Home > NCCOS Multimedia > Coastal Conversations Podcast, Episode 1: NCCOS Surveys Coral Reefs of the Florida Keys

Coastal Conversations Podcast, Episode 1: NCCOS Surveys Coral Reefs of the Florida Keys

Published on: 07/13/2023
Research Area(s): Marine Spatial Ecology / CoralPodcasts
Region(s) of Study: U.S. States and Territories / Florida
Micro-sized uncrewed underwater vehicle
NCCOS researchers used this micro-sized uncrewed underwater vehicle (UUV) to collect imagery. These UUVs are much smaller than traditional AUVs at just four-feet long. Each of these torpedo-shaped self-propelled vehicles are mounted with a high-resolution camera and can be programmed to fly highly specific paths over the seabed.

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Episode Transcript:

(Undertrack of tracking beeps and boops)

Welcome, you’re listening to Coastal Conversations, the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science Podcast. Those sounds you just heard were data pings from a new type of underwater vehicle that will feature prominently in todays episode set in the iconic Florida Keys.  Before we join today’s featured researchers in the field, here’s a brief overview. The coral reefs at the foot of Florida are legendary, making up a barrier reef that spans more than 255 continuous miles making it the fifth longest in the world. It is home to an incredible array of marine life. But these reefs, like coral reefs across the globe, are in serious trouble. In recent decades in particular, the reefs within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary have been damaged by hurricanes, bleaching, disease, and heavy human use. Now, NOAA and its partners have launched an inititative titled: Restoring Seven Iconic Reefs: A Mission to Recover the Coral Reefs of the Florida Keys, This is one of the largest investments in coral reef restoration anywhere in the world. Here’s Shay Viehman from the Center’s Coastal Resilience, Restoartion, and Assessment Branch, to tell us a little more:

Audio Shay

In late April and early May 2023, researchers from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, or NCOOS,  headed down to the Keys to conduct reef surveys in support of this initiative. The team was comprised of Sarah Rojano  and Shay Viehman from the Center’s Coastal Resilience, Restoartion, and Assessment Branch, along with Chris Taylor, Erik Ebert, and Mike Bollinger from the center’s Habitat mapping team.

The five-person team have completed their first mission using a remarkable new type of autonomous underwater vehicle known as a micro-sized uncrewed underwater vehicles or (UUVs). These UUVs are much smaller than traditional AUVs at just four-feet long. Each of these torpedo-shaped self-propelled vehicles are mounted with a high-resolution camera and can be programmed to fly highly specific paths over the seabed to collect a variety of imagery.

Here’s Chris Taylor with a brief introduction and description of this remarkable new tool.

Audio (Overview and lengths)

Audio (Overview and auv quality)

On this mission, the UUVs surveyed shallow coral reefs in an area of the Marine Sanctuary known as the Eastern Dry Rocks.

In about 30 minutes, the device was able to collect images that covered an area larger than a football field. That’s over 40 times the area that divers could cover in the same amount of time. The images collected will be used to construct 3D models and image mosaics of the reefscape to provide the Sanctuary with information in areas where restoration is planned or underway.

AUDIO (overview 3 second half)

Since this is a new tool for the group, these first missions have several objectives. Here is ? to explain:

AUDIO (Auv eval and safety)

These UUVs are highly sophisticated instruments. It’s not a case of simply turning them on and letting them loose. No, it’s actually similar to the preflight routine in an airline cockpit. Numerous functions and systems need to be checked and crosschecked before each and every deployment.

Audio (Check and deploy check)

Once everything has been confirmed to be in full working order, the UUV is then gently deployed

AUDIO (deployment)

After the UUV has surveyed the aforementioned football fields worth of reef tract, it is recovered and evaluated.

AUDIO (Initial Mission review and data)

Battery life is always a limiting factor on how many more deployments will be available for any given day while in the field. This is just one of a multiple of considerations, including the weather, the researchers must account for each day. Most people would jump at the chance to work in the Florida Keys, a place many people would consider idyllic. However, working in this popular sub-tropical environment brings it’s own special set of challenges.

Audio

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