The Solitary Islands Underwater Research Group (SURG) was formed in 1985. Members have played an important role in the recognition of the Solitary Islands as a vital feature of the underwater environment of the NSW north coast. Due to the confluence of the tropical East Australia Current, which flows southwards from the Great Barrier Reef in Qld, meeting the cooler, temperate, Tasman sea waters, the Solitary Islands is home to many tropical and subtropical plant and animal species not found further south.
SURG research projects have included habitat mapping of the immediate sea floor adjacent to the five main islands, coral bleaching and coral health studies, marine debris assessments, both offshore and in the estuaries, and marine animal identifications.



The three-year project, funded by The NSW Environmental Trust and the NSW Recreational Fishing Trust, is now complete with the Final Report accepted by both funding bodies and other stakeholders.

The report reveals overwhelmingly that SURG and public participation has been a huge success, with total participation of 136 individuals. Included in this number were 62 SURG members and 74 members of the general public, while further breakdown of the figures indicate 48 students were among those that took part. In total, 5148 hours were spent on the various activities, which included among other things, Clean-up Australia day surveys, deployment of Baited Remote Underwater Videos (BRUVs), on ground remediation works, seagrass mapping and critter search and Interpretive Panel design and production.

Unbaited video recording passing fish species in Corindi River, Red Rock

A total of 57 fish species were recorded during the surveys, including two threatened and protected marine species. Importantly, ghost fishing by abandoned crab pots was revealed as a major threat to these and other species when traps were discovered in our estuaries with live or deceased fish trapped inside.

The on-ground remediation work at Corindi River, Red Rock, carried out in March and May 2018, continues to protect a viewing platform and associated river bank. This work carried out by 16 SURG members and 9 members of the Red Rock community involved installation of coir logs, drainage materials and planting of native seedlings and grasses along the eroded bank.

To help inform the general public, a lot of effort has gone into the design and construction of Interpretive Panels and Fact sheets (above). There are four separate panel designs, each one detailing threats unique to each of the 4 estuaries at Corindi River, Moonee Creek, Coffs Creek and Boambee Creek. These panels are installed at locations adjacent to each estuary, so the general public, fishers and boating enthusiasts are able understand the issues involved at each location as well as see pictured some of the unique fauna they may encounter.

The final report will be presented to the NSW Environmental Trust and the NSW Recreational Fishing Trust as funding bodies, along with the Coffs Harbour City Council, the Marine Parks Authority, the National Marine Science Centre, NSW Department of Primary Industries (Fisheries), NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Reflections Holiday Parks, all of which provided valuable support during the project.

The following fact sheets are designed to educate the public on the threats to estuary habitats in the Coffs Coast region and how these threats can be mitigated. These fact sheets have been developed in conjunction with interpretive panels on Corindi River, Coffs Creek, Moonee Creek and Boambee Creek.


The research project, Health of coral communities in the Solitary Islands Marine Park, was completed in 2015. Trained SURG volunteers using the Coral Health Chart developed by Coral Watch in conjunction with the University of Queensland carried out a total of 12,805 separate coral assessments at various sites throughout the Solitary Islands Marine Park over a 3 year period. The methodology allowed volunteers to assess the health of individual corals using the standard protocol and provided the first medium term large scale monitoring of coral health throughout the marine park.


This research 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 constructed an underwater marine interpretative trail adjacent to North Solitary Island in 2002.

The underwater trail is comprised of a number of concrete plinths featuring a descriptive plaque. Each plaque describes an aspect of a certain marine feature or habitat found in the Solitary Islands Marine Park, and the plinth is situated adjacent to an example of that feature / habitat.

Each plinth also contains a directional compass bearing and an indication of the distance (in metres) to the next plinth. Following the trail, plinth by plinth, divers end up swimming in a large circle, eventually ending up at the beginning, right under the boat.

The Solitary Islands Underwater Marine Trail was designed to raise awareness of the underwater environment in the Solitary Islands Marine Park, as well as provide more enjoyable diving for visiting and local divers alike. With a maximum depth of around 18 metres the trail is popular as a second dive site with local dive operators.

The trail suffered storm damage over the years and a number of plaques and direction markers were either damaged or lost. In 2013 the damaged sections of this trail were replaced. Since these repairs SURG has maintained and cleaned these plinths every year. This work was funded solely by SURG using volunteer labour. 


Members involved in research are given training prior to and during a research project to help them understand the research methods and protocols. The training may be:

  • training nights
  • a mentoring system where experienced researchers are teamed during a dive with those who have less experience in research methods
  • our online training modules appropriate to the training being undertaken

A number of SURG members have also been trained in low impact diving and the skills they learned during this training are being passed on to other SURG members.