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High-Tech Robot Explores Waters Off California

Above: A remotely-operated vehicle or ROV will be used by The Nature Conservancy for marine research in California.

Audio

Aired 8/3/09

An environmental group is using an underwater robot for ocean research off the California coast. The high-tech tool will explore areas beyond the reach of divers.

An environmental group is using an underwater robot for ocean research off the California coast. The high-tech tool will explore areas beyond the reach of divers.

The ROV - Remotely-Operated Vehicle - will be used by the Nature Conservancy to explore species and habitats in deep ocean canyons and offshore reefs and banks.

Nature Conservancy Lead Scientist Mary Gleason said the underwater robot "flies" just above the seafloor, gathering high-resolution video and still photographs of marine life.

"It weighs about 500 pounds, it's maybe about the size of a refrigerator and it's tethered to the ship with a long cable that the data is transmitted via and you know essentially, it's piloted from the ship," Dr. Gleason said.

She said the cutting-edge robot will help explore and monitor the deep sea in the Channel Islands Marine Protected Area.

Gleason said a research team will also use the robot to evaluate how trawl fishing affects the ocean bottom.

"We really know very little about these deep water habitats and species off California," Gleason said. "And so the great opportunity we have here is really to use technology to help sort of fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge. And that's the only way we're going to really be able to do better management and conservation of our marine resources."

She said the underwater robot allows scientists to document deep habitats and the abundance of fish within and outside the marine reserves.

Gleason said the findings will help resource managers track changes in the environment and determine the effectiveness of marine protected areas.

The Nature Conservancy has also launched an online naming competition for the ROV. The vote ends August 31.

In September, the newly-named robot goes to work off California's Central Coast.

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