The Nature Conservancy announced today the winner of a national online competition to help name its new remotely operated vehicle (ROV). The public voted to name the deep-sea robot Beagle - in honor of Charles Darwin's 200th birthday and the famous research ship on which he traveled to the Galapagos. Today the Conservancy launched a study using the ROV to assess the impacts of bottom trawl fishing off California's Central Coast, the first controlled study of its kind on the West Coast.
"In the face of a variety of threats to our oceans, we must learn more about marine species and habitats in order to protect them," said The Nature Conservancy Lead Marine Scientist Dr. Mary Gleason: "Fortunately, advances in ROV technology are expanding our ability to explore and understand deep underwater realms where divers can't reach. This will help us identify the most appropriate intensity of fishing in the right locations to minimize seafloor damage, while still catching economically important fish."
The ROV - an underwater robot that "flies" just above the seafloor hundreds of feet below the surface - gathers high-resolution video and still photographs of marine life and habitats - vital data in the fight to save California's threatened oceans. The species and habitats under study are found amid broad continental shelves, deep canyons and offshore reefs and banks - areas beyond the reach of divers. The ROV enables researchers to travel to these hard-to-reach places, expanding their ability to explore and understand these deep underwater realms.
In a strong show of support for the Conservancy's commitment to promote better management of its marine resources, the California Ocean Protection Council (through the California State Coastal Conservancy) provided the Conservancy with a grant to acquire an ROV for underwater research.
"California's ocean and coast benefit Californians and people across the nation in numerous ways," said California Ocean Protection Council Secretary/Executive Officer State Coastal Conservancy Sam Schuchat. "It's important to study and protect these resources, and The Nature Conservancy's research using the ROV we funded is a fantastic window under the sea for conservation."
With the help of the ROV, the research team - comprised of scientists from the Conservancy, California State University Monterey Bay, National Marine Fisheries Service, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE) and fishing partners - will evaluate how trawl fishing affects the ocean bottom and monitor the recovery of already-trawled seafloor habitats.
"The Nature Conservancy and MARE helped design this state-of-the-art ROV to greatly expand our understanding of the ocean beyond diver depths," said Marine Applied Research and Exploration Co-Founder Dirk Rosen. "We've already dove the Beagle beyond 1,200 feet deep, bringing back live video and digital still images of exceptional quality. We are able to photograph and identify critters less than one-inch long and document where they are living in these deep, dark, unexplored waters."
Data collected by the ROV can also be used to enhance other Conservancy efforts, such as our partnerships with local fishermen to promote environmentally and economically sustainable fishing techniques. These fishermen are leasing Conservancy-owned trawling permits and testing alternative gear; when combined with the findings from the ROV study, the information gathered by the fishermen can help inform management decisions for the fishery and establish models for innovative marine conservation around the world.
The Conservancy's ROV will also be employed to assist the California Department of Fish and Game, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, MARE and other partners to research and monitor deep-sea habitats in the Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas. Using ROVs, scientists are collecting video to document deep habitats and the abundance of fish within and outside the marine reserves. The findings will help resource managers track changes in the environment, help determine the effectiveness of marine protected areas and guide best management practices.