BIOceanOR, a startup based at the Sophia-Antipolis University Nice, has developed an “underwater weather station” which is revolutionising what we know about marine environments. It is able to monitor water quality in real time and also predict its future quality from patterns previous data has shown. It has been created to, primarily, assure the health of fish farms.

 

Founded in January 2018 at the Sophia-Antipolis Univeristy in Nice, BIOceanOR designs systems which measure the quality of seawater. Set up by Charlotte and Samuel Dupont, both holding PhDs in marine microbiology, the startup combines the expertise of both its directors: data science and marine biology respectively. Samuel has previously worked at Ifremer, an ocean-based research and conservation organisation, and CNRS, a body which funds more general scientific research. From his previous experience, the biologist realised that there were no tools other than manual ones to assure water quality in fish farms. These devices, including thermometers and measuring probes, have another downfall in that they do not take continuous measurements.

 

Helping fish farms

Based on the observation that “fish farms are subject to a changing, sometimes harsh marine environment which can impact reproduction”, Samuel was convinced that a more thorough, continuous control of water quality would make managing the farms easier and enable farmers to increase productivity. BIOceanOR thus developed underwater weather stations to track water quality in real time and to be able to predict it.

The device AquaREAL, which does not need to be manually operated, can measure water quality according to more than 14 physics and chemistry-based factors, such as temperature, salt levels, cloudiness, oxygen levels and pollutants. It obtains the analytical results in a few seconds.

“It is no longer necessary to take samples to be analysed later in a laboratory,” explains Samuel Dupont. “The results are sent within seconds to a portal which can be consulted online or through an application, with a built-in alert system if there are any problems.”

 

A huge market

With around 3,500 fish farms and just above 200,000 tonnes of fish farmed per year, France is the second largest producer in the EU. This makes it a potential market for the possibility of a commercial network of these weather stations. It seems fish farming, which supplies nearly half of global fish supplies today, has a bright future ahead. BIOceanOR has already deployed roughly 50 underwater weather stations in France, French Polynesia, the Netherlands, Spain and China.

BIOCanOR is not just limited to fish farming. The start-up wants to attract public and private collaborators for whom environmental monitoring is essential. This would include councils in charge of swimming pools and environmental protection agencies, amongst many others.

“We are in discussion with local communities, and we hope to have a plan in place by summer 2020,” affirms Charlotte Dupont.

 

By Nadège Delalieu