What’s a Virtual Fish Count?
In November 2019 ReefWatch went regional to bring a taste of the Fish Count to schools in Bendigo, central Victoria. Students from St Kilians and Quarry Hill primary schools took a virtual dive into the reef at Pope’s Eye in Port Phillip Heads Marine Park, using The Nature Conservancy’s ReefCam. They recorded the presence and abundance of 35 target species of bony fish, sharks and rays that swam past the camera over a period of approximately 15 minutes, using a dive slate featuring images of these species. The results for each survey were uploaded to the Atlas of Living Australia’s citizen science database along with the rest of the 2019 Fish Counts- together, this data helps create a “snapshot” of the marine life found along the Victorian coast.
The students showed impressive fish ID skills and had thoughtful discussions around how valuable our Great Southern Reef and other temperate marine ecosystems are, both to our marine life and the people who rely on healthy coasts (everyone!). They also identified threats to our reefs and how they could make a positive difference, even from 200 kilometres away. The Virtual Fish Counts were a great way to introduce a wider audience to our coastal environment and hopefully, inspire a new generation of marine biologists, ambassadors and carers.
Sounds fun! Can I join in?
Using the Reef Cam as a Fish Counting resource
You can watch the daily livestream of Reef Cam here. Bear in mind that weather, tides and other conditions can impact visibility, and the camera turns itself off at night. Slack tides give the best viewing conditions, but you’ve always got a chance to see some amazing things whenever you tune in.
Below are three recordings taken from different days and times in November 2019. You can use this footage to do a practice Virtual Fish Count at home. It’s as easy as-
- Download the species list and activity sheet. You can use this as a guide to the species you see.
- Play any one of the videos below
- Try identifying and counting the target species using the activity sheet. You could also grab a spare piece of paper to write down any extra species you think you’ve seen.
How many different target species can you count? What is the most/least abundant fish on the reef*? What are the major types of habitat-forming plants or algae that you can see? Did you observe any interesting fish behaviours e.g. feeding or defending territory?
*Note that not all Great Victorian Fish Count target species call Pope’s Eye home, some live in open waters or seagrass beds not rocky reefs, so you probably won’t see every species!
If you, your school or community group is interested in a Virtual Fish Count during the next Great Victorian Fish Count, you can get in touch with Project Officer Nicole at [email protected] .
Download the Virtual Fish Count survey sheet