A snorkeler checks out Teens4Ocean’s underwater camera at Lameshur. Photo by Steve Simonsen.
Students dig trenches near the VIERS dock at Lameshur Bay, above, to lay conduit for the underwater camera installation.
Thanks to a group of Colorado high school students, people anywhere in the world can get an up-close, high definition look at the underwater life in Lameshur Bay with just a few clicks of their mouse.
Live streaming from underneath the waves at Lameshur Bay went live on Tuesday, June 22, becoming the third live webcam installed by a group of 10 marine biology club students from Kent Denver School, a private high school in Colorado’s capital city.
The Hi Def webcam, capable of rotating 360 degrees and tilting to 170 degrees, offers live footage of the underwater life at Lameshur streaming on www.teens4oceans.org, and is a new tool for scientists to observe the state of fisheries in the area.
While the Kent Denver School students enjoyed snorkeling the island’s bays and a cruise aboard Sadie Sea during their recent six-day trip, the teens spent most of their time on Love City installing the underwater camera at the V.I. Environmental Research Station dock at Lameshur Bay — after digging trenches, installing conduit and networking the camera feed themselves.
The students are members of Teens4Oceans, a marine biology club at Kent Denver School launched by science teacher Trevor Mendelow in July 2008.
“I am from the coast myself, and the kids at Kent Denver School kept asking me what they could do in Colorado to become involved in programs on the coast,” said Mendelow. “So we came up with the idea to start a school-wide marine biology club where kids have a place to collaborate together and share their passion and interest in the sea.”
“We envisioned engaging schools around the nation and developing ecosystem profiles to blog about,” said Mendelow. “Our idea was to develop materials and connect them and then the webcam became involved.”
Mendelow and the Teens4Oceans members contacted a scientist in Florida who was working to protect the Goliath Grouper and thought their webcam idea could help, explained Mendelow.
“We realized that being able to observe these animals in their natural habitat with underwater video would serve a number of purposes,” he said. “We thought people would realize how important the resources are and it would allow students to do independent research based on their own observations.”
What Teens4Oceans didn’t expect was the instant popularity of its webcams when the project first went live in early 2009.
“It’s passive voyeurism with uncut and uncensored video which people love,” said Mendelow. “We thought we’d cut out a niche for ourselves, install these cameras and blog and have people engaged in the content. But it just exploded from there.”
“In January or February of 2009, we realized that what we thought was going to be 100 students and teachers watching this stuff turned into thousands interested in this video feed,” said the science teacher.
With funding from a silent sponsor, Mendelow and his students installed that first underwater camera, powered by the sun and wind, at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys in February 2009.
“That first installation really captured the attention of the public,” said Mendelow. “From that project we were able to raise enough money to put in a system at Dry Tortugas.”
Teens4Oceans members drew the attention of Dry Tortugas National Park officials and eventually V.I. National Park Superintendent Mark Hardgrove heard about the group, explained Mendelow.
“We were invited to the Bio Blitz, which is a census of marine organizations that National Geographic and the National Park Service put on,” he said. “We got a lot of interest in the group from that.”
Teens4Oceans first visited St. John last August to determine a possible location for their next underwater webcam, Mendelow added.
“We thought VIERS would be a great way to establish a relationship with schools here and on St. Thomas and there was enough infrastructure out there that students could do the installation and build the equipment entirely themselves,” he said.
During their August 2009 trip to Love City, Teens4Oceans members made a presentation to Friends of V.I. National Park officials. The non-profit group was so wowed by the students they donated $12,000 to ensure Teens4Oceans’ return.
“They gave us a grant to pay for the equipment and the students fundraised which paid for us all to come down,” said Mendelow.
The group stayed at VIERS during their visit and worked through their fair share of logistical challenges before getting the camera up and running.
“Our plan was to use the network at VIERS but when we got there we discovered their network wasn’t conducive to how we push our video feed to our server,” said Mendelow.
With a little help from Sloop Jones, who realigned the satellite for the project, the Lameshur Bay webcam was streaming live by the time Teens4Oceans members headed back to Colorado.
The feed is testament to the students’ vision and hard work. Teens4Oceans members built a custom stainless steel and glass housing to accommodate the camera to install underwater. The students also installed high powered underwater LED lighting, allowing for night time viewing.
“We have a schedule on the website when the light will be on,” said Mendelow. “We don’t want to run the lights all the time, so people can follow the schedule for night-time viewing.”
Although Teens4Oceans members returned to Colorado last week, the group plans to return to Love City to install additional underwater cameras at Trunk Bay and Hurricane Hole, Mendelow explained.
“During the second phase of the project, we hope to put a webcam in Trunk Bay just between the two off-shore cays,” he said. “A third goal of ours is to install a webcam in Hurricane Hole to record the amazing resources out there.”
Once the webcams are installed in V.I. National Park and Underwater Monument waters, Teens4Oceans plan is to stream the footage live at the VINP’s visitors’ center, Mendelow added.
“The idea is to put a high definition monitor in the VINP visitor’s center where visitors who couldn’t snorkel the trail would still be able to observe what is in the water,” he said.
Having underwater webcams in several locations around St. John would highlight the island’s rich and diverse natural resources, Mendelow explained.
“There are such unique ecosystems here, we think it would provide an incredible opportunity for people to appreciate the rich diversity right here on St. John,” said the Teens4Oceans director.
If funding come through as expected for the group, Teens4Oceans could be back installing underwater cameras at Trunk Bay and Hurricane Hole within a year, Mendelow added.
Check out Teens4Ocean’s webcam of Lameshur Bay and keep up to date with the group’s latest activities at www.teens4oceans.org.