Ocean Robot Dives for Data in Maunalua Bay
Scientists are turning to new technologies to determine the health of Maunalua Bay. A new ocean robot is collecting data on everything from turbidity levels to pollutants in the water. HPR’s Molly Solomon took a boat tour of the bay and has this report.
Derek Cuny is studying a map of the ocean on his iPad. He’s leading our boat through Maunalua Bay towards an ocean robot called the Wave Glider. It’s no R2-D2, but it is the world’s first hybrid wave and solar powered sea bot. “So this is our operating system,” said Cuny, the Senior Field Support Engineer for Liquid Robotics, the company behind the Wave Glider. “This is how we control the vehicle.”
Cuny uses his iPad to show me how the robot moves in a circle around the bay, a 6.5 mile trip from Black Point to Portlock Point. The floating robot looks sort of like a surfboard, lying flat as it glides through the water. Four feet below the surface, propellers move it using power harnessed from the waves. “It’s collecting a whole slew of oceanographic data right now, as well as weather data,” explained Cuny, as the boat neared the Wave Glider. “And if you wanted to take a picture, you could.”
A front-facing camera on a long pipe sticks up on top. The device is able to take real-time images and even has a live feed streaming online. The whole effort is part of a recently launched community-driven plan to restore the bay. “It’s taking multi-million dollar high tech stuff and bringing it into Maunalua Bay,” said Frazier McGilvray, executive director of the nonprofit M?lama Maunalua. “It can help us figure out what’s going on here.”
McGilvray says these waters were once a thriving marine ecosystem. But decades of sediment runoff, invasive algae and overfishing have left their marks on the bay. According to a 2012 report by The Nature Conservancy, Maunalua Bay had the lowest fish biomass of 40 surveyed sites across the state. McGilvray hopes the collaboration with the Wave Glider will help them get the information they need to heal the bay. “This thing right now is taking weather data, sea surface temperatire. It’s taking salinity and turbidity,” said McGilvray. “All sort of measurements that will help us, and anyone else who wants to work in the bay, make it a better place.”
But getting that kind of data can cost a lot of money, another reason why the unmanned robot is appealing. “Data like that is really expensive to gather,” said McGilvray. “You need manpower, you need boats. But this is out here 24/7, taking all these measurements all the time. Human beings just can’t compare with this kind of technology.”
The nonprofit M?lama Maunalua plans to analyze the information as it crafts a restorative plan for the bay over the next two years.