esp scott3 300 Ocean going robot will warn us of harmful algal blooms The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have developed an aquatic robot capable of collecting algal cells from the ocean and extracting the genetic information needed to identify them. The robot, which can accurately be described as a seafaring mobile analytical laboratory, can also extract toxins from the algae samples, thereby allowing scientists to assess the risk to humans and wildlife.

The MBARI-designed robot, formally known as the Environmental Sample Processor, or ‘ESP,’ for short, has now been successfully used by scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science to conduct the first remote detection of an algal species and its toxin below the ocean’s surface.

The global distribution, frequency, duration and severity of harmful algal blooms are believed to be on the increase and the new robot will make it much easier for scientists to assess the situation and relay accurate information to coastal managers and public health officials.

mbari 300 Ocean going robot will warn us of harmful algal blooms Our public health monitoring program is one of the many groups that can benefit directly from the ESP technology and ability to provide an early warning of impending bloom activity and toxicity,” said Gregg Langlois, director of the state of California’s Marine Biotoxin Monitoring Program. “This is critical information for coastal managers and public health officials in mitigating impacts on the coastal ecosystem, since the toxicity of these algae can vary widely from little or no toxicity to highly toxic.”

The information obtained by ESP is transmitted to the laboratory via radio signals.

More details about the project can be found in the June issue of the journal Oceanography.

Pictures by mbari