// AUSTRALIA / PERTH

A Voyage to Remember

A buoy revolutionized to meet new ocean data needs

By Ariella Knight

Five years ago, Nick Daws and his team at Fastwave, an Australian maritime data company, found themselves scratching their heads. Why was it, they wondered, that the majority of data on our oceans comes from academic or military research operations, when the number (and diversity) of organizations relying on ocean data is greater than ever before? With the need for ocean data rising across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, traditional research operations  with their sky high price tags, lengthy processes, and data confidentiality restrictions — were particularly ill-suited to meet new needs. 

With ten plus years working to provide data to private companies for oil and gas exploration, governments on search and rescue operations, and the nonprofit sector on tracking maritime trash and oil spills, Daws — a Business Development Lead at Fastwave — understood better than most that "in the longer term, there would be more and more need for ocean data beyond research purposes." The rapidly increasing demand for ocean data in large quantities, in near real time, and at affordable rates cannot be met with the traditional, thousands-of-dollars, month-long, manned research operations of the past. Fastwave set out to develop a new process and toolkit for acquiring ocean data in this new era. 

The tool they chose to revolutionize? None other than the stalwart ocean companion of ages past: the buoy. 

ENRIC SALA/Courtesy of National Geographic Society
The rapidly increasing demand for ocean data in large quantities, in near real time, and at affordable rates cannot be met with the traditional, thousands-of-dollars, month-long, manned research operations of the past.

The New Buoy on the Block

Re-imagining the ocean buoy to meet ever-expanding data needs was a beast of a task, Daws admits. The team at Fastwave didn't simply want to design something that could "survive in the very demanding environment that is the ocean," explained Daws, but rather something that could "provide long term reliability in meeting its goals — in serving its purpose." So, the Fastwave team took their time to get the technology right. They dedicated five years to developing the tool. Building on years of experience creating and deploying ocean technology to meet the needs of their diverse client base, the Fastwave team honed in on one element that they felt held the key to answering a myriad of oceanic unknowns: ocean currents.

"We were looking at oil spill response," explained Daws, "and where you really need to know what is happening is at the very top layer of the ocean." Current patterns are critical data for recovering individuals lost at sea and sinking vessels  or even locating a fallen plane such as the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the search for which just recently concluded. "There are very specific characteristics of how things float on the ocean," noted Daws, "so we designed a tool that can help figure out how objects —  oil, boats, humans — would move on the current in a given place and at a given time." Providing real time ocean surface data on currents and temperatures would make the new Fastwave buoy a critical piece in the puzzle of tracking anything from fish migrations to trash movements in our oceans. With this goal in mind, the Fastwave Voyager was born. 

From the get-go, the Voyager was designed to function differently from a traditional buoy: to be light, affordable, and deliverable by boat. What's more, the Voyager does not just gather data for real time analysis. Everything that it tracks is stored in an ongoing database, gathering long-term information on trends in ocean currents, temperatures and more, which can be put towards ocean management down the road. 

ENRIC SALA/Courtesy of National Geographic Society
From the get-go, the Voyager was designed to function differently from a traditional buoy.

Beating Poachers at Their Own Game

At its roots, the Voyager is about "getting a broader understanding of what is happening on the oceans," explained Daws - a crucial component of effectively combating illegal fishing. Often, poachers are operating with a higher level of knowledge about oceans. After all, their success relies on skillful tracking of fish migration and knowledge of weather patterns. Enforcement mechanisms, on the other hand  the coast guards and navies charged with protecting territorial waters  are often better versed in tactics to combat piracy and legal procedures for boarding boats to search for contraband than they are in fishing data, for understandable reasons. The Voyager helps close this gap for fisheries protection agencies, by providing actionable ocean data, which are often indicators for subsequent aggregations of fish stocks in a given area  a clear sign that poachers will quickly follow. By giving governments "access to better information than poachers," the Voyager helps countries better manage their fishing resources and head off poachers before they have the chance to illegally fish. 


Bouyed Up for Ocean Protection

In many ways, Daws sees the Voyager as a natural extension of our maritime defense arsenal. "Just as the navy has extensive resources devoted to oceanographic data," the Voyager is a critical piece for those charged with protecting our ocean  combating illegal fishing, tracking oil spills, and cleaning up swirls of ocean trash  and working to expand their maritime battlespace. With the Voyager in our oceans, ocean data is on our side. 

ENRIC SALA/Courtesy of National Geographic Society

Technologies Used

// BUOYS

Fastwave Voyager

The Fastwave Voyager is a data-collection buoy that can serve many purposes ideal for protecting MPAs.

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