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Water Today Title October 25, 2021

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Update 2019/5/3

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By Suzanne Forcese

One of Earth's greatest biological treasures, the rainforests, is being lost at a rate of 1.5 acres per second. Experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years, wiping out nearly half the world's species of plants, animals, micro-organisms and possible cures for disease. Multi-national logging companies are among those responsible for the widespread extinction.

A Canadian company, based in Saanichten, British Columbia, believes "that business can and should produce social good and contribute to the sustainability of our planet's ecosystem." Triton has serviced reservoir operations and industrial services throughout North America. Projects have included a trilateral partnership with First Nations and the hydro industry to harvest trees from a northern Canadian reservoir to a contract for the survey and removal of submerged trees for a US hydroelectric company. A tree clearing project on Lake Shannon in Washington State was used to make room for a 'fish gulper' which was installed to restore the salmon un above the dam.

Triton Logging is the world's only underwater logging operation that uses "proprietary and world class technology to harvest submerged forests in an environmentally responsible manner," Tom Avery told Water Today in an interview. Avery is Triton Manager of the Forest Management Group. "The company's commitment is to manage our timber concessions in a manner that meets the need of all reservoir users. This includes fisheries, birds, wildlife as well as the flora of the lake. Reservoir users include dam operators, local communities, maritime authorities, tourists and recreational users."

Since its inception in 2000, Triton Lumber has based its mission on the belief "that trees did not belong underwater; that these trees could be 'brought back to life' in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, and that technology would make this economically feasible. " We had to move beyond imagination and innovation."

The SAWFISH™ and SHARC™ were born of that desire to make a positive impact on the environment.

The SAWFISH™ underwater harvester, a remotely operated vehicle system based on proven components in other subsea industries, was designed by Triton specifically for deep-water reservoirs (>40m) where divers and surface mounted systems cannot safely or effectively operate. The unmanned system is safely operated remotely and at virtually any depth by a pilot in a control room on a barge. Video and sonar guide the pilot on six computer monitors, while power, communications and compressed air are delivered to Sawfish ™ through a custom tether. The harvesters have been deployed for contract remediation projects and logging operations in extreme conditions in northern and coastal Canada, the United States, and Southeast Asia.

The Sharc Harvester
The Sharc™ Harvester

The SHARC™ Underwater Harvester is a versatile underwater logging system capable of harvesting trees in shallower reservoirs (<40 m) where production and manoeuverability are critical. SHARC™ is an autonomous, barge-mounted system incorporating proven forestry and marine equipment into a proprietary platform. The four main components include a self-propelled barge, excavator, a telescopic arm, and grapple-cutting head. A single pilot operates the SHARC, with all navigational, cutting, tracking and retrieval software integrated into the cab. Information from video, maps and sonar are available on interactive multi-view displays to help guide the pilot to the target trees.

After trees are located using sonar and video, the telescopic arm extends the cutting head to the base of the tree where the grapple attaches to the tree and the saw cuts as close to the lake bed as possible. "Operators leave a minimum 30 cm stump when harvesting a tree, leaving the root wad intact on the floor of the reservoir. This maintains the stability of the lake bed and maintains structure and habitat for the fish," Avery added. The tree stem is then raised to the surface and into a floating bunk storage system. These detachable bunks are then towed by tugboat to the shore for sorting, milling and transportation. Avery says Triton is now finalizing the design of the next generation SHARC harvesters which is building on what they have learned and incorporating much tighter pollution standards and noise reduction.

Triton harvests trees lost during the impoundment of reservoirs for the production of hydro-electricity. "The focus of our business over the past 12 years has been in reservoirs located in tropical countries were deforestation has been a real problem. By harvesting underwater forests we are decreasing logging pressure on terrestrial forests."

"Illegal logging now accounts for 15-30% of global legal trade. If we take into account that between 50-90% of illegal trade takes place in tropical countries of the Amazon Basin, Central Africa and South East Asia, we see the problem is substantial," Water Today learned from Ken Westrick, owner of TerraMai Lumber. TerraMai partnered with Triton on a project in Panama to harvest an ancient submerged forest. "Illegal logging activities are carried out by organized crime, threatening efforts to combat climate change, deforestation, conserve wildlife and eradicate poverty."

Decades ago huge ancient forests in South America and Africa were flooded to create reservoirs for water storage and power generation. Under the surface of those reservoirs lies an abundance of useful tropical wood. Tropical woods are valued for their looks, strength and durability. But the illegal harvesting threatens the rainforest.

Triton is a member of Rain Forest Alliance that has provided certification specifically for rediscovered wood product that Triton maintained on operations on Lois Lake, in British Columbia and Lake Volta, Ghana. Recently certification was transferred to Nature Economy and People Connected. "A core value at Triton is to obtain and maintain the highest possible standard of certification applicable to our operations," Avery confirmed.

Avery says, "The combination of flood forests plus Triton's scalable technologies and our unique story, creates a long-term opportunity for value creation. We recover a lost resource to provide consumers and manufacturers with a unique and environmentally-certified source of high quality wood. With 60,000 reservoirs worldwide we define sustainability. With the world's increasing focus on environmental concerns including tropical deforestation and climate change, submerged forests offer a unique value proposition with tremendous environmental benefits."

Submerged trees continue to affect the reservoirs in which they stand. The emerging underwater timber industry has great potential to improve the environmental footprint of the forestry industry. Triton's teams and technologies have been used to assess and clear waterways. In addition to harvesting the submerged forests in an efficient and environmentally responsible manner "we are producing a high quality wood product and biomass fuel with the ultimate objective to maximize the recovery of logs we harvest. We are investing in the countries and communities by hiring and training local staff wherever possible. Triton does not have to construct road networks and associated water crossings to access our harvest blocks. All harvested timber is transported by barge or bunk which reduces environmental impact, fuel consumption and equipment requirements."

How does underwater harvesting work? "The first step in any underwater harvesting operation undertaken by Triton is planning," Avery told WT. "In order to harvest submerged forest in an efficient and environmentally sound manner, Environmental and Social Planning along with an Operational Harvest Plan must be completed. Baseline studies of flora and fauna; baseline studies of water, air and noise quality; community consultations to understand and incorporate local issues all this go into Triton's Planning process. Operational Harvest Planning includes: resource valuation studies whereby the quality and quantity of fibre in a reservoir is assessed and stratified; bathymetry (underwater depth) studies; historic annual reservoir level fluctuations; safe navigation and anchoring; and distance from shore facilities. "With the planning phase complete harvesting operations commence. The SHARC harvester is our most commonly deployed machine."

As an example of how extensive project planning is, Triton worked with the Volta River Authority Project operator of the Akosombo Dam on Lake Volta, Ghana. The project consisted of mapping out tree locations on a ferry crossing corridor between two communities on Lake Volta. The submerged trees were damaging the ferries operating between the communities and "even worse," Avery added, "dugout canoes would frequently collide with the trees causing vessels to capsize." The project consisted of bathymetric surveys, forest inventory, surveying, mapping services as well as a proposal to take on the tree clearing work in collaboration with the VRA. "Triton cleared roughly 700 trees from the 3 km ferry crossing."

Triton has worked with governments, reservoir operators and concession holders in South East Asia, South America and Central America to provide forest valuation surveys on forests submerged by the impoundment of reservoirs. A forest valuation survey includes forest inventory sampling using a high resolution sonar analysis of pre-flood harvesting date and forest inventory information. The output of this survey is a quantification of the forest resources in a reservoir in terms of overall volume, piece size characteristics and a characterization of the potential uses of the fiber in terms of marketable products such as lumber or biomass.

TerraMai's Ken Westrick points out that underwater reclaimed wood in building projects "is more than a design trend. It is an intentional choice for the environment." When TerraMai partnered with Triton "we recovered millions of board feet of gorgeous tropical woods from a massive standing tropical forest that was submerged when Lake Bayano near the Panama Canal was created decades ago. Because of the oxygen poor environment of fresh water, the wood has been perfectly preserved. An ancient forest completely submerged; unseen for decades." Westrick explained to WT that contrary to what one would think when wood has been submerged the water does not enter the cells of the wood but goes between the cells. Underwater reclaimed wood is just as beautiful and durable as terrestrial wood with the added advantage of saving the rainforests which are the lungs of our planet."

Link to TerraMai video on water reclaimed woods - Panama (6:07 min)

Westrick is also working together with architectural consultants to educate consumers on the immense benefits of building and designing with underwater reclaimed wood. Biophilic design focuses on our innate attraction to nature and natural processes. Biophilia (meaning love of nature) is a term popularized by American psychologist Edward O'Wilson in the 1980's when he observed how increasing rates of urbanisation were leading to a disconnect with the natural world. The use of reclaimed wood is important to our health and well-being in the built environment. "And it tells a story," Westrick adds.

Triton definitely has a hand in scripting that story with a project on Petit Saut in French Guiana, a 25 year concession that is in the final stages of obtaining authorization to commence harvesting in 2020. Avery says they also have a partnership agreement to work on Brokoponodo in Suriname where they are finalizing designs for wood manufacturing facilities to process the wood harvested from Petit Saut and Brokoponodo.

"Our vision for the future is to continue to develop underwater tree harvesting industries on reservoirs containing submerged forests. Triton sees these forests as a valuable source of fiber for both lumber and biomass fuel production in a world that has a growing population and shrinking forest resources."

Triton is a privately held company based in British Columbia. Since 2000 Triton has led the development of the underwater logging industry through technology design, harvest conscession, investory assessments, logging services and eco-friendly wood sales. Using its patented SHARC™ and SAWFISH™ Underwater Harvester systems, Triton recovers standing, submerged timber in a safe, environmentally-friendly manner.

Triton received the following awards: Top 10 Green Building Products; Environmental Hall of Fame; Cleantech Next 10 Leaders of Tomorrow; Best of What's New: Green Tech; Top 10 Green Building Products; Environmental Excellence Award Newsmaker of the Year Finalist and 10 Brilliant Companies suzanne.f@watertoday.ca

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