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Smart Buoys to Boost Offshore Mussel Farms in New Zealand

New Zealand Sensor Laden Smart Buoys
Photo Credit: Science for Technological Innovation

A collaborative research project to improve monitoring of offshore mussel farms has moved to its next phase with sensor-laden smart buoys undergoing testing in the Marlborough Sounds.


New Zealand has reportedly around 645 green shell mussel farms around the country.

The largest is well over 20 hectares and made up of numerous longlines that, in turn, support thousands of meters of crop line that the mussels attach themselves to.

Buoys are literally keeping the industry afloat by holding the longlines up.

There can be 50-70 buoys per longline, so thousands of them are bobbing around mussel farms from Auckland to Coromandel, Marlborough to Southland.

Spin-off research from the Precision Farming Technologies for Aquaculture Spearhead Project, within the Science for Technological Innovation National Science Challenge, has sought to turn those buoys into real-time sensors that monitor the state of mussel farms.

It is led by Cawthron Institute and facilitated by the University of Auckland-based NZ Product Accelerator.

About the Initiative

It is about trying to provide farmers with data even when they are not anywhere near the mussel farm.

The key to making it possible is by turning a Sanford mussel float into a communication and sensing device.

Professor Johan Potgieter at Massey University and John Futter at GNS Science have tested, in water tanks at Massey, floats equipped with the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors.

These will send alerts if the float is sinking beneath the surface, which could be an issue with how they are tethered or the increasing weight of their crop.

There is the potential to add more sensors, to turn the float into a multi-sensor array providing a variety of valuable information to the mussel farmer.

Sensors could also monitor water turbidity, temperature and ocean acidity, which mussel larvae are sensitive to.

A low-power IoT network connects the sensors in a network and communicates the data back to shore.

Benefits of Smart Buoys

Integrated with water quality data collected by high-tech coastal monitoring buoys, the smart floats promise to offer each farmer insights into the exact conditions at individual mussel farms.

The ultimate goal for the patent-pending technology is to build it into floats, making it cost-effective to deploy at scale.

The increasing need to create more value with finite marine resources requires improved real-time knowledge of the stock in the water.

Furthermore, enabling more efficient and sustainable sensing/harvesting/farming methods will enable New Zealand to lead the way to ‘doing the right thing’ by example.

Ensuring the technology performs in the tough marine environment is a crucial test for the smart floats.

This will be further developed by Professor Potgieter and Mr. Futter in Phase two of the Precision Aquaculture Spearhead project.

The next phase of research will seek to validate the work to date and hopefully lead to the technology being made available and potentially exported to mussel farmers seeking more timely information about their farms.

In September, the Government unveiled the New Zealand Aquaculture Strategy, which aims to grow aquaculture sales to NZ$ 3 billion by 2035, from NZ$ 600 million in 2018.

The strategy includes efforts to increase farm efficiency and environmental performance, with innovations, such as the smart buoy technology emerging from the SfTI National Science Challenge, expected to play an important role in pursuing the ambitious target.

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