NOSy - magnetic and wireless sensor technology for improving profit, biosecurity and carbon footprint of regional oyster production

Lead Research Organisation: University of Essex
Department Name: Life Sciences


Scientific background
In the life-cycle of many commercially-grown bivalves including oysters, the settlement of free-swimming larvae onto suitable substrate is a key step in extensive aquaculture that provides the foundation for crop growth. In oyster aquaculture, this is either (i) managed through traditional knowledge of oyster farmers, (ii) unmanaged but bypassed with the import of oyster juveniles from other areas or hatcheries or (iii) poorly considered in artisanal fisheries by oyster small-holders.

Research methodology
We have developed a sensor prototype that quantifies the gaping activity in bivalves and have demonstrated that this sensor can detect differences in gaping behaviour between normal feeding and spawning behaviour.
This project aims to develop this prototype into functional units for deployment in oyster aquaculture. Specifically we have teamed up with our original investor, Colchester Oyster Fishery based on Mersea Island in Essex, to develop this sensor into a product use to inform them of high probability of spawning activity to facilitate their management and culture of oysters - ideally to increase their yield of free swimming oyster larvae onto spat collectors or oyster "cultch" - crush shell they can place on an inter tidal oyster cultivation area for oysters to settle onto.

Our project will complete our development of a single sensor into an array of sensors that can work with multiple oysters at the same time. Then we will build in both environmental data sensing technology and a method for the array that may sit out on an estuary to send data back to "base" using 4G communication links and so that the oyster producer can check on their oysters. As should be evident this means the sensor has many other potential uses such as understanding whether oysters are feeding when expected or experiencing stress - neither of these observations are currently possible with looking at long term growth of oysters. By the time declines in growth occur it may be the case that it is too late to act upon it.


This is an impact orientated innovation project with a very clear set of deadlines and a single clear obtainable impact deliverable - to increase spatfall and juvenile oyster yield so as to increase profitability and product quality and supply for Colchester Oyster Fishery. The technology we are developing may be of itself of commercial value and has many other potential uses with other shellfish and sedentary livestock production.

Technical Summary

We will apply existing knowledge on high-frequency, non-invasive (HFNI) sensors for the remote monitoring of oyster spawning. We recently developed a sensor that monitors gaping width (amplitude) and frequency based on a light-weight Hall Effect magnetic sensor fixed to one valve of the oyster shell that senses the distance of a small neodymium magnet (0.5g) fixed to the other valve of the shell. The sensor and magnets were placed onto the two oyster valves using non-toxic epoxy putty. After calibrating the closed state, fields between 1 and 500 gauss were detected by a microcontroller and were proportional to the open or closed state of the valves. The data logger (Arduino Uno) can record readings from 500 us to tens of minutes, logging the time, date and distance measure of the valve opening. Together, this system was capable of quantifying the gaping width and gaping frequency of individual oysters. The gaping activity of M. gigas during feeding is irregular and infrequent but this increases significantly during spawning. For example, measurements with M. gigas indicate that the spawning signal comprised the rapid and regular movements of the valves with strong contractions of the adductor muscle. The entire spawning event lasts from few minutes to about an hour and can include bursts in excess of 50 contractions with periods of several seconds between each contraction. From a single sensor we plan to multiplex up to 10 sensors into an aggregation unit that can house further data storage (backup) and data inputs from environmental sensors - a sensor array. From this array we will switch the signal to a two-wire rugged cable that will transfer the data to the surface where a 4G transmitter will allow data to be sent to base for evaluation of likely spawning behaviour. Constant and sequential use of spat collectors near oyster beds will allow us to compare our predictions to field observations.

Planned Impact

This proposal is entirely Impact driven and aligned to the needs of a specific end-user, our project partner Colchester Oyster Fisheries (COF).

To realise this impact we have spent considerable time building a relationship with COF, including them in the project from its very initial ideas to its current single sensor prototype.
It is clear that COF have a real interest in the technology and a wish to use it to their benefit within their business. Therefore the most important steps to realise our impact have already been undertaken - we clearly identified the stakeholders need and developed a plan to deliver on that need.

We have a single impact objective - to develop our new technology and use it to achieve a significant increase in juvenile oyster collection for COF.
We can measure the success of this clear and obtainable impact objective by comparing the self-reared 0-1+ age oyster biomass by COF on average over the last ten years, and comparing that to the biomass we can obtain for them in each of our study years as 0+ juveniles and subsequent yield in the following years.

We have set out a clear timescale of project deliverables, stakeholder meetings and communication strategy in our case for support. This provides a clear project managements structure, from PI/CoIs working with the PGRA and COF to make sure communication, feedback, critique and information is able to flow freely between COF and the two University institutes.


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Description In the main this is a technology development grant but we do undertake research on spawning behaviour and behaviour in general on bivalves.
Through this we have discovered a environmentally modified behaviour in bivalves that may assist shellfish producers in reducing the time taken to make shellfish safe for selling for human consumption. This finding is now being investigated further.
In addition we have gathered data on the differences between oyster species in the proportion of time, relative to tidal cycles, when their valves are open and they are actively filtering/feeding.
Exploitation Route We are working with our stakeholder to do exactly that - first to support their business but secondly to work together to improve the technology and create new technology that can help the aquaculture sector.

We have now been commissioned by the AFBI to deploy NOSy in an environmental health setting to determine when shellfish are feeding in response to risks.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description While it is too early to say whether we reach all our impact objectives - so far we have already have two results that were unexpected and can benefit the company we are partnered with commercially. These are subject to confidentiality so cannot be shared at this time. Our findings of times feeding vs closed are also being used in an environmental health and policy initiative.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

Description ARIES NERC DTP award - Use of sensor technology to overcome environmental risks in aquaculture (title may change)
Amount £79,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2019 
End 03/2023
Amount £8,460 (GBP)
Organisation Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2021 
End 03/2022
Title NOSy - non invasive oyster sensor 
Description This funding was to develop NOSY from a lab based tool into a field research tool. The non-confidential part of NOSy is a magnet based bivalve shellfish valvometry sensor. We have developed a product that integrates this technology with other technology so it can be used by aquaculture and research end users. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact We can now collect data on semi-free living shellfish in a coastal and estuarine environment. We are have conducted field trials and gathering evidence of impact in two areas including commercial and assisting governance 
Description AFBI- mussel feeding 
Organisation Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We were contacted after the award was announced by AFBI to consult on a water quality task insitu in Ireland - modifying our equipment to use of blue mussel to determine timing and duration of feeding in the field
Collaborator Contribution They have identified a customer and asked us to bid for the consultancy work to begin in 2020
Impact Outcomes - proposal submitted to AFBI to support there work with private and public body clients in Irish environmental sector
Start Year 2019
Description AND technologies - initial discussions and NDA has begun 
Organisation And Technology Research
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We presented NOSy at a technology event held at the University of Essex and were approached by AND technologies. We have begun discussions about a collaboration on power supply and harvesting and an NDA has been signed.
Collaborator Contribution C omitted to discussions and signed an NDA with the University
Impact na
Start Year 2021
Description Interview of National News 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact We issued a press release and got quite a lot of attention - firstly from regional news outlets but then our VT went national and then international

In 2020 while engaging in a pilot demonstration for AFBI, AFBI also issued a press release about our collaboration.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020
Description Stakeholder led research initiative 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This award is coupled to our co-funding stakeholder - Colchester Oyster Fishery - we have a lcose informal and formal working practice with them to support the development of their business. We engage with them at multiple levels from day to day interaction and formal quarterly meetings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020