of the world’s coral reefs are currently threatened by natural and man-made stresses.
Source: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 10 December 2013
And when an aquatic environment first shows signs of stress, they’re seen in the dwindling numbers of fish and other organisms found in its coral reefs. That’s why the work of Dr Michael Berumen and his team is so critical. Dr Berumen, a marine biologist and professor at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, goes on diving expeditions around the world to collect data on reefs and their wildlife. Information as simple as the number of fish on a reef can tell a deeper story about the health of an ocean. And can help efforts to preserve it.
Despite their best efforts, Dr Berumen and his crew were limited by their tools. They brought slates, waterproof paper and regular pencils to record findings — counting thousands of fish by making tally marks and scribbling on paper. Later, they had to manually enter all this information into a computer — a process that wasn’t just incredibly time-consuming, it was also rife with errors.
“We had to input the data straight away, before we forgot what we wrote,” explains Dr Berumen, “and often we couldn’t even read our own handwriting. We spent more time inputting data than we did diving. After yet another trip where I spent dozens of hours transcribing notes, I thought, ‘This is crazy!’.” Since Dr Berumen relied so much on his iPad, he decided to figure out a way to use it in his underwater work.
Dr Berumen and his team developed the iDive housing to take iPad deep underwater.* The housing is constructed of rubber, various types of polycarbonate and die-cast metals. At the depths where Dr Berumen and his team often do their research, around five atmospheres of pressure can weigh on the device. The iDive case functions similarly to a scuba regulator valve, automatically adding or releasing gas to adjust internal pressure. This allows features of the iPad — including the Multi-Touch screen, the camera and even Bluetooth connectivity — to work deep in the ocean.
The team also developed an app that transformed the way they collect data. Now they preload a screen with pictures of different fish species — and count them by tapping the photos, instead of scribbling on paper. When cataloguing as many as 100 species on any given dive, it makes a huge difference in simplifying their data collection. If they encounter a new species, they can use the iPad camera to snap a shot. And once they’re back on dry land, the scientists transfer all the data in seconds. They save precious time. And the information they collect is much more accurate.
Here are a few species they may encounter in the Red Sea:
A dwindling fish population can show that a region is facing environmental stress, while new species can indicate a reef’s growth. The data Dr Berumen and his team collect using iPad provides crucial information and direction to preserve oceans around the world.
And Dr Berumen can only imagine the possibilities now that people can use iPad underwater. “We envisioned some great uses for iDive, but there will be countless others,” he says. Safety will be enhanced as divers use iPad to communicate with other divers or the boat. Commercial divers can enjoy a movie or a book while waiting on a decompression stop. Future apps might help hone diving skills, or allow ‘citizen science’, where anyone can count species and contribute their data to science. “Or maybe someone will just go underwater to document their honeymoon,” says Dr Berumen. “There will be endless uses for iPad underwater, for everything from safety, to research, to communication, to people just having a good time.”