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Underwater Robots to Repair Coral Reefs

Underwater Robots to Repair Coral Reefs

By Megan Treacy, TreeHugger

Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland are developing underwater microrobots that could be sent in swarms to save coral reefs. The so-called coralbots would be programmed to piece together coral that have been damaged by bottom-trawling fishing or hurricanes, allowing them to regrow.

The university says, “The deep waters west of Scotland are characterized by the occurrence of large reef-forming corals similar to those in the tropics. Scottish reefs provide homes to thousands of other animals including fish and sharks, and are crucial to supplying coral propagules all the way to the Arctic. But Scottish corals are threatened by adverse impacts of bottom fishing that damages and kills large areas of reef. Luckily, this species can sometimes survive this damage and re-grow, but this can take many decades to centuries.”

Before this project, scuba divers would take on the task of visiting areas of damaged coral and re-cementing broken fragments back to the reef, but that type of work takes time and scuba divers can only stay underwater for so long. Robots, on the other hand, have no limit to the time they can be underwater and they can also reach greater depths where some types of coral grow.

The robots will be programmed to follow a simple sets of rules where they collect coral fragments and then re-cement them to the reef. They’ll be a driven by a computer trained to recognize coral fragments compared to rocks, sponges or other sea creatures.

To more efficiently rescue the coral, the small robots will work in swarms — each programmed with a very simple task, but as a group they’ll tackle a more complex operation. This not only makes the work faster, but it also eliminates the need to develop a more robust large robot to complete the job, which is time- and cost-efficient on the engineering side.

Dr. Lea-Anne Henry, from the School of Life Sciences, who is leading the project, said, “Swarms of robots could be instantaneously deployed after a hurricane or in a deep area known to be impacted by trawling, and rebuild the reef in days to weeks, instead of years to centuries.”



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1:09AM PDT on Nov 2, 2014

Live long and prosper

10:03PM PDT on Apr 16, 2013


2:20PM PDT on Apr 13, 2013

Thanks for sharing

7:13AM PDT on Mar 24, 2013


8:54AM PST on Feb 14, 2013

Cool, thanks

8:33AM PST on Feb 14, 2013

We need and should use all the resources we have to save nature.

9:55AM PDT on Sep 14, 2012


10:46AM PDT on Sep 6, 2012

Great!!Thanks for sharing!

2:05PM PDT on Sep 4, 2012

Good to see technology doing some good for the enviroment!

1:28PM PDT on Sep 4, 2012

The deep blue planet ( sea) is absolutely exotic and breath-taking. Thanks for the efforts of all those who devote time and other resources for such a daunting endeavour. In my next life, I'll be a marine biologist and deep sea diver.

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