Divers mapping fish distribution in South Africa for the Sea Fish Atlas
Anyone who has ever experienced our underwater world in South Africa or visited one of our beautiful aquariums will know how incredibly diverse our marine fish are. In fact, of all the fish families worldwide, over 80% are represented in South African waters and, of these, 13% are endemic and only found in southern Africa! For example the klipfish, seabreams and catsharks are considered “Proudly South African” and are found nowhere else in the world, making it imperative that we put measures into place to conserve them, for example, by divers mapping fish distribution in South Africa for the Sea Fish Atlas.
In order to protect our fish, we first need to know where different species are found. Although South Africa has many fish species in its waters, numbers vary a great deal along different sections of coastline. As a result,
conservation planning is very tricky because decisions have to be made on which areas or species should take priority for protection. This is why divers, fisherman, beachgoers and scientists in South Africa are working together on the Sea Fish Atlas as part of the SeaKeys project. The Sea Fish Atlas aims to map our different fish species so that we can gain a greater understanding of where different species are distributed along our coast and how these distributions vary. ANYONE can participate by creating a profile on iSpot, uploading photographs of fish with details on where they were spotted and “tagging” on-line with Sea Fish Atlas. It is also a great website to get your IDs checked if you are unsure of what species the fish in your photographs are. Anyone can post identifications which are then verified by experts.
Scuba divers have already made several exciting new contributions to the Sea Fish Atlas and to our understanding of South African fish species. For example, a juvenile ghost moray eel was photographed on a night dive in Sodwana Bay; this species had only ever been seen further north in Mozambique, so this photograph is the first sighting in South Africa. In addition, on a recent expedition in the canyons of Sodwana Bay, divers photographed several rare and elusive species for the Sea Fish Atlas as well as an undescribed species of waspfish that is completely new to science! There have also been contributions from ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) pilots and from researchers using baited underwater cameras to study fish assemblages at different spots all over the country. Contributions such as these will only increase as more people participate.
It is not only exciting fish species that will contribute to the atlas – each and every observation counts. So far over 3000 photographs have been uploaded by divers and fishermen from all over the country. The more fish that can be mapped to increase our understanding of fish distributions in South Africa, the more chance of conserving our amazing fish and their habitats for many more fantastic dives. So please get in the water and get photographing!
If anyone would like more information on the Sea Fish Atlas and the other marine atlasing projects or would like to receive a copy of the Sea Fish Atlas newsletter please contact Rose.