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What’s it all about?

The East Coast Fish-Watch Project is an informal community enterprise designed to help us (everyone who is interested) learn more about our marine fishes and develop an awareness of the rich diversity of our fish fauna.  By involving Project members and scientists in a reciprocal teaching/learning relationship, we hope to improve the fish identification skills of everyone (members AND scientists) concerned.  Learning to identify fishes is the essential first step to find out what is  known about a particular species (sometimes very little) and to communicate our own observations to other people.

This biodiversity initiative is conducted by the J.L.B. Smith Institute of Ichthyology, with the assistance of the  Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science of Rhodes University, the Sea World Education Centre in Durban, and the KwaZulu-Natal Conservation Service. 
The Project comprises three synergistic and complementary components:

1)  Survey of marine fish diversity.
2)  Creation of the East Coast FishBase.
3)  Member participation and education.


The South African region has one of the most diverse, interesting, and poorly-known fish faunas in the world.  Excluding fishes below 200 m, there are more than 1500 fish species in this area.  Although certain habitats (smooth bottom over the continental shelf) have been fairly well sampled with certain gear (trawls), the fish fauna of other habitats (deep reefs and rocky areas) is difficult to sample and poorly known.  Despite the lack of a concerted collecting programme, in the past 20 years, more than 100 new species of marine fishes have been found in our area; and several species not previously known from the region are discovered here every year.

A comprehensive survey of the fish fauna from the shore out to 200 metres depth will produce many valuable specimens and much information of use to management of marine fish resources.  The goal of this survey is to discover, describe, and classify all the fishes in the southern African Region.  The inventory of marine fish diversity that will be produced by our survey work is an essential first step in understanding this diversity and the ecosystem of which it is a major component.  This inventory is also necessary to determine and monitor distributions of the various species in our area.


Information provided by the fish diversity survey will be incorporated in a GIS (Geographic Information System) database.  This East Coast FishBase will be designed to: 

a) promote study of our marine fishes as part of the   Western Indian Ocean ecosystem, 
b) stimulate an interest in and appreciation of marine  fish diversity by involving members in the creation and updating of the database, and
c) facilitate transfer of information to organizations concerned with conservation of fish diversity.

Eventually, the East coast FishBase will include a colour photograph or painting of each species and a map showing its distribution.  Development of FishBase will be supported by FISHLIT and FISHNET (the literature and fish-collection databases of the J.L.B. Smith Institute of Ichthyology).


Anyone with an interest in marine fishes (anglers, aquarists,  SCUBA divers, etc.) will benefit from joining the Project.  You can join the Fish-Watch Project by paying an annual membership fee of R50 to the J.L.B. Smith Institute.  Members will receive our Fish Identification Worksheets and the Project Newsletter (The Fish-Watcher) providing information on marine fishes and the progress of our fish survey work. Members can also participate in the Project by supplying photographs of fishes, donating specimens,  providing information on fish sightings, and contributing articles for The Fish-Watcher. 

Experienced underwater photographers can make a valuable contribution to the Project by documenting the occurrence of particular -species in particular habitats.  Participating photographers will be given free film and free membership in exchange for their contributions of fish photographs.

Education of SCUBA divers in fish identification will be accomplished via the following interfaces:

Fish-Watch Dives

The Fish-Watch Dive is an open ocean training session in fish identification.   The Dives are co-ordinated by the charter boat skipper or Dive Master, who presents a short pre-dive briefing to provide some fish observation structure (focus) for that particular dive.  This Fish-Watch Dive Plan may be organized along taxonomic lines (i.e., a particular family or genus of fishes) that will be the focus of this dive.  Alternatively, the Dive Master can pick a particular site (habitat) or ecological category of fishes, e.g., demersal (bottom) fishes, or pelagic (free-swimming) fishes as the group for concentration on the dive.  Initially, the divers will use one of the Project Fish Identification Worksheets to help them identify the species seen on the dive.  During the dive, the number or name of each species identified should be noted on a slate.

After the dive (on shore), the Dive Master will lead a debriefing session to discuss which species were  identified.  Which fishes were seen, but not recognized (not identified)?  Which species were the most common?

To cover the cost of educational materials, divers who want to join a Fish-Watch Dive and are not members of the Fish-Watch Project would be asked to join the Project (pay the R50 annual membership fee) or pay a R20 levy (for the Worksheet).  Divers who are members of the Project may do Fish-Watch Dives without paying the  levy.

Fish-Watch Dives will be launched initially by Blue Wilderness Dive Expeditions.  Other dive charter operators may join the Project and offer Fish-Watch Dives, if they comply with the objectives and methods of the Project.

For Information on Fish-Watch Dives, contact:
Mark Addison, Blue Wilderness Dive Expeditions
9 Hilltop Road, Widenham
Tel/Fax: 039 9732348 Cell: 0833031515

Workshops on Fish Identification
These Workshops are arranged by appointment with the Manager of the Education Centre at Sea World in Durban.  P.O. Box 10712, Marine Parade 4056
Tel: (031) 337-3536; Fax: (031) 337-2132

The Fish-Watcher
The Project Newsletter is an inter-active source of information on southern African marine fishes.  We welcome articles, letters, photographs, anecdotes and queries pertaining to marine fishes.  We also want your criticisms, comments and suggestions regarding the Newsletter and/or the Project. 

For further information about the East Coast Fish-Watch Project, please contact the Editor and  Project Leader,
P.C. Heemstra, Curator of Marine Fishes,
J.L.B. Smith Institute of Ichthyology
Private Bag 1015, Grahamstown 6140
Telephone (046) 636-1002; Fax (046) 622-2403

 Natal wrasse, Anchichoerops natalensis 
 (Gilchrist & Thompson, 1908)
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Four fish species from Aliwal Shoal.  How many can you name? (Names on back page.)  Answers
Photos by Dennis King.