GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Two ocean drones have been launched into Lake Superior in hopes of gathering data on local fisheries and ecosystems.

The company behind the effort, Saildrone, has been launching ocean drones for nearly 10 years. This year will be the second on a Great Lake. In summer of 2021, two Saildrones were launched from Holland to gather data from Lake Michigan.

“Saildrone was envisioned with an ability to help go out and solve the problem of ocean and observations,” said Matt Womble, Saildrone’s director of ocean data programs. “It’s hard to go out and get observations from the oceans or the Great Lakes or large bodies of water. There are all the traditional platforms for doing it, but they’re spatially limited or temporally limited or both.”

The 25-day mission will use only renewable energy. Both drones have a sail to use wind as well as solar panels on the wings to generate power for sensors. The drones are 23 feet long and virtually silent.

Saildrone will work to gather data on fish biomass levels. Womble said this information is critical to keeping up with the fishing industry. According to Saildrone, the Great Lakes are home to 139 species of fish and the industry supports more than 75,000 jobs. Data gathered will be passed along to the U.S. Geological Survey to provide knowledge on sustaining ecosystems.

“Fisheries in the Great Lakes is a $7 billion a year industry, so a massive economic driver for the Great Lakes. Having that information to help manage that economic driver and fish populations there, it’s important to help sustain that and help grow that,” said Womble.

In future years, Saildrone hopes to see an increase in usage of its drones. Womble hopes that eventually, enough funding is available for all of the Great Lakes to be tested every year. The current drones in Lake Superior are set to come out of the water Sept. 2.