FT. PIERCE, FL - A young researcher floats her tiny boat onto the surface of a tropical lagoon where hundreds of sharks have gathered. Soon, she will have to reach in and grab one.
Enveloped in cold and darkness, protected from deadly pressure by an acrylic sphere, a two-person submersible crew sits three thousand feet beneath the waves. Suddenly, a bizarre, glowing creature emerges from the shadows and shows itself to the human visitors from above - it is a new species, never before seen by man. The skilled pilot gently maneuvers a robot arm to collect the delicate organism.
Thousands of miles from home, a research ship pitches in stormy seas. One tenacious scientist remains in the on-board laboratory. He has found a chemical in a deep-sea sponge that may save thousands of lives.
Episodes like these may seem like excerpts from adventure novels, but they are happening every day in the real lives of marine scientists. Two local Web developers, captivated by these breathtaking stories of discovery, have launched a new website that will bring ocean science adventures to every desktop.
"We hear remarkable stories every day." says Mary Clark, Media Lab Director at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution. "Working at Harbor Branch, we almost take it for granted that we are surrounded by people who are pioneers of inner space. They make a living studying deep-sea vents, captaining sophisticated research ships and chasing global currents. It's a very cool thing to have inside, instant access to all of these tales of adventure and high caliber marine science ... wanting to document and share these exclusive stories is what got me thinking about establishing the new website."
Clark took her ideas to Sean Kelley, the webmaster at Harbor Branch. "At the time, I was writing a web article about a well-known shark researcher, Samuel Gruber. He was sending me all of these outlandish photos of his research assistants reaching into the water and snatching up baby sharks for tagging and genetic sampling. When Mary told me she wanted to try covering stuff like that live over the web, I was instantly sold on the idea. We got back in touch with Dr. Gruber and immediately started making arrangements to join his next mission."
Over the last month, Clark and Kelley have been working to line up correspondents and future expeditions for the new site, which is called @Sea®. The debut mission, webcast from the 204-foot HBOI Research Vessel SEWARD JOHNSON, will chronicle lemon shark research with Dr. Gruber off the coast of Brazil. Mark Carroll, an expert scuba diver with degrees in marine biology and photojournalism will be the correspondent for the shark mission, and plans to capture the action with an underwater digital video system. Daily dispatches will be sent by satellite to Harbor Branch, where they will be
posted on the Web. "If we get through the first couple of days and if our gear works as we hope, then this will be the beginning of a great website!", says Sean Kelley. "Our ace in the hole is the endless supply of thrilling material that ocean science constantly provides. Many of the world's leading marine scientists work right here at Harbor Branch. Researchers from other institutions, like Sam Gruber from University of Miami, use Harbor Branch facilities. So those stories are very easy for us to get at. We're planning to go outside our own institution to cover work being done by other marine science institutions. The bottom of the ocean is our only limit, and there's a lot of adventure between here and there!"
Upcoming @Sea expeditions for 1999 will cover research of deep-sea, bioluminescent creatures using the JOHNSON-SEA-LINK manned submersible, and the hunt for potent medicines from the ocean depths. Correspondents will be sending daily dispatches, audio clips, and video segments of these real-life (not staged) adventures as they happen, and also will attempt to convey what life is like aboard leading-edge research vessels, whether in the labs or sitting down to sample the shipboard food. Visitors to the site will see far-away ports, exotic animals, leading-edge technology, and some of the world's most daring scientists. This very material has inspired films produced by National Geographic, BBC, Nature, IMAX, Disney, and the Discovery Channel, using Harbor Branch ships and subs as filming platforms.
@Sea is up and running at http://www.at-sea.org, and currently hosts a preview article about shark research. Live coverage of the shark mission with Dr. Gruber begins on March 12. The Harbor Branch Media Lab will be hosting a presentation at 7:00 PM on March 11 on the Harbor Branch campus. Titled, "An Ocean on Every Desktop - Opening the Mysteries of the Ocean with Multimedia Technology", this presentation will demonstrate the many ways that electronic media can be used for marine science education. The evening may even include a phone call from correspondent Mark Carroll on location in Brazil, as he readies himself to dive with the sharks for the @Sea website!
@Sea will open a window on the ocean realm for students, educators, scientists, the media, funding agencies, and policy-makers. @Sea is a production of The Media Lab of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution. The Media Lab develops innovative, educational multimedia programs. Their web sites and interactive CD-ROMS focus on marine science and the environment.
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, Inc. is one of the world's premier not-for-profit marine research facilities, dedicated to the exploration of the world's oceans, estuaries and coastal regions and to the ecologically sound management of the earth's marine resources.
The above story is based on materials provided by Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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