BREVARD COUNTY, Florida. – Florida’s efforts to keep beaches clean and save ocean lives are getting a high-tech twist with the introduction of a cleaning robot.
“It’s BeBot, and it’s cleaning the beach,” said Bryan Bobbitt, executive director of Keep Brevard Beautiful. “BeBot is a solar-electric robot that will actually sift through the sand and remove all the microplastics and sift everything.”
Bobbitt said BeBot is the first robot of its kind in the world and he hopes it will make beach cleaning more efficient.
According to Keep Florida Beautiful, BeBot was donated by Surfing’s Evolution & Preservation Foundation, and it was designed by Poralu Marine in Europe.
“It doesn’t take long to fill this platter full of stuff,” Bobbitt said as he steered Be-Bot down a stretch of Cocoa Beach near Minuteman Causeway.
The basket behind the robot filled with shells and trash that have been sifted through a basket.
“Here’s a plastic bag, several bottle caps, a sticker on a ‘Star Wars’ thing, a straw, a cigarette butt, a plastic fork handle and a toothpick,” Bobbitt said.
As one might imagine, a robot rolling on a beach caught the eye.
“Is it independent? asked a man.
“No, I have to drive it, but it’s remote-controlled,” Bobbitt said.
“I thought you were cleaning up the beach, but then I also thought maybe — are they testing something lunar? That seems strange,” said Sarah Romano, who was from Detroit. “My brain was spinning just to know what it could be, then I saw “cleaner”. I’ll go ask them. I’m not interfering with a NASA project.
Bobbitt said KBB volunteers also continue to pick up trash by hand. In fact, they collected over 145 tons in a single year along the Brevard County coast.
But it’s the little bits of trash that BeBot is able to pick up that could be a game-changer.
“It’s a microplastic,” he said. “It was a piece of something bigger – maybe a frisbee or a beach toy or whatever. It’s left here on the sand, they’re burned by the sun, they break down and eventually split into smaller and smaller pieces. So that’s the definition of a microplastic. Now the problem is that things can end up in the water. Fish eat it, turtles eat it, other wildlife eat it and we eat them often.
Shell Webster, Education Coordinator for the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet, said plastic can impact marine life, such as sea turtles.
“When they’re in the ocean, they’re foraging for food or holding their breath and diving to get things like jellyfish,” she said.
But sometimes that “jellyfish” can actually be a plastic bag that someone threw away and is now floating in the ocean.
Swallowing it can cause the sea turtle’s hindquarters to float, causing serious problems in the water.
“We have a fishing line, (and) it’s getting tangled around their flippers, as well as around their necks,” said Alyssa Hancock, assistant director of sea turtle rehabilitation at the Marine Science Center, where she helped his team to save the lives of more than 25,000 reptiles.
She said many of the creatures were sea turtles trapped in garbage.
“So Ghul was one of those that we actually found plastics in his (gastrointestinal) tract,” she said. “Unfortunately we see that a lot with these guys. I don’t know if you can tell, but they are actually very hard plastics. So the problem with that is that if it goes through his intestine, it’s also going to cause lacerations and problems with his intestine.
Hancock said humans need to change their habits to help solve the problem.
“We would really like people to focus on reducing their use of plastic. So we try not to use water bottles, we try to use reusable water bottles,” she said. “Don’t use plastic bags. If you have reusable shopping bags, that can also be very useful.
Similar waste is found across Ponce Inlet at the Marine Discovery Center at New Smyrna Beach.
“We find items like bottles and bottle caps that may have flown off someone’s boat as it passed by,” said Tess Sailor-Tynes, the organization’s conservation science coordinator. . “We find plastic bags. The fishing line is left behind most of the time.
She said her organization uses “citizen scientiststo help monitor what’s in the water.
Their lab once housed New Smyrna Beach High School, and one of the sites where they test the water is a swamp that now covers what was once an athletics track.
“I wouldn’t call it a soup of plastic – I wouldn’t go that far,” Sailor-Tynes said. “We find that there is a high concentration of these fibers. Most of this you won’t see with the naked eye. So while you can see the larger plastics floating around in the water, it’s a concern that few people consider because we can’t see them.
Citizen scientists take water samples at various sites in Volusia County during the first weekend of the month.
“I’m going to take a water sample at the kayak launch,” said volunteer Ed Loomis. “We are going to look for the presence of microplastics in the water.”
The 79-year-old took a one-litre sample of water, filtered it in the lab and analyzed the filter under a microscope.
He said it was common to find traces of microplastics, some as small as a hair, on the filter.
“It’s something that’s in your blood, and you just have to do what you can and do it while you’re still able to do it,” Loomis said.
“I think on a personal level, a lot of the questions people ask are, ‘What can I do?’ It feels like different things to different people,” Sailor-Tynes said. “So whether it’s being part of our volunteer system and helping those or someone who lives on the waterway and say, “What can I do? Well, you can always go back to those natural elements and see what’s going on around us. It really helps us.
The future of BeBot
Bobbitt said plans are currently underway to place 30 similar robots on Florida beaches.
“This thing is just the beginning. It’s the first of its kind in the country, and we’re very honored to have the opportunity to be able to test it,” he said. as we work on it and uncover and fix some of the issues i think we are going to see more and more of these types of machines all along the beach and the roads they are just going to help make a difference in the community. So I think that’s kind of a way forward, but we’ll always have to get humans to do the right thing first, and hopefully we never need to go as far with these to start with.
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