VIZ code of
On the VIZ Sydney Diving Visibility Reports group we share information around conditions but also about fish sightings in line with our purposes. Knowing the underwater conditions and the species at a given site enables many of us divers and snorkelers to experience it in person, creating lifelong memories at times. By sharing pictures with our network of friends we become ambassadors of the ocean, multiplying awareness and ultimately safeguarding the world that otherwise would be invisible to most of the population. It also allows Sydneysiders to achieve incredible experiences during lockdowns and travel bans, contrary to the belief that we need to travel overseas for those.
By sharing species and locations we can expose the most popular species to increased attention and interactions. This can be the case with high profile species and photogenic subjects, such as Sea Turtles, Ghost Pipefish, Grey Nurse Sharks, Weedy Seadragons. Other risks include facilitating fishing or commerce of live specimens.
The Solution: VIZ Code of Self-Regulation
By looking at the protected species that are normally seen in Sydney, across state, national and international regulations (table below), we have defined this list of species that are subject to self regulation on VIZ:
Grey Nurse Sharks (note: divers need to follow the Code of Conduct by DPI NSW)
For these, our VIZ community members are asked to follow these guidelines:
What is OK to share: name of the site (Cabbage Tree Bay, Bare Island, The Steps, etc).
What is NOT OK to share: coordinates, position on maps, any indication within the dive site name.
With a bit of caution and consideration we can enjoy our passion while keeping our shores inviting for more species to settle. This does not mean we cannot privately tell a trusted friend, of course, but it's for avoiding publishing these details to 7000 members... if the 1% of us decides to go checking those species it's still 70 divers!
Thanks to those who have come forward to bring this theme to attention: Louisa Xu, Sarah Han de Beaux, Kaspa Blewett and the support received by Gigi Beretta and Bill Gladstone in reviewing this content.
Additional information and references
Summary of the protected species among the ones normally posted on VIZ. "Protected" is a broad term as multiple organisations have different criteria and territorial responsibility
Maps published by VIZ have never shown marine life and will continue to be so. One exception is "Weedyland" at Cabbage Tree Bay, where the exact location of the Weedy Seadragons has been obfuscated with a generic area, considering that their presence is largely known (dive centres advertise guided dives) and being far from the beach the number of interactions is limited (especially in comparison with the ones in Kurnell). At the same time that generic indication has helped a handful of lucky freedivers to see one and tick a bucket list item. We believe that this is an example of a balanced approach between risk and opportunities.
In defining the code, we have been using the decision tree referenced below for assessing the level of obfuscation required. The tree represents the assessment method, not the answers to each node, for those we have been using our best judgement and our empirical evidence based in years of diving in Sydney. We will reassess the situation over time and correct if necessary, also on the basis of qualified evidence which can be submitted by anyone as it happened in the past (see contact details in the About section)
Should you share data of threatened species?
A decision tree for assessing the risks and benefits of publishing biodiversity data
Declaration under section 248 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of Marine Species
Threatened species under the NSW Fisheries Management Act 1994
IUCN Red List of threatened species
What are the Benefits of Interacting with Nature?