Feature ArticleUsing ROV-Based Technology To Provide Education on Ocean Garbage
By Rachael Z. Miller
Founder and Educator
Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean
The volume of trash that ends up in the oceans is staggering. Garbage patches have been documented in both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. Even in unsettled areas, it would be difficult to find a beach untouched by trash. These debris impact everything from microscopic plankton to the great whales, contaminating the human food chain in the process.
The BlueView P900-45 imaging sonar identifies areas of debris accumulation and potential snag hazards, such this area of pilings in the Providence River. (Photo courtesy of Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean).
The Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean, a nonprofit organization, was created to find and remove marine debris, collect information about the problem and work to educate the public about marine debris, its prevention and how to be part of the solution.
As its primary detection method, Rozalia uses a VideoRay LLC (Phoenixville, Pennsylvania) Pro 3 XE GTO remotely operated vehicle (ROV), a BlueView Technologies Inc. (Seattle, Washington) P900-45 imaging sonar, a Tritech International Ltd. (Aberdeen, Scotland) Starfish 450F side scan sonar and LYYN AB’s (Lund, Sweden) HAWK Integration Board to locate, identify and remove marine debris. These instruments allowed Rozalia to remove debris at a rate of 10 to 30 pounds per hour.
Last summer, Rozalia began its inaugural year running marine debris pickup and education programs. In the course of running its educational program, the Rozalia project worked with a total of 478 people, ages seven to 65, to remove marine debris. The types of debris removed included plastic and glass bottles and containers, plastic toys, plastic bags, plastic and metal utensils, a bucket, a baseball, a sailboat’s sail, mast parts, a whiteboard, a hat and a ship’s bell.
The equipment used by Rozalia allows users to locate and remove marine debris in a wide variety of surface and benthic conditions—as well as in areas with varying visibility—with reliable simplicity.
The 450F side scan sonar is deployed first to survey the area for debris and determine bottom conditions. As the side scan sonar was operated from a variety of small motorboats in 2010, the Starfish’s small size and its ability to receive power directly from a marine battery was convenient. The 450F’s primary limitation is depth, but this was not an issue for the sites Rozalia visited last year.
LYYN image enhancement helped the Rozalia Project discover an old ship’s bell. (Photo courtesy of Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean)
The P900-45 imaging sonar allows the ROV pilot to identify debris targets and potential snag hazards. While working in Rhode Island’s Providence River, the team encountered a dozen pilings of different heights. With only a few feet of visibility, the P-900 was a useful tool to avoid wrapping the tether. In the Charles River in Massachusetts, where visibility was sometimes limited to inches, the P900 kept the ROV from running into tree roots and other snag hazards, was invaluable for navigation and helped find potential debris targets.
Once a target is within view of the VideoRay’s camera, the LYYN system clarifies the image. The system has difficulty with this task when there are large particles suspended in the water column, however. In that case, careful adjustment of lights and the LYYN system, along with waiting for the particles to settle, was effective.
After a target is identified, the Pro 3 ROV can pick up a variety of shapes and sizes of debris, as long as the debris is no more than two inches in width/height and around 40 pounds of dry weight. The manipulator arm can also be turned about the vertical axis manually. This proved helpful when encountering a variety of shapes of bottles, cans and other debris.
When encountering objects too big for the manipulator, the pilot pushed them into a pool skimmer. For offshore work, Rozalia is looking into a combination of attachments and hooks to retrieve debris exceeding the manipulator’s capacity, as well as building a bag-and-block system that does not require recovering and launching the ROV for each piece of debris recovered.
Similar to other ROVs, one limitation of the micro-ROV is the tether. Rozalia used a neutral tether, which reduces signal loss over distance but is more susceptible to the effects of tether drag and tether pull because of its greater diameter.
Description of the Program
Each educational program begins with an interactive exercise teaching participants—often younger students—about the amount of time it takes materials to break down in the marine environment and the havoc they can cause if not removed.
The class instructor then introduces the VideoRay ROV: its features, how it is controlled and the need for a tether. Next the instructor gives a brief primer on sonar and how it enables users to “see” underwater, even when video cameras cannot. The ROV is then deployed, and students use the sonar and the ROV’s video cameras find trash, bringing it up to the surface for recycling or disposal.
The participants are included in finding the proper settings for the lights and the LYYN device. They are taught how to control the manipulator, and each pickup is controlled by a different participant in concert with the pilot. They watch the screen and help guide the pilot to targets, then assist in identifying the target and prioritizing whether it should be picked up or if the ROV should move on.
In addition to the trash identification and pickup, participants get a glimpse into the underwater world and its living inhabitants, along with the species being protected by their efforts to get and keep trash out of the ocean.
The author begins a dockside program with a discussion on the facts and effects of marine debris before introducing the ROV technology. (Photo courtesy of Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean)
Plans for the Future
Rozalia’s plans for 2011 and beyond include the Rozalia Project Trash Tour, an eight-stop voyage aboard the sailing vessel American Promise between New York City and Massachusetts, with a similar tour from Massachusetts to Maine planned in 2012.
Each stop will feature debris pickup, offer the dockside program for people of all ages and provide opportunities for the general public to sail aboard American Promise and help with on-the-water cleanup.
Rachael Miller, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) pilot and trainer who studied underwater archaeology at Brown University, is the founder of North America’s first commercial ROV-supported shipwreck tour company and the founder of the Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean