Discovering Mossel Bays Secret: Oceans Research and OpenROV

Latest update August 27, 2018 Started on May 18, 2018

Underwater drones or ROVs have long been far out of the reach of many marine science organisations, exclusively thought of as a tool for deep sea exploration. However recent advancements in technology means that equipment that used to be the size of a small car can now fit in your rucksack. Yet it is still unknown how best to utilise this exciting piece of technology.

The recent launch of OpenROVs brand new Trident underwater drone has launched a new era for underwater exploration. The potential for its use in marine science is great. We are lucky enough to be one of the first marine science organisations to be trialling an OpenROV Trident.

Our first project using this new technology is sampling the fish assemblages on our local reefs here in Mossel Bay, South Africa. We will be comparing the effectiveness of the Trident to existing methods such as BRUVs and snorkelling surveys.

Mossel Bay is abundant with biodiversity with species ranging from endemic benthic sharks to Great White Sharks and migrating Humpback Whales to endangered Humpback Dolphins. Who knows what we'll find on these surveys and we are excited to share this blog series chronicling our journey with you.

May 18, 2018
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Mission Underway

A Great Day for Exploring

Today we were met with beautiful weather and minimal surge during our morning ROV shift; perfect conditions for each of us interns, Kaitlin, Quentin, and Macy to film a few transects under Tom’s supervision. It had been around 3 weeks since Kaitlin and Quentin last piloted the ROV, but navigating underwater came back instantly and we believe it is becoming more enjoyable as we have the confidence to explore. As for Macy, this was her first ROV shift and it was a bit more challenging to get the hang of it. While underneath the trusty shade towel, Macy said: “I thought I would be terrible at this since I lack hand-eye coordination, but luckily this is pretty easy to use!” Overall, it was a successful shift since the team was met with great visibility and curious fish.

The Interns


Have you had any problems with white sharks biting the ROV? I'm a bit concerned that my sharks at Guadalupe will eat that little thing!

For this shift, the interns shared their different experiences piloting the ROV

Jacks Perspective

Today, myself and two other interns took on the challenge of learning how to correctly assemble/disassemble, as well as operate, an ROV. After a few attempts of piloting the instrument in a straight line, everybody involved was able to navigate it through the intended transect. Field specialist Jesse De Vos taught us the history behind why the Open ROV Trident was invented and how the intended implementation of the instrument into the field of marine biology is important. With proper testing and correct piloting, the device will help further the knowledge of biodiversity within Mossel Bay and hopefully ecosystems around the world.

Although the device was challenging to pilot at first, once I got the hang of how to navigate it I began to acknowledge the importance that the device could potentially have. While having humans go down and experience the world that lies underwater is a great method for research, there are certain situations that would not allow for a human to be present. The presence of a precise, accurately piloted device like a ROV is more suitable for certain research situations in regard to size and maneuverability. On top of the size advantage that a ROV possesses, it also possesses an advantage in regard to financial burdens. While the fields of marine biology/ecology and conservation biology/ecology are very important, the financial restraints that are coupled with them are often inhibiting. Finding techniques and using devices like the ROV are imperative for researchers because money and sponsors are not always promised. Finally, the discussion of safety is always one that should be present as people are the individuals that facilitate research. Being able to cut out dangerous situations like underwater diving is something that should be acknowledged and talked about if replacement methods, such as a ROV, can be used effectively.

Jess and Sara’s Perspective

Sara’s first ROV trip wasn’t as bad as it could have been. While the controls are sensitive, it wasn’t very hard driving it forward and backwards through the transects. I did have some trouble keeping the ROV deeper so it was easier to control but that was because of the strong surge, so this was out of the user’s hands. By learning to use this new type of technology here at Oceans Research, I hope to be able to bring this skill home to study fish diversity and population sizes in the Chesapeake Bay.

Jack, Jess & Sara

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Thanks for sharing!

The ROV in Action

We’ve been busy doing surveys of the fish population on a near-shore reef to test out the Trident ROV’s new potential as a research tool. Here's an example of what we see. The big schools of fish you’re seeing are Blacktail (with a black dot near the tail) and Strepie. With the new software updates allowing for improved video quality, we're excited to see what the new trasnects look like!

Tomasz Pedlow

This post was orignally published on

Posted by Tomasz Pedlow on Friday, August 10, 2018

Mullet Everywhere!

Sometimes conditions at the Dolloses Reef aren't great for deploying the ROV. When that happens we head over to a nearby pier to do some piloting practise with the interns. That doesnt mean theres nothing to see, this time we saw a huge school of mullet.

Tomasz Pedlow

This is a video of a huge school of mullet we saw one day while doing some ROV training with the interns

Posted by Tomasz Pedlow on Monday, July 23, 2018

ROVs: Where They’re Headed

For this post our interns focused what they think about mini-class ROV technology

Working as interns for Oceans Research, we are introduced to various ongoing research projects. One being the OpenRov project that looks at fish assemblages in coastal reef areas. This study utilizes the relatively new, and quickly growing technology known as Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV). After practicing our piloting skills in a nearby shallow reef-like area in Mossel Bay, we were able to reflect on how this technology might be further used to maximize its potential. One of the outstanding characteristics of this technology is its flexibility to be used in a number of different studies with a multitude of objectives. That being said, it seems that no one has really pinned down a specific area of interest to help find the technology’s niche in the research world. It was amazing to see how much information we gathered from just a few minutes of recorded footage while traveling along a transect only 25 meters long. Who knows what else can be discovered when applying this rapidly improving technology to different areas of study.

Matt, Jordan & Josie

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Today the two of us, Jessica and Brice, drove the ROV for the first time! Our location was the Dolloses Reef again.
Descending from the surface of the water was difficult at first because we had to master manipulating the ROV past the surge and safely away from the rocks. During each transect, there were two roles: one piloted the ROV while the second intern managed the ROV’s tether to keep from getting tangled in the water. I [Brice] had a challenging time in the beginning learning how to navigate the ROV; however, once I had some time to practice I was able to successfully record and complete an entire transect! I saw a school of fish and some other marine life tucked away in the rocks. It was a great first time experience. I [Jessica] had trouble with the sensitivities for the controls on the tablet. The ROV was challenging to navigate through the rocky underwater environment. We both look forward to continue using this new piece of technology for furthering scientific exploration!

Brice and Jessica


This was a video exploring the Dolloses Reef in Mossel Bay with my Trident ROV

Posted by Tomasz Pedlow on Monday, July 9, 2018

Hi everyone!
We're the new group of June interns, taking over the Oceans Research blog. We were super excited today to get into our shifts starting with the start of the ROV project. It was a sunny calm day so conditions were perfect. Tom the field specialist took us down to the dolloses reef and ran through how the project would work. Winston managed the ROV's tether while Taylor deployed the ROV and Bell took down the environmental data. Tom was first up piloting to do the first transect and show us how to pilot the ROV (nicknamed "Sylvia" after the legendary oceanographer). We were excited to get started but sadly we ran into technical issues when the video footage started freezing. We investigated a few options to fix it but sadly we ended up having to end the shift early. We're hopeful we'll be seeing "Sylvia" back in the water soon so we can learn to pilot it for ourselves. -Bell, Winston & Taylor

[Just a note to everyone, our blog posts have been operating at a delay to allow us to post even when conditions keep "Sylvia" landbound]

Testing Out Our Data Collection Methods

Today, us interns were the guinea pigs to Tom’s new project and performed the first official shift to look at fish abundance by Kaai 4, a local restaurant. Since we had trouble navigating the ROV on the last trial shift, we were a bit nervous to run a transect parallel to the rocks by the harbor. Surprisingly, we were able to pilot the ROV much more successfully and only got lost a handful of times. After Tom and Karagan each performed a recorded transect, we attached a little bait box to the base of the Trident stuffed with a local baitfish, steentjie. Again, each intern and field specialist took the ROV for a spin and recorded two more transect lines. We enjoyed running official transects to put our skills to the test. While sounding good in theory, we found problems with both the bait box. Both arms of the bait box broke off, resulting in the loss of the bait box in the water, but thankfully was retrieved via snorkeling and was reattached. Looking into the future, we hope to find a more secure way to attach the bait box to the ROV.

Kaitlin, Quentin & Karagan

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Preparation Stage

Update : hunt for the missing gopro

So in a previous post I talked about how in the process of testing a method for 3D mapping the underwater environment, we lost my GoPro. In the days following that little misadventure, there were two attempts to find it. Both trips came up empty. We assumed the current or a lucky Scuba diver had taken my camera and I’d even started researching the cost of a replacement. Fast forward to today.

We decided to go back to the same site. We were there because my ROV is going to be used in a study of fish abundance on a reef accessible from that site. We’d been having a slight problem though, we couldn’t find the reef we wanted …

We’d planned to do a more thorough search for the reef today. In addition to the ROV, I was going to go snorkel the area and search for the reef. I also wanted to make one final attempt at finding my lost GoPro. So while Mitch and Jesse got more practice on the ROV, I started my search.

I found the area where we’d spotted the GoPro the previous weekend and I searched high and low, in among rocks, all over the place and drew the obvious conclusion that it was gone. I then turned to helping the ROV find this disappearing reef. I swam out in the direction I’d been described, and while I saw some beautiful fish in among the Dolos wall, I didn’t find a reef. I decided the last part of the attempt would be to swim the ROV out as far as it could go in the direction I’d just been swimming so see how far it could search.

So I swam back to the entry point where Mitch was sitting. Now there was a bit of surge today and the entry point is a bit rocky, so I was cautious about getting tossed on something sharp. Close to shore now and I suddenly found the water pushing me forward and I almost went face first into some rocks on the seafloor ahead of me. I put my hands out to steady myself, and as my face came close to these rocks, I saw into a gap between them and thought, “you gotta be kidding me”, sure enough nestled down in between these two rocks sat my GoPro!

I quickly reached in and grabbed it before making my way up to the steps. After a whole week, The GoPro had survived intact and still working. I’m yet to analyse the video but excited to see what adventures my little GoPro went on.

Below is the photographic proof


First training day for the interns!

Kaitlin, Karagan, Sydney & Quentin

Today, the Oceans Research team went to a small pier down by the slipway to begin laying the foundations for our future OpenROV project and tried to see how easy it was for Tom to teach us interns how to use the ROV. With Tom’s Open ROV Trident, we each took a turn (Quentin, Sydney, Karagan, and Kaitlin) practicing driving the ROV along an imaginary transect lines. Karagan and Quentin were very successful first time drivers, whereas Kaitlin and Sydney found trouble in maintaining a level path and we all realized how difficult it will be to drive the ROV in even a straight transect path! Looking into the future, we are all excited to begin our reef survey project and to have fun using the ROV.

Interns’ first drive of the ROV in remarkably calm waters (top), Quentin drying the ROV with a towel after rinsing it in freshwater (bottom).


First underwater adventures (and misadventures) with the Trident in open water!

Author: Tomasz Pedlow (Field Specialist, Oceans Research)

Most of the time living in a small town can be somewhat quiet. This weekend however was eventful as me and two other field specialists from Oceans decided to go and start getting some ROV piloting practice for our fish population project we hope to be starting soon.

The goal is to see how an ROV compares to other methods of data collection for similar projects. The first step was getting good at piloting…

Saturday adventures

So on Saturday afternoon, Jesse, Mitch and I gathered up our equipment.


Everything a team of amateur ROV pilots need

We headed down to a commercial slipway near the main harbour in Mossel Bay and got to diving. Now I figured, being so close to a heavily used slipway we wouldn’t see much. We’d genuinely planned it as a chance to get more piloting practice. Boy were we wrong! We found a small reef and schools of fish all around! Some members of the general public came by curious about what we were doing so we enjoyed a bit of impromptu science communication about the reefs in the area. The kids especially were really fascinated.

There were heaps of fish for us to see and it proved to be a really fun first dive. I’d done some practice dives back home in a harbour in Perth. There it was a sandy area with little to see. This dive really opened my eyes to what’s possible with this technology. I was really excited!


Mitch, the ROV, Jesse and Mossel Bay at Sunset

Sunday misadventures

Feeling confident after yesterdays successes we decided to test out a few new toys for the ROV on Sunday. The first thing we tested was a special type of GoPro mount. The mount attached to the bottom of the ROV and allowed the GoPro to face straight down. This would allow us to shoot detailed footage of the seafloor which could in theory be turned into a 3D map.

We deployed the ROV and headed out. We started okay, but the water was choppy and we banged into a few rocks. When we got further out, we charged out into calmer water but we struggled to find the reef. So we figured we’d cut our losses, detach the GoPro attachment and just practice piloting a bit more.

I piloted the ROV back into the shore, Jesse picked it up and I immediately said some profanities when I saw that the GoPro was gone!  The GoPro mount I’d 3D printed had snapped during one of those collisions with the rocks. Jesse was about to go jump in to try find it but I had a better idea…

I quickly pointed out that the second ROV attachment I’d prepared to test was a grabber claw.

Out of that, a rescue plan was born. Admittedly, it was a wildly optimistic plan: Use an untested grabber claw to search somewhat choppy water for a small camera we hope to grab in rapidly fading sunlight with an ROV we just barely knew how to pilot…

But we’re an optimistic bunch and much to our surprise we found the camera!

And were we successful?

Sadly no, while we were able to find the GoPro (much to our surprise). The water was too choppy for the ROV to make an approach and grab it. It is close to shore so it is retrievable. A rescue attempt will happen soon, cross your fingers for me!

*This post was originally published on Toms blog

About Oceans Research and The history of the project

Author: Quentin Fenech (May Intern, Oceans Research)

Oceans Research is a research institute based in Mossel Bay that aims to study the wide range of biology found in the bay. Going from the incredible Great White Shark to the simplest limpet. There are numerous studies being driven by field specialists to retrieve important data with the help of us monthly interns. This project aims to use an ROV to study the local biodiversity in the reefs of Mossel Bay to compare the effectiveness of different surveying techniques. Using transects we'll be quantifying fish populations in order to have a good idea of what lays under us in the ocean.

In this series we'll be going through our back-and-forth experiments, trials and include our difficulties and successes to try and retrieve data from the ROV…

Expedition Background

Intro to the project and brainstorming session

Author: Sasha Dines (Head Field specialist, Oceans Research)

Welcome to our OpenROV Trident blog series! We are a group of scientists and interns based at Oceans Research in a little coastal town in South Africa. This whole project started with our very own Tomasz Pedlow seeing a cool idea on Kickstarter and believing in the project. Since then he was lucky enough to be one of the first people in the world to receive an OpenROV Trident, their first underwater drone product. Tom interned with Oceans Research in 2017 and is back with us as one of our staff members this Winter 2018. With him came his Trident…

Tom showed us the ROV and described how he wanted to develop a project here at Oceans with it. We are lucky enough here in the bay to have everything from limpets to catsharks and whales to Great White Sharks. However for Toms poor little ROV we decided to start off by sticking to the reefs. Our aim is to explore the uses a product like this has and its potential for use within marine science. Our first project is going to compare the effectiveness of an ROV to current techniques we use such as BRUVs (baited remote underwater video’s) and snorkeling surveys in monitoring fish assemblages.

The plan for after this project is that we can move onto other species, other habitats and other projects to fully explore the wide scope of the OpenROV Trident – maybe one day safely filming a white shark remotely. We never know what we’ll see on the reefs so maybe that day will come sooner than we think.

But for now I’ll leave you with a picture from our first brainstorming session – where we all met to discuss project ideas and opportunities.

We will be blogging about our adventures (and misadventures) through OpenExplorer (,,) the Oceans Research blog ( and Tom’s personal Blog (

We’ll be posting every week and every post will be written by a different member of our team. We hope you’re excited because we certainly are!


This is awesome! Excited for the weekly updates!

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