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Autonomous aquatic farming: opportunities for our islands? - 02/11/2041

The marine resources specialists met this week on the Tahiti Peninsula to take stock of the latest developments in the sector.

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A subject that was on everyone's lips this year: autonomous aquatic farms. While the sector is still in pre-deployment (many elements are still yet to be well managed), it is of increasing interest to companies in the local food sector.

But what are we talking about exactly? Not a specific technology but a set of technologies which, coordinated with each other, will allow the deployment of a true autonomous installation at sea for the culture of offshore fish.

How does it work? Artificial intelligence naturally plays a major role in this mechanism: from "facial" recognition of fish to ultra-precise management of veterinary, biological and environmental data to guarantee personalized monitoring of the stock without human intervention on site. At most, a remote control via monitoring systems linked by satellites.

Indeed, with the now reduced hit of satellite connections (thanks to the connectivity race launched by SpaceX in the 2020s), any SME can set up remote control tools for its business.

This complex stock management interface is combined with drone-type intelligence which ensures the navigation of the installation. Heir to the autonomous driving systems of land vehicles, the maritime farm drone is still problematic. The greatest difficulty is in its interactions with other ships during swells. Indeed, its video and radar sensors are experiencing some difficulties in managing strong wave movements and therefore confirming external signals. But specialist companies promise very short-term solutions.

Why are these installations being debated today? We could indeed consider that it surely represents a relevant tool to avoid overfishing of natural stocks (some of which, according to recent studies, are being rebuilt thanks to the drastic measures taken in recent years), and would also avoid have staff on duty for long periods at sea.

And, for the particular case of Tahiti, this could perhaps lift the “curse” of the many gigantic aquaculture farm projects that never saw the light of day!

The major problem actually comes from the risk of too rapid expansion of such facilities. While they can represent an effective asset in guaranteeing the maintenance of the sector in times of scarce resources, many see this as an encouragement to the resumption of industrial fishing, the devastation of which we know in the past.

Beyond that, many consider that an excessive multiplication of these installations, even offshore, would risk impacting the ecosystem due to the resulting discharges. This could attract sharks and other predators too easily and disturb the natural distribution of stocks with predators.

As often, the problem is not so much the tool as the use to which it will be put. Calls for regional regulation have already been launched by scientists who nevertheless want these systems to be authorized. But, as always, in moderation to limit abuse.

Proposals may be made to governments in the Pacific region by the end of the week. To be continued!

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