The friendly Friends of Beware Reef by Don Love
October 6, 2010 by Toni
The two most active surveyors of our group are Alan Wilkins (‘Big Al’) and Don Love (‘Captain Birdseye’), who have managed between them to survey virtually the whole Victorian coast in the last year, from Cape Howe in the east to Portland in the west.
Some five years ago we began the Friends of Beware Reef Group, to initially explore and map the three shipwrecks on the reef (this was a result of Don being a Shipwreck nut!). With Beware Reef having just been proclaimed a Marine Sanctuary, it became obvious to our group that not even Parks Victoria knew much about what really resided within their brand new, shiny park. So we set about building up a data-base of fish species observed on our dives. This was later extended to invertebrates, and seaweeds as our group began to regularly attract funding to subsidize our ‘addiction.’
Somewhere along the way John, Mike and Don were invited to join the RLS crew down at Flinders Island for a training course to learn the finer art of underwater video census methods. With the further development of our group John has taken on the role of underwater video man, and Alan came on board as our new surveyor.
We try to go diving on a weekly basis, one wonders why after both doing many thousands of dives between us. We are in the habit of diving twelve months of the year, in all water conditions from passably warm (18 degrees is considered hot!) to bloody cold (9 degrees); in good viz up to 25+ metres, to very limiting visibility around two metres when the algal blooms are on. We dive in current of up to three knots and even launched the boat in swells of 3 to 4 metres, the result being a bent prop! We have even been lucky enough to get bogged from time to time on the Cape Conran boat ramp. Digging the car out of the sand, believe it or not, is a blessing in winter when we come back absolutely freezing and cold from diving!
Reef Life Surveying for us usually takes place in around 10 to 20 metres of water as there are no really shallow parts on Beware Reef. But we have dived every pinnacle within the marine sanctuary and are now also doing surveys outside the park for comparative purposes. After about 6 to 7 hours out in the boat we return safely to the boat ramp and go back down the highway to home, an average dive day for us being in total 10 to 11 hours!
We are well known along the east Gippsland coast by all the regular fishermen, abalone divers, police, fisheries officers, Parks Victoria personal and by many locals and tourists alike who we give talks to on a regular basis. We have built up a strong working relationship we many of these groups and have been lucky enough to have been receiving grants for the last six years to continue our efforts in monitoring and educating others.
This year we have just received our latest grant and are getting a side-scan sonar unit to really get some good profiles and matching GPS marks so we can more accurately survey (and monitor the rapidly increasing urchin barrens). By this time next year we should have a really good data base (both statistically and visually through video) of what lies beneath the waves in the Beware Reef Marine Sanctuary.
As long as we can keep a positive attitude and keep up our fitness, this little RLS group (Friends of Beware Reef), should be able to keep going for another decade or two?