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Electronic Tag to Monitor Marine Creatures in Deep Waters

Electronic Tag to Monitor Marine Creatures in Deep Waters

Saturday, 1 February, 2020 - 09:00
Fish swim near coral reefs in Komodo waters, Indonesia. (AP Photo)
Jeddah- Asharq Al-Awsat

On August 19, 2019, Asharq Al-Awsat published a report on a smart tag developed by researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology-KAUST that facilitates the study of marine creatures' behaviors. This system for electronic tagging of animals is based on stretchable silicone elastomers that can withstand twisting, shearing, and stretching, even when exposed to high pressures in deep waters.

Today, KAUST researchers have made more progress in the development of this tag and enhanced it with capabilities of higher sensitivity and accuracy, which are expected to make a drastic change in the monitoring of marine creatures and environments at a depth of two kilometers, in a first-of-its-kind achievement.

The observation of marine creatures and environments has great importance because humans have long used these creatures for food, treatment of incurable diseases, and health improvement around the world.

The marine tag, developed by KAUST labs, is a thin, flexible, lightweight polymer-based material with integrated electronics that can track an animal's movement and diving behavior and the health of the surrounding marine environment. A polymer is a chemical compound with molecules bonded together in long, repeating chains.

The latest and much more robust version can operate at unprecedented depths and can also be attached to an animal using a noninvasive bracelet or jacket. This can, when necessary, avoid the need for any glue that might harm an animal's sensitive skin.

"The system can now operate down to a depth of 2 kilometers, which has never been achieved before by anyone," says Ph.D. student Sohail Shaikh of the KAUST team.

The sensitivity of the monitoring electronics has also been enhanced by up to 15 times. The data collected reveals a tagged animal's depth and the temperature and salinity of the surrounding water.

Further development is planned to incorporate additional environmental sensing capabilities, such as measuring oxygen and carbon dioxide levels and precise geolocation tracking. Shaikh reports that a major challenge in developing the enhancements was to make the system sufficiently robust to tolerate operating at much greater depths. The researchers also managed to reduce the size down to half that of the previous version.

Tests also showed improved performance, flexibility, and durability when the skin was attached to different fish, including sea bass, sea bream, and small goldfish. Lab tests in highly saline Red Sea water also demonstrated integrity through a full month's immersion and 10,000 extreme bending cycles.

Early versions of the sensors, reported previously, proved their worth when glued onto the swimming crab, Portunus pelagicus.

Muhammad Mustafa Hussain, whose research group has developed the system in collaboration with Carlos Duarte's group, also at KAUST, said: "Marine Skin is a unique and groundbreaking innovation in wearable technology for marine animals".

Professor Hussain adds that the Marine tag outperforms all existing alternatives while emphasizing that ongoing development work will continue to enhance the sensing capacities, overall performance, reliability, and affordability.

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