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"FloatMonkey" sea trials - paving the way towards multi-disciplinary research

By Dr Charles von der Meden, Postdoctoral Researcher, SAEON Egagasini Node

In continuing to develop SAEON’s capacity for offshore benthic research, the team at Egagasini have been working to expand the capabilities of the already successful SkiMonkey III camera system.

Team members have added some equipment and done some alterations to make the camera system more versatile in terms of the types of data it can collect and the habitats it can access. Most significantly, the camera system now boasts an onboard MicroCAT CTD instrument (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) made possible by funds from a National Research Foundation (NRF) Strategic Research Infrastructure Grant.

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The modified floating camera setup, "FloatMonkey"

This additional component records physical measurements of near-bottom/seafloor water, while the camera records images of the living organisms. This will pave the way for increasingly multi-disciplinary research, with stronger links between offshore oceanography and benthic ecology.

Until now the SkiMonkey III camera has only been used as a towed system, mounted on a large frame with skis, weighing just over 400kg. The limitation of this setup is that the camera can only be safely used on soft substrata such as mud, sand or gravel. Being so heavy, the system also requires a large research vessel for deployment.

Photographing rockier habitats

To get around these limitations, Dr Charles von der Meden developed a method of using the camera unit as a standalone drop-camera by means of a system of floats and lead weights. Dubbed the “FloatMonkey", this setup allows the camera to float ~1.5 m above the substratum, anchored by weights on either side (see picture above), enabling the camera to photograph rockier habitats.

With the arrival and fitment of the MicroCAT CTD in August, sea-trials aboard the R/V Ellen Khuzwayo were organised in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ (DAFF) Rock lobster research programme. During the week-long cruise this September, Dr Charles von der Meden and an engineer from Sea Technology Services, Andre Hoek, tested the modified camera system and new CTD instrument.

The trials were also successful in giving the DAFF rock lobster research team a unique look at key habitats off the Cape Peninsula (see picture below). Together, the new CTD and versatility of the floating camera rig add important tools for SAEON’s offshore benthic research.

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The camera trials were useful in getting a look at the benthic habitats relevant to the rock lobster research being conducted by DAFF

Special thanks go to the captain and crew of the R/V Ellen Khuzwayo, Danie van Zyl and the DAFF rock lobster research team, and to Sea Technology Services.

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