The Great Barrier Reef may have a new hero


Hakai Magazine

Elizabeth Kilmer, Staff Reporter

Scientists at Queensland University of Technology are testing a robot that can possibly save the Great Barrier Reef from destruction. If the trials are successful, these machines will be dropped into the Pacific Ocean to help the divers rescue Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

A newly created robot, known as RangerBot, will swim 100 meters down to inject coral consuming starfish, removing them from the reef. The goal of these robots are to save the reef from being completely destroyed. After the training process, the robot should have a success rate of over 99%.

The type of starfish endangering the Great Barrier Reef is called a crown of thorns starfish. The RangerBot will inject the starfish with a fatal substance, but it doesn’t effect the reef in anyway.

This type of starfish tends to have an outbreak every 17 years. It has been appearing on the Great Barrier Reef ever since the 1960s, but most recently in 2010. Since then, it has been endangered for several years and up to 50% of it has already been lost. It is estimated that it will be completely disfigured by 2050- only 32 years away. A Crown-of-thorns Starfish is venomous to a human which is why the robots are so essential to the saving the remainder of the reef.

“These robots will soon be helping to free up our marine science researchers to do the important work of looking at how to help support these reefs,” said Australian Institute of Marine Science Technology Transformation leader Melanie Olsen.

In addition to the “free up” of the scientists doing marine research, the robot can swim into places divers are unable to. It can go between cracks and float around shark infested waters, making the people underwater less of a worry during research.

“Having people in the field is always a liability,” said John Bruno, a University of North Carolina marine biologist who isn’t involved with the project.

Researchers are working diligently to modify any kinks in the robot before its official take off. The hope is for RangerBot to be successful and broaden the success of future marine endeavors.