Two records of climate change over the last glacial cycle.

This image shows Davidson Seamount, located off the coast of central California in the United States. Click image for larger view and image credit.

The Benefits of Collaboration

Lisa Borok
Web Coordinator
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

George Matsumoto
Senior Educational and Research Specialist
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Andrew DeVogelaere, PhD
Chief Scientist
Davidson Seamount: Exploring Ancient Coral Gardens

Marine Scientist/Research Coordinator
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Imagine a high-school field trip where three teachers and their classes all plan to share the same bus to visit a museum. If the students are from a science class, an English class, and a government class, how should the teachers decide which exhibits to see so that their students get the information they need to complete three different class assignments? In what order should they see things? Assuming that all the students are perfect ladies and gentlemen, what agreements and compromises have to be made to assure that everyone succeeds?

Clearly, the situation is complicated. But it gives you an idea of the complexity involved in preparing and planning for this expedition. The Davidson Seamount: Exploring Ancient Coral Gardens cruise features a somewhat unusual collaboration between the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS, aka the Sanctuary, a federal resource management agency), the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC, a commercial media company), and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI, a non-profit research institution). This cruise combines the resources of these three unique organizations, working toward different but overlapping goals. Our shared goals are to better understand the deep seamount coral communities and to transmit this knowledge to our respective audiences, whether they are scientists, resource managers and decision-makers, or the general public.

Three-way collaborations like this are not very common because they require a high degree of planning and mutual trust between all the participants. Luckily, the planning teams for this project from MBARI, MBNMS, and BBC have found it pretty smooth going. One of the strengths of diversity is using our differences to leverage the expertise of each group and "add value" to the outcomes and products of this cruise for everyone. In addition, we can pool our resources and share the costs of a research expedition that might be too expensive for any one group to take on alone.

Staff and scientists from MBARI, MBNMS, and BBC are using different but complementary tools to uncover the mysteries of deep-sea coral communities on the ancient undersea volcano known as the Davidson Seamount. We are using the expertise and talents of each group to generate what we hope will be a fabulous outcome. Here are some examples.

Making movies

Film makers from the BBC are preparing a new landmark TV series called Planet Earth. A key episode in the series will feature both the open ocean and the deep ocean. Seamounts are such an exciting and developing area of deep-sea research that the BBC producers are planning to make them a main feature of the new series. Their top priority for the cruise is capturing high definition video of life on and around the seamount and the geology of the ancient volcano that makes up the seamount. To obtain the best footage possible, the BBC production crew and the MBARI remotely operated vehicle (ROV) pilots are working together to find the optimal camera and lighting positions for filming corals on the seamount. At the same time, they need to be sure the images are scientifically accurate. Also, they need to be careful that none of these modifications will compromise the safety of the ROV. The resulting footage, of course benefits BBC's final product (as well as the scientists at MBARI and the resources managers at the sanctuary). Great cinematography enables them to tell the story of the beauty and uniqueness of seamount communities to millions of viewers worldwide.

Protecting the seamount

For the MBNMS, BBC's professional camera work enhances images that are already fascinating and beautiful. The sanctuary can use this footage in a variety of education and public outreach projects about seamounts, including an exhibit in the sanctuary's planned visitor center.

The primary mission of MBNMS is to understand and protect the marine and cultural resources within the marine sanctuary's boundaries. Currently, the Davidson Seamount lies just outside of this border. However, the Sanctuary Advisory Council has made a strong case to include Davidson in the protected area when the sanctuary's management plan is revised later this year. This is the first underwater feature to be called a seamount and it is one of the best studied. If included in the new management plan, it would become the first protected seamount in the United States. Detailed and compelling video footage, along with recent scientific information, will help decision-makers, locally and nationally, evaluate the case for protecting Davidson and other seamounts around the world. This issue helps make the seamount a compelling issue for BBC viewers as well as a topical area to study for MBARI researchers.

Technology for conservation and science

MBARI's areas of expertise in this expedition include the unique technologies that allow all three groups to access Davidson, plus the scientific understanding of the terrain and the ecosystem that MBARI researchers have gathered from previous visits. MBARI's skilled ROV pilots are some of the best in the world. They help bring the the deep sea within view, while also deploying sensitive and expensive research equipment. It is a delicate "ballet" to keep a 3,000 kg robot sub from smashing into the ancient corals, while at the same time filming with a television crew, testing for subtle water currents, and collecting precious samples.

MBARI's mission includes supporting science that is socially relevant to the public and to decision-makers. While they are helping with the sanctuary's science and resource protection goals, MBARI researchers are also gathering information that will allow them to plan more extensive science programs for this and other seamounts. The BBC and the Sanctuary have access to the skills and talents of MBARI staff and the incredible MBARI technology.

A model for the future

Trying to achieve the differing but overlapping goals of three organizations is not a simple exercise. But we're excited about making this diversity work. Different talents and views might make for some confusion or issues, but the sum of all of our parts makes the results more valuable for all of us, and for our audiences. Collaborations like this will probably always be time-consuming to pull together. For example, producing a three-way agreement about how the high definition video footage from this cruise will be used took two months to craft. Planning for this expedition began in 2003! We expect more and more collaborative science and conservation projects will come together to benefit from pooled resources and talents and "value-added" results.