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Baited remote underwater video (BRUV) survey of False Bay’s icthyofauna


Due to recent developments of small, self-contained video cameras (e.g. GoPros), BRUVs are now cost-efficient alternatives to traditional monitoring techniques. By attracting marine life with bait, they seldom fail to provide ‘data’ within the standard deployment time of one hour.


Employing BRUVs allows scientists to monitor otherwise difficult to reach habitats such as reefs below safe SCUBA diving depths and fish communities with potentially dangerous components.

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Lauren De Vos in action at one of her frequent public talks. Lots of video material ideal for the promotion of public education and awareness is one of the additional spinoffs when monitoring marine resources with BRUVs.

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By Lauren De Vos, Marine Research Institute, UCT and Albrecht Götz, SAEON Elwandle Node


The reasons behind marine protected area (MPA) monitoring are varied and extensive, not least because sustainable assessments enable us to address certain fundamental questions such as: Is our MPA network properly designed and situated, and adequately enforced?

Monitoring also helps us look to future design and network expansion. South Africa’s coastline presents a series of challenges that impede the sustainability of current monitoring techniques, making annual monitoring logistically difficult for both MPA managers and scientists.

Our conservation arsenal comprises a variety of well-used and accepted traditional monitoring techniques. However, it is the logistical challenges they present that hamper their use in regular, sustained monitoring, rather than the scientific bias that may be inherent to each specific technique. A challenging coastline makes finding suitable dive-days to achieve regular SCUBA surveys difficult. Divers are limited by the depths they can safely access, the time available for underwater data collection and by stringent safety and labour regulations.

Additionally, we rely on divers to have the requisite scientific SCUBA qualifications and fish identification skills. For MPAs, certainly, finding non-extractive techniques to sample fish may be considered preferable to controlled angling surveys, where the post-release mortality rates of certain species may not be known.

To an audience outside the scientific community who might never otherwise access our underwater realm, the tenacious defence of the bait canister by a roman, the ponderous progression of a sevengill or the ethereal whirring of a pipefish’s fins in front of the camera conveys - perhaps more convincingly than graphs and statistical formulae - exactly what lies beneath the waves.

New monitoring technique

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. For South Africa, the practicality of BRUVs extends beyond pure scientific interest to addressing the need for affordable, efficient monitoring of fish populations.

Monitoring solutions that can best be incorporated into annual budgets, are less reliant on the availability of skilled labour and can be used into the future are what will perhaps make sustainable monitoring a more practical, long-term and standardised reality. In an extension of the work started in Tsitsikamma and Stilbaai, a collaborative research project this year introduced BRUV surveys to a region with a long history of human utilisation and an interesting marine community.

False Bay

The False Bay BRUV project introduced simple steel rigs with GoPro HD cameras attached to them, buoyed off at the surface and left to film independent of the boat for one hour on the seafloor. Reducing the manpower required for fieldwork, as well as the cost and complexity of the equipment and maximising the amount of data collected on any given day, hopefully means that the methodology can be replicated by conservationists along the coastline and used in standardised monitoring.

The project, led by Prof. Colin Attwood of the University of Cape Town (UCT) and conducted by Lauren De Vos of UCT and Dr Albrecht Götz of SAEON, is funded by the Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF) and SAEON.

In the first year, a summer and winter fieldtrip have yielded over 200 hours of underwater footage recorded in multiple habitats across False Bay. This translates into some solid video-watching for the researchers on the project!

A recently-launched component in which MSc student Caroline Sanguinetti of UCT is comparing the abundance and diversity of species inside and outside of no-take zones on the western side of the bay, will give additional insights into the effectiveness of spatial zoning as an MPA management tool.

The footage brings our marine heritage ashore

Beyond its implications for science and management, there is something to be said for conducting this type of work in a region that is regularly accessed by a variety of ocean-users and is a source of much interest to the citizens who live, work and holiday around False Bay. The video footage, which to scientists essentially represents raw data, gives the South African public an “underwater eye” that, quite literally, allows us to bring our marine heritage ashore.

Bringing our data to land is an important step. Archived video footage can be used for long-term ecosystem comparisons and the data can be independently re-analysed at any time. However, perhaps the most gratifying part of all this is the realisation that, to an audience outside the scientific community who might never otherwise access our underwater realm, the tenacious defence of the bait canister by a roman, the ponderous progression of a sevengill or the ethereal whirring of a pipefish’s fins in front of the camera conveys - perhaps more convincingly than graphs and statistical formulae - exactly what lies beneath the waves. For more information, see Summary of BRUV education and awareness projects below.

For that reason, the scientists involved are trying to make the most of the beautiful videos they are bringing to land, using them in school talks, public lectures and making them available online via the SOSF’s research blog. In a climate that favours news of politics and entertainment, sometimes perhaps to the detriment of our wilderness heritage, it is encouraging to note the favourable reaction to interesting footage and findings from our oceans.

Foiled by an octopus

Some underwater creatures (and their antics) have proved immensely popular, with a wily octopus that made off with one of our trial bait canisters garnering over 600 000 views on our Vimeo video channel … and making news around the world via social media platforms and online news networks. You can see this clever little cephalopod for yourself by searching "Foiled by an Octopus" on our SOSF blog.

Dive in!

Follow the research and look out for regularly posted videos and stories from False Bay on the SOSF blog; False Bay on Film (Lauren De Vos) blog: ; Twitter @lauren_de_vos; and GoPro World of Heroes ZA (@WOHZA). 

Summary of BRUV education and awareness projects

Print media

  • Africa Geographic: The Life Aquatic, August 2012
  • Environment: People & Conservation in Africa: Research Highlights, Winter 2012
  • The Cape Times: Octopus outsmarts marine scientists, September 2012
  • The New Age, September 2012
  • Digital media

  • Vimeo video channel (showcasing project’s BRUV footage) has received over 612 000 views to date
  • Featured on Discovery Channel’s Videos You Gotta Watch, New York Daily News, UK Daily Mail and over 30 websites
  • Foiled by an Octopus video of a BRUV test-run rated as one of the highest trending videos for the week 1/10/12 to 7/10/12 on social media (Twitter and Facebook)
  • Featured on Yahoo News homepage as a top story (1/10/2012)
  • Television media

  • eNuus - Afrikaans News feature, September 2012
  • eNews - English News feature, October 2012
  • Lectures and public talks

  •  Linefish Symposium, March 2012
  • Cape Nature - Gouritz Ecological Quarterly, May 2012
  • Shark Centre Speaker Series, July 2012
  • Pecha Kucha Cape Town, September 2012
  • Hermanus Whale Festival, September 2012
  • SANParks Lecture, October 2012
  • Shark Centre Speaker Series, November 2012
  • UCT Marine Research Institute Annual Forum, November 2012
  • Wavescape Slide Night, December 2012
  • School outreach

  • Jane Goodall’s Roots ‘n Shoots: Marine education morning for Forres Preparatory School, May 2012
  • Jane Goodall’s Roots ‘n Shoots: Marine education morning for Noordhoek Montessori, May 2012
  • Sun Valley Primary School marine education morning, August 2012
  • Songo Iniative outreach marine education morning, October 2012
  • Kommetjie Primary marine education talk, October 2012
  • Student training and BRUV skill-building

  • Two MSc students included in the BRUV project - MSc theses will be submitted in early 2013
  • Four high school students hosted for marine biology work experience
  • Two new BRUV project leaders hosted for training and skill-sharing in False Bay (Greg Hoffman, SASC and Wayne Meyer, Cape Nature)
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