Local Teacher Explores the Deep - Tammy Orilio Aboard the Nautilus
By Phil Fishman / June 1, 2015

The allure of deep ocean exploration remains both fascinating and mysterious. What exists miles below the surface, in murky, uncharted waters, has been studied and analyzed for centuries by oceanographers and scientists. Many will never have the chance to observe a world far below sea level, but a chosen few have had a glimpse, a peek into the world of underwater research. Tammy Orilio had such an opportunity.

An AP Environmental and Marine Science Teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Orilio was awarded a 2015 Science Communication Fellowship, sponsored by Bechtel, the Office of Naval Research, the Florida Panthers Foundation and private donations. In May, she sailed aboard the Nautilus, a 64 meter research vessel equipped with the latest high-tech and multibeam sonar equipment and explored deep sea life in the Gulf of Mexico.

As members of the Corps of Exploration, twenty-eight educators and twenty-six students from around the world participated in this unique program, offering hands on experience in ocean exploration, research and communications.
Local Teacher Explores the Deep - Tammy Orilio Aboard the Nautilus

The Mission of Ocean Exploration Trust (OET), founded in 2008 by famed sea explorer Dr. Robert Ballard, the discoverer of the Titanic remains, is to explore the ocean and its connection to the fields of geology, biology, archaeology, physics, chemistry and maritime history.

This year, Ballard's team has embarked on their most ambitious expedition yet, exploring various undersea sites from the Gulf to British Columbia. OET was recently funded to explore deep sea corals and their response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill of 2010. The six month-long voyage marks the transition from exploration of Caribbean regions to the West Coast of the United States and the Pacific Ocean.

Tammy's journey began last Fall with the submission of an on-line application, sample lesson plans, a resume and recommendations from a supervisor and a student at the high school. The next step was a video interview with a committee from OET. The good news came in December, followed by four days of intensive training at the University Of Rhode Island Graduate School Of Oceanography.

"I have always been interested in undersea exploration and what's going on in deep ocean waters. This was a great opportunity to learn and study what I teach," said Orilio of an experience that was literally a dream come true. "The expedition was a great learning experience for myself and my students."

Tammy's portion of the voyage investigated biologic, geologic and archaeological sites as well as various seafloor inhabitants and possible mud volcanoes. Side scan sonar in the region potentially targeted an 1800's era shipwreck.

On board, Tammy and her fellow educators served as liaisons between the scientists and the public, explaining and interpreting data to those on land.

The uniqueness of this voyage resides with undersea technology. Telepresence allows scientists on shore to participate. Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) named Hercules and Argus, collect samples and artifacts from the ocean floor, then send video streams through fiber optics to the Nautilus and finally transmitted via satellite to a receiving station to be directly sent to computers and the web. Streaming video from a 24 hour portal will allow onshore audiences and the public at large to follow the expedition live.

A special website was created to the follow the entire expedition on a day to day basis. Social media including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have been broadcasting the adventure along with partner museums, aquariums, and science centers around the world. Person to person interaction from the explorers to those on land has allowed for a unique sharing of information.

Tammy's trip aboard the Nautilus concluded with a Panama Canal crossing. After debarking, the ship set sail for The Galapagos Islands and Pacific Ocean destinations.

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