Effective monitoring of deep-sea fauna using towed cameras

Dr Jennifer Durden, Dr Daniel Jones, Dr Phillip Fenberg

Responsible environmental monitoring is fundamental to understanding and protecting marine environments and the sustainable development of marine resources, such as deep-sea mining, offshore oil and gas, or renewables. Long-term environmental monitoring (e.g., of emerging ecological Essential Ocean and Biodiversity Variables) is an essential component of the Global Ocean Observation Strategy and of particular relevance in the current UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. However, monitoring of temporal change in the remote deep sea is rare. Seabed photography provides a feasible, repeatable, cost-efficient solution, and is increasingly used in the assessment and monitoring of change in remote marine environments, particularly by industry and government agencies. Effective ocean observation and successful monitoring require comparability between data collected at different time points, so practicable optimization of data collection is important; however, these conditions for robust monitoring are not commonly met, and key questions remain for optimizing monitoring using imagery.

The aims of this project are to: (1) monitor temporal ecological change to megabenthic communities at selected sites recovering from disturbance and experiencing impacts of climate change using towed cameras; and (2) establish best practices for optimizing towed camera photography for monitoring marine seabed communities and determining Essential Ocean and Biodiversity Variables.


The study will compare deep-sea megafaunal communities from key monitoring sites near the UK over time. Existing photographic datasets collected over multiple recent expeditions are available from two sites: (1) the Darwin Mounds MPA, a site expected to continue its recovery from fishing impacts; and (2) the Porcupine Abyssal Plain Sustained Observatory, an abyssal long-term time series site that may be experiencing climate-cycle change. These images were collected using a towed camera (HyBIS), a popular, simple seabed photographic platform popular with consultancies and regulatory agencies. Ecological change will be determined (e.g., by assessing density, biomass, diversity and community composition from photos), and effects of the data acquisition on the ecological results will be assessed (e.g., camera/lighting specifications, survey design, annotation strategies). The student will identify best practices for marine imaging for environmental monitoring, with consideration for biological community structure. These optimized approaches will be used to obtain new imagery at these sites (collected during research cruises that the student would have the opportunity to participate in), and generalized as recommendations for UK-wide marine monitoring.

NOC Southampton

The INSPIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted at the National Oceanography Centre (Southampton). Specific training will include: techniques for production and interpretation of ecological datasets from marine images, familiarisation with image annotation software, seafarer training for any opportunities to participate in research expeditions during the project, and an internship(s) at JNCC. The internship will provide experience of applied imagery analysis and quality assurance practices to meet monitoring requirements of the UK’s extensive, and growing, network of MPAs (25% UK waters), as well as an understanding of national biodiversity conservation instruments and future management approaches for the UK’s offshore natural capital resources.

Eligibility & Funding Details: 

Please see https://inspire-dtp.ac.uk/how-apply for details.

Background Reading: 

[1] Huvenne, V.A.I., Bett, B.J., Masson, D.G., Le Bas, T.P., and Wheeler, A.J. (2016). Effectiveness of a deep-sea cold-water coral Marine Protected Area, following eight years of fisheries closure. Biological Conservation 200, 60-69. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2016.05.030

[2] Durden, J.M., Schoening, T., Althaus, F., Friedman, A., Garcia, R., Glover, A., Greniert, J., Jacobsen Stout, N., Jones, D.O.B., Jordt-Sedlazeck, A., Kaeli, J.W., Koser, K., Kuhnz, L., Lindsay, D., Morris, K.J., Nattkemper, T.W., Osterloff, J., Ruhl, H.A., Singh, H., Tran, M., Bett, B.J., 2016. Perspectives in visual imaging for marine biology and ecology: from acquisition to understanding. In R.N. Hughes, D.J. Hughes, I.P. Smith, A.C. Dale (Eds.), Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review, Vol. 54 (pp. 1-72): CRC Press.

[3] Durden, J.M., Bett, B.J., Schoening, T., Morris, K.J., Nattkemper, T.W., and Ruhl, H.A. (2016). Comparison of image annotation data generated by multiple experts for benthic ecology. Marine Ecology Progress Series 552, 61-70. doi: 10.3354/meps11775.