A wave buoy and temperature-monitoring mooring deployed on 2nd May off Fiji’s Coral Coast will provide ocean researchers, forecasters, mariners, surfers, and the public with real-time information about wave conditions and ocean temperatures. This information is critical to coastal early warning systems and to understanding the impact of ocean warming on coral reefs.

A team of ocean experts from the Pacific Community (SPC), the Fiji Meteorological Service, the Fiji Navy, the University of the South Pacific’s Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PaCE-SD, USP), and the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD) teamed up on the deployment.

The mooring is a combination of a surface wave buoy, which is a key component of the Coastal Inundation Forecasting Demonstration Project in Fiji (CIFDP), and a subsurface array of temperature sensors, which is a component of the Coastal Oceanography in the Pacific, Risk and Adaptation project (COPRA).

“The new buoy is already providing us with vital wave information on the ocean state off the coast of Sigatoka,” reports Fiji Meteorological Service Director, Mr. Ravind Kumar. “This will greatly improve Fiji Met’s marine forecasting capability, and help us predict inundation events along the Coral Coast. For a comprehensive early warning system, Fiji needs more oceanographic buoys like this in other locations, so we hope this is just the beginning.”

This buoy will fill a critical data gap, not just in Fiji, but in the Pacific region.

“Around the world there are more than 300 wave buoys, but fewer than 1% are located in Pacific Islands countries and territories,” said SPC Manager for Oceans and Coastal Geoscience, Mr. Jens Kruger. “Now that this buoy is deployed, we’ve reached 1%. Pacific Islanders are custodians of 20% of global ocean space, but we know very little about our region’s wave climate.”

An essential tool for field observations

Wave buoys provide measurements of wave height, direction, and period. Without onsite observations from wave buoys, forecasters must rely on satellite readings, which are sparse, and on wave models, which work well in the high seas but do not give an accurate picture of what happens when waves reach shallow coastal zones.

“Fiji had a wave buoy that was deployed in 1991, just south of Kadavu,” reports IRD oceanographer, Dr. Jerome Aucan. “Even though it was only in place for a year, the data from that one buoy is used time and time again to calibrate wave models and to verify satellite readings. It is an important resource, but we are long overdue for more precise data.”

Wave information is critical for coastal developers, climate change adaptation planning, safe and efficient navigation, renewable energy assessments, and understanding the impacts of extreme wave events during cyclones and storms

Unfortunately, wave buoys have historically been very expensive and can be difficult to maintain. They are vulnerable to damage in cyclones and vandalism by fishermen who may use them as moorings. With improvements in technology, however, the new generation of wave buoys are smaller, easier to deploy, and significantly more cost effective.

Improving knowledge on ocean processes

“In addition to information from the wave buoy, this installation will provide deep-water ocean temperature and internal wave information from sensors going down to a depth of 200m,” said PaCE-SD, USP Lecturer and Researcher, Dr. Antoine De Ramon N’Yeurt, who supported the joint proposal. “It will complement surface ocean temperature monitoring we’ve conducted all over Fiji for the last 7 years, and provide invaluable and new information on events such as internal waves, upwelling, and water mixing. Many of these ocean phenomena are not well-understood.”

“With support from IRD and USP, SPC is building its capability to deploy wave buoys and we hope to show the value of doing more such deployments around the region in partnership with national meteorological offices and the World Meteorological Organization,” says SPC Senior Oceanographer Mr. Herve Damlamian who leads the CIFDP research team.

When asked how many wave buoys he’d like to see in the region, Damlamian responded, “Well, any technical person will say the more the better, but ideally you want a few strategically located in each country, particularly in areas that are vulnerable to large or complex waves. The offshore wave information collected would then improve confidence in local wave models.”

“These buoys can also provide regional early warning benefits,” Damlamian further explained. “For example, a wave buoy in New Caledonia would not only be a great asset for New Caledonia but would also provide early warning information for Vanuatu and Fiji on a southern ocean swell event.”

The CIFDP project is a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) initiative, funded by the Korean Government. The COPRA project is an USP-SPC-IRD project funded by IRD though the JEAI initiative. The deployment of this buoy was made possible with financial support from the Australian-funded Climate and Oceans Support Program in the Pacific (COSPPac), the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and with personnel from USP, IRD, and SPC. The Shangri-La Fijian Resort also provided access to their facility during the deployment.

Media contacts

Molly Powers-Tora , Coordinator,Ocean Intelligence, SPC    |E: [email protected] or T: +679 3249 250

Ravind Kumar, Director of Fiji Meteorological Service          |E: [email protected] or T: +679 672 4888

Mina Vilayleck, Communication Adviser, IRD | E : [email protected] | T : +687 260799

Dr. Antoine De Ramon N’Yeurt, Lecturer, PaCE-SD, USP       |E: [email protected] or T: +679 323 2023

Real-time Wave Buoy Data Link: http://www.pacgeo.org/static/wavebuoy/