Katelyn Standerfer aboard the Nautilus.

Courtesy Photo

Katelyn Standerfer aboard the Nautilus.

Discovering New Species on the Nautilus

San Marcos High Teacher Reports from Her Time Aboard Bob Ballard’s Exploration Vessel

The author is a San Marcos High chemistry teacher who was one of 30 teachers chosen nationwide to board Bob Ballard’s Nautilus E/V this summer as it explores the California coast.

Lying just below the surface off the coast of Santa Barbara lives an ecosystem unlike any in the world. As an avid scuba diver, I’ve explored the waters around our Channel Islands countless times, but I’ve never seen the organisms and geology that I saw during my stay aboard the Nautilus. They simply took my breath away.

Bob Ballard’s Nautilus is unique for several reasons but first and foremost because it is an exploration vessel rather than a research vessel. That makes our primary function to explore the depths and create paths for other research organizations to follow. This gives us an enormous amount of flexibility in when and where we decide to dive.

One of our recent discoveries was a purple orb that went viral in the media after scientists both onboard and onshore were baffled by it. We sent the sample to the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, where

they will study the specimen further to determine whether or not it is a known species. Initial speculations identify it as a marine mollusc, likely some sort of pleurobranch. If true, this means we potentially

discovered a new species inside the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

During this same set of dives, down to 1,000 meters and deeper, we viewed incredible coral gardens, which are of particular interest to Peter Etnoyer of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association. He’s focused on the effects of ocean warming and ocean acidification, and because our waters are naturally more acidic than those of the Atlantic, these corals can predict how corals worldwide might respond to acidification.

During each expedition, there’s quite a team to make the Nautilus function. There’s the crew: the men and women who feed us, operate the ship, and keep us safe. There are engineers, who drive our ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) to depths of up to 4,000 meters and are responsible for maintaining those submarines. There’s the science and data team, who create a detailed catalogue of every dive and every sample taken, and our video engineers, who ensure that our footage is broadcast to the public. And then there are the Science Communication Fellows, like myself. Our job is to communicate the exciting discoveries happening onboard to the public through live interactions and on We are what make the Nautilus a unique experience.

Aside from the wonderful opportunity to explore the ocean depths, I cannot speak highly enough of the people I’ve met during my expedition. They were the most kind, intelligent people I could have hoped for when embarking on such a remarkable journey.

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