Oil-seeking robot is deployed off Keys

July 22, 2010 - via Fort Meyers Beach Talk


Waldo, an oil-seeking robot, was deployed off the Florida Keys Monday.

Now that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has been capped which has, at least tempoarily, stopped the gushing of oil into the Gulf, an independent nonprofit marine research organization is taking a preventive step in case oil reaches the Gulf Loop Current.

Mote Marine Laboratory, in collaboration with Natural Resources Defense Council and Oceana, has launched an oil-detecting underwater robot off the Florida Keys as a first line of defense against underwater oil plumes from the Gulf oil disaster. The robot -nicknamed Waldo- was deployed Monday, July 19, at 9 a.m. at Mote's facility on Summerland Key.

The protective measure is to guard the Florida Keys critical coastal habitat, according to Sarah Chasis, director of NRDC's ocean initiative.

"Like a storm-tracking plane that flies into a hurricane, this robot will tell us what aerial reconnaissance and satellite imagery cannot. Waldo can tell us where underwater oil plumes may exist," she said. "The Florida Keys is a place defined by its ocean environment, and we need to sound the alarm to help protect these resources from oil impacts as soon as we know oil is there. By answering 'where's Waldo?' we can help answer 'where's the oil?' and activate emergency response plans for this nearly invisible threat."

The robot is a 6 1/2-foot-long autonomous underwater vehicle resembling a yellow torpedo. It is equipped with sensors that can detect oil and the chemicals used to disperse it in the water. The robot will patrol the waters north and northwest of the Florida Keys on the outer continental shelf nonstop for about three weeks the length of its battery life.

It will gather data every two seconds and transmit the information to researchers via satellite every three hours, giving near real-time information about what's happening deeper in the water column where satellite imagery cannot see. If Waldo encounters oil, researchers will conduct water sampling tests to confirm the presence of oil and, if oil is found, provide local government with this information so that emergency resources and response plans can be activated to help to protect the area's important ecological resources.

"Sadly, the Keys are not yet off the hook when it comes to oil impacts from this drilling disaster. Since they are home to some of our nation's most treasured reefs as well as commercial and game fishes, we must be alert to what's going on below the surface," said Jackie Savitz, senior scientist with Oceana. "Waldo will be on the lookout and can provide an early warning if the Keys are in danger."

About the organizations involved

Mote Marine Laboratory is an independent nonprofit marine research organization based in Sarasota, Fla., with field stations in eastern Sarasota County, Charlotte Harbor and the Florida Keys. It is dedicated to advancing the science of the sea through the study of marine and estuarine ecosystems, through its public Mote Aquarium and through an education division that provides unique programs for all ages. Learn more at www.mote.org.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. NRDC has 1.3 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Livingston, Mont., and Beijing. More information on NRDC is available at its Web site: www.nrdc.org.

Oceana campaigns to protect and restore the world's oceans. Its teams of marine scientists, economists, lawyers and advocates win specific and concrete policy changes to reduce pollution and to prevent the irreversible collapse of fish populations, marine mammals and other sea life. Global in scope and dedicated to conservation, Oceana has campaigners based in North America, Europe and South and Central America. More than 400,000 members and e-activists in over 150 countries have already joined Oceana. For more information, please visit www.Oceana.org.

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