Three months later and the RLS tropical survey trip has come to an end. A long and successful trip which has generated a huge wad of data and filled many survey gaps around the tropical coast of Australia. Survey data now exists from places such as Ningaloo, Muiron Islands Shark Bay, Enderby Island, Mornington Island, Lizard Island, Hinchinbrook/Dunk Islands, Cairns, Whitsundays, Great Keppel Island, Stradbroke Island, Babinda, Noosa and Byron Bay. Reef Life Survey would like to thank the following divers in particular for their hard work, expertise and participation during some, most, or all of the RLS tropical survey trip: Tim Alexander, Bill Barker, Ian Buchanan, Sylvia Buchanan, Pip Cohen, Karen Crawley, Nicola Davis, Tom Davis, Paul Day, Sophie Edgar, Andrew Green, Jen Hoskin, Don Love, Cheryl Petty, Marjon Phur, Lotte Rivers, Lotte Rivers, Keith Saunders, Terina Saunders, Spencer Shute, Ash Smith, Kevin Smith, Margo Smith, Kate Tinson, and welcomes new trainees; Deb Aston and Ian Banks.
A Cairns based team, including Tim Alexander, Bill Barker, Margo Smith, Kate Tinson, Andrew Green, Don Love, Sylvia Buchanan, Tom and Nicola Davis, and Toni Cooper were able to survey a number of outer reefs with the support of local dive operators. Special mention must go out to Sunlovers, TUSA, and Pro Dive for their support and for accommodating our needs underwater. Access to the outer reef would have been impossible without their help.
From the 24th June until the 6th July the crew went out on day charters and 3 day trips to survey a range of outer reefs in the Cairns region. As predicted, fish diversity was high with approximately 70-110 fish species being recorded per 50m transect. Once again, Surgeonfish, parrotfish, and damselfish all proved tricky and contributed to many long nights poring over reference books. While many surveyors knew what they were in for after the WA leg, it was still a bit of a shock to the system to come back from a dive with 60-90 species per block
After Cairns, the crew split up and while some were off on a bareboat charter around the Whitsundays (Rick, Kate, Margo, Bill, Ian and Sylvia), Tom and Nicola, Andrew and Toni headed over to Great Keppel Island. After a ‘delayed arrival’ to the island, the crew didn’t waste any time getting back into the water for some surveys. Fergie from the GKI Holiday Village kindly made logistics lot easier, providing the crew with a car and trailer for the week for which everyone was most grateful! As expected, the fish diversity was much less than Cairns with some sites on GKI only recording 17 species as opposed to 104 on the outer reef! The most common of which were Pomacentrus cf. milleri (which we have now confirmed is actually Pomacentrus wardi) and hundreds of Atrosalarius fuscus. Over the 6 days the crew managed to get 10 sites and 26 surveys done – A cracking effort!
The Whitsunday team and GKI team reunited on Stradbroke Island where they welcomed new RLS recruits; Deb Aston and Ian Banks. Deb kindly brought her boat over which meant the team had a little more flexibility in terms of site allocation. Outside the island at Flat and Shag Rock’s diversity and abundance was high, as was the water temp (21 degrees). Contrast to sites inside the bay, where temperatures were a much cooler 17 degrees and species richness and visibility was significantly less.
As the trip started to wind up so too did the RLS divers. Byron Bay saw Don Love and Team Smith (Margo and Ash) holding the fort with Toni! The crew had a couple of great dives out on Julian Rocks with Sundive (albeit a little tough against the current). Big snapper and Kingfish frequented the transect line and again the whales were in full chorus. Surveying a site outside the sanctuary zone proved a little trickier with both location and weather working against the team. But after a few extra days in Byron, Don and Toni managed to get one survey outside the SZ on the “Wollongbar”. The last dive of the mammoth expedition and Don (The shipwreck guru who survived the ENTIRE trip from start to finish) got to end the trip on a wreck dive!!
There are a number of people and organisations that helped make this trip possible, it is this loyalty and support which helps make this program so successful. It goes without saying the volunteers are invaluable, and the hours and hours of work did not go unnoticed! There are also many others who helped make this epic trip a success; The friends and family who opened their homes to the RLS team (Chris, Penny and Ted Wearne, Tom and Nicola Davis), and the accommodating tourism and dive operators who provided in-kind support and local knowledge (Sunlover Reef Cruises (http://www.sunlover.com.au/), TUSA Dive (http://www.tusadive.com/), ProDive (http://www.prodive-cairns.com.au/), Fergie from Great Keppel Island Holiday Village (http://www.gkiholidayvillage.com.au/), Sun Dive (http://www.sundive.com.au/) and Calypso Dive (http://www.calypsodive.com/)). Well done and thank you everyone!