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As marine traffic intensifies, biodiversity is damaged. Technology can help preserve the most- endangered species.

The Chilean Ministry of the Environment, MERI Foundation, and the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya-BarcelonaTech (UPC) inaugurated in the Corcovado Gulf in Chiloé the first smart buoy of The Blue BOAT Initiative, developed by these institutions for more than two years, writes the Spanish university in a press release.

Director of the UPC’s LAB Michel André stressed that “the installation of this first buoy has an important symbolic meaning for society in resolving the human-wildlife conflict. It demonstrates our technological capacity to combine economic interests with the conservation of natural habitats. From the UPC, we are proud to contribute to the success of this initiative promoted by MERI Foundation and the Chilean Ministry of the Environment, whose projection and international impact throughout the American continent will deepen the knowledge of the challenges facing the Pacific Ocean nowadays.”

Avoiding collisions and reducing the acoustic impact

Each blue whale captures an average of 33 tons of carbon throughout its life. This so-called “marine ecosystem service” reduces the presence in the atmosphere of one of the main gases causing climate change. However, these key species are suffering from the climate crisis. They live in constant threat from human activity, in particular, maritime traffic.

Currently, 90 percent of the world’s merchandise is transported by oceans. These boats are getting bigger and faster, increasing the threat to the whales. Scientific evidence suggests the importance of moving forward toward maritime regulation that allows putting an end to collisions between ships and whales and reduces the noise that ships generate.

The acoustic impact of human activity on marine ecosystems can cause disorientation, and impairment of basic communication between different species. This directly affects their feeding or reproduction, also resulting in hearing damage, stranding, or even death.

Leading ocean monitoring

The Blue BOAT Initiative is a project with artificial intelligence technology. It will install a buoy in Chile not only to monitor the presence of whales but to listen to the oceans too. The technology can be replicated in a variety of other ecosystems and industries.

These smart buoys are equipped with hydrophones, oceanographic sensors, and transmitters with Listen to the Deep Ocean (LIDO) technology. LIDO was developed by the team led by researcher Michel André, an expert in bioacoustics recognized by the 2002 Rolex Award for his technological advances to monitor noise pollution in marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

Real-time mapping

LIDO technology will make it possible to develop a real-time acoustic mapping of the marine habitat and its biodiversity. Furthermore, it assists in monitoring over time, the effects of human activities on natural ecosystems.

The signals emitted by the smart buoy in the Corcovado Gulf will be received online by the Chilean Navy. The institution is in charge of alerting vessels of the presence of whales.

The buoy will also have sensors for temperature, pH, salinity, nutrients, chlorophyll (through a fluorimeter), and dissolved oxygen, to record variations in the ocean. The data will be used to prepare oceanographic studies with indicators of the impact of climate change on marine biodiversity.

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