MBARI invites the public to dive behind the scenes on a research expedition

Since its founding, MBARI has been guided by a vision of building and using technology to make the majesty of the deep ocean more accessible—for scientists, engineers, and the public. MBARI’s notable reach on social media allows us to share our discoveries and encounters in the deep sea with a wide audience.

A research expedition is one of the most exciting and logistically complicated aspects of ocean science and engineering. In 2021, MBARI invited the public to dive behind the scenes on a research expedition to get a live, close-up view of the deep and what it takes to study and explore the ocean in the inaugural Live from the Deep virtual event.

The R/V Western Flyer is MBARI’s flagship research vessel, serving as the platform for deploying the ROV Doc Ricketts. Expeditions can last up to 10 days and range along the entire west coast of North America. Image: © 2015 MBARI

An expedition to Sur Ridge in June of 2021 offered the perfect opportunity to highlight the importance of ocean exploration, innovative research technology, climate change, marine sanctuaries, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s upcoming deep-sea exhibition, and other meaningful topics.

Sur Ridge is a deep rocky outcrop located off the coast of central California that rises 500 meters (1,640 feet) above the seafloor and supports lush gardens of deep-sea corals and sponges. Over the past decade, MBARI and NOAA’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) have partnered to explore and study this remarkable underwater oasis and better understand the growing impacts of climate change on the corals and sponges discovered there. Working aboard the R/V Western Flyer, researchers use a suite of state-of-the-art marine technology—including cameras, high-resolution mapping tools, and the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts—to learn more about the countless mysteries that exist in the deep sea.

Along with our livestream partners, MBNMS and Monterey Bay Aquarium, we gave viewers a peek into what it takes to explore the deep sea and introduced them to the team—scientists, engineers, educators, and aquarists—needed to make this a successful mission. In conjunction with the livestream, MBNMS hosted a webinar Revealing the Mysterious Coral and Sponge Gardens of Sur Ridge in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to help publicize the event. The webinar, featuring MBARI intern and University of Rhode Island graduate student Hannah MacDonald and MBARI Senior Education and Research Specialist George Matsumoto, focused on how the expedition to Sur Ridge would further our understanding of unique deep-sea habitats.

The jagged rocky surface of Sur Ridge supports an abundance of corals and sponges, which in turn provide refuge for countless fishes and invertebrates. Image: © 2016 MBARI

Hannah MacDonald served as host for Live from the Deep, setting the stage for the event and interviewing guests. On-site at MBARI, we had live interviews with George Matsumoto, MBNMS Research Director Andrew DeVogelaere, Monterey Bay Aquarium Curator of Fish and Invertebrates Megan Olhasso, and MBARI Intern Lyndsey Classen. MacDonald also interviewed MBARI Senior Scientist Jim Barry and Chief ROV Pilot Knute Brekke live from the ROV control room of the Western Flyer. Our team shared highlights from MBARI’s video archive along with live footage from the ROV on the seafloor 1,232 meters (over 4,000 feet) deep in Sur Ridge. The interviews and supporting videos featured in the broadcast gave audiences a first-hand look at what it’s like to explore the deep ocean and provided insights into the wide range of marine science career opportunities.

We also featured an animation about the various deep-sea mapping tools that MBARI researchers use to bring Sur Ridge to life. Additionally, several pre-recorded videos were streamed to help our audience learn more about MBARI’s work and the unseen world beneath Monterey Bay and its surrounding waters. These videos also provided a buffer in case weather impacted the live feed.

Data collected by MBARI’s mapping team has helped bring Sur Ridge to life. MBARI scientists worked with Los Angeles film production company Frame 48 to visualize the terrain of Sur Ridge in astonishing detail. These amazing images demonstrate what’s possible when scientists and engineers work together to develop new technology for exploring the deep ocean.

The event was accessible to non-English speakers as well as Deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences by incorporating simultaneous closed captioning in 16 languages and a live American Sign Language interpreter. In addition to these accessibility tools, Live from the Deep was streamed in real time on MBARI’s social media channels to help reach as broad and diverse an audience as possible. These channels included MBARI’s YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Facebook account. The event reached thousands of people live and more than 24,000 within the first week of the broadcast.

Beyond reaching more people, the use of social media platforms allowed us to connect with our audience during the event–viewers could interact with each other and the MBARI production team through various social media chat functions. Audience members were invited to leave questions in the chat for chief scientist Jim Barry and ROV pilot Knute Brekke. Many people were fascinated to learn about the details of piloting an ROV and the impacts of climate change on deep-sea life.

Monterey Bay Aquarium curator Megan Olhasso was included as one of the guests during the event to highlight their upcoming exhibition, Into the Deep: Exploring Our Undiscovered Ocean, opening on April 9, 2022. This exciting new exhibition will bring visitors face-to-face with deep-sea animals and showcase MBARI video, including new and never-before-seen 4K footage. In partnership with the Aquarium, MBARI looks forward to engaging our audience with more live events in the future. We hope that viewers will not only learn more about the deep sea but they will also understand that these fragile ecosystems face the same threats as the rest of the ocean, and we must all act on its behalf.

More than 30 years ago, David Packard had a vision of sharing live ROV footage with the public to introduce more people to the wonderful life and habitats we find in the deep sea, a place he called the most important frontier we have left. As MBARI approaches its 35th year of advancing marine science and technology to better understand our changing ocean, our team continues to create new ways to share our discoveries with the world. The Live from the Deep event was our way of inviting people that may never have a chance to go on a research expedition to join us directly from their phones or computers. It may be the next best thing to visiting the deep in person!

Chance observations go viral

Rarely seen fishes, giant jellies, and an ancient mammoth tusk surprise the MBARI team.