There is growing awareness of the importance of biodiversity in deep benthic marine habitats, which are exposed to multiple impacts, spanning from direct physical disturbance (e.g. mining, bottom contact fisheries, litter, noise, and contaminants) to indirect effects related to climate change such as water temperature increase, deoxygenation, and acidification.
The development and implementation of novel monitoring sensors and platforms that can provide accurate data on living resources will be crucial to improve management strategies and to document those anthropic-driven ecological changes. The quantification of megafauna species as major ecosystem service providers and the development of ecological indicators for its monitoring is about to be prioritized in major international management and conservation policies and programmes.
Seafloor multiparametric cabled observatories represent a well-established solution for remote, continuous, and long-lasting monitoring of the marine environment, as these platforms host complex and multidisciplinary sets of physical, chemical, and geological sensors. The installation of sophisticated video cameras on those platforms is a breakthrough for marine ecology and associated monitoring programmes and policies.
Among existing and growing networks, the European Multidisciplinary Seafloor and water column Observatory (EMSO) and the Ocean Networks Canada's NEPTUNE (ONC) are presently some of the largest. Unfortunately, their deployment, functioning, and maintenance costs are high - expensive and specialized vessels and equipment are required, along with a wide range of dedicated personnel such as mechanics, engineers, marine scientists, and data analysts. Therefore, it becomes crucial to increase their societal value by developing standardized monitoring programmes, specifically dedicated to the production of real-time biological and environmental data to assist fishery-independent stock assessments.
In the latest Editor's Choice, the authors explore how to build a strategic global pathway to develop networks of key observatory infrastructures and associated technologies, enhancing monitoring programmes focused on economically valuable fish and crustacean species. First, they define specific aspects that would increase observatory network infrastructures scientific and socio-economic usefulness in relation to their spatial organization and data interpolation. The authors present two strategically and operationally relevant pilot actions on the biological (i.e. image-based) and environmental monitoring of commercially relevant fishery resources at ONC for sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria) and EMSO for Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus).
A highly integrated spatial network containing fixed nodes and a group of mobile units operating independently but transferring information to each other (e.g. cralwers) could be the most appropriate setup for minimally-invasive acquisition of localized data on size distribution and population abundance for key commercial species (along with others sharing the same habitat) regardless of their motility. The development of Artificial Intelligence vision capabilities and a more integrated data collection and exchange of information at an adequate spatial scale will allow the spatiotemporal computing of ecological indicators from local counts and sizes to network densities, biomass, richness, and biodiversity.
While developing a fixed camera observatory network and extending its fishery-oriented monitoring capabilities will be expensive, it is now timely to debate the socio-economic relevance and highlight the wider benefits of this upgrade.
Read The potential of video imagery from worldwide cabled observatory networks to provide information supporting fish-stock and biodiversity assessment, free to access in ICES Journal of Marine Science.