Hand-held Device Can Save Fishes and Fish Farm Expenses

Townsville may have developed a new hand-held device to reduce the massive stock losses at fish farms.  Giana Gomes, a scientist at the James Cook University, says that 40 percent loss of production on fish farms are caused by diseases and parasites.  She is developing the gadget as part of her doctorate.

While approved chemicals are available to help remove the tick and flea-type parasites, Justin Forrester of the Coral Coast Barramundi explains that samples are required to be sent to Brisbane for diagnosis.  This process alone costs tens of thousands of dollars each year.

By using a portable device similar to a smartphone, Gomes says that the genetic makeup of the parasite will be quickly recorded and compared.  Detection of diseases will be quicker, thus preventing high death rates at fish farms.  This replaces the current process of lab testing, which usually takes days or weeks.

Gomes, and her study, was awarded with 2016 Science and Innovation Award at the university’s Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Fishing Reform Through Smart Nets and Wheelhouse Spies

In an effort to decrease fish discards, Maria Damanaki, Global Managing Director for Oceans at The Nature Conservancy, leads a reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, and calls for boats to be installed with smart nets and on-board cameras.  Trial efforts in the UK have decreased fish discards by up to 36%.

Fish net designs are critical to the success of the reform.  New designs are tested at the North Sea Centre in Hirtshals.  The varying designs should allow for separate catches.  One example, a slanting plastic grid at the center of a trawl net allows for smaller fishes and shrimps to pass through the slots.  The bendable plastic grid is then tied to the fishing gear.  This design costs a hefty £2,000, but the agency hopes to subsidize 85% of the cost for small boats.  Another design is the rolleball net for catching flatfishes.  Instead of dragging, the net rolls over seabed to reduce damage to the ocean.

Boats are also installed with sophisticated cameras, GPS, infra-red sensors, and hydraulic sensors.  This integrated system records the location of the boat and the fishes caught in the last two months.  The kit, installation, and the software costs a hefty £9,300.

According to Mike Montgomerie, Gear Technologist at the Seafish UK, most fishermen included in the trial are embracing the change to help reduce fish discards.  Damanaki also highlighted the importance of implementing selective gear to reduce unwanted catches. One boat owner in Scarborough, Yorshire isn’t quite ready for the change.  Fred Normandale felt like he was being spied on, with cameras installed on his boat.  Grant Course, Marine Management Organization’s head of marine trials, stated that the strategy is more efficient and cost-effective than having on-board human observers.  Computers are known to store more accurate information than human observers.

While most fishermen are accepting the change, fisheries particularly in Brussels may not be as accepting, stating that varying environments and conditions require varying designs.  Politicians will have difficulty sorting out complaints, whether genuine or based on vested interest.  Some may even boycott the reform.  But the determined Damanaki is hopeful that the fishing reform will be achieved.

Protecting Marine Life through Better Plastics Design

Scientists call for better plastics design to encourage recycling, and to prevent small pieces of indestructible materials from finding their way into our oceans.  Richard Thompson, a marine biology professor at the Plymouth University, said that better designed plastics reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  He added that clear bottles can easily be recycled compared to dyed bottles.

Microplastics accumulating in our oceans have been a problem for over 6 decades, with most of it from disposed poorly-designed plastics.  Alice Horton, eco-toxicologist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, suggests people should recycle more, reduce plastics usage, and to realize its effects on our oceans.  Alastair Grant, ecology professor at the University of East Anglia, said that debris-catchers can help clean up the oceans, but preventing plastics disposal is more efficient.

Microbeads are microplastic wastes used in beauty and health products such as body scrubs and toothpastes.  Banned in the US and UK, scientists say they have absolutely no societal benefit.  Although microbeads have been phased out, it is harder to ban all plastics due to their important uses.  A study published in June found that microbeads affect the growth of fish larvae.  Fish larvae died of starvation and showed less response to their environment.

Producers have tried biodegradable plastics to solve the problem, but these plastics only break down in certain conditions.  Scientists at the UN called this a “false solution”.  They have since been doing research on sources and varieties of plastics, and their effects on marine life.  Though scientists are finding a permanent solution, Thompson said they must focus on what they can do with what they already know.

Internet of Things: Survival of Harbour Seals

The Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St. Andrews will conduct a study on the decline of harbour seals population in the Scottish archipelago.  Using telemetry tags affixed to the fur at the back of their heads, the seals will transmit their location, dive behaviours, and oceanic environment back to Vodafone’s M2M network.  This allows for improved data gathering by monitoring multiple SIM cards from a single remote PC.

Initiated by the Scottish Natural Heritage, and in partnership with Vodafone, this project aims to further Scottish marine policies, formulate mitigation options, and prioritize research on the survival of the harbour seals.  According to Dr. Bernie McConnell, Deputy Director of the SMRU, the number of harbour seals in the Northern Isles and Scottish archipelago has declined by up to 90 percent over the last 15 years.  Professor John Baxter, Principal Adviser for Marine at the Scottish Natural Heritage, added that the study will help researchers understand the factors that drive the population of Scottish harbour seals.

The private sector is increasingly looking to capitalise on this application of the IoT, too. Vodafone has devoted significant resources to promote Nb-IoT (Narrowband-Internet of Things), a radio technology that connects physical devices, such as the SIM cards in the telemetry tags, to allow low cost, low battery consumption while transmitting data between devices. In Australia, Intergrid, a datacentre provider, is also researching how a distributed cloud platform could impact endangered terrestrial species.

Mapping the Oceans with Underwater Drones

Soon as Pete LeHardy, business development manager at the Phoenix International in Louisiana, learned about the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, his crew headed for Australia to find the wreckage.  For 70 days, the crew’s automatic underwater vehicle (AUV) called Artemis, searched more than 850-square kilometers of ocean depths.  As with 26 other countries that joined the search, their efforts were futile.

Although Artemis, also known as the Bluefin-21, is among the pioneer drones that were mainly used for commercial research in the oil and gas industries, similar drones have since been assembled and used by universities and research organizations, to explore the ocean depths for wreckage and marine life.  According to Dr. Paul Bunje, Ph.D., director at the California-based XPRIZE Foundation, NASA’s exploration budget is 150 times greater than NOAA’s.  This means we know more about the outer space than our own oceans.  Dr. Bunje hopes the government would prioritize ocean exploration.  In May, tragedy struck Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).  One of it AUVs, Nereus, imploded six miles deep in the Pacific Ocean.  It was 30 days into the Kermadec Trench exploration.  Sadly, its remaining missions were scrapped.  This tragedy left a huge impact on everyone involved in deep ocean exploration.

Artemis was created to find wreckage underwater.  Equipped with basic sonar and underwater cameras, Artemis calculates the depth of the area, dives into the ocean, and photographs the terrain.  Although LeHardy’s initial search of the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 failed, they were able to successfully unraveled an unexplored part of the ocean.  With the photographs they collected, the team is closer to finding the wreckage when the search reboots in August.

Dr. Bunje says that the ocean is their final frontier.  Ultimately, the goal is to map the entire depths of our oceans.  This will enable them to find every wreckage underwater, unravel marine habitats, and prove or debunk ocean mysteries that has hounded us for many centuries.