Buoy to boost scientific knowledge

BILL MOORE
Last updated 13:00 08/04/2011

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The fishing industry, local authorities and even recreational fishermen are the potential beneficiaries of a buoy being positioned in Tasman Bay this week to gather and disseminate a complex set of data.

New Zealand and American scientists were putting the finishing touches to Tascam at Nelson's Cawthron Institute yesterday afternoon. It will be anchored in 25 metres of water, six kilometres from the mouth of the Motueka River.

It will remotely collect data on the water quality in Tasman Bay, allowing scientists on shore to connect with instruments in the sea and distribute real-time information.

Cawthron marine scientist Chris Cornelisen said the buoy used "the latest and greatest" in instrument and communications technology, and the project had cost about $500,000 in equipment and staff time.

The technology uses the cable that moors the buoy to the seabed as the data delivery portal, letting the scientists "talk" with individual instruments from their office, where they have programmes to generate graphs to immediately provide information to others.

"It is a very Kiwi innovation in the sense that it is much like passing data through a piece of No8 wire. And it is all done remotely," he said.

The information, which will be transmitted by radio frequency, would help meet the needs of multiple stakeholders, he said.

"The data can be used, for example, to alert a fisher that the water temperature is ideal for catching a kingfish, or to advise a mussel farmer of the presence of a chlorophyll bloom he might like to let his mussels snack on before harvest – or, conversely, of a drop in salinity that may mean a higher likelihood of contamination from river plumes."

Designed and built by Cawthron, with assistance from the Royal Society's International Science and Technology Linkages Fund, the buoy is the first in New Zealand waters to use inductive instrument technology and communications "brains" developed by the California-based Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

Cawthron hopes it will be the first of a network to gather information around New Zealand.

Chief executive Gillian Wratt said Tascam would begin to fill a significant knowledge gap.

"We are dealing with intensified land and water use, global climate change and warming seas, yet currently in New Zealand there are very limited systems monitoring even the most basic information such as water temperature," she said.

"If we are to properly manage our water space, we simply have to have more extensive and sophisticated monitoring technology."

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Cawthron's lead marine scientist on the project, Paul Barter, paid tribute to the MBARI team from California.

"There's no way we could have reached this point in the time frame we have without their collaboration and commitment."

The Tasman District Council will help to maintain the Tascam system. Environmental information manager Rob Smith said the council's existing system was limited in its coverage and monitoring frequency.

"We see something like this allowing us to keep a much bigger finger on the pulse of our coast, to better help us understand the health of our waters and make informed decisions around their use."

- The Nelson Mail

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