How solar saves sea turtles and the future of fishing: Jesse Senko: Arizona State University (ASU)

How solar saves sea turtles and the future of fishing: Jesse Senko: Arizona State University (ASU)


– I never would imagine how
many different groups of people would be involved, saving sea turtles. (peaceful music) – People love sea turtles. And I don’t know why
people love sea turtles, but they’re an important
thing to many, many people and it’s not just around the coast. You can go anywhere in this country and people have an
affinity for sea turtles. And that’s great, ’cause
if that’s the thing that gets people paying attention to some of these larger
conservation issues, then sea turtles are it. – Sea turtles play such an important role in maintaining the
environment in the ocean. – They actually transport
nutrients from the ocean, to the beach ecosystem.
They help maintain healthy coral reef populations, they help keep the sea grass
well grazed. A healthy ocean, means a healthy planet and that also means healthy people. (peaceful music) So the Mexican government
has protected sea turtles since 1990 and since then we know that their populations
have been increasing. – We have collaborated with people working in nesting grounds and in the work we do in the feeding grounds, plus the work that the
Mexican government is doing to protect the turtle. The combination of these three things, actually work to bring
a specific green turtle back to a stable level and we are hoping to see the population increase. – But they’re still being captured as incidental bycatch in fisheries, and primarily in gill
nets and entangling nets. – We have to figure out a way to allow the fisherman
to keep using the nets. Maybe we just fix the nets, because if they can’t use the nets, then their economy crashes and then all sorts of bad things happen. – And so that’s why we’ve
developed solar powered nets to reduce that bycatch and help the populations fully recover. – So the first studies
with illuminated nets were done with the LED lights, but the problem with those lights is that they have batteries and then they add a lot
of weight to the net. – I realized it was totally impractical to ask fishers to replace 200 batteries, you know per every two
weeks of fishing effort. And so I knew then we
needed another option and I figured solar might be one of them. – Such as yours.
– Right, right. – Because solar’s great,
it’s getting now quite cheap, and it’s just how we can apply it. When I first met Jesse, he was interested in using the lights to warn turtles about the fishing nets and that’s a pretty
challenging thing to do. Solar cells, like most
electronic products, they don’t like being
out there in the ocean amongst all that salt water. And also, the fishing nets
are quite a distance down and one of the problems of that is that there’s not a lot
of sunshine down there. One of the really important
things we realized, pretty early on, was we had
to reduce the amount of power that the lights were using. By pulsing the lights,
we can reduce the amount of power the lights use. And that’s really important for the solar because we can then shrink
the solar down to a size that was compatible with the buoys that will be employed on the fishing nets. – Stuart had contacted me
because I have expertise in sensory systems for
humans and different animals. I’ve also done things
that are implantable, which may seem like it doesn’t quite fit, but I make technology and electronics that go inside the body, which is also a warm
and salty environment. We had to constrain how much battery power we could incorporate because
we didn’t want the technology to be so big, it was
cumbersome for the fishermen. We were able to put small
computers into the buoys and ten years ago, that
would have been impossible. – [Jesse] And I think one
thing that we have done, is we have worked really
hard to earn the trust of fishermen throughout
Baja, California, Mexico. – Jesse, through us, through
a group of them together, brought in the fishermen
at the very early stage of this project, so the
fishermen got involved into the design of the light and how to integrate
the lights into the net. – And what we’re looking at is some of the other technologies
that we’ve been developing. For instance, the space use, where we have similar problems. We have to put the small solar cells, we have to deploy them in a
very difficult environment, and we have to have technology
that also is flexible, both in terms of how we use the cells and the cells themselves. You could say we’re pulling the technology from outer space to inner space. – A big problem we ran into with trying to put solar in the device
was we didn’t get a lot of power out of it. And that’s because the
solar panels were flat and so we looked into flexible silicon. – Normally a silicon solar
cell will be quite rigid and it might be the
thickness of a credit card, so it’s relatively thick. Yeah, so this is a solar cell.
– Okay. – And the trouble with it
is, it’s a little bit stiff. – Is that right?
– So if you try and bend it it’ll break, so try
flexing that a few times and see what happens. (panel shatters) – Whoa! – (laughing) So obviously
we need thinner solar cells. – Whoa! (laughing) I wasn’t expecting that. – For these particular projects, we get the thickness
of the solar cell down to that of about a human hair. And so it becomes, it goes from
something being quite rigid, to something almost as
flexible as a piece of paper. (peaceful music) – We try to work in locations
that are the most urgent. So in other words, where
the most sea turtles are being entangled
and killed in gill nets and in other types of fisheries. Right now, we’re seeing
about a 65% to 70% reduction in sea turtle bycatch
through the technologies that we’ve developed
and I’m really excited to see how we take that 65%
and make it 95% or 100%. And so last year we were super excited because the first time we
ever put a solar powered light on a fishing net, was done with our class and I let our students do it. – ASU having all these different experts, having all those people that we can go and we can talk to, just
by stepping out the door, made the project possible. – I never anticipated that I’d be working with solar engineers and visiting places such as the solar power lab. Different cultures, different professions, different expertises, and
everybody brings a little bit to the table, but I think
that’s the best way to solve, really complex problems,
is bringing a bunch of diverse stakeholders to the table and everybody contributing. – Oh, I think the future
is, future’s very bright. Pun intended. (upbeat music)

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