Kangaroo Island North Coast

Latest update May 1, 2019 Started on October 31, 2018

The marine environment of the North Coast of Kangaroo Island is relatively pristine but has only been lightly studied. Our goal is to undertake a number of marine life surveys, starting with Smith Bay.

October 31, 2018
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Our KI expeditions are over for the season and have culminated in the publication of our Smith Bay Marine Ecology Report.

We found a rich marine environment supporting an abundance of emblematic and threatened species with high conservation value. This included numerous large temperate corals and a number of protected species, including those from the Syngnathidae family, such as the Weedy Seadragon shown in the photo.

The report (PDF) can be downloaded for free from the following link: http://bit.ly/2D1FGJ6.

Great Job Alan! I enjoyed reading the report — thorough! Would love to see any Trident footage you got, too!

We depart for KI tomorrow for more diving and tech testing. Were aiming to collect a substantial amount of sea floor footage with our new and improved towable camera 🌊📸

We also have a syngnathid expert on board who will give us some tips on spotting pipefish 🐟 We hope to have some great images to share over the next week.

We are preparing for our third trip back to Kangaroo Island. This time, we take molecular biologist Graham Short, whose work focuses on elucidating the evolutionary relationships of syngnathids through DNA sequencing.

What on earth are syngnathids? (you might be thinking)

The Syngnathidae is a family of fish which includes seahorses, pipefishes and seadragons. Pipefish can be tricky to spot - were hoping Graham can give us a few hints on the best ways to find them.

AusOcean departs next Tuesday sailing to Boxing Bay. We hope to discover some additional underwater wonders in Smith Bay on the north coast.

In The Field

Unlike the time before, our trip to Windara Reef was successful. We installed new mooring lines, attached a replacement rig and collected oyster samples for research.

The video shows the rig happily coping with 1m seas.

We're heading back to Windara Reef in Gulf St Vincent tomorrow. We hope to redeploy some monitoring equipment that has been damaged and check an underwater experiment. Stay tuned.

We had a bit of fun seeing how quickly we could launch our dinghy from the beach. Clearly we need some practice!

Our Kangaroo Island field work is now done (for now) and we turn our attention to collating and analyzing the data and imagery that we've collected.

Today we revisited the large temperate coral Plesiastrea versipora we found on our first expedition. It stands 2m tall with a circumference of 6m. We found a smaller coral of the same species close by which suggests there may be more in the area. It really is a magnificent sight supporting a large number of fish and invertebrates. In the afternoon we conducted a marine survey in central Smith Bay. This area felt other worldly dominated by a diverse array of sponges and macro-algae canopy. In the evening we headed to Dashwood Bay to swim with approximately 30 dolphins In pristine waters, such a beautiful way to end the day. We now sail back to Boxing Bay For the night.

We head back to Smith Bay today to conduct some additional reef life surveys and conduct further camera sled trials. Smith Bay is dominated by mixed rocky reef and dense seagrass communities. Although visibility was poor yesterdays dive and transects over rocky reef showcased the wonderful diversity of temperate reef systems. The reef is dominated by dense Sargassum spp. providing habitat protection and a food source for many fish and invertebrates.

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What a great place to work :-)

How does the towed sled footage compare to the ROV? Which one gives you better data?

We've tried towing cameras over our project area looking for fish nests but we didn't have live-feed capability - it was all a bit hit-and-miss really!

Hi Catherine - no we haven't tried comparing the two. We have a basic towed system but hope to qualify for a Trident. Then we can compare the two systems. But we need more followers on our project to qualify for a Trident, so please follow us at the Balck Bream Project and encourage others to do so! Thanks, Matt

Today we tested our third underwater camera sled prototype Cool Runnings. A number of modifications were made in attempts to improve stability and optimise camera field of view. Although visibility within Smith Bay and other parts of the north coast were poor, we were successful in live streaming footage to the surface. We managed to identify a number of organisms and gained further insight into the marine plant benthos communities. Further hardware and software improvements will enhance our footage analysis capabilities.

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Our second Kangaroo Island expedition is underway. Prior to our departure Alan had an unfortunate quick swim in the marina.

We have set sail from Wirrina Cove marina and will arrive in Boxing Bay on the north coast in approximately 5 hours. The coastline makes for a spectacular sailing view 🌊

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AusOcean interns are busy preparing for their second expedition to Kangaroo Island's north cost.

A new and improved version of our first underwater camera sled prototype has been built. With further software developments we plan on launching 'Cool Runnings 3' in Smith Bay to gather additional footage of the marine benthos. It will be used in conjunction with our new Trident OpenROV.

The footage gathered can be later compared to diver surveys to distinguish the most effective marine life surveying techniques.

Make sure you follow us to stay up to date on our software and hardware developments. We are also on Instagram and Facebook as AusOcean.

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Our expedition vessel is the sailing catamaran "Arriba" (shown anchored at Smith Bay).

Earlier this week preparing for our next KI trip, we noticed that Arriba's starboard engine was not starting. Arriba has two engines, but setting out on an expedition with only one working engine is not ideal. We believe the starter motor is the culprit so a new one has been ordered. Cross fingers that is the problem.

PS The starter motor has been replaced and the engine is starting fine again.


Do you know of any special underwater locations on Kangaroo Island's north coast? If so, we'd love you to share them with us. We're heading back to KI in less than 2 weeks. Our home base will be the beautiful Boxing Bay, from where we plan to survey as far west as Cape Cassini.


We are very excited to receive our OpenRov Trident, courtesy of OpenRov and National Geographic Open Explorer. Here are some of the AusOcean crew having their very first test drive in the marina. Hopefully our RoV flying techniques will improve in time for our next trip to Kangaroo Island :-).

It IS a speedy little thing! :)

In The Field

We're excited to announce that we discovered a very large, and ancient coral head on our very last dive at Smith Bay. It was over 2m tall and over 2m wide and is believed to be the species Plesiastrea versipora. Based on its large size, it is likely to be over 300 years old.

This is a very exciting discovery as such large corals are now exceedingly rare in South Australian Gulf and Kangaroo Island waters.

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Awesome discovery guys! I for one, think it's always good to see these kind of rare findings, because it gives hope that there will be more that we just haven't found yet..! Good luck!

The ocean is a beautiful place to work, but it can also be a hard taskmaster.What started out as a beautiful morning, rapidly deteriorated. The weather forecast was horribly wrong. Instead of conditions abating, conditions deteriorated. We were forced to cancel our planned dive and rig maintenance and return empty handed.

Them's the breaks!


Tomorrow we take a detour from our Kangaroo Island work and travel to Windara Reef in Gulf St Vincent, near Rogues Point on Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

The coastal waters of southern Australia once contained extensive shellfish reefs comprising the native Australian oyster Ostrea Angasi and other shellfish such as Pinna Bicolor ("razorfish"). The reefs were destroyed during the 19th and early 20th century through over exploitation.

Windara Reef is the largest largest shellfish restoration project in Australia.

Our dive team has conducted several marine life surveys along the North Coast with a main focus on Smith Bay, where there is little to no knowledge of the marine ecology in the area.

The Reef Life Survey (RLS) method developed by researchers at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) was utilised to gather data that will help assess the complexities of the local flora and fauna. RLS is a non-profit citizen science program in which SCUBA divers undertake standardised surveys of reef biodiversity on rocky and coral reefs around the world.

The North Coast waters of Kangaroo Island consists mainly of mixed rocky reefs & seagrass systems, exhibiting strong heterogeneity, providing unique experiences at every location. From swimming scallops, baby octopus to gigantic corals, these systems continually exuded magnificence. At the end of the last dive, the dive team stumbled upon a 2m high coral, home to at least 12 different fish species, possibly the first of its kind to be discovered in the area. This exceptional discovery highlights just how beautiful and uniquely diverse Kangaroo Island waters are with much left to be discovered.

An environment that is well worth protecting.

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Did you know that scallops can swim? These were found at a depth of 18m in Smith Bay, Kangaroo Island.

Here is a close-up of "Cool Runnings," configured to be lowered off the back of a vessel for stationary monitoring. The camera (which is not shown) is secured by cable ties. Dive weights provide ballast.

When towed, the green and white lines are not attached. The green line serves as the tow line and the white line serves as the control line. The white plastic sheet (on the front) functions as a foil which drives the sled downwards.


Our tech team deployed our first underwater towable camera sled prototype 'Cool Runnings'. Cool Runnings is moderate in size and weight which means it can be lowered into the water by hand off a small boat. By adjusting the control lines it can be manoeuvred up and down the water column relative to the topography of the ocean floor. Video imagery is recorded and streamed to the surface allowing real-time footage analysis of the benthos whilst assisting our divers select appropriate sites for marine life surveys.

Collecting underwater footage from the surface via sled will streamline benthic data acquisition and increase our substrate mapping and species identification capabilities. Currently, only 5% of the world's seafloor has been mapped, majority of which is close to the shore. Camera sled technology will change and enhance the way we do marine science.

Cool Runnings is the first of many prototypes that will continue to evolve and assist with our marine research and data collection. Watch this space for further developments.

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The first stage of our Kangaroo Island expedition is well underway. After a rough stormy night, the sun came out today providing perfect conditions for our dive and tech teams. A number of marine life surveys have been undertaken along the North Coast in some of the most diverse and pristine waters Australia has to offer. Our tech team is assembling and testing an underwater towable camera sled to gather footage of the benthic flora and fauna which we can later compare to diver surveys. Tomorrow we set sail for Smith Bay where will continue to asses the diversity of marine life in areas not yet explored.

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Expedition Background

Marine biologists believe that Southern Australia's marine environment is as diverse as that other Australian marine marvel, the Great Barrier Reef. Yet there is much we don't know about the region. Only recently 400 new species were discovered in the deep waters of the Great Australian Bight, which begs the question, how many more species await discovery.

Kangaroo Island, Australia's 3rd largest island, lies off the coast of South Australia. Despite its relatively close proximity to the mainland, it marine environment remains pristine. Like much of Southern Australia, it remains relatively lightly studied.

Our first Kangaroo Island expedition will undertake the first ever comprehensive marine life survey of Smith Bay.

This expedition is being organized by the Australian Ocean Lab ("AusOcean") a new non profit with the mission of helping our oceans with the use of technology.


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