Research Highlights

Skin-thin sensors less stressful to marine wildlife

Published online 28 March 2018

Scientists in Saudi Arabia develop marine tracking devices that are lighter and less invasive. 

Sarah Elmeshad

A Saudi-based research team have developed a multi-functional, stretchable marine sensory platform that allows tracking devices to be secured to marine animals without the additive discomfort that can render some research results inaccurate. 

Tracking devices help scientists understand the human impact on marine ecosystems.

The research, by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and which will soon be published in npj Flexible Electronics, describes a waterproof skin-thin tagging system that is “physically flexible” and “skin-like” and that integrates Bluetooth, memory chip and high performance physical sensors.

‘Marine Skin’ can potentially solved many of the problems that current tracking devices have by offering a lighter weight, non-invasive attachment and a flexible material. Research co-author Muhammad Hussain says it’s “the first demonstration of a waterproof smart skin made specifically for marine animals, and that can withstand the harsh environment of the deep oceans, such as extremely high pressures and high salinity levels.” 

The marine skin has been tested on swimming crabs using biocompatible enamel glue. It has also been tested on sharks in Spain. The lightness of the device as well as the non-invasive attachment technique are clearly causing less distress on the animals, report the researchers.

According to Hussain, the researchers still face some challenges in attaching the skin to larger species. They are currently developing the technology to add location tracking (GPS), while improving data collection and power supply. 

The current memory that is being used may not be an option for faster moving species, he says, and “power supply is still a concern with limited-life battery technology. … The scientific core of our findings is to reinvent electronics from materials which were never thought can be useful.” 


  1. Nassar, J.M. et al. Compliant Lightweight Non-Invasive Standalone “Marine Skin” Tagging System. npj Flexible Electronics (2018).