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PwC joins pioneering Ocean Tech Mission

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Pioneering work: the team behind Ocean Tech. (Photograph supplied)

An Ocean Tech Mission to track “five iconic marine species” in Bermuda to help inform habitat protection at a policy level has been boosted by the news that professional service firm PwC will become a sponsor and mission partner.

Ocean Tech Mission 1 is due to launch in Bermuda next summer under the guidance of a team of Bermudian and international engineers, scientists and marine experts.

Using two REMUS 100 autonomous underwater vehicles, they hope to track and film Galapagos and dusky sharks, tiger sharks, giant tarpon, spotted eagle rays, lionfish and humpback whales in their natural habitat.

The vehicles are fitted with sensors, scanners and 360° virtual reality video cameras and can follow marine animals unobtrusively to reveal their natural behaviour. The REMUS-100 vehicles follow a transponder that has to be carefully attached by the team to the target species.

Dr Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley of the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences will serve as chief scientist for the project, and Amy Kukulya of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will lead the AUV technology team.

“This project is a world first and could potentially revolutionise the way scientists study marine life all over the planet” said Ocean Tech executive director, Andrew Smith, whose last project was Ocean Vet, working with the late Dr Neil Burnie.

“We’ve chosen Bermuda because the island provides easy access to a large number of marine environments and species. It also has a relatively calm climate that should allow us to test and advance the capabilities of our unique vehicles. Bermuda has a steep history in advancing marine science, marine protection and research technologies, so this also adds to its attractiveness as the Ocean Tech launch location.”

It is the mission’s hope that evidence will be collected to prove the existence of undiscovered critical habitat and it is hoped that data will inform policy through the delivery of at least five scientific publications.

The local team Ocean Tech includes Choy Aming as joint expedition leader and head of wildlife tagging; Chris Flook as chief wildlife locator and handler; Andrew Kirkpatrick as lead underwater camera operator; and John Singleton as ROV and drone pilot. Local organisations involved include the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute and the Ocean Support Foundation.

International organisations include NOAA’s Marine Mammal Sanctuary Programme. The World Commission on Protected Areas and the Guy Harvey Research Institute.

Arthur Wightman, PwC Bermuda Territory leader said: “This important project will not only provide key data to public policymakers and scientists globally, but will also help to inspire future scientists through educational programmes in our schools and museums.

“As a partner to Ocean Tech, PwC will also provide sophisticated data and analytics capabilities to assist with the collation and evaluation of scientific marine data.”

A documentary film, global and local exhibits that are expected to reach more than 45 million people globally, educational programmes and a social media campaign are planned around Mission 1. It will also include scientific papers delivered to local policymakers; local youth summer camps, live broadcast local lectures, a live open ocean classroom initiative, curriculum linked school materials and local scientific internship placements.

Mr Smith added: “Data doesn’t excite the general public, but following passionate marine experts using the very latest technologies as they dive, deploy and study sharks, whales and rays most certainly does.

“This project combines genuine data collection and scientific discovery with a compelling and visually spectacular multiplatform media campaign.”

Ocean Tech's REMUS 100 autonomous underwater vehicles.