UK to deploy $2.8m ocean biodiversity monitoring network

Dive Deeper

What’s happening? The UK government will create the Global Ocean Wildlife Analysis Network, a £2m ($2.8m), four-year project under its Blue Belt Programme that will assess and monitor ocean biodiversity and coastal ecosystems in UK Overseas Territories. The project will see Blue Abacus deploy 66 baited remote underwater video systems, covering four million sq km across the Atlantic, Southern, Indian and Pacific Oceans, while the data generated will offer insights on how to protect these diverse coastal regions.

Why does this matter? In order to protect marine biodiversity, gathering accurate data on species numbers and distribution can help to inform the right decisions. Using remote monitoring technology to pull back the “blue curtain” and obtain information on ocean ecosystems is one way of doing this.

The Global Ocean Wildlife Analysis Network will be the world’s first project to trial a network of stereo-baited underwater camera system in open ocean ecosystems. The non-intrusive Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems (BRUVS), provided by project partner Blue Abacus, will consist of two small action cameras in a carbon fibre frame, which will gather data on populations including loggerhead turtles, black triggerfish and sea snakes. Recently adapted for use in open ocean environments, the camera system has previously been deployed in shallow reef habitats to monitor species.

Monitoring fish populations, their sizes and distributions across the ocean can detect which species are in recovery or in decline – helping to bolster understanding of the local conservation strategies that can be introduced.

The UK’s Blue Belt Programme was established in 2016 and given £20m of funding to promote the long-term protection of marine environments across the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs), which include Ascension Island, the Cayman Islands, British Antarctic Territory and Tristan da Cunha. It aims to provide long-term protection for the four million square kilometres of marine environment across the UKOTs, through gaining greater scientific understanding and developing evidence-based marine management strategies.

Closer to home, the UK’s own blue belt was recently expanded to include 41 more protected marine zones around its coastline, bringing the total to 355 over an area almost twice the size of England. Activities considered harmful to local species, such as dredging and large offshore development, will be banned under the programme.

Restorative measures such as this can not only improve biodiversity and conserve the ocean’s natural ecosystem services, but prove beneficial economically too. A report by WWF and Sky Ocean Rescue found that the UK’s economy could be boosted by as much as £50bn if its marine stocks and habitats are allowed to regenerate and recover from overfishing and other destructive practices.

Larger-scale coastline ocean preservation agreements are gaining traction. The High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy – the world’s largest ocean sustainability initiative to date ­– was agreed last year by the leaders of 14 countries including Australia, Indonesia and Kenya.

The nations have agreed to end subsidies contributing to overfishing, combat illegal fishing and regenerate fish populations across 40% of the world’s coastlines. The roadmap for the initiative highlights the creation of global data networks as one of its building blocks – techniques such as those deployed under the Global Ocean Wildlife Analysis Network will be fundamental to achieving this.