#BETB15: FROM TACKLING THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH TO LETHAL (BUT ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY!) UNDERWATER ROBOTS PROTECTING CORAL REEFS

OCEAN PLASTIC POLLUTION

World’s first ocean cleanup system ready to launch, via Safety4Sea.com

The 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic (weighing some 80,000 tonnes) in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) have attracted huge attention in the past couple of years, and the latest high-level attempt to tackle the problem head on starts in earnest this week.

Launching from Alameda, California, the Ocean Cleanup system will be towed 1,200 nautical miles off the San Francisco coast by MAERSK.

The system ‘creates a coastline where there isn’t one’, harnessing a 600-metre floating device carrying a tapered 3-metre skirt underwater both to trap plastic in its horse-shoe shape and allow marine life to continue to flow freely.

The project team’s ambition is nothing less than reducing the GPGP by 50% in five years. We wish them all the best.

Many congratulations also to our good friends at Chichester-based Unmanned Surface Vessel provider AutoNaut Ltd for being selected as the project’s Official Partner for Environmental Mitigation Technologies.

You can follow the project’s livestream from September 8th here.

CORAL REEF CONSERVATION

Advanced technology shows the future of coral reef monitoring, via www.iyor2018.org.

RangerBot: programmed to kill, via Hakai magazine

As the International Year of the Reef continues apace, we’re enjoying hearing more about how technology is being introduced to protect and preserve this most vulnerable of marine resources.

With reports elsewhere showing that overfishing removes the natural predators of coral-eating snails, allowing them to grow into a major menace; that invasive rats are troubling tropical island coral reefs; and, of course, that coral bleaching continues to pose a serious threat, new approaches to reef protection and restoration are needed more than ever. And they are beginning to flourish.

Some companies are creating specialised reefs to bolster marine environments; others are halting degradation by ‘sowing’ corals; one company is even focusing on preventative measures against the ocean warming incidents that can lead to coral bleaching by developing an ultra-thin shield (50,000 times thinner than a human hair) that sits on the ocean surface to block the sun’s rays.

Not surprisingly, Artificial Intelligence and autonomous vessels have also entered the battlespace.

Scientists from the University of Queensland have been trialling a new AI system in Indonesia. 360-degree cameras fitted on underwater scooters allowed researchers to photograph up to 2 km/1.5 miles in a single dive. Following a period of ‘supervised learning’, the recognition software starts to use algorithms and its own judgment recognise corals and other formations of interest.

The mass of collected images were subsequently analysed much faster than human scientists possibly could – reducing the analysis time from up to 15 minutes to a matter of seconds. This allowed swift evaluation of how global-warming-induced coral bleaching between 2014 and 2017 had affected the area of study. As more coral bleaching occurs globally, such significant cost- and time-saving approaches can only be welcomed.

On the autonomy front, millions of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) are in for a shock in the Great Barrier Reef. A roboticist from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has developed an autonomous underwater vessel that not can not only find COTS, but – thanks to recent academic progress in understanding lethal threats to the starfish – can kill one with a single injection of a derivative of bile.

While only five RangerBots are currently in operation, this heady mix of autonomy, recognition and robotics illustrates how such confluence of technologies bodes well for environmental conservation.

COMPETITIONS

Announcing the finalists for the Con X tech prize, via conservationxlabs.com

Finally, it was great to see so many marine emerging marine technologies featured in the final cut of this year’s Con X tech prize. These included:

While some are hardware-focused, the majority are focused on extracting value from data analytics and machine learning.

Sign up on the Conservation X Labs site to track the final round and hear first who wins the $20,000 first prize.

Please check back soon for more Blue Economy Technology news.