the program was fantastically rewarding, both for the students and the instructors
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
!! Em Tasol !!