The teeth of Tiperon University-Blacktip’s biorobotic shark have been covered with plastic tubing after an incident that injured two research assistants Wednesday. (photo courtesy of Z22)
After a recent reef survey revealed declining fish numbers, Blacktip Island civic leaders this week launched a controversial plan to repopulate the small Caribbean island’s reefs with robotic fish island, officials said.
“We’re seeing drops in the number of species as well as overall population of fish on our reefs,” de facto mayor Jack Cobia said. “That really dings our tourism product, so we had to do something before folks take their scuba vacations someplace else. Since the fish aren’t breeding fast enough, it makes sense to boost their numbers with robots.
“The pointy-heads down at the university’ve been working on micro technology, and this project’s the perfect opportunity to see if that stuff actually works,” Cobia said. “They’re making everything from little pike blennies up to sharks and manta rays. Our world-class scuba diving is about to get supercharged.”
Tiperon University-Blacktip scientists have embraced the task.
“This is a chance to really put our biorobotic technology to the test,” TU-B engineering department chair Sally Port said. “We’ve combined biological tissue with mechanical systems to create news forms of fauna. Releasing them on the reef is an exciting next step. These aren’t fake fish. They’re better fish.
“Natural tail movement was simple enough,” Port said. “Now we’re fine tuning the motion of the pectoral fins, eyes and gills to make the creatures as realistic as possible. So far we’ve only had one mishap, with our mechanical reef shark. But the two interns are healing nicely.”
Some ecologists objected to the plan.
“Long term, this will actually do more harm to the reefs than good,” ecologist Harry Pickett said. “These gizmos may look like fish, but they’ll wreak havoc on the underwater ecosystem. They’re hundreds of Frankenstein’s monsters with fins.
“The big concern is all these cyborgs will scare off the real fish,” Pickett said. “That could start a spiral that ends with there being more fake fish than real ones. And what happens when they turn on the divers, like that shark did to the two researchers? Sally and her team have no control over these things. This a nightmare in the making.”
Dive operators were generally supportive.
“Frankly, most of our diving guests won’t know the difference between the Franken-fish and real ones,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “And if they have to fight off one or two, well, that makes their dive more exciting. When they have fun, they’re happy. And if they come up smiling, we’re happy.”
Port echoed that sentiment.
“We’re creating new life forms,” she said. “That inherently enhances the dive experience. I’m hoping our babies can breed with each other. And with other fish, to create even more new species.”