Oahu, HI - July 16, 2023
On July 16th, 2023, the Studio SE team hosted a group of twenty-six guests on an Eco-systems Snorkel Experience. The goal of the trip was to engage attendees in the unique Hawaiian Coral Reef ecosystem and provide them with the information needed to observe the relationships and flows within the marine environment.
A highly complex system, coral reefs have been evolving for thousands of years to perfectly operate in their environmental conditions. A food web of organisms pursuing their own survival but intrinsically connected to the success of the system as a whole. An astounding ecosystem to observe in action, but potentially more inspirational as a blueprint for how we build our human world.
Before boarding the charter, we were joined by University of Hawaii PhD candidate, Zack Rago. Currently studying predator-prey behavior and reef halos, he is also known for his appearance in the Emmy Award-winning documentary Chasing Coral. Attendees were able to ask Zack about his work within coral reefs, his knowledge of marine ecosystems, and how they connect to our lives on land. Standing against the Honolulu city skyline, he helped guests visualize the impact of industry and urbanization on the southern shore of Oahu highlighting the flows of run-off from the city. He explained how coral thrives in low-nutrient waters, and when higher levels of nutrients are introduced, algae growth takes over the ecosystem effectively suffocating the reef. Coral along with phytoplankton produce 50% of the oxygen in the atmosphere; humans cannot survive on earth without functioning marine ecosystems.
When asked what systems engineers can do to accelerate marine sustainability, Zack responded -
“You are the ones who organize the world; by shifting how systems are designed, the world shifts too.”
As attendees boarded the Charter, conversations ranged from what species they thought they would see in the ecosystem, to the upcoming INCOSE 33rd International Symposium. At first, these two things seem completely unrelated. But ecosystems and engineered systems are not so different. The hunting methods of a zebra mantis shrimp are not so different from the engagement of a modern war fighter with a target. The flow of nutrients between a coral polyp and the oxygen-producing algae zooxanthellae is not unlike the movement of materials through the global economy. The propulsion of the parrotfish (uhu) fins is comparable to the aerodynamics of an aircraft.
Upon reaching the famous Turtle Canyon, attendees put on their gear and lined up to enter the water. Surrounded by tourist boats with the same goal, our boat didn’t seem so unusual. But poised to immerse themselves in one of the most unique ecosystems in the world, were some of the most influential minds in global systems engineering.
While we swam through the blue Hawaiian waters observing green sea turtles (honu), parrot fish (uhu), needle fish (‘aha and rock-boring sea urchins (wana), we weren’t just passing a Sunday afternoon in paradise. Were we taking the first step toward cooperative sustainable design? Even in joining together to observe this delicate and vital ecosystem, we were laying the foundation for future sustainable partnerships and innovations. Because the shift needed is one that will require everyone, across industries, to work diligently to build a new world. A world integrated with the environment, resilient to the ever-changing landscape, and prosperous not at the cost of ecological resources but because of their regenerative abundance.
Back on board the boat, attendees laughed and shared their experiences. For some, it was the first time they had seen a sea turtle, for others it was the first time they had seen a coral reef. As we watched the sunset on the western horizon a first-time snorkeler and seasoned engineer commented -
“We have to rethink how we are designing everything.”
Looking out over the ocean he continued -
“Not just how, but why we design them the way we do. Nature has ways of building things we haven’t even thought to try, maybe it is time we do.”