Reef Life Survey Jervis Bay and Sydney 2015


It was decades ago that I last wandered along the shore at Erowal Bay. I have fond memories of staying with my Uncle George here, including hours fishing from his tinnie in Jervis Bay. Now I’m back, gearing up for the last of four days of Reef Life Surveys.

It’s been a great few days; Jervis really is an aquatic playground. Despite the challenges of wind, swell and a Navy closure of half the bay, we will completed 48 surveys with 10 divers over the weekend. We recorded over 1400 sightings of fish and macro-invertebrates, spanning 146 species and 10 sites.

Long spined porcupinefish - Diodon holocanthus

Long spined porcupinefish – Diodon holocanthus, a tropical species

The site count is low as many sites in Jervis require four transects and two depths, so one site can take a whole morning. But who can complain when the sites include The Docks, Bowen Island and The Tubes? Stunning underwater seascapes, with steeply plunging walls and big schools of fish.

Highlights for me include the great company; Denise, Janet, Michael, Jen, David, Andrew, Kris, Yanir, Tash, Allyson, Sophie, all sharing the big Deep 6 Diving house, doing fish IDs until the late hour and glass of red send you to sleep. Pizza never tastes as good as it does after a day on the water. Diving with Sue and John from Crest, taking us to the right places each day. The ABC crew, who just happened to be passing through… they did a nice little item on our volunteer activities on the 7.30 Report, taking great footage of us on the URG boat (“these divers go out every weekend and count fish!”).

Keeping and eye out - Clown Toby - Canthigaster callisterna

Keeping and eye out – Clown Toby – Canthigaster callisterna

And the marine life… more fiddler rays than you can poke a stick at, wobbegongs, big-bellied seahorses, goblinfish, weedfish, cuttlefish… I’m resolved to come back, maybe for another RLS long weekend next year. After all, someone has to do it!

See more photos from Jervis Bay RLS


“What’s there to see? Isn’t it all just mud and shopping trolleys?”. I look at the guy standing on the shore, watching us gear up for another day of Reef Life Surveys in Sydney. “You’d be surprised” we say. And so he would if he could see what we can once under the water.

Sydney never ceases to amaze me with the diversity and complexity of marine life just under the waves of Australia’s largest city. After four days of surveys, we have the data to prove it. Twelve divers have been involved; David, Janet, Michael, Sophie, Ben, Jen, Kris, Matt, Rena, Yanir, Andrew and me, with support from URG’s Denise and Rianti, plus Scubamunkies and Snorkel Safari. We’ve surveyed 22 sites from Pittwater to Port Hacking, completing 39 surveys despite the strong onshore winds on a couple of the days. We’ve collected 1600 observations and counted 45,000 animals to record a total of 193 species of fish and macro-invertebrate in Sydney’s waters.

Yanir hard at work

Yanir hard at work

Of course, you get mado, hulafish and black urchins on almost every site. But then there are the unusual finds, particularly the tropical species. The waters are at their warmest in March, and the tropicals are still avoiding predators in popular settlement sites like North Harbour and Cabbage Tree Bay. Unicornfish, Moorish idols, surgeonfish, butterflyfish… often juveniles, but wonderful to see all the same.

We enjoy a cool drink at Sydney Institute of Marine Science on the last day; they’ve supported this weekend with funds and access to their facilities, and are interested in the data we’re collecting. There’s talk of a marine park for Sydney, and who knows, maybe our efforts will help to design protection zones where they will make a real difference.


The last of the data are now in for out Reef Life Survey of Sydney (as per 13 April 2015). A total of 11 trained divers gathered over 2000 records and counted almost 60,000 animals over two weeks! We recorded total of 214 fish and invertebrate species over 26 sites.

Which sites had the highest species richness? The top ten are shown below (click on the image to view full size); the top five are all in aquatic reserves (green) and six of the ten are in Sydney Harbour. All three Cabbage Tree Bay sites are in the top five. The conclusion – marine protected areas work… and our harbour is incredibly diverse!

Reef Life Survey Sydney Result 2015

Read the Reef Life Survey report on The Manly Daily – April 13, 2015

Read the Reef Life Survey report on The Daily Telegraph – March 29, 2015