UCSB’s Marine Science Institute (MSI) is partnering with Robert Ballard — most famously known for his discovery of the Titanic — through the MSI’s new facility for Outreach to Teach Ocean Science (OCTOS) to create an opportunity for elementary school students to learn about ocean science via a 24/7 satellite feed.

OCTOS is an expansion of UCSB’s Ocean’s to Classroom program, which includes the Research Experience Education Facility (REEF). OCTOS is split into an ocean science education building and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) office. OCTOS is the result of an affiliation between CINMS and the university.

Ballard, a UCSB alumnus, said the goal of the collaboration is to educate kids about the mysteries of seamounts on the ocean floor without their leaving the comforts of their desk chairs.

“The ultimate goal is to communicate environmental science and ocean science to give general awareness.”

Ballard is working with Scott Simon from the MSI to develop an interactive telepresence to virtually connect his ship Nautilus to a live audience. This gives the opportunity for students to interact with workers onboard the Nautilus to have a full experience of what life is like at sea.

Ballard and Simon’s work will give students the ability to learn ocean science from the Nautilus’ explorations, and has already been seen a success from the pilot programs with Adelante Charter School in Santa Barbara. A group of 6th graders interacted with Ballard and watched action aboard the Nautilus from the safety of the OCTOS facility.

David Smithers, a UCSB student and REEF employee, said that the students were in awe of the comprehensive views of the underwater ocean.

“The students were wide-eyed the entire program. The moment that the live-feed connected, the 6th graders were interacting with the ship’s crew and asking tons of questions,” Ballard said. “It was great to see how much the students enjoyed virtually SCUBA diving with the Nautilus, and to see the kids be inspired to learn more about the mysteries of the ocean.”

Simon said that he looks forward to expand his education programs from REEF to OCTOS with Ballard’s live feed from the Nautilus, which will bring attention to these facilities.

“One of the reasons that we are so excited about Ballard is that he attracts a lot of attention, so hopefully that will gain more momentum on raising the funds necessary for completing the building,” Simon said.

According to Simon, the pilot programs for the virtual exploration are already proving successful.

“We have seen a lot of positive feedback from the kids. For REEF, as a touch tank, it is great for them to interact hands-on. But now we can take them virtually into the deep sea world. It is a great mechanism for teaching kids more about ocean science,” Simon said.

The projected date for OCTOS to launch has yet to be determined, but the REEF facility near Campus Point currently invites children to interact with touch tanks boasting creatures ranging from eels to starfish. REEF is open to the public on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

By expanding the outreach to OCTOS, the MSI hopes to increase the teaching environment to greater depths.


A version of this story appeared on page 21 of Thursday, October 9, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.