These inventions are cleaning up plastic pollution, saving endangered marine life, and investigating climate change.
Plastic pollution, overfishing, and climate change are all taking an enormous toll on the planet’s life-support system. The oceans are acidifying, sea levels are rising, and coral reefs home to myriad fish species are dying.
But it’s not all doom and gloom.
Scientists, activists, and ordinary citizens are rallying to protect the oceans and pushing to make huge swaths of the most sensitive marine areas off-limits to oil and gas drilling and other potentially destructive developments. New technologies are proving crucial in that fight.
Here are five high-tech solutions that are helping to save the seas.
1. A Vacuum Cleaner for Ocean Plastic
When 17-year-old Boyan Slat went diving in Greece in 2011, he was frustrated to come across more plastic than fish. Last year, he founded The Ocean Cleanup, which has developed a technology to extract plastic pollution from the oceans. Here’s how it works: Ocean currents force plastics to accumulate in front of an array of solid floating barriers and platforms anchored to the seabed. That allows the trash to be retrieved for recycling while fish and other marine animals swim unimpeded under the barriers. Small-scale testing has been completed and the array is being ramped up for pilot testing, with full-scale deployment planned for 2019.
2. Oceangoing Robots
Dispatching ships to remote seas to investigate climate change and conduct other scientific research can cost tens of thousands of dollars a day and put crew members’ lives at risk. Better to send in the robots. Silicon Valley start-up Liquid Robotics makes the Wave Glider, an autonomous wave- and solar-powered robot that can traverse the world’s oceans, collecting and transmitting gigabytes of data on weather conditions and water temperature, chemistry, and quality. A fleet of the 250-pound, surfboard-size ’bots is roaming the seven seas, going where no robot has gone before.
3. Safety Nets for Sea Life
Every year, billions of pounds of marine animals are inadvertently caught in fishing nets pulled by trawlers. Commercial fishing operators also throw out tons of good fish when their haul exceeds quotas. To help reduce all that loss of marine life, a British designer has invented theSafetyNet. The net is studded with blinking LED rings that guide juvenile fish to the openings so they can escape when they accidentally get caught. A larger mesh panel allows unwanted bottom-dwelling species to escape through bigger holes. Existing fishing nets can also be retrofitted with the LED rings.
4. Deep Ocean Explorers
We’ve moved on from the days of manned submersibles to explore the mysteries of the ocean to remotely operated vehicles that are highly maneuverable and can be controlled by crews on board a vessel. Equipped with robotic arms, lights, cameras, sensors, and sampling devices, ROVs can go where it’s too remote, expensive, or dangerous for scientists to venture to discover new marine life and investigate the impact of humans.
5. Tuna Tagging
Sushi lovers have made bluefin tuna so valuable that it isn’t just overfished; it has experienced a 95 percent drop in population in the last few decades. In an effort to track bluefin tuna movements and understand their behavior to better guide conservation efforts, scientists have developed tagging technology that the Monterey Bay Aquarium humorously calls “fish and chips.” Biologists implant electronic tags into the bellies of the tuna that collect data on the fishes’ movements, body temperature, and other details. Anglers who catch the fish can return the tag for a $1,000 reward. Satellite tags are attached to tuna with dart guns and are programmed to detach from the fish. Beachgoers and fishers who find and return the tag are given a $500 reward.
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