Citizen scientists dive in to monitor reef health

News release
08 April 2019

Ten volunteer scuba divers joined DEW marine scientists on a recent survey of Fleurieu Peninsula rocky reefs to collect information used to help manage these critical marine habitats.

22 March 2019 Reef Life Survey Encounter MP group photo
Volunteer divers with DEW marine scientist and state RLS trainer Danny Brock. Photo: Jamie Hicks

The project, funded by the Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges (AMLR) Natural Resources Management Board and the Department for Environment and Water (DEW), aims to train local divers to collect high-level scientific data. The expedition ran for four days at Rapid Bay and Yankalilla, in the Encounter Marine Park.

The work is part of Reef Life Survey, the most successful citizen science dive program in the world. Reef Life Survey volunteers receive advanced training and the information they collect is used globally by governments to help monitor near-shore rocky reefs. AMLR reefs provide essential ecosystem services such as food production and coastal protection, as well harbouring some of the most unique marine life in southern Australia.

Scientific officer and survey coordinator Jamie Hicks said the volunteers ranged from university students to retirees, with interests including underwater photography and marine science.

“What they all share is a passion for diving and a desire to use that skill to give something back to the marine environment, which assists long-term monitoring of these critical ecosystems,” she said.

“They are contributing to the state and Australian governments’ long-term database of information used to manage our marine systems.

“RLS diving is challenging due to the high-level methodology but is a rewarding experience. Few people have the skills to do this sort of diving, so the more volunteers we can train, the greater the network, and there’s opportunities for them to be involved in South Australia and elsewhere. Once they’re accredited under the program the divers can take part in a Reef Life Survey anywhere in the world.”

The team of 12 divers, including DEW staff, conducted surveys from March 22 to 25 aboard a local charter vessel, Underwater Sports.

The department’s marine science group ran its first volunteer training expedition in 2017. DEW marine scientist and state RLS trainer Danny Brock said volunteer divers are taught to identify more than 100 species of fish and invertebrates and how to collect data underwater using scientific equipment and techniques – often in challenging conditions.

“It’s critical that they are able to capture data underwater with scientific rigour as we use this data to manage these systems and it is used in state and national reporting on the marine environment, so there is a high level of training involved so they collect data the way scientists do,” he said.

The Fleurieu reefs are home to a variety of marine life, including iconic leafy sea dragons, blue devils and occasionally rock lobsters. Intact and healthy reefs are crucial to protect the coast from erosion and provide refuge for a diversity of marine life.

22 March 2019 Reef Life Survey Encounter MP - volunteer divers
Volunteer divers. Photo: Jamie Hicks

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Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges