Robotic Boat Completes First Uncrewed Survey of Fish Populations Around Offshore Oil Platforms
The survey was part of a project led by the University of Aberdeen, looking at the effects of decommissioning oil and gas structures on marine ecosystems.
A robotic boat has been used for the first time to survey fish populations around oil platforms in the North Sea.
The survey was part of a project led by the University of Aberdeen, looking at the effects of decommissioning oil and gas structures on marine ecosystems. The robotic boat, known as an uncrewed surface vessel (USV), owned and operated by ocean data company XOCEAN, used sonar to collect data on fish numbers around several oil platforms off Scotland’s northeast coast.
XOCEAN’s USVs operate "over the horizon," transiting unaccompanied hundreds of kilometers from shore without the need for a mothership. Fitted with high-end commercial fisheries sensors, the USVs perform the same task as a crewed vessel but without the need to send a single person offshore. Instead, XOCEAN’s innovative platform brings the surveyor online in real time to collect and validate the data from anywhere in the world.
XOCEAN’s XO-450 USVs are approximately the size of an average car (4.5 m), allowing it to get within 10 m of a platform—significantly closer than a conventional ship. The project, part of the UKRI-funded program Influence of Man-Made Structures in the Ecosystem, aims to better understand the influences offshore structures have on commercial fish populations in the North Sea.
The survey was led by Joshua Lawrence, from the University of Aberdeen. “The survey was a great success," he said. After months of planning and working closely with XOCEAN and the platform operators, it was great to finally see the uncrewed surface vehicle collecting data. It’s amazing how this sort of technology reveals new opportunities to advance our understanding of these structures and their influences on the North Sea ecosystem. Previous work has suggested that fish aggregate up to several kilometers away from some of these structures, so we designed the survey to make approaches to the structures from 10 km away in each direction.’
The next stage of the project will see Dougie Speirs and Mike Heath from the University of Strathclyde use the survey data to model the expected effects of a range of decommissioning strategies on the surveyed fish populations.