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Wave rider to help marine farm investigation

Wave rider to help marine farm investigation

A sophisticated high-tech device that rides the ocean waves will play a key role in assessing the future of marine farming in the Bay of Plenty.

Purpose-built in Canada for Environment Bay of Plenty, the 1m-wide buoy has been placed in a central position within the curve of the Bay of Plenty coast. Located 13km off Pukehina Beach, it will monitor the ocean’s currents and waves for the next five years.

Regulation and monitoring committee chairman Ian Noble says the data will give scientists valuable practical information on the dynamics of the region’s offshore environment. Interested people can look up the results on the regional council’s website www.envbop.govt.nz under What’s New.

Mr Noble says the information – and the patterns it will reveal – has “huge potential value” for the council’s work. Measurements of wave direction, speed and height during storms can help the council set safe minimum floor levels on coastal buildings. They may also help it understand coastal erosion in specific areas.

But the buoy’s major task will be to feed scientific data into a long-term project being run by Environment Bay of Plenty to assess the sustainability of aquaculture in the Bay of Plenty.

Marine farming is a fast-growing and lucrative industry in New Zealand, with the Aquaculture Council predicting export earnings will exceed $1 billion by 2020. Because it is fairly new in many parts of the country, many regional councils do not yet have proper planning frameworks for dealing with applications for larger marine farms.

To give them time to catch up, the Government has set a two-year moratorium on marine farming that ends in March 2004. Before then, Environment Bay of Plenty has to start working out defined aquaculture management areas (AMAs), or zones suitable for marine farming, in the Bay of Plenty.

However, to do that, it is “absolutely vital that we know what level of farming the marine environment can handle without it affecting the local ecology or kaimoana resource,” explains senior environmental planner Aileen Lawrie. “Our priority is to keep the marine environment safe.”

Coupled with a regular sampling project, the wave rider buoy will have a key role because the information it collects will help scientists analyse the flow of nutrients and food sources (or phytoplankton) in the offshore environment.

“Mussels sift an amazing amount of food from the water so mussel farms can have a huge impact on the local ecology. We need the sort of information the buoy can give us to find out how much marine farming is sustainable here. In land-based terms, is it one paddock or 10?”

Internationally renowned scientist Dr Kerry Black has been contracted to create numerical modelling programmes from the data.

The buoy, which will be lit at night for safety reasons, has an inbuilt satellite sensor so it can be located if it moves away from the site.

CAPTION: A high-tech buoy, located offshore from Pukehina, will give scientists valuable information on the dynamics off the marine environment. Up-to-date data, including wave speed and height, is posted on Environment Bay of Plenty’s website www.envbop.govt.nz.

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