April 03, 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.
Posted on April 03, 2020 04:11 by markmcg markmcg | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 20, 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.
Posted on March 20, 2020 06:28 by markmcg markmcg | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 18, 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
Posted on March 18, 2020 02:06 by markmcg markmcg | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 29, 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".
Posted on February 29, 2020 22:35 by markmcg markmcg | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 12, 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.
Posted on February 12, 2020 10:36 by markmcg markmcg | 9 comments | Leave a comment

December 26, 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!
Posted on December 26, 2019 06:59 by markmcg markmcg | 3 comments | Leave a comment

December 09, 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.
Posted on December 09, 2019 04:31 by markmcg markmcg | 11 comments | Leave a comment

November 14, 2019

Australasian Fishes findings: June - October 2019

Australasian Fishes continues to grow, with 149 new members and about 70 observations being added daily from June until the end of October. The table shows some of the interesting observations that were uploaded during this period.

A selection of recent discoveries:

Total observation summary:
Subject Number of observations
Range extension / first record 146
Diet / feeding 30
Parasite / fungus 29
New species / newly described     12
Colour pattern 30
Damage / injuries 29
Courtship / reproduction 34
Request for photo / data, used for science / publication 16
Posted on November 14, 2019 07:18 by markmcg markmcg | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 07, 2019

City Nature Challenge makes its way to Australian shores in 2020!

I'm sure you noticed that one of the photos below doesn't show a fish! In this journal post Thomas Mesaglio AKA @thebeachcomber tells us about an upcoming iNaturalist challenge that you can join. Please continue to upload your fish observations but the City Nature Challenge will give you the chance to go crazy uploading observations of other life forms.
With one of the world’s worst extinction rates and over 1000 endangered species, it is more important than ever to understand exactly how many species call Australia home and where they’re distributed. One of the frontiers of discovering and recording biodiversity over the next 50 years will be cities: the area they cover is expanding, creating interactions with more and more species, and they’re easily accessible to both professional and citizen scientists alike, making them the perfect launch pad for biodiversity surveys.
iNaturalist is very much at the forefront of recording city biodiversity, especially thanks to the annual City Nature Challenge. For the past four years, a four-day Bioblitz has been run in cities around the world to encourage people to connect with nature, become more interested in science, and uncover the amazing diversity of species that can be found in and around our cities. Last year over 150 cities participated, with almost one million observations being logged in just four days. Only one thing was missing: any Australian cities!
That’s all changing this year, with three Australian cities taking part:
Sydney, NSW (project page to be announced) - organised by @thebeachcomber and @alextr
Geelong, VIC - organised by @rodl
The challenge will run from April 24th to April 27th next year. It’s still a fair way off, and I’ll post more updates as the challenge gets closer, but this is an early heads up to clear your calendars for next year and take part!
The Sydney project is yet to go up, but will take place within the ‘Greater Sydney Area’, which is the area covered by the current Biodiversity of Sydney project.
There are currently over 70,000 observations for the Greater Sydney Area on iNaturalist covering almost 5000 identified species. 20% of these are fishes, sharks and rays, so you guys will play a massive part in Sydney’s success in the challenge. I expect all members of the Australasian Fishes project to dive for 20 hours a day during the challenge (with a spare 4 hours for uploading pics of course) so Sydney can come first :D
Please feel free to message me (@thebeachcomber) or email me at thomasmesaglio@hotmail.com if you have any ideas about cool events we can run or ways to make the challenge run as smoothly and successfully as possible.
Posted on November 07, 2019 01:16 by markmcg markmcg | 11 comments | Leave a comment

October 25, 2019

Member profile - David Muirhead

In the May 2019 journal article, we discussed the history and origins of the iNaturalist software, hosting the Australasia Fishes project. This free software and its app have powered the success and growth of our project, and many more similar projects across the globe. To most of us in the project, the software is simply a user-friendly, convenient place to store our observations, as we contribute photos of creatures we encounter in the marine environment. It further functions as a website where experts will identify the fish we encounter while contributing to a global nature data base. To others, however, the software works as a tool to test interesting theories or hypothesis about an ecosystem or region. It serves as repository of data which, over time, should reveal larger insights in to a species or an area. Such an application of the software is usually a three-step process:
1. Develop a theory or hypothesis about the natural environment.
2. Collect relevant data through observations to support or disprove the hypothesis.
3. Analyse the data and publish the findings for examination by the rest of the naturalist community.
To illustrate this application of the software, we discussed iNaturalist with one of the project’s leading contributors, Dr David Muirhead from South Australia. Dave is a retired physician, living in a small, coastal community south of Adelaide, called Normanville. He practiced medicine for many years in Adelaide, finding snorkelling and diving to be a successful way to combat the pressures and stresses involved in the full-time practice of medicine. With the support of his family, he was able to turn his scientifically trained intellect to the underwater world, as time and schedule allowed, where he found both relaxation in nature and an outlet for his natural curiosity of the world around him. This has made him the keen observer he is today, but like most people with scientific training, he sought out frameworks, structures, theories and viewpoints to fuel his understanding and exploration of the marine environment, as a citizen scientist.
Dave is regarded as a project leader due to his ranking on the Leader Board. At the time of this writing, Dave has recorded over 7,306 observations for iNaturalist (now 8.245!), with 2,069 of them dedicated to Australasia Fishes (now 2229). As a result, Dr Muirhead, is ranked Number 5 in the Australasian Fishes project, after joining less than three years ago. He has helped iNaturalist with more than 4,800 identifications and judging by the numbers alone, it is clear that Dave has a passion for exploration and that iNaturalist has become his leading repository for data collection.
For many in the project, interest in the marine environment was sparked by television shows, documentaries or university classes. For Dave, his natural championing of the unique biodiversity of his region was ignited after reading the book, Wirra, the Bush that was Adelaide. It was a small publication by the Nature Conservation society of S.A. published in 1986 which, he reports, changed his life as it reinforced what seemed obvious to him, but hadn't been put in print. Dave says, “Its crux was that the Adelaide Plains is a global biodiversity hotspot with more local native plants than all of the UK, and that led to the fauna which evolved alongside the plants to be as diverse and highly endemic. It says that a wirra is the ONLY garden that reflects the true nature of a place, even from one backyard to the one over the road every few square meters is unique.” This observation provided Dave with the beginning of his hypothesis, on the unique attributes of the South Australian region in general and its marine environment, in particular. It transformed him from a casual naturalist, to a very dedicated citizen scientist. A passion which has allowed him to read, learn and dedicate much of his retirement time to the unique natural environment of South Australia and the secrets of its biodiversity.
Rather than sit back and simply admire the beauty of this unique environment, Dave has worked to substantiate the premise of Wirra, the Bush that was Adelaide through his own citizen science network and personal observations, harnessing the power of iNaturalist. To flesh out his views of the South Australian region and to collect the baseline data needed to expand his hypothesis of the unique qualities of his region, Dave participates in a total of 10 iNaturalist projects, as follows:
1. South Australian iNaturalist : https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/south-australian-inaturalists
2. Seahorses, sea dragons and pipefish of South Australia https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/seahorses-sea-dragons-and-pipefish-of-south-australia
3. Port Noarlunga, South Australia https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/port-noarlunga-south-australia
4. Lady Bay to Wirrina Cove, South Australia https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/lady-bay-to-wirrina-cove-south-australia
5. Temperate Marine Cleaners of South Australia https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/temperate-marine-cleaners-of-south-australia-c-mlssa-inc
6. South Australian Conversation Research Divers https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/south-australian-conservation-research-divers-sacred
7. Marine Life Society of South Australia Administrator, https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/marine-life-society-of-south-australia
8. Kangaroo Island (North Coast), South Australia https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/kangaroo-island-north-coast-south-australia
9. Rapid Bay, South Australia https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/rapid-bay-south-australia
10. As well as Australasian Fishes https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/australasian-fishes
This is not the only work he conducts through iNaturalist, but it does indicate the scope of his data gathering focus, and his dedication to the natural environment of South Australia. It also demonstrates the utility of our software as a way to create a more holistic view of a region, examining its biosphere from several different angles. Australasian Fish has benefited from his dedication to the marine aspects of his enquiry, but it is only part of the picture Dave is creating.
Dave’s research reveals his views about the southern coastline and the potential of its marine environment. He reminds us that when people all over the globe, think of the rich, marine environment of Australia, their first thoughts are of the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef (GBR). It is regarded as the country’s leading repository in marine biodiversity and as a result has attracted a great deal of attention. He notes that it is relatively easy to obtain funding to study the GBR. For example, the government’s recent $444 million reef grant to a small charity for projects on the GBR has focused attention on this marine ecosystem. Dave’s hypothesis includes the existence of a similar marine environment which he calls, The Great Rocky Reef. This is an underwater feature, created by the continent’s eroding coastline, extending from Wollongong to Shark Bay. While not composed of the skeletons of once-living organisms, such as corals, it was created by the forces of nature alone, the Great Rocky Reef is a marine environment, larger, as diverse (if not more!) and perhaps as environmentally significant as the more famous GBR.
While he does not begrudge the attention and research funding going to the GBR, he strongly believes the overlooked Great Rocky Reef, offers a much greater opportunity for new discoveries benefiting both science and Australia. He cites, for example, ascidians, where he believes as few as only one third of the species in the world have been identified and recorded. Dave suspects that the many of the remaining two/thirds of them remain to be discovered along the Great Rocky Reef, rather than in tropical climes.
Dave also exhibits a trait not unusual in the project, a love of place. Looking at his list of projects, above, they all take place in South Australia, where he resides. For some project members, their passion for the ocean is meshed with their passion for their location. Reading the journal posts, you will note that many of the participants express a genuine interest in a particular geographic area. Often an area near their homes, where they can and do visit frequently, becoming an extension of their living space. Dave feels Adelaide is located at the buckle of the belt of the Great Rocky Reef, and serves as a good starting point for his research. As a result, he is a strong advocate for his state and its current and potential ability to contribute to science. He quickly points out that the best shore diving in the world is found in SA. This is not an empty observation, but Dave is fully convinced that, for example, iconic fish like leafy seadragons and a wide array of unique marine plants have evolved in isolation in South Australia, rather like the southwest Western Australian wildflowers that have also followed a unique evolutionary path. He says, “This long isolation has generated fantastic endemism and unique biodiversity levels, not found elsewhere.... the connection between the global peak of botanical diversity in SA inshore marine (algae and grasses) and the accompanying inevitable huge endemism rates of the temperate fish and other critters. Garden of Eden, right here. Like the Daintree underwater.“
The data gathering process has also yielded his own rewards. For example, Dave is the site founder and Administrator of Temperate Marine Cleaners of South Australia. He founded the site as a result of a revelation which struck him while diving and photographing fish. Looking back at his experience taking underwater images, he noticed that some of his best images, were the result of unusual or freakish fish behaviour. Several of the species he’d captured, have been traditionally hard to photograph, as once they saw a human, they quickly swam away. Dave noted that his best pictures, where taken when the fish were acting uncharacteristically, seeing him but not rapidly swimming away. They stayed in place, with fins fully open, allowing a cautious Dave, an opportunity to take excellent photos for the project, giving valuable details for the database.
Initially grateful for these fateful encounters, he began to wonder if the fish were having a bad day, or suddenly of a different disposition. He went back to some of his older images, enlarged the photos, and realised that the fish were hosting cleaners at the time of the photo. This experience is quite common in tropical reefs, but his pictures showed tiny clingfish working on the relaxed camera subjects, in the waters of South Australia. So, fascinated by this, and fuelled by his literature search, which revealed little written on this topic, he decided to employ the iNaturalist tool, in his own area of research, recording and compiling temperate waters marine cleaning behaviour.
The final, missing piece of the puzzle is step three, the publishing of results. We look forward to Dave’s conclusions, which we are confident are somewhere in the pipeline. Up until now, however, Dave has demonstrated the power of iNaturalist to fuel citizen science initiatives while collecting data on the general environment. We are grateful for his demonstration of these principles and showing project participants the wonders of the Great Rocky Reef, a place where we all hope to visit as part of our travels.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Thank you Harry! :)
Posted on October 25, 2019 02:34 by markmcg markmcg | 5 comments | Leave a comment