A fish-eye view of the ocean

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. (Energy Live News)

Why does this matter? The Global Ocean Wildlife Analysis Network will be the world’s first project to trial an underwater camera system network in open ocean ecosystems.

In order to protect marine biodiversity, gathering accurate information about the state of the ocean is crucial to make informed decisions, facilitate sustainable ocean management and measures to improve the resilience of the ocean to biodiversity loss and climate change.

Addressing the problem ­– Recent reports have indicated that marine biodiversity is being affected by human activities such as fishing ­– an Oceana report found 97% of UK marine protected areas to experience dredging and bottom trawling, which can not only affect biodiversity but release CO2 into the oceans, leading to acidification, and the atmosphere. A separate study stated that just one-third of key UK fish populations are in a healthy state.

In response to these pressures, the UK’s £20m Blue Belt Programme, which aims to promote long-term marine protection, has recently been expanded to include 41 more protected marine zones closer to home around the UK’s coastline itself, bringing the total to 335. Activities considered harmful to local species, such as dredging and large offshore development, will be banned under the programme.

How will the monitoring work? Recently adapted for use in open ocean environments, the non-intrusive Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems (BRUVS) will use cameras to gather data on populations including loggerhead turtles, black triggerfish and sea snakes.

Monitoring fish populations, sizes and distributions can help to identify which species are in recovery or in decline – improving understanding of which conservation measures might be the most effective.

Restorative measures such as this can improve biodiversity, conserve the ocean’s natural ecosystem services and provide other benefits to local communities, including financially. If marine stocks and habitats are allowed to regenerate from overfishing and other destructive practices, this could be worth up to £50bn for the UK.

What else is being done? Other UK-based projects to boost biodiversity include a £2.5m seagrass restoration project currently underway in waters around the UK, designed to restore up to eight hectares of the habitat. And, moving onshore, the UK is also planning to establish networks of “wild belts” in and around UK cities that aim to boost land biodiversity and restore natural habitats across around 500,000 hectares of land.

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