Only a diver knows the excitement of cruising the depths of Botany Bay, past some tussocky seaweed to find the mysterious and mesmerising Weedy Seadragon. Imagine for a moment that you never saw one again? Weedy Seadragon numbers are anecdotally reported as declining but more data is needed to know for certain. Thankfully new developments in technology are assisting researchers to identify individual Weedy Seadragons. Identification will provide more information about this protected species to inform decisions about its conservation.
Kris O’Keeffe, an experienced diver and technical specialist from the Underwater Research Group (URG), has been working with a program called Interactive Individual Identification System (I3S). Photographs of individual Weedy Seadragon flanks have been marked using this software to create ‘fingerprints’ based on the animals unique spot patterns and these fingerprints entered into the program’s database. When a new fingerprint is created it is entered and the program compares it to the existing entries in the library to see if there is a match. If no match is found, the fingerprint is then added to the database for future use. Pretty clever!
So how are these fingerprints being used? There are a bunch of dedicated people, some are scientists but many are volunteers, who are part of the Dragons of Sydney Program. The aim of this program is to answer some questions about the Weedy Seadragon to guide conservation efforts: Where in Sydney do they inhabit? How far do they move along the coast? Are their populations connected? Are their numbers suffering as a result of habitat loss?
To answer all of these important questions requires the continued support from volunteers to assist with the data collection. Over the last 2 months, divers from Abyss Scuba Diving have helped to identify 17 unique Weedy’s! If you would like not only a fun day of diving, but to contribute to this worthy project, book onto the next Weedy Seadragon dive with Abyss Scuba Diving.