Super water sampler all go

An advanced water sampling "lab in a can" installed in Tasman Bay yesterday was returning its first results to shore within an hour.

Built by scientists in the United States and put together at Nelson's Cawthron Institute, the Environmental Sample Processor collects and analyses water samples, providing the results to Cawthron and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California.

Previously used in depths of 1600 metres around the US, in Tasman Bay it is in only a tidal range of 3-8 metres, and six kilometres from the mouth of the Motueka River, to sample contaminated river water entering the bay.

Nasa provided some of the development funding, in part to model the search for life on other planets, but its deployment in Tasman Bay – the first in the southern hemisphere – is to detect micro-organisms ranging from human faecal bacteria to invertebrate larvae and bloom-forming phytoplankton. During the month-long trial it will be operated from Monterey.

Cawthron scientist Chris Cornelisen said the ESP was "very cutting edge stuff" that could change the face of monitoring by providing near-immediate information on water quality, biosecurity threats and potential toxic blooms.

It replaced the collection of samples for analysis on shore, a process that could take days, and in future similar setups could be used around the coast.

"This is really a trial, but you could imagine in the Marlborough Sounds rotating them around – with the value of salmon and shellfish farming, it would be huge for early detection."

Dr Cornelisen said Cawthron's research experience was key to building on MBARI's already tested systems to make the technology fit for purpose in New Zealand's marine environment.

"This is what these important international collaborations are all about, utilising each other's unique capabilities to create a partnership that ensures New Zealand stays at the forefront of monitoring technology."

The ESP, marked with a large buoy, has been deployed alongside the TASCAM system that Cawthron and MBARI scientists put in Tasman Bay's aquaculture area in April last year.

The Nelson Mail