Odds and Ends

Newsworthy events from the Sea Grant community.

AUVs in Deepwater Oil, Gas Operations

MIT Sea Grant recently co-hosted a technology forum to discuss how autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) can offer low-cost solutions for deepwater oil and natural gas exploration and production. Current methods for servicing deepwater wells involve deploying remotely operated vehicles, small subs that are connected to a surface ship with a tether. This can cost roughly $100k per day. An AUV, which does not rely on a tether, should be able to monitor and service a well at a fraction of that cost.

The technical challenges for operating AUVs in such environments include improving underwater acoustic communications and supplying sufficient power to the AUV, says MITSG director Chrys Chryssostomidis. Other challenges include designing instruments to help the AUV carry out tasks three to four miles under water, and making sure that an AUV could dock and navigate properly at such depths. One incentive for carrying out the R and D needed to bring AUVs into deep water: the projection that 90 percent of undiscovered hydrocarbon resources will be found there.

Mussel Culture Meets Itunes

Mussel farmers and eider ducks have never gotten along. Flocks of the voracious ducks can find, dive on, and pick clean the young tender mussels growing on longline culture systems. The typical means of control is chasing them away with a speedboat and shotgun blasts. But this becomes impossible in stormy weather. MIT Sea Grant researchers have a solution - record the underwater sounds associated with these deterrent activities and re-broadcast them from a buoy moored in the middle of the longline array.

As an experiment, researchers recorded the sounds of mussel farmer Erick Swanson's chase boat in Mt. Desert, Maine. Swanson, the owner of Maine Cultured Mussels, was eager for a system to deter the ducks and spare him frigid chases during winter months. Cliff Goudey, who is leading the project, says the underwater sound system is working like a charm thus far. "We hooked up an MP3 player in a spar buoy, with the sound running during daylight hours when eider ducks like to feed." The twelve-foot-long cylindrical buoy delivers an underwater combination of engine and propeller roar and recorded shotgun blasts. The sounds are a little quieter than the real thing and can't be heard by coastal residents. The system will run all winter, says Goudey, who plans to follow up the preliminary effort with further research.

Training Needs of Conservation Commissioners

The Massachusetts Coastal Training Program (CTP), a partnership between Woods Hole Sea Grant, Waquoit Bay NERR, and Massa-chusetts Coastal Zone Management, provides information, tools, and skills to coastal decision-makers. During the spring 2006, CTP partners conducted an audience needs assessment of conservation commissioners and agents from Massachusetts coastal communities. The purpose was to evaluate the training and information needs of these key local decision makers. Asked to name the top coastal issues facing their town, commissioners cited: coastal development (47 percent), coastal flooding and erosion (44 percent), and water quality (24 percent).

The following areas were mentioned as possible topics for training: Understanding and Improving the Laws and Regulations; Compliance and Enforcement Options; Defining, Understanding, and Protecting Coastal Resources; Coastal Processes; Stormwater and Wastewater; Water Quality Issues; Estuaries; Structures; Public Access, Public Lands, and Aesthetics; [Dealing with] Difficult Cases; Conservation Commission Procedures; and Educating the Broader Public, among others.

For more details, visit www.coastaltraining.org under the Training Needs section.

Massachusetts Coastal Hazards Commission

In February 2006, Massachusetts Governor Romney and the State Legislature asked the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA), through the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, to launch a Coastal Hazards Commission. The Commission was charged with reviewing existing coastal hazards practices and policies, identifying data and information gaps, and drafting recommendations for administrative, regulatory, and statutory changes, if deemed necessary. Five working groups of experts were assembled to assist the Commission with its recommendations: (1) coastal hazards data and tools, (2) policies, (3) planning and regulations, (4) structural measures to protect coastal development, and (5) public coastal infrastructure. Woods Hole Sea Grant's coastal processes specialist Jim O'Connell co-chaired the Commission's working group on protection, which was charged with identifying strategies that sought to minimize or eliminate imminent coastal hazards impacts. Draft recommendations and more information about the Commission can be found at www.mass.gov/czm/chc/.

Goodbye to Crago

Two if by Sea co-editor Tracey Crago left Woods Hole Sea Grant in December to assume the directorship of the Falmouth Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS) program. "I learned so much in my 16 years at Sea Grant," said Crago. "My colleagues in Woods Hole are second to none and the talent within the entire Sea Grant network is enviable. I will always be a big fan and avid supporter of Sea Grant."