If you conduct a Google search for “underwater webcam”, one of the first sites you encounter is for Bonaire WebCams, a series of cameras that transmit video from various locations on the Caribbean island of Bonaire. One of these cameras is the so-called Bonaire ReefCam, located in shallow water inside the Bonaire National Marine Park. The ReefCam is operated privately by a resort and dive operator under permit from the park, and was installed by Caribbean Webcams (http://www.caribbeanwebcams.com).

Below, MPA News talks with Daniel Senie, Chief Technology Officer of Caribbean Webcams, about the usefulness and limitations of underwater webcams.

MPA News: You have said that setting up and operating underwater webcams involves a significant investment in equipment, expertise, and time. On average, what would you estimate the set-up and annual operating costs to be for a single underwater webcam?

Daniel Senie: Costs are highly variable and depend on many factors. Pricing could range from US$6000 to $15,000 or beyond, depending on connectivity available, methodology for linking the camera to shore, power availability, and so forth. [Editor’s note: Some of the technologically advanced webcam systems described in the adjacent article, including for offshore sites, can range into tens of thousands of dollars to install, and require a full-time technician to operate.]

MPA News: What are the main challenges involved in setting up and maintaining an underwater webcam?

Senie: Saltwater destroys equipment. Although inexpensive gear will provide great images the first week, and maybe even the first few months, there will be serious trouble in the future. Also, maintenance requires divers on a very frequent basis – at least a few times a week. Sea life will otherwise overgrow the camera, lens port and all.

MPA News: What are the ideal ecological conditions for operating an underwater webcam?

Senie: More than any other factor, closeness to shore – with the ability to run a protected cable out to the camera – makes for the ideal setting. Complexity arises when cameras cannot be powered from shore, and data signals thus have to travel over wireless connections. There are solutions to all such problems, but the more complexity present, the more things there are to go wrong. When equipment is in remote locations, things “going wrong” become that much more difficult to manage.

For more information:

Daniel Senie, Caribbean Webcams, PO Box 550, Bolton, MA 01740, USA. Tel: +1 703 783 8370; E-mail: dan@caribbeanwebcams.com