Discovery Deep Aims to “Bring the Ocean Out of the Ocean”

Discovery Deep - Radeau Team

Discovery Deep is an up and coming non-profit organization that, in the words of co-founder Frank Stopa is “a solution looking for a problem”. Along with his partners Mohamed Hafez and Kevin Moore, Frank is a self-appointed patron of the sciences whose work aims to rejuvenate and expand underwater research efforts.  The ocean’s depths are one of the few frontiers left to humankind and Discovery Deep is on the front lines to explore it.

It began with a warship, a relic from the French and Indian war sunk deep at the bottom of Lake George in upstate New York. The Radeau hasn’t been topside since 1758, so the guys at Discovery Deep had to venture to its ghostly realm to get a look. Not content to dive and survey simply to satisfy their own curiosity, they did a little research to find out who cared about the wreck and it led them to underwater archaeologist Joe Zarzynski. Joe is involved in several organizations dedicated to researching the wrecks of the British fleet that inhabit the bottom of Lake George, and he welcomed the help of organized, trained divers with a desire to make themselves useful. You can take a 3-D tour of their survey results here.

As more people hear the siren call of the deep and venture below, technology is quickly evolving to keep apace. More interest means more minds busily seeking solutions to the challenges of sensing, documenting, and most of all staying safe underwater. The upshot is that it has never been more accessible or affordable for people to dive recreationally, to take underwater photos and video, and to reach previously unheard-of depths. Paired with the explosion of education made possible by the internet age, these circumstances seem to be giving birth to a new scientific revolution. Much like the Age of Reflection that spawned self-funded gentlemen scientists like Charles Darwin, today’s singular circumstances make it possible for citizen scientists to partner with formal researchers and make meaningful contributions to our growing body of scientific knowledge.

At Discovery Deep they’re all about achieving an objective that someone actually wants. The approach is to come up with ideas that no one’s ever tried and then they do what they must to pull it all together.  One of their recent projects helped to document the transformation of deteriorating wrecks in North Carolina as they grow into artificial reefs. Another partnership with Salford University in Manchester, UK, led to the development of specially-designed collection equipment for sampling environmental genetic material (eDNA) collected from the water column during dives. Armed with that data, they hope to determine whether this is a viable method for extrapolating shark population estimates from the synthesized DNA. This project has expanded to the United States where their associate Anthony Doria is coordinating efforts to collect eDNA in San Diego, California.

Discovery Deep recently secured its status as a non-profit and they’ve got multiple projects already lined up, but so far as yet this is mostly a labor of love.  Begun with the efforts of volunteers and otherwise privately-funded, they’re now planning fundraisers and crowd-sourcing to keep the ball rolling.  They’ve been lucky so far–Mohamed himself was able to put together their dynamic website, and Frank’s son is a lobbyist by day who helps the team put together their press releases.  Tech gear manufacturer Dive Rite lends them diving equipment to help them reach their goals. It is the hope, however, that this baby of theirs will grow into a thriving organization they can pass on to the citizen scientists of the future.

If you want to help their mission, either as a patron or a research volunteer, check out their website.  Discovery Deep’s new projects include 3-D mapping of the kelp forests in Catalina, California, an artificial reef in North Carolina, and the conservation of Spanish galleons off the coast of Florida.  And if you’re an oceanic scientist in need of some data, I may know a guy…