An official website of the United States government

Ocean Exploration Workshop
Cook Islands students and National Geographic Explorers
October 13, 2022

Ocean Exploration Workshop with Cook Islands students and National Geographic Explorers

U.S. Grant Program launches Ocean Exploration Workshop with Cook Islands students and National Geographic Explorers Jess Cramp and Katy Croff Bell.

The two-week long workshop from Oct 3-14, funded by the U.S. Mission to New Zealand, Cook Islands, and Niue will train Cook Islands students ages 16 to 24 in ocean exploration, engineering, and research techniques.

(Rarotonga, Cook Islands — Oct 3, 2022) From October 3th to 14th, 2022, Sharks Pacific, Sharks Pacific Cook Islands Trust and Ocean Discovery League (ODL) will host two workshops for Cook Islands students to train them in ocean exploration, engineering, and research techniques.

U.S. Grant Program launches Ocean Exploration Workshop with Cook Islands students and National Geographic Explorers Jess Cramp and Katy Croff Bell


The “Denticles and Tentacles” project is the first of its kind and will take place in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Their goal is to spark curiosity about the STEM opportunities available to students at home and abroad while affording them practical experience and insight into the research opportunities in the Cook Islands. Research techniques taught will focus on using low-cost camera technologies to explore various ocean depths around Rarotonga.

“We are proud to partner and provide U.S. funding to make this program possible. We enjoy giving aspiring young leaders the resources, tools, and opportunities to better protect our ocean and environment,” says U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand, the Cook Islands, and Niue Thomas Udall.

This program, like others recently announced by the White House at the U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit, is an “investment to support climate resilience and to build sustainable blue economies in the Pacific Islands; prepare for climate impacts on public health and food security, and to strengthen sustainable development; and also to build a better early warning capacity to predict, prepare for, and respond to climate hazards.” – U.S. President Joe Biden, Remarks at the U.S.- Pacific Island Country Summit.

“This program allows us to provide exciting new opportunities for hands-on learning to local communities, and to train the next generation of researchers who we hope will come home after university to fill research gaps, so there’s less reliance on foreign scientists and consultants” said Dr. Jess Cramp, founder and Executive Director of Sharks Pacific. “This expansion in our capacity will allow us to engage student researchers with no prior experience to embark on a new research training and exploration program, which we hope ignites their passion for exploring, managing and conserving the marine environment of their home island.”

Participants will learn to use various camera technologies to explore the marine ecosystems around Rarotonga, from shallow depths to the deep ocean. The students will be challenged to design their own methods to deploy the cameras at various depths to study Rarotonga’s marine ecosystems and to capture footage of the animals that inhabit these spaces.

Students will be trained to construct equipment, collect and analyze data, identify species and report their findings. They will also be trained on the importance of high-quality, reproducible data, how these data can help shape the future of their home islands, and how local initiatives and associated data can have global implications. Students will be encouraged to share their experiences with peers and contribute to our project communications outputs through social media posts, interviews, and a community presentation at the end of the week.

There is a gap between the numbers of students in the Pacific who show an interest in science and engineering and the number of students who then go to university and complete science degrees, especially for women.

“Our research shows that across much of Oceania, deep-sea exploration and research is considered important, but researchers there don’t have the technology or the expertise to undertake this kind of work,” said Dr. Katy Croff Bell, founder and President of Ocean Discovery League. “It is critical to train young people in the Cook Islands so that they have the tools and skills to understand their own deep-sea backyards. I am excited to see what projects our student researchers undertake during this workshop and beyond!”

Despite the demand for local scientists, there are extremely limited training opportunities for students in the Cook Islands to get hands-on research experience, which reduces the likelihood for local students to choose a career path in STEM. Additionally, many have a narrow view of the possibilities available to them, especially as women.

“Sharks Pacific and the Ocean Discovery League are providing opportunities that have never before been available to young Cook Islanders interested in STEM,” said Jacqueline Evans, a marine conservationist from the Cook Islands. “It’s rare to see people pursuing careers in STEM here in the Cook Islands, yet there is an enormous demand for local leaders with qualifications in this field.”

Dr. Jess Cramp is the Founder and Executive Director of Sharks Pacific and a National Geographic Explorer. She is based in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, and has been conducting shark and marine research there for the past decade, where she works alongside many local partners. Dr. Katy Croff Bell is the founder and President of Ocean Discovery League and formerly Director of the Open Ocean Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, Vice President of the Ocean Exploration Trust, and a National Geographic Explorer. Several of the deep-sea cameras that will be used during the expedition were initially developed at the MIT Media Lab.

About Sharks Pacific

Sharks Pacific was founded in Rarotonga, Cook Islands in 2012 following the establishment of the Cook Islands Shark Sanctuary. The mission of Sharks Pacific is to understand the importance of sharks in Pacific communities and to advocate for the conservation and responsible management of sharks and the related marine environment through research, outreach, and advocacy. Through strategic outreach and efforts to highlight our work in the Pacific, we endeavor to educate and inspire stewardship and pointed action for sharks and their marine environment throughout the world. Learn more at https://sharkspacific.org/ and follow us on social media @sharkspacificorg.

About Ocean Discovery League

Ocean Discovery League aims to remove barriers to equity in deep-sea exploration by developing low-cost deep-sea technologies, creating AI-driven data analysis tools, and building capacity with historically excluded communities. With a growing global population and increasing anthropogenic pressures on Earth, the time for innovative initiatives to explore, understand, and share the full depths of the oceans is now. We need to invest in new technologies, research methods, and social systems to transform what it means to explore and discover in the 21st century. By creating a suite of low-cost, distributed tools and supporting a community of explorers around the globe, we will make significantly more progress in understanding our planet than ever before. Follow us online at www.oceandiscoveryleague.org and on Twitter as @OceanDiscLeague.


Susan Poulton
Director, Strategy and Communications
Email: susan@oceandiscoveryleague.org
Mobile: +1-703-568-6117
Facebook: Ocean Discovery League
Twitter: @OceanDiscLeague
Instagram: @OceanDiscLeague
URL: http://www.oceandiscoveryleague.org