Underwater cameras light the way for Southern Ocean conservation

A bulbous, red marine creature with a webbed swimming fin resembling a collar.
Enipniastes eximia, the "headless chicken monster" (Photo: NOAA)
Two black and orange, cylindrical camera housings with led lights.A man in an electronics workshop operating a soldering iron.

New underwater camera technology developed by Australian researchers is shining a light on previously unseen species in the Southern Ocean to help improve marine conservation.

For the first time, a deep-sea swimming sea cucumber, Enypniastes eximia, also known as a “headless chicken monster”, has been filmed in Southern Ocean waters off East Antarctica.

The unusual creature, which has only ever been filmed before in the Gulf of Mexico, was discovered using an underwater camera system developed for commercial long-line fishing by the Australian Antarctic Division.

Australian Antarctic Division Program Leader Dr Dirk Welsford, said the cameras are capturing important data which is being fed into the international body managing the Southern Ocean, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

“The housing that protects the camera and electronics is designed to attach to toothfish longlines in the Southern Ocean, so it needs to be extremely durable,” Dr Welsford said.

“We needed something that could be thrown from the side of a boat, and would continue operating reliably under extreme pressure in the pitch black for long periods of time.”

“Some of the footage we are getting back from the cameras is breathtaking, including species we have never seen in this part of the world.”

“Most importantly, the cameras are providing important information about areas of sea floor that can withstand this type of fishing, and sensitive areas that should be avoided.”

Dr Welsford said other CCAMLR nations, such as Chile, France, and the United Kingdom are now also using the super-strengthened devices, which are fabricated at the AAD’s headquarters in Tasmania.

“It’s a really simple and practical solution which is directly contributing to improving sustainable fishing practices,” Dr Welsford said.

The data collected from the cameras are being presented at the annual CCAMLR meeting starting in Hobart tomorrow.

Australia’s CCAMLR Commissioner, Ms Gillian Slocum, said Australia will continue to lead on the most pressing issues facing the Southern Ocean, including biodiversity conservation, climate change and science-based fisheries management.

“Australia will again be seeking support for the creation of a new East Antarctic Marine Protected Area,” Ms Slocum said.

“We will also support two other new Marine Protected Areas being proposed this year which will contribute to CCAMLR’s commitment of a representative system of MPAs in the Southern Ocean.”

These proposals are among a number of measures Australia will put forward during the 10-day meeting, including proposals to improve the way CCAMLR responds to the impacts of climate change.

“The Southern Ocean is home to an incredible abundance and variety of marine life, including commercially sought-after species, the harvesting of which must be carefully managed for future generations,” Ms Slocum said.

Underwater cameras light the way for Southern Ocean conservation

Video transcript

Tim Lamb:

All around the Antarctic there are areas known as vulnerable marine ecosystems, and we're trying to find them, so that the fishing industry can avoid fishing on them.

[end transcript]