An underwater treasure hunt with a difference will take place in the coastal waters of the Gold Coast over the long weekend in October.
Local and visiting divers will be vying for various prizes to show their prowess in finding and photographing … sea slugs!
Sea slugs are a group of marine molluscs that have progressively reduced or lost their shell over an evolutionary timescale. They include seahares, bubble shells, side-gilled slugs, head-shield slugs and sea butterflies.
However, it is the incredible colours and amazing body forms of the nudibranchs that captures people’s attention.
More than 3000 species of sea slug have been scientifically described across the globe, with many more currently awaiting description.
Sea slugs are highly popular subjects for recreational underwater photographers.
“These images provide a very valuable source of information on the diversity and distribution of sea slugs,” said Professor Steve Smith, from Southern Cross University’s National Marine Science Centre.
“This is the basis of the Sea Slug Census program – encouraging recreational divers to help document regional diversity through their photography.
“The Gold Coast Sea Slug Census represents an important expansion of the program, which the University has been running at Nelson Bay in New South Wales since 2013 and Sydney since 2015.
“The results have highlighted the ability of citizen scientists to provide important data, some of which has now been published in international scientific journals.”
The Gold Coast is home to south-east Queensland’s premium shore dive, the Gold Coast Seaway, from where more than 460 species of fish have been recorded to date.
“Over the last five years, I have found and photographed 155 species of sea slug from the various dives sites in the Seaway,” said Deb Aston, who maintains a sea slug photo library, at the Gold Coast Nudibranch Facebook site.
“Populations of sea slugs in the Seaway are highly dynamic, with some present all year round, some occurring seasonally, and some that have only been recorded very rarely.”
The chance of finding a species that has not yet been recorded from the area is one of the reasons dedicated ‘sea slug-hunters’ dive the site time and again.
To help divers identify their finds, and facilitated by sponsorship from the Gold Coast Waterways Authority, Deb and team have produced a booklet showcasing Deb’s photographs of the sea slug species from the region. This booklet will be available during the event.
The Gold Coast Sea Slug Census is a research partnership between volunteer divers and Southern Cross University’s National Marine Science Centre.
However, it would not have been possible without the generous support of local businesses and a dedicated organising committee.
Interested divers can register for the event via the Gold Coast Sea Slug Census Facebook page.
For further information contact: Jessica Huxley, media officer, Southern Cross University Gold Coast, 07 5589 3024 or 0417 288 794.
Photographer: Deb Aston. High resolution images are available on request.
Media contact: Sharlene King