Coastal Harmful Algae Bloom Monitoring via a Sustainable, Sail-Powered Mobile Platform
Harmful algae blooms (HABs) in coastal marine environments are increasing in number and duration, pressuring local resource managers to implement mitigation solutions to protect human and ecosystem health. However, insufficient spatial and temporal observations create uninformed management decisions. In order to better detect and map blooms, as well as the environmental conditions responsible for their formation, long-term, unattended observation platforms are desired. In this article, we describe a new cost-efficient, autonomous, mobile platform capable of accepting several sensors that can be used to monitor HABs in near real time. The Navocean autonomous sail-powered surface vehicle is deployable by a single person from shore, capable of waypoint navigation in shallow and deep waters, and powered completely by renewable energy. We present results from three surveys of the Florida Red Tide HAB (Karenia brevis) of 2017–2018. The vessel made significant progress toward waypoints regardless of wind conditions while underway measurements revealed patches of elevated chl. a likely attributable to the K. brevis blooms as based on ancillary measurements. Measurements of colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) and turbidity provided an environmental context for the blooms. While the autonomous sailboat directly adds to our phytoplankton/HAB monitoring capabilities, the package may also help to ground-truth satellite measurements of HABs if careful validation measurements are performed. Finally, several other pending and future use cases for coastal and inland monitoring are discussed. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a sail-driven vessel used for coastal HAB monitoring.