BOT's Launch Global Network of Underwater Cameras

By Craig Brewin,

The British Overseas Territories are taking a global lead on protecting their oceans, and the wildlife and livelihoods that they supports. A new initiative has now been announced, the Global Ocean Wildlife Analysis Network, which will strengthen the network of UK Overseas Territories in driving improvements in marine conservation on a global scale.

The initiative involves installing a network of underwater baited cameras that will provide information on ocean biodiversity and ecosystems in the coastal areas of the Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Southern Ocean. Funded through the UK’s Blue Belt programme, which now covers more than four million square kilometres of ocean, it is the largest single such government-supported initiative in the world.

Jessica Meeuwig, Professor at the University of Western Australia and co-founder of Blue Abacus, who are supplying the cameras, said: “Our refinements to conventional underwater cameras are what makes possible the rollout of this programme over four ocean basins. We look forward to working with the communities in the Overseas Territories, building on their local knowledge and experience.”

The 66 non-intrusive “stereo-Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems” (or BRUVS) will enable researchers to see below the surface and provide a benchmark of scientific understanding of the marine species within their maritime area. The data will form valuable information on the many migratory species of open ocean and coastal reef fish species and assist in managing data-poor fisheries. Over the next few months, complete sets of carbon-fibre stereo-BRUVS and associated equipment will be delivered to the UK Overseas Territories.

There is a great deal of enthusiasm within the OTs themselves. Timothy Austin, Deputy Director, Research and Assessment, Cayman Islands Department of Environment, said: “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”.

Diane Baum, Director of Conservation and Fisheries, Ascension Island Government, said: “Ascension is committed to safeguarding its vast 445,000 square kilometre Marine Protected Area, but we recognise how challenging this will be. Our previous use of BRUVs has given us an insight into the amazing diversity of our open ocean ecosystems and enabled us to identify hotspots of biodiversity that need special protection. Being part of this initiative will provide Ascension with the information we need to take good local management decisions.”

Dr Simon Morley, British Antarctic Survey, representing British Antarctic Territory, said: “these baited cameras offer a solution to help us better understand mid-water communities close to shore along the Antarctic Peninsula. This global network gives us an excellent opportunity to compare different oceans and understanding the impact of our changing climate.

The OTs involved are Anguilla, Ascension Island, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Pitcairn, St Helena and Tristan da Cunha.