Rockfish researchers recover a frame carrying a small SeeStar system and a larger, older camera system after a deployment in Monterey Bay. Image: Francois Cazanave (c) 2014 MBARI 

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute has created an open source camera system for use underwater to aid in research projects. The rig is composed of a GoPro camera and other easily sourced components, and is cheaper than commercially available oceanographic camera systems. With this, other researchers are able to create and utilize the camera for their own research purposes when the costs to do so would otherwise be prohibitive.

The open source camera project started in 2012, with the goal of creating an easy-to-deploy and relatively cheap camera system for oceanic researchers. The SeeStar camera is the result of this project, and anyone can make their own version using parts acquired from hardware stores. A GoPro serves as the main camera unit, which is housed alongside a larger battery, lights and other components inside of a PVC pipe.

The entire camera system cost $3,000 versus the $5,000 to $20,000 other comparable camera systems cost. SeeStar can be placed to depths as far down as 1,000ft., can remain in place for months, and is able to take both still images and record video. As a bonus, the SeeStar system is also smaller than many alternatives.

Development work on the camera system is ongoing, and the researchers are looking into further simplifying the hardware to make it more accessible for others. The current version of the camera is already in use, however, with the California Wetfish Producers Association among others testing it as part of their own research efforts.