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Local divers to become citizen scientists at the Gold Coast Sea Slug Census


Jessica Nelson
3 October 2018

Gold Coast beaches will soon become the playground for a 'treasure hunt' in the search for some of the planet's weirdest and most colourful marine creatures — sea slugs.

Citizen scientists will dive in for the annual Gold Coast Sea Slug Census on October 6 and 7 to photograph the brightly coloured creatures.

The underwater treasure hunt with a difference will take place over 48 hours in the coastal waters of the Gold Coast at sites ranging from South Stradbroke Island to Cook Island. Local and visiting divers will be vying for various prizes to show their prowess in finding and photographing sea slugs, which are often called ‘underwater butterflies’, due to their bright colours. Sea slugs are molluscs, and important indicators of environmental change because of their rapid life cycles and specific feeding requirements.

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

Southern Cross University Professor Steve Smith, director of the National Marine Science Centre, said there was only limited data around the Gold Coast and the event would help to add to the growth of knowledge.

“We’ve recorded lots of undescribed species through the census,” Prof Smith said.

“There’s about 6000 species of sea slug around the world, we know of about 3500.

“We’re pushing 300 species on the Gold Coast, but we know that there’s more.”

Prof Smith said he was confident divers would find up to 20 new species this weekend.

Through teaming up with local community organisations and volunteers, Southern Cross University has coordinated 30 sea slug census events at eight locations along Australia’s east coast since December 2013. In total more than 1000 citizen scientists, scuba divers and snorkelers have taken photos to document hundreds of species, new regional records, and substantial changes in range for some tropical species (see a recent paper documenting range extensions for 37 species).

The Gold Coast Sea Slug Census is a research partnership between volunteer divers and Southern Cross University’s National Marine Science Centre, made possible through the generous support of local businesses and the dedicated Gold Coast Sea Slug Census organising committee.

For more information about the Sea Slug Census program, please contact Professor Steve Smith [email protected].