WATCH: An underwater robot is being tested on the Great Barrier Reef

Blue ROV2. Image: Australian Institute of Marine Science
  • Both aerial and underwater robots at sea are being tested to allow greater remote monitoring of the Great Barrier Reef.
  • A hyperspectral camera attached to Blue ROV2 was used to capture images with more than 270 bands of colour.
  • The researchers also launched large aerial drone off the research vessel RV Cape Ferguson.

Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science have been trialling aerial and underwater robots to monitor the Great Barrier Reef.

A modified Blue ROV2 (Remotely Operated Vehicle), with a dive capability of 100 metres, can lock-on and follow a transect line across a reef, which is usually done by a team of divers, to monitor the health of a reef.

The robot has a hyperspectral camera which captures more than 270 bands of colour information too complex for the naked eye, giving it the capability to survey the reef in rich detail, including mapping of the ocean floor, depth of the water, and identifying bleached corals.

“This is the first time a hyperspectral camera has been trialled underwater on our ROVs,” says Australian Institute of Marine Science Technology Transformation leader Melanie Olsen.

“We did some revolutionary stuff during this trial, we also flew the 900gm hyperspectral camera under our large aerial drone off our research vessel RV Cape Ferguson, over a coral transect on John Brewer Reef, which is one of our long term monitoring sites.

“This is also the first time we have flown ROVs and drones simultaneously during night-time missions.”

The researchers in action:

“These robots will soon be helping to free up our marine science researchers to do the important work of looking at how to help support these reefs,” says Olsen.

“It will allow for the acceleration of data collection and processing. This two-week trial showed we can perform missions at night, and we can go deeper.

“We can monitor aspects of coral reefs we have not been able to before.”

Olsen says the robots mean the reef can also be monitored when it is unsafe to put a diver in the water because of crocodiles, marine stingers or sharks.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science is working in partnership with the Queensland University of Technology to leverage Australian expertise in shallow water marine robotics.

Controlling the underwater robot. Image: Australian Institute of Marine Science

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