Deep Sea Classrooms

Although this didn’t make much of a splash in the media, Fabien Cousteau (Jacques Cousteau’s grandson) was scheduled to spend 31 days at the Aquarius Reef Base (approximately 63 feet below the surface) in Florida starting Tuesday, November 12th in order to:

1) surpass Jacques Cousteau’s Conshelf Two record (30 days at 33 feet) by one day

2) to study the effects of pressure on human physiology

3) test new technology

Aquarius Reef Base

Aquarius Reef Base
photo from

It was postponed. Why? Fabien said the government shutdown really put a wrench in the works, so the Mission was rescheduled for Spring of 2014. As part of their outreach, Mission 31 had joined forces with Skype in the classroom to bring live updates from the Aquarius Reef Base to classrooms all around the world. This, of course, was postponed too.

Back in early October though, I was scouting around Skype in the classroom website hoping to join in on a few  lessons to get some ideas for a future outreach projects. After receiving feedback and requests from teachers all over the word, Skype had expanded their focus from Mission 31 to include an all-encompassing “Exploring Oceans” month. The grandchildren of Jacques Cousteau (Celine and Fabien) were offering lessons, but so were shark specialists, deep sea scientists, and professional underwater photographers. At first, it didn’t cross my mind to conduct a lesson of my own. When people ask me what I do, I hesitate – unsure of whether to identify myself as an underwater videographer. At such an early phase in my career (can I call it that?), I’m still riding the base of the learning curve and consider myself a dilettante more than anything else.

A few weeks later, I received an email from the Outreach Manager at Skype in the classroom, who proposed partnership with Stanley Submarines after stumbling across my profile. I was pretty floored. This was a great opportunity for both Karl and I to talk to young, impressionable students about the wonders of the deep. Most kids, and a large percentage of the public, believe the deep sea is devoid of life thanks to the entrenchment of Edward Forbes’ azoic theory (see my Flub of Forbes post).

R.I.D.E. and Skype in the classroom

R.I.D.E. and Skype in the classroom

During the past two weeks, I’ve talked with students from all over the US. It was an extremely rewarding experience, but I did become slightly discouraged about some of the apathetic students I noticed during the session.  In one class, there were students fidgeting, looking around the room at anything but the screen. Some were yawning. I was disheartened – a future generation that remained uninspired by these animals would likely not assimilate any sort of ocean conservation ethic. The feeling that crept over me was similar to what I experienced after watching this Toys “R” Us commercial a few weeks ago:

While some of the students’ reactions were apathetic, the majority of the kids were absolutely fantastic. There were 9 year-olds asking about how the submarine was designed to withstand crushing pressures, how to determine the gender of sea lilies, and what defense mechanisms exist in deep sea fish. Creatures that garnered the most oooo’s and ahh’s were the dumbo octopus (a clear favorite) and the siphonophore.

Lafayette Regional School 4th Grade

Lafayette Regional School 4th Grade

Karl had a lesson of his own: DIY Deep Sea Submersible. After getting more than 25 requests for a lesson, he ended up doing a session with a class from San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The teacher, prior to the lesson, had expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to show the kids a positive side of the country (San Pedro Sula is considered the murder capital of the world).

Both of our experiences with Skype made it clear that educational outreach is an excellent avenue to showcase footage that will hopefully leave an indelible impression on young minds. In the next few years, I hope to design more long-term educational projects. We’ll need to make a lot of headway with footage and research before that happens, so until then, we’ll just keep diving.


Roatán was fortunate to have an extremely mild rainy season. I write this after 5 days of non-stop rain and wind have battered Half Moon Bay. Notwithstanding the past week, there has been little to no rain and calm winds these fall months. As you can imagine, these would have been ideal conditions to do a whole bunch of dives; unfortunately, the sub has required several rounds of maintenance. Starting on October 3rd, Karl took apart the foam exterior in order to more precisely fit the areas where the foam pieces come together. This prevents the air in the ballasts tanks from escaping, which allows us to dive for long periods of time without adjusting our buoyancy (pretty important for fluent filming).

In mid-November, Karl lowered Idabel into the water for a dive to 2000 feet. At about 200 feet, water began to trickle into the hull; one of the small pilot sphere windows had sprung a leak due to a little dirt on the O-ring. After returning to the dock, Karl carefully removed grime from the O-ring and attached it for attempt #2, which he pulled off with no underwater snafus. Unfortunately, while emerging from a 2000 foot dive the following week, Idabel‘s right ballast blank blew out, causing the sub to list awkwardly and lose a good deal of buoyancy at the surface. As you can imagine, this didn’t bode well for future video dives. Karl, however, was not willing to let a cracked ballast tank ruin business, so with a little help from 5200 glue and thirty screws, he patched together the foam exterior. Even if the front ballast compartments blew out, there was still the rear compartment, vertical thrusters, and a 450 pound lead weight to bring him to the surface.

Idabel emerging from a dive last week

Idabel emerging from a dive at dusk last week

Despite the unexpected setbacks, we’re still making progress. For one, we just recently snapped on a spankin’ new lens to our 5DM3 camera body: a 24-70mm f/4 Canon. Zoom-filled days loom near in the future! Secondly, the follow focus rig is now ready to go with a new grip ring (I haven’t used this piece of equipment our last few dives). And finally, when I return to the states in December, I’ll send off our latest batch of clips to Ocean Footage, constituting our second submission for the year.

Fingers crossed that we’ll be back in the water filming the first week of January!


~ by twonakedapes on December 3, 2013.

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