A Marine Science Adventure


Rosie at a Science Camp beach cleanup at South Point, July, 2017.

Rosie Lee is a counselor and marine science instructor at Science Camp for Teens on Hawaii Island and a senior at the University of Hawaii at Hilo majoring in marine science. This fall, as part of her marine science program at the university, Rosie participated in a scientific research expedition into the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Rosie shared her amazing adventure with us here.

by Rosie Lee

When we hear the word “scientist” as kids, it’s easy to think about the rough stuff; the letters in math, the pipetting in chemistry, lab glasses, coats, and gloves, and being stuck in a lab with the A/C turned on too high. What Science Camps of America does so well, is remind our youth that the word “scientist” has a million and one applications. Right away from the first day, the students learn about volcanology, space botany, and a whole lot of other“-ologies”, each unique and unfamiliar to the majority. What I got to experience this fall was another great example of what being a scientist is.

For 25-days this September, all other aspects of my life came to a screeching halt as I boarded the NOAA Ship, Hiʽialakai, for a research expedition to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI).



The scientists and coxswains on the fantail of the Hiʽialakai. Photo by NOAA.

The NWHI is known as the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and is the second largest Marine Protected Area in the world. This means that all activities (boating, fishing, diving, etc.) are strictly prohibited unless approved under federal permit. It also means that these tropical coral reefs are isolated from human foot-traffic and every crack and crevice, above and below the surface, is teeming with life.


During these 25-days, I spent 21 of them underwater, identifying, counting, and sizing fish; everyday seeing new species I had never before seen. During each dive, my dive buddy and I were more likely than not to be the first to lay eyes on that specific patch of reef.

We were the first, and probably last, to ever see that given part of our earth.


Rosie diving amidst a school of Ulua at French Frigate Shoals. Photo by Jason Leonard.

Field science is such an integral part of one’s education. During my time in the monument, I felt like I could have read a thousand peer-reviewed scientific articles and still would have learned less about the NWHI ecosystem than I did by jumping in the water every day and seeing it with my own eyes. By interacting with the environment around me and being immersed [literally] in my work every day, I was able to make new observations about the NWHI daily, each making me a better scientist. Enjoying the work one does makes it significantly easier to achieve great things.


Frequently throughout the expedition, I would find myself in a full-on laughing attack underwater because I could not comprehend what I was doing and what I was seeing. I was able to SCUBA dive (which is my favorite past-time) nearly every day while being swarmed by thousands of fish, many larger than I.


Rosie diving with some really big ulua at French Frigate Shoals. Photo by Jason Leonard.

Before heading into the monument, all new divers are told story after story about the infamous ulua fish, or giant trevally- Caranx ignobilis, and its bully-like behavior. This fish often proceeds more than 4 feet in length and 150 pounds in weight. This fish is also known as an apex predator, meaning it’s not scared of you so you should be scared of it.


Curious about us humans, the ulua would often swarm in schools up to a hundred around us divers, making us very aware that we are no longer the biggest and the baddest.

While that would make the average Joe rather uncomfortable, the feeling is far too comforting for us fish ecologists. These fish so rarely seen in the Main Hawaiian Islands do to overfished waters, are thriving under the protection of Papahānaumokuākea.

Just like the ulua, many species, whether coral, sponge, limu, or fish, are thriving due to the federal protection.


Rosie in front of a large coral colony. Photo by Jason Leonard/NOAA.

Unfortunately, although these waters are protected from direct human impacts, the implications of the human race do not go unnoticed. Many reefs are overgrown by forests of macroalgae or are no more than large flats of coral rubble due to the overhanging effects of global climate change. Along with the declining reefs, every day we ran upon marine debris such as plastic bottles, buoys, nets, and many other average household items. Thousands of miles away from human populations, it’s disturbing to think how far the debris has traveled. Regardless, even with the death and debris, every day I would experience moments of awareness.

Maybe it was a dive on a vibrant, healthy reef, or the ulua that tried to bite my face off, but I would always come to the realization of where I was and what I was doing: I was floating around in the middle of the Pacific, diving nearly every day, working with a well-established group of scientists and ship crew.

Rosie diving with sharks at Kure Atoll

Rosie diving with sharks at Kure Atoll. Photo by Jason Leonard/NOAA

It is important for youth to hear about all aspects of the scientific community, so they too can find something meaningful and important to them. Some may want to too dive with large fish and sharks on the daily, and some may want to plant potatoes in space. But finding out about how vast the world of science is at a young age is important for dream making and goal creating.

The point is, if you can question it, there is probably a science behind it. So, with that, find the science that suits you and explore it.

Science Camps of America provides the opportunity for our youth to discover what they may have thought was the undiscoverable and it opens up a whole new world of opportunities and exploration.


Sunrise from the bridge of the ship. Photo by Jason Leonard/NOAA.

Considerin’ the future…

Maggie: Sure’n I hope you’re considerin’ the future, Mr. Eastwood.
Marty McFly: [quietly] I think about it all the time.

I have just recently returned from a trip to a very interesting place – the future!

While thinking about the education outcomes we would like for Science Camps of America campers it became apparent that in order to help determine those outcomes, I would have to have an idea of what the world might be like in 15-20 years.

So, I took the next flight on ‘Google Air’ to the future, focusing on the years 2025-2030. Fascinating! There has been some serious study done by a number of very smart people. Most do not try to predict the future but rather describe various possible scenarios as a logical outcome of today’s trends. Interestingly, most studies of the future focus on narrow topics (e.g., ‘Drought conditions to prevail in southwestern US’, ‘The Workplace in 2025’). A few studies provided a big picture view, though, and some of those are outlined below.

Venturing beyond 2025, the gee-whiz factor of this adventure was awesome: holographic imaging, 3-D ‘replicators’, telescoping eye implants, colonizing Mars, yes, even (finally!) flying cars!

Getting back to 2025, most of the sites are in agreement as to the top challenges of the time:

  • Climate change and its impact

  • Technology and its impact, especially in the areas of health care and climate change mitigation

  • Population growth, especially in terms of food and water supply

One of the most compelling studies that I came across was from the National Intelligence Council (NIC), Global Trends 2025.  The NIC is the US Intelligence community’s center for medium and long-range strategic thinking.

Another was a brilliantly put together web site, FutureTimeLine.net which presents a possible future decade by decade through the rest of this century and beyond. Every prediction is footnoted so you can look into the background behind each one. It is a really amazing look at the step by step progression of the consequences of today’s trends, research and discoveries.

There are many other interesting ‘future’ web sites. A quick Google search using ‘Future Predictions 2025’ can get you started. Another excellent website is Future Predictions. This site is similar to FutureTimeLine.Net but is organized by subject instead of time. Very interesting!

Of everything I read, one particular quote from the NIC Global Trends 2025 report was extremely thought-provoking (pg 81):

Most of the pressing transnational problems—including climate change, regulation of globalized financial markets, migration, failing states, crime networks, etc.—are unlikely to be effectively resolved by the actions of individual nation-states… Current trends suggest that global governance in 2025 will be a patchwork of overlapping, often ad hoc and fragmented efforts, with shifting coalitions of member nations, international organizations, social movements, NGOs, philanthropic foundations, and companies.

Think about it: this is the U.S. government reporting that governments won’t be able to solve these problems. Can we “crowd-source” the solutions to world problems?

What have I brought back from this trip to the future?

I am more convinced than ever of the value Science Camps of America can provide by helping to provide the next generation with a solid understanding of how our planet works.

In virtually all of the potential future worlds I explored, the effects of climate change are projected to be of paramount importance and it will not be pretty. On the other hand, our technology gives us the potential to solve (or at least mitigate) the problems caused by climate change (and most of our other challenges).

With our focus on the planetary sciences – geology, oceanography, astronomy and environment – Science Camps of America will help our campers understand the science behind what is happening, and hopefully provide them with the ability to use that knowledge in whatever role they find themselves when the future gets here.

What do YOU think of the future?  Take this survey!

The future has been a topic for thinkers throughout recorded history. Following is a collection of some of my favorite quotes about the future.
(The lead quote in this blog is from Back to the Future Part III).


The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn.
Alvin Toffler

The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life.
Plato (427 BC – 347 BC), The Republic

We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 – 1945)

The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.
Arthur C. Clarke (1917 – ), Technology and the Future

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
Alan Kay

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.
Niels Bohr (1885 – 1962)

The future ain’t what it used to be.
Yogi Berra (1925 – )

The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.
Sir Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965), Speech at Harvard University, September 6, 1943

For in the final analysis, our most basic common link, is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s futures, and we are all mortal.
John F. Kennedy (1917 – 1963), Speech at The American University, Washington, D.C., June 10, 1963

The consequences of our actions are so complicated, so diverse, that predicting the future is a very difficult business indeed.
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.
Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865)

Telling the future by looking at the past assumes that conditions remain constant. This is like driving a car by looking in the rearview mirror.
Herb Brody

The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.
Malcolm X (1925 – 1965)

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 – 1962)

The future belongs to those who dare.