Reef life surveys

What are reef life surveys?

Rocky reefs are a common feature of Kangaroo Island’s (KI) coastline and are home to an array of plants and animals integral to the health of the island. Reef life surveys (RLS) are carried out by trained community divers and marine scientists, who monitor fish, invertebrate and seaweed densities in coastal rocky reef communities and generate data for detecting changes in reef health.

RLS monitoring on KI has been carried out since 2009 with generous support from the Reef Life Survey Foundation. In total, 30 reef sites have been surveyed along the north coast of KI, 12 of which have been selected for long-term reef health monitoring.

To collect RLS data, two divers lay a 50-metre tape measure along the reef parallel to shore, then swim along this line identifying and counting fish and invertebrates. They also swim above the tape measure and take photographs of the sea bottom every 2.5 metres to record seaweed species and density. This data is all collated and analysed by the Reef Life Survey Foundation in order to gain an understanding of the condition of reefs nationally.

Why are surveys being done?

Many reefs along the Adelaide metropolitan coastline are becoming degraded from overharvesting, increased recreational and coastal development, stormwater discharge, marine debris and sewage disposal. These processes result in high sediment nutrient and pollution loads in land run-off being deposited on reef communities.

KI's limestone and granite rocky reefs have high conservation value as they are home to iconic and threatened species – including harlequin fish and Western blue devil – rarely seen in other South Australian waters. Data generated from KI surveys also provide good comparisons with other southern Australian reef communities.

Because of its clean seas and rich and productive marine life, KI has both a valuable commercial fishing and aquaculture industry, and a lucrative nature-based tourism industry that underpin the island's economy.

Community involvement

Friends of the Sea is the first underwater nature club on KI and has more than 40 members. The group has attracted funds from both federal Caring For Our Country and state NRM Community grants to access isolated sites via charter boat and to establish 12 long-term monitoring sites representative of KI’s reef communities.

Natural Resources KI also collaborates with South Australian Conservation Research Divers (SACReD). SACReD is a marine citizen science group founded and managed by marine ecologist Janine Baker. SACReD was formed in 2007 to enable divers to participate in grant-assisted, field-based voluntary research on uncommonly recorded, cryptic and endemic marine fishes and invertebrates, via projects which Janine devises, manages and reports on yearly. You can view SACReD reports on Kangaroo Island marine fishes and invertebrates.

Natural Resources KI can connect you with the Friends of the Sea volunteer group, who are always looking for new members to be trained and involved in dive or snorkel fish counts.

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