Cage-Cam the newest innovation from the Offshore Aquaculture Consortium - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Cage-Cam the newest innovation from the Offshore Aquaculture Consortium

Taking open ocean aquaculture to the next level, the Offshore Aquaculture Consortium (OAC) has begun broadcasting live images of their aquaculture cage using a remote camera set up 22 miles off the coast of Mississippi.

 The camera, dubbed the "Cage Cam," operates 24/7 from a Chevron USA gas platform adjacent to the aquaculture cage site and broadcasts real-time images over the Internet. It can be viewed from http://www-org.usm.edu/~ooa/index.htm.

 "We needed a reliable method of monitoring not only the cage and mooring system, but also the sea and weather conditions," says Chris Bridger, OAC Project Coordinator. "The camera will also allow us to remotely monitor the automatic feed system, and the boat traffic around the site."

Though the image right now might compare to watching fish in an aquarium, plans for viewing improvements are planned in the future.

"The size and sharpness of the cage and mooring system images will improve as we become more accustomed to the system and make some adjustments to the web page it appears on," says Bridger. "Then it will be a lot more interesting and useful in our public education and outreach efforts that are under development."

The Cage Cam is just one of the innovations the OAC has implemented or has under development. Others include: The cage itself is located 22 miles south of Pascagoula, MS in 78 feet of water. It took almost a year to acquire all the necessary permits to grow fish in that location.

 The modified single point mooring system that the cage is attached to is the only one of its kind being used in aquaculture in the world. It allows the cage to swing around in a giant watch circle according to the forces of the winds and currents. The modified system has a redundant tethering system in case the primary one should fail.

Researchers at MIT have designed and constructed an automatic feeding system (Robo Feeder) attached to the top of the cage that will be used to feed the fish using a timer and pneumatic dispenser. The storage compartment holds approximately 500 pounds of fish pellets.

The University of New Hampshire has the only other aquaculture project using a similar setup.

 Future plans call for the Robo Feeder to be able to operate when completely submerged, and to dispense fish food by remote command from an onshore computer.

The OAC is developing a permanent public exhibit for the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center and Aquarium in Biloxi, MS. A detailed model of the cage, its mooring system, and other features are now under construction.

The model will be situated in a 3,000-gallon aquarium, along with additional interpretive materials explaining what the project and offshore aquaculture are all about. Another highlight will be a large screen monitor with a live shot of the cage. The monitor will also display recorded video footage of the cage being deployed, fish feeding in the cage and divers interacting with the fish in the cage. The exhibit is expected to open this fall.

A customized electronic mooring monitor has been attached to the cage. The submersible monitor contains an alarm system that will notify researchers via satellite if the cage moves outside its preset watch circle or if the cage accidentally submerges.

Developed with Brightwater Instruments Corporation, the monitor will also be used in the future to monitor feed levels in the Robo Feeder.

The next major step in the OAC Project will be the transport of 15,000 red drum fingerlings to the cage sometime in the next few weeks.

When the exact date and time is set it will be posted on the OAC website so viewers can tune in to watch the ship-to-cage transfer live on the Cage Cam.

The OAC Project is based at the University of Southern Mississippi and is funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The goal of the project, which includes research partners in nine states, is to lay the groundwork to create an economically and environmentally sustainable commercial offshore aquaculture industry in the Gulf of Mexico.

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