FAU, Shipwreck Park Partner on Underwater Public Project, ‘Wahoo Bay’

Wahoo Bay, Underwater Marine Park, Marine Conservation, Education

Wahoo Bay is a "living" laboratory that provides an immersive experience for visitors while raising awareness of keeping oceans and coral reef systems healthy. (Photo credit: City of Pompano Beach)

By gisele galoustian | 2/21/2023

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science have received a one-year grant from Shipwreck Park, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the creation of an underwater park system establishing artificial reefs and utilizing public art to raise awareness of the need to preserve and conserve natural coral reef systems.

FAU’s project, titled “Ocean IoT for Education, Habitat Restoration and Conservation in Wahoo Bay,” is spearheaded by the Center for Connected Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence (CA-AI) and the Institute for Sensing and Embedded Network Systems Engineering (I-SENSE).

Leading the FAU project are Dimitris Pados, Ph.D., Schmidt Eminent Scholar Professor, acting executive director of FAU’s I-SENSE and director of the CA-AI center; and George Sklivanitis, Ph.D., Schmidt research assistant professor and a fellow of I-SENSE, both in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Located at the Hillsboro Inlet in Pompano Beach, Wahoo Bay is designed to provide a captivating underwater experience for children and adults alike. Several years in the making, Shipwreck Park has created Wahoo Bay to serve partly as an educational marine park as well as an initiative to restore the natural habitat. Wahoo Bay also is a testing ground for the SEAHIVE™ Shoreline Protection System (developed by researchers from the College of Engineering at the University of Miami), which combines a modular concrete structure with mangroves as a way to reduce flooding and, ultimately, protect from sea-level rise. The first of six SEAHIVETM modules are expected to be deployed in the next few weeks, while the park will be delivered to the public in early summer.

SEAHIVE is a marine and estuarine shoreline protection system that employs an artificial structure to dissipate wave energy before it makes it to the shoreline. Coastal communities often depend on natural barriers, like coral reefs and mangroves, to aid in flood reduction during tropical threats like hurricanes.

FAU’s project leverages off-the-shelf hardware and open-source software to rapidly prototype ocean Internet of Things (IoT) systems and buoy-based mesh wireless networks for marine data acquisition. As the lead technology provider for the South East Atlantic Coast Econet, a large regional network of weather monitoring stations managed in collaboration with Coastal Carolina University, FAU College of Engineering and Computer Science and I-SENSE researchers installed a water monitoring system and NOAA weather station at Wahoo Bay. The weather station also is interfaced with a water quality monitoring sonde to monitor dissolved oxygen, pH levels, salinity, turbidity, water temperature and nitrogen.

In addition to the automated monitoring stations, FAU researchers will employ a self-cleaning 360-degree underwater camera that tilts, zooms and provides 4K livestream video and audio 24/7. The camera will utilize AI-assisted fish identification software to monitor, detect and report on different species and species counts.

Currently, five undergraduate students from the College of Engineering and Computer Science are working on the design and development of a mobile app for Wahoo Bay (wahoobay.net) as part of their senior engineering design project. In addition to this app, the students are working on developing and testing the AI software for fish identification. This will enable both hands-on research and educational activities in the water and online through wahoobay.net.

Through the course of the project, the FAU team has been working on developing tutorials and hands-on demo presentations for outreach to local students from FAU High School and undergraduate students from the College of Engineering and Computer Science. FAU engineers and undergraduate student researchers at CA-AI are working with FAU High School teachers, along with educators from Broward and Palm Beach counties to develop a new curriculum that will target Pre-K-12 educational activities based on data collected from the automated weather monitoring stations, underwater cameras, vehicles, acoustic and water quality monitoring sensors that the team deploys in Wahoo Bay.

“Wahoo Bay has been designed to be a living laboratory that will provide an immersive experience for visitors while raising awareness of keeping our oceans and coral reef systems healthy,” said Stella Batalama, Ph.D., dean, FAU College of Engineering and Computer Science. “We are excited to collaborate with Shipwreck Park and an impressive team of experts, scientists and citizens who share the same passion and mission for conservation, education and community outreach.”