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Marine drone to help study what causes red tides

13 Jun 2022 By MOHAMMED TAHA

Muscat – The Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MoHERI), in cooperation with iLab Marine, is conducting a study on red tides and what causes the phenomenon in Omani waters. The objective of the study is to help predict red tides and mitigate losses.

A red tide is an event that occurs on the coastline when algae grow out of control. Red tides can be hazardous to human health and marine life.

Speaking to Muscat Daily, Walid al Maawali, CEO of iLab Marine, said the research study is being conducted in association with Sultan Qaboos University and the Swedish University of Gothenburg, besides MoHERI, using a marine drone created by the company. Called Misbar, the drone looks like a boat and was deployed in the sea near the wilayat of Suwaiq in October 2021. The deployment will continue for a year.

“The researchers supervising the study have identified several new factors that may be the cause red tide on the coasts of Oman,” Maawali said.

Causative factors could be rise of the seabed laden with nutrients to the surface as a result of the movement of vertical currents, or low oxygen concentration in the water, which can result in fewer fish, he noted.

Misbar was designed to collect vital information, including measuring speed of ocean currents, chlorophyll concentration and dissolved oxygen, in addition to temperature and salinity. It was deployed off the coast of Suwaiq, about 20 nautical miles from the shore.

“The study aims to collect data to help predict the phenomenon of red tide, warn fishermen, and protect desalination plants and aquaculture farms from losses.

Currently, there is no effective way to treat red tides or control algal blooms other than by monitoring and early warning,” Maawali said.

“Algae in red tides can be used to treat sewage and agricultural water laden with chemical elements, thus reducing sea pollution,” he said, and added that some studies indicate that algae is 12 times more efficient in producing fuel compared to soy and corn.

Maawali is hopeful of expanding the use of the marine drone in environmental work, fisheries and the logistic sector in the sultanate. Misbar has cut cost of conducting surveys and collecting marine data by about 80 per cent compared to traditional methods.

The study team consists of Dr Gerd Bruss, director of the research project, a representative from Ejaad Centre of MoHERI, two researchers from the University of Gothenburg, and five members of iLab.

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