Hydrous Happy Hour

Remarks and toast from Dr. Erika Woolsey, Hydrous CEO 8.24.2017


Hello and welcome everyone to the first ever Hydrous Happy Hour!

Thank you all for coming. Tonight, I’d like to celebrate an exciting year for the Hydrous, which began as a passion project and has evolved into a flourishing non-profit organization with a fabulous team and a growing impact in ocean discovery and education. I especially want to thank Autodesk and the Autodesk Foundation for supporting us from the beginning and for graciously inviting us into this space.

The word Hydrous means “of water.” We celebrate human connections to this blue planet through expeditions, technology, and science education to bring the ocean to everyone in what we call ‘open access oceans.’

We live on a blue planet; the ocean covers over 70% of our earth. It produces more than half the oxygen we breathe, and it feeds and supports the livelihoods of billions of people. Though human survival depends on our ocean, it remains over-exploited, under-protected, and out of mind.

We are living in a crucial time for our ocean. Most fishing stocks are exploited, and we’ve lost about half of our coral reefs in the last fifty years. The health of marine ecosystems is declining rapidly from the combined effects of climate change- like rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and sea level rise, and these effects are compounded by more direct human impacts like pollution and overfishing. Even protected regions are vulnerable, like the California coast. Just yesterday I attended a Congressional Forum with our state’s lawmakers who discussed how exceptional level of federal marine protection, which took over 20 years to achieve, is under review by the current administration.

I’ve witnessed the rapid degradation of our world’s coral reefs first hand. At first, this crisis strengthened my resolve to continue publishing papers, researching the effects of temperature on coral reefs, understanding evolutionary strategies that could allow them to persevere, and investigating the capability of coral reefs to replenish themselves during mass spawning events. My work contributed to the field of marine biology, and I perhaps naively thought that facts could speak for themselves, and that it would be easy to convince others of the crisis in our oceans and the need to save environments like coral reefs.

That’s not how it is unfortunately. I finally learned that the facts don’t speak for themselves when shaping policies and behaviors. We have to stand up for facts. And still, because people make decisions based on emotions rather than rational thought, the goal should not be to convince, but to connect. Though the Hydrous is grounded in scientific expertise, our goal is to create connections between people and our ocean. We can’t bring everyone to the ocean, so we’re working to bring the ocean to everyone.

Tonight, we’re highlighting the three facets of Hydrous work: Expeditions, Technology, and Education.

First, Expeditions: The Hydrous has led trips to coral reefs around the world: Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, Easter Island, Hawaii, and the Republic of the Maldives, which-as an island nation that sits less than a meter above sea level- is on the frontlines of climate change. On board Hydrous expeditions, participants learn about ocean issues, meet with local partners, visit beautiful and healthy reefs (as well as damaged regions, which is not a perspective you usually get on a live-aboard dive trip), learn scientific protocol for monitoring coral reef health, and become trained in our methods of reality capture and 3D modeling. To learn more, stop by the Expedition table and speak with Hydrous Ambassador and sustainability expert Kate Malmgren. Last I checked, we have a few spots left for our Maldives trip in December. You can also talk to Kate about getting involved with the Hydrous through our Ambassador program.

Second, Technology: When the Hydrous began, it was known for 3D reconstructions of coral reefs, collected through non-destructive methods. This began as a tool for long-term monitoring projects and answering scientific questions related to ecological function and climate vulnerability. We are expanding these efforts, collecting more 3D models of coral colonies as well as large swaths of reefs, 3D modeling entire islands using drones, and extending our reality capture projects to museum collections, working with the California Academy of Sciences and the Smithsonian. We’ve also been playing with 360 degree immersive experiences, and our content has been viewed by millions across online platforms, including Google Expeditions, which takes classrooms on virtual fieldtrips. We’re also recently begun work on a virtual reality film. To learn more about 3D modeling and printing, you can speak with our Fabrication Artist Elle Stapleton. To learn more about photogrammetry, the method of reality capture we use, speak with our Ambassador and innovation officer Laszlo Varga. For 360 video and Augmented Reality, you can visit Hydrous designer Rick Miskiv, and visiting AR expert Caleb Kruse. We’re also excited about our upcoming virtual reality film, with generous support from Lenovo.

Lastly, Education: We want to encourage curiosity of the world around us and improve science literacy, especially ocean literacy, so we’re developing educational curriculum for classrooms, informal settings, and public exhibitions. These programs incorporate frontier technologies like 3D printing and virtual reality for tangible, immersive, and fun lessons in ocean science for kids and adults. Talk to Nora at the Education table to learn more, Nora is also a marine biologist, and she has been working with teachers and school districts to incorporate Next Generation Science Standards into classrooms, along with Hydrous content. Ask her about our projects to teach about ocean environments while increasing general literacy in science, design, and emerging technologies. And do let her know if you’re interested in having the Hydrous present at your school or organization. You can also learn about the current exhibit at the Petaluma Arts Center that features Hydrous work.

One of my favorite quotes is from Senagalese environmentalist Baba Dioum who said: “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." To add to that, I would say that we can only learn about, understand, and love the things we see and feel.

I hope you’ll learn a lot tonight, about coral reefs, about new technologies, and I hope that you’ll find ways to get involved. You’ll find a number of sign-up sheets at the tables, to express interest in joining an expedition, becoming a Hydrous Ambassador, inviting us to a speak, or donating to our cause.

To conclude my remarks, I’d like to tell you a story that I like to tell when I encounter people who feel overwhelmed or helpless or in despair when it comes to the fate of ocean environments (especially coral reefs, which in the last two years have experienced unprecedented levels of bleaching and death due to rising ocean temperatures). So, this is a photograph from one of my study sites, which I visited often during my 7 years studying the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It’s called One Tree Island, and in 2008 tropical cyclone Hamish came through and wiped out the whole windward slope. Here it is a few months later. I documented the effects of this cyclone in a paper published in the journal Marine Biology and even though I approached the destruction with a scientific objectivity, I was saddened by this rapid change in a place I loved. So you can imagine my joy, when this year my co-author Mike Kingsford sent me this photo. The reef is coming back! This can be attributed to time, the biological ability of corals to replenish their populations, and the fact that One Tree Island is in a protected area, where human impacts are minimal. Plus it escaped the worst of the 2016 bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, ironically due to a cyclone that delivered cooler water. 

One Tree

There are many stories like this. Coral reefs and other ocean ecosystems can recover, we just have to let them.

The message of the Hydrous is therefore not one of naïve optimism, but informed hope.

With that, let me raise a glass to all of you, and to our beautiful blue planet.


So, what's next?

  • Check out the Hydrous calendar to keep up to date with upcoming events, including:
    • The Tidal Response art exhibit, and associated panel discussion, at the Petaluma Arts Center that features Hydrous coral prints
    • A Keynote speech at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. 
    • A presentation to the Marin Scuba Club
    • The 2017 Maldives expedition
  • We are planning on establishing more regular meet-ups to bring together our community, so stay tuned. 
  • If you signed up to learn more about upcoming Hydrous expeditions and our Ambassador Program, we will be following up with you shortly. 
  • Our current projects include creating a virtual reality film for ocean immersion, and developing classroom educational kits, for which we are fundraising. If you'd like to contribute to this effort, you can donate here

Please also check out our online store to purchase our 3D prints and support the Hydrous mission.