Corals of the Great Barrier Reef. Image Credit: Camille Gerstenhaber/Wikimedia

Underwater drone set to explore Great Barrier Reef at new depths

  • BY AG Staff |
  • November 15, 2017

The 21-day expedition to discover super corals in the northern parts of the Great Barrier Reef is officially underway and the crew on board will have some new toys to play with.

THE GREAT BARRIER Reef Legacy’s (GBRL) 21-day expedition to discover ‘super corals’ will now be assisted by an underwater drone that can reach parts of the Great Barrier Reef never explored before.

This new technology, known as the Blueye Robotics Pioneer, is able to dive down 150m, which is approximately eight times deeper than a regular scuba diver, and it can be operated by an easy-to-use controller.

The team of researchers including Dean Miller and John Rumney of the GBRL, and Charlie Vernon, the world’s leading expert on coral reefs, set off on their search for super corals today, with the new technology in tow.

According to Blueye Robotics Chief Global Strategist Christine Spiten the underwater drone will assist the scientists in the way of cost, functionality and ease of use.

“This underwater drone will give the team the ability to look at some of the deeper coral reefs that have been out of reach, to see how they have survived through the last two mass bleaching events,” she told Australian Geographic.

"Using the Blueye Pioneer is as simple as using a smart phone. The drone’s movements are initiated by a controller and the video feed from underwater can be seen on a cell phone or a tablet."

Christine says that typically, cameras diving below 16 ft see only shades of blue and green, while the Blueye Pioneer has the ability to overcome low light and can display full colour at low depths, providing a much clearer picture below the ocean’s surface.

Research into the healthy corals found at these depths, now more commonly referred to as ‘super corals’ describing their ability to survive extreme conditions, will provide insights into how corals might be genetically engineered to survive climate change. 

“If you identify species of corals that appear to be resistant to bleaching – then the question is why. If you can find that out … it’s a step towards a cure or a way forward,” Charlie Veron told the Guardian in August. 

Revolutionising ocean exploration

Christine says that the partnership that Blueye Robotics has formed with the GBRL was a natural one.

“We at Blueye Robotics believe that maritime technology can revolutionize the way we take care of the sea… And so, our shared passion for the ocean brought the Great Barrier Reef Legacy (GBRL) organization and Blueye Robotics together.” 

Blueye Robotics also plans on future collaborations focussed on underwater exploration and conservation. 

"Fifty of these unique underwater drones were recently ordered by the Norwegian Society for Search and Rescue, and others will be employed by the New York Harbor School to clean up the Hudson River.

"The New York Harbor School will be using the Pioneer as part of its Billion Oyster Project to clean up the Hudson River, and Mission Blue in Monterey, California will use the Pioneer to increase awareness of marine-protected areas." 

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