One of the most exciting areas of development for underwater remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) is their use in marine research. For decades, purpose-built (and generally large) ROVs like POODLE (the first real ROV, deployed in 1953) were on the forefront of oceanographic research work. Marine scientists did not generally use commercially-developed mass-produced ROVs until relatively recently – mainly because the mass-produced ROVs didn’t exist yet! They exist now, and the unique combination of affordability and standardization ROVs offer is now helping researchers push back the frontiers of knowledge in a number of exciting research fields.
One key area of research is the field of robotics itself – coordinating fleets of tiny ROVs is a new and unprecedented challenge for scientists at sea. Even more challenging is processing the terabytes of data that even a relatively modest quantity of ROVs can collect in a short period of time. A 2015 expedition by the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s Falkor to the remote Scott Reef in the Timor Sea, led by a team of University of Sydney scientists, deployed an eclectic flotilla of robotic vehicles, including gliders, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), autonomous surface vessels (ASVs) and Lagrangian floats, and autonomous surface vessels (ASVs). The AUVs were used to take water measurements at different depths, the ASVs and gliders collected data on surface conditions, and the floats measured currents, water salinity and temperature, and other data.
Just in visual imagery alone, the Falkor collected some 400,000 images over a two-week period, about a terabyte every day. To gain insight into the meaning of the data they had collected, the team developed a web-based tool named Squidle, which crowdsources data analysis and lets the general public help teach computers how to interpret visual imagery. (You can learn more about Squidle at https://squidle.acfr.usyd.edu.au/) Another development of note from the Falkor expedition was the creation of a web-based tool to allow researchers to visualize the known positions of an entire fleet of ROVs in real-time using any Internet-connected device, such as a PC or smartphone.
Oceanic research on climate is one of the most critically important areas of science operating today. The challenge of global warming is tightly bound to our understanding of the Earth’s global ocean, and more visually spectacular catastrophic events like tsunamis and hurricanes emphasize the pressing need for deeper understanding of the oceanic climate. As one example, a Wave Glider ROV was collecting routine environmental data in the South China Sea in July of 2014 when it encountered Typhoon Rammasun, a lethal ocean storm with 10-meter high waves and winds approaching 200 miles per hour. The Wave Glider, tiny yet extremely rugged, rode out the storm without trouble and collected amazing data about the behavior of the ocean in response to the event. Fleets of ROVs could collect many times that amount of information, allowing unprecedented progress in areas like storm prediction and tracking. It’s not just data that can be collected – ROVs can retrieve water samples from anywhere in the ocean. (Aquabotix offers a water sample collector on the Endura line.)
The use of ROVs to monitor the health and size of fish populations has been under development for quite some time in the aquaculture field. Now researchers are drawing lessons from that work and applying it to help save the Great Barrier Reef. The GBR, a collection of almost 2000 reefs scattered across more than 130,000 square miles of ocean, faces a number of threats, including climate change and water quality problems, but scientists agree that the incursion of the Crown of Thorns starfish (COTS), a nightmare coral predator, is the Reef’s greatest immediate challenge. Scientists estimate that in the last twenty years, COTS population explosions have led to the destruction of about 40 percent of the Reef’s coral.
Monitoring the COTS populations was an important step, but monitoring alone can’t get anything done. Australians have operated hunting vessels to try to slow the advance of COTS populations, but even killing 400,000 COTS per year, as one anti-COTS diving team has done, is barely holding the COTS threat at a status quo level. Robotics researchers at the Queensland University of Technology, supported by a $750,000 AUS grant from the Google Impact Challenge Australia, have developed an ROV capable of hunting down and annihilating COTS. The prototype, dubbed “COTSBot,” is capable of operating autonomously, cruising a few feet above the coral reef using five integrated thrusters, scanning the surface of the coral and looking for COTS going about their nefarious business. When the robot spots a COTS – with a 99% accuracy rate – it swoops down and uses a robotic arm to inject the creature with a 20 ml vinegar solution, which kills it instantly. By mass deploying COTSBots in threatened areas of the reef, scientists hope not to just stem the incursion of the COTS, but to keep their population down to a manageable level.
The scientific work, both theoretical and applied, that oceangoing ROVs can support is critically important to both the health of the global environment, and to our growing ability to explore and understand the 95+ percent of the oceans that have not yet been genuinely explored. As always, human researchers and explorers will be irreplaceable in those efforts, but the addition of robotic assistance and tools in the form of ROVs will make their work vastly more effective, affordable, and effective.
AquaSur regularly makes a splash in the aquaculture world at its semiannual conferences. It's the most distinguished gathering of its kind in the Southern hemisphere, with major players in the field attending. In October 2016, Aquabotix CEO Durval Tavares traveled to Chile to take part in the AquaSur 2016 conference, which explored the present and future of ROVs in aquaculture and more. Over its four days, the conference accommodated 22,400 visitors representing 42 countries. Attendees included representatives from other ROV companies, food producers, medical companies, and chemical companies. By the end of the conference, there was widespread recognition that robotics was the wave of the future for keeping fish healthy and ensuring the livelihood of those in the aquaculture business.
Puerto Montt, Chile, hosted the event. Chile employs 80,000 people in its aquaculture industry, and is currently looking to expand the industry along the country’s northern coast. To encourage growth and safety in the aquaculture sector, pending legislation will likely encourage the use of ROVs to protect the environment. Using ROVs is a safer way to look underwater, especially inside nets, for problems that could affect the fish and nets. With the potential grown of ROV use in Chile and other countries with aquaculture industries, Aquabotix and its Chilean distributor TekChile, had an interested audience for showcasing various products from the Aquabotix line.
Outside the conference, separate events featured demonstrations of the ROVs from Aquabotix. These demonstrations greatly impressed those who saw substantial benefits over currently offered technology. The main advantages for farm operations of these products included the stability of the Endura and maneuverability. Thruster power was especially intriguing for the operators because it was unlike anything they'd seen. The Endura can be configured specifically for aquaculture with five standard thrusters, side thrusters, and a high output option. These attributes of Aquabotix's ROVs mean that these devices, and other ROVs like them, are predicted to not only be a perfect fit for the future of aquaculture but also a necessity as demand increases for fish and other water-grown products. Operators can use the extra thrusting power so the vehicle can be used in high currents compared to their current products.
The conference was a good time to illustrate the innovations represented by products such as the AquaLens Connect. Attendees at the conference discussed ways to reduce waste and cost, and underwater monitoring with the AquaLens Connect is a clear solution to these issues. The future of aquaculture will rely more on remote monitoring of nets and facilities as the industry expands. With remote monitoring, several sites can be watched at once, from a single screen, reducing the necessity for needing multiple people to watch several locations at once. The AquaLens Connect allows up to 32 cameras to be connected in a network for simultaneous viewing, and because the cameras are not static, a wider field of view is available to each camera. With pan and tilt of 120 degrees in each direction, a single camera can show a wide range of underwater space. When coupled with the unique abilities of an ROV, such as Endura's fish plow that removes dead fish, these devices make operations more profitable and safer for the employees and the fish.
The future of aquaculture is now, and ROVs and underwater cameras are on the forefront of the technology farm operators need to progress. By keeping up with the changing industry, and participating in exciting events like AquaSur 2016, Aquabotix will help our customers stay on the forefront of the evolving technical landscape.
Aquaculture and fisheries are a major source of the world’s protein production, and while fisheries are stagnating somewhat due to overconsumption, aquaculture production is growing at tremendous rates. As aquaculture facilities fill in the most desirable coastal locations, it is a certainty that future growth will take place in deeper water, where use of human labor will be more expensive and much more dangerous. One major job that will require significant automation in order to be economically practical is monitoring the aquaculture facility.
Aquaculture facilities require careful monitoring of a number of important parameters. The environment itself needs to be monitored for water quality, temperature, current, and so forth. Operators also need to be able to inspect hardware such as nets and cages, to count fish in particular enclosures, to locate dead fish, to check nutrient levels, to measure fish stress levels, and more. All of this information gathering is often done by human labor at onshore or shallow-water facilities, but that is impractical when the aquaculture facility is far offshore. Operators can’t hire from the local community when the local community is underwater – they have to use automated remote monitoring technology. Even in facilities where human labor is available, the cost and liability requirements of human workers will make automated remote monitoring a useful adjunct.
A number of different types of remote sensor can be used to monitor aquaculture operations, but one of the most generally useful instruments is also one of the simplest: a video camera. High-definition video cameras can capture a wide range of data both above the water and beneath the surface. Advances in robot vision, that is, the ability of computers to understand and utilize video feeds, mean that a huge number of video camera feeds can be interpreted by computerized systems. The aquaculture base can monitor types and numbers of fish in an area, examine nets and gates for damage, scan the bottom underneath fixed pens to check contamination levels, and even assess the weather pattern. AquaLens Connect, the underwater camera system from Aquabotix, has been built to withstand and excel in these challenging conditions. It features a full 1080p HD video with live view, push button recording, pan and tilt.
Aquaculture requires a great deal of management and assessment to be effective and profitable. Feed levels have to be continually adjusted to prevent excessive buildup of nutrients in the wastewater, fish populations have to be counted and their health checked, incursions from predators have to be seen to be mitigated, and physical infrastructure, always susceptible to storm damage, has to be kept in trim through regular inspection and maintenance. All of these tasks require that the aquaculture operator be aware of the condition of the facility. Stationary video cameras, as well as ROV-based roving cameras, provide a cost-effective means of achieving this goal.
Global warming has the potential to have major impacts on aquaculture. Over the past century, global warming (both human-caused and deriving from natural cycles) has increased the average global air temperature by around 1 degree Fahrenheit, 0.6 degrees Celsius. The world’s oceans, which have a vastly greater thermal mass than the atmosphere, have changed by only 0.18 degrees Fahrenheit (0.1 degree Celsius), with nearly all of that warming occurring in the surface layers. Even this relatively small change is enough to have major impacts on human food production in the ocean.
One significant impact from global warming is likely to be the reduction in the growth rate of krill. Krill are a family of tiny crustacean species that live in all of the world’s oceans and are the foundation of the aquatic food chain. Krill feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton, and are in turn consumed by fish and other aquatic animals in enormous quantities. Krill are fished commercially and used as a feedstock for aquaculture operations. As ocean temperatures rise, the reproductive rate of krill has been shown to decline significantly. This will make food stocks for aquaculture more expensive.
A major fraction of aquaculture is conducted in areas immediately offshore and in riparian (river) environments. Rising ocean temperatures may disrupt these operations by altering the sea level, changing coastlines and impacting river systems. Rising ocean temperatures alter the sea level in two ways – first, by causing increased melt rates at the polar ice caps, and also because of the fact that warmer water expands and takes up a larger volume. Even very small increases in temperature can have measurable impact on sea level. In riparian aquaculture, increased incursions of salt water can reduce yield or make operations untenable. Changes in water salinity also has enormous impacts on the presence and prevalence of species, which can throw aquaculture operations into chaos.
Further offshore, higher ocean temperatures are likely to cause stronger and more frequent storms. This is problematic for deep-water aquaculture operations, requiring a more robust infrastructure and increasing costs from storm damage. Warmer temperatures can also cause instability in marine ecosystems, as invasive species enter areas that were formerly too cold for them. This can cause issues for aquaculture operations that were predicated on a particular local ecosystem. Inshore operations are not immune to this change; many aquaculture operations rely on the monsoon season and it is expected that changing water temperatures will tend to disrupt this major weather pattern.
A significant portion of global aquaculture comes from the cultivation of mollusks. Mollusks as a group tend to be very temperature sensitive, and as waters warm, mollusk-growing operations will need to move to colder waters in order to maintain yield. When that is not possible, that portion of the aquaculture system could cease to function.
One major, albeit indirect, disruption could come from changing availability of freshwater inshore. Ecologists anticipate that global warming will cause reductions in the availability of freshwater, particularly in Africa and Asia, and as a result of this water stress, water for aquaculture development may simply not be available.
Unfortunately, it seems likely that future water temperature increases will have an increasing impact on the development of new aquaculture projects. Currently, the majority of world aquaculture is in the tropics, and although those areas are still growing strongly, new development is likely to center around the temperate zones of our planet. Increases in ocean temperature is expected to be significantly higher in the colder northern and southern waters than in the equatorial zone. That means that new aquaculture projects, for example off the eastern seaboard of the United States, are likely to be severely impacted by water temperature changes.
Fish farming in the ocean and off the coasts has become an enormous business. Declining wild fisheries and an insatiable (and growing) global appetite for fish have created tremendous opportunities for the development of oceanic aquaculture. Local cultures have conducted aquaculture (generally in lakes and river systems, rather than the ocean) for thousands of years, but modern aquaculture has become a globally important food source. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about half of the world’s food fish come from aquaculture, and the sector continues to grow at an astonishing rate – five to six percent annual increases in production are the norm. Total aquaculture production is over 80 million tons per year of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and aquatic plants.
There are two basic types of oceanic fish farming. Coastal farming involves shallow-water farms located on the coast, along rivers, or in lakes. Open ocean farming involves deep-water farms that are not tied to a specific coastal location. There are important differences in these two approaches to oceanic aquaculture.
Coastal fish farming is the predominant form of oceanic aquaculture today. In a coastal aquaculture facility, pens or fish cages are deployed along the coastline, often in a protected bay or inlet. Most crustacean and mollusk farming is done inshore, using racks on which the food animals are grown. Depending on the species being farmed, the nutrients for the farmed food animals might come from the water itself, from the provision of forage fish, or from the addition of nutrients into the water in soluble form.
There are advantages to farming fish along the coast. Because the facility is located near the shore, storms are attenuated by the proximity of the landmass, and both workers and shipping infrastructure are close at hand. Operators can bring in supplies and export product from the convenience of local railheads and ports. Because the water is generally shallow at the coastline, it is also possible for operators to use ranch-style techniques, building habitats on the sea bottom for desirable fish such as abalone, and then simply catching the fish in the normal fashion without needing to closely manage the population.
Coastal farms have a number of significant disadvantages as well. Coastal areas are subject to intense competition from other uses such as recreational activities, fisheries, ports, and renewable energy development. Fixed-site aquaculture also has fairly severe environmental impacts on the delicate coastal ecosystem. Fish farms produce large quantities of waste and excess nutrients, which settle onto a fixed location on the sea bottom. This can utterly disrupt or even extinguish the local benthic ecosystem, causing repercussions to fisheries and tourism. Disease among the fish stocks is also a major problem, and because coastal fish farms can be close to one another, a disease which decimates one population can spread to other operations, even crossing species barriers.
Offshore fish farming, or deep-ocean aquaculture, cuts the ties to the shore, although not to the sea bottom. Generally, an offshore facility is tethered to the bottom and anchored to buoys, so that cages can move up and down in the water column but are still at a fixed location in the ocean. An offshore aquaculture can be sited almost anywhere, and does not have to compete with pleasure boating or fishing fleets. In addition, the much greater area (and stronger currents) available for dispersal of waste products and excess nutrients means that the environmental impact is significantly reduced or eliminated. Disease transmission is less problematic, and experimental offshore aquaculture operations have found that parasitic infestations are much more easily managed in the relative isolation of an offshore facility. Offshore locations are also more able to coexist with other uses of the same area of the ocean; since the cages can be moved deeper into the water than is possible in a coastal area, other uses such as boating can be accommodated.
Offshore aquaculture has its own set of problems, however. The expense of building cages that can withstand the storms and currents of the open ocean is considerable. Because the environmental conditions are more rigorous in the open sea, fish escapes are more likely to occur, which has ramifications both in terms of cost and in the potential for the introduction of invasive species to ecologically vulnerable areas of ocean. In addition, the laws and regulatory environments that apply close to shore (within the three-mile limit, for example) become more complex further out to sea; for this reason, off-shore aquaculture in the United States has primarily developed only in areas of the ocean that are unambiguously under Federal jurisdiction so that operators can have a predictable legal environment in which to do business.
Despite the potential issues and problems that arise in both coastal and offshore aquaculture, it is a certainty that these areas of economic activity will continue to grow and expand. Fish are a vital part of the global food infrastructure and aquaculture is rapidly becoming the dominant way in which this sector produces its output.
Thank you to Aquaculture North America for the coverage of the HydroView pro 7M/AQ in the Jan/Feb 2016 edition. The HydroView Pro 7M/AQ is configured specifically to address the needs of aquaculture applications and includes options most requested by fish farm operators.
To learn more about Aquaculture North America, visit their website at www.aquaculturenorthamerica.com.
AQUABOTIX ANNOUNCES UPGRADED REMOTELY-OPERATED VEHICLES (ROVS) – THE HYDROVIEW PRO 7M/AQ FOR AQUACULTURE
HydroView Pro 7M/AQ is the intelligent solution for aquaculture applications, including site planning, net/fence inspections, fish population studies and food consumption analysis.
FALL RIVER, MA – September 18, 2015 – Aquabotix, a marine technology company delivering the accessibility of today’s consumer electronics products to the complex world of underwater ROVs, announced the immediate availability of its HydroView Pro 7M/AQ. Designed specifically for missions in finfish aquaculture, the HydroView Pro 7M/AQ is a configuration upgrade of Aquabotix’s successful HydroView Professional Series.
Affordable and easy-to-use, the HydroView ROV carries an onboard HD video camera and is controlled by intuitive iPad or laptop driving applications. Building upon its predecessor’s proven platform, the HydroView Pro 7M/AQ configuration includes:
● Seven Swiss Made High Torque Motors: 4 Thrusters and 3 Hovering/Pitch
● Sensor package including depth, temperature and orientation (compass). Additional available sensors: nitrate, dissolved oxygen, and pH
● 1080 p True HD Quality Camera with Continuous Focus and Tilt
● 100 m of Neutrally Buoyant Cable with AC Power
● Wireless Hand Controller
● Depth rating of 100 m
● Fish Plow for Mort Removal
● 2 Pounds of payload capacity for customer specific applications
● High Intensity LED lighting
HydroView Pro 7M/AQ is the newest and most cost effective piece of emerging technology for the Aquaculture industry. Safe, efficient and portable, the HydroView Pro 7M/AQ makes underwater observation and inspection simple. A single operator with minimal training controls the ROV from the comfort and safety of topside using Aquabotix’s iPad or laptop applications. From case to the water in under 3 minutes, the HydroView Pro is easy to deploy and requires no daily maintenance.
“We developed the HydroView Pro 7M/AQ with input from our aquaculture customers. It combines the finest features of HydroView Pro with the additional features most requested by farm operators,” said Durval Tavares, President & CEO, “The HydroView Pro 7M/AQ provides insights into daily farm activities that would otherwise be difficult or even dangerous to collect. The Pro is intuitive to drive, built with state of the art technology and offers the ultimate in underwater control.”
HydroView Pro 7M/AQ pricing starts at $30,000 and is currently available for order from Aquabotix resellers or through the Aquabotix website. For more information, please visit: http://www.aquabotix.com/ or call: (508) 676-1000. To view the HydroView Pro 7M/AQ in action at a fish farm, visit: http://www.aquabotix.com/videos.html.
ROVs (remote operated vehicles) are invaluable tools in the fin fish farming industry from site selection through full-scale operation. The HydroView Professional has been used to observe all aspects of farm operations from net/fence integrity to fish population studies to food consumption analysis.
Before a farm is built, a ROV can be used to scout the location and determine the ideal conditions. Once the farm is in operation, daily monitoring of the fish and nets is extremely important in preventing stock loss. The fish are monitored for health and feeding habits. Fine tuning of feed maximizes efficiency and limits the impacts of unconsumed feed accumulating on the sea bed. Nets are inspected for holes, mooring line attachments, security and integrity. Maintaining the security of the farm’s nets or cages protects the stock and prevents escape of farmed fish into the wild or infiltration of the farm by predators. Morts can be identified and removed using a ROV’s grabber arm or pushed to a collection point using Aquabotix’s proprietary fish plow. Rapid identification and removal of sick or dead fish, limits the spread of disease to the rest of the school.
ROVs can also carry a variety of environmental sensors, including dissolved oxygen, pH, nitrites and dissolved solids. With the HydroView Pro, all data can be viewed in real time and recorded in one-second increments and downloaded into an Excel spreadsheet for further analysis and record keeping. The ROV provides insights into daily farm activities that would otherwise be difficult or even dangerous to collect.
Safe, efficient and affordable, the HydroView Pro makes underwater observation and inspection simple. A single operator with minimal training controls the HydroView from the comfort and safety of topside using our iPad or laptop application. From case to the water in under 3 minutes, the HydroView is easy to deploy and requires no daily maintenance. The HydroView Professional is an intelligent ROV that can be programmed to perform routine inspections automatically.
The HydroView records data readings for downloading into spreadsheet format for later study and overlay with the recorded video. True 1080p HD Video and still images document conditions for comparison analysis. Operating on battery power or with optional 110/220v AC, the HydroView provides hours of reliable operation. Documentation is made simple with all inspection images, videos and sensor readings recorded and stored onboard the HydroView for easy downloading. Archive the .mov, .jpg and .csv files for comparative analysis.
Aquabotix has configured a ROV to specifically address the demands and challenges of fin fish Aquaculture. The HydroView Pro 7M/AQ includes a tilt camera with 1080p HD, a fish plow for mort removal, 1400 lumens of lighting and 7 Swiss-made high torque motors. The HydroView Pro 7M/AQ is the newest and most cost effective piece of emerging technology for the Aquaculture industry.
Aquaculture or Aquafarming is the farming of fin fish, shellfish and aquatic plants and is the fastest growing food supply sector in the world. Aquaculture is to live stock farming as commercial fishing is to hunting. Farming implies human involvement in the process and includes such activities as stocking, feeding, and protection from predators.
Feeding the world’s ever-expanding population requires new thinking about sources of food, particularly protein. Fish process calories (energy) more efficiently than mammals and requiring less food, less land and less fresh water to yield the same amount of protein.
“From the point of view of an ecological footprint, aquaculture does very well compared to terrestrial animal food production systems,” said Arni M. Mathiesen, Assistant Deputy-General of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). http://www.thefishsite.com/fishnews/25232/aquaculture-the-most-promising-method-of-meeting-food-needs/
Meanwhile, natural fish stocks are under strain as modern commercial fishing technology has advanced. Some argue that improvements in the efficiency of the fleets have outpaced the ability of fish to reproduce and replenish themselves. Fish Farming/Aquaculture is viewed as one of the solutions to this problem.
Experts agree that Aquaculture must be practiced responsibly if we are to fully realize the benefits without damaging our natural fisheries and other marine environments. Fine tuning of feed to the appetite of the fish creates efficiencies and limits the impacts of unconsumed feed accumulating on the sea bed. Rapid identification and removal of sick or dead fish, limits the spread of disease to the rest of the school. Maintaining the security of the farm’s nets or cages protects the stock and prevents escape of farmed fish into the wild.
Aquabotix provides innovative ROV solutions for aquaculture. In February 2015, the HydroView Professional was in Chile performing net inspection, monitoring of stock, mort searches and mooring inspections. Video recorded by the HydroView during these tasks will be posted soon.