A pioneering marine robot has embarked on a two-week mission to capture images and data to record ocean life in a ‘biodiversity hotspot’ off the Cornish coast.
What lies beneath…
The unmanned, British-built surface vehicle, known as ‘Thomas’, is part powered by wind and solar energy and controlled remotely by satellite. Part of a new partnership between WWF and the National Oceanography Centre, Thomas will give scientists a better understanding of what lies beneath our oceans, helping improve conservation and marine management.
Thomas started his mission of discovery on 22 May. Accompanied by support vessel ‘Blue Thunder’, he left Newlyn and headed for an area near the Isles of Scilly, where an oceanic front dividing different water masses can be found.
‘UK seas are a national treasure and contain more wildlife – from sharks to sunfish – than many people think. But they are under pressure from climate change, pollution and the marine industries that use our seas, and need careful protection. Thomas will help us learn about the life that is out of our sight and to safeguard our seas for future generations.’
DR LYNDSEY DODDS
Head of Marine Policy at WWF-UK
Ocean fronts – regarded by scientists as biodiversity hotspots and an important focus for marine research and conservation – attract an abundance of plankton, which in turn attracts fish and top predators including basking sharks, seabirds, dolphins, porpoises and whales.
Thomas will carry sensors to detect marine life and simultaneously monitor the surrounding environment, including the temperature and salinity of the water and weather conditions at the sea surface.
He will be carrying GoPro cameras to capture images of seabirds and marine macro-litter, and passive acoustic monitors to detect clicks and whistles from echo-locating marine mammals such as harbour porpoise and common dolphin. Thomas will be assisted in this task of by a sub-surface glider known as Drake, who will use a similar array of sensors to search up to 100m below the surface.
Real-time snapshots of data collected by Thomas and Drake will be transmitted via satellite back to mission control at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, allowing scientists to adapt mission plans according to what they see.