SURG research

The latest project news: Estuarine habitat resilience

The estuarine habitat resilience project funded by the Environmental Trust Community Education grant is in the latter stages. 

Great progress has been made in the development of the material and design of the interpretive panels. Corindi River panel that will be installed at the Red Rock boat ramp, will be the first panel to be completed followed by panels that focus on Coffs Creek, Moonee Creek and Boambee Creek. Final touches are being made by Mel Buhler and Katherine James on the messages that SURG hopes to pass onto visitors of these estuaries, that is, the importance of these areas, the threats to the habitats and how locals and visitors can help to mitigate threats. The Coffs Harbour Council has agreed to provide the funds for the stands from next financial year budget.

Steve Dalton is currently analysing the baited remote underwater video data, and has found some interesting trends, including a total of 57 fish species were observed in 248 Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) recordings. This included three threatened and protected marine species, two Estuary Cod species and the Queensland Grouper. Other threatened and protected species from the Family Syngnathidae (pipefish and seahorses) were observed in the field during deployment of the BRUV equipment but not observed in the video recordings. These species are cryptic and may have been overlooked, as they tend to shy away from area with high predatory pressures, such as around baited video sites. Corindi River harbours the greatest number of fish species of all the estuaries we surveyed. Summer had higher numbers of species, which was consistent in all creeks. Total number of fish was highest in Boambee Creek, which contains high numbers of glass fish, luderick and yellowtail bream throughout the year. The highest number of Estuary Cod species were observed in Coffs Creek BRUVS, with Queensland Grouper observed only in Corindi River. Each creek/river are unique and contain a number of difference in common and cryptic fish and the numbers that are present during summer and winter seasons. In the coming months Steve will prepare a report for the funding bodies of the community action blueprint estuary project that will be presented to Environmental Trust, Rec Fishing Trust, Marine Parks Authority, NSW Fisheries, NPWS and the local council. 


Current projects

SURG's current project is a community action blueprint to enhance estuarine habitat resilience. SURG members are undertaking in-water estuarine surveys to determine the presence of threatened and protected marine species and identify the critical habitat they rely upon. This project is funded by the Environmental Trust Community Education grant.

The project involves the following:

  • Seagrass cover, areas with complex habitats and deep holes are geo-referenced along four estuaries.
  • Mini-baited underwater video is used to identify species that use these habitats during different seasons.
  • Information collected is used to form the foundation of interpretive educational material to be displayed at high-use locations along the estuaries.
  • Debris surveys and visual censuses are conducted in and adjacent to critical habitats to quantify local threats to critical habitats.
  • Interpretive plaques are placed on estuary boardwalks with brochures and teaching material developed and made available to the wider community via volunteer groups and government websites.​


Past projects

Health of coral communities in the Solitary Islands Marine Park

The completion of the research project Health of coral communities in the Solitary Islands Marine Park was the biggest achievement for 2015 with a total of 12, 805 assessments of corals undertaken.
Click here for the full report. (10.7mb)
This 3 year project engaged trained volunteers using the Coral Health Chart developed by Coral Watch in conjunction with the University of Queensland. At various sites throughout the Solitary Islands Marine Park, volunteers assessed coral health using the standard protocol and provided medium term monitoring of coral health throughout the park.

Monitoring specified marine fish species - indicators of climate change, was conducted under the Caring for our Country - Community Action Grant. SURG volunteers surveyed sites throughout the marine park using a representative fish species list. This provided information indicating frequency of occurrence as well as relative abundance data that will be indicative of changing distributions of species as a result of events like climate change. The information generated will be added to a database curated by Southern Cross University thus linking it to a state wide program funded by NSW Coastal Management Authorities.


SURG members have also been involved in many other research projects in the Solitary Islands Marine Park since 1985, some of which were:

  • The compilation of a small booklet containing identification details and photographs of marine animals found in the local waters. Examples of nudibranchs, crustaceans and echinoderms were among those featured.
  • Mapping eight major underwater habitats found around the islands in the Marine Park. This mapping was conducted before the formation of the Marine Park and the information collected using quadrat and line transect methods formed the basis of the early zoning plans for the Marine Reserve and then the Marine Park.
  • Investigation into the phenomenon of coral bleaching. Tagged corals at a number of sites around the northern islands of the Marine Park were photographically monitored. Regular inspections of these corals plus random 30m transects of the sea bottom to determine coral density resulted in a wealth of information invaluable to researchers of the Marine Park.