From Combat to Cleaning Waterways

The oceans cover over 70 percent of the surface of the planet and provide over 70 percent of the oxygen we breathe. In addition, they absorb around 50 times more Co2 than our atmosphere does.

While paramount to life on Earth, our oceans are currently being threatened by plastic pollution, climate change, and overfishing. These threats can greatly harm precious marine life and the humans that depend on them for their livelihoods.

Marine scientists have long warned of the implications that ocean pollution poses to our very existence. Solutions have been actively sought that could potentially help humans minimize the pollution damage to our oceans.

When the first aerial drone (aka Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or UAV) came onto the market in Britain in 1935, people were blown away by the potential these devices held for society. Initially developed for aerial target practice by the Royal Air Force, drones have now become commonplace all over the world.

In 2013 major companies around the world, including Amazon, Uber and UPS began testing delivery concepts using drones and by 2020 drones were assisting in the delivery of medications and conducting mass disinfection during the Coronavirus outbreak.

But drones are not only used for combat or delivering medication and assistance during pandemics. Let’s examine a few ways drones are helping the oceans.

Drone use in marine conservation

Drones are revolutionizing conservation science in terms of how marine animals are being monitored and observed, allowing researchers to get closer to these animals than ever before without hampering their natural habitats.

In terms of marine conservation, drones can create high-resolution base maps of marine areas, proving far more superior to the images being obtained from Google Maps and Satellite Images. Georeferenced orthomosaics, for example, help research teams measure distances and features with true accuracy.

Drones are also able to fly at very low altitudes of 50 meters or lower, allowing operators to obtain photographic images for transects and species analysis. This approach completely removes the interference of the species’ habitats making it a far more effective way of gathering data in terms of marine conservation. What this means is that researchers are now able to produce more meaningful data in a more cost-effective way.

Underwater drones are also helping researchers to monitor the health of marine ecosystems. Previously hard-to-reach places can now be accessed by drones, bringing back water and sediment samples that help scientists determine the type of species inhabiting certain areas. Furthermore, drones have proved invaluable in helping scientists and researchers to better understand the impact of aquaculture operations on marine environments.

Another incredibly effective way drones are being used is in disentangling whales from fishing lines and marine debris. Once entangled, whales face starvation due to not being able to feed or drowning if they are not able to reach the surface for air. Before the use of drones, marine conservationists would need to reach entangled whales at least 3 times. Initially to assess the entanglement situation, then again to disentangle the whale, and lastly to ensure they were disentangled properly.

These operations were obviously very dangerous for conservationists. But thanks to sophisticated drones, marine conservationists can safely assess the damage and ensure the whales are properly freed by viewing images captured at close range by the drones. With the help of the drones, they only need to make an approach once to actually free the whales from entanglement since the viewed images from the drones help them to make accurate assessments before and after.

Not only are drones able to help free whales from man’s pollution, but they are effectively used to study whale and dolphin populations. The amount of data that can be simultaneously collected is astonishing. From collecting whale snot for analysis to determining the size of marine mammals, researchers now have a much deeper understanding of the behaviour of these ocean mammals thanks to the drone’s ability to monitor them at closer range without interfering with their natural habitats.

Previously, hydrophones were used to capture and monitor whale vocalizations. But thanks to another type of drone called EarBot, this process has become relatively easy. The drone lands in the water near the whales, turns off its engines, and records the whale vocalizations while simultaneously transmitting data directly back to the boat.

Can Drones Clean Our Waterways?

It’s incredible that drones can offer support with so many ocean conservation issues. Therefore, it is no surprise that drones could also be the answer to ocean pollution.

RanMarine Technology’s WasteShark (aka an autonomous surface vehicle or ASV) is a 1.57 meter water drone that collects debris and biomass from the surface of waterways before this pollution reaches the sea.

Referred to as the “trash-eating ocean drone” by many, WasteShark was modeled after the whale shark, the world’s largest fish. It’s designed to be a long-term and efficient solution that is unobtrusive and non-threatening to living beings in the water. It’s a low-cost solution that is easily transportable, easy to operate, and results in zero greenhouse emissions.

Its charge can last up to 10 hours, and in this time, it collects waste but can also collect data using sensor probes. In addition, multiple WasteSharks can work together, covering more water and collecting other waste. Its use in rural, urban, leisure, and industrial environments is truly impressive.

Currently, waste poses enormous implications for the ecosystems in our oceans. But thanks to ocean pioneers like RanMarine Technology, we finally have a highly effective solution to marine pollution.