Posts Tagged Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Jan 26 2015

Monterey Bay Aquarium testing the waters with open source camera

Mercury News | By Samantha Clark, Santa Cruz Sentinel

20150126_090912_mrbriRockfish researchers recover a frame carrying a small SeeStar system and a larger, older camera system after a deployment in Monterey Bay. (Francois Cazanave — MBARI)

MOSS LANDING — Ocean research can be a costly voyage. Scientists often need expensive, high-tech, complex equipment, which some research institutions might lack the funds to build or buy.

So engineers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute designed a simple underwater camera and lighting system that is made mostly of hardware store materials. And all for $3,000.

Most oceanographic camera systems cost $5,000 to $20,000 and require ships and cranes to carry the heavy equipment.

Any researcher can find the directions online to build the camera system themselves. It takes stills and video and operates as deep as 1,000 feet for months at a time.

“There is a movement to have open source oceanographic equipment,” said Chad Kecy, lead designer and MBARI engineer. “Anyone could take our designs and modify them for specific needs they have. It’s just a less expensive and easier way of getting cameras in the water.”

The project began in 2012 when MBARI marine biologist Steve Haddock wanted a cheap and easily deployable camera for researchers around the world to document jellyfish blooms. He also wanted versatility. A lightweight system needed to attach to a pier, be mounted on the seafloor and carried by a robotic submarine.

The SeeStar’s relatively simple design met Haddock’s criteria. It’s a GoPro camera with longer battery life and controllable lights all housed inside standard PVC pipe with commercially available electrical cables.

“We chose materials intentionally that people would be able to purchase at a local hardware store,” Kecy said. “The mechanical parts, we tried to get them off the shelf. We were thinking about cost at every step of the way.”

Researchers have begun testing the waters with the SeeStar system. Instead of using their bulky and expensive cameras, scientists with the Nature Conservancy and Moss Landing Marine Laboratories opted for multiple SeeStar cameras to capture video in Rockfish Conservation Areas along the west coast and seafloor animals under the ice in Antarctica.

The California Wetfish Producers Association used SeeStar to photograph the eggs and larvae of market squid. While the squid make up a large and economically important fishery in California, scientists don’t know much about what they do when they’re not spawning or the best conditions for spawning.

“If you were to charter at ROV (remotely operated vehicle), I’ve heard it’s like $10,000 a day, which is outrageous and beyond our budgeting,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the nonprofit. “Putting together our own SeeStar camera is going to give us a lot of opportunity to understand what’s going on within their life cycle. Just by looking at a photograph, we were able to tell which eggs were about to hatch.”

However, the designers want camera to be even more accessible. The circuit board that controls the system is still complex enough leave non-engineers scratching their heads, so Kecy is looking to replace it with the popular Arduino microcontrollers this year.

“The camera system could have uses beyond marine research and could be used for monitoring anything long term,” Kecy said. “Because it’s open source, inexpensive and really easy, it just presents an opportunity for more researchers to cameras out in the water.”

—— (c)2015 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) Visit the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) at

Jan 16 2014

Squid vs. fish: Camera captures epic undersea battle on video

Thanks to its sharp beak, a small red squid emerged victorious after an epic hourlong battle with a much bigger owlfish, all caught on video last November in Monterey Bay, Calif.

The black-eyed squid paralyzed the owlfish by cutting through the fish’s backbone, according to Bruce Robinson, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Robinson narrates a video of the fight between invertebrate and vertebrate, captured by MBARI’s remotely operate vehicled Doc Ricketts on Nov. 11, 2013.

The Doc Ricketts discovered the struggling marine creatures at about 1,475 feet (450 meters) below Monterey Bay as the vehicle was rising toward the surface, said Susan von Thun, an MBARI senior research technician. Scientists watched the scene play out for 50 minutes before the ROV had to continue its journey, Von Thun told LiveScience. [See video of the squid-fish tussle.]

“They were sinking rapidly the whole time, and we think that’s part of the squid’s tactic,” Von Thun said. “We see a lot of feeding events, and oftentimes the squid gets startled and lets go, but this guy held on for the whole time that we watched it.”

By the time the ROV left, the squid and owlfish had dropped to a depth of 1,970 feet (600 meters), Von Thun said.

Read the full article here.