Underwater Robots Search for Sea Turtles
Scientists test out a new tool for keeping track of endangered populations of sea turtles: submersible robots withside-scan sonar.
From the deck of a small research boat, Rob Downs, a sonar expert with NOAA’s National Ocean Service, lowered an automated underwater vehicle into the waves. The AUV was bright yellow, about 6 feet long, and shaped like a torpedo. Like the AUV that is currently searching the bottom of the Indian Ocean for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, this one was equipped with side-scan sonar. But its first-of-a-kind mission was to find something much smaller than an airplane. It was searching for sea turtles.
All species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and NOAA Fisheries scientists need to keep tabs on their populations. Larisa Avens, who leads sea turtle research at the NOAA Fisheries lab in Beaufort, North Carolina, is one of them.
“Sea turtles are often surveyed from the air,” Avens said, “but flights can be expensive, and you only see the turtles when they surface to breathe.” Avens and Downs, along with their academic and state agency research partners, hope to help solve that problem using sonar…
(read more: NOAA Fisheries)
photo: Larisa Avens, a biologist with the NOAA Fisheries lab in Beaufort, NC, with a male loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy of Larisa Avens.