The Virgin Islands will soon join nine other British overseas territories in launching an underwater camera network to monitor marine life to gain a better understanding of the fish population in their waters as part of the United Kingdom-funded Blue Belt conservation programme. (Photo: PROVIDED)

British overseas territories will gain a fish-eye view of their waters with the launch of a new large-scale network of cameras to monitor ocean wildlife.

The Virgin Islands will be included in the United Kingdom-funded Blue Belt project to form the “Global Ocean Wildlife Analysis Network.”

The effort entails deploying 66 non-intrusive “Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems” — known as BRUVS for short — in the open ocean and coastal habitats of the OTs in the Caribbean, South Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Southern oceans, according to a April 3 press release from the UK government.

The project is led by scientists from the UK government’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science; the University of Western Australia; and OT partners working with Blue Abacus, an organisation that collects data on fish populations.

The carbon fibre camera rigs can monitor the oceans from mid-water levels to the seabed, taking video samples of passing animal life, according to Blue Abacus’ website.

“BRUVS will enable researchers to see below the surface and provide a benchmark of scientific understanding of the marine species within their maritime area, allowing the UK OTs to take more informed decisions about protecting and managing these diverse ecosystems,” according to the press release.

The Blue Belt programme covers more than four million square kilometres of ocean, the UK stated.

VI fisheries

Last August, VI government leaders turned an eye toward more sustainable and self-sufficient fishing and agriculture practices in the territory.

Deputy Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said at the time that growing those sectors would both provide greater food security and help diversify the economy.

Government also circulated the proposed Food Security and Sustainability Bill, though legislators have not yet debated it in the House of Assembly. It would set new policy for managing local fisheries.

The UK’s Saturday announcement said data gathered by the BRUVS will give a better picture of the diversity and abundance of ocean and reef species across the territories.

This information will be especially helpful for learning more about migratory species and assisting “in the management of data-poor fisheries,” according to the UK press release.

Other participating territories include Anguilla, Ascension Island, the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Pitcairn, St. Helena, and Tristan da Cunha.

‘Blue economies’

Jessica Meeuwig, a Blue Abacus co-founder and University of Western Australia professor, said the organisation is grateful for the governments’ support.

“This programme will give decision-makers the evidence they need to act decisively in support of their blue economies,” Ms. Meeuwig said in the press release.

In areas including the Cayman Islands, BRUVS cameras have already proved useful, according to Timothy Austin, research and assessment deputy director at the territory’s Department of Environment.

“Nearshore benthic BRUVS have been an important research tool for informing marine species and protected area management in the Cayman Islands,” Mr. Austin said in the release. “The opportunity to take this technology further offshore will greatly enhance the Cayman Islands’ ability to implement meaningful and effective conservation regimes for this data-limited, poorly understood, but crucially important ecosystem.”

Ascension Islands’ Director of Conservation and Fisheries Diane Baum noted that being part of such a large-scale network should also help the OTs collaboratively drive improvements to marine conservation at a global scale.

OTs will receive the BRUVS sets and related equipment during the next few months, the release states.


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