US: Sensors attached to moored or drifting buoys gather meteorological and oceanographic data and transmit them in real time, via satellite, to scientific and operational communities across the world. For example, the Global Tropical Moored Buoy Array (GTMBA) provides real-time data for climate research and forecasting. Its major components — including the TAO/TRITON array in the Pacific — monitor a range of phenomena including the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the Pacific, hurricane activity in the Atlantic, and monsoons in the Indian Ocean. But all types of moored ocean data buoys are increasingly at risk of damage — whether deliberate vandalism or through negligence, according to a report published in SciDev.net.
Damage is most common in the Indian Ocean. Over half of the 36 tsunami moorings in the newly established Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System and Adjacent Seas network were damaged over a period of four years.
At its worst, vandalism and damage threatens the very sustainability of some major observation networks, or substantial parts of them. “Countries and fishers in South-East Asia must act against ocean buoy vandalism,” the report stressed.
Vandalism and negligent damage takes many forms. It includes routine ship collisions, damage from fishing lines, nets or cables, and direct exploitation of moorings such as fish aggregation devices.
Over a 9-month period in 2008, 18 TAO stations in the Tropical Pacific went offline due of vandalism. Restoring them cost more than USD 1 million.
And in the Indian Ocean, tsunameter (equipment used to detect tsunamis) networks have suffered over 30 vandalism incidents in four years, affecting over half the stations at a cost of over USD 3.5 million.
Wherever the damage occurs, it multiplies the budget needed to maintain these systems. Not only that, crucial data are lost to both early warning systems and longer term climate research. In turn, this downgrades weather and marine forecast capabilities, makes tsunami warning systems less reliable and undermines confidence in them. The result could be significant loss of life and property as well as costly evacuations in response to false tsunami warnings.
In December 2009, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission adopted a binding measure to protect moored data buoys by restricting fishing within one nautical mile. In September 2010, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), at its eighty-first meeting, adopted a similarly worded non-binding Recommendation Prohibiting Fishing on Data Buoys. These measures offer a new regional management practice to minimise intentional or unintentional damage to ocean data buoys.
The measures prohibit participating member states from fishing or interacting with a buoy within one nautical mile of the instrument or its mooring line; attaching a boat or any fishing gear to a data buoy or cutting a data buoy anchor line; or taking on board a data buoy unless specifically authorized to do so.
But these regulations are not enough to prevent damage in many developing countries. Fishers need much better awareness of why these ocean buoys are important, and how they benefit their own lives by helping with early warning of severe weather, cyclones and tsunamis, and even providing data that help identify areas where fish are likely to be abundant.
As for damage from deep-sea fishing vessels, concerned ports need to do more to promote awareness about the importance of these monitoring systems. And both fishermen and commercial shipping need practical information about the location of buoys.