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Exploring False Bay’s underwater fauna using BRUVS

By Lauren de Vos, 27th August 2012

For a girl raised on and inspired by red African soil, it’s a bit of a journey down to the ocean. However, an innate curiosity and passion for our wildest spaces ultimately led me to that great blue wilderness: the ocean. An Honours degree in Zoology, completed at the coast, instilled in me an understanding of the challenges faced by our underwater realm, and an MSc in Conservation Biology opened my eyes to the need for sound scientific research to inform conservation decisions. In the end, I was inspired to explore possible solutions … and as far as office-spaces go, the ocean is a pretty inspiring place to work.

With an inshore fishery that has been exploited for over 200 years, many species in South African waters, from sharks and rays to bony fish, are in serious decline. Sufficient understanding of the conservation status of these species is essential if we are to address this situation. However, very few species are actually adequately monitored because the costs and logistics of doing so impede the sustainability of these efforts. South Africa’s marine protected area (MPA) network relies on fish surveys as a means to understand how effective our protected areas are in achieving biodiversity conservation goals. Developing a more cost-effective, time- and labour-efficient method of surveying fish species is integral to ensuring that monitoring is sustainable along the South African coastline, in the long-term.

Baited remote underwater video (BRUV) surveys were developed in Australia, and are now used around the world for a variety of projects. By attracting fish into the field of view of a remotely-controlled camera, the technique records diversity, abundance and behaviour of species. As a non-extractive technique, it offers a low environmental impact way of understanding changes in fish numbers and diversity over time.

As a first underwater camera survey of False Bay’s fishes, including its rays, skates and sharks, this project is gathering information on the region’s species that can be archived and used in long-term ecosystem comparisons. With a long history of fishing activity, False Bay presents an important and interesting site for the development of a BRUV monitoring system that will maximise the amount of data collected on any given day, and lower the costs of doing so to become a realistic option for fishery and MPA managers’ budgets. False Bay is utilised by surfers, the boating community, fishers, divers and paddlers, to mention but a few. Its location, on the cusp of a growing urban population in the Western Cape province, presents an important opportunity to achieve public awareness of issues in marine conservation.

To this end, the project also presents a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between researchers and the public, using video footage to communicate the beauty of our underwater realm and the challenges it faces. The power of images as a tool for education is something that this project takes advantage of, using video footage collected from the Bay in public talks, school educational activities and online in the form of a blog.

With progressive and practical research as a basis for management and decision-making, conservation efforts in our marine realm can, and will, be realised.

Lauren de Vos is a research assistant at the University of Cape Town’s Marine Research Institute, working on a survey of False Bay’s fishes using underwater cameras. She has also recently become an Ocean Hero for GoPro. Follow Lauren’s exciting work over at The big BRUV project blog, where she posts regular updates with new videos and images!

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