The trip across Jervis Bay had been a bit choppy with all divers donning suits and staying under cover but with the wind from the NW pushing on toward the other side was a great option. Finally, there I was sitting on the URG boat back at one of my favourite NSW south coast dive sites with flat blue water and viability approaching 20 meters. We were anchored meters from the shore and there was a slight surge of water up the cliff face with each wave.
We could count the fish from the boat but had a specific methodology to follow so needed to enter the water and run out the tape measures. Warm, blue, clear water beckoned.
Our Tasmanian contingent Laurel and Rowan went in first as they had 200 meters of tape to run and 80 plus photographs of the substrate to collect. They were soon followed by Kris and David who had 1 side of the four 50 meter tapes.
We leisurely sat on the boat talking to Denise and John V, checking underwater paper, sharpening pencils etc until we saw the divers 10 meters below come back to the flag and start off in the other direction.
We backward rolled in on the all clear signal and drifted down the line to our first tape. Taking one side each we started counting fish in the method 1 which is a 5 meter tunnel along 50 meters of tape.
This is actually harder in great viz than in 5 meter viz as we needed to judge if the fish was outside the tunnel and count it if interesting in method zero not method 1. We may look to be meandering along one on each side of the tape but we are actually hectically counting, identifying and sizing individuals and recording with pencil strokes on the gridded spreadsheet.
We stopped together at 50 meters to confirm all ok, have a short rest, change the paper over and start the second tape. The guys had run the transect line tapes along the 10 meter contour which took us around and over a lot of large boulders and rocky reef with an area a kelp towards the end.
At the end of the tape we turned around to do the method 2 which is a 1 meter wide by 2 meter height (above and below the line) tunnel counting the larger than 25 mm mobile invertebrates and tricky cryptic fishes (those that hide). After that it is just a matter of reeling in the tapes and floating up to the boat which we could see from the finish of the first survey on the reef.
After a good surface interval, with coffee, soup and munchies we would have to do another one at 5 meters. So what did we see? Without boring you with the numbers on 1 survey on transect we saw the following species: Girdled parma, Mado sweep, Maori wrasse, Eastern hulafish, Sergeant baker, Small-scale bullseye, Black-tipped bullseye, Silver sweep, White-ear, Old wife, Neon damsel, Crimson-banded wrasse, Half-banded seaperch, Eastern blue groper, Red morwong, Mosaic leatherjacket, Black-banded seaperch, Eastern talma, Yellow-tail scad, Long-spine urchin, Turban shell, Beardie, Australian rock whelk, One-spot puller, Rock cale, Grey morwong, Herring cale, Comb wrasse, Yellow-stripe leatherjacket, Crested morwong, Clown toby, Eastern blue groper, long fin pike, Black reef-leatherjacket, Yellow-tail kingfish, Immaculate damsel and on method zero because they were on my side but not within 5 meters and only Janet saw them ( yes I missed them) 2 grey nurse sharks.
The excitement on the boat was extreme damped slightly when reminded that the day was far from over. After going back to the ramp we still had a boat to wash and fuel, tanks to fill, gear to unload, sort, and wash, log books to complete and ah no data entry for the days counts.
Data entry was mostly done around the kitchen table late into the night with lap tops buzzing and lots of friendly discussion on the merit of scientific names verses common names and data entry codes. Who said citizen science was for boring nerds? Hard work yes but boring never.
All photos taken by John Turnbull. Visit Marine Explorer’s Flickr page for more photos from Jervis Bay Reef Life Survey 2016.