For years, the Cambrian Foundation has utilized our Human-ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) to teach people about underwater ecosystems that few can visit. Designed by Terrence Tysall and built by Sartek Industries, this interactive tool enables our research divers to interact via live audio and video with people on the surface. This involves placing drop cameras in the water and outfitting the dive team with communications gear to the surface so that participants stationed safely on land above the cave or spring can effectively tour this world beneath their feet and interact with the research divers using live video and audio transmission. In effect, the diver becomes the Human-ROV taking directions and instruction from surface personnel who do the steering, maneuvering, and communicating. This teaching tool has been used on a variety of Cambrian Foundation expeditions, including the Florida Springs Project, the Apopka Blue Sink Expedition, and the Bermuda Biodiversity Project. This allows students to tour the underwater world with us and learn about the biology, geology, hydrology, and ecology of these incredibly unique, diverse, and remote ecosystems. In 2007, we were awarded the “Best Use of Technology in the Environment” by Bermuda’s Technology Innovation Awards awarded by Bermuda’s Ministry of Energy, Telecommunications, and E-commerce.
Most recently, in partnership with two other Orlando-based companies – Interactive Expeditions and TracStar Systems – we were able to expand our Human-ROV and make this interactive capability available to the rest of the world. For two weeks in August 2008, the Cambrian Foundation dive team was able to broadcast this interactive experience from 122’ underground, 70’ deep, and 350’ back inside Fantasy Cave to various venues in the United States, Bermuda, and abroad using a satellite dish provided by TracStar and a suite of interactive broadcast technology provided by Interactive Expeditions, Inc. Students in various summer camps at the Orlando Science Center, the Moody Gardens/Galveston Aquarium, Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo, Texas A&M SeaCampus Kids Program, and the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute were treated to a special interactive expedition into Fantasy Cave where they witnessed divers collecting specimens, exploring virgin passage, and teaching them about the biology/geology/hydrology/ecology of this fragile saltwater cave system. In addition, people were able to log on to their personal computers at home and ‘join’ the same expedition with the ability to ask questions and interact with real-time audio and video from the comfort of their living rooms.
Being able to ‘tour’ these delicate ecosystems enables participants to understand how groundwater is connected to the sea, witness the diversity of life that these systems support, and interact live with researchers in the submerged caves. This expedition was a tremendous success, and this type of interactive broadcast from an underwater cave had never been done before, so truly a one-of-a-kind distance learning endeavor!