Securing and prepping our fishing aggregation device (FAD) for deployment with the Maka Niu. Photo credit: Tabby Berg. 22102108
A marine research and training programme called Denticles and Tentacles offered a unique opportunity to train students between the ages of 16-24 years old in ocean exploration, engineering, and research techniques.
Te Ipukarea Society’s Project Officer, Terena
Koteka-Wiki, took part in one-of-two, week-long workshops that aimed to promote
the importance of high quality, reproducible data to help shape the future of
the Cook Islands for ocean stewardship.
Dr. Jessica Cramp is the Founder and Executive
Director of Sharks Pacific, a local non-profit organisation that partnered up
with the Ocean Discovery League and local scientists to provide this ocean
exploration workshop to local youth in Rarotonga. The workshops were funded by
a grant from the US Embassy in New Zealand.
The week-long workshops were spent both out on the
water and in the classroom with a diverse group of Cook Islands students, all
having a similar interest to learn more about the marine environment. The
programme involved learning basic boat safety, tying knots, navigation, proper
deployment of baited remote underwater video stations (BRUVS), data collection,
building our own fishing aggregation device (FAD), prepping bait and hearing
presentations from Cook Islanders working in STEM-related fields.
In preparation for the water, Reelaxing Fishing
Charters boat captain, Tom Weeks, introduced students to basic boat safety.
Seafaring basics included learning the parts of a boat, being well-prepared and
how to safely navigate your way into and out of the harbour, as well as how to
read paper nautical maps and triangulating your position on land. Once we were
out on the water, to ensure equipment is secure when deployed, students practiced
tying four different knots. These knots were a bowline, water bowline, clove
hitch and two half-hitches. Students were assisted by Jess and their peers with
the research gear deployment and gear-and-data collection processes.
Exploring the marine ecosystems around Rarotonga by
using various camera technologies such as BRUVS and Maka Niu (a deep-sea camera
developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) capable of reaching
depths of 1500m), both in the shallow and deep ocean, provided an exciting opportunity
to capture footage of marine species that inhabit these spaces. The moray eels
were a common marine species that were certainly not camera shy. Upon
collecting the BRUVS and Maka Niu, which definitely required some teamwork, all
data and gear were gathered and taken back to the classroom. We also got to
snorkel almost every day outside the reef; many of our fellow participants had
never had the chance to do that!
A new day in the classroom began with species
identification where students observed and recorded their findings from footage
captured on the BRUVS and Maka Niu. Some observations included a white tip reef
shark, cruising past a BRUVS unit in the background. Others observed turtles,
schools of fish, moray eels, parrot fish, unique coral formations with drop
offs that left chills down your spine and a shark that was tough to identify
because it was in the distance. Jess encouraged students to share their
thoughts, make observations and take advantage of the shark and fish
identification books. Analysing the possibilities of which species of shark we
recorded required peers to work together to discuss certain features (size, fin
shape, coloration) to narrow down between species. After a couple trials of
shark identification and a bit of guidance from our shark researcher, Jessica
Cramp, the team identified the mystery shark as a tiger shark. It was recorded
in 100m of water.
Today’s deep-sea underwater imaging systems are
typically expensive, large, and require an extensive amount of labour to bring
back to the surface. This makes it very difficult for our local youth in the
Cook Islands to be able to understand their own backyards. However, the Ocean
Discovery League introduced the Maka Niu. This low-cost imaging system allows
us to explore the deep-ocean environment with very little equipment. We
designed and deployed our own rigs for the cameras based on what information we
wanted to collect. With a battery life of up to 90 hours and the depth rating
of 1500 metres, Maka Niu is a very practical tool to use for both exploration
The week-long workshop was full of exciting
opportunities to learn about the marine environment, explore a diverse range of
career paths, and to try something new that many have not had the chance to
experience. The Denticles and Tentacles programme was a great opportunity for
students in the Cook Islands to get hands-on experience and dive out of their