Weedy seadragon research 2016 – scope & survey method

URG NSW continues to do the weedy seadragon research in 2016 but instead of counting the numbers in Sydney dive sites, we will focus on monitoring just 5 key sites. We will do repeat visits to those sites 3 times a year and collect weedy density figure, ie. how many weedies per area.

The best way to do this is to use swim time along the sand-line where we typically find weedy seadragon for these sites. We each need to calibrate the general swim time so we know how long it takes to swim approx 50m with our own typical swim speed. This can be done during the survey exercise (beforehand) or individuals can do it before the surveys in their own time. The width of the area searched along the sand-line and the dive time can then be used to compute an approximate area searched. We will take photo id for ongoing photo identification (both flanks of each weedy). If we stop to take pictures etc during the survey, this will need to be noted and deducted from the swim time. When using boat we need to have consistent gps starting point so when we re-do the survey we are in the approximate same start point each time.

Survey Protocols Guidelines

To ensure the success of each scheduled Weedy Seadragon survey the following is what needs to be in place as arranged by the convenor . If not in place the dive type should fall back from research to recreational or some other activity.

  • Each Survey Team must have one photographer who has taken photos in previous URG weedy survey adequately. We will have a known pool of people for this that can be added to over time as divers learn these skills.
  • For divers interested in participating with no former experience in Weedy Survey particularly with taking photographs we will get these divers to come along on the surveys and observe and practice skills (taking photos, collecting swim time, getting used to spotting weedy if haven’t seen the fish before etc) for some time before they officially conduct surveys. They can send in some photo examples for feed-back etc .
  • For survey data consistency we want to have same starting point and general direction so will use GPS boat anchor as the starting point marker for boat dives.
  • For survey data consistency it is generally best not to do the surveys in poor conditions (high swell, strong current, poor vis etc) but try and do in consistent reasonable` conditions.
  • For survey data consistency it is best to have same number of people doing survey each time on a particular dive, typically a dive buddy pair but more can be involved if the divers are spread out a few metres from each other and not covering the same survey area as the other divers . The approx distance from each other needs to be recorded.
  • Convenor or someone delegated will collect the survey data at end of dive on a sheet and take photo of all non photographic details and send it to info@urgdiveclub.org.au for database updates.
  • Weedy Photos to be uploaded to Weedy Dropbox and info@urgdiveclub.org.au notified. This dropbox is owned by John Turnbull so please contact him to get access.

Tips for taking photos of weedy seadragons

It is very important that participants are able to take photos that can be used for pattern matching software to uniquely identify the Weedy Seadragon:

  • Take shots at right angles as best as possible to the flank (side on) and get close as possible to get good resolution of the spot patterns (without touching the animal or chasing it too much). The spot patterns need to have clear outline in the photo when zoomed in so they can be  software “finger printed” adequately. The higher the quality of the pictures the better the software will work for matching.
  • Take shots of both sides of the weedy. The two flanks (sides) of each weedy have different spot patterns .
  • Take shots of the entire Weedy Seadragon as it’s good to get a record of other distinguishing features such as missing fins. It is also good to have a photo record of the whole animal to record whether it has eggs and the quality of those eggs and also to have a record of the health of the animal in general (visbile infections etc).  It doesn’t matter if you need to take this as an extra photo .
  • Label the photos to identify the weedy, repeat photo # of same animal. It’s not absolutely necessary but also good to add detail to the original  photo label with site, date the photo was taken,initials of person who took the photo, temperature and depth.  At the very least please ensure that each individual weedy is discernable from the photo label with an underscore figure.
Nice right angled full body shot of a weedy (photo courtesy of John Turnbull)

Nice right angled full body shot of a weedy (photo courtesy of John Turnbull)

This is a zoomed in photo of the same weedy above. Spot patterns nice and sharp is what we want!

This is a zoomed in photo of the same weedy above. Spot patterns nice and sharp is what we want!