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Researchers Building Robots To Exterminate Lionfish Population

27 August 2016, 9:28 am EDT By Vamien McKalin Tech Times
This robot is designed to exterminate the invasive lionfish population by delivering a high dose of electricity. It's currently in the testing phase, but it's expected to work.  ( Alexander Vasenin | Wikipedia )

Researchers from the Robots in Service of the Environment (RISE), have come up with a plan to create a robot designed to destroy an invasive species in the form of a population of lionfish. These creatures are threatening the ecosystem off the coast of Florida, the Caribbean and Bermuda, and marine experts agree that the issue must be dealt with promptly.

These type of lionfish are not native to the Caribbean waters. They eat local food supply, which, in turn, makes it difficult for other creatures to survive. Furthermore, they are a problem when it comes to the survival of the coral reef because they prey on the parrotfish and other plant eaters that provide balance to the reef ecosystems. This results in the overblooming of algae, which blocks out the sunlight needed by corals and sponges to thrive.

The Bermuda Lionfish Task Force, an alliance of organizations that aims to raise awareness about the lionfish invasion in Bermuda, holds activities such as fishing tournaments to lessen the population of the species. However, there are millions of these creatures and not enough human hunters to keep the threat under control.

The CEO of iRobot, Colin Angle, came up with the idea to build a robot that can kill lionfish upon learning about the problem during a dive with the task force. He soon laid the foundation for RISE, a nonprofit group of volunteer scientists and engineers. RISE has come up with two ROV designs, one of which involves the use of a robotic arm with a pair of telescoping electrodes.

“When the probes get to either side of the fish, you basically zap it,” explained John Rizzi, RISE's executive director. The lionfish would then be collected for use as food.

At the moment, the concept is still in the early stages of development, which means it may not happen, but it is hoped that it goes forward because the problem of lionfish invasion is growing. Earlier in June, Tech Times reported on the lionfish threatening the marine ecology of the Mediterranean.

There is, of course, the question of ethics surrounding the development of lionfish-zapping robots. Some might say that creating a robot for the sole purpose of eliminating the lionfish population should be viewed as wrong and not the best way to deal with the problem. However, the lionfish population is a threat to the environment in the previously mentioned areas because the species is not meant to be there in the first place.

“To the extent that the experts believe lionfish have to be killed, we simply say that it has to be done as humanely as possible,” said wildlife biologist DJ Schubert from the Animal Welfare Institute.

The plan right now is to make sure the robot doesn't scare the fish away before it has the chance to electrocute them. RISE has been testing the mechanism in an aquarium, and so far, the lionfish don't come off as alarmed. Because of their venomous spikes, it's the lionfish that scare away other predators, so they don't have the instinct to swim away when approached.

In Jamaica, the citizens deal with the lionfish problem by catching and eating the species. Due to the venom, the fish need to be cooked properly.

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