A cost-effective video system for a rapid appraisal of benthic habitats and democratize deep-sea exploration
Deep-sea exploration relies on cutting-edge technology, which generally requires expensive instruments, highly specialized technicians and ship time. The increasing need to gather large-scale data on the distribution and conservation status of deep-sea benthic species and habitats could benefit from the availability of low-cost imaging tools to facilitate the access to the deep sea world- wide.
In this context, the Azores Deep-sea research group developed the Azor drift-cam, a cost-effective video platform designed to conduct rapid appraisals of deep-sea benthic habitats. Built with off-the- shelf components, the Azor drift-cam should be regarded as an effective, affordable, simple-to- assemble, easy-to-operate, resilient, operational and reliable tool to visually explore the deep sea to 1,000 m depth. The main purpose driving this technological development is to democratize deep-sea exploration by sharing a simple yet versatile tool that can be used to survey shelf and deep-sea habitats on board of small local vessels. The system does not aim to become a substitute for more sophisticated underwater video and photography platforms, such as ROVs, AUVs or manned submersibles. Rather, it aims to provide the means to perform quick assessments of deep-sea benthic habitats in a simple and affordable manner.
This drift-cam system has the potential to make deep-sea exploration more accessible, playing an important role in the Deep-Ocean Observing Strategy and measuring some of the Essential Ocean Variables for deep-sea monitoring and conservation strategies.
The development of the Azor drift-cam was supported by the PO2020 MapGES Project (Acores-01- 0145-FEDER-000056), and to the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreements No 678760 (ATLAS), No 689518 (MERCES) and No 818123 (iAtlantic). We also acknowledge funds and support from the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) through the strategic project (UID/05634/2020) granted to OKEANOS and the Fundação Oceano Azul (FOA) through the Blue Azores Project.