View from the Masthead

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

David Packard once mused that the sea was the last frontier on Earth—its depths were filled with largely unseen landscapes and life, and access to that realm was extremely challenging and limited. That realization led Packard to found MBARI in 1987 with a mission to develop new tools and techniques for exploring the ocean. Teamwork was at the heart of his vision. Scientists, engineers, marine operations specialists, and an ecosystem of support personnel were to work as one to advance cutting-edge technologies that would allow us to peer into the depths of the largest and least understood habitat on Earth.

Looking back on 2022, we reached many important milestones in MBARI’s quest to meet Packard’s expectations. Thirty-five years after our founding, buoyed by past progress, we refreshed a vision of our priorities that will guide MBARI for the coming decade. Our 2023–2033 Strategic Roadmap springs from the same spirit of exploration and discovery that Packard envisioned, rooted in our core institutional values of peer relationships, innovation, inclusion, independence, and integrity.

We recognize that the global ocean is undergoing profound change due to human activities and climatic alterations—changes that are apparent even in the protected waters of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Everyone has a stake in protecting the sea; it is essential to sustaining all life, human civilization included. Only by working together as a global community can we visualize the seafloor in its entirety, reveal the incredible diversity of life throughout the ocean’s depths, fully comprehend the role that the ocean plays in modulating climate and weather, and be responsible stewards of its abundant resources.

The research vessel Western Flyer has been integral to MBARI’s science operations for the past 25 years. It will take on a new life as a sailing classroom for the Florida Institute of Oceanography. Image: © 2015 MBARI

Addressing those challenges is an immense task and something that MBARI cannot tackle alone. Our new Strategic Roadmap offers a path forward for how MBARI will contribute to exploring, mapping, understanding, and protecting our changing ocean and how we will broadly share the knowledge gained. In partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and in conjunction with the Packard Foundation, we foresee a future where the highest-quality science informs ocean management and policy, and where the ocean research and conservation community is diverse, inclusive, and equitable. This bold vision for the ocean’s future took center stage at the Aquarium last year with the long-anticipated opening of a new exhibition, Into the Deep: Exploring Our Undiscovered Ocean / En lo Profundo: Explorando Nuestro Océano Desconocido. MBARI worked closely with our education and conservation partner to create this groundbreaking exhibition. We hope it inspires a new generation of ocean explorers and sparks renewed passion for protecting our beautiful blue planet. And, as Packard foresaw, we recognize that achieving those objectives requires state-of-the-art seagoing and shoreside facilities.

Like the tides, an ebb and flow of people, equipment, and information to and from the sea is a daily occurrence at MBARI. Crewed vessels are essential to conducting this work. Ships provide platforms for undertaking complex activities, at times in faraway places, and are critically important for fostering the development of uncrewed systems that allow us to access the ocean in ways that crewed ships cannot. MBARI’s flagship research vessel, the R/V Western Flyer, proudly served in that role for 25 years. Last year the ship was transferred to the University of South Florida and Florida Institute of Oceanography for use in educational programs. In its place, we welcome the R/V David Packard, a custom-designed vessel for meeting MBARI’s evolving needs. The new ship will expand our capabilities to use remotely operated vehicles to observe the seafloor and life throughout the water column, in addition to supporting a variety of autonomous systems that will allow us to explore and assess ocean health on a much larger scale than we can at present.

This artist rendering shows the design of MBARI’s new Instrumentation Integration and Testing Facility, the institute’s first new laboratory building in more than 20 years. Illustration: © 2022 MBARI

At our shoreside headquarters in Moss Landing, California, we began construction of a new laboratory specifically designed for the development and use of robotic platforms along with the suite of environmental sensors and samplers they carry, and we completed a new facility for expedition staging. Detailed planning for the new ship and buildings has been over 15 years in the making. Seeing these plans come to fruition is a testament to the hard work and dedication of countless people from all corners of MBARI and to the Packard Foundation’s enduring support.

In addition to reaching the major milestones of recasting our decadal vision for the future and working on upgrading our seagoing and shoreside facilities, 2022 also marked an ongoing acceleration in staffing changes. Many longtime employees, some of whom were instrumental in shaping the organization from its inception, are moving on, and a new generation is taking their place. To me, this brings a sense of déjà vu. Having arrived at MBARI in 1992, been present for the opening of MBARI’s facilities in Moss Landing, and watched David Packard personally christen the R/V Western Flyer, I feel the path ahead is surprisingly reminiscent of where MBARI was 30 years ago. A bold vision for the future backed by state-of-the-art facilities and a new flagship offers an unprecedented opportunity for fostering ocean science and engineering innovation. This is a watershed moment full of possibilities. And if history is our guide, the decades ahead will usher in a transformational shift in our understanding of the sea, along with those who champion its cause. To me, the start of 2023 is the dawn of what I call “MBARI 2.0”—we are doubling down on Packard’s vision.

Following the vessel’s launch in October 2022, the shipbuilders at Freire will begin outfitting the interior of the R/V David Packard, including its internal science and engineering systems. Image: © 2022 Freire Shipyard

Please join us this year as we embark on a new chapter of MBARI’s evolution. Later this year, the R/V David Packard will make its historic journey from Vigo, Spain, where the ship is being built, to MBARI’s docks in Moss Landing, where it will begin its service. Our new laboratory will rapidly take shape, with an expected completion and occupancy in 2024. All the while, the implementation of our Strategic Roadmap will be full speed ahead against the backdrop of research and development programs that span the globe.

You can follow these events and more by visiting our new website and subscribing to our social media feeds. We love sharing our stories and hearing from you. Stay tuned to see what 2023 has in store—there is no doubt that it promises to be another year of exciting ocean exploration and discovery full of surprises.

See you on the water!

Chris Scholin

Mapping the Arctic seafloor

Researchers observe rapid changes to the seafloor as submerged permafrost thaws.