We live in a time where connections between us are becoming easier and easier, yet there is still a place on our planet we’re struggling to relate to… well, at least for now.

We aren’t walking by coral reefs on our way to the grocery store, and we sure aren’t bumping into whales on our morning commutes. But what if there were ways we could build our connections with these underwater dwellers?

What if we humanized what’s under the water and made it accessible for more people? Artist Katrina Fuller and innovator David Lang have a few interesting ideas on this question.

Image: A Coral Reef with its fishy residents

Source: Greg Goebel // Flickr

Beneath the meeting point of land and liquid lies a thriving community that we still know very little about. Alas, even with all our ingenuity as homo sapiens, we haven’t developed the ability to breathe underwater. So, this disconnect we experience is understandable: how do you connect with something when it is largely invisible to most of us? 

Before we really get into what today’s thought leaders are up to, let’s enjoy a little intro to a few events occurring in this special place just beyond our awareness.

The following video was created in a partnership between National Geographic and an organization that Katrina pointed us to, Earth Vision Institute. They’ve found a compelling way to put these happenings into terms we can all understand!

Okay, so now that we know what’s happening, let’s see what Katrina’s doing to help us connect. After we learn about her work, we’ll dive deeper with David Lang!

Bringing the Ocean to Us

Katrina took an interesting route to her interest in coral reefs: she studied neuroscience.

In my conversation with Katrina, she explained her thought process in creating The Body Reef; a large sculpture formed from various materials, including silicone, latex, and polymer clay, to make the plant and animal species commonly found in the coral reef ecosystem appear as if created from human tissue.

Image: Katrina Fuller's "Body Reef" on exhibit

“The Body Reef”
Courtesy of Katrina Fuller

“I was mainly thinking about the parallel between the Purkinje neuron and sea fans, and the human brain and brain coral. From there, using anatomy books etc., I began to study the structures of our cardiovascular systems, digestive systems, and our bone structures—specifically vertebrae. And I used my imagination to mimic those growth patterns in structures that look like coral.”

Image: Our Purkinje Neuron

Our Purkinje neuron that looks eerily similar to the sea fan (featured in the photo above)
Source: Wikimedia

To research her piece further, she reached out to team members from the Netflix documentary, Chasing Coral, and chatted with the director, Jeff Orlowsky, and coral expert, Zackery Rago. They spent at least 6 hours every day in the water for months to document the changes that were happening to the coral reef.

In 2016 alone, about 20% of the Great Barrier Reef died due to the climate change 2. But as Katrina talked with Jeff and Zackery, she noticed that they were still filled with hope that the situation could, and will, get better. She left thinking that if two people who had experienced the reef’s change with their own eyes could see hope in the future, so could we.

(Take a peek at their film Chasing Coral)

I asked Katrina how she hopes her piece will affect the people who view it, and she explained,

“I’m bothered with how often I walk around feeling above everything–specifically all the nature around me. Especially living in New York, I’m in the city a lot. I want to help people see the connection at least for a second and to see that we share this huge structural similarity to these creatures. Maybe we’re not as far above them as we think.”

Image: close up section of "The Body Reef" that is reminiscent of the human heart

“This area was influenced by the way our heart is structured—some pieces are anatomically correct sections of our heart. (There’s also a brain coral in this photo.) ”
Courtesy of Katrina Fuller

The 17-year-old artist recently had her first public exhibition at the New York gallery, Envoy Enterprises, through the Jeffery Ahn Jr. Fellowship, with this goal to show us all that even though we live in a different environment from the coral reef, we’re closely related. By suspending the reef in a room full of people, Katrina hopes she helped those who visited the exhibit build a connection with these animals who so badly need our attention.

“We can be optimistic, but there are going to be things that have to change” – Katrina Fuller

Katrina is moving forward with connecting us all to what’s in the depths of the ocean by bringing it into our spaces. Her next piece will be a large-scale anthropomorphic Octopus for a show at MoMA PS1 in New York City, New York, U.S, on December 22, 2017.

Going even deeper into her desire to create connections, Katrina has also begun working with a fashion brand, Querencia Studio, that’s addressing the social, environmental, and human rights issues within the fashion industry, and connecting us to the humanity of the process.

Keep tabs on this artist: she’s going to show us some great things.

Bringing Us Into the Water

David Lang also wants to bring us closer to what’s happening in the water, but he’s taking us on a different journey. He’s one of the co-founders and creators of the underwater drone, OpenROV. This is an open source, build-it-yourself system that you can control through an app on your phone! There is a rapidly growing network of enthusiasts all around the globe, as this ROV costs thousands less than the ROVs (remotely operated underwater vehicle’s) before its time, making it available to a broader population of curious minds.

Here’s David on the TED stage explaining how OpenROV came into conception, and how he sees this robot, and the platform changing the future by building community!

Via: TED 3

This robot makes studying and experiencing marine life with little to no impact on the natural environment easier and with another level of safety. Check out this amazing video they captured of Great White Sharks going up against an OpenROV Trident in Isla Guadalupe, Mexico if you want to see what we mean about the safety thing…

Via: OpenROV  4

What would a world look like where ordinary people had access to this world under the waves, right from their own boats or even the shore? Imagine the quality of insights one may get from videos of this nature popping up on social media.

Take, for instance, a video on a safer (and cuter) note! Here’s one that features a whole bunch of sea lions captured on film by an OpenROV Trident user off of the Farallon Islands in San Fransisco, California!

Via: OpenROV 5

OpenROV has sparked the creation of the platform, OpenExplorer, where people can work together, participate, create, improve code, share findings, and explore what’s in the water together. They’ve built a community around underwater discovery!

There’s a lot of water to cover, so with thousands of us looking at it from our various homes along the shores, what will we discover?

Stay open and consider new possibilities!


“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” – Albert Einstein 

Looking for a few more innovators and creatives doing good for the world?

You’re in the right place. Click either of the buttons below to find more along the lines of the individuals we just learned about, or you can always jump into our entire archive full of amazing innovations and insights across disciplines!

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  1. Trust, Earth Vision. “How Carbon Dioxide Kills Ocean Life.” National Geographic. National Geographic, 23 June 2014. Web. 05 Dec. 2017. <https://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/short-film-showcase/140623-oceans-warming-evt>.
  2. Cave, Damien, and Justin Gillis. “Large Sections of Australia’s Great Reef Are Now Dead, Scientists Find.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 Mar. 2017. Web. 13 Dec. 2017. <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/15/science/great-barrier-reef-coral-climate-change-dieoff.html>.
  3. Lang, David. “My Underwater Robot.” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. TED, Feb. 2013. Web. 05 Dec. 2017. <https://www.ted.com/talks/david_lang_my_underwater_robot>.
  4. “Trident Diving With Great Whites.” YouTube. OpenROV, 27 Oct. 2017. Web. 15 Dec. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_K6NisrCDmc>.
  5. OpenROV. “Trident Underwater Drone Diving with Sea Lions.” YouTube. OpenROV, 23 Nov. 2017. Web. 05 Dec. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=82&v=M5xqml4pWTM>.

Sam has written and edited hundreds of articles since joining the EWC team in 2016. She writes about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the EWC office, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and taster of cheeses.