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Practice makes Pilot! AHOI gets hands-on training for underwater drones.

"We practiced driving in deeper waters and operating on a boat rather than a stationary dock. This was very instrumental in me gaining more confidence in my capabilities as the pilot. Also, during the ROV drop, we saw a shipwreck of an old WWII Vessel near Bell Island - what a treat!"

While the AHOI team has yet to discover a ship wreck in the Gros Morne area, they are getting a new perspective on a part of the ocean they have been working diligently to understand and protect, thanks to training and support they received from expert Michael Hannaford, Marine Institute of Memorial University, and Ocean Quest Adventures.

They travelled to the east coast of Newfoundland in the spring of 2022, where they learned how to operate their new Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV). This training was a vital asset for conducting some of their fieldwork this past summer. They began gathering data that will enrich the baseline data being added to EAC's Community-led Marine Spatial Plan. This will help them to better understand areas that may need to have increased marine conservation measures. It also enables us to document where environmental damage, pollution or ghost gear exists, that may need to be cleaned up or recovered in the future.

While staff are reviewing hours of underwater footage recorded by the ROV, AHOI's Environmental Programs Research Assistant and seasoned "Waste Buster", Aaron Hingston, shares his memories and thoughts on the training he attended.

AHOI’s Aaron Hingston aboard Ocean Quest Adventures vessel, during ROV training in eastern Newfoundland.

I spent a lot of time outside conducting research through various events and activities, including community beach cleanups and audits, quadrant samples in Gros Morne National Park, as well as ROV drops throughout the Gros Morne region.

One part of my job involved a trip to St John’s, NL to get trained on AHOI’s new ROV, the Deep Trekker Pivot. It was a fantastic experience in which I learned a lot about ROV driving. I was joined by AHOI Founder and Ecology Action Centre’s (EAC) Marine Planning and Engagement Coordinator, Rebecca Brushett, who I worked alongside during the ROV drops and data collection. We both spent several days getting trained by some wonderful folks on the east coast.

Aaron Hingston and Rebecca Brushett during ROV training at The Launch (Marine Institute) in Holyrood, NL.

On the first day, Rebecca and I were trained by Michael Hannaford who is the Director of Oceanspace Planning and Technology Inc., a marine consulting company. He has worked with all sorts of ROVs. Michael has worked off the coast of NL with the oil and gas industry and in the pacific ocean on the EV Nautilus, working with the massive ROV Hercules. Michael gave us the necessary skills to safely operate the ROV from a moving boat, and to identify days when we shouldn’t operate at all. He also showed us how to properly plan a trip and some safety measures for us and the ROV.

AHOI's ROV overlooking Neddies Harbour, NL.

The Deep Trekker Pivot, which AHOI uses for its marine research and conservation work, is 36cm wide, 31cm tall, and 57cm long. It weighs 17kg, has 6 independent thrusters, 2 sets of lights, and a camera with 200° range. It has a 305m tether and can operate in temperatures ranging from -10 to 50 degrees Celsius. This is vital when conducting research in the Gros Morne region, where the ocean floor plummets to 270m depths in Bonne Bay. We will be the first to enter the deepest parts of Eastern Arm!

The Marine Institute Base in Holyrood has the same ROV as AHOI, and on the second day, we were fortunate enough to meet up with Craig and Adam from the Marine Institute. They gave me some great pointers and let me practice at their dock.

Aaron Hingston and Michael Hannaford inspecting the ROV during their safety check

Aaron getting ready to operate the Deep Trekker Pivot ROV from the dock at Marine Institute.

On the third and final day of training, we went on a boat with Ocean Quest Adventures, where we practiced driving in deeper waters and operating on a boat rather than a stationary dock. This was very instrumental in me gaining more confidence in my capabilities as the pilot. Also, during the ROV drop, we saw a shipwreck of an old WWII Vessel near Bell Island - what a treat!

Underwater footage from ROV Training shows a shipwrecked WWII vessel near Bell Island, NL.

One of the most important skills we learned was how to know where the ROV is located underwater just by looking at the angle of the tether, how much tether is overboard, and how deep the ROV is. For instance, if the ROV is 30 meters deep but there is 100m of tether out, then the ROV is either very far from the boat or we have too much slack in the water. Looking at the tether angle when the appropriate amount is out will let us gauge where the ROV is so we don’t accidentally surface beneath the boat or on the other side, as we always want to keep the ROV on one side of the boat.

Michael teaching Aaron the safety angles the ROV should stay in from the boat.

It was an incredibly valuable training trip to St. Johns. Many thanks to Michael, Marine Institute of Memorial University, and last but not least, Ocean Quest Adventures, for sharing your knowledge and experience with us.

Stay tuned to see how our research went over the summer, and to check out our ROV footage from back on the west coast in Bonne Bay!



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