Inventor Wants Crittercam to Inspire People

Jennifer Vernon
for National Geographic News
January 20, 2004

Greg Marshall, director and executive producer of National Geographic's Remote Imaging Program and inventor of Crittercam, recounts how it all began: a lifelong love of the ocean, a job in Belize, and one accommodating sea turtle.

You majored in political science in college. How did you move to marine biology?

I had always been fascinated with it [marine biology] as a kid … But I was sort of subject to social influences, and didn't believe that it was possible to make a living as a marine biologist. So rather than go to school as an undergraduate in marine science, I decided to prepare to be a lawyer or something reasonable.

A couple of years after finishing my undergraduate I just realized, "Well, you know, you've kind of got one chance in life to do what you really would dream of, and you at least ought to try it." So I went back for a year of undergrad coursework so that I could prepare to go to graduate school in marine science. I applied and got in, and have been on that track ever since.

When, and how, was Crittercam born?

Well, I had the idea for it in '86, so it's been quite a while now. I was working in Belize at the time. Actually, that was where I most directly combined the two interests [marine and political sciences], because I took a job with the Agency for International Development [where] I was director of a marine research project.

With respect to the idea for Crittercam, [I] just sort of had this epiphanal experience one day when I was diving and saw a shark [that] had a remora attached to it. I thought, "Wow, wouldn't it be great to be that remora and ride along with the shark and see what it's doing all day?" In that moment I realized that we could make an electronic video recording "remora."

Without an engineering background, how did you learn how to build the first one?

While I was in Belize, I also made a film about [a] problem that I was studying … I wanted to tell a broad story and get people to care about what I cared about. To do that, though, I needed to get underwater because I was dealing with a story in the marine world.

Since I had no money, I had to basically develop an underwater housing and camera system … It [was] just a matter … of using the best common sense that I could muster, and talking to people about what they had used and what had worked for them … .

You know, I built this thing for about $35 … [And] it was actually pretty much the same system, reconfigured and streamlined, that I used on the very first test on a sea turtle in Belize in 1987.

What did that first Crittercam look like?

Continued on Next Page >>


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