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. The report for 2020 is now available here.


2021 Great Victorian Fish Count News

In accordance with the State Government’s roadmap announcement, we have decided to proceed with planning the 2021 Great Victorian Fish Count for the 13 November – 12 December. Please note that if restrictions on outdoor activities change in response to the evolving situation in Victoria we may have to cancel or amend any activities- we’ll post updates for you here and on the ReefWatch facebook page.

All registered groups taking part in the Great Victorian Fish Count need to follow the COVIDSafe restrictions as they apply to their region. Please take care and stay safe while enjoying our wonderful wild spaces.

Once we have expected survey dates from registered groups we will add them to this page, so you can get in touch with your local host and see if there is space to join in on the fun.


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

Use the map below to find a registered Fish Count survey near you. Click on the fishy icon to see the date, survey location and type, and contact details of the hosting organisation. Please note that there may be limits to the number of people allowed to gather for a given activity – it is important to get in touch and register your attendance with the hosts of any survey you’d like to participate in.

Remember if you can’t make it, please let the host group know- they may have people waiting for a spot.

Want to host a Fish Count event yourself? Contact us at [email protected] to learn more about the requirements for hosting a survey and how to register.

 

This year we’re turning our attention to that other “Great” marine ecosystem, the Great Southern Reef. It’s a place many of us have visited (probably even during a Fish Count survey) but few of us even realise it exists! So our annual Fish Count Celebration Night delved into the story of the Great Southern Reef and what is being done to raise awareness of this unique, important temperate reef system and the challenges it faces.

Once again this was online event, so we’re pleased to bring you the full recording of the night as well as each speaker’s presentation below.

 

GVFC Celebration Night 2021- Across our Great Southern Reef Full Recording

VNPA’s ReefWatch team were joined by Shannon Hurley, Sahira Bell and Dr Prue Francis to discuss the Great Southern Reef, and how to raise the profile of this other “Great” marine ecosystem through formal and informal education. We also hear about the importance of citizen science in protecting and managing our natural environment, and what last year’s GVFC results told us about the bony fish, sharks and rays we find along our stretch of the Great Southern Reef.

 


GVFC Celebration Night 2021- Individual Presentations

 

The Story of the Great Southern Reef with Sahira Bell

Sahira Bell from the Great Southern Reef project introduces us to an amazing reef that many of us have visited, but may not have realised until now! She talks about how this unique, interconnected ecosystem spanning the southern half of the continent was in desperate need of recognition, and what her project is doing to raise the profile of our other “Great” Reef through education and outreach.

About the Great Southern Reef project

Great Southern Reef School Resources

 

Ocean Literacy with Prue Francis

Dr Prue Francis of Deakin University shows us that while many feel a great connection to the ocean, we really know very little about it. She takes us through recent efforts to boost ocean literacy in informal and formal educational settings, including raising public awareness, developing curriculum, and exploring key themes in picture story books.

UNESCO Ocean Literacy Portal

Reading over and under the waves: A study of ocean picture books for children (Francis et al. 2021)

 

Data and Campaigning with Shannon Hurley

VNPA’s Nature Conservation Campaigner Shannon Hurley chats about how citizen science data, and the community interest it generates, are valuable resources when it comes to protecting our natural environment and setting good policy for managing our ocean and coasts.

 

Highlights of the 2020 GVFC with Nicole Mertens

VNPA’s Nicole Mertens runs us through some of the findings of our 2020 GVFC, in a year where we all learned to love our home turf. She also shares some tips for those interested in joining the Count in 2021 as well as other upcoming ReefWatch opportunities.

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.

The print quality pdf is available for download below.

Download GVFC Guide to the Fish Species (15 MB)

Need a smaller file size for Fish Counting on the go? Note: ID image quality is greatly reduced.

Download GVFC Guide to the Fish Species (2 MB)

 

We know that there are many more fish to be found in Victorian waters than we have room for on our survey sheets! Here’s a short list of some of the more common “other” species noted during Great Victorian Fish Counts, along with images to help you identify them in the field.

Download Guide to Other Commonly Spotted Species (4 MB)

 

Many of the images are currently sourced from the wonderful Fishes of Australia, Atlas of Living Australia and iNaturalist Australia shared under a Creative Commons by Attribution 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 Reef Cam. 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 fishy face of the 2020 Great Victorian Fish Count, the Victorian Scalyfin, at home on the reef at Popes Eye. Photo credit: Kade Mills

 

2020’s Great Victorian Fish Count ran from 14 November until 13 December – and just like the Victorian Scalyfin we were all encouraged to explore our local turf!

Download 2020 Report

Thank you to all the divers and snorkelers who took part in the 2020 Great Victorian Fish Count. Our participating groups rose to the challenges of 2020 and helped us capture a snapshot of the fish to be found right along the Victorian coastline, with 25 groups conducting a total of 56 surveys- a bumper year for fish counts!

Our theme for the year was “Exploring our Home Turf” and the fishy face of 2020 was that delightfully grumpy gardener, the Victorian Scalyfin- a fish that was doing social distancing way before it was cool. We hope you got to meet plenty of fishy locals on your home reefs, piers and underwater meadows.

Some of the highlights from 2020 include:

  • This year’s face of the Fish Count, the Victorian Scalyfin, was recorded in 45% of all surveys. 14 participating groups spotted a Scalyfin at least once.
  • The Blue Throat Wrasse was again the most sighted species, recorded in over 75% of surveys.
  • The Smooth Stingray continues to be the most sighted of the shark and ray species since being added to the Fish Count in 2017. 61% of surveys in 2020 counted at least one Smooth Stingray.
  • Marine parks and sanctuaries continue to be popular sites for the Fish Count. Although only about 5.3% of Victoria’s coastal waters are protected, 29% of our surveys were done in marine protected areas.

The report for 2020 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 previous events 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 2020 Report

Thank you to all the divers and snorkelers who took part in the 2020 Great Victorian Fish Count. We hope you enjoyed exploring your home turf!

Some of the highlights from 2020 include:

  • This year’s face of the Fish Count, the Victorian Scalyfin, was recorded in 45% of all surveys. 14 participating groups spotted a Scalyfin at least once.
  • The Blue Throat Wrasse was again the most sighted species, recorded in over 75% of surveys.
  • The Smooth Stingray continues to be the most sighted of the shark and ray species since being added to the Fish Count in 2017. 61% of surveys in 2020 counted at least one Smooth Stingray.
  • Marine parks and sanctuaries continue to be popular sites for the Fish Count. Although only about 5.3% of Victoria’s coastal waters are protected, 29% of our surveys were done in marine protected areas.

 

Previous reports

Download 2019 Report

Download 2018 Report

Download 2017 Report

Download 2016 Report

Download 2015 Report