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Volunteer divers provide vital information on marine environment


Brigid Veale
6 June 2012
Volunteer dive groups along the New South Wales coast are now contributing vital information to help manage coastal habitats into the future, following the success of a project undertaken by Southern Cross University’s National Marine Science Centre.

Supported by coastal Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) the project was developed to build the skills of underwater volunteers in NSW with funding from the Australian Government’s Caring for Our Country initiative.

Associate Professor Steve Smith and project officer Bob Edgar, from the University’s National Marine Science Centre, formed the Underwater Volunteers NSW (UVNSW) group last year by bringing together volunteer groups and government agencies.

With the input of volunteers and researchers the project has developed assessment and monitoring protocols and provided training and assistance to 11 underwater volunteer groups between Eden and Tweed Heads.

“UVNSW is made up of community-based organisations located along the length of the NSW coastline, dedicated to improving our understanding of underwater ecosystems,” Mr Edgar said.

“The activities undertaken by volunteers develop a sense of stewardship of their ‘blue backyards’ and raise community awareness about marine conservation issues along the NSW coastline.”

The project provided funding to groups to conduct underwater marine debris surveys and complete fish inventories and recently facilitated the formation of two new Underwater Volunteer Groups. The Combined Hunter Underwater Research Group is now active in the Hunter region and the Sapphire Coast Underwater Research Group has been established in the Merimbula/Eden area.

“The overall objective of the program was to build capacity in underwater volunteer groups to ensure that the data they collect is robust and is useful for long-term management of the state’s marine environment,” Professor Smith said.

“Establishing simple, standardised sampling protocols was the best way to achieve this.”

Mr Edgar said the data collected by the volunteers could now be uploaded to an online database on the UVNSW website. Researchers from the National Marine Science Centre are able to analyse the data and provide feedback to the underwater volunteer groups and other stakeholders.

“We have produced a range of educational material for divers on low-impact diving and tips on underwater photography and have contacted high schools and dive shops to encourage students and divers to participate,” said Mr Edgar, who also appears on a poster titled ‘Donate Your Body To Marine Science’ weighed down by a plethora of survey equipment and the usual SCUBA gear (pictured).

“Bob is a long-time volunteer and leads by example,” said Brian Hughes, Coastal and Marine Officer for the Hunter-Central Rivers CMA. “His enthusiasm is infectious and having him as project officer has been very effective at encouraging others to get involved in underwater volunteering.”

Bob Edgar emerges from the water with survey equipment and the usual SCUBA gear.