ORI embraces new technology with BRUV systems

  • 24 June 2015 | Judy Mann, conservation strategist

Always on the lookout for novel ways to improve our research capability, the ORI has been experimenting with Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) systems, a relatively new method of studying offshore reef fish.

Using a lightweight steel frame, a camera is mounted in front of a bait canister, which is filled with about a kilogram of chopped sardines. The BRUV system is lowered down to the seafloor on a thin rope, which is attached to a bright orange surface-marker buoy. The camera records all marine life attracted to the smell coming from the bait canister.

After an hour, the system is lifted back to the boat and the video footage is stored for later analysis. Originally developed in Australia, BRUVs have quickly gained popularity and are now being widely used to gather data about fish abundance, biomass, diversity and even behavioural data. More recently, South African scientists from the University of Cape Town, Rhodes University and the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) have adopted this approach, using relatively inexpensive “GoPro” cameras.

The BRUV system in operation

Over the past year, ORI scientists have been developing a BRUV system which can withstand the strong currents and poor visibility found in the Pondoland Marine Protected Area (MPA) south of Port Edward.

Environmental monitoring using a BRUV is not necessarily a replacement for other established sampling methods, such as underwater visual census and fishing surveys, but BRUVs do offer a number of distinct benefits. For example, data can be collected by as few as two people using only a small boat, and they can be deployed in water with relatively low visibility, with none of the associated risks posed to divers.

The low ecological impact of BRUVs makes them especially suited for use in sensitive regions such as Marine Protected Areas. Multiple BRUV units can be used to collect data in different places simultaneously, thereby saving time and money.

Apart from the scientific value, BRUV footage is also very useful for educational purposes and for spreading an important conservation message.

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