Southern Cross University National Marine Science Centre project officer Bob Edgar collecting data on threatened species.
Southern Cross University National Marine Science Centre project officer Bob Edgar collecting data on threatened species.

Research ensures marine safety

A COLLECTIVE of "citizen scientists" from Byron Bay is going to great depths to promote and ensure marine conservation.

The Byron Underwater Research Group is one of 11 in NSW collecting data through scuba diving as part of research into threatened marine species and marine debris.

The 11 community-based underwater volunteer groups are from Underwater Volunteers NSW.

The project, headed by Southern Cross University's National Marine Science Centre, saw more than 100 volunteer divers trained for the research last year.

Now the training is done, it's down to business for the selfless divers.

The volunteer divers will explore estuaries, rivers and the ocean in search of debris such as bottles, plastic and fishing tackle, while watching out for endangered marine animals.

SCU National Marine Science Centre project officer Bob Edgar said the public was immune to seeing bits of plastic injuring innocent sea animals but it's what they haven't seen that is the focus of this project.

"What the general public doesn't see is what is below the water and that's where we come in," he said.

Mr Edgar spoke of a group who dived in the Nambucca River near a RSL Club and found beer bottles dating back to the 1940s.

Discarded shopping trolleys were another popular underwater find and some of them became habitats for creatures such as sea horses.

The purpose of the project was to collect data that could help councils, community organisations and the government focus on ways to ensure marine conservation.

"(The first outcome) is empowering the scuba community to get involved in marine conservation," Mr Edgar said. "We have a wonderful degree of diving up here and the last thing you want to see is a plastic bag among the coral. It really takes away from the experience.

"The second is to get ... hard data that can be used for management purposes. (Government) departments want to see numbers so the method we are using gives them some of those numbers. We encourage these ... groups to be always on the lookout for threatened species and get a GPS location where they see them."



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