Three UVic students, including environmental studies graduate students Stefania Gorgopa (left) and Desiree Bulger (middle), get ready on the dive boat to delve deep for citizen science. (Tobias Scharvogel photo)

UVic using scuba divers for science

Guardians of the Deep program wants local scuba divers to help survey fish population

University of Victoria researchers are calling on the local sport diving community for help counting at-risk species, such as the rockfish, in our local waters.

Guardians of the Deep, a new research program led by marine ecologist John Volpe and grad student Stefania Gorgopa of UVic’s School of Environmental Studies, is turning to local scuba divers for assistance with surveys of marine fish populations in protected areas around Victoria and the Gulf Islands.

“We need citizen scientist diver volunteers of all skill levels to count fish, essentially,” says Gorgopa. “Unlike terrestrial systems which are easily monitored, marine communities can be very challenging to work in and as a result our collective knowledge is extremely modest. We have many at-risk species in local waters, including rockfish, and we have little to no idea how they are doing.”

To overcome this, Gorgopa is seeking to enlist the local dive community in an effort to increase the number of eyes in the water. The research will evaluate local fish communities, assess local conservation areas, while also comparing fish count data provided by citizen science volunteers of different skill and experience levels.

Throughout the summer, Volpe and Gorgopa will hold focus information sessions for interested and experienced scuba divers. There are permanent dives sites in Victoria (Ogden Point and Henderson Point) and on Galiano Island where there will be free boat dives offered to qualified volunteers.