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False Bay, South Africa

The big BRUV

Curious about life at the bottom of False Bay? Lauren’s underwater video cameras show us which sharks and fish have made it their home. This simple system can be replicated to give us a glimpse of underwater worlds across South Africa.

Project Leader:

Lauren de Vos

For a girl born inland and raised on red African soil, it’s a bit of a journey down to the sea. However, every day sees me fall a little more in love with our planet’s wildest spaces – so it was almost inevitable that I would end up at that last great blue wilderness: the ocean. My research career to this point has been nothing if not eclectic – a good indication of my love of learning and my addiction…

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Years active:

2012, 2013


Other species, Rays & Skates, Sharks

Partner organisations:

South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON)
University of Cape Town

Additional project leaders:

Colin Attwood

Project details

Project Leaders

Lauren de Vos

Who I am

For a girl born inland and raised on red African soil, it’s a bit of a journey down to the sea. However, every day sees me fall a little more in love with our planet’s wildest spaces – so it was almost inevitable that I would end up at that last great blue wilderness: the ocean. My research career to this point has been nothing if not eclectic – a good indication of my love of learning and my addiction to the outdoors!

When I moved to the coast for university, my first bumbling attempts at surfing and free diving unearthed a curious passion for the ocean, which had originated during childhood beach holidays and been carefully nurtured from a stash of surfing magazines hidden under my bed in my teenage attempt to ‘learn the coastal lingo’. At some point during my undergraduate years, when I was fuelled by the passion of the researchers I encountered, the ocean captured my imagination.

So, after stints traipsing up the Cape Peninsula’s mountains to study insects, wading through rivers for freshwater research, scaling termite mounds while studying in the Kruger National Park and learning not to run from charging baboons for my Honours degree, I was drawn back to the sea. Tackling my MSc in Conservation Biology opened my eyes to the need for sound scientific research to inform conservation decisions. By its end, I was determined to explore the variety of possible solutions to the conservation challenges our oceans face. And as far as office spaces go, the ocean is a pretty inspiring place to work in.

Where I work

The history of False Bay is long and colourful. The bay, near Cape Town on South Africa’s south-western coast, is home to a myriad of ocean lovers, from surfers and divers to fishermen and the SA Navy. Many people who call it home have been intricately bound to its waters for centuries. Inevitably, our relationship with the ocean has consequences for the biodiversity in this region; indeed, commercial fishing has been recorded here from as early as the 1600s. As the urban population surrounding South Africa’s largest true bay continues to grow exponentially in the 21st century, so too does the host of threats to its biodiversity, from coastal development and pollution to overfishing and human–wildlife conflict. However, it’s precisely at this intersection between False Bay’s rich marine biodiversity and the humans who rely on the ecosystem services it provides that conservation-related research becomes interesting – and vital.

False Bay is not only my study site, but my home and playground. So, every now and then, I take a more lyrical view of this beautiful bay and remind myself exactly why I work here.

Take a deep breath, dive in and discover False Bay.

What I do

With an inshore fishery that has been exploited for more than 200 years, many fish species in South African waters are in serious decline. If we’re to address this situation, we need to properly understand the conservation status of these species. However, our coastline is tasked with socio-economic challenges that ultimately mean very few species are adequately monitored, because of the costs and logistics of doing so. South Africa’s marine protected area (MPA) network relies on fish surveys to understand to what extent protected areas are effective in achieving the goals of biodiversity conservation. Developing a method of surveying fish species that not only is kind to conservation agencies’ pockets but also takes into account the varied and challenging ocean conditions our coastline presents, is integral to ensuring that monitoring is sustainable.

After I had completed my MSc, my project supervisors (Associate Professor Colin Attwood of the University of Cape Town and Dr Albrecht Götz of the South African Environmental Observation Network) and I realised that the baited remote underwater video (BRUV) research I’d covered could be further developed in a project closer to home. We had a hunch that it might allow us to address some of the challenges of long-term monitoring. Developed in Australia, BRUV surveys attract fish into the field of view of a remotely controlled camera and record the diversity, abundance and behaviour of species. They offer a low environmental impact way of understanding changes in fish numbers and diversity over time.

For South Africa, the practicality of BRUVs extends beyond pure scientific interest to meeting the very real need for affordable, efficient monitoring of our coastal fish populations. Our False Bay BRUV project introduced easy-to-replicate steel rigs with GoPro cameras attached to them that are buoyed off at the surface and left to film independently on the sea floor. Because it reduces the manpower required for field work (as well as the cost and complexity of equipment) and maximises the amount of data collected, the methodology can be replicated by conservationists along the coastline and utilised in standardised monitoring.

As the first underwater camera survey of False Bay’s fishes, including its rays, skates and sharks, the BRUV project is gathering information about the region’s species that can be archived and used in long-term ecosystem comparisons. Concern about how our methodology translates for those tasked with its application elsewhere along the coast led us to design a series of skills-sharing workshops to take our research results directly to the managers and rangers of South Africa’s MPAs. We have also discovered that our data can speak to a non-scientific audience in a different, exciting way and so we put a lot of effort into ‘bringing our oceans ashore’, sharing information through talks, blogs and short films.

Project Details

Baited remote underwater video (BRUV) assessment of False Bay ichthyofauna

Key objective

To deploy baited remote underwater video (BRUV) stations in False Bay, providing the first comprehensive survey of fish and sharks across all habitats.

Why is this important

South African inshore fisheries collectively account for the capture of more than 600 fish and shark species, but the logistics associated with long-term monitoring mean that the conservation status of less than 20 of these species is adequately assessed. BRUV technology represents a more cost-effective, time-efficient method of data collection with a low environmental impact that can be used for long-term ecosystem assessments.


Current monitoring techniques for fish populations in South Africa (SCUBA surveys and controlled angling surveys) are expensive, reliant on skilled labour, and usable only to certain depths and in particular ocean conditions. BRUV technology is evolving rapidly as camera technology becomes more affordable and increases in resolution quality.

The concept is simple: fish are attracted within the field of view of an underwater camera, and the footage is brought ashore to be analysed. The use of GoPro HD cameras attached to easy-to-deploy rigs takes advantage of easy-to-access technology and adds an innovative tool to existing monitoring methods. To maximise data collection, multiple camera rigs are buoyed off to film fish in False Bay simultaneously for one hour each.

The development of this methodology will provide conservation agencies and marine protected area (MPA) managers with a time-efficient tool that eliminates some of the obstacles that currently hinder sustainable monitoring of our fish populations. This False Bay survey will directly impact the future of affordable, sustainable underwater monitoring in South Africa. Beyond its scientific scope and relevance, the project will impact the way marine environments – and particularly MPAs – are understood and accessed by the public. Video footage used as scientific data plays an equally important role in education, making False Bay and its life a tangible reality that the public is both privy to and responsible for. This project offers a phenomenal opportunity to close a gap between scientists, fishers and the public, while obtaining sound scientific data that will guide conservation decisions in one of South Africa’s most utilised and valuable coastal bays.

Aims & objectives

The general aim of this project is to provide a video-based survey of sharks and fishes in False Bay, with the following objectives:

  • Obtaining measures of species richness and community composition of sharks and fishes in False Bay.
  • Assessing relative abundance of commercially targeted and conservation-interest species.
  • Providing educational videos of False Bay’s marine life.