Intertidal Reef Monitoring Program 2014

Australian Marine Ecology has completed our 2014 survey of central Victorian intertidal reefs. Victoria’s rocky intertidal reefs occur on points and headlands across the state and are often separated by large stretches of sandy habitats. Our local reefs vary in structure from steep sloping rock faces to relatively flat or gently sloping boulder fields and rock platforms. Australian Marine Ecology has surveyed these important habitats for the Parks Victoria Intertidal Reef Monitoring Program since 2003.  Surveys involve a visual census of mobile invertebrates (whelks, limpets, and crabs), sessile invertebrates (tube worms and barnacles) and algae. This year we went hi-tech, using tablet field computers, portable UBS GPS units and electronic callipers to complete our most efficient survey to date. Which left plenty of time for an enjoyable walk along our beautiful coastline.







Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park survey

We have just completed our 16th survey of the Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park (MNP) in our ongoing monitoring program of Victorian Marine Protected Areas. The Port Phillip Heads MNP is one of the most amazing and diverse underwater environments in Australia. This summer, Australian Marine Ecology and Fathom Pacific divers surveyed in and around the Port Phillip Heads MNP for the Parks Victoria subtidal reef monitoring program.  The monitoring program involves an underwater visual census of fish, invertebrates, and algae as well as filming diver-operated stereovideo footage.  There were 14 sites in this survey which covered a variety of habitats from the calm seagrass beds inside Nepean Bay to the high energy shallow reefs outside Point Lonsdale.

As the survey was expected to last a few weeks, we established a basecamp at the Queenscliff Harbour in our vessel Orca II.

This was home to some during the long days and over several weeks as we finished the survey.  Luckily gourmet café food and hot coffee was never far away.

The highlight was observing two female Blue Groupers (Achoerodus gouldii) inside the MNP.  These species were historically subjected to heavy fishing pressures in the area and had not yet been observed over the previous 15 years of monitoring at Port Phillip Heads MNP.

With only one year to go until the 17th survey, we look forward to another sunny summer in Queenscliff.

Sea Lion Research on the Subantarctic Auckland Islands

Our senior technical officer David Donnelly recently joined a team of five scientists on a voyage to New Zealand’s subantarctic Auckland Islands. The purpose of this field excursion was to continue the Department of Conservation’s long term monitoring of the vulnerable New Zealand sea lion (Phocartos hookeri). The distribution of this species is limited the New Zealand mainland and its subantarctic islands. They are one of the rarest species of sea lion in the world and arguably the most threatened due to a significant decline in numbers and restricted breeding range. This most recent monitoring period ran for seven weeks, which coincided with the peak in the pupping season. The primary purposes of the program are:

·         to evaluate population recovery;

·         monitor pup survival rates; and

·         provide an overall population estimate for the region.

A mark/recapture method was used to achieve the objectives of the program and included capping, flipper tagging and micro chipping of pups as well as using visual resights of older tagged and/or micro chipped individual sea lions. In all, there were three separate study sites which included Figure of Eight Island to south as well as Dundas and Enderby Island to the north. The team of scientists were based at Sandy Bay on Enderby Island in very humble cabin accommodation complete with diesel stove, outdoor meat safe and a pit toilet. The daily routine for the science team involved early rise for breakfast, followed by a visit to the Sandy Bay sea lion colony to record tag resights and monitor the health of the new pups. Afternoons generally involved data entry and household chores with an occasional second visit to the colony. A twice a week walk around the entire island to look for and record animals outside of the main colony was also part of the busy schedule. As well as sea lion monitoring, the science team were also involved in the deployment and retrieval of TDRs (Time Depth Recorders) on yellow-eyed penguins and monitoring the nests of the local royal albatross population. The Auckland Islands is an incredibly beautiful oasis in what is otherwise, a very inhospitable area of the Southern Ocean.       

Data collected from this field season will be added to the Department of Conservation’s sea lion database which will assist in the future management of this rare species of pinniped.

Port Campbell Community Presentation

Australian Marine Ecology staff are often fortune enough to make presentations for Parks Victoria community engagement evenings. Matt and Bryan travelled down to scenic Port Campbell along the Great Ocean Road for one such evening in December 2013. Our presentation topic was the subtidal reef monitoring program of Marine Protected Areas, which we have run for Parks Victoria for almost 15 years. Bryan discussed details and findings of our ongoing program while displaying some underwater photos from the local marine parks and sanctuaries.

Afterwards, Parks Victoria ranger Natasha Johnson showed off more stunning underwater photos from the recent Twelve Apostles Marine National Park Bioscan survey.

These nights are free and increasingly popular so keep watching this space for details on our next appearance.


Expedition at Wilsons Promontory

Victorian coastal conditions in winter are a notorious barrier to marine biologists wanting to go about their fieldwork. However, this year several weather windows allowed Australian Marine Ecology staff to penetrate the waters of Wilsons Promontory Marine National Park.  In May-June 2013, Australian Marine Ecology was commissioned by Parks Victoria for an expedition to Victoria’s Wilsons Promontory. The expedition combined two distinct operations that made the most of AME’s remote sensing equipment and field expertise.


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