This summer the Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab is lucky enough to have three bright interns to help conduct research on the high seas!

Brandon Gertz, Claire Mullaney, and Lisa Snodgrass are all rising second year Coastal Environmental Management (CEM) graduate students at Duke University focusing on emerging and pressing challenges that affect our ocean. This summer, their research will explore three important topics: deep seabed mining, the high seas, and the blue economy. To find out more about their summer research, read their excerpts below:

Corporate Actors and End-Users in Deep Sea Mining – Brandon Gertz

Deep-sea mining is set to begin in international waters within the next few years[1], which will lead to unprecedented challenges for seafloor and the surrounding environments. To be able to better understand and communicate the risks associated with deep-sea mining, it is important to know what actors are planning on using deep-sea resources, and for what. This exploratory project will identify key corporate and state actors linked to applicants for International Seabed Authority (ISA) exploitation permits to gain a better understanding of intended destinations and uses of deep-sea minerals. A better understanding of who these groups are will help both to clarify the risks that deep-sea mining carries, and to communicate these risks to the public. This summer, Brandon will be collecting data on international deep-sea mining contractors, and identifying these contractors’ parent and sister companies, subsidiaries, shareholders, products, and business connections. He will then analyze the data collected to determine if any patterns arise that could connect how deep-ocean resources are likely to be used, and by whom. 


Assessing Fishing Vessel Compliance with Seasonal Area Closures on the High Seas – Claire Mullaney

Marine areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), commonly called the high seas, are those areas of the ocean for which no one nation has sole responsibility for management. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s oceans lie in ABNJ, and fragmented legal framework has lead ABNJ vulnerable to growing threats. The increasing exploitation of fish on the high seas has caused concern among scientists, economists, lawyers, governments, NGOs, and the public. Though negotiations are currently underway to protect ABNJ under UNCLOS, only 1% of the high seas are fully protected. Throughout this summer, Claire will be working to complete research related to her Master’s Project, which will seek to evaluate the interaction and compliance of fishing vessels with spatial closures in international waters. She will collect information on high seas spatial closures and geospatial data. She will use Global Fishing Watch (GFW) data to manipulate satellite vessel tracking and fishing records, and conduct her research analysis with ArcGIS Pro. The work Claire conducts this summer will be the foundation for her master’s project, which will continue throughout the 2020-2021 academic year and could leave to a publishable manuscript.

NPS Photo by Shaun Wolfe/OWUSS

A Deep Dive into Technological Innovation for a Low Carbon Blue Economy – Lisa Snodgrass

The ocean continues to be a major contributor to the global economy providing us with valuable resources and services such as food, transportation, energy, and tourism, which has led to the coined term: “the blue economy”. More than 3.5 billion people depend on the ocean for their primary source of food, maritime transport is responsible for 90% of the world’s trade, and ocean-based tourism contributes $124 billion to the U.S. economy each year, and climate change threatens this way of life. As we continue to exploit the ocean and its resources, we need to ensure that ocean industries are operating in the most economically and environmentally sustainable way. Lisa will be working this summer in partnership with MGEL and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions to research technologic innovations in the shipping sector and blue tech leaders. She will define overarching sustainability goals within the sector, determine the obstacles to complete these goals, and begin to conduct a risk assessment for the sector’s transition. Lisa will continue this work throughout the academic year in collaboration with fellow graduate students to determine the most promising areas for new technological advancements to support sustainable ocean use in the emerging blue economy.


This research would not be possible without the contributions from Duke University, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, and CPDP. Brandon and Claire are part of a pilot program, ELCOMG, at Duke University to provide student funding for research on the high seas. This support expansions of existing partnerships between Duke faculty and Nicholas Institute staff as it regards to High Seas @ Duke.


[1] Lodge, Michael. “ISA’s Secretary-General, Michael Lodge, on the Draft Mining Code.” ISBA HQ. March 28th, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwbNtVjL_mM&feature=youtu.be

World Bank. (2013). Fish To 2030: Prospects for Fisheries and Aquaculture. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/458631468152376668/pdf/831770WP0P11260ES003000Fish0to02030.pdf