Around the Reef - Reef Check Australia - December 2023

February 16, 2024

Dear Friend

The festive season is certainly here and everyone is looking forward to a short break. Our teams have been busy this last month but we still have some past activities to share with you. Whilst some of these news items might seem a bit old, we still want to share the amazing work our teams have been doing and give a big shout out to our amazing supporters and grant funders who make these projects possible. As promised last month, we also bring you a list of just some of our favourite local and small businesses that we encourage you to support when doing your Christmas shopping.

This months email includes:

  • Action of the Month: That's a Wrap
  • News from the Field
  • Gift Ideas
  • Current Coral Affairs
  • Get With the Program

That's a Wrap!

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Another year done and dusted and as the world slows down for a few days over the silly season it allows us the perfect time to reflect on the past 12 months and all that has happened. The highlights and the challenges. The successes and opportunities to grow. All offer the opportunity to be grateful for the experience, and allow a platform for us to reflect and plan for the next 12 months.

As we look ahead to the new year, it's a time to set goals, make plans, and dream big. Whether it's traveling to a new destination, learning a new skill, or simply taking more time for self-care, there's a sense of optimism and possibility that comes with the start of a new year.

For Reef Check Australia, the magnificent team behind the scenes that make it all work accomplished outstandiing things. Along the length of the QLD coastline, almost 100 reef health surveys were completed, and over 80 community events, fundraising nights, movie nights, and beach/underwater clean ups were conducted. Over 20 Reef Ambassadors and 12 Reef Health Surveyors completed their training, and we set up a reef restoration project in Moreton Bay. Hundreds of kg of marine debris was removed from our waterways, beaches and oceans, and hundreds of community members found out who RCA is, and what we do. We even presented citizen science data at two conferences. We strengthened partnerships and created new ones. We won awards, and were finalists for others. That's a really big year for a small team, so thankyou to each and every single one of you. Your support, assistance, energy and input makes a huge impact and we appreciate you.

So as we say goodbye to 2023, let's take a moment to celebrate the good, acknowledge the challenges, and look forward with hope and optimism to what lies ahead. Here's to a new year full of possibility, growth, and happiness. That's a wrap!

News from the field

Stories and updates from our teams out & about. Check out some of these regional stories on our website!

South East Queensland

Gold Coast Training - Reef Ambassadors

During July and August our latest group of enthusiastic volunteers undertook our Reef Ambassador training course. The theory component is delivered online, enabling people to join from all over the state, all the while reducing our carbon footprint by removing the need to travel.

Whilst some of our new ambassadors are yet to complete their face-to-face component, we did have new volunteer participation at the recent Gold Coast Whale Festival. This was a great opportunity for them to learn from more experienced volunteers and practice their skills in communicating with a wide range of people. Our ambassadors brought a fantastic selection of ideas for new projects and events that they wish to organise so we can’t wait to see these come to fruition.

Reef Check Australia acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land and sea country on which these activities took place and we pay our respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

This project has received funding support from The City of Gold Coasts Catchment and Citizen Science Grants Program.


Kirra Reef Health Survey, August 2023

The sun was out and so were we! With a few days in a row of gorgeous weather, we headed to Kirra reef for our annual reef health monitoring at the site. Our team was lucky enough to encounter watch whales and dolphins on the way to site, making it a truly special day for all of us 😊

Kirra Reef is situated at the southern end of the Gold Coast and consists of scattered rocky outcrops that are covered in kelp and algae. It is approximately 400m from the shore, and is protected on three sides by land, making it accessible most of the year. Despite being close to shore, access by boat is recommended. It is approximately 100 metres in length and home to an array of soft corals, feather stars, anemones, cephalopods and an abundance of fish species. Eagle rays, wobbegongs and turtles can often be spotted just off this reefal area if you have a keen eye and time to explore.

Reef Check Australia has been monitoring Southeast Queensland reefs since 2007, and Kirra Reef  since 2019, as part of a partnership with City of Gold Coast to monitor the health of reefs in the area.

The team were delighted to find the site full of marine life including the smallest wobbegong anyone had ever seen, an octopus, nudibranchs, sea urchins and so many fish! A small amount of debris was recorded on the site, most drifting with the algae in the gulley’s between the rocky coral covered outcrops.

The site supports a large number of anemones, ascidians and flowery soft corals and lots of different types of algae, often making substrate surveys a little tricker. If you get the chance to check out this small but diverse site, we highly recommend having a look!  Again, we recommend access by boat for safety.

Big thanks to Gold Coast Dive Adventures for getting us to the site!

Reef Check Acknowledge the people of the Yugambeh language region of the Gold Coast, Traditional Custodians of the land and sea country on which these activities took place, and we pay our respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

This project has received funding support from The City of Gold Coasts Catchment and Citizen Science Grants Program.

Caloundra Music Festival

Basking in perpetual sunshine, the 16th annual Caloundra Music Festival took place from Friday the 29th to Sunday the 1st of October and boasted an idyllic setting, bordering the scenic Kings Beach. With a diverse lineup, the festival attracted thousands, serenading them with genres ranging from rap and funk to blues and jazz. While single-use items were minimized through the use of reusable cups and a focus on recycling and composting, Reef Check Australia volunteers took the opportunity to blend environmental education with entertainment. Positioned strategically amidst the festival grounds, they engaged the public on marine conservation efforts and recommended local snorkelling spots to experience the underwater world of the Sunshine Coast.

While the music resonated with the attendees, the event also struck a chord on environmental awareness. Partnering with Reef Check Australia and BushCare Sunshine Coast, the festival aimed to educate the public on local conservation initiatives. Both organizations went beyond the festival's timeframe, advertising local citizen science opportunities for the region to get involved in environmental action beyond the three-day event. Volunteers from Reef Check actively discussed ongoing projects in the area and invited festivalgoers to get involved in future conservation efforts. Meanwhile, BushCare Sunshine Coast promoted land-based conservation projects, emphasizing the interconnectedness of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. By intertwining the melodies of the festival with the vital message of environmental responsibility, the event created a lasting impact that will likely reverberate in the actions of attendees long after the last note faded away.

A massive thankyou to our new Ambassadors Jolin, Jake and Erica who completed the last elements of their Reef Ambassador course whilst at the festival. Volunteers are vital to the work we do, and we appreciate your time and energy! Thankyou, and we look forward to seeing you art future events!

Reef Check Acknowledge the Kabi Kabi people of the Sunshine Coast, Traditional Custodians of the land and sea country on which these activities took place and we pay our respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

This project is supported by the Sunshine Coast Councils Environment Levy Partnership Grant.


Moreton Bay - St Helena Reef Health Surveys

A sunny day between wind and rain. Despite heavy rains over the past few weeks, Moreton Bay put on a show in September, showing just how gorgeous the on-water conditions can be, meaning this tiny but might Reef Check Australia team was able to get out and conduct a summer reef health survey at Saint Helena Island, to document any changes to the reef in the area.

Reef Check Australia has been monitoring Southeast Queensland reefs since 2007, and Saint Helena Island since 2017, as part of a partnership with Port of Brisbane to monitor the effects of activities in the Bay. These locations are monitored twice a year (summer and winter) to detect any seasonal changes.

St Helena Island is located 5km from the mouth of the Brisbane River. The island itself has an interesting history. From 1867 it operated as a high security colonial prison, operating for 65 years as a self sufficient set up, complete with lime kiln, sugar refinery, a sugar cane plantation, and almost no native vegetation due to its removal early on.

Reef Check Australia has two long term monitoring sites around the island.  The first site; Palindrome, is near the jetty, and has a patchy reef full of both hard and soft corals.

This site was quite turbid for the winter survey; unusual for this time of year known for cold but clear conditions. A high level of silt was recorded and purple filamentous nutrient indicator algae covered almost every surface. Several items of debris were recorded; mostly glass bottles, and a couple of nudibranchs, however no target fish species were found on this survey.

The second site; Ray of Sunshine, is towards the south east, and has a greater density of hard corals than Palindrome.

The visibility was uncharacteristically poor for this time of year, with sediment throughout the water column. No macroalgae was recorded at this site on transect (previously found in high occurance at this site), however Nutrient Indicator Algae (NIA) was recorded in much higher counts than the previous year.

This site has plenty of hard coral colonies, with bleaching affecting approximately 5% of the population, an increase since summer, and winter last year.

We look forward to heading out again in a few months to continue monitoring any changes that might occur as a part of this long term monitoring program.

Thankyou to Go Dive Brisbane for getting us to our reef health monitoring sites. We appreciate that many of the sites we visit are not regularly on the tourist circuit, although we believe they should be!

Reef Check Acknowledge the Quandamooka people, Traditional Custodians of the land and sea country on which these activities took place and we pay our respects to their elders past, present and future.

This project is supported by the Port of Brisbane as a part of their environmental monitoring program.



Elliot Heads - Beach Clean Up

On a sunshine-filled Saturday morning in early October, the sky cleared just as our clean-up operation began, blessing our environmental efforts with clear weather to launch the start of the Great Barrier Reef Clean-up, which happened throughout the month of October. Spearheaded by Reef Check Australia and Tangaroa Blue Foundation, a diverse group of volunteers—some new to beach cleaning and others well-versed—gathered to reclaim the beauty of our coasts by removing marine debris from our shared shorelines.

The scope of the clean-up was expansive, targeting not just the sandy stretches of Elliot Heads Beach but also sections of the serene mouth of Elliot River and the secluded Dr May Island. These areas are not just scenic getaways but crucial habitats for local wildlife. Migratory and critically endangered shorebirds, as well as nesting sea turtles with notably high nesting rates, call these areas home.

Bordering the Great Sandy Marine Park, Elliot Heads is just 20 km south of Mon Repos, which hosts the largest nesting population of the endangered loggerhead turtles in the Southern Hemisphere, underlining the critical nature of maintaining clean and safe surrounding environments. This sandy river mouth is also home to shorebirds travelling along the East Australasian Flyway, a route that stretches from Alaska all the way to New Zealand around the western side of the Pacific.

Our collaborative effort yielded 11.2 kg of marine debris, packed into three large bags. The origin of this waste varied; some were locally deposited by beachgoers and due to nearby urbanisation, while other debris had been washed ashore. Unfortunately, marine debris was even found inside empty hatched turtle egg casings, demonstrating just how present this problem is in the lives of turtles already. All items collected were meticulously sorted, weighed, and their data incorporated into the Australian Marine Debris Initiative Database. This feeds into a nationwide dataset that scientists across the country can utilise to gain a better understanding of the plastic pollution problem.

By the end of the day, it was evident that the endeavour was about more than just physical cleaning—it was a determined community effort to preserve the natural beauty of an important ecosystem. Remember, each individual action serves as a stepping stone towards a larger, collective goal: the sustainable health and beauty of our marine and terrestrial environments.

Reef Check acknowledges the Traditional Country of the Taribelang Bunda, Gooreng Gooreng, Gurang, and Bailai Peoples on the land and sea country where these activities took place. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present, and emerging.

ReefClean is funded by the Australian Government's Reef Trust and delivered by the Tangaroa Blue Foundation.


Great Barrier Reef

Alma Bay Clean Up

The conditions around Magnetic Island have been very windy and swelly over the last couple of months, so as soon as our Townsville team found a break in these conditions, we quickly headed to Alma Bay to conduct our biannual beach and underwater clean up as part of Tangaroa Blue's ReefClean project. Being school holidays, we weren’t surprised to see this beach full of people when we arrived, nor were we surprised to find items such as sunglasses, hats and hair clips during the 40 minute scuba dive, however we did only fall a small amount of eight debris underwater.

As for the beach clean up, we had a very different outcome with a total of 566 pieces of marine debris collected along the beach which is les than 200m long. The most common debris as expected was hard plastic remnants, accounting for 397 of the 566 pieces of debris. As microplastic surveys throughout Australia have identified this location to have the highest concentration of microplastic of any surveyed beach in the country, we decided to separate microplastics (those less than 5mm in diameter) from larger pieces. We collected 192 microplastics from within the seaweed along the high tide line! On a positive note, this time around we found much less glass from smashed alcoholic beverage bottles compared to last clean up at this location in May – only 6 pieces of glass this time compared to the 465 we collected last time.

This project is supported by Tangaroa Blue through ReefClean; a project funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust. ReefClean is a project to remove and reduce marine debris impacting the Great Barrier Reef. All debris form this event were sorted and the data added to the Australian Marine Debris Initiative Database.

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on where these activities take place, the Wulgurukaba people. We pay our respects to their elders, past, present and emerging and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in our community today.

Whitsundays, Hook Island Reef Health Survey

Getting out before the winds increased again our team headed out to Hook Island with the aim to conduct our annual Reef Check Australia Reef Health Surveys, along with Eye of the Reef Rapid Surveys and CoralWatch. The Luncheon Bay site was set up in 2013, with Butterfly Bay first surveyed in 2018. Although we had planned on starting at Butterfly Bay, the presence of a very large charter boat and a huge number of snorkellers on our survey site, changed our mind and we headed to the quieter Luncheon Bay.

Levels of hard coral cover at Luncheon Bay remained similar to 2022, with an increase in soft coral cover noted and a decrease in rubble. An increase in hard coral was recorded at Butterfly Bay, with a decrease in rubble. Coral bleaching was observed on all transects at Luncheon Bay but only 2 transects at Butterfly Bay, but like the other Whitsunday sites we have surveyed, it was less than 1% of the population.  Coral damage was observed on all transects at Butterfly Bay however this was not surprising as this very pretty area is very popular with snorkellers. Parrotfish and Butterflyfish dominated at both sites. Once again, clams were the only target invertebrate observed at both sites.

Thanks to John at Whitsunday Paradise Explorer for getting us to site and Aquadive for supplying the tanks. These surveys were conducted on the traditional lands and sea country of the Ngaro People of the Whitsundays. We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians and their Elders past, present and emerging.

This project is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government's Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.


Gift Ideas

Support local, give experiences. Here are just a few of our favourite businesses to support.

What to give that person who has everything?

Why not Adopt a Reef! Visit our Website to make your purchase.

or visit our Sea store for other great gift ideas and help support our cause.

Your Mates Brewery

Purchase your loved ones a gift card or a box of tasty beverages and support this local business that supports Reef Check (you may have heard about the monthly raffles?)

Blue Tortuga Adventures

Have someone on the Sunshine Coast who likes diving, snorkelling or fishing? Shout them a trip with Blue Tortuga.

Gold Coast Dive Adventures

How about a trip to the Gold Coast's Wonder reef?

Whitsunday Paradise Explorer

Maybe shout the family or friends a day out snorkelling or visiting the beautiful beaches and islands of the Whitsundays on your own personalised, professionally skippered small boat.

Pranafest 2024

Early bird tickets now available. Shout yourself (why not) and some loved ones tickets to a weekend of wellness and awesome music on the Sunshine Coast.


Current Coral Affairs

Check out some of the latest news and research about our ocean

Scalloped Hammerheads gather in seas off Perth
Why - find out what researchers have been able to determine.

Read now in: Australian Geographic

Heatproofing Coral

Can heat tolerant algae help save our coral?

Read more: Australian Geographic

Get with the Program

Here's what we've got coming up in the next few weeks, keep checking the website for more updates. 

Like most people we are taking a  break for a couple of weeks. Keep an eye on our socials for any activities that may pop up. We will have beach and snorkel clean ups early in the new year and ambassador and surveyor training course dates will be announced.


If you missed any of our Coast to Coral online events, remember you can always catch-up by taking a look at our YouTube Channel here  


Thanks for reading! If you want to help our work to empower more people to protect Australian reefs, please consider making a monthly tax-deductible donation. 



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