Cool New Conservation Technology

Megan Jungwi
30 May 2013

Cool New Technologies for Marine Conservation

News headlines are increasingly alerting us to environmental issues – many of which revolve around the ocean. Rising sea levels, endangered species, and increasing amounts of pollution together make the future look pretty bleak. Fortunately, conservationists, engineers, and scientists are looking for solutions to our many problems and new technologies are helping to make the ocean a better place.

Coral Repairing Robots

Coral reefs are under pressure from pollution, climate change, and direct human interactions. Fortunately, many degraded reefs are now the subject of restoration projects. In the past such projects would involve scuba divers manually attaching healthy pieces of coral to underwater structures, in the hopes that the coral would repopulate the area. A laborious and time-intensive process, a team of scientists have recently found a solution by developing ‘coralbots’. These underwater robots work autonomously to attach the coral pieces through the use of a camera, flexible arms and grippers, and the ability to intelligently navigate the underwater world. The robots have been looking for funding on Kickstarter 

Wave and Tidal Energy

Carbon emissions have led to ocean acidification, sea level rise, and a host of other issues. Reducing our use of oil and gas and turning to renewable energies such as solar, wind, and now wave and tidal energy can help reduce carbon emissions and its many negative effects. Waves and tides, which move in a largely reliable manner, can be harnessed by placing turbines on the sea floor or on buoys at the sea surface. In the past, wave and tidal energy were not economically competitive, however newer technologies are harnessing the ocean’s energy in more efficient ways. Tidal plants and wave farms can now be found in many countries including France, the UK, South Korea, China and the USA. Tidal energy delivered power to the US electric grid for the first time in 2012, harnessing tides in Maine.

Prosthetic Limbs for Ocean Animals

It’s hard for the human heart not to be moved by the sight of marine animals at play. Unfortunately, animals sometimes get hurt and this can result in lost limbs. Scientists have found ways to rehabilitate these creatures. In 2011, Winter the dolphin, who lost her tail to a crab trap, received a new prosthetic tail. In 2012, Yu the sea turtle received new prosthetic fins after a shark attack.

Plastic Cleanup in the Ocean

The ocean’s plastic problem is perhaps most often illustrated with a description of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Small plastic particles, suspended just below the ocean’s surface, cover hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of the Pacific. Unfortunately, many scientists think projects to clean up the ocean are unlikely to work, given how small the plastic pieces are and how large the ocean is. This has not stopped people from trying. In 2012, a group from Yanko Design  drew up plans for a marine drone with an oversized pool net to clean up the plastic. Meanwhile 19-year-old Bolan Slat, an engineering student, designed an array of floating booms to collect and recycle the plastic. Although their projects may not work, such innovations can bring more attention to a field that direly needs it.

The Other Sciences

Although flashy technologies such as robots, drones, and fields of generators are more likely to gain attention, it’s important to recognize a broader definition of technology. New ideas, new ways of communicating with each other, and institutional changes can all be technologies that have a great effect. Finding new ways to use social media or creating new markets to value the ocean can all be helpful. Activists, social scientists, and passionate people can all find new ways to help the ocean.

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