A wave-powered drone is spying on illegal fishing boats in the world's largest marine reserve


Subsea4750xThe Wave Glider during trials in Hawaii. Credit Liquid Robotics

Last year the UK Government created the world's largest marine reserve around the Pitcairn Islands in the middle of the Pacific. But policing the 834,000-sq-km (322,000-sq-mile) reserve was proving a problem - a manned vessel would cost a minimum of £4 million a year and illegal fishing boats avoid satellite tracking by switching off their transponders.

But a wave-powered drone has come to the rescue. The drone, made by US firm Liquid Robotics, is directed by staff at the satellite watch room which is monitoring fishing vessels in the reserve. The craft is equipped with a camera that can take photographs of fishing vessels that are in restricted areas, and satellite technology that can pinpoint their location. 

The unmanned craft started patrolling last month. It monitors for the sound of engines and can be directed by staff in Harwell Science Park in Oxfordshire to go check out any suspicious vessels.

The drone, called a Wave Glider, is a two-part craft made up of an instrument-bearing boat that floats on the ocean surface that is tethered to a submersible. The 3m robot, which costs £160,000, uses the differential motion between the sea surface and the region the submersible traverses to propel itself. It can travel at a top speed of 3mph and stay at sea for months at a time.

The reserve was set up last year to cover the ocean around the isolated Pitcairn Islands, a British overseas territory inhabited by about 50 people, mainly descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers who settled there in 1790.

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The ocean around the islands is home to 1,200 species of fish.


The drone is being funded by Ernesto Bertarelli, the Swiss pharmaceutical billionaire in partnership with the Foreign Office and the Pew Charitable Trusts. He said: 'In Pitcairn we're helping to demonstrate a practical solution to make the enforcement of fishing regulations cost-effective, and with the potential to be implemented by governments around the world






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