The Estonian State Fleet wants to develop a nationwide network of smart buoys to keep a closer eye on Estonian waters. While the project is already in development, no government-level funding decision has been made.
"The aim of the monitoring network is to boost maritime awareness. Smart buoys make it possible to collect hydrographic and hydrological data and keep an eye on marine conditions. The system would also help detect pollution sooner," Andres Laasma, director of the State Fleet, told ERR.
"There are many possibilities, and the State Fleet sees its role as developing a central platform to ensure a communications link and power supply for devices," he added. What individual buoys will be measuring and looking out for will depend on partners. The State Fleet aims to limit its involvement to that of a central system manager.
Laasma said that a study has been completed for the project and a number of monitoring stations and their operational principles proposed. The network of monitoring stations would collect data from smart buoys and send them to the shore. "Today, we are in the phase of trying to secure government funding for the project," the State Fleet director admitted.
The State Fleet estimates that the first phase of the project, which Laasma said would be handled in stages and take a fairly long time to put in place, would cost €1.3 million. But it remains unclear whether and when funding might be found.
Use of smart buoys gaining momentum
Smart buoys developed by Estonian companies were on display at the Estonian State Fleet's open doors day held last week. Andri Laidre, CEO of Flydog Solutions, told ERR that smart buoys have been in development for a while. "Because climate issues are increasingly burning, it is necessary to thoroughly study the marine environment to be able to make more informed decisions," he said.
Flydog has been developing smart buoys for a decade and usually exports them. "We have installed one of our buoys next to a nuclear power plant in Finland to monitor the environmental effect of cooling water. We also maintain two systems in Oman used to monitor the effect of an industrial zone on seawater," Laidre said.
Flydog buoys are also used in Estonia. "For example, we have an underwater observatory near the island of Keri. It is anchored at a depth of 100 meters where it measures various water parameters. Sensors are lowered and raised to collect readings at different depths, which can help scientists make sense of temperatures, oxygen concentration and other parameters.
The company has a buoy on the surface of Saadjärv used by the Estonian University of Life Sciences. Data from that particular buoy is also used by local sailors, fishermen and swimmers who want to see the water temperature. "The Environmental Agency uses one of our solutions to measure river discharge. There are various applications," Laidre said.
The buoys can be equipped with various kinds of sensors, which allows for a broad range of surveys. For example, buoys equipped with oil sensors can be used to detect spills. The buoy can take water samples, measure underwater noise levels, temperature fluctuations etc. All buoys are autonomous, generating solar power necessary for their operation and sending in real-time data over mobile networks.
Laidre said that developing a nationwide network of smart buoys could create a digital twin of the Estonian sea area. "Estonia is covered with a network of weather monitoring stations, and we have apps in our smartphones that can tell us what the weather is like in different locations, as well as what it will be tomorrow. We could do the same thing for the marine environment. Estonia has the necessary know-how."
Editor: Marcus Turovski