08 de mayo de 2020

Clingfish image requested for publication

I love it when an image on Australasian Fishes is requested for use in a scientific paper. Recently Dr Kevin Conway, Associate Professor/Curator of Fishes at Texas A&M University, requested the use of one of Daan Hoffmann’s images.
The image (above left) shows an Orange Clingfish, Diplocrepis puniceus, a New Zealand endemic species that occurs in shallow temperate marine waters often in rockpools. It is usually observed under rocks or boulders in sheltered areas where it feeds on small crustaceans, molluscs and fishes.
Kevin requested the photo for use on a multi-species plate in a paper about the evolution and relationships of clingfishes of the world. View a video of Kevin collecting clingfishes.
Daan works as the Collections Photographer at the Auckland Museum (view an image of Daan at work). The photograph on the right, above, shows Daan diving with his camera setup. Daan now lives in New Zealand but was born in the Netherlands. He’s lived in a number of places, including Malaysia and Australia before landing in New Zealand.
Daan has been diving since 2013, when he undertook a marine studies course at the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic in an effort to inform/combine his photography with a fascination for underwater life. The course included a diving component, and before long Daan had acquired an underwater camera setup. Most of his diving since has been around Tauranga.
Daan has been working for Auckland Museum since October 2017, initially as Documentary Heritage Photographer digitizing the library's collections then into his current role in the main photography team which sees him working across all of the museum's collections.
As I said, I'm delighted to see Australasian Fishes Project members contributing to the advancement of science. I'm sure we'll see more if this in the future.
Anotado en mayo 08, viernes 03:27 por markmcg markmcg | 7 comentarios | Deja un comentario

23 de abril de 2020

Member profile - John Sear

Recently, while on a trip to the US, I noticed an unusual approach to rural road maintenance that was underway in several States. Called, “Adopt-a-Highway” it was common in those States to see a stretch of road, apparently sponsored by a corporation, church group etc. While this program is actually a marketing exercise, where companies pay to have their logo posted on a stretch of road, it did make me wonder about taking personal ownership over sections of the natural environment. While Australasian Fishes operates Australia and New Zealand-wide, it is clear that some participants have decided to implement “Adopt-a-Piece-of-Ocean”, as their approach to documenting the local fauna. This subject of this Member Profile, John Sear, has explored Australia and has adopted his own patch of the Pacific.
John grew up in a rural area of the Midlands in the UK, spending much of his spare time, as a youth, close to nature. Like many of us he recalls, watching broadcast nature shows, such as those of David Attenborough, however, he says, “The lure of the ocean was a seed sown by Jacques Cousteau. My piscine interest started with a freshwater aquarium and translated to a couple of marine tanks at one stage in Sydney.”
He graduated from Imperial College, London with a Biochemistry degree. Today John is working as a Program Manager delivering business transformation initiatives to large organisations. It is clear that diving and love of nature are his escape from the insanity of corporate life, and over the years he’s nurtured a continued interest in many aspects of life sciences. This is very fortunate for our project.
This early interest in the ocean grew for John, especially after taking a break after five years in the corporate world to travel. His journey eventually led him to Australia, while along the way he snorkelled in Tahiti and the Cook Islands. However, by the time he’d arrived in Fiji, he decided it was time to learn to dive, using SCUBA. He recounts that his sixth dive was on the Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand back in 1991. He was hooked!
He says, “Manly soon became my new home in Sydney and Shelly Beach the local dive spot. In the early 90’s it was quite polluted, and overfished, but since the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve was introduced in 2002 things have changed dramatically. An increase in fish biomass has attracted larger predator species, and the reserve has become a popular snorkelling tourist attraction for juvenile Dusky Whaler sharks between Feb and June. One of the benefits of long-term observations is that with enough citizen contributions any changes in distributions of species can be identified. Fish species being found beyond their normal distribution range can also support scientific hypotheses such as climate change models. Increased numbers of tropical species from year to year is something we are noticing in Cabbage Tree Bay. Observations along the coast will also help validate the models, as temperate species themselves may be displaced farther south. Ultimately, it might provide an insight as to how quickly ecosystems can adapt, or do more sensitive, less mobile species disappear forever?”
Such insight comes from visiting an area often and helping to create records of the changes he observed. As a result, John has contributed 2,392 observations to iNaturalist, documenting an amazing 1,117 different species. For the Australasian Fishes project, he has contributed (coincidentally) 1,117 observations, which illustrate 501 different species. He is currently ranked in 17th place on the Australasia Fishes Leader board for project observations.
It is not surprising that many of his observations are from his Adopt-a-Piece-of-Ocean area of Cabbage Tree Bay. He is a Manly local who dives most weekends and over the years, participated in species surveys of the area. This sparked his interest in photography, which started with a Nikonos V. Like many of us, he reports, “Several camera floods later, I dive now with a Canon EOS 5D Mk 4, in a Subal Housing. I usually use a 100mm macro lens most of the year and wide angle if the visibility improves in the cooler months. Recently I bought an Olympus TG-6 camera, as a backup for those times when you just can’t pack all the gear. There are so many cameras and underwater setups available now, but a beginner just needs to start with a simple set-up.”
Having developed his own underwater photography skills he says, “Mastering the challenges that present themselves underwater can be frustrating at first but with practice you can improve results quickly. Lighting underwater is important, as fish often require faster shutter speeds, and there usually is less natural light available underwater to perfect an exposure unless you are in very shallow water.”
His images are used to help others interested in his patch of the ocean. He set up the “Fish of Cabbage Tree Bay” website to help people identify what they see underwater whilst swimming, diving, or snorkelling. He reports, “At the time I relied heavily on Mark McGrouther and all his fish expert contacts for identification of the fish I couldn’t find in my books. When Mark introduced me to iNaturalist and the Australasian Fishes project, it provided a fantastic opportunity to put all my images to good use and make them more accessible to a wider audience. The expertise available on this site exceeds that of most diver’s home libraries.”
His Adopt-a-Piece-of-Ocean philosophy has resulted in regularly diving in Cabbage Tree Bay and recording sightings since 2012. This insight has allowed him to observe many changes, new species arriving more regularly, and seeing some now capable of surviving winter months. He has recorded and photographed approximately 350 fish species in Cabbage Tree Bay and says that there are still many that he hasn’t captured yet that other divers have. He advises others who may want to “adopt a piece of local ocean” to realise that, “Sometimes you need a bit of luck with timing but many fish prefer specific habitats, so you can target specific species in typical habitats, many of which occur throughout the reserve. In particular the juvenile tropicals love rubble piles in shallow water, where you will find butterflyfish, and surgeonfish grazing on algae covered rocks. In recent years colonies of hard coral (Pocillopora aliciae) have moved into residence within Cabbage Tree Bay aquatic reserve. As well as providing habitat for many fish and invertebrates that never used to be seen in the reserve, the proliferation of the coral across barren rock platforms has now provided a climate change survey site for a team from the University of Technology, Sydney.”
While John mostly uses SCUBA, he sometimes will survey new areas with mask and snorkel. He recalls, “I enjoy my travelling and always take a camera, but in 2015 I took the family around Australia on a 13-month epic road trip. With limited space in our camper trailer I did manage to squirrel my housing, fins, snorkel and mask into a “secret” compartment in the trailer. That trip provided an excellent opportunity to capture some fish species in lots of different areas, usually snorkelling and freediving, though I did manage to dive Busselton Jetty and the SS Yongala, both magnificent dive locations.”
His” Adopt-a-Piece-of-Ocean” approach has yielded significant insight into not only his understanding of his local area of Cabbage Tree Bay, but has resulted in him supporting research projects and the benefit of intensively collecting data in a single area. For example, he says, “I think recent attempts to introduce crayweed arose from the fact it used to flourish in the area before sewage outfalls were introduced. In the years before the aquatic reserve was established the reef areas were thick with urchins and with higher pollution levels in the water meant the plant life in the bay was less diverse. Cleaner waters these days allow diversity of seaweed to rapidly flourish. Larger storms have stripped areas of vegetation on the reef as documented by David Booth in a recent paper, but they recover rapidly.
Cabbage Tree Bay supports many niche habitats for different species. The combination of reduced pollution and removal of fishing from the area, has resulted in significant increases in the biomass of vegetation and fish species within the aquatic reserve. The presence of large schools of yellowtail scad now attract larger predatory fish, and schools of tailor, bonito, and kingfish are common. Even regular sightings of the Grey Nurse Shark are a clear indication of the improvement of conditions. They were very rarely seen in Cabbage Tree Bay 30 years ago.”
“The species surveys commenced for me when discussing the diversity with other divers. Individuals always have a different eye and often follow habitual dive patterns. Consequently, the more people recording the more complete a picture you will capture. Surveys written on slates, led to debates over similar looking fish, and this could only be resolved with photos. Fortunately, the arrival of commonly available underwater cameras solved many debates. Diving with other divers too, teaches you to look in different ways, and as you find more you start looking for smaller things. It is only limited by your eyesight which is becoming an issue for me!”
John summarised this philosophy by saying, “There are some remarkable contributors to iNaturalist who I have been very privileged to dive with and learn from. Finding a new species, you haven’t encountered before can also reinvigorate your enthusiasm for a dive site. This can be done by diving with a new buddy, or breaking out from that regular dive pattern, or just picking a small area of habitat and looking more closely. I have recently started contributing data and observations to Chris Robert's (University of New South Wales) current survey, and provided some assistance to David Booth's team now surveying the Pocillopora corals, but would be keen to have a more active role, which is why I keep contributing to iNaturalist. I suspect in the near future scientists will find the available data can be effectively mined to support their studies.”
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Anotado en abril 23, jueves 05:59 por markmcg markmcg | 3 comentarios | Deja un comentario

12 de abril de 2020

Wow! 1000 members!

Australasian Fishes went online on 4 Oct 2016. Little did we know that in under 4 years, the project would grow to nearly 80,000 observations with contributions by more than 2,400 people.
I'm delighted to announce that we recently welcomed the 1000th member to the project. @kytes is an Australian zoologist with an interest in natural history and enjoys spending time in nature looking for and identifying animals. Kytes stated, "[I am] happy to contribute my observations to science". Kytes has uploaded observations of fishes from Burleigh Heads, Queensland and Port Phillip Bay, Victoria (Smooth Toadfish in the image above). Thank you kytes, we are delighted to welcome you to our community.
As you can see from the graph above (click it for a larger version), the growth in membership is encouraging. In fact, in the few weeks it has taken me to get my act into gear and write this short piece, another 17 iNaturalist users have joined Australasian Fishes.
"Why don't all contributors join?" I hear you ask. The reasons are many. Often observations are made by holidaymakers who only have an image or two of fishes to contribute. Sometimes the person has an interest in another group of animals and a fish happened to be photographed along with 'the animal of interest'. These observations can provide interesting information about the prey items of birds. I suspect that there are also quite a few people who upload an observation to 'test the water', but for one reason or another don't follow up.
So, to all of you 1000 people who have 'followed up', thank you. Together we have created a hugely valuable resource that continues to grow. :)
Anotado en abril 12, domingo 01:55 por markmcg markmcg | 6 comentarios | Deja un comentario

03 de abril de 2020

New clingfish record for Sydney Harbour

This stunning little fish was observed by Kim Dinh. It's currently being referred to as Genus A, the undescribed Brownspotted Spiny Clingfish. This observation is probably the first time this undescribed species has been recorded from Sydney Harbour.
Kim told me that she, "found it at Clifton Gardens, amongst the kelp on the net. The depth was about 3-4m. It attracted my attention because I have never seen a yellow clingfish before and thought it was just a normal clingfish with a bit of colour variation. Afterwards I showed the photo to John Sear who was impressed and suggested I post it on iNaturalist.
Clingfish experts Dr Kevin Conway and Dr Glenn Moore are working on this and other Australian clingfishes.
To capture this image Kim used an Olympus TG5 camera with an Olympus housing and Inon 2000 strobe.
Anotado en abril 03, viernes 04:11 por markmcg markmcg | 3 comentarios | Deja un comentario

20 de marzo de 2020

Member profile - Martin Crossley

During a recent visit to the Big Island of Hawaii, my wife and I made a pilgrimage, hiking along a narrow tropical path, across a lava field, to the water’s edge to arrive at the location where Captain James Cook, a Yorkshireman, met his demise at the hands of the locals in 1779. In the jungle there is an isolated monument built in 1874, by some of his fellow countrymen and nearby, is a plaque, surprising similar to the one at Kurnell, also mounted in the shallows, marking the place where he fell. The Hawaiian and the Australian plaques illustrate how a native son of York had travelled a great distance from home, as did the subject of this bio blurb, Martin Crossley.
Martin grew up in the Wuthering Heights region of West Yorkshire, a long way from the sea. He spent many hours as a child wandering the moors with a pair of binoculars and a camera, loving everything wild and natural. Like many in the project, the undersea world was first delivered to him via television, starting with Jacque Cousteau’s documentaries on BBC and films about the Great Barrier Reef which he viewed with his family as they gathered around the TV on Sunday evenings in the 1970s.
He recalls one family holiday in Cornwall in 1972 where he saw fishermen showing off Blue Sharks on the quayside. This motivated him to buy a cheap mask and snorkel, starting him on a search of rock pools in the chilly British summer waters. He recalls his Dad dissecting a mackerel as his introduction to fish biology which, 14 years later contributed to him ending up with an honours degree in Physiology. During his post grad backpacking tour of the planet in 1986, he visited the coral reefs of Hawaii and Fiji, exploring the backroads and small coastal villages and unlike his countryman, Capt. Cook, however, he avoided being killed by the locals.
These travels started a chain reaction of events, beginning with his PADI Open Water course in Cairns in 1987, and more backpacking in tropical climes. Upon returning to the UK he worked in Scottish salmon farms and began a career in laboratory science. As part of his rehabilitation following a serious motorcycle accident, he earned his PADI Advanced Diver rating and worked in environmental and hazardous waste management in Saudi Arabia. He says, “With evenings free and none of the usual western distractions i.e. no pubs, I went through Rescue Diver and Dive Master in 12 months and onto my Instructors course in Hurghada, Egypt by 1998.” His time in Saudi Arabia was well spent diving across the kingdom, visiting sites which were extremely remote. It was during this time he got his hands on a Sealife underwater camera with a housing that deformed and stopped operating past 15m. It contained a cheap, self-winding, fixed focus 35mm film camera, however, it took him on his first steps along the challenging path of marine photography. This led to an interest in remembering fish species he saw and a lifelong passion for underwater images.
He offers the following advice to aspiring underwater photographers, to capture that perfect fish image:
1. How to get the best angle: “I employ two basic approaches; i) the patient, sit and wait approach, and ii) the ambush. There is a third, iii) called “I had no idea that was going to happen”, and includes such occasions like when a 14m Humpback Whale unexpectedly swims into view followed by 6 sharks and three species of turtle...yes it did happen…and yes my batteries were flat, but I don’t care if you don’t believe me! Don’t chase a fish, you will only get tail shots, it is pointless. However, with sharks it might be all the chance you get. If the subject it heading away around a pylon, get your buddy to swim round the other side and shepherd it back. Seahorses generally turn away from light at night, so it's best to sneakily illuminate them with the fringe of the light cone, then ambush them in rapid shutter burst mode! Flash is not going to work so a video light is essential. Most octopus can’t resist a wriggling finger and can be tempted out of a hole with a couple of minutes patient coaxing.”
2. How to get the best lighting: “A torch is essential even on a reef in broad daylight, and your 1000 lumen primary torch is an essential tool for illuminating dark crevices where we would otherwise have to move in close and let our eyes adjust. For video you definitely need a good powerful lamp to bring out the reds beyond 10m depth. Accept that in order to get great shots, you are going to have to get good at post photo editing. The Windows photo editor is a very useful (and usually FREE) option, performing good JPEG manipulation and may be your only practicable option if using a laptop unless you have a great processor. With a decent PC you can step up to RAW editing and then you are into Adobe Photoshop and “Lightroom” territory. You cannot beat the hand held torch for creating those moody shadows across the subject or for direct on-subject spotlighting, similar to snooking, to eliminate all that back scatter. It’s the second biggest consideration I’m still learning to master now that I’m doing a lot more night photography, the first being that ‘lighting is everything’. And of course, the adage “get closer, then get closer again” still applies to everything.”
3. Using the right camera gear for you: “I presently own an Olympus TG5 and Olympus housing in a generic cradle, with Sea &Sea YS01 strobe (because of the TTL and flash brightness override) a 3800 lumen BigBlue video light, along with a Hyperion 1000 lumen hand torch. I’ve arrived at this combination through a number of careful considerations – but mostly because I have children and a mortgage. I miss not having the truly manual full control camera, but see a time when these will be affordable as the inevitable demise of the big camera/housings combo occurs. The macro results in particular from the TG5 are amazing, as is the 4K video. Results even without a fisheye have been fantastic with the strobe during daylight. I’ve twice been approached with requests to use my photos seen on iNaturalist, one from the US Geographic Survey organisation and one by a private publisher for a book, so I must be doing something right.”
4. How get the best photography experience: “I now teach UW Photography, including teaching students how to not only look after their kit and improve their chances of getting that great picture, but also about being respectful of the marine environment and other divers and seeing marine creatures for the beautiful and wondrous creatures that they all are. When teaching I often draw a parallel with a typical walk through your local park. How many different species of animal can you count? A few birds, maybe a rabbit if you are lucky. How many animals course their way over to have a look at you then saunter off, going about their own business? Apart from maybe someone's dog, none. The underwater environment is truly awesome, and you get to fly weightless in 3D into the bargain!”
Like our other famous Yorkshiremen, Martin has travelled a great deal for work. He worked across the United Arab Emirates, diving whenever possible and on the odd occasion being able to combine his scuba skills with marine contamination sampling work, spending 11 years in the Middle East. His passion for the natural environment drove him to continue his studies in environmental management gaining a Masters Degree with merit from the Imperial College UOL in 2008, which opened career doors and a move into consultancy. He worked as an environmental advisor to the Coal Seam Gas industry and his tenure at the BP/Shell owned Queensland Gas Company, setting up a turtle triage centre in the GAWB Barramundi hatchery amongst other chances to protect fauna and flora across the CSG/LNG projects. He eventually moved to Queensland, where he dived extensively and has settled in Perth.
Martin is strong believer in citizen science and feels that contributing to such projects, “...not only gives you something to brag about to friend and work colleagues but creates a great sense of worth. When someone comments about your observation being the first sighting in that area, or an increase in known maximum length, or simply someone says ‘great observation’, the feeling is priceless." He continues, “Witnessing the pressures of man’s so-called development in the name of economics at the expense of the natural environment was a tough pill to swallow. I was determined to formally qualify my experience and be better informed and capable of defending the natural world.”
He concludes reflecting on the social aspects of diving, “Since scaling back my career ego, and moving to Perth, my dive life has taken a major change of gear and I am experiencing a diving fraternity more heart-warming than I’ve experienced anywhere before. Having spent 9 months alone in Perth before the family removed from Brisbane, diving became my lifeline, forming friends through the Perth Scuba shop club and other Facebook groups. As a regular I came to know the local dive sites and flora and fauna well and through evidence of my photographic abilities gained the confidence of local peers and earned a regular spot as the club night dive guy. And then I discovered iNaturalist! It arrived at an opportune when I needed to stay in and save money and so served a very useful purpose, keeping me occupied nightly with identifications, photo processing and uploading, but it grew to become a far greater sense of feeling like I was making a worthwhile contribution. I sometimes stop and remind myself that there aren’t the hordes of people taking photos underwater like on land and, as well as the huge financial commitment that each of us bear, as contributors to citizen science projects, we are kind of special.”
Martin, known as jmartincrossley, is ranked 15th on the project leader board, supplying 1,339 observations to Australasian Fishes, documenting 375 species for us. His brief bio on the site, https://www.inaturalist.org/people/jmartincrossley, records some of his travels in his 32 years of diving and shows how far this Yorkshireman was willing to journey from home.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Anotado en marzo 20, viernes 06:28 por markmcg markmcg | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

18 de marzo de 2020

New Fusilier for Lord Howe Island

Well done to Caitlin Woods for photographing and uploading a new fish record for Lord Howe Island.
On February 23, 2020. Caitlin observed a school of Scissor-tailed Fusilier, Caesio caerulaurea, swimming at a depth of 20m at Deacon's Delight, a dive spot west of Malabar Hill at the northern end of the island. This is the first record of this species for Lord Howe Island.
In Australia, Caesio caerulaurea has previously been recorded from tropical waters of Christmas Island, from Shark Bay to Cassini Island and Scott Reef in Western Australia, from Ashmore Reef, Timor Sea and from the northern Great Barrier Reef, Queensland south to Sydney, New South Wales. View the Australian Faunal Directory page.
According to Malcolm Francis’ Checklist of the coastal fishes of Lord Howe, Norfolk and Kermadec Islands, southwest Pacific Ocean, 537 species of fishes have been recorded from Lord Howe Island. Caitlin’s recent observation of Caesio caerulaurea brings the number of species in the family Caesionidae known from Lord Howe Island to three.
Reference: Francis, Malcolm (2019): Checklist of the coastal fishes of Lord Howe, Norfolk and Kermadec Islands, southwest Pacific Ocean. figshare. Collection. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4428305.v1
Anotado en marzo 18, miércoles 02:06 por markmcg markmcg | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

29 de febrero de 2020

Latest publicity for Australasian Fishes

An article promoting Australasian Fishes has recently been published on the Finterest website. Thank you to Siwan Lovett for laying it out so professionally.
The Finterest website describes itself as “Your home for stories about our Australian native freshwater fish”. The site contains a wealth of information, including information about the Native Fish Recovery Strategy, introduced fish, movement and migration, and indigenous knowledge.
I encourage you to look at the article about Australasian Fishes, but while you are on Finterest also have a look around the site. Maybe, like me, you’ll be interested by “True tales of the Trout Cod".
Anotado en febrero 29, sábado 22:35 por markmcg markmcg | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

12 de febrero de 2020

Member profile - Thomas Mesaglio

In a recent issue of TIME magazine, I came across a photo which immediately grabbed my attention. In an article about the 2019/2020 Australian bushfires, the photo covered ¾ of a two-page layout. The caption described “birds flying across an orange sky” over the Princess Highway in NSW’s South Coast. The picture was lovely, however, the birds were actually bats. Normally I don’t mind an error in magazines but this one reminded me that it is highly likely in the world of the Internet, that all search engines from now until eternity, will pull this image up if someone Googles “Australian birds”.
For those of us who frequently use the Internet to help in fish identification, we know it is often an unreliable authority on fish and animal species. The subject of this Bio-Blurb, Thomas Mesaglio, is a strong supporter of correct identification and finds having the correct ID provided by global experts to be one of the strongest features of the Australasian Fishes project. Thomas is widely known to project participants as "The Beachcomber", and from his work it is clear he is keenly aware of the importance of getting the taxonomy correct. Thomas explains why, “If I found a fish washed up 50 years ago, it might take weeks for me to get it ID’ed. I’d have to preserve it and bring it into the nearest museum. But maybe the expert in that group works at the Queensland Museum, so then the specimen would have to get posted to Queensland, ID’ed, and sent back. This process might take weeks. If the expert in that group was from overseas it would take even longer, or maybe never get ID’ed. Now, someone can take a photo of a fish or any other organism, upload it to iNat, and have it identified by someone on the other side of the planet in two minutes. iNat is an incredibly powerful tool because it connects people from around the world and allows them to instantly share their knowledge with anyone who needs it.”
Thomas has a deep-seated appreciation for the utility of iNaturalist ’s as it has assisted him in his lifelong passion for understanding the natural environment. He credits much of this interest in nature to his frequent visits to the New South Wales costal community of North Haven, near Port Macquarie, where is grandparents moved in the early 1990s. He visited his grandparents often and as he did not have computer games or a smart phone at the time, Thomas, found himself spending all day on the beach or in the bush, exploring the natural world and fuelling his high-octane passion for nature. One of the most important birthday gifts he’s received in his life occurred on his 5th birthday a copy of the Reader’s Digest Encyclopedia of Australian Wildlife. He recalls spending many hours gazing at the photos of the natural world and learning the names of everything he saw on the pages. Thomas converted that interest to what he sees in life as well.
His lifelong passion for nature has resulted in a degree in Advanced Science, majoring in Ecology from UNSW. He went on to do Marine Science for his honours thesis and his current day job is working as a lab demonstrator and tutor at UNSW. His contribution to Australasia Fishes, has been significant, where he is ranked as the 10th leading identifier of fish, identifying over 3,400 images for project participants. It should be no surprise that he is a keen follower of the stats on the Project Leaderboard as he describes himself as “competitive”. His work with Australasia Fishes is only a small part of his total contribution to iNaturalist, for whom he has made almost 52,000 observations. It was through the Australasian Fishes project that Thomas first got onto iNat. It occurred during a 6-month internship at the Australian Museum in the entomology department, sorting through East Timor heteropterans. He happened to mention to the Museum’s Insect Curator that he’d found some interesting fish washed up on the beach the day before, as was taken to meet Mark McGrouther , who suggested Thomas upload the photos of them to the Australasian Fishes project….. and the rest is history! Thomas says, “Joining iNat is one of the most important things I’ve ever done in my life given the people I’ve met, the knowledge I’ve gained and the opportunities it’s afforded me, so I owe Mark a tremendous debt of gratitude for introducing it to me.”
If he feels a debt, he is certainly working hard to pay it off. As well as a leading identifier in the project, he is addressing, in his own time, the issue of correct identification of sea life and correct use of scientific language. He is motivated to produce useful books and references on science and nature. To date Thomas has published a short etymology book (https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B082Y712YD), and has several scientific papers still in review right now, waiting to be published, on topics of the natural world, ranging from plant bugs (he was able to name three new species) to goose barnacles. In addition, he is currently writing a field guide to the seashells of North Haven Beach and reports that the project is about halfway done. It will contain more than 150 photographic plates of specimens he’s collected and photographed over the years. Furthermore, he revealed that he is working on a broader guide about beachcombing more generally across the NSW coast. He is indeed, “The Beachcomber”.
The name, The Beachcomber, may be slightly misleading, as it infers an interest only in marine life. In his words, “I’m definitely passionate about a huge range of different things and I try to dabble in most things. In some ways I think this probably hinders me a little bit in the field, because I try to divide my time equally between trying to spot birds, insects, fungi, etc., all at the same time, so I probably miss a few things from each group. Having said that, I still enjoy the jack-of-all-trades approach because I get to appreciate everything. If I’m in a new area I’ve never visited before I’ll usually focus a bit more on birds. I’ve now seen 198 bird species, so I’m always keen to see new ones. Other than that, beachcombing is my forte. I’ve spent thousands of hours, if not ten thousand plus hours, on beaches, mostly North Haven Beach, and I still regularly find new things. That’s ultimately my goal no matter what group I’m focusing on or where I am; I have an obsession with seeing new things that I’ve never spotted before.”
This jack-of-all trades approach to nature has resulted in work in a global initiative of iNaturalist, called the City Nature Challenge, which was mentioned in a past Journal post (See: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/australasian-fishes/journal/28566-city-nature-challenge-makes-its-way-to-australian-shores-in-2020 ). Thomas is taking a leadership role, ensuring that Australia will participate for the first time in this global examination of nature, literally, in our backyards. In his own words, Thomas explains why this challenge is so important and why he’s helping to organise Australia’s participation, “In a world where biodiversity and the natural environment are more threatened than ever by climate change and habitat loss among other drivers, it’s critically important to engage as many people as possible with science to get them interested in the natural world. The City Nature Challenge (see: http://citynaturechallenge.org/) is therefore a great way to introduce people to nature. Showing everyone the amazing biodiversity that can be found in your own backyard or local park sparks a great connection with nature and drives people to then expand their horizons and explore national parks, beaches, etc. This means everyone, no matter your age or where you live, can participate in the CNC. You don’t need to be an expert, and you don’t need any money or specialised equipment. All you need is a phone or camera and you can contribute.”
“That 2020 will be the first year Australia is participating in the CNC astounds me. We’re one of the most biodiverse countries in the world; simultaneously, we also have a shocking record with extinctions and species becoming endangered. The combination of these two makes it imperative to understand our biodiversity before it disappears. If we don’t know what’s out there, we can’t protect it. I’m hugely excited for Australia to finally take part in the challenge, and am very confident all four of our participating cities can make it into the top 5 cities in the world. “The challenge runs from 24 to 27 April, so please help Thomas by joining, by sending in observations and by assisting with identifications.
A last word of advice from Thomas regarding correct identification, a skill which Thomas taught himself and he offers advice to project members on how to develop their own skills in nature identification. “Identification wise, my knowledge is almost entirely self-taught and comes from a lifetime of collecting specimens. I collect everything from feathers to crab moults to insects, but my biggest collection is my seashell collection. I have ~5000 shells covering 400+ species collected from between Sydney and Port Macquarie, many of those from North Haven Beach. So, my biggest piece of advice for developing better identification skills is to actually get your hands on specimens or see species in real life, rather than just looking at photos or reading descriptions. Yes, you can ID photos using field guides, but nothing beats actually having that a specimen in front of you or in your hand. So, if you want to develop your skills at IDing seashells, head down to the beach and pick up shells. If you want to get better at IDing birds, go out birdwatching. You’ll be amazed at the extra details you pick up.”
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Anotado en febrero 12, miércoles 10:36 por markmcg markmcg | 9 comentarios | Deja un comentario

26 de diciembre de 2019

Member profile - Tangatawhenua

To most of us in the project, the ocean is more than just a large body of water. Diving recently with a friend, they commented that they love the underwater environment and they feel a deep connection with the sea. It is a sentiment commonly shared amongst the participants in the project, who view their contributions to Australasian Fishes, as a small way to pay something back to their beloved environment. Such intangible connections are one of the elements which has driven the remarkable success of the project.
There are, however, other types of connections with the sea, which relate to longer historical traditions and thousands of years of culture. These bonds are driven by generations of shared experience with the natural world and has become part of not only a cultural heritage, but also the spiritual heritage. The participant featured in this bio blurb, Tangatawhenua, of New Zealand, describes this eternal connection as follows, “ The connection that I hold to the whenua (land) and moana (oceans) first and foremost is a reflection of my culture as within the Maori world there is a lot of symbolism that is drawn from the natural world in all aspects. It starts at the dawn of time when the whenua and moana were at war struggling for dominance, which is still seen today. The next big event continues with Maui fishing up the North Island (called Te Ika a Maui – the fish of Maui). The head of the fish is Wellington and the tail of the fish is the far north where I live, while the South Island is Te Waka a Maui (the canoe of Maui) and Stewart Island is Te Puka a Maui (the anchor of Maui).”
Like many in the project, Tangatawhenua, spent a lot of time with her father who also enjoyed the outdoors. She recalls, “When we were at the moana, lessons there were how to read the oceans, especially the “get out now” warnings and where to find kai (food).” As a young child she was made busy gathering shellfish from rockpools and as she got older, she was "promoted" to getting the kai from areas where there was surge. She says, “At about the age of 5, I was given my first snorkel set and have never looked back. At age 10, Dad taught me to use tanks, but unfortunately in my 20’s, a car accident and one lung later, has meant that tank diving is now only a distant memory.” She philosophically says, “But all good – there is still a lot of interesting critters and things to see within snorkel range.”
Tangatawhenua is well known to the Australasian Fishes project through her ranking of 29th on the leader board, with 425 images for the project depicting 98 species. However, for iNaturalist, at the time of this writing, she has contributed 10,705 images of the environment in which she lives and visits, depicting 1,678 different species. In support of iNat, she has aided in the identification of 11,615 observations and since 2015 she’s posted 47 journal entries on many aspects of the New Zealand terrestrial and marine environment (https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/tangatawhenua). They are truly worth reading.
As a strong advocate for “the people of the land”, Tangatawhenua is also a performer, tutor, poet and composer of Maori. A short work can be found on her AF home participant page. She says, “The moana has often been the inspiration, especially the waves for choreography formations – they can be so tricky!“ She originally joined Nature Watch (as iNatNZ was called back then) where she became interested in photographing marine life. Fortunately, she lives at Otaipango, Henderson Bay (east coast, Pacific Ocean and East Auckland Current), where she says, “The moana is only a couple of minutes away. Within this area there are a lot of different habitats, from enclosed lagoons, guts, open surf beach, outer reefs, inner reefs, sand, pebbles, boulders and rocky bottoms.”
In addition, she describes her home as being. “About a 10-minute drive to the west coast (Tasman Sea and West Auckland Current) and about an hour drive to the north coast (Pacific Ocean) with a harbour south about 15 minutes away and one north about 30 minutes away. This of course gives me the advantage that if the winds and tides are not good in one direction and I really want to get out, I always have other options. All of these options have different habitats, moods and things to find.”
She shares her experience and approaches to the water with participants. “When I get to the beach, I stand on the cliffs and look down, watching the waves, currents and patterns of the moana before deciding which area to explore. This enables me to find all of the different habitats which reflect the diversity of my observations, but after about 4 years of exploring here there, are still areas that I have not been into yet. Who knows what is waiting to be seen there! As I have a 5mm 2-piece wetsuit and hood with socks and boots I am not limited to just going in during the warmer months. During summer I’m in the ocean a minimum of twice a week, but can be up to 5 times a week while in winter, it is about once a week, either wandering the shore and rock hopping without getting in, or sometimes I just have to get in.”
While she doesn’t have a favourite class to photograph, she photographs everything to get a record of what is here. She says, “I always enjoy seeing and photographing wheke – octopus. There are two main species that lurk here and getting shots of their eyes – which help with identification is always a challenge. Some of my photos have been used in the NIWA guide for echinoderms to help people identify different species.”Her journal even features a story about an octopus trying to steal her camera.
As well as enjoying and exploring her intimate connection with the natural environment of New Zealand, she is a strong advocate for project participants getting out of their comfort zone, even when visiting familiar environments. She notes that with summer just around the corner, it is a perfect time to go out at night when a whole new world opens up. She says, “Some fish sleep on their side on the bottom, some stand up on their tail with their nose towards the surface and the snapper put on black and yellow stripped pyjamas. (https://inaturalist.nz/observations/9531983).” While many participants may find the idea of night observing daunting, she offers a few simple rules:
1. Always go with someone – do not go alone. While I go alone in the day, I always go with someone at night.
2. Get dive torches. Each person should carry two different torches with them in case one fails. The cool white light ones light the area up nicely. I use a couple of warm white lights for emergency backup.
3. Find a safe large rock pool. To ensure your first time is enjoyable and comfortable make sure that the large rock pool has a maximum depth of 1m (so you can stand if you get a fright) and one that is cut off from the ocean as the tide drops. This way you will not have to contend with currents and surges. Explore this rock pool a few times during the day to learn the layout and what lives where before venturing in at night.
4. Orientate yourself by the sound of the surf. You can easily loose sense of direction at night, and if you do not use the surf to orientate yourself, practice this during the day so you are used to this on your first night out.
5. Start before dark. For your first foray into the new world, start before dark. This way as the light fades you adjust, instead of plunging straight into a dark world. Take your time and do not be in a hurry to go to another place.
6. Keep together. The easy way to keep together and to know where the other person is, is by their torch. If you cannot see their torch stop, stand up and look around. After a while it becomes a habit to always keep the torch beams in sight.
7. Move to the shallows. Once you are comfortable in the rock pool environment, move onto the shallows but still where you can stand up if need be. The last thing you want to do is find you are heading out to sea thinking you are heading back to shore.
8. Move into deeper water. Once the shallows are comfortable, move into an area that you again know well, but where you cannot stand.
9. Keep shore lights in sight. This one does not apply here as there are no shore lights to be seen, but a lot of night snorkel sites suggest this, and it is a good idea if there are any.”
She reminds us that night photography is also a whole different ball game. “The underwater camera setting used in the day can give good shots of what is in the rock pools as long as the camera is close to them and it is well lit by your dive torches. However, if you are in the shallows the underwater camera setting does not give good photos at night – you need to set your camera to normal. Use your torch lights to light the subject from the side or the top – not directly on it as this will cause the photos to whitewash. Sometimes the best way to light the subject is to get your dive buddy to light from the opposite side you hold your torch while you also light it."
Tangatawhenua's favourite marine observation photo - https://inaturalist.nz/observations/20239577.
We are grateful to Tangatawhenua for sharing her cultural and historic insight with project participants and encourage everyone to try at least one night dive this summer. This is my last bio blurb for 2019, and I wish everyone a successful and fish-filled 2020.
As usual, this member profile was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal. I'd like to take this opportunity, to publicly thank Harry for all the energy he has brought to the Australasian Fishes project and in particular to the fantastic job he has done writing many excellent member profiles. Thank you Harry!
Anotado en diciembre 26, jueves 06:59 por markmcg markmcg | 5 comentarios | Deja un comentario

09 de diciembre de 2019

Dam Shame!

Everything about this journal entry tugged on my heartstrings.
@hanna76 lives on a property near Stanthorpe, Queensland. Like many Australians, she has watched as the ongoing drought has impacted her property.
Thirty-six years ago, at the time it was built, one hundred Silver Perch fingerlings were released into her dam. Hanna76 said that, “For years I've been able to count about 12 fish, but recent counts showed there were only about five fish left. Now I'm only seeing one or maybe two, and three have died in the past two months.”
When full, her dam is 5m deep (see image below), now it is knee-depth. Hanna76 commented that, “This is the lowest the dam level has been. It has never come close to this low. The former owner who had the dam built in the early 1980s, visited last year and couldn’t believe it was so empty. At that point it was about 1.5 m higher than it is now. The water is now cloudy and about a month ago began to smell exactly like silage. Seeing the visible drop in levels each week has been quite confronting. I've never seen a year like this in the twenty I've lived here.”
In recent weeks, an individual fish has sometimes been seen moving sluggishly at the surface. Hanna76 stated, “The perch must be hardy to have survived so long in probably acidic, low oxygen conditions for the past year.” When asked if she had seen conditions like this before Hanna76 asserted, “Never! Forest is dying. Creeks are dry, Rivers are dry. Dams are empty. I'm really concerned for the future of water under and in the landscape. We are all implicated in it.”
“Without water - rain, ice, aquifers, rivers, creeks, swamps, natural lakes and ponds, the vapour that a forest generates - this planet might as well be the moon. When you know that water is one of the things that will become something we fight to the death for, you realise that the fish and everything else that depends on it are helpless victims of human stupidity.”
I feel for hanna76. Not only has she had to cope with the demise of her dam and its resident fish population, but to top it all off, she is also ill with thyroid cancer. Of her illness, she boldly stated, “It's an analogy for a sick planet and fish who don’t have a choice in the matter. People and excessive consumption of energy in all its forms are the disease. We are making this happen. Climate change and dead fish are the symptoms and you can’t ignore them. The perch want to live just as we do, but they don’t hold the cards. Mind you I don’t know how conscious they are about their imminent deaths, just as we don’t seem fully yet cognizant about the end of the world as we know it.”
Hanna76, I can only try to imagine how you must feel as you watch the dam drying and the fish dying. On behalf of the Australasian Fishes community, we sincerely wish you good health, a full dam and thriving fish.


About the Silver Perch, Bidyanus bidyanus
The Silver Perch is an Australian endemic species that occurs in freshwaters of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria. The species account in the Australian Faunal Directory states "The species was listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN in 1996. It is listed as Threatened in Victoria, Endangered in the ACT and Protected in NSW (listed as Vulnerable) and SA. It is used for aquaculture in NSW and sold to the restaurant trade." Read more about Silver Perch on Wikipedia.
UPDATE (5 January 2020) Sadly, Hanna76's latest observation isn't pretty.
Anotado en diciembre 09, lunes 04:31 por markmcg markmcg | 11 comentarios | Deja un comentario