18 December 2003

Volunteers from The University of Queensland’s Underwater Dive Club (Unidive) have published a report into vital habitats of the critically endangered grey nurse shark.

The team has created geo-referenced maps and conducted baseline surveys at several grey nurse shark habitats in south-east Queensland.

“Unidive volunteers have dedicated 10,000 hours including more than 400 dives to collect information to better understand grey nurse shark habitats and why they aggregate in them,” said Chris Roelfsema, who coordinated the study with Carley Bansemer from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS).

Five areas within the Moreton Bay Marine Park and one within the proposed Great Sandy Marine Park were identified by the Queensland Government as habitats critical for the survival of grey nurse sharks.

They included Flat Rock off North Stradbroke Island; Henderson Rock, Cherub’s Cave, China Wall and Gotham City off North Moreton Island; and Wolf Rock off Double Island Point.

“After receiving funds from the Threatened Species Network community grants we conducted data collection dives, which with the exception of Flat Rock, were the first mapping and biological surveys of the sites,” Mr Roelfsema said.

The results were recently published in a comprehensive report with accompanying video, posters and handouts.

“Most of the key aggregation sites were characterised by rocky substrate, gullies and steep walls,” Mr Roelfsema said.

“A total of 272 species of fish, 186 species of invertebrates and 49 species of plants were identified by the volunteers with grey nurse sharks sighted during the data collection dives at all sites except Gotham City,” he said.

Mr Roelfsema said participants carried out biological and mapping surveys after being trained by researchers from UQ’s Centre for Marine Studies and Biophysical Remote Sensing Group and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.

“The information will provide a strong foundation to monitor future changes in the ecological health of the sites and may result in modifications to the protection status of the sites,” he said.

“It will also serve as a reference for recovery plans for the species and habitat management strategies.”

A four-page handout has been designed to provide divers with a description and map of the six key aggregation sites.

The handout, to be submitted to dive operators along the south-east Queensland coastline, also explains how divers should behave in the areas when grey nurse sharks are present and how they can help the QPWS monitor the sharks.

Mr Roelfsema said the results should be used as baseline data to quantify any ecological changes to grey nurse shark habitats.

“Continuing surveys in Queensland are particularly important if further management measures are implemented at these sites, such as partial or permanent bans on fishing and diving within specified zones,” he said.

The report, handout, maps and posters are available at http://clubs.uqsport.uq.edu.au/unidive

To submit data or receive further information on grey nurse shark surveys please contact Ms Bansemer (email carley.bansemer@epa.qld.gov.au).

Media: for further information contact Mr Roelfsema (telephone 07 3365 2529), QPWS (telephone 07 3821 9019) or visit http://clubs.uqsport.uq.edu.au/unidive