Student Inventor's Laser Tool Helps Preserve Shellfish

A New Zealand teenager creates a way for divers to gather only shells that are of legal size, without having to touch, and possibly harm, the undersized ones.

A teenager and budding inventor in Auckland, New Zealand named Mitchell Hollows had a problem. He enjoyed diving to gather paua – the Maori name for an edible shellfish, referred to in the United States as abalone – but only paua of a certain size can be legally removed from the sea, and he knew that any undersized shells he gathered could bleed to death when placed back on the rocks where they were found.

So Hollows, a South Otago senior, did what any 18-year-old would do. Well, maybe not any. He built a hand-held underwater tool that points a laser onto a paua shell and returns the shell's size to the device. Whether or not the snail is of legal size can be determined without even touching it.

"You can just go scan, scan, scan, pop off the legal ones and you're away laughing," the young scientist told New Zealand's 1 News Now.

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The young fisherman was compelled to create the tool after he learned that paua are hemophiliac and can be damaged, lethally so, when they are measured in the traditional method, which involves picking them up from their rocks.

Diving for paua meat is part of Kiwi culture, says a young inventor who hopes to preserve their numbers. Credit: Thinkstock

Now, he hopes, fewer paua will die if enough people employ the tool. "Being able to pop off paua is part of our Kiwi culture, and I'd hate to see that go," Hollows told ASB Bright Sparks.

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Hollows took the top prize for males for his invention in New Zealand's ASB Bright Sparks competition, which is open to students throughout the country.

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