Underwater cameras to give insight into OT marine life

66 cameras being placed off islands across four oceans

Sharks check out a Baited Remote Underwater Video System. - Images: Jessica Meeuwig, Marine Futures Lab and partners; courtesy of Blue Abacus

A network of underwater cameras is being set up in waters off 10 British Overseas Territories around the world, including the Cayman Islands, to gather information about ocean biodiversity and maritime ecosystems.

The ‘Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems’, known as BRUVS, is being funded as part of the UK government’s ‘Blue Belt’ programme, which covers 2.4 million square miles of ocean.

Scientists from the UK’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, the University of Western Australia, and partners in the overseas territories are working with marine research company Blue Abacus, to analyse data collected from 66 BRUVS, which will be deployed in open ocean and coastal habitats.

Complete sets of the non-intrusive, carbon-fibre stereo-BRUVS and associated equipment will be delivered to Cayman and other British Overseas Territories over the next few months.

According to a press release, together these BRUVS will form the Global Ocean Wildlife Analysis Network, which will provide information on ocean biodiversity and ecosystems found in the vast maritime and coastal areas of the British Overseas Territories in the Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Southern Ocean.

As well as Cayman, the other territories involved in the project are: Anguilla, Ascension Island, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Pitcairn, St Helena and Tristan da Cunha.

A whaleshark gets up close and personal with one of the BRUV cameras.

The cameras will enable researchers to see below the surface and provide a benchmark of scientific understanding of the marine species within their maritime area, allowing the British Overseas Territories “to take more informed decisions about protecting and managing these diverse ecosystems”, the release stated.

Tim Austin, deputy director of research and assessment at the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, said the DoE was excited to participate in the Global Ocean Wildlife Analysis Network that will bring the BRUV network into the Caribbean region for the first time.

“Nearshore benthic BRUVs have been an important research tool for informing marine species and protected area management in the Cayman Islands. The opportunity to take this technology further offshore will greatly enhance the Cayman Islands’ ability to implement meaningful and effective conservation regimes for this data limited, poorly understood, but crucially important ecosystem,” he said.

The data the cameras collect will provide a standard measure of the status of both open ocean and reef species, letting scientists and the British Overseas Territories set benchmarks for diversity and abundances. It will also provide information on the many migratory species of open ocean and coastal reef fish species, assist in the management of data-poor fisheries, and also improve the understanding of the functioning of open water and seabed ecosystems.

An olive ridley turtle checks out a BRUV.

Co-founder of Blue Abacus and Professor at the University of Western Australia, Jessica Meeuwig, said in the release, “The world’s tunas, sharks and large reef fish continue to decline in numbers and this trend must be reversed. This programme will give decision makers the evidence they need to act decisively in support of their blue economies. We are delighted that the UK Government and Overseas Territories support the drive for increased knowledge as we rebuild our oceans.

“Our refinements to conventional underwater cameras are what makes possible the rollout of this programme over four ocean basins, the largest single such government-supported initiative globally.”

Cefas project lead Paul Whomersley said the British Overseas Territories were taking a global lead on protecting their oceans and the wildlife and livelihoods that it supports.

“Global Ocean Wildlife Analysis Network will provide UKOTs with a world-first network of stereo-baited remote underwater video systems which will enable us all to better understand the biodiversity, functioning and connectivity of these ocean areas, while providing valuable and necessary data to inform and develop UKOTs marine management and protection strategies,” he said.

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