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FLI Featured in Ithaca Journal

Posted on Tuesday, September 04, 2012

A recent article in The Ithaca Journal describes the work of underwater camera operator David Brown, conducted in collaboration with researchers from the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Brown and FLI researchers are documenting underwater landscape and water quality in the Finger Lakes region.

"The project he's working on is named BASELINE. It will be a comprehensive underwater video documentation of Finger Lakes watersheds before potential changes from invasive species and hydrofracking. Hydrofracking is a contentious form of gas drilling," the article says.

"When footage gathering is complete for BASELINE, raw film and water data will be available to non-profit organizations free of charge. The media will also be disseminated through presentations and short films."

According to the article, "Finger Lakes Institute Director Lisa Cleckner said the project's primary goal isn't slanted toward recording invasive species or gathering data before potential hydrofracking."

Cleckner is quoted, "It truly is a baseline, capturing images of the ecosystem, while knowing that threats exist and being able to have that documentation to show what the Finger Lakes ecosystems look like."

The article also notes Cleckner anticipates the work will help frame the data with the stories behind it.

"It's just invaluable to be able to be out in the field with somebody who has worked with the Cousteau team and other places, and really knows how to present imagery, and it's just a great education tool, and it really helps us as scientists to better describe our work," Cleckner is quoted.

The full article follows.



The Ithaca Journal
Tracking life below Cayuga Lake's waters
Former Cousteau cameraman documents water quality before gas drilling, invasive species spread

Andrew Casler • August 3, 2012


ITHACA - Whether he's scuba diving, barely submerged, in the knee-deep waters of Fall Creek or descending into a deep, glacier-cut Finger Lakes' abyss, underwater cameraman David Brown is working to find a place where scientific data and striking visuals align.


Before the potential onset of horizontal hydraulic fracturing and the further spread of invasive species, Brown is working to document underwater landscape and water quality in the Finger Lakes region.


His film-production career started aboard Jacques Cousteau's boat, the Calypso. He worked as a still photographer, production diver, lecturer and writer while on Calypso's crew. Brown, 53 years old and a veteran cameraman, lives in the City of Ithaca.


The project he's working on is named BASELINE. It will be a comprehensive underwater video documentation of Finger Lakes watersheds before potential changes from invasive species and hydrofracking. Hydrofracking is a contentious form of gas drilling.


When footage gathering is complete for BASELINE, raw film and water data will be available to non-profit organizations free of charge. The media will also be disseminated through presentations and short films.


Partial funding for the project, $10,000, came from a Toyota and National Audubon Society partnership called TogetherGreen. The Park Foundation matched their $10,000 donation.


The project is being coordinated with researchers from the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.


With the funding, Brown can capture underwater video as Finger Lakes Institute researchers collect water quality data. After that, footage and water quality information would be coupled.


Finger Lakes Institute Director Lisa Cleckner said the project's primary goal isn't slanted toward recording invasive species or gathering data before potential hydrofracking.


"It truly is a baseline, capturing images of the ecosystem, while knowing that threats exist and being able to have that documentation to show what the Finger Lakes ecosystems look like," she said.


For example, Brown said, "with hydrofracking as a possibility in areas, you'd want to be measuring for methane before and after."


Though the project doesn't have a big budget, Brown and the researchers are trying to get a comprehensive look at the water system.


A goal for the BASELINE project is to have at least one dive in each of the Finger Lakes. So far, Brown has predominantly dived in Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, along with their tributaries. BASELINE has about 15 days scheduled for researchers testing water while Brown films.


Cleckner said this project will tell the stories behind water data.
"It's just invaluable to be able to be out in the field with somebody who has worked with the Cousteau team and other places, and really knows how to present imagery, and it's just a great education tool, and it really helps us as scientists to better describe our work," Cleckner said.


With Finger Lakes researchers testing water above, Brown has filmed the aquatic invasive species round goby fish, Asiatic clams and bloody-red mysid, a shrimp-like crustacean in the Cayuga-Seneca Canal.


Brown hasn't been able to film hydrilla in Cayuga Lake inlet because the water is too murky where the aggressive invasive aquatic plant grows.


Brown reflected on the mysid. "They're in the Thousand Islands, they're in the Great Lakes, they're in Seneca Lake and they're working their way here (Cayuga Lake) through the Cayuga-Seneca Canal," he said.


Brown said the invasive crustaceans were "swarming by the millions, just millions and millions. It was kind of ironic because I was down there to film the shrimp swarm, and I'm filming them against a backdrop of solid zebra mussels, and I'm thinking ‘Wow, neither of these things were here just a very short period of time ago.'"


Unlike a typical diver, when Brown wrestles into a wetsuit and slings an air tank onto his back, he's not always diving deep.


For this project, Brown said, all he needs is about a foot of clear water to get the camera submerged, and then he's set to get to work.


"Sometimes, I just have to find a pool or pocket that's deep enough to put my whole camera in, which can mean a foot. It doesn't really matter; there's just interesting stuff everywhere," he said.


Brown grew up in Ithaca, graduating from Ithaca High School in 1977 and then Cornell University in 1983.


After studying whales near Boston, Mass., Brown joined Jacques Cousteau's crew. While working with Jacques Cousteau and his son, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Brown was production diver and wore a silver and black wetsuit in the television series, "Rediscovery of the World," through 1985 to 1990.


With the Cousteaus, Brown traveled to see underwater lava flows in Hawaii and giant octopus and wolf eels in the Pacific Northwest.


He said the most memorable expedition was in the waters of Papua, New Guinea, northeast of Australia.


"We had some incredible encounters there," Brown said. "On the last day of the expedition, we came across a couple of orca, killer whales, in crystal clear water ... they started to dive deep toward the end of the day and came up with sharks in their mouths and tore them up in front of us, on camera. It was pretty memorable stuff."


Though, to the Finger Lakes' credit, Brown said, "having seen a whole bunch of interesting parts of the world, it just made me appreciate this place more. The real salient thing about the place is the water system; it's an aquascape - it's not a landscape, it's just carved by water, it's just water, water everywhere, and it's still in pretty good shape, we just need to do everything we can to keep it that way."


Having been a snorkeler and diver throughout his youth in Ithaca, Brown has already seen a significant change from one invasive species, zebra mussels.


"I went away for so long, and then I came back, and I was just ecstatic to find that the water system still looked pretty healthy, but I wasn't until I really started digging that I realized how much it had changed already," Brown said.


"First off, it was the zebra mussels, and they're everywhere and they're thick ... so that was immediately noticeable."

 

 

 


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