The Ocean

New Submarine Explores California’s Sea Floor

September 25, 2009

On September 25, 2009, the Nature Conservancy unveiled the neweststar in its research lineup: a submersible remotely operated vehicle(ROV) named the Beagle. The new ROV was christened in honor of Darwin’sfamous research vessel today after a national online naming competition.

The refrigerator-sized robotic submarine is equipped withhigh-resolution cameras to image seafloors more than half a mile deep.It has a manipulator arm for taking samples and removing commercialdebris, and a suite of instruments from sonar to pH sensors to laserrangefinders. What’s more, the science package of ROV is completelycustomizable. “That’s what’s really exciting about working with acutting-edge instrument like this,” says Mary Gleason, lead marinescientist with the Nature Conservancy. “We can use it for any type ofmission we design.”

Nature Conservancy scientist Mary Gleason with the new Beagle ROV. Photo courtesy the Nature Conservancy.

The new ROV, which has already gone through several months of testdives, began its research mission in earnest today in Morro Bay,controlled by scientists aboard the Monterey Bay National MarineSanctuary research vessel Fulmar. The research team, composed ofconservancy staff along with scientists from a host of regulatory andresearch groups, will use the ROV to study the impact of bottomtrawling on seafloor communities. Cooperating fishermen in Morro Baywill be tracked by the Beagle, and the impacts of different trawlingtechniques and recovery of trawled areas measured by the research team.”This is the first time a controlled study like this has been done inCalifornia,” says Gleason. “It’ll really help us to think about how tosolve marine conservation problems.”

The Beagle will also see service this year around southernCalifornia’s Channel Islands, where it will measure the effectivenessof Marine Protected Areas already established there.

Learn more about the Beagle and its mission at

Watch a video of the new ROV in action.

About the Author

San Francisco native David Carroll just embarked on a six-month sojourn in the Galapagos Islands.

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