Apps that map our changing environment

Coral bleaching at Solitary Islands National Park. A similar sad situation is taking place at our own Julian Rocks. Photo

Coral bleaching at Solitary Islands National Park. A similar sad situation is taking place at our own Julian Rocks. Photo

Mary Gardner

On the April 19, the branching corals at Nguthungulli/Julian Rocks show up white. The warm water was too much for too long and they bleached. The same water encourages the leopard sharks to linger here later. The first grey nurse shark of the winter season turned up.

Meanwhile manta rays are heading north. Some are tagged. One of them is at least 22 years old. Did you know mantas pass the mirror test for self-awareness? It’s all on the Sundive Byron Bay Facebook and Project Mantra sites. But don’t stop – check out the other internet sites with the real news about what is going on around us here on the subtropic coast. The great winter marine migrations are underway.

For real time shark sighting get involved with Dorsalapp. Sharks are reported on the local beaches such as Wategos, Cosy Corner, Tallow, Broken Head, Lennox Head and Ballina. More people contributing will improve the reporting here on the ground. In the last year, the cluster of shark activity, injury and deaths have prompted NSW government to fund Big Science shark surveillance. To date there is no state interest in a community-based program such as Shark Spotters of Cape Town, who in April 2016 were awarded Africa’s gold medal for responsible tourism. Supporting Dorsal app is the next best step. Download the free app to your phone.

One of the latest postings on the Shark Spotters Facebook page is the news that Great White sharks can live to be 70 years old. There’s a lot a shark can learn over a lifetime. Same for us. We now know that individual sharks have personalities and learning capacities. Their presence of big sharks influences seals, who have quick getaway routes worked into their foraging routines. There isn’t a Facebook site for sightings of all the other sizes and species of sharks, most which are preyed upon by us. Check for them at your fish shop or café.

The humpback whales are already sighted heading north and the National Parks and Wildlife NSW website and Wild About Whales Facebook page is live from May 1. The Facebook page helps coordinate viewing: if whales are at Ballina you can get to your favourite lookout and likely see them come past Broken Head or the Cape. On the return journey, the whales with young will be closer to shore, where calves can rest in shallower water. They may also be somewhat safer from big sharks, who strike from below.

The orcas are more often seen in Tasmania, West Victoria and southern NSW. The Australian Orca Database Facebook page is happy to post any sightings. Over the past few years, Gold Coast newspapers reported orca sightings and the news of a small pod beaching on Fraser Island. Each group of orcas are distinctive for their own calls and a preferred animal as their food. They stick with that food source through thick and thin. Off south NSW, a pod appears to specialise in sunfish. There are photos ten years apart of the same ones hunting sunfish. What’s going on in the subtropics is not well known.

The seabirds are on the move too. Buffeted by high winds, some will try to rest on the shore. For the latest about seabirds and turtles check the Australian Seabird Rescue Facebook. If you want to get out of the wind as well as get experienced about sighting birds, get to the West Byron Sewage Treatment Plant wetlands and use the Bird Buddies checklist. The BirdLife Australia handy online bird identification is a good companion site.

Whether it’s windy or calm, I end up back on the beach. I watch for signs of mullet runs and bait fish. No help from Facebook here. But the RedMap Facebook page posts sightings and news about fish and invertebrates following the warmer water. Marine life are not only migrating but they are relocating. Climate change impacts in real time.

All this news is scattered in bits over the internet, so clip out or bookmark this article. Once clans would meet, share their observations and make plans. Could all these virtual friends meet in one great internet corroboree? Till then, in old fashioned real time, mark May 7 from 12-4pm. Catch you in Brunswick Heads at the Ocean Awareness Festival.


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