Why isn't there better ocean science fiction?


The NY Review of books recently ran an excellent review by Tim Flannery of Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean. I immediately picked up the book - it's shocking. It's another reminder of how much more we need to understand about the ocean as humans continue to affect and shape our world.

Then today, I find myself reading about new "Jellyfish Exterminator Robots" that have been developed at KAIST and are sucking up and shredding jellies.

Photo via KAIST

PopSci reports:

The invention comes from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Engineer Hyeon Myeong and colleagues developed it to help clear fishing waters of jellyfish blooms. Jellyfish populations have exploded over the past 10 years as overfishing opened up new ecological spaces for jellies, Yale Environment 360 reported in 2011. Jellies are a part of many healthy ocean ecosystems, but if an area has too many of them, the blobby predators will further deplete fish populations by gobbling up fish eggs and plankton fish would otherwise eat. They're especially a problem in northern Asia. In Korea, they cost the fishing industry 300 billion won (about $280,000) a year, according to KAIST.

The jellyfish-eradicating bots, called Jellyfish Elimination Robotic Swarm or JEROS, feature two motors that move them forward and backward and rotate them 360 degrees. Users program the robots to tell them what area they want cleared and then drop the bots into the water. The JEROS have cameras to help them see where jellyfish blooms are. They also automatically calculate their own routes and motor around in formation without human help. Once they encounter jellyfish, JEROS suck the jellies up and shred them with a propeller.

The whole experience - reading Stung! and then about JEROS - left me stuck on a recurring thought: we need better ocean science fiction. I mean, think about it: Robots! Jellyfish blooms! Jellyfish-eating robots! Dolphin-communication devices! Homemade, DIY submarines!

There is just so much great material. I think we can do better!

(Special shout-out to Andrew David Thaler and his new series Fleet.)