Sea Slug Census

Citizen Science Dive Program

John Turnbull, Member, National Parks Association of NSW

  • Category: Shore dives and rock pools
  • Depth: Various, to 20 m
  • Rating: Easy
  • Access: SCUBA, snorkelling and rock platform walking
  • Special equipment: Underwater camera

In a recent edition of Nature NSW we published a Creature Feature on nudibranchs. These curious, diverse molluscs are a favourite find for divers. They are also excellent indicators of climate change, thanks to their visibility, ease of identification and seasonality.

Four years ago, scientists from the National Marine Science Centre at Southern Cross University, led by Professor Steve Smith, kicked off a program to allow citizen scientists to help track these colourful critters. The first Sea Slug Census took shape, with the help of divers from the Central Hunter Underwater Group and others in the Port Stephens area. The event was a great success, leading to an ongoing program in Port Stephens, and sister events in Sydney and the Gold Coast. The event continues to grow as there are more locations in the pipeline.

All you need to do to take part is to have suitable gear including an underwater camera. Each event takes place over 24 hours, during which time you can dive as often as you like, wherever you like in the designated local area. Recording a species is as simple as taking a photograph. Deeper species require SCUBA of course, but there are many species that live in the shallows and even rock pools, so you can even find species in your surface interval!

You then submit your photographs to the event coordinators, who will identify any species that you couldn’t identify yourself. Other information, such as depth and estimated size, are also recorded. Organisers then write a report of the finds from the day, and participants receive a great customised report of all the species from the day, with identification photos.

As a keen underwater photographer, I love to find new (for me) species, and I welcome the challenge of photographing an animal which can be smaller than your pinkie fingernail. Most shots need cropping of course! The Port Stephens census is a favourite of mine, as the diversity around the Nelson Bay hotspot never ceases to amaze me. The two Sydney events to date have been a surprise too, in terms of the number of species found in such a developed part of the NSW coastline.

To date over 150 divers have participated, recording over 300 species including 25 species which were beyond their known range. Marine scientists, always looking for good data, place high value on the information collected. If you feel that finding nudibranchs may be of interest, or you want to volunteer some time for the good of science and the marine environment, register for one of the 2017 events.

Register for an Event

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