Fisheye lenses: UK launches world’s largest ocean monitoring system to protect wildlife

The network will collect vital biological information from seas across the globe

The UK is launching the world’s first network of underwater camera rigs to monitor and protect ocean wildlife.

It is set to be extended across 10 British Overseas Territories to collect biological information and safeguard the marine environment.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said more work needs to be done to protect the world's oceans.

“The marine wildlife living along the coastlines of our Overseas Territories is some of the most spectacular in the world and we must do more to protect it,” he said.

“Cutting-edge technology, such as these cameras, will be vital in our crusade against climate change. Our marine experts are world leaders in protecting our ocean and the myriad of species that live within.”

The network is being set up as part of the British government’s Blue Belt programme, which covers more than four million square kilometres of ocean across the Caribbean, South Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Southern oceans.

The Baited Remote Underwater Video systems – known as Bruvs – will allow territories to observe and manage ocean wildlife in their diverse ecosystems.

The non-intrusive method of capturing information on species will be used to document the marine biodiversity in the islands of Pitcairn, Ascension, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha, British Indian Ocean Territory, Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Montserrat, and within the British Antarctic Territory.

The expansion follows concerns that the health of the ocean is declining. It will allow scientists to improve their understanding of the marine environment and help to restore ocean life.

UK Minister for the Environment, Lord Goldsmith, said the project will help threatened species.

“Understanding and protecting marine life is essential to maintaining our world’s biological diversity,” he said.

“The lack of information on the variety and abundance of different species in large parts of the ocean makes it difficult for countries to protect them effectively.

“These UK-funded underwater video cameras will provide a wealth of information on the biodiversity in the seas around the Overseas Territories, including on globally threatened species of shark and migratory fish, like the bluefin tuna.”

The 66 bruvs will be used to film many species, including white marlin, sailfish, silky sharks, black triggerfish, loggerhead turtles, Gould's squid, bottlenose wedgefish and sea snakes.

The four-year programme is expected to cost £2 million ($2.7m) and will provide information on the ocean wildlife found.

Project partner Blue Abacus, in Perth, Western Australia, pioneered the development of cutting-edge carbon fibre cameras.

“The world’s tunas, sharks and large reef fish continue to decline in numbers and this trend must be reversed,” Blue Abacus co-founder Prof Jessica Meeuwig, of the University of Western Australia, said.

“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.”

Blue Abacus will work with the 10 participating territories to provide a benchmark of scientific understanding of the marine species and habitats within their maritime area, allowing the territories to take more informed decisions about protecting and managing the diverse ecosystems.

“The Cayman Islands Department of Environment is very excited at the opportunity to participate in the network that will bring the Bruv network into the Caribbean region for the first time,” said Timothy Austin, its deputy director of research and assessment.

“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.”

The programme is supported by almost £25m of UK funding.