Chiran Weerarathne

Have you ever considered becoming a marine scientist, but didn’t feel comfortable heading out to sea?  If yes, then this article is for you. If no, this article is still for you. Marine science is so vast that you don’t necessarily have to dive into the ocean to be a part of it. There are tons of cool things you can do from the shore, the lab or even your bedroom (like I did) and still make important contributions to the world of science. Diving is fun and so is snorkelling; you get to see amazing marine life in front of you and once experienced, will have you addicted for life. Sounds cool right? But how about seeing all this marine life from your computer while wearing your pyjamas in your bedroom, eating a bag of chips and listening to your favourite tunes? Sounds perfectly designed for the new world we live in, doesn’t it? This article probably speaks volumes to you if you are not an outdoor person, but still want to contribute to protecting the ocean so keep reading….

So, what’s my secret? BRUVs.

Baited Remote Underwater Videos or  BRUVs (cool nickname, eh?) are the video recordings we obtain from baited remote underwater cameras. The BRUV setup is simple. You have a camera or two fitted to a structure along with some food (for fish obviously) as bait. Needless to say, that bait attracts loads of fish looking for an easy meal, and in return gives you great footage of fish doing their thing in their habitat. Sometimes you even see food chains unfold in real-time when smaller fish rush towards the bait and bigger fish come charging in to feed on them in turn. When we use 2 cameras in a BRUV setup it’s called a stereo BRUV because the two cameras act the way our eyes work, giving a 3-dimensional video with depth. What is amazing about BRUVs is that once you record and download the videos, you can monitor and analyse them for years to understand the fish population’s size, health and so much more.

En route to BRUVs…

For my undergraduate degree, I snorkelled around different reefs along the southern coast of Sri Lanka, filming them using my mobile phone and a cheap underwater casing. I did this as part of my mini-project where I wanted to survey the fish in these places because I love observing reefs and all the critters that dwell on them. Because of my fascination for reef fish, I got an amazing opportunity to be a part of a huge fish assemblage study in temperate Australia for my Master’s degree.  

This time around however I didn’t have to get my feet wet to see the fish on the reef. All I had to do was watch hours and hours of amazing video footage featuring all the cool and crazy creatures on these reefs. Using the videos obtained from the stereo BRUV setup captured as part of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) monitoring programme, I was able to measure the lengths of the fish I was looking at. I was looking at thousands of fish in their natural habitat without having to leave my room. Though I enjoyed snorkelling through giant kelp in icy cold water, I also appreciated being warm and cosy in my bedroom while watching this same marine life – particularly in winter (fun fact: in winter, Tasmania can get as cold as 3 oC in the cities and even colder in the mountains). In case you were wondering, it wasn’t boring at all, as the videos were full of action. Fish socialising and sharing bait, crabs and rays inspecting the bait, and some species fighting because they couldn’t share the bait were just some of the daily reef drama I witnessed. Also, we had a couple of visits from friendly neighbourhood seals. But for me, the occasional visits from the sharks were truly the icing on the cake. I would stare at my screen for hours, watching all the movements, eagerly waiting for the shark to make guest appearances and importantly,  getting the length measurements of the fish (for my research) as if I was living underwater in their habitat.

The point I want to raise through my story is that marine science isn’t limited to those who can or like to go out into the sea. Even if you are unable to get into water or if you are scared of the ocean there’s no need for you to worry. With advances in technology, you can be a great marine scientist even without leaving your room. Satellite imagery, ARGO  floats (A fleet of robotic instruments that drift with the ocean currents and move up and down between the surface and a mid-water level), ocean gliders, data loggers and animal tags will give you access to highly valuable and sophisticated ocean science data to do remarkable research. If you love nature, want to help protect the oceans, have an adventurous soul and are ready to face new challenges – those are the key ingredients you need to succeed in this field. If you have the passion nothing can stop you, always remember that there can be many paths to achieve your goal so don’t get stuck and don’t limit yourself. Keep exploring!

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