Marine robots for coastal ocean research in the Western Indian Ocean

Matthew Palmer, Yohana Shagude, Michael Roberts, Ekaterina Popova, Juliane Wihsgott, Shankar Aswani, Jack Copeland, John Howe, Brian Bett, Kennedy E. Osuka, Colin Abernethy, Sofia Alexiou, Stuart Painter, Joseph Kamau, Ntahondi Nyandwi, Baraka Sekandende

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Abstract

Marine robots have the potential to enhance WIO marine research to improve regional adaptation to the challenges presented by climate change by providing enhanced research capacity that bypasses the requirement for expensive infrastructure, such as large research vessels. This paper tests this potential and assesses the readiness of WIO communities to adopt autonomous technologies to meet its marine research priorities. We apply a range of analyses to a marine robots case study undertaken in waters around the island of Pemba,
part of the Zanzibar archipelago, in Tanzania in 2019. The campaign formed part of a multinational project focused on increasing WIO capacity to meet food security and ocean sustainability challenges. A community engagement programme with six Tanzanian coastal communities resulted in positive changes in attitudes towards marine robots with reported increases in understanding and acceptance of such technologies. Suspicion of the robots was reduced and a lower risk of removing operational equipment was recorded following the provision of educational material. Cost, risk and benefit analysis shows that marine robots are perceived to provide high level benefits, but come at a high cost that is difficult to achieve using national or regional funding. An assessment of the capacity of WIO marine institutes to adopt such technologies shows that prior to this work, few skills or infrastructure related to marine robots were available to researchers and further confirmed that funding opportunities were perceived to be largely unavailable at institutional, national, regional or international levels. Responses from regional partners following completion of the case study however, revealed an uplift in perceived capacity, particularly related to access to infrastructure and expertise as well as support and opportunities for funding at each level. The presented case study is shown to have been a valuable demonstrator of the benefits of using marine robots to meet WIO coastal ocean research requirements and regional capacity was shown to be substantially increased within the broad range of marine institutes surveyed throughout the case study period. This study demonstrates that taking early steps towards adopting marine autonomous robots has increased
WIO regional marine research capacity and increased the confidence and willingness of local researchers to seek alternative solutions to ongoing marine research challenges. Recommendations for future action that will continue to increase the capacity and readiness for regional adoption of marine robots include investment at local, national and regional levels to provide accessible training opportunities and to facilitate regional and international collaborations; investment in a regional hub, or centre of excellence for marine robotic technology; early adoption of newly emerging smaller, cheaper autonomous technologies; investment in local skills and support facilities to aid local buy-in and acceptance while supporting regional capacity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105805
Number of pages15
JournalOcean & Coastal Management
Volume212
Early online date20 Jul 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Jul 2021

Keywords

  • Marine robots
  • marine robotics
  • marine autonomy
  • coastal ocean management
  • sustainable development
  • ocean gliders

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