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Bermuda features in lionfish programme

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Plans for a prototype lionfish-culling undersea robot will be unveiled in a PBS NewsHour programme that features Bermuda.

Local marine experts, Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley of BIOS and Chris Flook of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, as well as Geoffrey Gardner of Robots in Service of the Environment appear in the five-minute television segment due to be aired on Friday.

RISE embarked on a project to design a lionfish-culling robot that can go beyond the limits of a human diver because many lionfish live beyond the reach of divers.

“The front-runner is a robot which uses an electro-fishing technique,” said Mr Gardner of RISE.

The robotics team joined deep ocean charity Nekton on its maiden scientific voyage off Bermuda to test a prototype that will operate remotely in deep water to hunt, kill and capture the invasive species.

RISE’s executive director, John Rizzi, described the paddle test as a success.

“Lionfish are not naturally afraid of anything so they swam in and around it,” he said. “Once we have completed a number of similar trials over the next nine months, we intend to build our first commercially viable Remotely Operated Vehicles.”

Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific area. They were artificially introduced to the Atlantic by humans and it is estimated that there are more than one million off the coasts of Florida, Bermuda and throughout the Caribbean. They face no natural predators.

Chris Flook, from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said: “Currently there isn’t an effective way to conduct mass culling. We have spear fishers with special permits that catch lionfish on shallow reefs but lionfish survive at depths beyond the reach of recreational divers. ”

“Our research has found dense aggregations of lionfish on deep reefs in Bermuda and, as a technical rebreather diver, the majority of my research on lionfish focuses on these hotspots at 200ft depth,” Ms Goodbody-Gringley said.

Cole Simons, the Minister of the Environment, praised the collaborative project.

“Top-tier marine research is happening just off our shores,” Mr Simon said. “This continues Bermuda’s long history of marine study and conservation, and PBS will bring Bermuda and its ocean studies to a broad audience. I encourage everyone in Bermuda to view this video.”