Ocean Decade Conversations: Erika Woolsey (The Hydrous Programme)

Ocean Decade

Ocean Decade Conversations: Erika Woolsey (The Hydrous Programme)

Ocean Decade Conversations: Erika Woolsey (The Hydrous Programme) 585 638 Ocean Decade

As we celebrate 2023 International Women’s Day, we’re shining a bright light and amplifying the voices of women who are making a difference in the Ocean Decade! Join us on this captivating conversation with Erika Woolsey, marine biologist, National Geographic explorer, diving instructor and recently named to the Explorers Club 50, where we discuss science, art, women empowerment, the importance of preserving and protecting coral reefs for the benefit of all & more!

  1. Please tell us a little about yourself, your influences and how your connection to the ocean started.

My connection to the ocean started when I was a kid. I grew up in California and my parents would take me to nearby beaches and awesome places like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the California Academy of Sciences where I got to learn about and fall in love with aquatic life.

In my career, I’m formally trained as a marine biologist, with a specialty in tropical coral reefs. Informally, I’ve become a teacher, designer, and technologist so that I can better translate marine science into public understanding.

  1. What’s the Decade of Ocean Empathy and how is it related to the UN Ocean Decade?

The Decade of Ocean Empathy seeks to bring more human elements into marine science to generate ocean connection and stewardship. It became an endorsed programme of the UN Decade of Ocean Science in 2021 and contributes to Decade Outcome 7, which seeks to create “an inspiring and engaging ocean where society understands and values the ocean in relation to human wellbeing and sustainable development.”

  1. How is The Hydrous working to leverage human-centered design, learning science, and emerging technologies, and how can it contribute to the Ocean Decade?

At The Hydrous we work at the intersection of ocean science, technology, and education, and bring elements like empathy, communication, and creative problem-solving to everything we do. The tools we use range from in-person, hands-on activities like our ocean education kits, to frontier technologies like photogrammetry, 3D printing, and virtual “dives” using augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR).

We’ve experienced high levels of engagement from immersive media especially, which is why we have created our own content and lead research into how these tools affect feelings of presence and empathy to promote ocean science learning and connection at scale.

  1. We would love to know more about your ocean literacy initiatives and how you are using your experience and skills as a scientist to help teach children about the ocean. Can you briefly tell us about your experience at the Winter School in Venice?

Ocean literacy – generally defined as an understanding of the ocean’s influence on humans and conversely our influence on the ocean – is a central focus to the Decade of Ocean Empathy programme. Every lesson plan and immersive media experience we create is based on a central curriculum designed to increase both ocean literacy and ocean empathy.

We’ve brought our experiences and activities into classrooms, from first grade to graduate school; into informal learning spaces like science museums and film festivals; onto online platforms like YouTube and Sketchfab, and even into the metaverse (check out our research project “Advancing Ocean Literacy with Immersive Virtual Reality”). We were also honored to be a part of the IOC-UNESCO Winter School in Venice, where young professionals worked to improve the quality of ocean-related partnerships, collaborated in multicultural environments, and promoted ocean literacy.

  1. How do you think the private sector can support The Hydrous initiatives in small communities and in least developed countries, and help promote the wonders of the sea and all its possibilities?

Over the years, The Hydrous has formed wonderful partnerships with traditional businesses, non-profits, and tech companies to help us spread ocean literacy and empathy. Thanks to these close relationships, The Hydrous have been able to assist with initiatives in other countries, especially to support ocean researchers and educators. In order to serve these broader audiences, we are currently raising funds to translate our content into other languages beyond English.

  1. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, what’s your message for young girls who would love to work in/with ocean science but feel scared or insecure about it? How can The Hydrous help achieve SDG 5: Gender Equality through SDG 14: Life below Water?

My message to young girls who want to work in ocean science is: Make your interest and passion known to people you trust. Seek out role models to admire and emulate, whether it’s in your own community or even on social media, and reach out to those individuals. Women are doing amazing things all over the world, and you might be surprised at how many will respond to your messages. On top of this, always navigate the world with a scientific mindset — never stop exploring and asking questions.

As a women-led organization focused on science and learning, much of our work at The Hydrous addresses the importance of women in STEM fields and in decision-making roles. We’ve also produced two seasons of a podcast called “21st Century Mermaids” about women and the ocean, hosted by Danni Washington and executive produced by Danni, Mariasole Bianco, and myself.

  1. What do you wish to accomplish by the end of the Ocean Decade?

By 2030 we seek to: 1) connect 10 million learners to the ocean through “virtual dives” using immersive and scalable technologies such as VR; 2) increase rates of ocean literacy and ocean empathy around the world; and 3) build a robust international community committed to the concept of ocean empathy.

  1. Do you have an artist/soundtrack/film that inspires/inspired your work, that you would like to share with the Ocean Decade Community?

Lately I’ve been really excited by the possibility of artificial intelligence for creating unique visualizations of ocean ecosystems. For instance, I’ve made some wacky and vibrant coral reefs using DALL-E, and would encourage everyone to see what their knowledge and imagination can build with these incredible tools.


The Science We Need for the Ocean We Want





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