SAMISH BAY, Wash. --- Quick! How do you know if an oyster is full of toxic pathogens?
Until now, it would take state labs several days to determine that. But now, there's ESP, the environmental sample processor. Almost instantly, it retrieves, analyzes and reports on water samples where shellfish live. When the robot is finished taking a water sample and analyzing it, it sends an e mail.
"I can pull up the data and I can let all our stakeholders know straightaway if there is a risk of seafood being contaminated from these naturally occurring marine pathogens and micro-algae," said Stephanie Moore from NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
While the shellfish may not be harmed by the marine toxins, the people who eat them could die or get terribly sick.
For the folks at Taylor Shellfish Farms, the robot can warn them if a natural toxin or algae bloom is heading their way. They can get a jump on the harvest and have added certainty that the shellfish are safe to sell. Not only that, the machine will also help scientists pinpoint kinds of pollution that can damage marine habitat.
Bill Dewey marvels at the DNA capability of the robot.
"This is going to give you DNA from the cow or the bird or the person that caused that pollution and help us detect it way sooner,” he said.
The robot was developed by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Marine Research Institute and is being tested around Puget Sound this summer.
NOAA reported that in 2006, commercial fisheries generated $3.8 billion in sales in Washington and supported more than 75,000 jobs.