Marine researchers take Sea Slug Census international

Published 30 October 2018
A sea slug photographed during an Australian Sea Slug Census A sea slug photographed during an Australian Sea Slug Census

Southern Cross University researchers are taking the wildly successful Sea Slug Census to the world, with the first international event to be launched in eastern Indonesia this weekend.

Professor Steve Smith
Professor Steve Smith

Professor Steve Smith will team up with staff and students from Pattiumura University, as well as dive guides and guests at local dive resorts in Ambon, Maluku Province, to lead the underwater expedition to find and photograph sea slugs on 3-4 November, with the exciting possibility of finding species never documented before.

Through teaming up with local community organisations and volunteers, Southern Cross University has coordinated 32 sea slug census events at eight locations along Australia’s east coast since December 2013, including in Melbourne, Sydney, Gold Coast, Lord Howe Island and Nelson Bay. More than 1200 citizen scientists, scuba divers and snorkelers have taken photos to document more than 400 hundred species, new regional records, and substantial changes in range for some tropical species.

Professor Smith will run the two-day Ambon Sea Slug Census in conjunction with Professor Gino Limmon, Director of the Maritime and Marine Center of Excellence Pattimura University, and his team.

“We have attracted the support of dive resorts within the Maluku Province region,” said Professor Smith, Director of the University’s National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour on Australia’s East Coast.

“These resorts have excellent dive guides who are expert at finding small or cryptic species that can then be photographed by their diving guests.”

Sea slugs are molluscs, and important indicators of environmental change because of their rapid life cycles and specific feeding requirements. They are brightly-coloured, ranging from 4mm to 40cm in size.

The Sea Slug Census contributes to valuable marine research through Southern Cross University, where scientists use the data to map the distribution of sea slugs and identify changes to their patterns over time.

Professor Smith said Maluku was the perfect location for the first international census, as the area is under-sampled for most marine organisms reflecting limited research in the past.

“A recent review of images published online in the last few years has more than doubled the known diversity of sea slugs in eastern Indonesia. However, we conservatively estimate that there are at least twice as many species, at least 600 in the region, based on extensive surveys in other regions of the Coral Triangle around the Philippines and Bali,” Professor Smith said.

“As Maluku is at the centre of the Coral Triangle, which is thought to be a centre for speciation, we also anticipate finding many undescribed species and possibly some that are new to science – ones which have not been documented before.”

Media contact: Jessica Nelson 0417288794 or scumedia@scu.edu.au