Cameras for Conservation: New Technology Helping Developing Countries

False Bay, South Africa is a place where a growing human population collides with a dwindling biodiversity resource. The Castle Rocks no-take zone in the Table Mountain National Park is a marine protected area (MPA), which offers a refuge for the myriad of fish hiding in its kelp forests. These reserves may be controversial, but they are one of the most important tools we have for safeguarding our rapidly disappearing natural heritage.

For scientists and resource managers, understanding the diversity and abundance of fish in our MPAs is critical to correctly design, expand and enforce a network of safe havens for vulnerable species and ecosystems. The challenge remains: how best do we monitor that? Some answers may lie in the advent of new, affordable technologies.

Outside MPAs, the story is often bleak. South Africa recently added fish from the Sparidae family to the IUCN’s Red List. These species make up 25% of South Africa’s commercial fish stocks and are effectively protected by MPAs like Castle Rocks. The results echoed gloomy forecasts for the global oceans: several species made it onto the list as Critically Endangered. Disconcertingly, many other species impacted by fisheries are still considered “Data Deficient” — a neat euphemism that hides the reality of monitoring at sea. The IUCN summary is succinct — the result of years of surveys and statistical analysis. In truth, monitoring at sea is hard and expensive, leaving many populations and regions inadequately assessed.

Of course, fish population declines are not unique to South Africa. Likewise, many of the solutions are global in their development and implementation. The creation of marine protected areas (MPAs) like Castle Rocks is one such solution. The interpretation and implementation of MPAs varies across the globe, and might mean that activities like fishing or mining —> Read More