New SFU vessel makes waves

October 05, 2006, volume 37, no. 3
By Carol Thorbes

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Simon Fraser University's latest marine research toolkit would have been a real bonus to Nemo, the little orphaned fish who lost his parents in the famous animation Finding Nemo.

With all of the state-of-the-art equipment aboard the C.J. Walters, including a remotely-operated ecological marine vehicle (ROV) called REMO, Nemo would have been reunited with his parents in no time.

From a distance the 9.7-metre C.J. Walters, launched Sept. 27, looks like an aluminum fishing boat. But this fully loaded, custom-made vessel will make major waves in fisheries research at Simon Fraser University.

Outfitted with REMO, plus an acoustic-sonar tracking system, an acoustic habitat identification system, high-end computers, and video equipment, this multi-purpose craft's sophistication exceeds what exists at other Canadian universities.

SFU's fisheries science and management research group, located in the school of resource and environmental management (REM), designed the $1-million aquatic remote sensing lab to improve fisheries management and conservation.

By providing governments, non-government organizations, industries, researchers and other interested parties with previously unobtainable analysis of fish in their environment, the floating lab will improve scientific understanding of pressing marine and fish population problems.

Randall Peterman, one of REM's faculty members, says "better science on how environmental and human factors affect fish populations and their ecosystems will improve decision and policy making on conservation and management."

With a maximum speed of more than 32 knots (60 kilometres) an hour, the C.J. Walters, named after a fisheries scientist, will allow researchers to track fish over large areas.

The vessel can be used to research many types of fishing because its equipment and platforms for visually surveying marine life are easily reconfigured, removed and adapted to deep sea-going vessels.

On-board computer software enables the vessel to map seabed habitat and relay an acoustic picture of what the ROV is sensing in visually pitch-black water, more than 30 metres deep.

A robotic arm on the ROV allows scientists on the surface to collect previously unrecoverable water and marine life samples.

"We can now go to depths way beyond where divers can go," says Sean Cox, a REM faculty member, "and can do day long, underwater surveys of commercially valuable but vulnerable marine life."

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