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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Prepping for fish talks

In Nadi, Fiji now, having arrived last night from Port Moresby . A part from the long flight into the heart of the Pacific, everyone arrived in good spirits and are well rested looking forward for tomorrow when the forum starts.

Air Niugini, our national carrier

Air Niugini, our national carrier

Descending into Nadi, the Air Niugini logo still a standout against the dark skies

Descending into Nadi, the Air Niugini logo still a standout against the dark skies

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Lets talk fish

The fifth Pacific Tuna Forum is on next week at the luxurious Sofitel Resort, Denarau, Nadi, Fiji. More than 250 delegates including over 30 well known speakers are expected to attend as Pacific Island countries come together to discuss sustainable management of their tuna stocks.

Join me on twitter (@BomaiCruz) or follow #PTF15 for what i am hoping would be a week of fruitful discussions.

Bula

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Twitter celebrates International Polychaete Day

Here are some images of polychaetes from the recently celebrated International Polychaete Day and a link to the discussions on twitter

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Shark Week

Its #SharkWeek this week this week and while I cook up a new post to commemorate this occasion, lets start off with this picture

Say "Ahhh" BomaiCruz checking out the teeth on this young pup

Say “Ahhh” BomaiCruz checking out the teeth on this young pup

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Hermaphrodite flatworm that fucks itself in the head

Today marks the International Polychaete Day and you can use #InternationalPolychaeteDay  on twitter to follow interesting discussions on Polychaetes but while the focus is on Polychaetes, I have a rather interesting flatworm that I will discuss in this post.

Flat worms are of the phylum Platyhelminthes, the main difference between the two groups is that polychaetes are segmented and plathyhelminthes are not. This particular post is about the mating styles of Macrostomum hystrix a hermaphroditic flatworm that quite literally “fucks itself in the head” – yup, you read that right!

Flat worms are capable of self fertilization because they are Hermaphrodites – animals that produce both sperm and eggs and although they do prefer mating with other worms they do have the ability to self fertilize as a back up plan. A very good description of this can be seen in this YouTube video which describes the mating ritual as “penis fencing”.

In a paper just published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a group of scientists studying the mating behavior and adaptations to hypodermic insemination in M. hystrix researched this ability by splitting 100 individuals into two groups, one batch had isolated individuals and the other had animals in small groups (three to a group) and kept them for a month before measuring the sperm living in their bodies. What they found was that isolated flatworms had more sperm in their heads compared to those in groups who had sperm more towards their tail ends leading to the discussion that isolated worms must have self fertilized themselves. While the act of self insemination itself was NEVER observed, the placement of the sperm does suggest a strange insemination route – animals living in isolation must have swung their sharpened penis around to inject themselves in the head.

While lots of animals are able to self fertilize, this is the first example of one that uses a hypodermic appendage to do so.

 Reference

Ramm Steven A., Schlatter A, Poirier M, Scharer (2015) Hypodermic self-insemination as a reproductive assurance strategy.  DOI 10.1098/rspb.2015.0660

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