Professor Steve Smith, Director of Southern Cross University's National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour
Professor Steve Smith, Director of Southern Cross University's National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour

Sea slug census for Southern Cross

SOUTHERN Cross University will cover new ground in the quest for sighting undiscovered nudibranch species when it conducts the first Sea Slug Census at world heritage listed Lord Howe Island next week.

Professor Steve Smith, Director of Southern Cross University's National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour, said University scientists would be joined by citizen scientist volunteers for the inaugural count in the Island's rock pools and deeper water on February 24 and 25.

He said the event was about much more than photographing the colourful creatures, as sea slugs were proving to be a reliable indicator of global climate change.

"We anticipate some really interesting finds, with new records for the Island, and will be contrasting the species list with one we recently compiled for the NSW mainland,” Professor Smith said.

"The brightly-coloured nudibranchs are an underwater photographer's dream but they are also very important indicators of environmental change due to their short life spans and reliance on specific food sources.

"Warmer water temperatures and changing currents may be bringing slugs further south than ever before so our team at Southern Cross University is monitoring the southerly migration of tropical sea slugs to chart climate change.”

Professor Smith has co-ordinated the sea slug census events at locations along the Australia's east coast since 2013, including Nelson Bay, Sydney, Gold Coast and the NSW south coast from Eden to Narooma documenting hundreds of species and new regional records.

Southern Cross University postgraduate candidate Matthew Nimbs, and recent graduate Dr Tom Davis, will help lead the count at Lord Howe Island. Volunteers who have coordinated, or participated in, sea slug census events in other locations, will also travel to take part.

"We will be conducting field work for a longer period, from February 19 to 26, with local assistance from the amazing staff at the Lord Howe Island Museum and Marine Park,” Professor Smith said.

Lord Howe Island, which received UNESCO World Heritage Listing in 1982, is located offshore from Port Macquarie and is known for its world-class beaches, coral reef snorkelling and day hikes.

The citizen science program contributes directly to Southern Cross University's marine biodiversity research program.



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