National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration's New Eye in the Sky

Sean Corson
Sean Corson

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS (KHNL) -- Cleaning the ocean of debris is a dirty job the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been doing for years.

A new tool will help in its mission at sea.

It's called the "Malolo One," a battery-operated, remote-controlled plane, seven feet wide, and weighing a light ten pounds.

"Marine debris accumulates at a rate of approximately 50 metric tons a year and we're only able to get 20 metric tons a year," said Sean Corson, Deputy Superintendent of the Marine National Monument.

It's a significant problem that's evident at a spot on the Big Island nicknamed "Plastic Beach."

"This is what happens when plastic floats around in the ocean for years you have plastic particles," said Charles Moore, an environmentalist.

During missions at sea, the "Malolo One" can be hand launched from boats.

It's equipped with a camera and a GPS engine.

"The camera feed is sped back to a base station on the ship and an anomaly detection software will help identify odd things that the camera sees. People look at unmanned aircraft systems as something that would take over a dull, or dangerous job. Here, we doing it as an expansion in order to increase the efficiency of our surveys," said NOAA's Kevin Wong.

Scientists hope this eye in the sky will show them the way to a brighter future for our reefs, monk seals and other wildlife.

"To get more of the marine debris before it enters the monument and entangles the reefs and wildlife there," said Corson.

The "Malolo One" passed a series of flight tests with flying colors.

NOAA hopes to put it to work in its next mission at sea in March.