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Community Conversations: Gray's Reef Robotics Competition Challenges Students to Dive Into Ocean Technology

The orange ridged sea star (Echinaster spinulosus) has orange yellow spines. It five legs with small tube feet in the under side which are used in locomotion. If sea stars are cut in half they are able to regenerate and become two individual sea stars. (photo credit: Grays Reef NMS)

When you think about the ocean, robotics may not automatically come to mind. But Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary off the Georgia Coast is making waves with its Southeast Regional MATE ROV Competition for middle and high school students. Reef superintendent Sarah Fangman says technology is a critical part of the work they do.

Fangman said, “It’s impossible for us to put our eyeballs on every part of the ocean so we need technology. And who better to help us improve the technology than kids, right? This competition invites them to build an underwater robot and then we provide a challenge. And so they have to drive their R-O-V, their remotely operated underwater robot, through basically an obstacle course and complete certain tasks. And they are judged on this and they are timed.”

The event draws students and spectators from around the state and region. The winner goes on to represent the region in an international robotics competition. But the student competition is really just a vehicle for something greater.

“Our goal is to inspire them to create these kinds of tools, care about our ocean, and learn a little about Gray’s Reef along the way,” said Fangman.

The Gray’s Reef Regional MATE ROV competition will be held April 22nd here in Savannah but if you’re a teacher or student who wants to compete, Fangman says you should get started now. Learn more about the competition when you visit or the Facebook event page: And learn more about Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary when you visit

Hear highlights from the 2016 MATE ROV competition in this audio postcard filed by GPB Savannah's Gabrielle Ware: