A solar- and wave-powered sea robot made its way to Oahu this week after a monthlong cruise from the Big Island, collecting data on water quality, weather, salinity and other factors that affect ocean health.

Liquid Robotics’ Wave Glider, dubbed Malama, is now in Maunalua Bay, tweeting surface and underwater images, location and more information. There’s also a live video feed.

Malama Maunalua, a nonprofit organization headed by marine conservation expert Frazer McGilvray, has partnered with the company to use the robot to gather data that it hopes might be useful in the ongoing planning process to help heal the degraded bay.

Liquid Robotics' Wave Glider cruises around Maunalua Bay, Thursday. The bottom panels use wave energy for propulsion.

Liquid Robotics’ Wave Glider cruises around Maunalua Bay on Thursday. The bottom panels use wave energy for propulsion.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

“Any science we can get is good science and it helps us focus our work,” McGilvray said during an interview in the water next to the robot Thursday as circled several hundreds yards off the coast of Hawaii Kai.

“With data gathering, you need a boat, you need human beings and it can all be really costly,” he said. “With these things, you just set it on a path and off it goes. So you don’t need to be out here. It sends it all back to a computer, and you can control it from anywhere in the world.”

Maunalua Bay has been the subject of intense public debate as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration works to add a new layer of protection by making it a special sanctuary management area. Hearings in July attracted big turnouts as state and federal officials heard testimony on the plan, which will be reviewed over the next several months.

Some fear a federal overreach that could restrict what activities are allowed in the bay, but others say the bay needs a break. Currently, there’s everything from fishing and diving to Jet Skis and boating.

The Wave Glider has a front facing camera that live streams online. It also gathers weather and location data.

The Wave Glider has a front-facing camera that live streams online. It also gathers weather and location data.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

Some 60,000 residents live in the area that borders the bay. Malama Maunalua has been working to get their input, along with numerous other stakeholders.

The nonprofit launched an effort in September to pull together more than two dozen stakeholders to create a community-driven, science-based plan to restore the bay. The planning process, called Imua Maunalua, is expected to take two years.

McGilvray, the former administrator of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’s Division of Aquatic Resources, said the Wave Glider can provide data that can be used to help improve the quality and future of the bay.

The bay, which covers 6.5 miles of coastal waters from Black Point to Portlock Point, has ranked among the least healthy in the state for the past several years. Scientists, environmentalists and a range of ocean users say it’s overfished and is being damaged by sediment runoff and other human-caused factors.

The robot can detect everything from salinity levels to oil and petroleum in the water.

Frazer McGilvray of Malama Maunalua, left, and Derek Cuny of Liquid Robotics point at the downward facing camera on the bottom of the Wave Glider, Thursday, in Maunalua Bay.

Frazer McGilvray of Malama Maunalua, left, and Derek Cuny of Liquid Robotics point at the downward-facing camera on the bottom of the Wave Glider on Thursday in Maunalua Bay.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

Derek Cuny, Liquid Robotics’ senior field support engineer who’s based at the company’s Big Island offices, was in the water Thursday doing some minor maintenance work on Malama.

“Liquid Robotics is honored to collaborate with Malama Maunalua, NOAA and our community partners to create awareness about the importance of ocean health, and the human impacts on the ocean,” Roger Hine, Liquid Robotics co-founder and chief technology officer, said in a release Friday.

“To navigate change and make the right stewardship decisions, we need scientific data,” he said. “The scientific data collected by our Wave Glider will contribute towards advancing the health of our ocean and marine resources, with the intention of creating greater sustainability for the State of Hawaii and globally.”

The Wave Glider robot cruises off the coast of east Oahu, collecting ocean data.

The Wave Glider robot cruises off the coast of east Oahu, collecting ocean data.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

The Wave Glider’s journey to Oahu is part of an outreach program called Aloha Aina, which was developed by Liquid Robotics and is being done in collaboration with Malama Maunalua, NOAA and others. The goal is to promote and educate the public on economic, environmental and social benefits of a healthy, sustainable ocean, the release says.

As part of the same program, there is a Citizen Science Day set for 9 a.m. Saturday at Kuliouou Beach Park to encourage members of the general public to partake in scientific research by gathering data, asking questions, and analyzing information, the release says.

Activities include pulling invasive alien algae, testing water quality and informational presentations on the Wave Glider. For more information, email Nicole Williams at nwilliams@malamamaunalua.org.

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