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SCOR Working Group 118: New Technologies for Observing Marine Life

  2000, Canada
  2001, Argentina
  2002, Peru
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Census of Marine Life logo
Funding provided by
the SLOAN Foundation's
Census of Marine Life
(CoML) initiative

2001 Working Group Meeting
(27 October 2001, Mar del Plata, Argentina)

Coastal Survey of the Western Pacific (DIWPA)
Yoshihisa Shirayama

The scientific aim of this project (Diversitas International of the Western Pacific Area), was to describe the latitudinal variation in coastal biodiversity in the western Pacific from the Bering Sea, via the Philippines, to Australia and New Zealand. Planning was at an advanced stage and a sampling protocol - which included lakes and forests, as well as the marine environment - would be published at the end of 2001. A major sampling effort was planned during 2002, which would be designated as International Biodiversity Observation Year (IBOY).

Identification and counting of meiobenthos presented a major technical challenge and it was necessary to find an accurate, cheap way of locating the positions of samples taken by SCUBA divers in the 0-10 m depth band. Advice was needed about: (a) the selection of data loggers (during dives and over longer (e 1-year) periods); (b) the use of AUVs for habitat mapping and optical identification of epibenthos; and (c) a basic GIS system to link with the OBIS system for purposes of data analysis. There were also major issues associated with the taxonomy and long-term preservation of type specimens of soft-bodied species, such as nematodes, of which there could be 1-10 million individuals or 10,000 species (50-60 dominant) per square metre of sediment. Holograms, or 3-D images constructed by other techniques, offered one possible solution to the taxonomic problem. Because the literature was generally poor and there were only a few taxonomists with relevant knowledge, the project would have to rely heavily on parataxonomists, who would require computer-aided, self-learning identification systems. It would also be highly desirable to automate the process of sediment sorting, which was a slow, skilled and expensive job. The requirement was for a machine, which would separate and sort organisms, identify and classify them to a higher taxonomic group and store them by taxon. Laser detection of red-stained protein might be one way of sorting organic material from sediment and trials of this technique were apparently underway in Germany.

There were several ideas for locating the position of a SCUBA diver. Olav Rune Godø suggested fixing acoustic pingers, possibly on surface floats, at known GPS positions. The diver would be fitted with an acoustic receiver and could operate a press-button recorder at appropriate intervals. Ian Perry suggested an underwater acoustic range and bearing finder to be used in conjunction with a GPS unit at the surface. Fred Grassle said that REMUS used two transponders set at known GPS positions to obtain simple, accurate acoustic location. Dan Costa recollected a commercially available system (Desert Star?) for tracking a diver fitted with an acoustic beacon, which he thought had been available in Monterey about six years ago. A simple, cheap alternative was to use a pop-up buoy with a GPS receiver, which the diver could deploy when he wanted to fix his position. David Welch suggested an even simpler solution in which the diver towed a cheap ($200), waterproof GPS receiver on a small float and merely recorded the time at which he wanted to determine his position.

Ron O’Dor drew attention to the technical problems of making long-term salinity measurements with unattended logging devices, especially in shallow tropical waters. David Farmer suggested measuring sound speed and temperature, instead of conductivity.

Gaby Gorsky suggested that stereoscopy might offer a simpler, cheaper and more affective approach than holography. Available neural network systems might also be applicable. He had experience of using stained histological sections to reconstruct 3-D images for preserving type specimens and offered direct help to the project.

Fred Grassle commented that it was critical to get processing costs down, especially as this was a poorly funded area of research. David Farmer suggested the use of local imaging with electronic transmission of images to a specialist taxonomic centre in (e.g.) Japan. Fred Grassle drew attention to the existing link between the British Museum (NH) and Thailand for the identification of polychaetes.

Ken Foote asked if there were any value in obtaining data for which identification was only taken to order and genus. If there were, he suggested it might be possible to use a high-resolution system of silhouette photography in conjunction with a coarse, automated identification system; it would then be possible to select regions of interest for more detailed study later. Whilst it was agreed that there could be value in this approach, Gaby Gorsky and Fred Grassle pointed out that: (a) it did not allow sorting or manipulation (rotation and orientation) of organisms for the initial identification; and (b) having identified the genus, it was usually quite easy (and thus more cost-effective) to identify the species at the same time. Ian Perry questioned whether it was necessary to sort and identify material from all samples, or whether it was possible to use sub-samples. Ron O’Dor drew attention to the large volume (50 cm3) holographic system developed by Richard Lampert at Southampton Oceanography Centre (SOC) in the UK. This instrument, which was towed by a research ship, generated a huge amount of data but used video to examine the holograms. Tommy Dickey drew attention to optical instruments (e.g. COBOD) for SCUBA divers and the latest edition (October 2001) of Oceanography, which was devoted to optical imaging, and asked if there was any system for exchanging information about identification methods. In reply, Fred Grassle commented that there was no forum for discussion but one was needed.

Commenting on the time-scales on which solutions were required, Olav Rune Godø pointed out that, although a means of accurately recording the position of SCUBA divers was an urgent requirement, the technology was already available and the problem could be solved quickly. The taxonomy for large organisms was also well established and a preliminary description of latitudinal distribution was therefore feasible by 2004. Comparable work with meiobenthos would not, however, be practical until the necessary taxonomic tools became available in 2004/05. Jesse Ausubel asked for a list of time-lines by which technical solutions were required to make a significant difference to the outcome of the project. Fred Grassle said that field sorting of meiobenthos would be a big breakthrough, particularly if accompanied by simple (3-D) algorithms for identification and in situ imaging using a sampler towed through the sediment. Gaby Gorsky commented that because the project entailed two tasks -census of common species and identification of rare ones – there would be several different time-lines.

David Farmer concluded the discussion by asking Yoshihisa Shirayama to send him his overhead slides, identifying the most important technical issues. The WG would then be able to sharpen the questions and put the weight of the oceanographic community behind the search for solutions. It should also be possible to identify companies willing to collaborate in the mass production of inexpensive technology, such as the recently developed toy microscope with an electronic imaging device (reference?), which was available for a few hundred dollars. Fred Grassle commented that Skin Diver magazine was a good source of simple, cheap solutions for underwater scientific operations.