Underwater Drone Will Enhance Student Research

Dec 20, 2019

by Dr. Nancy Morvillo
Chair of the Biology Department

Recently National Geographic partnered with Sofar Ocean Technology to launch the Science Exploration Education (S.E.E.) Initiative. This initiative supports ocean exploration through the use of the Trident Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), basically an underwater drone. Several FSC faculty members (Drs. Gabriel Langford, Melanie Langford and Jason Macrader from the Marine Biology Program and Dr. Matthew Eicholtz from the Computer Science Program) and Dr. Paul Larson, the Curator of Collections at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), teamed up to successfully acquire one of the ROVs.

Dr. Gabe Langford launches the Trident ROV for its inaugural voyage.
Dr. Gabe Langford launches the Trident ROV for its inaugural voyage.

The ROV is small and easy to transport, it can dive down to 300 feet, and it can stream live, high-definition video from any underwater environment back to researchers on the surface. The ROV will allow faculty and students to access local lakes and multiple areas in Tampa Bay to study a variety of organisms for classes and research. An important aspect of the ROV is that it can travel into locations that are inaccessible or dangerous for divers.

“We plan to use the Trident ROV in the classroom environment this spring,” said Dr. Gabe Langford. “Students in field-based courses, including Biology of Fishes and Field Ecology, will learn how to operate the ROV.”

The drone will have many uses in research. The first project will start over the summer, when the research team will begin a long term study of sharks and the ecosystem of Tampa Bay.

Sharks play an important role in maintaining stability and balance to many marine ecosystems. “As top predators, sharks provide ecosystem services that keep fisheries and ecosystems healthy for both humans and animals to enjoy,” Dr. Langford explains.

To elucidate the role sharks play in Tampa Bay, FSC faculty and undergraduate student researchers will collect natural history data from the sharks, including morphological information and DNA and microbiome samples. Additionally, a broader group of students will participate in identifying and cataloging the diversity of organisms in the nearshore community. The involvement of the FWRI will ensure that this broad diversity is properly identified, recorded, and cataloged to aid in long term monitoring efforts of this under-studied ecosystem. The Trident ROV will be critically important in locating sharks and documenting the biodiversity under the water.

More information about the Trident ROV can be found at the Sofar Ocean Technology website. Some videos generated from the ROV in use can be found on the National Geographic website.

Dr. Langford summed up his excitement for the new technology. “Overall, the ROV will make an excellent research and teaching tool that will enhance our ability to teach and prepare the next generation of marine biologists.”

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