Exploratory investigations of optimal sampling designs are a critical component of the decision-making process in ecology where inherent natural variation can lead to erroneous conclusions if left unexamined. Pilot studies and exploratory analyses that investigate the precision of sampling regimes may reduce the chances of erroneous results and can be used to optimise processing time in larger ecological research programs. In our study, we calculated optimal precision estimates for sampling macroinvertebrates and ichthyofauna in surf-zone wrack accumulations by investigating the precision of the mean for sub-samples of seine nets and also for the number of replicate seine nets to guide future sampling regimes. We discovered that the processing time for individual seine net samples could be reduced by 50% using sub-sampling and that time to process replicate seine net samples could be reduced by 25% while maintaining acceptable precision. In future, we suggest that the use of pilot studies with similar exploratory approaches should be less of an exception and more a critical component of ecological investigations, particularly in under-studied or newly-developing areas of research. Further, these types of exploratory approaches are crucially important in a variety of extremely patchy environments where variability is likely to be high.