Three drones were launched from Plymouth on Tuesday to track fish and gather data on oceans around UK

Three marine robots
have been launched to track fish populations and gather ocean data in and
around new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

The drones, which were
launched in Plymouth on Tuesday by scientists from the Marine Biological
Association and engineers from the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), aim to
learn how fish use MPAs on a day-to-day basis.

Using acoustic
‘pingers’, fish species such as plaice and sole will be tracked at sea by the
robots. Assisting them in their data collection will be fixed seabed listening

The three autonomous
vehicles, AutoNaut, C-Enduro and the SV3 Waveglider will all be carrying a
range of sensors to collect additional data on the physical properties of the
ocean, such as water temperature and salinity.

Onboard GoPro cameras
will also capture valuable photographs and video footage of seabirds and other
marine wildlife. 

Project leader Dr
Stephen Cotterell, said: “This technology will give us a new dimension in our
understanding of fish movements, residency and migrations in and around the
marine protected areas off Plymouth.

“Understanding how
fish use MPAs will be vital in understanding the value of these management
tools to conserve fish stocks.

“One of the aims of
the EU Marine Strategy Framework is achieving sustainable fisheries, through
and ecologically coherent network of MPAs. We just don’t know enough yet about
how effective MPAs are for mobile species. With this work we aim to get
somewhere closer.”

This week’s launch is
the second phase of the pioneering project, which previously saw five marine
robots travel hundreds of kilometres off the Isles of Scilly to collect data
about oceans.

Head of the NOC’s
Marine Autonomous Robotics Systems group Dr Maaten Furlong, said: “This second
phase builds on the success of phase one and allows us to test the vehicle
fleer in a coastal waters.

“Using autonomous
surface vehicles in combination with fixed seabed assets significantly enhances
the scientific value of the system.”

The two-phase project is
the largest deployment of marine autonomous systems ever seen in the UK and
will provide important information about the shelf seas, marine life and the scope
for autonomous vehicles in future research projects.

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Image credits: National Oceanography Centre & Marine Biological