Seafarers in South African waters have been warned to avoid tampering with two strange alien-looking crafts – one of them floating on the surface; the other drifting at depths of up to 1000 metres. FRED KOCKOTT and DIONY LALIEU report.
Equipped with state-of-art oceanographic instruments, the floating wave-glider comprises solar panels that power measuring and monitoring equipment. A subsurface wing attached by a 7 metre “umblical chord” exploits wave energy to propel the wave-glider, said Marjolaine Krug, a lead researcher for South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The wave-glider also includes a hydrophone enabling Krug’s research team to monitor tagged fish, including sharks and whales.
The underwater Seaglider has an air bladder to vary buoyancy.
“This enables it move from just below the surface to depths of up to 1000m,” said Krug.
The robotic platforms were released into the Agulhas Current in Richards Bay on Sunday and over the next eight weeks shall relay information to Krug’s research team as the robotic craft drift down toward Port Elizabeth.
The attached instruments shall take a host of oceanographic readings, from the strength and depth of the Agulhas current through to water quality, temperature, salinity, density and light quality.
“The objective of the research is to better understand how the Agulhas Current impacts on ocean life, said Krug.
Based in Cape Town, Krug’s research team are now on constant alert to the crafts’ whereabouts.
“It’s nail biting stuff,” said Krug. “These two crafts are worth several million rand and are now floating in the sea hundreds of kilometres away.
She said on a previous occasion, close to a million rand worth of damage had been caused by a person fiddling with the wave glider, probably out of curiousity, said Krug.
Alerts are now being sent out by the CSIR to all sectors of the maritime industry requesting that people avoid interfering with the craft.
To learn more about the CSIR’s research in the Agulhas Current visit www.socco.org.za/gina.
- Diony Lalieu is the lead correspondent for Roving Reporters’ Ocean Watch series supported by the Human Elephant Foundation and the Blue Fund – a joint Grindrod Bank – Wildlands initiative that promotes various marine conservation projects.