View from the Masthead

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

It’s often said that history repeats itself, offering a glimpse of what the future holds. As I look back on my time at MBARI, I’m constantly reminded of the wisdom of that saying. We were founded with a mission to advance cutting-edge technologies that would enable a new age of ocean exploration. David Packard wanted us to think of what was possible if we accepted the risk of failure and unknowns as cornerstones of innovation. MBARI’s emphasis on engineering as a driving force of scientific discovery is a powerful testament to his vision and a great example of how reflecting on our past has informed our plans for the future.

An MBARI remotely operated vehicle outfitted with a silver seafloor mapping toolsled. The robotic submersible has a bright orange float with the name “Ventana” with MBARI’s gulper eel logo serving as the “V.” Beneath the float is a black metal frame and various pieces of equipment and wires. The toolsled has a silver frame that extends past the back of the submersible. The submersible was photographed during recovery, attached to a black-and-white crane and positioned over the side of a research ship with dark blue water below and clear blue sky in the background. Two members of the ship crew are standing on the gray deck of the ship. One is wearing bright orange life vest and white hard hat while managing the bright yellow tether connected to the submersible. One is wearing a bright orange jacket and holding a portable set of submersible controls.
MBARI’s submersible pilots and marine operations crew have been integral to the success of the ROV Ventana. From launch to recovery, this team meticulously tends to the vehicle to ensure smooth science and engineering operations. Image: Kim Fulton-Bennett © 2014 MBARI

From our beginning, Packard embraced the use of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) as a novel platform for accessing the deep sea. In today’s world, ROVs are quite common, but when MBARI was founded, they were not the tool of choice for ocean science. Thirty-six years later, MBARI’s first ROV, Ventana, surpassed its 4,500th dive, making it the most successful science-class ROV in the world and a catalyst for engineering and scientific innovations that continue to this day.

MBARI’s history is defined by similar decisions to adapt technologies to meet our needs, as well as to develop entirely new instruments, systems, and platforms from scratch. Every engineering and technological advance we have attempted has in one way or another opened the door to surprising discoveries about the ocean—and ourselves. Much of what we have learned was possible because we were open to serendipity. You can never be certain where various lines of scientific research and engineering development may take you. Packard wanted us to think beyond the known horizon and embrace what was possible even if that meant bucking popular trends of the day.

An engineering development that exemplifies that spirit is MBARI’s long-range autonomous underwater vehicle (LRAUV). Not unlike our experience with ROVs, the LRAUV sprang from the imagination of engineers and has since blossomed into an interactive technology ecosystem driven by interdisciplinary teams within MBARI as well as many collaborators in the U.S. and abroad. The demand for the LRAUV has outpaced what MBARI can meet, and we’ve now licensed the vehicle to Saab for commercial production so that others can access it.

A man in a black suit and hard hat shovels dirt in front of a sign with MBARI’s logo and a picture of a building. Three other men in black suits and hard hats watch with smiles on their faces.
David Packard breaks ground at MBARI’s Moss Landing facilities for a groundbreaking ceremony in 1995. Image: © 1995 MBARI

A look back at the history of our shoreside and seagoing facilities points to other elements of our vision for the future. Our main campus in Moss Landing opened in 1995, which, for the first time made it possible to co-locate our science and engineering labs, manufacturing and assembly facilities, ships and dock, administrative offices, and staff. Bringing those pieces together at a single site, the head of Monterey Canyon, was instrumental in implementing Packard’s vision.

Following in those same footsteps, we continue to make major strides in enhancing our facilities. After many years of planning, the final buildout of our Moss Landing campus is nearing completion. The Expedition Staging Building, which is designed to accommodate the ebb and flow of sea-going equipment, has officially opened, and our newest state-of-the-art laboratory—the Instrumentation Integration and Testing Facility—is rapidly taking shape and is set to open next September. These new spaces will serve as a hub for supporting seagoing operations as well as hosting students and collaborators, greatly enhancing our research and development programs for years to come.

Likewise, our new flagship, the R/V David Packard, is custom designed to meet our needs for the coming decades. This past year marked a major milestone as the new vessel began undergoing sea trials in advance of its delivery early in 2024. Like its predecessor, the R/V Western Flyer, the David Packard offers an expeditionary capability that will extend MBARI’s reach well beyond Monterey Bay.

Looking back on our past also highlights the important contributions of our staff and how every individual preceding us has played a role in making MBARI what it is today. This is a pivotal time for the institute as we mourn the passing of individuals who were instrumental in our founding alongside the retirement of many longtime employees and the arrival of many new faces. Over the past three years, roughly 25 percent of positions have changed hands, with more staff turnover on the horizon. MBARI is on the move, and with that has come opportunities for diversifying our workforce and welcoming new perspectives and ideas.

A man with blonde hair and safety glasses sits at a lab bench and holds up a small vial. Lab equipment can be seen in the foreground.
Chris Scholin began his tenure at MBARI in 1992. In 2009, 17 years after joining the institute as a postdoctoral fellow, Chris was selected to serve as President and CEO of MBARI. In 2023, he announced his retirement, welcoming the next generation of MBARIans. Image: © 1997 MBARI

To me, the path ahead is surprisingly reminiscent of what I encountered over 30 years ago when I joined MBARI as a postdoctoral fellow: the opening of state-of-the-art facilities, the arrival of a custom-designed research vessel, and new colleagues from many walks of life all brought together by a fascination with the ocean. Little did I know then that I’d have a chance to serve as the institute’s President and CEO. That experience has been incredibly humbling and a constant reminder of the importance of fostering teamwork, being open to everyone’s potential to contribute, and focusing on innovation and excellence. The staff, Board of Directors, and the Packard Foundation have worked tirelessly to position MBARI for a successful future. I’ve had the privilege to be a part of that experiment, and as I look to the coming year, with all that it holds in store, I’ve decided it’s time for me to step aside and welcome the institute’s next President and CEO—and the next generation of MBARIans.

2024 marks the beginning of a new era for the institute that’s been in the making for many years. If history is our guide, the coming decades will be nothing short of amazing. There is so much that we need to know about our ocean—and how to protect it so that it can protect us. The age of ocean exploration is far from over. For those of you who want to participate, opportunity awaits! You can also learn more by visiting our website, and by subscribing to our YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, X/Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and TikTok channels. And if you happen to find yourself in Moss Landing this summer, come to our Open House—we’d love to see you!

Scholin Beach3

Chris Scholin

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