Deployment and Operation of the Imaging Flow Cytobot at Catalina Sea Ranch to Support Real-Time Monitoring of Harmful Algae, Phytoplankton Assemblages, and Inverterbrate Larvae

A $300,000 NOAA Saltonstall-Kennedy research grant was awarded to UCSC to deploy a CYTOBOT in an operational framework at Catalina Sea Ranch for monitoring phytoplankton composition.

The Image Flow through CYTOBOT takes one 5-ml water sample at a time, and processes it through an imaging microscope that triggers whenever chlorophyll is detected. Machine vision then captures the area of the flow cell with the single phytoplankton, saving the image for classification and statistical analysis. This technology serves as an early warning system for HABs (harmful algae blooms) and provides data for scientists to evaluate the micro-biome marine organisms for advancing offshore aquaculture husbandry monitoring.

The CYTOBOT transfers realtime data to the cloud from onboard the NOMAD buoy for remote monitoring via continuous sampling from the ranch. The primary goal is to consistently and cost-effectively incorporate observations of HABs, phytoplankton community composition, and invertebrate larvae into the Catalina Sea Ranch aquaculture facility monitoring programs, so that these metrics can be used for aquaculture operations and ecosystem assessments. This will allow assessing quality, cost, and reliability of data from the CYTOBOT as compared to traditional methods, as a demonstration for aquaculture best practices for regulators, resource managers, scientists, and the public.

There are plans to expand the image classifier for the CYTOBOT to include invertebrate larvae of additional sustainable mollusk and macroalgae marine crops (e.g. mussels, oysters, scallops, barnacles, kelp, etc).

The Cytobot visible in the NOMAD's aft compartment during installation

The Cytobot visible in the NOMAD's aft compartment during installation