Exploring the Unknown

Contributor: Mattie Rodrigue, UMaine Graduate supported by Maine Sea Grant and former Knauss Fellow

Every time a manned submersible dives off the research vessel OceanXplorer, the passengers inside are viewing something no one else on the planet has ever seen. My first submersible dive was 700 meters down a sheer granite wall in a remote fjord in Norway. There, I observed deep sea creatures clinging to the rock face, strange bivalves and fishes among coral stretched out into the current, and I marveled at how much exploring we have left to do on this planet.

The ocean is one of the last unexplored frontiers on our planet, with humans having visited less than 5% of it. The organization I work for is looking to change that. OceanX is on a mission to explore the ocean and bring it back to the world. We combine next-gen technology, science and compelling storytelling, deploying ocean observing instrumentation and new technology designed for discovery, mapping and characterizing unexplored locations, and telling stories of the science and the scientists studying our planet. Through our work, science and discovery are amplified by media across various platforms and formats and communicated to audiences across the globe in our effort to educate, inspire, and connect the world with the ocean. My understanding of the importance of science communication and of bringing diverse audiences along on a journey to better understand the ocean space came directly from my experience as a Knauss Fellow.

When I began my graduate work at the University of Maine in 2014, I never knew that opportunities like my current position as Science Program Lead at OceanX existed. I worked on fishing boats out in the Gulf of Maine slowly acquiring my sea legs and seeing first-hand how scientific research directly impacts coastal communities. I still say moving to Maine was the absolute best thing I’ve ever done — the experience I gained working with coastal communities, translating science to policy and management was invaluable. My graduate program also led me to the amazing work Sea Grant conducts. And through my connection with Maine Sea Grant, I learned about the Knauss Fellowship.

The Knauss Fellowship is a one-year paid fellowship that pairs graduate students interested in ocean science and resources with a host office in the federal or executive branches of the government. When interviewing for a placement, some Fellows stick with topics they worked on in graduate school in order to see how they scale up in the Federal policy arena. I chose to jump off a cliff instead. I took a high-level position working in the Office of the Assistant Administrator for Research at NOAA. The experience completely changed my life. I learned about ocean exploration and discovery, global science diplomacy, and how crucial it is to contribute toward our global understanding of the oceans in order to protect the future of the planet. The Fellowship program helped me learn to be tenacious, dream big. And it was through the Fellowship I learned about the opportunity emerging at OceanX.

Through my work at OceanX I’ve been all over the world’s ocean, both above and below. I’ve studied everything from one of the largest barrier reef systems in the world to deep sea brine pools in the Red Sea. I’ve had the opportunity to work with amazing scientists, all striving to make the world a better place and understand their region of study. This opportunity, and so many others, I credit directly to my experience as a Knauss Fellow.


Posted July 15, 2021