Before our field work could commence on Pitcairn, getting the necessary equipment onto this distant isle proved a major logistical challenge. Through a combination of alarmingly overfilled suitcases, serious abuse of airline baggage limits and endless emails to New Zealand freight companies, all of the gear eventually ended up in the right place. I am very grateful to my supervisor Tom Letessier for his efforts in getting the equipment either shipped in advance or crammed into his bags. Among other things, the inventory for this project includes 18 GoPro cameras, 12 terabytes of hard drives, several miles of duct tape and, most awkward of all, 2 large freezers containing 160kg of pilchards. I will now attempt to explain what exactly we are doing with this pile of technology and frozen fish.
The core component of my work on Pitcairn is a method known as Baited Remote Underwater Videography. As we all know, conservationists like nothing better than a good acronym, and this technique is better known by the very catchy title of BRUV. In brief, two GoPro cameras are attached to a rectangular metal frame, with the cameras focussing on a bait arm which extends in front of the frame. At the end of the bait arm is a wire bag containing pilchards which must be defrosted and mashed up before every day of BRUV work, a fairly unpleasant task with the aroma of pilchard lingering for hours afterwards.
We have 5 BRUV frames in total, and the frames are being deployed (hurled over the side) from the Pitcairn Island longboat and lowered to the seabed by rope. The cameras are then left to record for an hour before being hauled back to the surface. The primary aim of the footage recorded by these BRUV ‘drops’ is to assess the diversity and abundance of fish species at various sites and depths around the island, in addition to revealing the coverage of different habitat types. The use of bait will ensure that fish are actively attracted to the cameras, allowing for a higher percentage of the total fish assemblage to be sampled than if cameras were deployed without bait.
Due to its remoteness, Pitcairn’s coastal marine ecosystems have not been extensively studied, and this is the first time that baited cameras have been deployed here. Through this novel method we are hoping to gain new insights into the diversity, composition and health of the fish communities, and hopefully we might record species which have not been seen at Pitcairn before. Highlights so far include octopus, tuna, large trevallies and Smith’s Butterflyfish, one of the world’s rarest Butterflyfish species which is only known from Pitcairn and two other tiny Pacific islands. There are also Gray Drummers (known on Pitcairn as Nanwe), a nondescript silvery fish which descend voraciously on the bait in hordes and rip it to shreds. We know that sharks have recently been sighted here, so hopefully they will be tempted into making an appearance on camera. 32 camera drops have been completed so far, and field work will be continuing (depending on the unreliable South Pacific weather) over the next few weeks.
Select a blog
Every month one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the month.
Get the latest on ZSL's conservation work in Asia.
A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo. Bringing you amazing animal facts and exclusive access to the world's scientific oldest zoo.
Join the ZSL Discovery and Learning team as they venture out of the zoo and in to the wild.
Catch up on our latest Conservation Blogs
Follow the latest news on ZSL’s Arts & Culture projects at ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoos, and ZSL’s conservation work through the lense of the Arts.
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's elephant keepers give an insight into the daily goings on in the elephant barn.
Read about conservation of tigers in Asia.
One man is boldly going where no other ZSL videographer has gone before - the land of Mountain Chicken Frogs.
From the field, to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
The Wildlife Wood Project has been working in Cameroon since 2007 to encourage better wildlife management in logging concessions.
Updates from penguin conservation expeditions to Antarctica
Amur leopard conservation blog
Meet ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's latest (and leggiest) arrival, a baby giraffe!
Follow the ZSL Biodiversity and Palm Oil team, based in Bogor, Indonesia.
The Chagos marine reserve, designated in 2010 and currently the world’s largest no take marine reserve, is a sought-after spot for marine research.
Follow ZSL’s amphibian experts in their quest to find out why 41% of the world’s amphibians are threatened and what can be done to stop more species becoming extinct.
Follow ZSL conservationists studying desert baboons in Namibia.