Photo: Credits to University of Aberdeen

UK team performs first-ever uncrewed survey of fish populations around oil platforms

XOCEAN’s uncrewed surface vessel (USV) has completed the first-ever uncrewed survey of fish populations around oil platforms in the North Sea.

The survey was part of a project led by the University of Aberdeen, looking at the effects of decommissioning oil and gas structures on marine ecosystems. 

The USV used sonar to collect data on fish numbers around several oil platforms off Scotland’s northeast coast.

“The survey was a great success. After months of planning and working closely with XOCEAN and the platform operators, it was great to finally see the uncrewed surface vehicle collecting data,” said Dr. Joshua Lawrence, from the University of Aberdeen, who led the survey.

“It’s amazing how this sort of technology reveals new opportunities to advance our understanding of these structures and their influences on the North Sea ecosystem.”

According to Lawrence, previous work has suggested that fish aggregate up to several kilometers away from some of the platforms, so the team designed the survey to make approaches to the structures from 10 kilometers away in each direction.

The next stage of the project will see the University of Strathclyde use the survey data to model the expected effects of a range of decommissioning strategies on the surveyed fish populations.

Paul Fernandes from the University of Aberdeen, the lead researcher on the project, explained: “Fish have long been known to gather at offshore structures. However, the extent of this aggregation, and whether it leads to an increase in productivity to benefit our fish stocks, remains unclear. Offshore oil and gas platforms act as ­de facto marine protected areas, so we are aiming to quantify the extent to which the increased numbers of fish found there spill over into the surrounding waters.”

The project is part of the UKRI-funded INSITE (Influence of Man-made Structures in the Ecosystem) program. Both will run until 2023 and the team will be carrying out similar surveys of more oil platforms using the USV next summer.