Save a shark with your camera! GNS WATCH

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The grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus) is one of Australia's most endangered species with only 1500 thought to remain within the east coast subpopulation. Accordingly, this subpopulation is listed under the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered.

Grey Nurse Shark Watch (GNS Watch) was launched in June 2011 and is a citizen science research and monitoring program that engages a broad cross-section of our community and ultimately aims to use the data obtained through our volunteers and research team to improve the conservation management of the GNS in Australia and to help the Critically Endangered east coast population to recover.

The GNS Watch program uses visual counts and photographs of GNS collected opportunistically throughout the year and during two annual scheduled surveys to photo-identify and photo-recapture individual sharks (from the unique spot patterns on the sides of each shark).

GNS Watch seeks, collates, analyses and reports on data provided by our volunteers and researchers and aims to contribute to six of ten objectives in the 2014 National Recovery Plan (Recovery Plan) for this critically endangered species.
Specifically, GNS Watch aims to:
1. For the first time, monitor the numbers of the Australian east coast population of grey nurse sharks and determine if it is increasing, stable or declining,
2. Provide information on the distribution and movements at different stages in their life history,
3. Provide data to enable interactions with commercial and recreational fishing gear to be quantified, along with associated injuries and any shark recovery,
4. Help to identify new aggregation sites,
5. Increase public awareness, and importantly,
6. GNS Watch through community and researcher photos will provide good data for management purposes via an open and transparent mechanism that involves interested parties.




Volunteer training video


volunteer methods manual


gns watch factsheet


first report to members



VOLUNTEER DIVER PHOTOGRAHPERS NEEDED for our winter (july/august) survey - PRIZES TO BE WON!

The GNS Watch team needs divers to volunteer as site custodians to count and photograph grey nurse sharks in July and August at aggregation sites off the Qld and NSW Coast.

Site custodians that successfully carry out and upload their survey and photo details to our 'Lodge GNSW Survey" form on our website will be in the running to win some great prizes including prizes provided by the Merlin Entertainments Group and Sea World:

1. Provided by the Merlin Entertainments Group include:

  • 1 x single entry, double passes to all 5 of Merlin Entertainments Sydney attractions:
 		• SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium,
• WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo,
• Madame Tussauds Sydney, 
• Sydney Tower Eye, and
• Manly SEA LIFE Sanctuary.
  • Sydney Tower Eye Sky Walk for a family of 4.
  • Shark Dive Xtreme at UnderWater World Sea Life Mooloolaba for 2 people (including admission).
  • A single entry, double pass to one of 4 Merlin Entertainments Sydney attractions (all excluding SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium which was chosen by a lucky volunteer during our summer survey). 
  • A once in a lifetime experience to travel out with SEA LIFE Mooloolaba staff to release rehabilitated sea turtles.


2. Provided by Sea World on the Gold Coast include:

  • A tropical Reef Snorkel at Sea World's Shark Bay.


In summary:

Dedicate one or more dives to count and take side on photographs of as many GNS as possible during July or August at any site in Qld or NSW where GNS may occur and upload your survey data and photos to our website!

In more detail:

  1. Become a Reef Check Australia member and tick the box stating that you wish to participate in the Grey Nurse Shark Program (its free).
  2. If possible nominate as a site custodian and select the site/s and survey period for which you hope to survey GNS (in this instance July/August 2015). NB. If you are already a member you can click on the 'edit details' button and complete your nomination under the Grey Nurse Shark Watch section within edit details. NB. This step is not compulsory but helps the GNSW team to seek coverage at key aggregation sites not yet nominated.
  3. View the GNS Watch Volunteer training video and/or peruse the GNS Watch methods manual (particularly pages: 8, 10, 11 & 12). 
  4. Carry out a visual count and photo-identification survey of GNS (i.e. dedicate one or more dives to counting and taking side on photographs of as many grey nurse sharks as possible during our July/August scheduled survey periods at any site in Qld or NSW where GNS may occur; as per the GNSW methods manual).
  5. Enter your survey data and upload your GNS images via the 'lodge a survey form' on the GNSW website.

Don't forget that a nil report (a completed survey where no sharks were observed/photographed) is still an important and valid survey.

For more information please register at Grey Nurse Shark Watch or email the GNS Watch team (



Opportunistic encounters:

Are you a diver or fisher who occasionally encounters grey nurse sharks? If you have a good quality side photo of any of these sharks, you can submit your sighting and/or photographs on line at any time during the year using a simple on-line form. Please sign up as a member to be able to submit your data and photos.

Site Custodian scheduled surveys:

Are you a regular diver-photographer who would like to become a site custodian? Can you commit to a more intense survey at your favourite local site/s between January/February and/or July/August? If so, nominate yourself as a site custodian before the first scheduled survey period. First sign up as a member by providing your details, then indicate your nominated site and season. Already a member? Login and then edit your member details to become a GNSW and/or nominate yourself as a site custodian.

Annual scheduled surveys:
Survey 1: January/February
Survey 2: July/August

 Grey Nurse Shark Watch Video - Wolf Rock

Wolf Rock, just south of Fraser Island, is a very special site for Grey Nurse Sharks (GNS) on the east coast of Australia. In Spring, male and female GNS gather at Wolf Rock for breeding. As GNS do not have hands to give gentle caresses during romantic moments, they hold each other with their teeth! This is why some of the GNS you see in this beautiful footage by Pure Underwater Imaging have open wounds and scars - it's a sign they've been contributing to the next generation of this Critically Endangered population.

After the mating season, the male GNS leave Wolf Rock allowing the pregnant females to rest together there in peace for their 9-12 month gestation before pupping in New South Wales waters. See if you can spot the pregnant female in the footage - she is the one looking particularly round!

Wolf Rock is a popular recreational scuba diving site where divers can come up close and personal with the GNS year-round. You can see for yourself in the footage how placid these gentle giants are; despite their toothy grins they are harmless to scuba divers.

As Wolf Rock is so important to GNS, we'd love to see your sighting and photographs from this site - you can submit them via Grey Nurse Shark Watch. Approximately half the pregnant female population aggregate at Wolf Rock each year; where the other half go remains a mystery and is a critical gap in our knowledge of this iconic species. If you have seen any GNS at an unusual site, your sighting could help us with the Missing in Action project.


Grey Nurse Shark Watch at the Grey Nurse Shark Symposium 21 September 2013

Grey Nurse Shark Watch at the Grey Nurse Shark Symposium 21 September 2013

The GNSW team (plus a few very keen volunteers) recently attended the Inaugural Grey Nurse Shark Symposium hosted by Fauna and Flora International Australia and funded by the Burnett Mary Regional Group. 

The overarching theme and aim for the day was to work smarter and more collaboratively with all stakeholders to facilitate the recovery of the Australian east coast population.

The draft 2013 National Recovery Plan for the grey nurse shark (to replace the 2002 plan) has just been released for public comment. A presentation on the objectives and actions of the new plan helped to facilitate discussions for the day. The day consisted of workshop sessions and a range of presentations by the GNSW team, researchers, managers, conservation organisations (NGOs) and stakeholder representatives such as recreational fishers and free divers.

The most important research aim put forward by the group with unanimous support was the collection of data to provide population trends so that the recovery/stability or further decline of the population can be determined and the success of any protection measures known. 

A primary outcome was for a GNS Alliance/Steering Committee to firstly provide a group submission to the Commonwealth on the draft recovery plan, secondly as a ‘discussion like forum' and check point for progress of actions of the new recovery plan once approved and thirdly as requested by the GNSW team a group to seek opinions, advice and requests for GNSW.

Grey Nurse Shark Watch in the News

Meet the Project Team

Sue Sargent is managing the Grey Nurse Shark Research and Community Engagement Program (GNSRCEP) on behalf of Fauna & Flora International as well as coordinating actions between partners and taking a lead with partnership development, funding applications and communication. Sue is also a marine biologist, diver and an advocate for community participation in coastal and marine research. Sue has been working with grey nurse sharks since 1992 and supporting grey nurse shark conservation in Queensland from 2005.

Dr Carley Bansemer is the research coordinator for the GNSRCEP and has been involved in GNS research and management since 2000. She completed her PhD at the University of Queensland (UQ) in 2009 under Professor Mike Bennett on the "Population biology, distribution, movement patterns and conservation requirements of the Grey Nurse Shark". Working for the Queensland Government (focusing mostly on marine park management) since 1998 she is dedicated to forging stronger links between research and conservation management. Dr Bansemer and Professor Bennett have published several peer reviewed scientific papers and reports on the east coast GNS population that led to the acceptance of photo-identification as a robust and effective method to monitor the GNS population status and trends. Carley is passionate about research and monitoring relevant to GNS management being continued through a publically available, independent community based photo-identification program that is scientifically robust and cost efficient. Photos taken by Carley and provided to her by the diving community led to a photographic catalogue of nearly 1000 individually identified GNS that forms the base library for the GNSW program to build upon. Dr Bansemer and Professor Bennett are also supervising PhD candidate Deborah Bowden who they hope will lead them closer to identifying where the ‘missing' 50 % of mature females (that do not reside at Wolf Rock during most of their pregnancy) congregate. This challenging quest is the other core research focus of the GNSRCEP known as ‘Missing in Action'.

 Deborah Bowden completed her Bachelor of Marine Studies in 2003 after spending her Honours year investigating the reproductive biology and behaviours of the grey nurse shark. Since that time, Deb has remained passionate about the conservation of the grey nurse shark and active in research on this iconic species which led her to enrol in her PhD at the University of Queensland in 2011. Deb contributed to development of the Grey Nurse Shark Watch program and continues to be involved by spreading the word about the program at events and visits to dive shops and clubs. As part of her PhD, Deb hopes to investigate the effectiveness of the Grey Nurse Shark Watch methodology through comparison to researcher conducted surveys. Deb's primary involvement in the Grey Nurse Shark Research and Community Engagement Program is delivering the Missing in Action project as part of her PhD studies through the generous support of Project Partners.


Missing in Action (MIA)

missing in action

Missing in Action is a research project being undertaken by the University of Queensland (and partners) that complements the Grey Nurse Shark Watch Project. 

As a part of this project, the research team aim to:

1) Identify potential aggregation sites for pregnant Grey Nurse Sharks through analysis of available data (satellite imagery, anecdotal sightings and captures, and habitat similarity to other known aggregation sites) and remote sensing.

2) Conduct field verification, mapping and deploy listening stations at potential aggregation sites.

3) Attach temporary acoustic and pop-up archival satellite tags to a number of female GNS (with mating scars) to identify potential migration routes and additional gestation sites for pregnant GNS. For this part of the project, the partners are also working with the CSIRO to trial a new timed tether release.

For more information, please see the Fact Sheetlogin to members or contact The Project Team

Project support...

This project is currently supported by Fauna & Flora International Australia through funding from the Australian Government's Caring for our Country, Reef Check Australia and the University of Queensland.

Past support for this project was generously provided by Australian Capital Equity and the Ronald Geoffrey Arnott Foundation (managed by Perpetual), the Burnett Mary Regional Group for Natural Resource Management Ltd.Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing and the University of Queensland

Reef Check Australia is the host of the Grey Nurse Shark Watch website and database, and is also helping to promote opportunities for community engagement in the project.

For more information please contact The Project Team

If you experience technical difficulties, please contact Reef Check Australia Support.