'BRAINY' BUOY PROMISES TO REVOLUTIONISE COASTAL MONITORING IN NEW ZEALAND
Scientists from New Zealand and America will this week launch a state of the art device into the waters off Nelson that promises to revolutionise the monitoring of coastal waters in this country for the benefit of industry, fishers and local authorities.
The TASCAM will be used to remotely collect physical and biological data on the water quality of Tasman Bay recording long-term data on simple, but significant parameters, like temperature, salinity, turbidity (sediment) and chlorophyll Ė all indicators of the quality and productivity of our coastal waters.
Designed and built by Nelson-based Cawthron Institute, with assistance provided by the Royal Society's International Science and Technology (ISAT) Linkages Fund, it is the first buoy in New Zealand waters to utilise inductive instrument technology and communication 'brains' developed through the California-based Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute's (MBARI) highly sophisticated ocean observatories.
Cawthron Marine Scientist, Chris Cornelisen describes it as the latest and greatest in instrument and communications technology available, which he says will allow scientists here to communicate remotely with instruments in the sea and capture and distribute real time offshore data, onshore, for dissemination to multiple stakeholders.
"Instead of having to attach our monitoring instruments to anchor cables and then rely on data cabling to retrieve any data, this technology uses the actual cable that moors the buoy to the sea floor as the data delivery portal. That means we are able to 'talk' to individual instruments and retrieve the data remotely by computer back in our office where we have programmes to generate graphs that can immediately provide the information to a variety of parties.
"It is a very kiwi innovation in the sense that it is much like passing data through a piece of number eight wire. And it is all done remotely."
Unlike communications that rely on satellites or satellite phones, data from the TASCAM will be transmitted back using radio frequency via the Nelson City Council's radio tower, enabling large volumes of data to be downloaded reliably and economically.
"Systems such as TASCAM aim to meet the needs of multiple stakeholders, providing information on the local marine environment not only to councils and industry but also to mussel farmers and even recreational fishers.
"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"
The idea ultimately is to secure sufficient funding for the data to be posted on Cawthron's website where it can be readily accessed, for free.
Cawthron Chief Executive Gillian Wratt says TASCAM will begin to fill a significant gap in this country's knowledge of what is going on in the seas around us.
"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 of information such as water temperature. As a country concerned about our environment, and marketing our aquaculture products as from "pristine waters", we have to do better.
"If we are to properly manage our water space we simply have to have more extensive and sophisticated monitoring technology - so when the time comes to make decisions around water management and allocation, land use, and all the other wider climate related issues, we have the high quality long term data sets that will ensure we make the right calls in the long term interests of our region and of our nation.
"If we donít improve the information we collect on our coastal waters, we are never going to know to what degree thing are changing, if indeed they are changing. We will be moving forward blind."
TASCAM piggybacks on technology already used by other ocean observatory systems and global networks.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), a recognised world expert in this technology, has supplied the 'brains' for the system.
MBARI Scientist Paul Coenen says "MBARI's system allows for instruments to be sampled independently on different schedules but also allows direct communication with individual instruments to modify sampling parameters on the fly"
"If you want for example to change when or how the salinity sensor is sampling, you just need to connect directly to the buoy from your office to make the desired changes. You can do it with any instrument on the mooring without having to go out to the buoy and manually adjust the instruments, as has been the case in the past. It can all be done remotely."
Marine Scientist Paul Barter, Cawthron's lead on the project adds "The whole team at MBARI has been excellent to work with and there's no way we could have reached this point in the timeframe we have without their collaboration and commitment."
Ultimately, Cawthron hopes to see the TASCAM, and others like it form part of a nationwide network providing standardised data sets to provide a national picture of what is happening within New Zealand waters.
Councils, who are mandated to manage and monitor the terrestrial water out to 12 nautical miles, have already expressed an interest in the technology.
Tasman District Councils Environmental Information Manager Rob Smith says, while they have a state of environment monitoring programme in place it is relatively limited in coverage and in the frequency of monitoring.
"We really are limited currently on what we can do and rely on our association with other organisations to help provide coverage."
"We see something like this as allowing us to keep a much better finger on the pulse of our coast, to better help us understand the health of our waters and make informed decisions around their use. Baseline monitoring like this will be hugely valuable for both the council and industry as aquaculture further develops in the region. Modelling only goes so far, you cannot beat real data when making decisions."
The Tasman District Council will be helping maintain the TASCAM system once it is deployed into Tasman Bay.
TASCAM was specifically created to meet a need to better understand the links between land and sea.
In research off Nelson as a part of the Motueka River Integrated Catchment Management Programme , Cawthron has already been able to show, using preliminary data from old monitoring technology, that interesting things are going on in Tasman Bay in response to the Motueka River plume and larger-scale ocean processes.
Chris Cornelisen says the state of the environment monitoring buoy will help scientists better understand the links between the two.
"It becomes important when you are allocating water space or experiencing changing land uses. What we know is that what happens on land in terms of land use does feed into the health and potential productivity of coastal waters. What we don't know is to what extent. That's why we need a system of monitoring over time to show us longer term trends in relation to developing land use and aquaculture.
"After all, if we don't know what the water quality was like before the land use occurred and develops how can we have any idea of how it may truly be impacting on the marine environment. We need to establish a baseline so we can know exactly how what we do on land is impacting on the sea. With the launch of the TASCAM we finally have the means to do that in Tasman Bay."
For more information:
P: 03 548 2319 ext 292
Environmental Information Manager
Tasman District Council
P: 03 543 8400