BIOS Teacher Workshop Supports Ongoing Government Partnership

Over the mid-term winter break for Bermuda’s public schools, BIOS held a pair of professional development workshops for upper elementary and middle school teachers. The workshops included a 60-minute virtual presentation and a 2-hour in-person session held over the course of two days, February 14 and 15. Both aimed to provide educators with real-world examples of how deep-sea biodiversity data collected by BIOS scientists are being used to support the development of a marine protected area (MPA) network around Bermuda.

Several dozen of Bermuda’s upper elementary and middle school teachers participated in a professional development workshop over the recent half-term break, which ran from February 14 to 18 for the island’s public schools. The workshops aimed to provide educators with tangible examples of how biodiversity data collected by BIOS from the deep sea in and around Bermuda are being used to support the development of marine protected areas (MPAs) around the island as part of the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme (BOPP). As BIOS is one of the three partnering organizations in BOPP, along with the Waitt Institute and the Government of Bermuda, the collaboration was a natural fit and an opportunity for BIOS to share how the work of its scientists is being leveraged in broader decision-making efforts.

“We value the opportunity to share with educators how BIOS’s research is contributing to identifying data gaps in our understanding of deep-sea biodiversity in Bermuda,” said Kaitlin Noyes, BIOS director of education and community engagement. “This workshop was a great way for our team to highlight the role BIOS plays in BOPP and share research findings with educators through Ocean Academy, BIOS’s on-site suite of local educational programs. Outside of the research team, the educators in the workshop were the first to see some of the deep-sea fishes from recent research efforts.”

Both workshops touched on the same primary themes: how MPAs are used to conserve and protect biodiversity; the methods and technologies used to research and understand the deep ocean; and why scientific data are crucial for successful ecosystem management.

The primary themes of both workshops included: how MPAs are used to conserve and protect biodiversity; the methods and technologies used to research and understand the deep ocean; and why scientific data are crucial for successful ecosystem management. The virtual workshop also highlighted initial results from an ongoing Bermuda-based research collaboration aimed at gathering baseline biodiversity data about fish species in Bermuda’s deep waters.

“Bermuda’s teachers are a key asset in helping spread the word, not just about BOPP, but also about the importance of protecting Bermuda’s marine environment for the next generation,” said Ali Hochberg, BOPP outreach specialist. “We truly value the role that classroom educators play in shaping the minds of Bermuda’s young people, and we look forward to future opportunities to support their work.”

In addition to these themes, the virtual workshop, on February 14 for 24 educators, highlighted initial results from an ongoing Bermuda-based research collaboration, in which BIOS serves as the lead institution. The project, which is funded by a Darwin Plus Grant through the United Kingdom’s Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), is being led by BIOS research specialist Tim Noyes.

Other team members include: Austin Gallagher, marine biologist with Beneath the Waves, a not-for-profit ocean conservation organization; Brennan Phillips, ocean engineer with the University of Rhode Island; Joanna Pitt, marine resources officer with the Bermuda Government Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR); Kaitlin Noyes; and Shayna Brody, director of media and communication with the Waitt Institute.

The investigation is aimed at gathering baseline biodiversity data about fish species in Bermuda’s deep waters. These data will be used to inform future iterations of Bermuda’s MPA network by highlighting species and deep-water ecosystems that could benefit from additional protection. DENR will also be using the data to develop a deep-water fishery management plan to facilitate improved management of target fishery species, while minimizing bycatch of vulnerable non-target species.

“Our work primarily focuses on utilizing complimentary methodologies to capture biodiversity data on species of highly migratory and mobile predatory fishes, such as sharks, many of which are either threatened, associated with commercial fisheries, or otherwise at-risk,” Tim Noyes said.

During the presentation Gallagher shared exciting footage of deep-water sharks and eels from the 2022 Bermuda research expedition captured by one piece of technology utilized in the study, Deepwater Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems (DeepBruvs). The innovative and low cost DeepBRUVS, technology developed by Phillips and piloted by Gallagher during a trip to the Bahamas in 2018, sink to depth and capture images of rarely-seen marine organisms. A particular highlight was footage of a six-gill shark, a near-threatened species, captured on multiple trials off of Bermuda’s south shore.

Next, BIOS science education officer Claire Fox presented on a variety of other deep-sea fishes found in Bermuda’s waters. Fox highlighted some of the impressive daily migrations and adaptations these fishes utilize to survive in deep-sea environments.

The in-person workshop, which took place the following day, offered 10 middle school educators an opportunity to hear from Jirani Welch, acting marine resources extension officer with the DENR. Welch shared footage of his fieldwork during recent and ongoing fish surveys, as well as personal anecdotes and the story of creating his own career path to pursue his passion and interest in ichthyology (the study of fish) and fisheries management.

“The workshop was a great opportunity for me to connect with a new audience and speak to some of the important fisheries work that’s taking place locally,” Welch said. “The teachers were very engaged and asked a lot of insightful questions, including wanting to know how their students could get involved.”

Educators then visited a working lab at BIOS to see Tim Noyes and Bermuda Program intern Andreas Ratteray give a demonstration of DeepBRUVS. Shaped like a large lower-case “t” and about the length of a hockey stick, the instrument combines a baited remote underwater video system—essentially two GoPro cameras, LED lights, and a bag filled with bait—on a carbon-fiber frame with an acoustic release system.

BIOS research specialist Tim Noyes (right) and Bermuda Program intern Andreas Ratteray gave educators a demonstration of DeepBRUVS, one of the instruments used to collect biodiversity data from the deep waters around Bermuda. They also shared new video footage that DeepBRUVS captured during a recent expedition, highlighting some of Bermuda’s rarely-seen deep-water sharks and eels.

The weighted instrument sinks to the ocean floor, where the cameras collect video and still images of the marine organisms that are attracted to the bait. The release system then frees an expendable drop weight, allowing the entire instrument to float up to the surface upon command, at which point scientists can locate it with a GPS tracker and collect it for subsequent deployment.

“One of the reasons that we are limited in what we understand about the deep-sea is that it costs a lot of money to study,” Phillips said. “What I like to design are lightweight, inexpensive, and reproducible systems that begin to remove some of the barriers of technology accessibility and facilitate the expansion of research efforts globally in this critical habitat.”

The final part of the workshop was spent outside at the BIOS Innovation Pool, where Fox demonstrated the underwater robotics challenge that BIOS uses to support science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the classroom. Through the Mid-Atlantic Robotics IN Education (MARINE) program, BIOS engages students and teachers in scientific concepts and practical applications of remotely operated vehicles (or ROVs) and encourages the development of STEM-related skills such as project management, critical thinking, teamwork, and communication.

Toward the end of the in-person workshop, educators had the opportunity to test their ability to “fly” underwater robots and complete a set of tasks at the Underwater Robotics Innovation Test Pool sponsored by RenaissanceRe. This activity is part of the BIOS Mid-Atlantic Robotics IN Education (MARINE) program, which uses the construction and application of underwater robotics to real-world problems as a mechanism to teach essential science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills.

In the post-event feedback, which was completed anonymously, educators who participated in the in-person workshop reported on the most valuable aspects as: the presentation of data, as well as the laboratory tour; exposure to careers in science; fisheries research; the biodiversity of marine life; and information sharing.

“It was great to hear different aspects of local research, from careers to BOPP and MPAs,” one educator said. A second liked “the info on what’s happening now with the work being done to secure the protected areas.” One individual said there was value in “educating us on the importance of MPAs and the positive impacts on the economy and ecosystem” and another reported being “more appreciative of the protected areas” as a result of the workshop.

“The opportunities provided by BIOS and its partners have proven to be invaluable for teachers and students in Bermuda’s public school system,” said Nekesha Holdipp, Acting Education Officer for Social Studies, Science, Business Studies, and Design and Technology at the Ministry of Education. “The real world application is key and the local context is paramount for students to see how their learning is relevant to them and their island home. The professional learning sessions help teachers design learning experiences that ignite student interest and increase engagement. We are pleased to have BIOS and their partners as community partners and look forward to a continued partnership that benefits all stakeholders.”