A team of students from Newfoundland and Labrador joined American and Russian competitors as winners on Saturday in a global competition for underwater robots at the only federal freshwater marine sanctuary in the United States.

The high school and university teams were among 60 from 18 states and 13 countries participating in the 13th Marine Advanced Technology Education Remotely Operated Vehicle International Competition at Michigan's Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Underwater robot

A remotely operated vehicle collects simulated samples at the bottom of the tank during the final day of the 13th Marine Advanced Technology Education Remotely Operated Vehicle International Competition at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Mich., on Saturday. (Marine Advanced Technology Education Center/Associated Press)

Taking first place in the advanced category was a team from Jesuit High School of Carmichael, Calif. Second- and third-place winners were Bauman Moscow State University of Moscow and Far Eastern Federal University of Vladivostok, Russia.

The top three in the intermediate category were Clarenville High School of Clarenville, N.L., Cornerstone Academy of Gainesville, Fla.; and Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School of New Bedford, Mass.

Teams worked with robots in a large tank while judges evaluated their performance along with engineering and communication. They were also judged on the design and construction of their robots.

Sanctuary archeologist Stephanie Gandulla said this year's competition was focused on the Great Lakes and based on research performed at the northeastern Lower Peninsula facility.

Tasks included identifying a simulated shipwreck, collecting microbial samples from a sinkhole, inventorying invasive species and removing trash.

"It's really put us on a global stage," Gandulla told The Associated Press. "The Great Lakes are such an important resource. It's so important that people see that. It's a huge supply of freshwater, and very important to the rest of the world — not just the United States."

The Alpena facility is among 14 national marine sanctuaries operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was established to preserve and protect the Great Lakes and the roughly 200 shipwrecks found in the area.