Jon Chamberlain holding a surface drift tracker affectionately known as a Sponge Bob. (Nick Murray/News Staff)

Jon Chamberlain holding a surface drift tracker affectionately known as a Sponge Bob. (Nick Murray/News Staff)

Hundreds of floating ‘Sponge Bobs’ help track ocean currents

Institute of Ocean Science tracks ocean currents partly to assist water contamination clean-up

The Institute of Ocean Sciences (IOS) have developed surface drift trackers, affectionately known as Sponge Bobs, due to the yellow and blue spongey material they are made from, to track ocean currents.

For anyone with a TV and a childhood, Sponge Bob Squarepants is a cartoon sponge who lives under the sea in a pineapple with his pet snail Gary, who meows like a cat.

If ever there was an unlikely inspiration for cutting edge–science, Sponge Bob would appear to be it.

The IOS in North Saanich forms a part of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

ALSO READ: Canada announces shipwreck plan that could sting dumpers with $6M in fines

There are two types of the gadgets and they are both useful in helping the IOS predict where spilled contaminants and even lost sailors are likely to end up. A group of the buoy-like devices are usually deployed by helicopter and bob around on ocean currents until they run aground or are collected. On each unit a GPS satellite tracker sends back the gizmo’s location, allowing IOS experts to build accurate modelling systems of the world’s ocean currents.

“These can be deployed and track the surface currents so, if there was a contaminate, the clean-up crew would know where to go,” says Jon Chamberlain DFO Acting Manager of Ocean Sciences Division.

“These things will corroborate or refine the modelling, so it all fits together. We have these models running all the time now, so there is a forecast to say where contaminants would go if they entered into the water.”

The IOS say they have some of the best programmers and some of the most powerful computers, including a super-computer, at the institute working on modelling. GPS trackers go into “sleep mode” when not being moved around, so a resourceful technician came up with the idea of attaching spring door-stoppers on the top of the devices to keep their GPS trackers wobbling.

“So a Canadian Tire special enables them to continue transmitting and reporting their position,” laughs Chamberlain.

The project is part of the government’s Oceans Protection Plan and of much interest to the DFO are currents near Canadian coastlines. As a result, Chamberlain explains that sometimes the Sponge Bobs wash up on beaches and are found by confused members of the public.

“We’ve found, especially in urban areas like Vancouver Harbour, people walk their dogs on the beach and sometimes find them. So we have labels asking people to contact us and to please send the electronics back. The rest of it is biodegradable and can be disposed of. We then send them an IOS mug or cap as a thank you gift.”

ALSO READ: UVic’s cutting-edge centre leading the way in drones and AI

Last spring, one of the Sponge Bobs was found in Powell River by a group of First Nations students conducting a beach clean-up. The students were curious to know more and contacted the IOS, who visited them with two Coast Guard vessels to explain more and to help conduct field work. The students sailed in the boats and helped deploy the Sponge Bobs, before tracking them online.

“We deployed the trackers and re-deployed the one they found. They had a connection with the whole process and would ask ‘where’s our tracker?’ [as they viewed them online],” said Chamberlain.



nick.murray@peninsulanewsreview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Science

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The top of a Sponge Bob, with instructions of what to do if a member of the public finds it. A GPS tracker is attached to a wobbly re-purposed door-stopper. (Nick Murray/News Staff)

The top of a Sponge Bob, with instructions of what to do if a member of the public finds it. A GPS tracker is attached to a wobbly re-purposed door-stopper. (Nick Murray/News Staff)

A dog on a B.C. beach surprises its owner with a Sponge Bob. (Institute of Ocean Sciences)

A dog on a B.C. beach surprises its owner with a Sponge Bob. (Institute of Ocean Sciences)

Just Posted

A forest of dance-protesters outside the BC Legislature on April 11. These participants were doing the Dance for the Ancient Forest in support of the Fairy Creek blockade and against old-growth logging. (Zoë Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: Dancers, signholders show support for Fairy Creek in Victoria

A flash mob at the legislature and signs on an overpass

Wild Wise Sooke is urging the public to be bear aware. (Photo by Brian Rundle)
Wild Wise Sooke reminds public to be aware of bears

Residents asked to be mindful of their garbage habits, not to draw in wildlife

Staff celebrate the opening of the Vancouver Island Cancer Centre adjacent to Royal Jubilee Hospital in March 2001. (Photo provided by Provincial Health Services Authority)
Victoria cancer centre marks two decades of saving lives

BC Cancer – Victoria is B.C.’s second largest cancer centre

“Racing Classics” by John Horton depicts sailboats near Trial Island off the coast of Oak Bay. The painting will be featured in his <em>Maritime Impressions</em> exhibit at the Winchester Gallery until April 14.
Greater Victoria galleries beckon spring with vibrant, whimsical nature scenes

At The Galleries: look at what’s on display this month

Katie Hamilton is one of three Victoria residents receiving a $10,000 podcast production grant from Telus Storyhive. Her podcast, Her Love of Sport, will take listeners through stories from women in the sports industry. (Courtesy of Katie Hamilton)
Three local podcasts coming to Victoria following Telus Storyhive grants

Victoria podcasts chosen out of 700 applications to receive $10,000

A forest of dance-protesters outside the BC Legislature on April 11. These participants were doing the Dance for the Ancient Forest in support of the Fairy Creek blockade and against old-growth logging. (Zoë Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: Dancers, signholders show support for Fairy Creek in Victoria

A flash mob at the legislature and signs on an overpass

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

Most Read