Every November and December, hundreds of divers and snorkelers plunge into the water to take part in the biggest citizen-science event on Victoria’s marine calendar, the Great Victorian Fish Count.

Armed with a dive slate, they record the numbers of a selection of important fish species and report any others not usually found in the area as part of this long-term monitoring of fish across the Victorian coast.

The Count has been running since 2002, led by the Victorian National Parks Association in partnership with Museum Victoria, Parks Victoria, Coastcare Victoria, Redmap, local dive operators and local community groups.

The data collected is uploaded to the Atlas of Living Australia (an online store for biodiversity data, currently with over 67 million records) to improve our knowledge of Victoria’s marine species.

According to Phillip Wierzbowski, from Coastcare Victoria, the Great Victorian Fish Count is “an experience that not only contributes to citizen science while admiring the diversity of Victoria’s marine life, it is great fun too”.

The 2020 Great Victorian Fish Count was held from 14 November until 13 December. Watch this space for updates and the 2020 Report!

The Great Victorian Fish Count is supported by the Victorian Government.

35 Victorian fish species (including 10 shark and ray species) are included in the Great Victorian Fish Count. Having a select number of “target” species helps us compare data from previous years. However, participants also have the chance to also record any non-target species they encounter when they upload their official results.

Fish Counting can be a bit tricky! While the dive slates used by participants feature beautiful, lifelike illustrations of the fish, including differences in the appearance of males, females and juveniles, seeing them in the field for the first time (especially if they’re quick-swimming) can make identifying them a bit daunting. We’ve put together a photo guide of the GVFC target species to help get your eye in before you dive in to a count.

Download the GVFC Guide to the Fish Species

Many of the images are currently sourced from the wonderful Fishes of Australia, shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia License. But we’d love to show off more photos from our own Fish Count community! If you’ve got a clear image of one of the species listed and you want to help our Fish Counters expand their knowledge of target species, you can share it with us at [email protected] .

While you don’t need an underwater camera to take part in a Fish Count survey, we strongly encourage anyone who can to take as many pictures of the target (and non target) species they encounter. This helps boost our confidence in the data as well as being essential for confirming a sighting of rare or unusual fish. Redmap Australia also needs your photos to verify reports of fish on the move due to changes in their environment. ReefWatch has several underwater cameras that can be loaned out to our community- if you’re interested, please contact us.

Caption: While it is not a target species of the Count, this photo of a White Barred Boxfish taken during a survey at the wreck of the Hurricane in Port Phillip Bay provides evidence that this fish is “on the move”. Photo credit Peter Beaumont/Atlas of Living Australia.

Another great resource for those wanting to boost their ID skills and contribute to our knowledge of Victoria’s underwater world is ReefWatch’s Marine Life of Victoria project on iNaturalist. Your photos will be verified by our community of experts, helping you learn as you go. You can upload photos from anytime (not just during the Fish Count), of any marine species you encounter in Victorian waters (not just fish!). Learn more about the project here.

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-

  1. Download the species list and activity sheet. You can use this as a guide to the species you see.
  2. Play any one of the videos below
  3. 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

Caption: The face of the 2019 Fish Count, the Ornate Cowfish, seen at Flinders Pier. Photo credit: Liz Harper

2019’s Great Victorian Fish Count ran from 16 November until 15 December – together we celebrated our “rocking” marine life!

The 15th Great Victorian Fish Count saw over 700 people take part in 5 counts held throughout Victoria’s beautiful coastal waters. It was a phenomenal effort from everyone involved, with long-time supporters and first-time fish counters alike donning their fins and masks to collect a snapshot of fish diversity from Eastern Victoria, Western Victoria and within Port Phillip Bay.

Victoria’s coastline is one of 5 states in Australia where you’ll find the Great Southern Reef, a vast, spectacular system of interconnected rocky reefs covered in colourful algae and sponges, and home to some truly unique fish. Reefs, seagrass meadows and sandy bottoms provide habitats to diverse and wonderful marine communities. Almost a quarter of Australia’s fishes are endemic (found nowhere else in the world) with 60% of these species living only in our southern seas.

Divers and snorkelers were encouraged to seek out reefs and other natural habitats in their local sites to help raise awareness of these vital, but often overlooked ecosystems.

The report for 2019 is available for download below.

The 2020 Great Victorian Fish Count was held from 14 November until 13 December. To keep up to date with news from last year’s event and to find out more about future Fish Counts, subscribe to ReefWatch updates at the bottom of this page.

The Great Victorian Fish Count is supported by the Victorian Government.

Latest report

Download 2019 Report

Thank you to all the divers and snorkelers who took part in the 2019 Great Victorian Fish Count- helping us show Our Marine Life Rocks!

Some of the highlights from 2019 include:

  • The face of the fish count, the Ornate Cowfish, was sighted in 20% of surveys
  • The Blue Throat Wrasse continues to be the most commonly sighted species. However, there was a significant increase in sightings of zebrafish, taking it to second place in the sightings tally
  • Western Blue Groper sightings continue to rise, with 6 surveys recording this species in 2019
  • 34% of surveys taking place in marine protected areas, many of which showcase our amazing Great Southern Reef


Previous reports

Download 2018 Report

Download 2017 Report

Download 2016 Report

Download 2015 Report