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About the East Coast Fish-Watch Project

The East Coast Fish-Watch Project, ECFWP, 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 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 fish species (sometimes very little) and communicate our own observations to other people.

This biodiversity initiative is conducted by the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) (formerly known as the J.L.B. Smith Institute of Ichthyology), with assistance from the Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science of Rhodes University, the Sea World Education Centre in Durban, and the KwaZulu-Natal Nature 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

1. Survey of Marine Fish Diversity

The South African region has one of the most diverse, interesting and poorly known fish faunas in the world. Excluding fishes below 200m, there are more than 1,500 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 the distributions of the various species in our area.

2. Creation of the East Coast FishBase

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:

  • promote the study of our marine fishes as part of the Western Indian Ocean ecosystem,
  • stimulate an interest in and appreciation of marine fish diversity by involving members in the creation and updating of the database, and
  • facilitate transfer of information to organisations 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 SAIAB).

3. Member Participation and Education

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 sending us your details. If you join during 2006, membership is free.  Next year (2007) we may have to reinstate a modest annual fee for membership. Members outside South Africa are asked to pay an annual membership fee of R60 ($10 USD) to cover our postage costs. Members can purchase our underwater worksheets at the prices given below.  We will resume publication of our newsletter, The Fishwatcher, on the Website. This newsletter will provide information on marine fishes and the progress of our 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 occurence of particular species in particular habitats.

Education of SCUBA divers in fish identification will be accomplished via Fish-Watch Dives and Workshops on Fish Identification.

Phill with students
Phil briefing a group of Fish-Watchers in Umkomaas.

East Coast Fish-Watch is sponsored by

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All text, images and photographs copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 & 2006
South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity or the respective photographer. All Rights Reserved.
Last update: November 7, 2006