2023 seemed like a year where I was treading water. It's gone so fast that I've barely registered everything we're getting done (and how much money we have left until we're done). This has been a bad year for me, with lots of small projects instead of one big, comprehensive project.
Deep sea mining remains a Schrödinger industry
The beginning of 2023 saw the end of my four-year stint as editor-in-chief of the Deep-sea Mining Observer (although with a few conspiracy heads looking for gossip, there's no drama here. The project was funded for a set period of It was difficult to convince funders to keep it running for an additional two years during the pandemic, but there was always a plan in place.) I loved playing DSMO, but by the end I was getting really burned out. Producing 4 to 5 long articles on deep sea mining each month forced me to delve into the full scope of the industry, but by the final year, I knew I was ready for something else.
This has been a year of big changes and slow movement in the development of deep-sea mining, leading to what promises to be dramatic negotiations in the summer of 2024. Unfortunately, I will not be there, in my capacity as the Secretariat of the International Seabed Authority. It adopted a hostile attitude towards independent journalism and reporting, which was reflected in the media landscape. Deep-sea mining remains very much a Schrödinger industry, existing in a state of superposition somewhere between the inevitable and the impossible on a large scale. I remain involved in deep-sea mining through other ways, contributing to working groups and advising other NGOs and UN bodies.
My last act as editor before closing shop was to sign scientists' call to halt development of the industry, a move I explain in more detail here: One Mining Law to Rule Them All: A Poison Pill to the Heart Deep Sea Mining Negotiations
Drink rum, save the ocean
We built a distillery. In 2019, Jake Levinson led a team of ocean champions from Oceans Forward and DomSetCo to explore a radical new idea in ocean conservation. What if, instead of partnering with a commercial enterprise for a small portion of temporary funding from profits, the owner of a conservation NGO were the commercial enterprise? The Rosalie Conservation Center, a conservation training center, fish hatchery, and distillery, was born.
It was an idea. Then it was a building. Finally, in the final days of 2023, the first bottles of rum were filled. It will be a while before the Sperm Whale Sanctuary, the first operation of Rosalie Bay Distillery, named in honor of Dominica which created the world's first marine protected area for sperm whales, is up and running in the United States, but if you're in the Commonwealth of Dominica, go try the brew. Our rum.
I played only a small role in a much larger project here, working with Jake to complete an environmental impact assessment and playing the role I always play in large, complex logistical problems, acting as a fixer for ocean conservation groups, standing ready to tackle new and strange challenges that No one could have predicted it. I had the rare opportunity to combine ocean conservation and woodworking, and handcraft a beautiful matching little box for a bottle of rum to be delivered to someone very important.
Chesapeake Bay, electrified
The other half of the debate about deep-sea mining is the question: If we can't get important minerals from the seafloor, how can we build enough batteries to power the green revolution? This year we began the next phase of NOAA SeaGrant's Sediment Microbial Battery Project, harnessing the reduction potential of benthic mud beneath oyster aquaculture facilities to generate low-voltage power while reducing sulfates and other pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay. The first set of batteries has been deployed and we are working on the laboratory base units. And yes, you can charge your cell phone with them (just very, very slowly).
And of course, because the beauty of energy conservation technology is the adaptability, we use a heavily modified OpenCTD to measure the current in the batteries.
I fully understand the irony of saying that instead of getting battery metals from the seafloor, we can make seafloor batteries. Microbial batteries for sediments aren't so much an energy source as they are a way to clean up the bay, but it's my work in deep-sea mining that got me thinking about batteries and what we really need when we talk about energy.
Deep sea microplastics
You've started something completely new. In 2023, I inherited a huge archive of biological specimens from my PhD advisor. These samples include organisms from deep hydrothermal vents around the world, methane seeps, and vast abyssal levels. Many of the original specimens are on display at the St. Michaels Library, in St. Michaels, Maryland, where they will remain until…tomorrow. We're looking for the next home for the Little Deep Sea Museum this spring (we already have locations ready, so no, this is not a call for bids to host).
With these samples, we have begun the first global survey of microplastic accumulation in animal tissues from deep-sea hydrothermal vents and other deep-sea ecosystems. Preliminary results are not comforting: In the world's deepest known hydrothermal vents, at the spreading center in central Cayman Island, we are already seeing plastic in large quantities within the tissues of deep-sea shrimp and snails. These are ecosystems that we only discovered a decade and a half ago, and they are already full of plastic.
2023 was supposed to be the year of OpenCTD. One of the reasons I decided to finish the Deep-sea Mining Observer magazine and not continue this year's deep-sea mining work was so I could focus on improving OpenCTD. But funding challenges got in the way, forcing me to shift my priorities to other projects. But that doesn't mean things have stopped. Thanks to Patreon's ongoing support, we've been able to continue working on the OpenCTD project regardless of the unpredictability of current funding contracts.
There have been some tremendous advances in OpenCTD development, the first being that we received a small grant from the Open Science Hardware Foundation to run a documentation workshop with the goal of updating all OpenCTD documentation and improving workflow for students and educators. Over the course of a week, a small team of students, professional educators, and instrument developers built a trio of CTDs, which we calibrated and deployed at Miles River.
The end result of this workshop was the publication of OpenCTD: Build and Run, Fourth Edition, the most comprehensive and clear guide to building your own CTD ever. We've also improved the calibration process and have released a guide just on OpenCTD calibration, for those who already have a unit.
The bigger news is that, ten years after we launched this project, here at Southern Fried Science, we have a peer-reviewed paper, with extensive data validation, in press and scheduled for publication in early 2024.
Fortunately, our funding has been secured for 2024, meaning it will be the year of OpenCTD, although a year later than I had hoped.
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