Syracuse University Magazine

Underwater World

A couple months ago when I arrived home from work, my daughter showed me a poster she’d created for a seventh-grade science project. It was about the phylum Cnidaria and spread around the poster were images of jellyfish, coral, and sea anemones, along with various facts and figures about these aquatic creatures. “The C is silent,” she told me when I asked her how to say Cnidaria. Once I got that pronounced properly, I ruminated with her about SpongeBob SquarePants and who among his acquaintances fit the bill. I was reminded of the populous Jellyfish Fields, where SpongeBob jellyfished with a butterfly net. I also remembered visiting an amazing jellyfish exhibition at the New England Aquarium several years ago—as well as vacationing on the Rappahannock River in Virginia and not daring to plunge into the water because of an abundance of the floating blobs. 

Needless to say, as a landlocked Upstate New Yorker, I haven’t had many experiences with sea creatures beyond an occasional visit to an East Coast beach or tuning into Shark Week and other shows. As this issue of the magazine came together, I was intrigued to learn about two programs that explore life beneath the ocean’s surface. SU Abroad Madrid students have the opportunity to earn diving certification and venture off the coasts of Spain and Morocco through the seminar Marine Ecology of the Mediterranean Sea and North Africa. In her honors course, The Science of Shipwrecks, Professor of Interdisciplinary Sciences Cathryn Newton takes her students to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, where “for a weekend, students experience the ocean as an oceanographer does,” Newton says.

Both not only sound like fantastic adventures, but also tremendous opportunities for students to experience firsthand and learn about our underwater world, the fragile ecosystems and their inhabitants, as well as the sheer beauty and wonder that can be found in such environments. 

These days, of course, you don’t have to go snorkeling in the Caribbean or dive into the depths to get an eyeful of ocean imagery. Strap on a virtual reality (VR) headset and you can get seasick in the discomfort of your own home. I haven’t gone scuba diving yet off my couch, but my daughter did let me explore a beach on her VR headset. That was me just testing the waters without getting woozy (thankfully). But if you want to really learn where VR and augmented reality (AR) are taking us, check out the feature article “Virtual Explorations,” which shares how students and faculty are employing immersive media technology to create all sorts of scenarios, from ways to enhance storytelling in journalism to visualizing architectural designs. 

For me, these technologies seem like a wander into The Twilight Zone. But I’m a bit old school, so I keep telling myself to keep up. Like many of you, I’m all for it as long as my eyes don’t become eternally attached to a screen and reality checks are still a reality. After all, no one wants to forget that Cnidarians are real and among nature’s many wondrous organisms here on our Big Blue Dot.

Jay Cox