Dragons of Sydney – Citizen Science Program

The Dragons of Sydney Program is a collaboration between scientists from UTS, volunteer divers from URG NSW and supporting organisations including NPA NSW, Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS) and AMCS.


The aim of the program is to engage volunteer divers in order to gather important scientific data regarding this charismatic, protected and threatened species. Weedy seadragon populations are thought to be in decline however we have insufficient data to know for sure. This program will gather information to inform management decisions regarding the ongoing conservation of the species in the Sydney area.

Method and Scope

The project will build upon ecological data collected since 2001 from the UTS research group. Questions to be addressed include:

(a) Spatial abundance patterns on Sydney’s coasts and Sydney Harbour
(b) Individual and growth and movement
(c) Population connectivity
(d) Vulnerability to habitat loss etc.

The initial phase of the program is from January to November 2015. During this time, divers from URG will visit all significant known weedy seadragon sites in northern Sydney (eg Barrenjoey, Mona Vale), Sydney Harbour (eg North and South Head, Bluefish Point and The Gap) and southern Sydney (eg Shark Point and Kurnell).

Divers will gather data on abundance per dive search time, depth, specific location, photographs of left and right flanks, photographs showing features such as missing fins and eggs in males, and in some cases (if the diver is trained) tissue samples for genetic analysis.

The program will be reviewed in December 2015 as it is intended to continue in 2016 and beyond, potentially with an expanded scope such as measuring animals to monitor growth and using GPS for more accurate information on movement.

Scientists and Citizens

SIMS scientists David Booth and Selma Klanten are liaising with divers re sites, training some divers in tissue sampling, educating divers on the behaviour and characteristics of the species and will use the collected data to write reports and papers. Some articles will be in conjunction with John Turnbull (URG diver and visiting fellow at SIMS), who will add a citizen science dimension. It is planned to dive on a total of 5 shore sites and 12 boat sites in 2015, with six divers per site. SIMS is funding this project in 2015.

Interactive Individual Identification System (I3S)

Kris O’Keeffe, a URG diver and technical specialist, has been working on flank pattern matching program (I3S) to track our Weedy Sea Dragons and has a workable photo library with 30 individual animal “fingerprints”.

Finger print

Finger print

The image above is an example of a ‘finger print’ file created for one Weedy (click on the image to enlarge). This is used for checking against existing database finger print entries and gets imported into the database for future match attempts for any new finger print files.

Pattern matching example

Pattern matching example

The “Pattern matching example” image above (click to enlarge) is an example of a search result in the database where the top weedy is matched with a database entry for Weedy called ‘Micca’. Currently we have 85 unique individuals and 186 finger prints loaded in the database.

The I3s pattern matching software is nicely documented in the following site http://www.reijns.com/i3s/


As per 30 March 2015, we have counted 40 sea dragons and clipped the fin of 15 individual for DNA testing from various dive sites in Sydney Harbour, Southern Beaches, Northern Beaches and Botany Bay.

Botany Bay3310
Sydney Harbour22
Northern Beaches00
Southern Beaches123

Download the Dragon of Sydney 2015 Project Report

Read about the Weedy Sea Dragon Project on the Manly Daily, 2 March 2015