bay Aquarium

Packard presciently pointed out that “the oceans are an important frontier for research,” now we know just how important, timely, and urgent that research is. Join us to continue this journey by visiting our website, and subscribing to our YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok feeds. We love sharing our stories with you and hearing from you. Stay tuned to see what will make 2022 another amazing year of ocean exploration and discovery!

And among the many things on the horizon this year that we eagerly await is the grand opening of the Into the Deep exhibition this spring presented by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, our education and conservation partner. The exhibition will offer a glimpse into the deep sea and the inner workings of MBARI like nothing before. It’s a chance to see an amazing array of deep-sea creatures and seascapes that will spark your curiosity and imagination, and a look at some of the people and equipment that help bring those discoveries to light. You don’t want to miss it. See you on the water!

Chris Scholin

Construction begins on MBARI’s new flagship research vessel

A new state-of-the-art ship will expand MBARI’s research capabilities.