Angler fish

Source: Discover Magazine

These deep-sea fish use a lure to attract prey and ambush them, swallowing them whole. The lure on this one is the round white structure resting between its eyes.

Resting which its lure safely tucked away, this angler fish will use its lure to lure fish and ambush them

Resting which its lure safely tucked away, this angler fish will use its lure to lure fish and ambush them

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SeaPig

Source: Discover Magazine

Here’s a seapig from the depths of the Marianas. Its called the seapig because it is plump, pink and possesses short limbs. These animals feast on particles plucked from the mud they munch on. Researchers are not sure which genus it falls into.

Seapig, plump, pink and short limbs. Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas

Seapig, plump, pink and short limbs. Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas

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Deep water exploration of the Marianas

Source: Discover Magazine

Deep-sea holuthorian.  Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas

Deep-sea holuthorian. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas

A little bird brought me exciting news this morning. As i am writing this, an expedition in the Marianas Trench is in the middle of its 69-day expedition into the deepest part of the worlds oceans. Led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its partners, this expedition is starting the second leg of its 3- leg mission aboard the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer to collect critical baseline information of unknown and poorly known areas in and around the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM) and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

The tentative schedule for the full expedition can be found here.

This expedition will bring light to extreme habitats, sponge communities, mud volcanoes, hydrothermal vents and some strange creatures some of which will be posted here throughout the rest of the expedition.

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2015 HSC performance of PNG secondary and national high schools

As most of us welcome the new year with much enthusiasm and ambition, many young Papua New Guineans and their families greet the dawn of a new year with stress and anxiety for this also marks what is probably the most important part in their lives. In the Papua New Guinea (PNG) education system, High School Certificate (HSC) exams come at the end of year 12 and always seem to signal the ending of a calendar year. Year 12 students all over the country sit for this exam and the results are graded and used to select who continues on to tertiary studies. For some, sitting for the HSC exams would be as far as they go in their formal education while for others, getting an offer after the HSC is welcoming news with the promise of a good life after tertiary studies.

A little over a decade and a half ago, the education system in PNG was a lot different to what it is today. High schools existed through which one only passes through to years 11 and 12 after the national exams at the end of year 10. There were only 4 National High Schools around the country (Passam, Kerevat, Sogeri and Aiyura) then and competition was fierce for placings in any one of these schools. Then came the education reforms which converted high schools into secondary schools offering years 9 through 12 at the secondary level. Year 10 and 12 exams were still in place but there are talks now of doing away with the year 10 exams paving the way for a smooth transition straight to year 12 and the HSC exams, meaning a lot more young people would continue on to year 12 creating a bottle neck at after the HSC exams. This post looks at the results of the 2015 HSC exams based on acceptance into ONLY the six major universities in PNG and an observation of the performance of the many secondary and National high schools in PNG today.

The analysis discussed here focus only on the number of students selected to enter the six main universities in PNG, namely; Divine Word University (DWU), Pacific Adventist University (PAU), University of Goroka (UoG), University of Natural Resource  and Environment (UNRE), University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) and the Papua New Guinea University of Technology (UniTech). Acceptance lists used in this analysis were downloaded from UniTech, UPNG and DWU websites while listings for UNRE, PAU and UoG were taken from the Post Courier (January 8, 2016). Only school leavers (those continuing on from year 12) were considered in this analysis including those accepted for studies in open colleges. PDF copies were downloaded and converted to excel spreadsheets for analysis, while lists in the news papers were done manually.

The 2015 HSC exams saw a total of 2,645 students selected from 139 different secondary and national high schools to pursue further studies in the 6 main universities in PNG, with the top 12 schools providing almost 40% of the total number of students selected and the other 127 schools making up the remaining 60%. The number of students produced per school ranged from only 1 in 21 different schools to 146 with the school at the top of the list . Click here for the Complete list of Secondary and National High Schools and the number of Students selected from these schools

The top 12 schools (per number of students selected to the main universities) stand as: Port Moresby National High School (146), Mt Hagen Secondary (128), Sogeri National High(123), Wawin National High (103), Kerevat National High(80), Goroka Secondary (69), Kitip Secondary (67), Kopen Secondary (65), Aiyura National High (61), Gordon Secondary (61), Lae Secondary (59) and Marianville Girls Secondary (58). Below is a graph of the top 12 schools and the number of students from each school selected to each of the 6 main universities.
Top 12

Population growth in the last 2 to 3 decades is a likely explanation for the sudden increase in the number of secondary and schools and national high schools. There is also the free education policy granting more Papua New Guineans access to education in a bid to increase literacy rates in PNG. With 139 different secondary and National High Schools in PNG, the government has done well in making sure everyone has access to education but how good is the education when only the top 12 schools provide up for 40% of the students continuing on to tertiary studies at Universities? what happens to the all the other students who have missed out on placings in tertiary studies? Is education to year 12 the only way to increase literacy rates? PNG’s literacy rates are a concern but having a bottle neck at the end of year 12 may not be the solution to this.

While education is a solution to the literacy problems, having so many secondary and national high schools and a bottle neck at the end of year 12 is an injustice to the students and parents. Having fewer secondary and national high schools would not cause available resources to be spread so much. An example is that if there were 5 very good teachers (each teaches a different subject) in an area, having 5 schools in that area increases the likelihood of there being one teacher per school. If there were only 2 schools, then each school would have up to twice the number of good teachers it could have if there were more schools so the students are taught well in two subjects instead of one if there were 5 schools. Fewer schools mean government funding is more focused and fewer schools encourage competition between the students, teachers and schools.

One suggestion is that, the number of secondary schools today must be reduced by at least 50%. There should be at least two secondary schools per province as well as the regional national high schools. Year 10 exams should be reinstated, the number of high schools (years 7 to 10) be increased and a year ten exams used as a bench mark to select the best students to got into secondary/national high school. This allows for the literacy problem to be addressed, creates an environment where only the most eligible make it to year 12 for the HSCs, encourages a system where resources are not wasted unnecessarily and finally, results show more competition between schools to produce students for further studies.

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Living in a museum

I travel a lot for business, but of all the places I’ve been to, I must admit the New Guinea Islands (NGI) hold a soft spot for me. Tropical sunshine, warm crystal clear waters, superb fishing, lush tropical vegetation, white sandy beaches, azure blue waters, great surfing and the friendliest people are just some of the reasons why a visit to Papua New Guinea’s NGI region is a must for any bucket list. There is also so much history in the region, relics of the two world wars and what I just discovered – amazing tales of the effects of the volcanoes on the locals living around them. In this post, I write about my most recent visit to Rabaul where i had the opportunity to visit a world war two Japanese tunnel.

Rabaul was a Japanese stronghold during the Second World War and provided an excellent launch base for the Japanese to capture Port Moresby in their quest to invade Australia. Rabaul itself sits on the rim of an extinct volcano, much of what was once the caldera now lies under the waters of the Simpsons harbor. This geological feature provides a unique bathymetry of the harbor where the seafloor drops from a few centimeters to depths of 80 m or more in less than 3 m from shore, providing an excellent cover for submarines ferrying cargo to the soldiers on the ground.

Blue Lagoon with the Matupit island volcanos in the background. Not really visible here is the steep drop in water depth from shore

Blue Lagoon with the Matupit island volcanos in the background. Not really visible here is the steep drop in water depth from shore

The earth around Rabaul is almost entirely volcanic ash deposited from numeric volcanic events in the area going back to probably the birth of the New Britain Island itself, so naturally, digging a tunnel here was relatively easy. These tunnels have three common features, an opening for storing cargo unloaded from the submarines (sometimes these also serve as parking areas for submarines that needed to be taken out  of the water), next is a linking passage usually at the end of the tunnel linking other chambers and my finally my personal favorite, a gun-hold above the tunnel entrance that serves as a lookout. In most instances, these tunnels were built on the bases of steep slopes only accessible from the sea which gave the gunner leverage over anyone/thing approaching from the sea.

the entrance to one of the Japanese tunnels along the road between Kokopo and Rabaul

the entrance to one of the Japanese tunnels along the road between Kokopo and Rabaul

Gun hold, still visible more than half a century after the last war

Gun hold, still visible more than half a century after the last war

I had the opportunity to stop by one of the tunnels on the side of the road between Rabaul and Kokopo. All the features were there; these days the Rabaul – Kokopo road runs across the entrance of the tunnel. Across the road is the ‘Blue Lagoon’ where the depth drops steeply into the abyss in less than a meter from shore. Looking back, the gunhole isstill visible more than half a century after the last world war. Standing here, its quite amazing to think that about 60 years ago, I would have possibly been standing in front of a human chain ferrying cargo from a Japanese submarine.

Inside this tunnel is a lot different from what it used to be, remnants of a recent drinking fest and old fire places scattered all over the place are testaments of what this tunnel is used for these days. Its sad though because this is an important piece of PNG’s history might be lost if not properly taken care of.

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Interview with Erika Bergman, Robogirl

The students from PNG were amazingly respectful and gracious hosts for us in their country.

Meet Erika Bergman, an enthusiastic ocean explorer, scuba diver, ROV pilot, manned submersible pilot, good friend and co-author in my most recent publication on Robots as vectors for marine invasions.

Erika Bergman, Entrepreneur, Marine Conservationist, Robot Builder, ROV Pilot and National Geographic Explorer of the year 2013 and a good friend

Erika Bergman, Entrepreneur, Marine Conservationist, Robot Builder, ROV Pilot and National Geographic Explorer of the year 2013 and good friend. Picture courtesy of Erika Bergman

Erika began her career in oceanography at the age of 15 when she worked as a sailor and diesel engineer aboard a  tall ship sailing from California to Canada.  Erika holds a US Coast Guard Boat Captain License with an Assistance Towing endorsement and was awarded the 2013 National Geographic Young Explorer’s Grant which enabled her to carry out solo expeditions piloting submersibles to study the deep coral reefs of the Caribbean islands of Curacao and Roatan.

Erika was kind enough to have spent some time with us in PNG in October of 2014 and has contributed to the recent paper. Here we ask her a few questions about the paper and her PNG Experience.

Question: What are you doing these days?

Erika: I’m doing a few things right now, one of the most interesting is running the Girls Underwater Robot Camps (GURCs). Mission Blue posted a nice article about our program and we ran an very successful camp this weekend with girls from California and Hawaii.

Question: The paper made reference to an ROV that had been to Greenland, Cuba, California and PNG all in the same year. Can you tell us a about this ROV and what happened to it after the PNG trip?

Erika: This ROV was Phantom, it was a great traveller, it was built by girls in one of my first camps for the Sedna EPIC (Extreme Polar Ice Convention) expedition. Then it came with me to Cuba where I led marine research trips for Americans. Phantom had many successful dives, then in PNG we oarted it out to replace some pieces for the students builds. Its always a little sad to say goodbye to a little robot friend, but it was for a good cause.

Erika with whats left of the Phantom after she generously donated Phantom to be parted so PNG students could complete their build

Erika with whats left of the Phantom after she generously donated Phantom to be parted so PNG students could complete their build Photo by Andrew Thaler

Question: What did you think about the participants of the program in PNG? Did you like the program?

Erika: The students from PNG were amazingly respectful and gracious hosts for us in their country. Building a robot is a pretty new experience, even in global hubs of tech innovation, Do-It-Yourself technology is still a developing field. The skills to build an underwater robot by hand were completely new to most of the students but even through monsoon downpours, rain rattling the roof as loud as a plane taking off, they focused, worked diligently in their groups and practiced soldering, acrylic welding, wire routing and programming until their robots were finished.

Erika with some of the PNG students involved in the program and one of the first mini-ROVs to be built in PNG

Erika with some of the PNG students involved in the program and one of the first mini-ROVs to be built in PNG. Photo courtesy of Erika Bergman’s FB page

Question: What is one thing (if any) you got out of working with students in PNG?

Erika: The students in PNG were astoundingly committed to learning these hands on engineering skills. The ideas they shared with us for local places they wanted to explore and study were so interesting and so completely new to me! I had a blast hearing from them and their educational backgrounds and how they see themselves using engineering skills in their career paths moving forward.

We had three wonderful weeks at Nago Island, Kavieng, New Ireland Province and I am looking forward to another program soon.

Part of the island where we hosted the program. Special mention to P. Minimulu for the photo

Part of the island where we hosted the program. Special mention to P. Minimulu for the photo

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Interview with Dr Andrew Thaler

the program was fantastically rewarding, both for the students and the instructors

Dr Andrew David Thaler

Dr Andrew David Thaler

As promised earlier, in celebration of our most recent publication, I ask a few questions to Dr Andrew David Thaler, lead author of the paper on Robots as vectors for Marine invasions. Dr Thaler is a deep-sea ecologist and population geneticist who is passionate about conservation and open source technology. He has a PhD in Marine Science and Conservation from Duke University where he did his thesis on the environmental impacts of deep-sea mining on hydrothermal vent communities in the western Pacific. Currently a visiting scientist at VIMS, he also runs several education and outreach initiatives, including hosting underwater robot workshops and managing the marine science and conservation website, Southern Fried Science. Other interests lie with his numerous collection of livestock he keeps in his yard and Kirby (don’t ask me about Kirby).

[Me]: Dr Thaler, you proposed some very interesting guidelines for reducing the risk of marine invasive species introduction for microROV operators, what inspired you to develop these guidelines?

[Dr Thaler]: Sometime during the flight over to PNG, me and Erika started talking about how far our robots had traveled -her’s from Greenland to Cuba to California to PNG; mine to several freshwater lakes in the high Sierras. That immediately set off my internal warning system, since the larger deep-sea community had been thinking about that issue with regards to Alvin and other assets. So we started brainstorming those guidelines and, just by chance, the five best people to plan them out happened to all be right there at Nago.

[Me]: Are you aware of similar guidelines being set for larger submersible assets including those that work in the deep ocean?

[Dr Thaler]: There are no formal guidelines for large submersible assets. A few organisations have a boilerplate “Avoid transfer of species between sites” and the research community does pretty through wash-downs of all their gear between dives. The closest set of guidelines are for SCUBA divers entering the remote regions of the Hawaiian islands.

[Me]: I understand this paper was developed after a capacity building program with students from Papua New Guinea (PNG) and neighboring Pacific island countries. Can you tell us a little bit about your thoughts and experience?

[Dr Thaler]: Oh man, the program was great. One of the most important guidelines from our paper is to simple avoid moving robots between locations. Since the program, in addition to being a fantastic experience for the students, produced PNG’s only ROV assets, we now don’t have to carry international robots into PNG, thus providing the only guaranteed barrier against species introduction. In general, the program was fantastically rewarding, both for the student and the instructors. I’m still in touch with many of our participants and the course seems to have a big benefit to their academic careers.

[Me]: Finally, and most importantly, would you do it again if the opportunity arose?

[Dr Thaler]: I definitely want to do the program again

Nago Special, sunset behind Kavieng

Nago Special, sunset behind Kavieng

!! Em Tasol !!

 

 

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Robots as vectors for marine invasions and 5 guidelines to address this

A recent publication on “Robots as vectors for marine invasions” was compiled by a group of scientists from their experiences working with observation class micro-ROVs and the possible threats these new tools of the trade pose for marine conservation. It all started when a group of Scientists and explorers traveled from the United States to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for a capacity building program. Part of the program involved the building of 6 mini-ROVs and then using these for short research projects.

The introduction of invasive species into non-native ecosystems is among the most challenging issues facing marine management (Molnar et al., 2008; Allendorf et al., 2003) because invasive species are difficult to extirpate (Strayer et al., 2006; Panetta et al., 2006). A lack of natural predators which can lead to uncontrolled population growth can also lead to the alien species out competing native flora and fauna for resources. Collectively, these can have negative effects and may permanently alter their new ecosystems.

Potential vectors for the introduction of invasive species into new habitats include ship ballast, exotic animal trade and accidental or intentional import. The recent introduction of submersible assets like remote operated vehicles (ROVs) and manned submersibles has been identified as potential vectors for the introduction for marine invasions. In a sense, these threats were manageable because of the high ownership and operational costs, however, the introduction of smaller and cheaper assets like the model used in the capacity building program in PNG has all of a sudden made these assets more accessible to a broad user-base coincidentally increasing the potential for the introduction of invasive species.

One of the miniROVs taking shape. This particular one, later christained Meri Niuailan (New Ireland Girl) was later donated to the Nago Island Marine Research Facility

One of the miniROVs taking shape. This particular one, later christened Meri Niuailan (New Ireland Girl) was later donated to the Nago Island Marine Research Facility

one of the participants putting this teams' finished product to the test

one of the participants putting this teams’ finished product to the test

5 guidelines were recommended in the paper to address the introduction of invasive species and these include include;

  1. Education and awareness
  2. Visual inspection of each robot prior to and immediately following deployment
  3. Freshwater soak prior to beginning an expedition and freshwater rinse at the conclusion of each dive
  4. Bleach soak before transporting robots between sites or prepping for long term storage
  5. Minimize transport between ecosystems.

MicroROV assets can be powerful tools for conservation, education and outreach but also have the potential to be vectors for marine invasions. It was strongly recommended that these guidelines be incorporated into pre- and post- dive maintenance routine of microROV users and enthusiasts. It might also be worth including these as part of the instruction/operation manuals that are supplied with these assets.

Next up, an Interview with Dr Andrew Thaler, lead author of this publication.

Reference

Allendorf, F.W. and Lundquist, L.L. (2003) Introduction: POpulation Biology, Evolution and Control of Invasive Species. Conservation Biology 17:24-30.

Molnar, J.L., Gamboa, R.L., Revenga, C., Spalding, M.D (2008) Assessing the global threat of invasive species to marine biodiversity. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 6:485-492.

Panetta, F.D. (2006) Evaluation of weed eradication programs: containment and extirpation. Diversity and Distributions 13:33-41

Thaler, A. D., Freitag,A., Bergman, E., Fretz, D. and Saleu, W. 2015. Robots as vectors for marine invasions: best practices for minimizing invasive species via observation-class ROVs. Tropical Conservation Science. Vol 8(3):711-717. Available online: www.tropicalconservationscience.org

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Internship opportunity for new graduates

An Exciting Environment Internship opportunity is on offer from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) based in Suva, Fiji. A total of 8 internship programs are available for next year. For more information, please see here 

Applications should include

  1. CV
  2. Cover letter explaining
  • which member country you are from – are you on bond to the government?
  • why you are interested in the position?
  • what you consider you could bring to the role? and
  • your preferred internship date and a second preference
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Kuita vakalolo, cassava dalo – boiled octopus in coconut cream

Photos, memorabilia and souvenirs are usually what one thinks of  as a reminder of a place visited. I too tried to keep my own collection but grew bored after seeing that the photos would often be those of the same land marks and gifts and souvenirs would either be too expensive or for the really authentic ones, be simply too much hassle to get through customs – so I decided to use food to recall my experiences of different places. Too often have there been dishes that are widely known like the french (freedom) fries, taco, guacamole or my personal favorite, philly-cheese stake where any comment on how good these are would attract responses about where the best ones are made. In my experience, I know the best pizzas outside of Italy is at New York, the best philly-cheese stake is at Philadelphia and the best clam chowder is at Cape Cod,  not to mention the best whiskey at 313 Pine Street, North Carolina and the best bond fire is at Kevin’ place.

It actually did not start as something I wanted to do but after seeing that there was always a specific dish in each of the places I’ve visited that I remembered well where I would make my goal of tasting again each time I got back, it became a hobby. I must make a point here that my experiences are not always good and some of these serve as reminders to myself on what I must avoid –  like my famous tale of the Roach Fried Rice. So why would all of a sudden, I start talking about food? let’s just say i got my inspiration from Fiji’s Kuita vakalolo, cassava dalo – a Fijian dish of boiled octopus and vegetables in coconut cream served with taro as cassava.

kuita vakalolo, cassava dalo - Fijian for boiled octopus in coconut cream. my inspiration to this post

kuita vakalolo, cassava dalo – Fijian for boiled octopus in coconut cream. my inspiration to this post. Picture courtesy of BomaiCruz

What I really liked about this dish was that all the ingredients were local, but the presentation was very professional making me think back of home and how our many local dishes could be just as good if we just gave it a little more attention in presenting the food. It would be cheap, puts money back in the pockets lo local farmers and most importantly, gives the diner that unique PNG flavor. This is definitely going to be one of the dishes i comeback to the next time I am in Fiji.

em tasol, bula vinaka 

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