The jellyfish robots protecting coral reefs

Jellyfish FNW

Endangered coral reefs are being protected by robot jellyfish  

It’s no secret that the world’s coral reefs are now under a great number of life-endangering threats. Due to global warming, water temperatures around the world are soaring and becoming increasingly inhospitable for marine wildlife. Endangered coral reefs are under close inspection from experts who are determined to prevent the remaining reefs from becoming dead zones.

However, the process of monitoring coral reefs is challenging. The delicate ecosystems are easily damaged by man-made objects – observational devices with motorised propellers can easily tear holes in the reefs. The common mini-submarine used in marine observation causes prolonged damage if it collides with any part of the reef. The problem requires a creative solution: enter robotic jellyfish.

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The jellyfish were invented by researchers from the US Office of Naval Research and Florida Atlantic University. Tasked with designing an alternative to the popular drone submarine, researchers turned to marine life for inspiration. They settled on the jellyfish design due to its soft body and gentle movements; with no hard surface or disruptive propeller, the jellyfish can glide through small holes in the reefs and perform its duties without leaving a trace.

Each jellyfish is approximately 20cm wide and is designed to resemble a moon jellyfish during its early larval stage. It has eight silicon rubber tentacles which collect water and subsequently expel it in order to create a life-like jellyfish swimming motion. The robotic creatures will be used to monitor key indicators of a reef’s health including changes in oxygen levels and early signs of erosion.

The design is not without its faults. Researchers are currently worried that the robotic jellyfish may look a little too appetising. Turtles, who enjoy snacking on jellyfish, may be tempted to snap up the robotic jellies as they conduct their surveying duties. Researchers are working on unpleasant tastes and sounds to accompany the robo-jellyfish in order to deter unwanted attention.

Real jellyfish themselves are a key indicator of global warming. Where coral reefs expire under warmer waters, jellyfish thrive. As endurance swimmer and FXTM’s Brand Ambassador Lewis Pugh might tell you, swimming through even the UK’s waters without meeting an expansive bloom of jellyfish is now a difficult task.

When the new surveillance devices finally make their way into the oceans, they will be responsible for watching over reefs which are up against the advancing effects of global warming. The robotic jellyfish may offer some well-needed, gentle care.

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