A marine drone named Circe has been developed to help with studies in the National Park of Cabo Pulmo of Baja California Sur. Circe, who is a 14-foot catamaran, is equipped with oceanographic instruments, underwater cameras and autonomous navigation equipment.
The La Paz Unit of CICESE has developed the 4.3 meter long catamaran to help with water and coastal studies in areas such as reefs and other protected natural areas.
The development, first of its kind in Mexico, belongs the Laboratorio de sensores remotos and vehículos autónomos no tripulados of the ULP, headed by Dr. Armando Trasviña Castro. He says on May 25, they had their first navigation test with excellent results.
“The director of the National Park of the Revillagigedo Islands was also here…and he is very interested in letting us go to Socorro Island. We have a collaboration started with the National Park of Isla Espiritu Santo.
“The truth is that without looking very hard, we already have considerable interest from four organizations, three from the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas of Semarnat, and one from Inegi,” he explained.
Most of the development they are doing is under the guidance of engineer Agustín Payen, an external consultant who has worked with them since they started using drones.
The cost of the equipped catamaran is 1.5 million peso. The floating device is outfitted with equipment and instruments such as a CTD probe that will allow researchers to measure conductivity (salinity), temperature and pressure (depth) of seawater.
A Doppler acoustic current profiler is also part of the device, which allows them to measure the speed of currents at different depths. The high-profile catamaran also includes a MIDAS echo sounder manufactured by Valeport that will be used to perform high resolution bathymetries, and submersible GoPro-type cameras as well as an electric marine motor and drivers for automatic movement.
According to Armando Trasviña, for now, Circe can roam for about two hours, however, they are looking into adding a solar panel to increase it’s power time. As for the range of navigation, he says it can easily go 15 kilometers from base.
In 2017, the team completed a coastal study using aerial drones and mosaics of geo-referenced photographs for the first time, generating digital elevation models. That study allowed them to understand the reason behind beach sand ending up back in the sea at Cabo Pulmo.
The new study that will involve Circe will be done using underwater photography and the same models to quantify the sand of these underwater dunes. Armando Trasviña said he was very satisfied with the behavior of Circe during their May 25 test and is confident that in July, new studies could begin in Cabo Pulmo.