Fall Updates: Smithsonian, Las Vegas, Maldives, and Palau

The Hydrous at the Smithsonian

Digitizing museum collections for 'open access oceans'

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Last month, Hydrous CEO Erika Woolsey delivered a keynote address at the Smithsonian Digitization Fair in Washington D.C. and launched a partnership with the 3D Program at the Smithsonian Digitization Program Office to curate digital models from the coral reef collection at the National Museum of Natural History to support marine education and research.

The Hydrous at Autodesk University

Embracing Tech for Ocean Education

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The Hydrous travelled to Las Vegas last week to participate in Autodesk University, a conference of over 10,000 professionals from the architecture, design, manufacturing, technology, and media industries. Dr. Woolsey spoke in the theater and was joined by Hydrous fabrication artist Elle Stapleton in the Lenovo ThinkRevolution booth. Here, they shared the Hydrous mission, discussed coral reefs and climate change, and displayed 3D printed coral models. Best of all, they were featured in the Hydrous virtual reality experience created by Horizon Productions and Lenovo, which allowed viewers to explore ocean habitats, take underwater photographs, and interact with Hydrous 3D models. 

The Hydrous in the Maldives

Returning to the frontlines of climate change

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The Hydrous team is heading back to the Maldives in early December for our annual expedition to our flagship location. We will 3D model coral reefs with underwater photogrammetry, digitize islands with aerial drones, and will learn about marine biology, climate change, and citizen science with our new partners at Reef Check Maldives.

The Hydrous in Palau

Capturing a diving wonderland in virtual reality

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The Hydrous will be traveling to Palau in February/March to begin production of our 360º film using the VRTUL2. The goal is to digitally recreate the experience of diving and share beautiful and threatened ocean ecosystems with everyone. We are partnering with researchers at the California Academy of Sciences, University of Hawaii, and Oxford University to ensure scientific integrity alongside a conservation message.

New tech for ocean education and science literacy

  • Immersive virtual environments to bring the ocean to everyone
  • Reality capture of coral reefs around the world through underwater photogrammetry 
  • Partnerships with museums and research institutions, like the Smithsonian and the California Academy of Sciences, to digitize coral reef specimen collections

Find Out More

Donate to our mission

Hydrous Happy Hour

Remarks and toast from Dr. Erika Woolsey, Hydrous CEO 8.24.2017


Hello and welcome everyone to the first ever Hydrous Happy Hour!

Thank you all for coming. Tonight, I’d like to celebrate an exciting year for the Hydrous, which began as a passion project and has evolved into a flourishing non-profit organization with a fabulous team and a growing impact in ocean discovery and education. I especially want to thank Autodesk and the Autodesk Foundation for supporting us from the beginning and for graciously inviting us into this space.

The word Hydrous means “of water.” We celebrate human connections to this blue planet through expeditions, technology, and science education to bring the ocean to everyone in what we call ‘open access oceans.’

We live on a blue planet; the ocean covers over 70% of our earth. It produces more than half the oxygen we breathe, and it feeds and supports the livelihoods of billions of people. Though human survival depends on our ocean, it remains over-exploited, under-protected, and out of mind.

We are living in a crucial time for our ocean. Most fishing stocks are exploited, and we’ve lost about half of our coral reefs in the last fifty years. The health of marine ecosystems is declining rapidly from the combined effects of climate change- like rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and sea level rise, and these effects are compounded by more direct human impacts like pollution and overfishing. Even protected regions are vulnerable, like the California coast. Just yesterday I attended a Congressional Forum with our state’s lawmakers who discussed how exceptional level of federal marine protection, which took over 20 years to achieve, is under review by the current administration.

I’ve witnessed the rapid degradation of our world’s coral reefs first hand. At first, this crisis strengthened my resolve to continue publishing papers, researching the effects of temperature on coral reefs, understanding evolutionary strategies that could allow them to persevere, and investigating the capability of coral reefs to replenish themselves during mass spawning events. My work contributed to the field of marine biology, and I perhaps naively thought that facts could speak for themselves, and that it would be easy to convince others of the crisis in our oceans and the need to save environments like coral reefs.

That’s not how it is unfortunately. I finally learned that the facts don’t speak for themselves when shaping policies and behaviors. We have to stand up for facts. And still, because people make decisions based on emotions rather than rational thought, the goal should not be to convince, but to connect. Though the Hydrous is grounded in scientific expertise, our goal is to create connections between people and our ocean. We can’t bring everyone to the ocean, so we’re working to bring the ocean to everyone.

Tonight, we’re highlighting the three facets of Hydrous work: Expeditions, Technology, and Education.

First, Expeditions: The Hydrous has led trips to coral reefs around the world: Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, Easter Island, Hawaii, and the Republic of the Maldives, which-as an island nation that sits less than a meter above sea level- is on the frontlines of climate change. On board Hydrous expeditions, participants learn about ocean issues, meet with local partners, visit beautiful and healthy reefs (as well as damaged regions, which is not a perspective you usually get on a live-aboard dive trip), learn scientific protocol for monitoring coral reef health, and become trained in our methods of reality capture and 3D modeling. To learn more, stop by the Expedition table and speak with Hydrous Ambassador and sustainability expert Kate Malmgren. Last I checked, we have a few spots left for our Maldives trip in December. You can also talk to Kate about getting involved with the Hydrous through our Ambassador program.

Second, Technology: When the Hydrous began, it was known for 3D reconstructions of coral reefs, collected through non-destructive methods. This began as a tool for long-term monitoring projects and answering scientific questions related to ecological function and climate vulnerability. We are expanding these efforts, collecting more 3D models of coral colonies as well as large swaths of reefs, 3D modeling entire islands using drones, and extending our reality capture projects to museum collections, working with the California Academy of Sciences and the Smithsonian. We’ve also been playing with 360 degree immersive experiences, and our content has been viewed by millions across online platforms, including Google Expeditions, which takes classrooms on virtual fieldtrips. We’re also recently begun work on a virtual reality film. To learn more about 3D modeling and printing, you can speak with our Fabrication Artist Elle Stapleton. To learn more about photogrammetry, the method of reality capture we use, speak with our Ambassador and innovation officer Laszlo Varga. For 360 video and Augmented Reality, you can visit Hydrous designer Rick Miskiv, and visiting AR expert Caleb Kruse. We’re also excited about our upcoming virtual reality film, with generous support from Lenovo.

Lastly, Education: We want to encourage curiosity of the world around us and improve science literacy, especially ocean literacy, so we’re developing educational curriculum for classrooms, informal settings, and public exhibitions. These programs incorporate frontier technologies like 3D printing and virtual reality for tangible, immersive, and fun lessons in ocean science for kids and adults. Talk to Nora at the Education table to learn more, Nora is also a marine biologist, and she has been working with teachers and school districts to incorporate Next Generation Science Standards into classrooms, along with Hydrous content. Ask her about our projects to teach about ocean environments while increasing general literacy in science, design, and emerging technologies. And do let her know if you’re interested in having the Hydrous present at your school or organization. You can also learn about the current exhibit at the Petaluma Arts Center that features Hydrous work.

One of my favorite quotes is from Senagalese environmentalist Baba Dioum who said: “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." To add to that, I would say that we can only learn about, understand, and love the things we see and feel.

I hope you’ll learn a lot tonight, about coral reefs, about new technologies, and I hope that you’ll find ways to get involved. You’ll find a number of sign-up sheets at the tables, to express interest in joining an expedition, becoming a Hydrous Ambassador, inviting us to a speak, or donating to our cause.

To conclude my remarks, I’d like to tell you a story that I like to tell when I encounter people who feel overwhelmed or helpless or in despair when it comes to the fate of ocean environments (especially coral reefs, which in the last two years have experienced unprecedented levels of bleaching and death due to rising ocean temperatures). So, this is a photograph from one of my study sites, which I visited often during my 7 years studying the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It’s called One Tree Island, and in 2008 tropical cyclone Hamish came through and wiped out the whole windward slope. Here it is a few months later. I documented the effects of this cyclone in a paper published in the journal Marine Biology and even though I approached the destruction with a scientific objectivity, I was saddened by this rapid change in a place I loved. So you can imagine my joy, when this year my co-author Mike Kingsford sent me this photo. The reef is coming back! This can be attributed to time, the biological ability of corals to replenish their populations, and the fact that One Tree Island is in a protected area, where human impacts are minimal. Plus it escaped the worst of the 2016 bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, ironically due to a cyclone that delivered cooler water. 

One Tree

There are many stories like this. Coral reefs and other ocean ecosystems can recover, we just have to let them.

The message of the Hydrous is therefore not one of naïve optimism, but informed hope.

With that, let me raise a glass to all of you, and to our beautiful blue planet.


So, what's next?

  • Check out the Hydrous calendar to keep up to date with upcoming events, including:
    • The Tidal Response art exhibit, and associated panel discussion, at the Petaluma Arts Center that features Hydrous coral prints
    • A Keynote speech at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. 
    • A presentation to the Marin Scuba Club
    • The 2017 Maldives expedition
  • We are planning on establishing more regular meet-ups to bring together our community, so stay tuned. 
  • If you signed up to learn more about upcoming Hydrous expeditions and our Ambassador Program, we will be following up with you shortly. 
  • Our current projects include creating a virtual reality film for ocean immersion, and developing classroom educational kits, for which we are fundraising. If you'd like to contribute to this effort, you can donate here

Please also check out our online store to purchase our 3D prints and support the Hydrous mission. 





You're Invited -- JOIN US!


Hydrous “Happy Hour” 

Date & Time: Thurs., August 24 at 6 PM - 10 PM

Location: Autodesk Gallery, The Landmark Building - Second Floor., 1 Market Street and Embarcadero – across from the Ferry Building.

Open Access Oceans: Expeditions, Technology, and Education

You are cordially invited to a reception at the Autodesk Gallery to celebrate art, science, and technology for ocean education. Please join us for a drink in support of the Hydrous (www.thehydro.us)

We are an international community of scientists, divers, designers, filmmakers, and technologists who love the ocean and want to share it to protect it. The Hydrous is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization on a mission to create open access oceans.

You will learn about marine science and ocean education, view beautiful 3D coral models produced with Autodesk software, learn about our photogrammetry and 360 immersion projects, and find ways to get involved!

Learn more about the upcoming Maldives expedition here: https://goo.gl/Gm8u68

A $20 donation is suggested for entry, though anything you can give will be appreciated. Kids are welcome at no charge. We will have an open bar, serving beer and wine as long as supplies last.

PURCHASE TICKETS HERE: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/hydrous-happy-hour-tickets-35443656932

Can I purchase tickets at the door? 


What are my transportation/parking options for getting to and from the event?

Driving Directions

From the North Bay/Golden Gate Bridge:

  • Go SOUTH on US-101 over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.
  • Turn RIGHT on Van Ness Avenue.
  • Turn LEFT on Broadway Street.
  • Turn RIGHT on Battery Street.
  • Turn LEFT on California.
  • Turn LEFT on Market Street. The Landmark Building is on the corner of Market Street and Embarcadero – across from the Ferry Building. The Gallery is located on the Second Floor.

From South Bay:

  • Go NORTH on US-101 towards San Francisco, take the I-280 EXIT towards Port of San Francisco.
  • Take LEFT ramp onto King Street. Continue on the Embarcadero.
  • Turn LEFT on Bryant Street.
  • Turn RIGHT on Main Street.
  • Turn RIGHT on Market Street.
  • The Landmark Building is on the corner of Market Street and Embarcadero – across from the Ferry Building. The Gallery is located on the Second Floor.

From East Bay:

  • Go NORTH on I-880 – 80 towards San Francisco/Berkeley.
  • Take the I-580 EXIT towards San Francisco.
  • Continue on the I-580 WEST ramp towards San Francisco.
  • Take the HARRISON STREET LEFT EXIT toward Embarcadero.
  • Turn RIGHT on Harrison Street.
  • Turn LEFT on Main Street, bear RIGHT on Market Street.
  • The Landmark Building is on the corner of Market Street and Embarcadero – across from the Ferry Building. The Gallery is located on the Second Floor.

Public Transportation Options

BART: Embarcadero Station

MUNI: Visit www.sfmta.com for details on Muni lines and mapping your route.

Parking Options

One Market garage (entrance on Spear Street)

  • Hours of operation: 6:00am- 7:00pm. Monday - Friday. 
  • Rates: Hourly $3.00/15 minutes / Daily $48
  • Valet only. (For evening parking, speak to valet about exit time)

Rincon Center (on Spear btwn. Mission and Howard)

  • Hours of operation: 6:00am-12:00am Monday - Friday
  • Rates: $12/hour / Daily $30
  • Valet & Self-park

75 Howard Street (one block south of One Market, btwn Spear and Steuart Streets)

  • Hours of operation: 6:00am-11:00pm
  • Rates: $3.00/15 minutes / Daily $29
  • Self-park

Going Blue...starting with YOU

We can support healthy oceans through conserving energy, reducing emissions, and supporting effective climate change legislation and a global network of marine protected areas (MPAs). Phrasing like this can leave us paralyzed without tangible action and connection, perpetuating this “out of sight out of mind” mentality we fall back on. Although the following demonstrates action items, I advocate that a shift in perspective, dialogue, action, and lifestyle is more important than any checklist.  

Many of the following suggestions aim to reduce our dependency on products, exposure to harmful chemicals, and the amount of waste we incur, while becoming more self-reliant and responsible. Much is centered on simplifying, aiming for a “zero waste,” circular economy. A lot of this is what we know already – going back to sacrificing for the common good as seen in WWII. By starting with ourselves, we create healthier bodies and mindsets, and we can expand that to our family, friends, and community. I realize this is more about self than oceans, but the most effective action we can take immediately is with ourselves first.  

A lot of this refers to knowing what is in the products we buy - because a lot of waste from products (pre and post production) eventually makes its way to our oceans, and back to our bellies. By understanding what we are purchasing, we can actively support good communities, companies, and prevent exploitation of resources, people or animals. Even if you are not one of 3 billion people who eat fish, or you don’t live near a beach or care about the beach, you still benefit from the ocean through many other ways. The ocean provides more than half of the oxygen in the atmosphere, and absorbs the most carbon from it. Oceans provide jobs, minerals and crude oil, coral reefs protect shorelines and provide opportunities for biotechnology, and 99 percent of all international data travel through undersea cables.

And yet the oceans suffer from many threats including overfishing, pollution, and ocean acidification. Taking actions like buying from sustainable and local farms decrease our carbon footprint and can prevent destruction of resources or runoff of toxic waste that goes - you got it - into our oceans. Are we stuck in a tragedy of the commons scenario that’s irreversible? I like to think we didn’t know consumption would get this bad, that demand has gotten out of our control. This is the new normal, and it’s up to you to decide if you want to keep it that way.


  • Opt for washable 100% cotton towels instead of paper towels.
  • Keep your plastic bottles and refill your soap/detergents at stores that offer bulk shopping (most co-ops, local health stores). Don’t toss plastic items just to buy all new natural things. Simply use them until you can no longer find a purpose for that item.
  • Compost. Use newspaper to line a bowl or bin and collect scraps. Request a free bin from your city if available. Know what goes in what bin where you live!
  • Cook food at home. Every year wasted food in the UK represents 14 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. In total, these greenhouse gas emissions are the same as those created by 7 million cars each year.
  • Add some green to your life. Purify your air with plants rather than aerosols.
  • Decrease water consumption. Wash clothes in cold water (with a full load) and line dry. Keep a bucket in your shower to catch extra water, which you can be put towards plants/lawn.
  • Hand wash as an alternative to dry cleaning (PERC is a chemical known as perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene. It's the solvent used by about 85% of U.S. dry cleaners, but is also used as a metal degreaser and in the production of many other chemicals). 
  • Unplug devices and turn off lights when not in use.
  • Water plants/lawns in the early morning to prevent evaporation.
  • Swap traditional light bulbs for LEDs.
  • Investigate what chemicals are leaching into your food from your cookware, cutting boards, and cooking utensils. Wood, stainless steel and cast-iron (All-Clad, Le Creuset, Lodge) are preferred to non-stick, teflon, and plastic.
  • What are you cleaning your dishes and counters with? Dilute white vinegar and/or essential oils with water or purchase bulk castile soap (Dr. Bronner’s).
  • Opt for organic dryer balls instead of dryer sheets.
  • Utilize Craigslist, eBay, flea markets, and estate sales to purchase secondhand goods.


  • Did you know? The fashion industry is the world's 2nd most polluting industry, after oil. 25% of the world's chemicals are used for textile production, and 10% of the world's global carbon emissions result from the apparel and textile industry. The textile industry uses more water than any other industry apart from agriculture.
  • Look at the tag of your shirt right now. I bet something on your body is made of synthetic material, which is cheap to make, and can enter both our bloodstream and water systems through microfibers that are too small for sewage systems to catch. Find out what your clothes are made of and shop for natural fibers (cotton, silk, wool, hemp).
  • Buy clothing second hand (my favorite store in SF is Held Over).
  • With fashion trends changing rapidly, clothes seem cheap and disposable. Extend the life of your wardrobe by mending clothes and getting shoes repaired.  
  • If you do buy new, purchase goods from reputable companies that offer ethical, sustainable practices and dignified employment standards (Sudara, Amour Vert, Prairie Underground, Prana). 
  • Can you buy whatever you just ordered online in-person at a shop near you? Online shopping is great for convenience, but increases our carbon footprint.

Food and Drink

  • Buy in bulk, when possible. Bring your own shopping and produce bags (most have the weight on the tag or you can tare the weight at the store before filling up). Although I know buying in bulk is not realistic for everyone, many things are cheaper in bulk (Rainbow Grocery, Other Avenues).
  • When you store food in plastic, especially if it's heated, chemicals leach into your food. Opt for glass or stainless steel as they do not contaminate, and are recyclable.
  • Replace plastic straws (marine litter source) with stainless steel, glass, or paper. 
  • Pass on items labeled biodegradable and bioplastic. Bioplastics are made from plants such as corn and maize – on land that could be used to grow food. They need very specific conditions to decompose, and can still take many years to break down. Even then, they may leave behind toxic residues. If they are mixed up in a recycling bin, the whole collection becomes impossible to recycle. In landfills, these plastics produce methane gas – a powerful greenhouse gas that adds to the problem of global warming.
  • Choose alternative materials (paper, glass, aluminum, cotton, beeswax) depending on the purpose. Understand your city's recycling and compost regulations and read package labels.
  • If you eat seafood, purchase wisely and know exactly what you’re consuming Download the Seafood Watch app.
  • Love coffee? Refuse takeaway cups by bringing your own mug/jar/KeepCup, or drinking your coffee IN the cafe (yes, Starbucks offers this, and yes, it will taste better). If you absolutely must have your orange mocha frapp to go, go topless (oh la la!).  Use a french press for loose leaf tea or coffee instead of single-use coffee servings and filters. 
  • Support local, sustainable agriculture. Find a farmer’s market near you or sign up for CSA produce box delivery (Farm Fresh to You, EatWell, Greenhearts Family Farm). Buy thoughtfully, not over-packaged, and in season.
  • Plant a garden to grow your own herbs, fruits and vegetables.
  • Reduce meat consumption/processed food or go vegetarian/vegan. A large proportion of human emissions comes from food production, and meat is associated with much higher carbon emissions than plant-based food.
  • If you’re still not convinced your tap water is perfectly fine to drink, purchase a water filter system.
  • Ditch chewing gum. Most gum base today is made of synthetic plastics and rubber.
  • Don’t be embarrassed to speak up! Ask for a beverage without a straw, decline packaging, and ask for paper boxes when ordering takeout. You’re saving a business money and giving feedback on what the public wants to see.  

Travel (work, vacation)

  • Bring your own cup and utensils. Pack a lunch. Do you carry your lunch back to your desk? Can you spend the few minutes to sit down and eat where you purchased?
  • Bring your own toiletries when staying in a hotel.
  • Travel responsibly. Patronize businesses that are ocean and animal friendly.
  • Be kind to marine life - specifically, no touching or taking. Keep things where they are - imagine if everyone took home shells - what would we or the ocean have left?
  • Bring your own utensils/spork (Bambu).
  • Say no to single-use plastics. If you must use single-use, ask yourself if you can reuse that item.
  • Use a refillable ink fountain pen (Lamy).


  • Personal and skincare products are dirty! Use the Think Dirty app to scan any item in your kitchen or bathroom to see how it rates in terms of toxicity, and what certain chemicals can do to us.
  • Make your own toothpaste, deodorant, tooth powder, lip balm, dry shampoo, candles, body lotion/oil (there are tons of recipes available online) and this will save you money and exposure to harmful chemicals in the long run. Rule of thumb: if you can’t pronounce it, it shouldn’t be trusted to be ingested.  
  • Shop for safe effective beauty products (Credo, Organic Bunny).
  • Quit purchasing disposable razors and invest in a safety razor.
  • Purchase compostable sponges and toothbrushes made from bamboo.
  • Reusable menstrual cups/pads. Most manufacturers bleach rayon by using the disinfectant chlorine dioxide in a process that produces trace amounts of a toxin called dioxin, which is known to cause reproductive and developmental impairment.
  • Forgo kleenex/baby wipes which are bleached and clog up our waste systems and use a good ol’e hanky. There’s a stigma that reusing items are unsanitary or ‘gross.’ However, blowing your nose on synthetic and harmful chemicals sounds pretty nasty to me.
  • Use a bamboo compostable toothbrush (Brush With Bamboo).
  • Use shampoo bars and soaps (homemade or from a farmers market) that come wrapped in paper.
  • Reusable cotton rounds can replace cotton balls and makeup wipes (laden with pesticides).
  • Use sunscreen that is safe to our environment (Badger, BurnOut).


  • If you see trash, please pick it up to prevent harm to another animal. Organize a beach cleanup for your team.
  • Bring your kids/family/friends to the beach! Wherever your happy place is outside, celebrate it with others. "In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." (Baba Dioum, 1968). Nothing beats experience and making a connection first-hand.
  • There are LOTS of available services to get around town that are less harmful than driving a car. Carpool, use public transportation, or use your body.
  • Think about how you inspire others through your actions. Gift wrap with newspaper. Instead of buying a material gift, donate to a cause in the name of someone else.
  • Quit purchasing balloons! Helium is a finite resource, and we are in a shortage. Also, when balloons are released up in the air, they come down - and usually in the ocean.
  • Take a month long Plastic Free Challenge - this July!
  • Inform yourself! Just because something is available to us to buy or consume, does NOT mean someone cares about or did the research to its effects. Did you know chemicals do not have to be tested for safety, and that doctors have found more than 300 chemicals in the umbilical cord of newborn babies (Human Experiment)?
  • Keep working towards a zero waste lifestyle. There are lots of blogs and information on the web and social media to stay informed and current (Trash is for Tossers, Be Zero).
  • Support effective climate change legislation. Write to your representative.
  • Calculate your global carbon footprint HERE.
  • We all learned the R’s of Recycling when we were younger, but here they are again in order of prioritized action: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, and Recycle. This is the absolute last step to take. Before tossing something out, hold it in your hands for a second longer and think of where it’s going and if there is any other path it could take, because as much as we want to believe it is being recycled into another usable item, it’s likely not (Plastic China).
  • Become a Hydrous ambassador!

Going Blue

When Rachel Carson published her book Silent Spring in 1962, the modern day “Green” movement was ignited. In 1970, the first Earth Day was celebrated and by 1975, the EPA had banned or severely restricted all six toxic chemicals discussed in her book. “Going Green” is an example of how powerful a movement can infiltrate politics, education, art, and media. For oceans, the United Nations officially recognized World Oceans Day in only 2008. This day celebrates the beauty and wonder of our oceans and how they are critical to our survival, but also brings to light the rapid degradation of our oceans. Ultimately, World Oceans Day embraces the importance of “Going Blue.” The Green movement was a reaction to a few prominent environmental disasters. If we proactively act now, we can remediate and prevent catastrophes in the future.  

This year’s World Oceans Day coincides with the United Nations Ocean Conference, which urges global government bodies and citizens to take action to improve and protect the health of our oceans (learn more about the conference here). Although a global consensus is absolutely necessary, such a process moves slowly, and there are bottom-up actions on a community level that could scale fast to help our ocean now. The focus of this year’s Oceans Day is “Encouraging solutions to plastic pollution and preventing marine litter for a healthier ocean and a better future.” With this in mind, this piece reflects on the evolution of marine litter, specifically plastic pollution, and approaches attainable actions for individuals. 

We have grown accustomed to instant gratification, demand, and commodity, and are at the mercy of advertising, which has in turn blossomed ignorance. Undeniably, we are a nation of consumers, a society increasingly democratized by our shared ability to enjoy the conveniences and comforts of modern life. We are moving so fast we can’t stop to look around us and realize how far we’ve come. However, if we can surpass ignorance and acknowledge that we are hurting our oceans, we can overcome apathy and mitigate other problems by tackling our everyday behavior and effect on our climate. As a collective force, we can even reverse some consequences caused by our actions (hello, ozone layer!). For instance, my 10 year old nephew convinced his classmates to use alternatives to plastic straws. Someone in India is making utensils out of crackers, and who knows, algae may save us all from its use as biofuel to biodegradable packaging.

Part of studying science is the pursuit and testing of truth test, and part of evaluating research is trying to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. If circumstances were different - if people knew things were not good for them, or if a parent didn’t have to work all day then go to a store to buy food for her family, if she had more money to buy organic, if organic is even available, if companies didn’t monopolize on and target marginalized communities - things could be different. Our time and money are precious, and we also don’t have the emotional bandwidth to take in the enormity of information about global issues. But the people who prepare the food and create the products we buy also have financial pressures and obligations, so we can’t (always) trust each other to have our best interest in mind. So hopefully this piece just shares some knowledge so you can decide what is normal for you. As Voltaire remarked “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”  You shouldn’t have to feel guilt-tripped into taking action, but if each person makes accessible choices that better themselves and the oceans, together this force is insurmountable.

And yes, there are more immediate threats to livelihood, but it is so strongly supported by peer-reviewed and credible science that these problems are interconnected - and our “first world problems” really do create problems for the rest of the developing world.  For instance, If the oceans were a nation, they would constitute the world’s 7th largest economy. If the environment, and specifically oceans, are kept in check, certain industries (i.e. fishing, tourism) will thrive, and certain burdens will lesson (i.e. in 2014, oceans contributed more than $352 billion to the U.S. GDP and supported 3.1 million jobs). If decades of peer-reviewed research is completely wrong, then the worst that can happen is that we have more jobs and a pretty decent planet to live in, and that other countries less fortunate may live more comfortably. The best that can happen is that we genuinely want to make a change, and work together creatively and strategically to make impactful changes.



Hello, I hate plastics. I acknowledge plastic is wonderful. Depending on how it's processed, plastic can be used to wrap a sandwich or in a medical device to save someone’s life. What I loathe is the overproduction, demand, and dependency of plastics – even more so, without the realization. We are immune to the idea that plastic is anything but disposable, that we are entitled to plastic, and that it is cheap.  

What is plastic? Most of today's plastics are made of strong, stable, hydrocarbon molecules—packets of carbon and hydrogen—derived from the refining of oil, natural gas, coal, minerals and plants. Let me repeat that - plastic comes from FOSSIL FUELS. These are non-renewable sources that we use with the concept of infinite surplus. We have this notion that plastic is sterile and protects us, but there are lots of credible research that suggests fossil fuels and plastic products impose a lot of health risks ranging from respiratory diseases to cancer, and our exposure to contaminants is increasing [1-8].

America’s biggest snake-oil salesman. Initially monopolized by the military, and in efforts to conserve natural rubber, the production of plastics leaped during War World II, nearly quadrupling from 213 million pounds in 1939 to 818 million pounds in 1945. Once the war ended, plastics exploded into consumer markets, resulting in an economic boom that left Americans – who had been in a weary state of conservation – with an unprecedented level of disposable income. The average American could now have a stereo in every room, a car in the driveway, and be able to eat their TV dinners on trays and pack the leftovers away in Tupperware.

With this plastic proliferation, bottled water started to emerge in the 19th century as a healthy alternative to contaminated water supplies, and technological advancements improved production speed and lowered cost. However in the early 20th century, chlorination of municipal water spread around the world nearly collapsed the bottled water industry. In the past, buying clean water was reserved for the wealthy, but now it was available to all for free. Nonetheless, thanks to a $5m campaign television advertising across America – the largest ever for a bottled water – Perrier changed the way we view drinking water. Perrier sales in the US increased from 2.5m bottles to more than 75m bottles from 1975 to just 1978. Today, thanks to marketing, packaging and convenience, bottled water sales surpass beer and milk sales in the U.S.

Who has our best interest in mind? We cannot rely on assuming what is marketed to us is safe for us. Does it make any sense that soda companies are interested in bottled water? Corporations like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo know how lucrative bottled water is, and we want to drink clean water. In 2006, the EPA found 89.3% of the nation's community water systems were in compliance with more than 90 EPA standards. The U.S. has some of the cleanest and safest public water supplies in the world. However, a poll conducted by Gallup in 2017 revealed 63% of Americans “worry a great deal about pollution of drinking water.” You just have to look around to actualize this number.

There is too much single-use plastic in the world. Americans have a never-ending smorgasbord of affordable plastic goods to choose from and then move on from quickly. We don’t have to worry about what happens when we “recycle.” Take plastic bags for instance. It is estimated that Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, which require 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture. Plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes, however it takes more than 500 years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill. Unfortunately the bags don’t break down completely but instead photo-degrade, becoming microplastics (plastic fragments <5 mm in diameter and are a widespread form of contamination in marine ecosystems around the globe) that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment.

Dr. Kathryn Berry researching ocean plastic pollution on the 2016 Hydrous expedition to the Maldives

Dr. Kathryn Berry researching ocean plastic pollution on the 2016 Hydrous expedition to the Maldives

Most plastic is thrown out, not recycled. Today Americans discard about 33.6 million tons of plastic each year, but in the U.S., 93% of plastics are not recovered, and go straight to landfills. So even though developed countries have the ability and programs to recycle, most refuse is exported it to be recycled elsewhere. Scrap and trash has consistently been one of the U.S.’s biggest export, with all U.S. plastic scrap exports in 2015 totaling 2,058,000 metric ton and valued at $817.8 million.

Environmentalism is reserved for the elite -- but it’s not upheld. As we now know, recycling really isn’t ‘noble’ - it’s just moving trash around. Furthermore, enacting regulations does not necessarily reciprocate environmental friendliness. Take the U.S. for instance. We have plans that allow us to recycle and laws that protect the environment, but we are one of the biggest polluters. The Maldives on the other hand, are responsible for just 0.01% of global greenhouse gases, but they suffer due to collective harm from other countries.

Plastic ends up in oceans and never truly degrades. It is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. Not only are we consuming oil-derived microplastics and fibers (degraded from larger plastic items, dumping from boats, blown in from shore, littering, effluent, waterway contamination), but plastic debris easily absorb and excrete toxins, and as fish eat smaller animals and invertebrates that also consume plastic, these toxins bioaccumulate and biomagnify as they move through trophic levels [9-15].


Changing at political level is too slow. It can take years for a ban to come into full force once passed, and may be applied to just cities, counties, or states as opposed to large-scale nationwide. For instance, microplastics were banned in California in 2015, but exempts microbeads in prescription drugs and in products containing less than 1 part per million (ppm) of plastic microbeads, and does not include cosmetics. The ban will take five years to go into effect. Additionally, California passed the plastic bag ban in November 2016, however, the law does not affect plastic produce bags, newspaper bags, or bags in restaurants and other stores. Furthermore, we often hear to “vote with your dollar,” but at the scale and magnitude of plastic was production and consumption, we need change NOW. We therefore need to act independently to pick up the slack of slow policy….etc etc etc or something? 

The demand for plastics isn’t slowing down. For more than 50 years, global production of plastic has continued to rise (299 million tons of plastics were produced in 2013), however recovery and recycling remains insufficient, and millions of tons of plastics end up in landfills and oceans each year. The use of recycled/reclaimed material is prevalent in the fashion industry (e.g. Nike shoes made from ocean litter). Although popular, this type of ‘upcycling’ is not true cradle-to-cradle recyclable, in that it doesn’t conserve virgin materials (hydrocarbon polymer chains, crude oil). Instead of making it fashionable to upcycle plastic bottles into a garment, let’s make it cool to eliminate the problem in the first place, so this waste doesn’t exist.


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  10. Eriksen, M., et al., Plastic pollution in the world's oceans: more than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tons afloat at sea. PLOS ONE, 2014. 9(12): p. E111913.

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  15. Phillips, M.B., et al., Occurrence and amount of microplastic ingested by fishes in watersheds of the Gulf of Mexico, Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2015. 100(1): p. 264-269.

Monterey Expedition

In April 2017 the Hydrous hosted an expedition to Monterey Bay, California where we had the opportunities to explore some of the wonderful underwater ecosystems in our own backyard!

Together with Breakwater Scuba we were able to have a full day of diving along the breakwater wall and to the beautiful metridium fields (located past the end of an old sardine pipe, which was used when the canneries were active in the early 1900's) and had fun trying to identify the various nudibranchs we spotted. 

On land, we enjoyed the rare sightings of harbor seal pups (pupping season lasts just a few weeks every year) along the beaches and learned about the history of the California coast as it pertains to keystone species and thriving ecosystems. 

We rounded off the weekend at Moss Landing Marine Labs, where the group was able to tour the facilities and meet with some researchers to learn about their work. The Hydrous also handed off some 3D printed models of coral reefs that were showcased at their annual Open House the following weekend.  

The Big Bleach

Quantifying a Coral Catastrophe in the Maldives

Schooling bannerfish (Heniochus diphreutes) swimming past dead table corals

Schooling bannerfish (Heniochus diphreutes) swimming past dead table corals

2016 was a rough year for the world’s coral reefs. Higher than normal ocean temperatures caused coral bleaching all around the planet, from East Africa across the Indian Ocean and throughout Indonesia, among Pacific islands like Hawaii and Kiribati, in Florida and the Caribbean, from Japan and the Philippines to the South China Sea, with an especially dramatic hit to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Bleaching events of this scale have happened only a few times in recorded history and are becoming more frequent as oceans warm. Such catastrophic occurrences threaten the survival of remarkable coral ecosystems as well as hundreds of millions of people who rely on these habitats for food and jobs.

A dead table coral after the recent mass bleaching

A dead table coral after the recent mass bleaching

The recent Hydrous expedition to the Maldives began in late November, about eight months after the worst of this bleaching, so we had a chance to view the aftermath. We had heard reports that ~60% of Maldivian reefs were bleached but, keeping in mind that a bleached reef is not a dead reef and knowing that corals can recover from events like this, we hoped for the best. We did not expect to see much bleaching, if any, because water temperatures had cooled by the time we arrived. Rather, we were interested in assessing post-bleaching mortality and looking for signs of recovery.

Before we unpacked our dive slates, underwater paper, and sampling quadrats, we glimpsed the damage. On our first checkout dive, we saw the skeletons of enormous table-top Acropora colonies that were gray as stone, overturned, swamped by sediment, or overgrown with green algae. It was like viewing the ruins of a once great city. Living corals are colorful; a healthy reef glows with golden browns, blues, and pinks, whereas this reef was dominated by muted grays and greens.


Still hopeful, we knew that systematic, quantitative data is far superior to personal impressions. We can’t draw conclusions from one dive and a lazy color assessment. Reef monitoring is a central component to Hydrous expeditions and most people on board learned a standardized rapid protocol to assess coral bleaching. This method was developed by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) scientist Dr. Tim McClanahan and has been used around the world to monitor bleaching events since 1998, including over 250 sites in 13 countries during the 2016 El Niño. Citing the importance of long-term monitoring and “many eyes on the reef,” WCS scientists developed these methods to also be accessible to local community members, divers, and snorkelers who may not have ecology backgrounds. The Hydrous expedition taught these methods to our unique team of designers, engineers, tech professionals, and Maldivian environmental stewards to monitor the frequency and severity of bleaching on the reefs that we were visiting.

Dr. Woolsey using a quadrat, a clipboard, underwater paper, and a pencil to survey the reef with the WCS protocol  

Dr. Woolsey using a quadrat, a clipboard, underwater paper, and a pencil to survey the reef with the WCS protocol  

The Hydrous team conducted surveys at five sites in the central Maldives: Bandos, Bodufolhudhoo, Rasdhoo, Reethi Beach, and Villingilli (Fig. 1). Three of these sites (Bandos, Reethi Beach, and Villingilli) were monitored with the same protocol during the height of the bleaching in April/May 2016 by a scientist from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This scientist observed substantial bleaching at these sites: 24% of all coral colonies were bleached at Bandos, 78% at Reethi Beach, and 64% at Villingilli (Fig 2). Surveys were conducted at 2 meters depth at Reethi Beach and 10 meters at both Bandos and Villingilli. [Note: Bandos was monitored at the onset of bleaching in April. When the IUCN scientist viewed this reef at the height of the bleaching, closer to 85% of the reef was bleached.]

Figure 1: Map of the central Maldives, showing 5 sites surveyed by the Hydrous in December 2016. Sites that were also surveyed in April/May 2016 using the WCS protocol are shown with white diamonds. Sites surveyed only in December 2016 are represented by black squares (these data will be used for future comparisons).

Figure 1: Map of the central Maldives, showing 5 sites surveyed by the Hydrous in December 2016. Sites that were also surveyed in April/May 2016 using the WCS protocol are shown with white diamonds. Sites surveyed only in December 2016 are represented by black squares (these data will be used for future comparisons).

Figure 2. Percentage of bleached colonies observed during the mass bleaching event in April/May of 2016. Percentages were calculated by dividing the total number of bleached coral colonies by total number of colonies. Note: error bars are absent in this figure because the protocol uses a running tally of colonies rather than counts per quadrat.

Figure 2. Percentage of bleached colonies observed during the mass bleaching event in April/May of 2016. Percentages were calculated by dividing the total number of bleached coral colonies by total number of colonies. Note: error bars are absent in this figure because the protocol uses a running tally of colonies rather than counts per quadrat.

Using the April/May survey data that the IUCN scientist generously shared with Hydrous, we could compare the state of the same three sites (shown in white diamonds in Fig.1) during and after the bleaching. By the time we arrived in the Maldives in late November, water temperatures had dropped to pre-bleaching levels. We recorded 28-29ºC at each site compared to 30-31ºC measured in April/May 2016 (it’s amazing how a sustained rise of only 1-2ºC degrees can inflict such widespread damage). Though we didn’t observe bleaching, we could still use the WCS protocol to understand the impacts of bleaching by measuring indicators for reef health including live cover of hard, reef-building corals, presence of macroalgae (i.e. seaweed, which competes for space with coral), colony density, and coral mortality.

We found that the reefs had changed considerably after the bleaching (Figs 3-7). Hard coral cover dropped after the bleaching in both Bandos (from 25 ± 3% to 13 ± 2%) and Reethi Beach (from 26 ± 5% to 17 ± 3%), whereas it remained low in Villingilli (~10%; Fig 3). Macroalgae cover increased at both Bandos and Reethi Beach, but remained under 10% (Fig 4). Unfortunately, such reductions in live coral cover and increases in macroalgae cover are signs of a degrading reef. At Villingilli, macroalgae cover was high both during and after the bleaching (19 ± 4% and 18 ± 3%, respectively; Fig 4).