Sunday, 20 April 2003 00:00

New Grey Nurse Shark Survey In Qld & Nsw

By Sue Crowe

In a new effort to estimate total Grey Nurse Shark numbers in NSW and Qld, NSW Fisheries conservation scientists, Dr Nick Otway and Adrianne Burke are co-ordinating a further two new surveys.

Previous diver surveys over a 3-year period counted a maximum of 292 sharks across the NSW coast in winter 2000 survey. Divers hoped this small number of sharks would be enough to convince parliament to provide no-take areas in the identified critical habitat areas. However, this did not happen.

A NSW Draft Recovery Plan for the Grey Nurse Shark was released for public consultation in May 2002. Then in December 2002, the NSW Government declared 10 critical habitats:

  • Julian Rocks (Byron Bay)
  • Fish Rock (South West Rocks)
  • Green Island (South West Rocks)
  • The Pinnacle (Forster)
  • Big and Little Seal Rocks (Seal Rocks)
  • Little Broughton Island (Port Stephens)
  • Magic Point (Maroubra)
  • Bass Point (Shellharbour)
  • Tollgate Islands (Batemans Bay)
  • Montague Island (Narooma)

Despite being called 'Critical Habitats' fishing is still being allowed in these areas.

NSW Fisheries began tagging Grey Nurse Sharks in 2002 and has already learnt a great deal more about the sharks movement and habits. Divers, who can clearly see the tags, provide invaluable information back to the scientists.

Fisheries has already had extraordinary help from various diving organisations like South West Rocks Dive Centre, Jetty Dive Centre, Fishermen's Wharf Dive Centre, National Diving Academy, Seaworld, Pro Dive International, and numerous other dive groups during the earlier surveys. They have provided boats and time at minimal cost; enabling Fisheries to tag sharks successfully and in greater numbers than would otherwise have been possible.

Incredibly tagged sharks have been located in NSW and QLD, moving at great speeds up and down the coast. Others seem to prefer to stay in one place for long periods of time. Why? It is not known yet. NSW Fisheries are continuing to tag sharks through 2003 and will soon deploy electronic tags to log depths and movement throughout the day. These new tags, it is hoped, will provide more missing pieces of the Grey Nurse puzzle.

However, vital information is still needed about the total number of Grey Nurse Sharks to place a more persuasive case for adequate conservation. This is where scientists need divers to help. QLD is also included in the surveys and any QLD divers, shops and clubs in known Grey Nurse Shark areas are encouraged to participate. It is hoped all QLD divers will provide any help they can to aid the survey and garner more information about these endangered animals. It's all hands on deck to save these animals.

Diver Surveys
NSW Fisheries will be carrying out 2 diver surveys in the winter of 2003 and are seeking help from divers, dive shops/clubs/organisations, snorkellers and spearfishers. The purpose of the surveys is to obtain sufficient and accurate information to estimate the total population in eastern Australian waters, to document the movements of tagged individuals, and the duration of occupation at particular aggregation sites

Surveys are being carried out over the winter period because males and females are readily observed at this time.

Each survey will be over 2 weeks (encompassing 3 weekends in each). The dates are:

  • Survey 1: June 14 - June 29 (results in by July 6 please)
  • Survey 2: August 16 - August 31 (results in by September 7 please)

Individual divers, shops and clubs in NSW & QLD are asked to register with Adrianne Burke at NSW Fisheries and over those periods fill out survey forms (supplied by NSW Fisheries) detailing shark numbers, size, sex, location, and the details of any tagged sharks sighted.

These two surveys are crucial in providing accurate and up-to-date information. NSW Fisheries cannot do this without divers but they do need everyone to register and then get the information back to them as quickly as possible. Surveys are short to prevent any double counting which happens over longer periods. Information about the time of day is also important in tracking the movements of the sharks. Both surveys are extremely important for determining an accurate estimate of the total population along the east coast of Australia.

Adrianne has asked that results be sent back to her within one week of each survey finishing. This will enable her to collate the results and forward this new information to the Government.

Anybody interested in helping will need survey instructions and data sheets. So please contact:

Adrianne Burke
NSW Fisheries' Office of Conservation
Phone: (02) 4916 3829
Fax: (02) 4982 2265

If divers do see tagged grey nurses outside of the surveys they are encouraged to call the hotline number on (02) 4916 3888 to report the details.