In Far North Queensland, we are no longer surprised by the large loads of marine debris carried in by the Australian Eastern Current. But every now and then, something special washes up that we can get excited about.
Last year on the 17th of November, Tangaroa Blue, as part of the ReefClean project took 14 volunteers out to Snapper Island off Port Douglas, QLD for the annual clean-up that’s been running since 2009. At the end of the day, as the team sorted and recorded marine debris items for the 16-year-old Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI) Database, they came across a meteorological buoy that traveled over 40 months from New Zealand to arrive on the shores of Snapper Island. Through details listed on the buoy, such as the Canadian manufacturing company and IMEI number, we were able to track it back to its source and learn more about its voyage.
The feedback we received from Joel Cabrie from the Bureau of Meteorology was outstanding and shows that data collection on marine debris items also provides a holistic view of oceanic current patterns; “This particular buoy belongs to the New Zealand Met Service. It was deployed in the Tasman Sea in December 2016 by the cruise ship Noordam and has had a very interesting journey since then. As you can see from the map, it ended up beached on Norfolk Island after nearly 18 months at sea. Then, with help from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology staff stationed at Norfolk Island, it was recovered and redeployed by a local fisherman. You can then see on the map that it made its way past New Caledonia and across the Coral Sea to its final resting place on Snapper Island.”
This type of buoy is used to track ocean currents and measure atmospheric pressure and sea surface temperature. In fact, the data from these drifting buoys are often used to help with tracking marine debris as drifter densities tend to float longer where oceanic surface currents converge which is where marine debris is likely to accumulate (1).
A typical buoy consists of a spherical hull, with a drogue/sea anchor attached and centred at 15m below the sea surface. The drogue allows the buoy to move with the surface currents rather than the surface winds. Each buoy contains a GPS to track its position, a sea surface temperature sensor, a barometer, and an Iridium satellite communications terminal.
The discovery of this met buoy demonstrates the importance of the data that’s collected for the AMDI database and taking the extra steps to record any details displayed on marine debris items so we can work towards pinning the source and solving this global issue at a higher level through prevention rather than just removing it from the environment. After all, as we like to say at TBF, “If all we do is clean-up, that is all we will ever do.”
Many thanks to Joel Cabrie from the Bureau of Meteorology for your help and information, and for providing the map of the buoy’s journey and the diagram.
References and useful links for more information can be found on the links below.
- Scientific paper on tracking marine debris with drifting buoys: http://iprc.soest.hawaii.edu/newsletters/newsletter_sections/iprc_climate_vol8_2/tracking_ocean_debris.pdf
- Data Buoy Cooperation Panel (DBCP) is the international panel that oversees the drifting buoy program: http://www.jcommops.org/dbcp/
- NOAA’s Global Drifter Program uses the data from these buoys to track ocean currents: https://www.aoml.noaa.gov/phod/gdp/
The ReefClean project is funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and is delivered by Tangaroa Blue Foundation and a number of partner organisations.