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Robot Triton to explore underwater caves

Underwater exploration: Leocadio Blanco-Bercial, scientists, test-drives a Triton ROV in a cave in Hamilton Parish (photograph provided)

A robot submarine is to be deployed in a bid to study microscopic organisms in the island’s underwater caves.Researchers at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences were awarded a Trident remote operated vehicle by Conservation X Labs, a US-based environmental tech company, to support their work studying life in the caves.Leocadio Blanco-Bercial, a scientist at Bios, said the robot would allow him access to places that are unsafe for divers.Dr Blanco-Bercial added: “So far, I had been collaborating with the cave diver at Bios, but he has retired from cave diving now. This will allow me to continue this research in a very safe way. “The species in those caves are very rare, and represent some on the most ancient lineages within my group of interest, copepods.”Dr Blanco-Bercial said he had still to use the robot, but he has applied for a permit from Government for its use.He added: “At present, I am working on a permit to carry out my research in some of the most diverse and rich caves in Bermuda. “This is not trivial, since all caves are a very fragile and protected ecosystem in Bermuda. “Sampling requires a detailed and carefully planned permit from Government that ensures that the sampling will minimise disturbances wherever it is carried out.”Dr Blanco-Bercial said: “That is also the magic of the ROV, with such a small footprint it will minimally disturb the cave.”The scientist added his main project was to record the island’s biodiversity and his secondary task was to study microscopic copepods, who live in the caves.Copepods are believed to be the most abundant organisms in the world, but Bermuda’s caves are home to one of the most ancient living examples of the species.Dr Blanco-Bercial said he hoped to learn more about how the creatures evolved over millions of years.He added: “They are the main consumers of the primary production of the oceans and the link between producers like microalgae and all the larger animals in the water like fish.“By understanding their ancestors, and we use the cave copepods as a proxy for this, we will better understand the evolution of the whole group and how adaptation and evolution happened in the oceans.”