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Reef Report for Friday, December 15, 2006

New Remotely Operated Vehicle to be Used to Study the Great Barrier Reef

A tiny new robot sub will soon go into use on the Great Barrier Reef. This submarine vessel, built by the CSIRO, has recently won a design award for its innovative design.

"The original vision of the project was to go out and count crown of thorns starfish," said Matthew Dunbabin, the CSIRO aerospace engineer who originally envisioned a vehicle like Starbug being used to monitor the reef-eating pest.

Currently the method of estimating crown of thorns starfish is to tow a diver behind a boat at a certain rate of speed. © The Age The diver counts the number of COT starfish seen, then that number used to calculate an estimate of the population of these starfish, which can be destructive to coral reefs. Using scuba divers for these surveys is not without its drawbacks and safety concerns.

"We are currently developing systems to allow Starbug to identify crown of thorns starfish based on their shape and texture. This will make it possible to accurately monitor population changes and design strategies for managing them." Itís likely that the Starbug can be used to take image surveys of a reef, and that computers can be used to scan these images for COT starfish, then more reliably and accurately estimate the population.

Besides being suitcase-sized and easily transported, the robot can operate underwater for up to eight hours and travel a distance of up to 30 kilometres, all at a cost of operations much less than other remotely operated vehicles and submarines. With most work done by divers being limited by both depth and time, Starbug could be used in all sorts of marine research.

CSIRO announcement of the design award for Starbug.

More CSIRO coverage.

News coverage of Starbug from The Age.

More pictures of Starbug.

(C) DiveTheReef The weekly reef report is written by Joel Groberg of DiveTheReef.com, who compiles them from the many conversations he has with dive staff in the area, as well as† many other local sources in the dive community.

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