Great Southern Reef

Latest update May 29, 2019 Started on July 1, 2018

The Great Southern Reef (GSR) spans over 8000 km of Australia’s temperate marine coastline, where approximately 70% of Australians live work and recreate. Despite having immense ecological, economic and cultural importance, the GSR receives paradoxically low public awareness, understanding and investment.

The goal of this project is to increase public awareness and understanding of the GSR by documenting and communicating the diverse social-ecological values of Australia’s temperate reef ecosystems and the threats it faces. By providing real-world and interactive education opportunities through exciting new technology and captivating storytelling techniques, we want to inspire local citizens to take action at individual and community level to become proactive stewards of the GSR.

July 1, 2018
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In The Field

$ponge Gardens Sanctuary Zone Kangaroo Island South Australia

Sponge garden community at 35m depth just off Kangaroo Island’s East coast. ⁣ ⁣ These colourful flilter feeding animals thrive in the deeper waters of the Great Southern Reef.

Through their large and often complex structures, these intricate gardens support myriad small crustaceans, molluscs and worms.⁣

Sponges concentrate energy from small organic particles, bacteria and phytoplankton and pass it on to their predators.

Greenly Island South Australia underwater footage

Swallowtail Centroberyx lineatus school over kelp in the clear blue waters around Greenly Island.

Greenly Island is a large granite dome which lies approximately 30km offshore south west of Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.

The island has steep sides plunging vertically into deep water, split by two large crevasses which effectively break the island into three blocks.

The kelp forests around Greenly were thriving and packed full of life.

The swallowtail in this video are generally found on deeper reefs and have been recorded at depths over 150m.

These fish are “benthopelagic” meaning they live and feed near the bottom as well as in mid water.

In a study using otoliths (ear bones) of Swallowtail in southern Australia, it was estimated that these fish live over 30 years old and most of their growth occurs before the age of 20.

OpenROV in 360

A big part of the Great Southern Reef project is to use new technology to showcase the marine life and underwater habitats of these region. Over recent months we have been experimenting with a range of exciting new equipment for this purpose.

Today we mounted a 360 camera to our underwater drone. We were very impressed with how well the two worked together (see the link below to view the 360 footage).

We are as excited as ever to continue using this setup as we explore and share more of the Great Southern Reef.

Rugged Robe

Robe, one of the oldest towns in South Australia, is a fishing port and popular tourist destination on the Limestone coast. We spent a few days in the area interviewing some of the passionate locals about their connection to the Great Southern Reef, as well as exploring the vast rugged coastline of this stunning section of South Australia.


Stingray Bay dive

Today we jumped in at Warrnambool's stingray bay. Wow, what an incredible dive site!


Bells Beach

100km south west of Melbourne, lies this iconic surf break. Surfers have been hitting this area since the 1930's and is now home to the world's longest continuously running surfing competition. We spent a few days interviewing some of the local surfers and groups who are passionate about looking after this beautiful spot.


National Surf Museum

Today we interviewed Craig Baird, the curator of the Australian National Surfing Museum in Torquay. The museum is the largest of its kind in in the world. Craig shed some light on the history of Surfing in Australia and why this area is just so special for surfers.


Dolphins of Port Phillip Bay

Today we joined the team at Sea All Dolphin Swims in Port Phillip Bay.

About 100 Burrunan dolphins live in Port Phillip Bay. Originally thought to be one of the two recognised bottlenose dolphin species, Port Phillip Bay's dolphins were recently confirmed as a new species.


Greenpeace's Great Southern Reef Expedition

Today we arrived on Australia's second largest island to join Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior III. Two of the Ocean Imaging team will film and conduct surveys of the unique marine life and pristine ecosystems of these waters, a mixing pot of species from Australia's East and Western coast.

Armed with our underwater cameras, areal drone, Open ROV Trident underwater drone, scientific survey equipment and a list of potential dive sites - we are excited to share the beauty of this rarely explored underwater region of the Great Southern Reef.

Stay tuned for more updates soon.


Kangaroo Island GSR Greenpeace Expedition Dive 1 - Sponge Gardens

For the first dive of this expedition we chose to dive the Sponge Gardens Sanctuary Zone on Kangaroo Island's East coast.

As a diving location, this site can only be dived on a slack tide and today was one of only two dates we would have the chance to dive here during this trip. Therefore we used today as an opportunity to test out our gear and scout out the site.

Unfortunately low visibility gave us challenging conditions to showcase the site but we came across some impressive signs of the spectacular sponge gardens promised by this site. We will re visit in two days time for two dives in this area and are excited at what we might find based on what we saw today.


Deploying the OpenROV Trident to film rays in Spencer Gulf

We would like to thank OpenROV for granting us a Trident remote operated vehicle (ROV) under the Science Exploration Education (S.E.E.) Initiative funded by National Geographic. We're excited to deploy the ROV to explore reefs that might otherwise be too deep for us to film on SCUBA - and it's so simple to operate that we're sure we can integrate the Trident into our education programs and school visits.

The Trident arrived a few days ago and we have already taken it for a number of dives near the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. Later this month we'll be on an exciting expedition near Kangaroo Island - more on that coming soon.

For a sneak peek of some of today's footage, taken in about 17m of water near Balgowan on the Yorke Peninsula, use the password "Balgowan" on the clip below.


Exploring Port Phillip Bay

Over the last two weeks we have been uncovering some of the hidden gems on Melbourne's doorstep in Port Phillip Bay.

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Rip Bank.

The rip is a deep trench (>100m in places) and the ancient path of Melbourne's Yarra River. The rich and diverse habitats of Port Phillip are home to a huge array of marine life and plants.

The currents through here dictate this dive only be conducted on a slack water at the end of the ingoing or flood tide and even then only when conditions are calm outside the bay. Tucked into the coral and sponge plastered beauty of these vertical reefs are a host of underwater creatures that like to shelter in the nooks, crannies, ledges and small caves that punctuate the drop-off.

To view a sample of footage use the password: GSR2018


Dramatic coastlines.

Part of the goals of this early leg in our expedition has been to capture the beauty of Australia's southern coastline. From exposed cliffs to white sandy beaches protected by rocky points, this part of the Australian coastline is stunning, and dramatic. See below for a sample of aerial B-roll from the last couple of weeks.

Unique seascapes

After 3 weeks of filming here in Tasmania, we have seen a lot of spectacular marine life. From deep water sponge gardens and luscious kelp forests to tiny, unique invertebrates, the diving here has really exceeded our expectations.

View a short sample of B-roll footage below.

Spectacular sponge gardens.

This week we have been filming the waters around Governor Island Marine Reserve our from Bicheno, about 2.5h from Hobart or Launceston. The area was one of the first marine reserves established in Tasmania in 1991 and we can say without a doubt this place is absolutely teeming with life. In the deeper waters (below about 20m), where insufficient light prevents algal growth, massive granite boulders are covered in a vibrant patchwork of invertebrates, including sponges, sea whips, sea fans, sea tulips, zoanthids, anemones, bryozoans and hydroids. We’re here right now because winter provides the best visibility – up to an astounding 30m, similar to what we had today. The sponge garden in this picture is known as the “hairy wall” and is just a small section of a huge granite cliff face which meets a sandy bottom at around 35m below.

To get a taste of the incredible variety of sponge life, use the password: GSR2018


Shakedown dive at Crayfish Point

After travel and before doing any really challenging diving it's always worth doing a shakedown of all the gear. We were lucky enough to have a local guide in our friend Olivia Johnson, who took us on a tour of one of Tasmania's oldest marine reserves (a fisheries research area), at Crayfish Point off Taroona.

The site really lived up to its name, with a lot of crayfish of all sizes, but also an incredible abundance of tiny invertebrates living on the seaweed. We'll get some photo's up for you to check out soon.

The apple isle? How about the "kelp isle" :)

We've just arrived in Tasmania on part of our assignment with @insidenatgeo to help raise the public profile of The Great Southern Reef by telling stories of the passionate individuals and teams that call this reef home.

Tasmania has one of the most biologically diverse and unique marine environments in the world, but these waters often go unrecognised. We're here to film some of the unique marine life and hear the stories of those who live closely with the pristine rocky reef coastline down South.

Stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, enjoy this imagery from first day of filming in the state.

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Hosting the 2018 Australasian OWUSS Rolex Scholar Olivia Johnson.

On this leg of our expedition we have been joined by this years Australasian Rolex Scholar. As part of her scholarship year, Olivia is interested in learning more about science communication, film production and ways to promote the importance and threats of local ecosystems in southern Australia.

Read about Olivia's experience with us at her blog:

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Local high-school students experience the wonder of the Giant Australian Cuttlefish mating aggregation for the first time.

WATCH: Reactions of Whyalla High School Aboriginal Education Program students after joining non-profit group Experiencing Marine Sanctuaries to snorkel with the Giant Australian Cuttlefish in South Australia

Cuttlefish are back in force!

Early estimates suggest numbers even higher than last year (120,000 cuttlefish!). We can confirm there are LOTS of large healthy males and egg laying females present.


Testing an OpenROV Trident!

Today we deployed the Open ROV Trident at the cuttlefish aggregation to test the capabilities of the rov for live streaming across Facebook. We're hoping to do this at several locations across the Great Southern Reef during this project, but we learned a lot today about improvements we can make for the next one.

Diving with Giant Cuttlefish in South Australia

Join us live from the Giant Australian Cuttlefish aggregation in Whyalla! Turn up the volume ^^ to hear some great commentary from the team on these amazing images direct from the ROV as we check out all the action at this amazing annual mating aggregation in South Australia.

Posted by Ocean Imaging on Monday, July 2, 2018

Touchdown at Point Lowly for the annul Giant Australian Cuttlefish aggregation.

Three of the Great Southern Reef team have made it to Whyalla to test some of the new equipment that will be used on this project in coming months.

Expedition Background

The goal of the Great Southern Reef project is to increase public awareness and understanding of Australia's southern coastline by documenting and communicating the diverse social-ecological values of this region.

Through the art of storytelling and use of exciting technologies, we want to build the identity of these reefs by showcasing the inspiring stories of the people who have dedicated their lives to understanding, exploring and protecting these areas.

“What a lot of people don’t realise is just how productive the waters of southern Australia are. We have world class diving, surfing, eco-tourism, and fishing experiences here, yet most people have never heard of The Great Southern Reef.” explained Dr. Scott Bennett, the project leader.

In 2016 Scott led a scientific publication with scientists from states neighbouring the GSR, highlighting the need to give Australia’s temperate reefs an identity. “This interconnected system of rocky reef kelp forests is worth at least AU$10 billion year from fishing and tourism alone.” explained Dr. Bennett. “The GSR is also right next-door to the majority of Australians - it fringes the coast between Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart, Sydney and almost up to Brisbane, and is really important for many of our smaller coastal cities and towns.”

Over the next 12 months we will be filming right across (and underneath) The Great Southern Reef showcasing the efforts of local citizens who are taking action at individual and community level to inspire others to also become proactive stewards of the GSR.

Stay tuned for live updates right here on Open Explorer and by following and engaging with the #GreatSouthernReef


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