I recently finished a two week stint on beautiful Maria Island, a national park off the coast of Tasmania, to work up the data collected in the first round of the Reef Life Survey co-run by Drs. Graham Edgar and Rick Stuart-Smith at the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania. The Reef Life Survey network is a non-profit entity whose aim is to, “improve biodiversity conservation and the sustainable management of marine resources through the collection of high-quality biodiversity information at spatial and temporal scales beyond those possible by scientific dive teams.” They do this by utilizing a network of enthusiastic trained recreational divers who perform standardized transects at hard substrate systems worldwide. Currently there are slightly over 1800 sites in the network from Tierra del Fuego (50 S) to Svalbard (nearly 80 N), although a good number of sites are concentrated in Australia where the network was trialed over the past few years.
All in all, it represents a remarkable undertaking by some truly brilliant individuals and committed divers that has yielded an invaluable dataset for answering global questions about nearshore marine ecosystems. (Read more about the Reef Life Survey network at their website, here).
The purpose of the two weeks was to bring together researchers from all over the world with expertise in these systems (and me) to begin to explore the data and reassess what we think we knew about these systems. Example questions include investigating large-scale patterns in fish diversity, trophic groups, and body size, linking productivity to diversity, assessing the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas, looking at range shifts and expansions, and quantifying rare species for conservation protection. Check out this short video clip from the ABC for some extra goodness (including cute swimming echnida!). Stay tuned for more from this exciting group!