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Novel use of underwater video for research

TropWATER is using video applications across a wide range of projects to develop an understanding of tropical freshwater, estuarine and coastal marine ecosystems in Australia. The application of new technologies has seen novel and informative filming both above and below the water line.
 
Benthic taxa & UW videoThe Seagrass Ecology group is leading the way with video-based monitoring comprising a core part of its business. This includes characterising seagrass, macro-algae and benthic macro-invertebrate (epifauna & infauna) communities using various configurations of underwater videography and time-lapse photography. This surveillance work is incorporated into long-term monitoring programs throughout Queensland, providing extensive coverage of the GBR lagoon.

A CCTV camera system with a real-time monitor, towed from a research vessel provides live footage for observations and recording. The system incorporates a mounted camera, sled and sled net to capture surface benthos (semi-quantitative bottom sample) and is used to confirm benthic macro-invertebrates, algal and seagrass habitat characteristics observed on the monitor. 
 
Fish & cameraA similar CCTV camera system using a mounted camera on a fixed-frame quadrat is used to survey shallow water areas where SCUBA diving capabilities are limited. Latest advancements for the Seagrass Ecology group have included the development of a camera housing with inbuilt wiping system to maintain a time-lapse library at long-term monitoring sites to capture seagrass dynamics, bioturbation and other evidence of sediment disturbance.

This technology was developed by Mark Leith, who has led the way in engineering solutions to collect high resolution and foul-free imagery. The permanent camera systems enable tracking of changing seagrass communities in relation to environmental parameters. This is especially advantageous under inhospitable conditions including poor weather, which inhibit boat access in open water environments.
 
Deluge Jack
Photo Ross Johnston

The Coastal and Estuarine Ecology Group are using underwater video for a range of fish and habitat projects. Videos have
been used to investigate predator hotspots and deep water estuarine habitats in tropical Australia, with a major focus on mangrove habitats, increasing our understanding of the extent of penetration of fish species and assemblages into the mangrove forests in relation to tidal level. Similar work is being done in freshwater and estuarine systems in PNG.

Underwater video technology is being used by Nathan Waltham to examine the use and functional role of urban-engineered structures (port developments, jetties, marinas, rock break walls), to better inform management decisions aimed at achieving fisheries conservation and protection.

Photo: Brendan Ebner
Brendan Ebner, James Donaldson and Jason Schaffer from the
Freshwater Ecology Group are collaborating with key researchers from a range of institutions (Murdoch University, Australian National University, and Griffith University) in using baited and un-baited cameras to survey fishes and aquatic reptiles in rivers of the Pilbara, Kimberley, Gulf of Carpentaria and Wet Tropics. This research is pioneering the use of video for surveys of fish, crayfish and aquatic reptiles in Australia.
Waltham camera setup
There are also new projects underway.
Nathan Waltham is examining the organisation of freshwater fish assemblages in dry seasonal waterholes by deploying baited cameras. During the wet season flow each year, freshwater fish escape the confines of discrete dry river system waterholes and access habitats necessary for completing their life-cycles, awaiting the next wet season and the waterway reconnection. Understanding these fundamental processes in waterholes in dry river systems will assist planning decisions relating to agricultural development proposed in northern Australia. As flow ceases, waterholes are left with a new fish assemblage that must again survive the impending dry season.

The Freshwater Ecology Group collaborated with the Ewamian Rangers and researchers from the Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts, to perform a rapid survey of aquatic fauna at Tallaroo Station (Gulf of Carpentaria). This included using baited cameras to assess fish assemblage composition. Tallaroo has recently been handed over to the Ewamina People and this provided a privileged opportunity for ecologists to learn about some of the cultural heritage and history of those lands.
 
Cassie James and Damien Burrows have commenced aerial filming of riparian habitat as part of rapid assessments of invasive riparian and in-stream aquatic weeds in the Russell River, in the Wet Tropics region. This work is being supported by underwater video surveys of fish assemblages comparing heavily weeded and weed-free sections of riverbank. 


Publications

Starrs, D., Ebner, B. C., & Fulton, C. J. (2015). Ceasefire: minimal aggression among Murray River crayfish feeding upon patches of allochthonous material. Australian Journal of Zoology.

Ebner, B. C., Starrs, D. Morgan, D. L., Fulton, C. J. Donaldson, J. A., Doody, S., Cousins, S., Kennard, M., Butler, G., Tonkin, Z., Beatty, S., Broadhurst, B., Clear, R. and Fletcher, C. (2014). The emergence of underwater video for field based study of freshwater fish and crustacean ecology in Australia. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia

Ebner, B. C., Fulton, C. J., Donaldson, J. A., Cousins, S., Mecynecke, J-O., Schaffer J. & Kennard, M. J. (2014). Filming and Snorkelling as Mobile Visual Techniques to Survey Tropical Rainforest Stream Fauna. Marine and Freshwater Research

Ebner, B. C. & Morgan D. L. (2013). Using remote underwater video to estimate freshwater fish species richness. Journal of Fish Biology 82, 1592–1612.

Fulton, C. J, Starrs, D., Ruibal, M. P. & Ebner, B. C. (2012). Counting crayfish: active searching and baited cameras trump conventional hoop netting in detecting Euastacus armatus. Endangered Species Research 19, 39–45.

Ebner, B., Clear, R., Godschalx, S., & Beitzel, M. (2009). In-stream behaviour of threatened fishes and their food organisms based on remote video monitoring. Aquatic Ecology 43, 569–576.

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