CariCOOS' Drifter Program Highlights Connectivity between Eastern Caribbean Islands and the Need for Expanding Ocean Observing beyond National Boundaries

What’s started as a humble pilot project to deploy inexpensive drifters near the west coast of Puerto Rico, has turned out to be not only a full-fledged drifter program, but also a highly effective outreach activity. Jointly funded by IOOS and the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council, CariCOOS’ drifters are aiding in the assessment of marine protected areas as effective fisheries restoration tools. To date, more than twenty drifters have been deployed all around the CariCOOS region, and even further with the last two just recently deployed in the Dutch waters of Saba. 

CariCOOS drifters use inexpensive GPS trackers to delineate the trajectory of a water parcel, which helps scientists further understand ocean surface currents. From strong jets in the Mona Passage to huge whirlpools in the Caribbean Sea, CariCOOS drifters are shedding light into several ocean surface processes with unprecedented resolution for the region. They are serving as validation tools for regional ocean models and HF radar data, and constitute the main component of upcoming rapid response experiments. CariCOOS drifters have traveled all around the US Caribbean EEZ and even further into waters of the Dominican Republic and the subtropical Atlantic, highlighting the need for transnational ocean observation. 

With this in mind CariCOOS has initiated efforts into reaching out to neighboring islands. Earlier this year CariCOOS showcased its recent achievements and forthcoming opportunities for international collaboration at the first International Maritime Oceanographic Conference (CIMO) organized by the Dominican Republic’s National Authority for Maritime Affairs (ANAMAR). CariCOOS staff described current operational strategies for wave and wind modeling, ocean observing, and potential for growth. To this end, ANAMAR has formally requested CariCOOS technical advice on setting up oceanographic equipment towards further expanding their observational efforts. Recently CariCOOS was also engaged by Dominican Republic's Vice Minister for Health and the Environment with a request for assistance in implementing ocean observing activities in the island. Eastwards, CariCOOS was also approached by the Sea & Learn Foundation to showcase the benefits of an ocean observing network to Saba's maritime community. Over the course of a week at the Dutch island, Julio and his student Luis gave several talks to fishers, scuba divers, and the general community; met and exchanged knowledge with the governor; and engaged high school students into the whole process of assembling, deploying, and tracking drifters. A total of four drifters where deployed, two from CariCOOS drifter program and two mixed layer drifters from NOAA’s AOML GDP.

CariCOOS drifter program will further continue its expansion with a new upcoming prototype of biodegradable drifters built out of bamboo. Additional efforts include a recent agreement between CariCOOS and the US Coast Guard San Juan Sector to allow deployments from USCG vessels with the purpose further SAROPS validation.

Figure 1: Trajectories for 19 of CariCOOS drifters showing the extent of the drifter program and connectivity between Eastern Caribbean Islands. Color bar indicates current speed in m/s


Figure 2: Underwater view of CariCOOS drifter just after deployment.


Figure 3: High school students from Saba in the process of deploying a drifter.