Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA)

In 2005, Edie Widder, Ph.D. founded the Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA) in Fort Pierce, Florida, with a focus on developing innovative technologies to protect and restore our aquatic ecosystems and the species they sustain. Housed in the historic Coast Guard station in Fort Pierce, Florida, ORCA’s main campus is home to ORCA’s corporate offices, the ORCA FAST and Sentinel offices and laboratory. ORCA’s engineering facilities are located in Satellite Beach, Florida. Since its inception, Dr. Widder and the ORCA team of engineers, research scientists and marine biologists have achieved exciting progress in using the latest technologies to develop low-cost solutions for analysis of our polluted waterways.

Company details

1420 Seaway Drive , Fort Pierce , Florida 34949 USA

Locations Served

Business Type:
Professional association
Industry Type:
Environmental - Environmental Science and Research
Market Focus:
Nationally (across the country)

Among the programs currently underway at ORCA, The ORCA Kilroy, the ORCA FAST (Fast Assessment of Sediment Toxicity) and the ORCA Sentinel programs provide information on water characteristics and toxicity that when combined can be used to determine sources of non-point source pollution in coastal and estuary waters.

In addition to coastal and estuary conservation, ORCA’s Deep Sea Conservation programs utilize current technology to provide real time and video footage of deep ocean life and conditions. The ORCA Eye In The Sea (EITS) is a real time camera system streaming continuous video to shore for months at a time while the ORCA Medusa is a deployable camera system capable of recording up to 72 hours of continuous video at depths up to 2000 meters.

By combining innovative technology and applied science, ORCA is leading the way in protection and conservation of our valuable coast, estuaries and oceans -- saving these precious habitats for the generations of tomorrow.

In 2005, internationally renowned, deep-sea explorer Dr. Edith Widder founded the Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA), a scientific based conservation nonprofit. “Our focus is on reversing the trend of oceanic and near-shore marine ecosystem degradation using the scientific integrity of a research institute,” said Dr. Widder.

In 2004 and 2003 respectively, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy www.oceancommission.gov and the Pew Oceans Commission www.pewoceans.org released independent reports detailing the significant threats the oceans face. “Those reports were a real wake-up call,” said Dr. Widder. To avert a crisis, we need to educate people on how they can be part of the solution.”

Dr. Widder is uniquely suited to apply scientific methods to furthering marine conservation efforts.
Graduating Magna cum laude from Tufts University where she received her BS Degree in Biology, Dr. Widder went on to earn a Masters Degree in Biochemistry and a Ph.D. in Neurobiology awarded by the University of California in Santa Barbara. She became certified as a Scientific Research Pilot for Atmospheric Diving Systems and holds certifications that qualify her to dive the deep diving suit WASP, as well as the single-person untethered submersibles DEEP ROVER and DEEP WORKER. She has made over 250 dives in the JOHNSON-SEA-LINK submersibles. Her research involving submersibles has been featured in BBC, PBS, Discovery Channel and National Geographic television productions.

A specialist in bioluminescence (the light chemically produced by many ocean organisms), Dr. Widder has been a leader in helping to design and invent new submersible instrumentation, and equipment to enable unobtrusive deep-sea observations. Working with engineers, she has conceived of and built several unique devices that enable humans to see beneath the waves in new ways, including HIDEX, a bathyphotometer which is the U.S. Navy standard for measuring bioluminescence in the ocean; important information for keeping submarines hidden from above. Edie also built LoLAR, an ultrasensitive deep-sea light meter that measures light in the deep ocean, both dim down-welling sunlight and bioluminescence - both important determinants of animal distribution patterns.

Dr. Widder also created a remotely operated deep-sea camera system, known as ORCA’s Eye-in-the-Sea (EITS), which, when deployed on the sea floor, automatically detects and measures the bioluminescence of nearby organisms. EITS has produced footage of rare sharks, jellyfish, and discovered a new species of large squid (over six feet in length), all in their natural habitats. Dr. Widder and her unobtrusive camera system were featured on the Discovery Channel series Midwater Mysteries and PBS’s NOVA ScienceNOW.

More recently, in the summer of 2012, Dr. Widder and along with several other scientists filmed the giant squid in its natural habitat for the first time ever. The historic footage aired on Curiosity on the Discovery Channel in January of 2013.

Following a 16 year career as senior scientist at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Dr. Widder established ORCA , leading the effort of translating complex scientific issues into technological solutions, fostering greater understanding of ocean life as a means to better, more informed stewardship. Her long track record of pioneering work in marine exploration and conservation includes inventing new ocean technologies, discovering new species and ocean phenomena, and founding ORCA to preserve the ocean she loves.

In September of 2006, based on her work with ORCA, Edie was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In 2010 Dr. Widder was invited to participate in the prestigious Ted Mission Blue Voyage to the Galapagos Islands along with other leading thinkers and advocates of ocean conservation including Barbara Block, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Mike deGruy, Callum Roberts and Enric Sala to name a few. Dr. Widder’s TED presentation, recorded from the deck of the ship Endeavour, is now available on the web at www.ted.com. The cruise was documented by Fisher Stevens, 2010 Academy award winner for “The Cove”.

With support from the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, private foundations and conservation-minded individuals throughout the country, ORCA is using the latest technologies to develop high tech sensors and communication systems capable of detecting a wide range of water quality parameters, both chemical and biological, critical to keeping our waters clean and habitats healthy. These systems report back to ORCA’s scientists and resource managers, so better solutions can be implemented against threats to healthy marine ecosystems.

The Ocean Research & Conservation Association is an IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation dedicated to the protection and restoration of aquatic ecosystems and the species they sustain through the development of innovative technologies and science based conservation action. The organization operates from its Duerr Laboratory for Marine Conservation housed in the historic Ft. Pierce Inlet coast guard station, operated by the Indian River State College.

We invite you to explore the TeamORCA website to learn more about Dr. Widder’s work to preserve the ocean she loves.

The Mission
The mission of the Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA) is to protect and restore aquatic ecosystems and the species they sustain through the development of innovative technologies and science-based conservation action.

The Challenge: Understanding the Need for Marine Conservation
Three recent comprehensive studies (the Pew Oceans Commission, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment) have identified the deterioration of our oceans as one of our planet’s most pressing environmental concerns. Of particular risk are the coastal zones and estuaries, which provide essential nurseries for coastal and open ocean species, yet receive the brunt of human impact. In the face of progressive decline, policymakers, industry leaders and citizens throughout the nation often remain inactive.

The Solution: Using Technology to Advance Ocean Conservation
ORCA is developing high-tech sensors and communications systems capable of detecting the presence of certain plants, animals and other factors important in evaluating water quality. Such systems will report back to scientists and the public through intuitive website interfaces, so better management solutions can be implemented against threats, such as red tides, to healthy marine ecosystems.

Founded in response to this global crisis, ORCA envisions a totally new approach to ocean conservation - one that works “in-the-water” to directly protect these fragile habitats from the myriad of unseen water pollutants, toxic algae blooms and destructive invasive species.

A key priority is the ORCA FAST (Fast Assessment of Sediment Toxicity) Program™, a new and low cost method for rapidly identifying toxic hotspots devastating critically important coastal habitats. ORCA will then deploy its revolutionary ORCA Kilroy™ technology to track the pollution origin to its source. In addition, under development is the ORCA Land-to-Sea Program which will use both its FAST and Kilroy data to apply tangible solutions that will help coastal residents, governments, and industries to dramatically reduce the destruction of nearby water habitats.

The concept of protecting water as “habitat” requires innovative strategies instead of trying to apply what has worked for land conservation. Simply buying parcels of land and posting no trespassing signs can significantly protect terrestrial habitat. This is often not possible in the water, so tools like Kilroy and FAST must be implemented, so entire communities can understand the damage their collective actions can have on coastal environments. On the flip side, Kilroy and FAST allow these same communities to measure the positive impacts of their behavior-changing efforts from youth groups campaigning to reduce the use of phosphate soap to home owners and farmers agreeing to reduce pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer use or community-wide activities to reduce polluted runoff- Kilroy and FAST will give feedback on the significance of their actions toward conservation success.