RLS divers from Port Stephens, Newcastle and Sydney recently got together to re-survey a bunch of RLS annual reef monitoring sites in the Sydney area. Fifteen sites in Sydney Harbour, Botany Bay and along the Sydney coast that have been surveyed during the last two years were resurveyed by a team consisting of Tom & Nicola Davis, Martin Mueller, Jack O’Connor, Thierry Rakotoarivelo, Margo & Ash Smith, Kate Tinson and Rick Stuart-Smith. Three committed local Sydney divers also participated to be trained in the RLS methods and become part of what is becoming a strong local team. Tom Heath, Elaine Kwee and Renata Pronk proved very enthusiastic and quick learners and we are incredibly lucky to have them as RLS divers and part of the national team now.
Although conditions weren’t very favourable in the lead up to the survey weekend, with torrential downpours through the local catchments and distinctly brown water along the coast, timing dives around high tide and exploring multiple sites to find the clearest on each occasion allowed surveys to proceed with at least 5 m of visibility. By splitting between shore and boat teams, 33 transects were surveyed at 15 sites over the course of the four days
The most striking result of the surveys was the sheer number of tropical species present this year. Although the phenomenon of tropical vagrants turning up in Sydney is well known, this year seems to have been a big year, with 56 tropical (and sub-tropical) fish species recorded (out of a total of 187 fishes recorded on the 33 transects). This is impressive considering a total of about 50 species of tropical fish had previously been recorded during 172 RLS transects in the Sydney area over the last 3 years (out of 192 fishes all up).
Particularly interesting sightings included the dusky whaler sharks (Carcharhinus obscurus), adult spangled emperor (Lethrinus nebulosus) and island trevally (Carangoides orthogrammus) at Fairy Bower, as well as abundant Macropharyngodon, Acanthurus olivaceus and Halichoeres nebulosus juveniles at Bluefish Point. As for previous organised Sydney survey weekends, enormous support was provided by Abyss SCUBA (www.abyss.com.au), and Peter from Frog Dive (http://www.frogdive.com.au/). Peter’s expert skippering and knowledge of RLS sites and needs was very much appreciated and he as well as the staff at Abyss deserves a massive thank you once again for helping make the surveys possible and successful.