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 Great Victorian Fish Count is supported by the Victorian Government.

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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?

The ReefCam footage from each count was recorded as a back up and to verify results. 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 ReefWatch Project Officer Nicole at [email protected] .

Virtual Fish Count species list and activity sheet

Caption: A Port Jackson shark- the face of the 2018 Fish Count. Photo by Jack Breedon

2018’s Great Victorian Fish Count ran from 17 November until 16 December – and it was a record breaking event!

The 14th Great Victorian Fish Count saw over 750 people take part in 60 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 has some unique sharks and rays, most of which are harmless to humans, and an encounter with one can be the highlight of a dive or snorkel. That’s why 2018’s count focused on these ‘friendly faces’ of our coastal waters, highlighting the vital role that sharks and rays play in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems. Divers and snorkellers were encouraged to look out for popular species such as the spotted wobbegong, smooth stingray and Port Jackson shark, and shared their encounters with the community!

The report for 2018 is available for download below.

The 2019 Great Victorian Fish Count was held from 16 November until 15 December. We had a fantastic response with many returning groups hitting the water once again along with some new faces and sites. Watch this space for updates on the 2019 report!

To keep up to date with developments in this year’s event subscribe to ReefWatch updates at the bottom of this page.

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

Latest report

Download 2018 Report

Thank you to all the divers and snorkelers who took part in the 2018 Great Victorian Fish Count- the biggest count to date!

Some of the highlights from 2018 include:

  • All of the shark and ray species, with the exception of the elephantfish, added to the count in 2017 have now been sighted
  • The Port Jackson shark was recorded in 11 per cent of surveys
  • Eastern blue gropers were recorded in 3 out of 4 surveys in their known range, and western blue gropers were also sighted in a small number of surveys
  • The blue throat wrasse continues to be the most commonly sighted species recorded in the highest abundance compared to any other species, although the magpie perch came a very close second


Previous reports

Download 2017 Report

Download 2016 Report

Download 2015 Report