January 14, 2021

Member profile - Yann Kemper

One of the more delightful aspects of working on the Australasian Fishes project is that through the iNaturalist software, one can meet interesting people from all over the world. Occasionally you come across someone who is extremely impressive in their focus and dedication to natural science, and that is the case with the project member highlighted in this article, Yann Kemper (in the photo, above, with Scott Loarie during a visit to the iNaturalist offices with his younger brother). Yann’s name should be familiar to many in the project, he is listed as Number 6 on the project Leader Board of the 1,691 people who are helping with the identification of fish for our project. I can recall numerous times loading observations into the project, late at night, only to find Yann’s identifications waiting for me in the morning. His name, as well as @maractwin, aka Mark Rosenstein, (https://www.inaturalist.org/posts/27243-member-profile-mark-rosenstein#summary ) often greets participants when they first open their software in the morning to check identifications for recent observations. They are often the first of the day. Yann’s dedication and stellar performance is even more noteworthy when we learn that Yann is actually a high school student, living in the very land-locked city of Cincinnati, Ohio in the United States!
When I first learned about Yann, I immediately recalled the practice of several news magazines which run annual features called “Young Leaders of the Future.” In these stories, the editors highlight young individuals, who by their actions, contributions and dedication to a worthwhile cause, demonstrate the qualities which will likely make them future leaders in their discipline. A quick examination of Yann’s work indicates he is worthy of nomination for the title of “Future Leader in the Natural Sciences”. Just through our project alone, we can easily see how dedicated he is supporting citizen science. For Australasian Fishes he has recorded 8,547 identifications. To further support his “Future Leader” status, Yann is also participating in 42 other iNaturalist projects, to which he has contributed a total of 111,669 identifications. If that was not enough, he also Curates a project on iNat called Moths of the World (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/moths-of-the-world)
It is easy to wonder what drives this high school student to be so deeply engaged in the study of nature in general and Australasian Fishes in particular? Yann says, “I've shown interest in your project due to my love of Australasian fish. My extensive interest in the natural world stems from the fact that I enjoy finding things I've never seen before. I divide my time across nature and my other hobbies.”
Yann’s interested in nature is also supported by his interest in photography. Not having visited Australia or even living near an ocean, he has not been in a position to add to our project’s observations. He notes, “I don't collect fish images often, seeing as I don't live nearby any seas or oceans. I have snorkel dived in the Florida Keys, although this was prior to purchasing my Olympus TG-5.”
Although far from an ocean, Yann’s interest in nature still has a local outlet. He says, “As for non-aquatic subjects, I usually hang around in a specific spot and sift through dirt to find smaller organisms.” This looking for local, smaller organisms has resulted in a total of 9,097 observations for iNat, including taxa such as birds, plants, insects, and, of course, moths. He is serious about his photography, saying, “I'm a high-school student, typically I don't have time to take photographs, save for the weekend. During Summer and vacations, I have ample time for photography. I visit Germany every few years to see my family, while there, I'm often on the lookout for birds, I also visit California often, which is where I take most of my fish photographs. Outside of iNaturalist, I'm interested in watching foreign films, and archiving websites with Archive Team. I use a Nikon P900 as well as an Olympus TG-5, although I have used the latter less since my purchase of the former. I only have a simple light-ring on my TG-5 that subsides for aquatic photography.”
Like many of the project leaders, Yann follows other leaders on iNaturalist. He currently follows 96 people, across numerous projects and scientific disciplines. It is interesting to note Yann follows Ken-ichi Ueda, one of the software’s founders, see our article at: (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/australasian-fishes/journal/archives/2019/05 ) and who currently co-directs iNaturalist (See: kueda's Profile · https://www.inaturalist.org/people/1). Ken-ichi has recoded over 40,000 observations and has helped with over 92,000 identifications. You can tell a future leader by the people they associate with in both the real and cyber-naturalist sphere. Yann points out, “I like to follow people as a token of appreciation. I'll typically follow someone when I like their photography or work in the natural field.”
While I greatly appreciate the work Yann does for me and the project, I find it amazing that his knowledge of antipodean fish is so vast, especially for someone who lives 15,000 kilometres from Australia, in a landlocked part of the US. Yann explains, “I developed my skills in species identification through hours of reading old scientific documents and papers, as well as emailing different professors and meeting with some in person. One trick for identification I've grown fond of is comparing species to identification keys (this works particularly well on insects). Sci-Hub may be of use to you if you can't find an article anywhere. I think what specifically first interested me in iNaturalist, and by extension nature, was that my photographs could be used in research data and field guides. I kind of branched out and just overall became interested in Nature from there. My moth project is mostly a collection project. I noticed there wasn't any easy method to sort moth observations from butterfly observations, so I decided to create that project to fill that gap. I guess I could see a lepidopterologist using some of that data to show population systemics, for example, maybe showing the amount of moth observations in a particular area.”
So where does a future leader in Natural Science go after high school? Yann responds, “I'd say my career plans are currently either an entomologist, preferably a hemipterologist (leafhoppers, planthoppers, etc) or an ichthyologist. Ichthyology would be my preferred field, but I don't live anywhere near an ocean and freshwater fish are not my specialty. Ohio State University or the University of Cincinnati would likely be ideal, but a California University or perhaps a foreign one may be an option as well.”
Yann reflects on some of the challenges of taking the path of natural sciences. He notes, “Frankly, it's quite hard to find young people my age who share my interests in my area. I go birdwatching every other Sunday with a group of (mostly) senior citizens, but a few younger college students occasionally join in. Most of my photography adventures are in and around my neighbourhood as we have a large back forest and field. I do make many other observations in and around Cincinnati as well, though.” He reminds us that nature photography can be challenging as even more so, in a climate which experiences cold winters. He recalls, “I'd say my worst nature photography incident would probably be around January, at Burnet Woods (a local urban park). I'm rather skinny, and on top of that, I didn't exactly dress for the frigid weather, and my hands were going numb from the cold. Despite that, I did preserve and took plenty of photographs.”
Many project participants have been attracted to Australasian Fishes, as it has been an excellent learning tool to self-teach fish identification. This is an advantage of iNaturalist, as if you have an interest in any taxa of the living environment, there is probably a project which can act as a classroom for the ID of life on the planet. Yann reminds us, “I discovered Australasian Fishes around the time I started getting active on iNaturalist. My first category of taxa which I often identified and got to know was fishes, and I enjoyed focusing on fish of the Greater Caribbean and Australia.
Trying to identify future leaders is not easy, and there are many examples where news magazines, got it wrong, Their nominees were famous one day, then never heard from again. In natural sciences, future leadership is extremely important. It is easy to see that many of the current discipline leaders, in the research and academic communities, are, to be polite, getting older. There is a clear need for the next wave of scientific leaders to arrive on the scene, as the current crop heads toward retirement. It is motivating to find people like Yann in our project, who are willing to assist those with less experience and share their observation and experience with the rest of the iNat community. This is excellent training for a future leader and I see a future where such skills and dedication will benefit projects like ours and science in general.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on January 14, 2021 02:34 by markmcg markmcg | 6 comments | Leave a comment

December 11, 2020

Woo-hoo! 100,000 observations and counting

It's time to give yourselves a pat on the back. The Australasian Fishes Project recently cracked 100,000 observations! That's incredible. What's more, the milestone was crossed on 24 November and since then nearly 2000 observations have been added. You guys are amazing. Thank you! :)
@joanna_chen, photographed above wearing her favourite pink mask, uploaded the lucky 100,000th observation - a Wobbegong. Joanna stated that, "The [photo of the] wobbie was captured at Split Solitary Island on a NSW east coast dive trip. It happened to be perched right on the corals." Congratulations Joanna and thank you for your ongoing contributions.
And speaking of contributions, you may be interested in the graphs below, which track the rise in the numbers of observations, species and project members.
It took four years to reach this milestone. Somehow, I can't see it taking another 4 to reach 200,000. :) Thanks again fish-fans!
Posted on December 11, 2020 00:23 by markmcg markmcg | 6 comments | Leave a comment

November 25, 2020

Spring BioBlitz Report

Introduction
One of the more interesting publishing phenomena of the 1980’s and early 1990’s was a book series titled, “A Day in The Life of…” This photojournalism series was organised by Rick Smolan, and each volume featured a selected location, examined over a 24-hour period. Over this time about 50 photographers were commissioned to record their assigned part of the country or state. The result was a series of 13 books, with titles such as Day in the Life of Australia, A Day in the Life of America, etc. The locations featured in the series included, America, the Soviet Union, Japan, California, Spain, Hawaii, Australia, Israel, Africa, China and Thailand. The results were coffee table size books of professional photos, all taken across the selected locale, documenting a single day. Each volume was a unique product, a snapshot of a single day in the lives of ordinary people, across the featured location. Of course, the photos were of professional quality, and selected to illustrate the lives of typical people in the course of a normal day.
It is interesting to look back at these books today, not only for their nostalgic or historic value, but to appreciate the herculean effort it took to organise this simple concept, capture one day in photos. As the years go by such books may be great interest to future generations, illustrating how normal people lived a typical life at a singular point in time.
The concept of a BioBlitz is similar, except the subject is the natural world, at a particular point in time. Our project software has been instrumental in furthering this concept of BioBlitz, providing a platform for such snapshots of nature, at a selected point in time. Looking through iNaturalist, there are 5,442 listings for projects with the word “BioBlitz”. Locations include national parks, schools, backyards and other exotic and less exotic local areas. While not only fun, according to the BioBlitz iNat sites, they also provide valuable information on various populations in nature at a certain point in time. It is useful information, and data which will serve the scientific community for many years.
Like A Day in the Life, organising a BioBlitz is a significant task, relying heavily on motivated individuals to raise awareness of the event and to take a leadership role in its organisation. This is especially true in the early stages of organisation. Think of Australia’s amazingly successful Clean Up Australia Day, which was founded in 1989 and has grown to a massive initiative across the country, and the world. In July, Australasian Fishes published an announcement about the upcoming Spring BioBlitz organised by Thomas Mesaglio (AKA the beachcomber) whose bio-blurb can be found here.
Thomas, always interested in the natural environment, has organised the official participation of Australia in this global event, for the first time. Below is his report of the event, with his thanks for the support of Australasian Fishes project members.
- Harry Rosenthal
Spring BioBlitz Report
In April earlier this year, Australia participated in the City Nature Challenge for the first time, with four cities ─ Greater Sydney, Greater Adelaide, Geelong and Redland City ─ all joining in. Notching up almost 17,000 observations in just 4 days, Australia’s debut was a successful one, especially given the event ran during our autumn when many flowers are no longer in bloom, migratory birds have left, and invertebrates are much harder to find.
The Australian City Nature Challenge organisers decided to build on this success by organising another major BioBlitz, but this time in September during our spring. Rather than limit the event to Australian cities, we decided to get as many Southern Hemisphere cities and regions involved as possible. Pitching the event as the Great Southern BioBlitz (GSB), we launched a broad social media campaign, promoting participation across all the usual channels, as well some handy advertising from Mark (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/australasian-fishes/journal/38737-spring-bioblitz). Over the course of just a few months, interest in the GSB ballooned, with more and more cities signing up from all around the world until we had an incredible 137 regions or cities across 12 countries and 3 continents.
The event was a huge success. In just 4 days, over 3,000 participants contributed almost 91,000 observations across over 12,000 species! (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/great-southern-bioblitz-umbrella) Fishes, sharks and rays were strongly represented in the GSB, with 217 species observed over the 4 days, including this awesome eastern cleaner clingfish observed by @harryrosenthal (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/61281199) and a relatively rare Dunker’s pipehorse found by @tanikacs washed up onto a beach (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/60696946).
Although Cape Town stormed home to secure another major BioBlitz victory after winning the City Nature Challenge earlier in the year, with Lima also excelling, Sydney put in an awesome effort, finishing in the top 10 for number of observations (2,818) and observers (139), and 4th for number of species seen (1,137). A whopping 41% of Sydney’s diversity was plants, followed by molluscs (16%) and insects (14%). Fishes came in at 10%, highlighting an area to build on for next year!
Although organising BioBlitzes and similar events takes a lot of time, effort and outreach, it’s certainly worth it to see the amazing observations posted, and awesome engagement by naturalists of all ages and from all walks of life. Given the benefits of connecting with nature, including for physical and mental health, BioBlitzes like the GSB are a great way of overcoming those COVID blues. There are also many scientific benefits, with increased efforts to search for organisms uncovering rare and interesting finds, such as this rare, endangered isopod (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/60688593) found in Victoria by @smellmes.
We’re already starting to plan next year’s GSB, so pencil it into your diaries and expect an even bigger and more successful event!
- thebeachcomber
Posted on November 25, 2020 01:02 by markmcg markmcg | 3 comments | Leave a comment

November 04, 2020

Scientist Member Profile - Tom Trnski (Head of Natural Sciences, Auckland Museum)

Both images above taken during the 2011 Kermadec Islands expedition - ©Richard Robinson @depth.co.nz.
Left image - Tom Trnski @tomtrnski spreading rotenone.
Right image - Tom (centre) processing a fish catch with Mark McGrouther @markmcg (right) and Carl Struthers @cdstruthers.
Tom Trnski grew up at a beachside suburb in Melbourne and spent his summers exploring the local rockpools. Once he learnt how to snorkel his interest in marine life expanded and continues to this day. He now studies fishes of the southwest Pacific region, and he is a specialist on the larval stages of fishes – the stage between hatching from their egg to settlement into the juvenile habitat – including their identification and ecology. He spent over 20 years at the Australian Museum, Sydney, before moving to the Auckland Museum in 2007
Tom has published books and scientific papers describing fish larvae and their fascinating life history. He has also led and participated in many surveys of fishes throughout the Pacific, from Indonesia, the Great Barrier Reef, Coral Sea to French Polynesia. In 2011 he led a biodiscovery expedition to the Kermadec Islands with scientists from five different agencies collecting and documenting species. The expedition was the largest of its kind to the Kermadecs – one of the world’s most untouched marine environments – and included discoveries new to New Zealand and to science.
Q: Could you tell us a little about the origins of your interest in nature, especially fish?
A: My immigrant parents were wary of the Australian environment, so my exposure to nature started in my mid-teens through friends who I would bush walk with. This transformed my view of nature and I found an immediate connection; on reflection this was perhaps a spiritual connection that has stayed with me for the rest of my life. I still get a buzz out of being in a remote place in a pristine environment. An undergraduate field botany course in Tasmania helped me interpret landscapes and the drivers of biodiversity.
I was a really poor swimmer as a child and somewhat fearful of the ocean after a near-drowning experience when I was about seven. I grew up in bayside Melbourne and spent summers at the beach, but never too far from shore, but was fascinated by the critters in the rockpools (these same rockpools are now barren of most life!). It wasn't until I was 19 that I learnt to swim distance and SCUBA dive. I did my science degree in Townsville and in second year did a weeklong coral reef ecology subject based at Orpheus Island and this was the beginning of my understanding of marine ecosystems and the pleasure of diving. Diving provided me the opportunity to observe closely the diversity and behaviour of marine life. I didn't realise until I studied science that it was a good fit for me.
After I finished my degree, I moved to Sydney for a year. While working as a barman to make ends meet (what else to do with a marine biology degree?). I started volunteering at the Australian Museum on my days off to maintain my interest in marine science. This led to a few short-term contracts and then to a full-time job there with the fish team. It was this serendipity that aligned me with fishes for the rest of my career. I spent 22 years there supporting and leading research, taking lots of data on fishes, doing collection management, and developing new collection and research facilities. There I had the opportunity to participate in, and later lead, field expeditions to collect fishes, sometimes to remote areas such as Shoalwater Bay in Queensland, the far northern Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea, and French Polynesia. I have a logistician personality, so these expeditions were a good match to my natural abilities.
My first serious science job at the Australian Museum was working with my research mentor Jeff Leis, describing the development of fish larvae. It resulted in a book on the larvae of tropical Indo-Pacific fishes, which is still relevant today. I subsequently worked on another book describing larvae of southern Australia. After over 10 years of working at the museum, I undertook a PhD on the behaviour and ecology of larval and juvenile fishes.
Q: Why the interest in the Australasia Fishes project and are you contacted to assist with Identifications often? How did you first get involved with our project?
A: My former manager at the Australian Museum, Mark McGrouther, got me started, and hooked, on the Australasian Fishes project. The iNaturalist platform is fantastic, linking citizens to scientists. There are more eyes out there observing nature, and making great contributions to species distributions, behaviour and diversity. I can vicariously participate in these observations through my involvement in the Australasian Fishes project. I enjoy the challenge of identifying fishes, sometimes from imperfect images. I don't always get it right, but the community of experts narrows down the identification options to provide a good data set for analysis. I am quite time-challenged in my current job, so tend to respond to posts that I am linked to, rather than me being proactively searching for posts to identify.
Q: Could you tell us a little about your typical, fish identification process?
A: Interestingly, it is my exposure to larval fishes that has given me the knowledge to identify fishes. Fish larvae often look totally different to the adults. However, there are basic morphological consistencies of meristics (things that can be counted, like vertebrae and fin elements) and morphometrics (relative positions and size of anatomical features). Identifying fish larvae also requires a broad knowledge of the diversity of fishes, to help narrow down the options.
A good quality photograph can be the difference between a rough identification and an identification to species. Ideally a well-lit lateral shot with all fins visible is a winner. But this is not always possible, or only a part of the fish is available (for example some skeletal remains). The best images are also sharp enough to count the spines and rays of the fins; this certainly makes my identification task easier.
Q: Tell us about some of your experiences in remote area research.
A: I have been privileged to have had the opportunity to visit many islands in the South Pacific, often remote or uninhabited. Usually I am contributing to biodiversity surveys of the marine environment with a diverse array of other marine scientists. I have seen some pristine and degraded environments which has fuelled my interest in marine protection and recovery.
Even though I sometimes lead these remote area biodiversity surveys with scientists that have interests in marine mammals, algae or marine invertebrates, my passion is for the fishes. However, I recognise that all of these elements are connected, and I ensure that all interests are accommodated in expeditions.
Most of my survey work is undertaken snorkelling or diving or using ship-based capture methods such as nets, traps, dredges, videos or night lighting. Every method has its biases in what species are recorded so it is important to diversify methods to maximise species diversity.
The most exciting aspect of these surveys is either finding species that have not been recorded from an area before (range extensions) and finding new species. All of these increase our understanding of biogeography and the diversity of life.
I have been challenged many times to identify fishes. With about 20,000 marine species (and a similar number of freshwater species) there is always an unfamiliar species to deal with. Good descriptive guides written by experts are essential tools or the trade.
In identifying fishes for the Australasian Fishes project, I have sometimes made major errors if I have assumed the fish is marine rather than freshwater. So, it is imperative that the locality and habitat details are provided to assist with the identification. I had a recent fail when I assumed a fish was found in marine waters but in fact it was in freshwater, and I embarrassingly was nowhere near the correct identification (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/23321818#activity_identification_130783987 ).
Q: What are your personal, current areas of research?
A: I moved to Auckland 13 years ago, initially to take up a curatorial role. My current role is as head of the natural sciences team at the Auckland Museum. I am the administrative leader of a team of curators and collection management staff. This means that I don't get a lot of time to do research. I manage to remain active mostly through collaboration with other scientists or through student supervision.
My varied research interests, at the moment, include the biodiversity of fishes in the South Pacific region, the drivers of biogeographic patterns, marine restoration, larval fish development and ecology, and the intersect of science and indigenous knowledge. The latter is challenging but also the most fulfilling part of my role. We were recently awarded a $13 million grant to enable an indigenous-led research program at the remote and pristine islands of Rangitahua / Kermadec Islands, which I have the privilege of co-leading.
I have been fortunate to have had a career in museums. Museums have an interesting profile, where research is undertaken, biodiversity is recorded, and the galleries can engage the public on topical issues.
Q: What do you think about the project? Are we making a contribution, and if so, in what areas do you believe the data we are collecting will ultimately be useful, in a scientific context?
A: The Australasian Fishes project is making a great contribution to our knowledge of species distribution ranges and new species records, and sometimes behaviour. The many additional observers have added new observations that would otherwise go undocumented.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on November 04, 2020 03:56 by markmcg markmcg | 5 comments | Leave a comment

October 12, 2020

Member profile - Michal Biniek

The impact of COVID-19 has been felt by every Australian and, in fact, by almost everyone in the world. For many, it has become a life changing event, compounding the fear of illness with separation from family and community. There is no doubt that it has created a nostalgia for the old “normal” times, which looks good to many of us today.
For some, the ocean has provided a refuge from pandemic, as it is clear the virus seems to avoid the salt water. While not encouraged to congregate on the shore, many have become solitary divers/snorkellers, practicing isolation in the sea, and exploring the environment close to their homes, as travel has also been discouraged. Our project numbers have grown over the months of the pandemic, where some fortunate participants have been exploring their close local locations, and other have been supportive with identifications and encouragement. This bio’s subject Michal Biniek (on the right in the photo, above) clearly illustrates this response to isolation, as much of his body of work has been observed in the waters surrounding his residential neighbourhood of Manly, in Sydney.
Michal’s contribution reminds me another aspect of exploration as well, the exploration of a new country and culture. He reminds me of my past travels, working overseas in countries where a different language is spoken and is located far from family. Many project participants have worked overseas during their careers, and most will tell interesting stories about their adventures and misadventures, however, I would guess that their experience was not always a bed of roses. There were times when the distance from home, from family and from a native language created a challenging set of circumstances. In some ways, Michal reminds me of the additional challenges which must encountered when a pandemic and travel restrictions are added to the mix of overseas employment. Michal is a relative newcomer to our country, far away from his roots in his native Poland, however, it is clear he has quickly built himself a community, both physical and a virtual, in a very short period of time, during a global pandemic.
Michal came to Australia, from Poland three years ago. The purpose of the move was to join an Australian-owned software company, as a software engineer. He resides in Manly, NSW, where his odyssey in underwater photography started. Michal tells us, “Photography is my long running hobby. I started taking photos on film when I was a kid. Nature photography brings another level of difficulty as it requires many different factors to go well - it takes proper timing, light and composition to take a “good photo”. That’s especially challenging to achieve when chasing moving objects like animals.”
Michal did not do much underwater exploration in Europe but that changed after he moved to Sydney. Introduced to the underwater richness of the Sydney area by friends from the company’s scuba social club, (hello @kopper!), he learned that Sydney is an amazing place to discover underwater life. Not only that, but the place where he lives, was the perfect taking-off point for this underwater adventure. And take-off, he certainly has done, compiling an impressive record for the Australasian Fishes project. Since joining in April 2019, he has recorded 1,442 observations of which 1,288 have been for Australasian Fishes. His impressive list of observations encompass 262 species to date. In addition, in such a short time, he also helped in over 2,463 identifications. Michal has truly jumped in with both flippers! It is important to note that at least a third of his time in the project, was during a global pandemic (so far). When many others were looking for toilet paper, Michal was looking at his underwater neighbours.
Having a background in nature photography, he quickly wanted to know the names of the fish he recorded. He says, “iNat was recommended to me by friends in a company scuba social club as a great place to learn and seek for help identifying underwater species. @markmcg does a great job recruiting people to this amazing project. I’m impressed by the community around Australasian Fishes - great specialists, so when in doubt, we can get really precise expertise - as well as plenty of members submitting new interesting observations every day. I'm a huge fan of underwater photography, I take a camera with me on every snorkelling session. I have made a routine to process photos the same day as they were taken, or at least these with uncommon findings, so I can post them to iNat.”
He explains that “Manly has been my home for the last few years - that’s why most of my observations are done around there. Thankfully, I live really close to the water so I can get to the water pretty often! Additionally, due to COVID and travel lockdown I couldn’t really explore much further, so I took the opportunity to explore local waters even more carefully. Both sides of water offer great, yet different conditions and species. Shelly Beach - definitely better to “catch” big fish - like sharks or bull rays, but it can get busy. The Harbour side is a less common choice to swim, but that’s where I saw my first turtle in Sydney, hey!”
Michal prefers a lightweight set-up as much as possible, so his exploration is snorkel/shallow freediving only. This allows him quick trips to the water during the day. His current schedule allows from 2 to 3 trips a week, of course, depending on the weather and visibility. He reports any conditions with 15m visibility makes him simply take his fins and go straight to the water.
Michal discusses his preferred photography equipment, “I use Canon G7X mk II with Fantasea underwater housing - I shot photos with natural, ambient light - it takes a while to find out how to take better photos with that setup, but even with such minimalistic equipment it is possible to take “good photos”. I have found Manly-local Ian Donato’s guide a great start for beginners (https://www.housingcamera.com/blog/underwater-photography/on-being-an-underwater-photographer-who-favours-the-shallow-end). I wish I had read it earlier. My personal hints (for snorkelers) are usually specific:
• Chasing fish is usually a lost cause - is never ends with good photo; my tricks to get better angle of the fish is to swim parallel to it (works well with dusky whalers) to hide and surprise fish from behind a rock (juvenile butterflyfish) or simply wait - they may turn around and actually get curious.
• Some fish may get used to humans around - e.g. I observed some tropicals like brown tang which tend to ignore me after few minutes of me diving up and down.
• When without light/strobe, I set the shutter to fixed 1/250 - that helps with sharp pictures when diving “deeper” or during not-sunny weather when auto mode switches to 1/80 (sigh).
Nature photography, thanks to its challenges, is very rewarding. When moving to the opposite side of the globe, everything around is new and exciting. I wanted to learn more about them - taking pictures and identifying them helps and can be fun too. I also felt that the harbour deserves a little bit more attention, however it is hard to compete with Cabbage Tree Bay. As I live nearby Manly Cove, I have decided to scan that area with more attention - turns out that you can find such interesting critters like keyhole angelfish or a green sea turtle in the harbour as well!”
Finally, Michal’s engagement in the underwater community has been impressive, even while in isolation when the pandemic was in full swing. He is a strong supporter and contributor of the Facebook group VIZ, (https://www.facebook.com/groups/sydviz/) which is a private group dedicated to reports of underwater visibility conditions across the Sydney metropolitan area, focusing on conditions for divers. Like Australasian Fishes, it is volunteer site, with individuals and groups reporting water conditions, temperature and abundance of marine life across the regional area. The reporters are extremely enthusiastic, and their passion is almost infectious, as they report on conditions at famous and less famous dive spots. There is a good mixture of shore dive and boat dive reports, so the site is useful as a condition guide and motivator for getting off the couch, where many are waiting out the pandemic, and into the water. Another advantage, like Australasian Fishes, it creates a sense of instant community for all, including the newly arrived, COVID isolated individuals and those passionate about exploring the local marine environment. Michal quickly became a highly valued member of this Facebook community, as his reports have been on the lesser explored areas of Manly in Sydney. It seems like every few days, during the pandemic, Michel has been contributing photos, videos and water condition reports of the Manly area, harbour side and ocean side. This useful service has been appreciated by fellow members of the VIZ group, many of the observations he has made for our project have been featured in his reports on water conditions.
In summary, the pandemic has created an interesting challenge for many people in the world. For some it has been isolating, both physically and emotionally. A difficult time to overcome. Projects like Australasian Fishes and VIZ have help some to bridge the barriers of physical isolation, by allowing us to feel engaged with others in interesting and meaningful projects. When looking at these citizen-driven initiatives it is clear to see the dedication and passion reflected in the written reports and observations. There are often notes of encouragement and support which come through exchanges found in these online initiatives as well. Such camaraderie is important during periods of isolation and pandemic. Michal Biniek has reminded me that family and community can be found in many places on Earth, and online projects play an important role not only in the science of our times, but also in the human engagement of our times.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on October 12, 2020 06:05 by markmcg markmcg | 7 comments | Leave a comment

September 18, 2020

Spider eats fish!

The image on the left is from an excellent observation posted by @wingspanner. It shows an Eastern Osprey holding a Yellowfin Bream in its talons. The right image shows a close-up view of the fish.
Seeing these observations prompted me to take stock of the observations that show fish as prey. I'm sure here are many! The list below shows a single observation of 6 different predator types 'in action'.
Posted on September 18, 2020 02:47 by markmcg markmcg | 21 comments | Leave a comment

August 18, 2020

Member profile - Matt Tank

Writing an Australasian Fishes bio blurb in COVID-19 Australia is an interesting experience. As I write, the country is experiencing the inevitable second wave, during the normal winter flu season. Parts of the country have entered stringent lockdowns, while others have closed borders, sealing in their healthy citizens. Other states are somewhere in between, putting out viral spot fires, in hopes of keeping the pandemic under control, for a second time. Another defining aspect of the country’s response has been the widespread practice of working/studying from home. We now see the most widespread use of this practice in history where never before has such a large percentage of the Australian workforce has been working remotely. In some ways, this is not unexpected, as most futurists have predicted that working/studying/shopping from home will be a wave of the future. That wave has arrived a decade earlier than predicted.
In my past, I was responsible for writing pandemic plans, and have always regarded “working from home” as the weakest link in pandemic response. At the time, it was a frequently cited work-around, however, it was a logistical impossibility. Limited internet bandwidth, application licensing restrictions, a dependence on corporate portals to access corporate applications are among several technical reasons limiting user’s access.
In 2020, I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of these problems were solved before the arrival of COVID-19. Thanks to broadband, we now have the capacity for more users to simultaneously access the internet. Many corporate applications have moved from internal servers, to the cloud, allowing almost universal, unlimited staff access. The reason I bring this up is that our ability to work from home, as a nation, is the result of IT professionals, who skilfully migrated us to these new platforms, allowing numerous government and business operations to continue to function, even though the entire staff are working from their respective homes. Upon reflection, I realise this capability was given to us as a result of IT experts who paved the way for this transition. The subject of this bio blurb is one such IT expert, Matt Tank, an IT consultant by profession, based in the Southern suburbs of Adelaide. Matt explains, “I specialise in Cloud Technologies, mostly this is about adapting existing business systems to be Internet-based for cost savings and flexibility. However, more and more I’m being asked about ways to make these systems better, using technologies that are much easier to implement in the cloud.” I doubt if Matt would have thought his work in implementing this technology would save the bacon of so many companies and perhaps change the fundamental office working relationship for many years to come.
Matt’s introduction to our program, was, of course, the result of his pursuit of alternative, online technologies. He explains that some of the technologies he implements are things we might recognise as iNaturalist users. Examples include Computer Vision and geospatial reporting (those great observation maps we see), are related to the technologies he implements. He notes, “In fact, it was professional curiosity that brought me to iNaturalist. I was fielding questions for clients about Microsoft Custom Vision, and I decided to build a Fish ID solution as a side-project. Image searches for testing images brought me to iNat, and the rest is history. I started posting my own images, and like so many others, was approached by @markmcg to join the project. Unlike most of the regular contributors to the Project. I discovered iNaturalist while working on a Computer Vision proof-of-concept, and realised not only that I could use the site to help me ID the things I didn't recognise, but I could also help others with what I know.”
Matt says that he is neither a scientist nor a photographer, but like most in the project, his love for marine life started early. He recalls, “TV was an inspiration, but not documentaries at first. It was actually the movie Jaws that sparked my interest. I was way too young to be watching it, but also probably too young to be scared by it but became interested in sharks from virtually that day. The documentaries came later, and my interest widened to fish and other marine life. In the 80s and early 90s, most marine documentaries covered the tropics, which shaped a lot of my early knowledge.”
His early passion for marine life has remained as part of his character and he joined Australasian Fishes in February 2018. Matt’s contribution to Australasian Fishes has placed him in 22nd place in observations, with a total of 771. However, many project participants have benefited from his numerous identifications. For our project he has assisted in 6,505 identifications for us, ranking him 7th in that category. Matt has not only assisted us, but has contributed over 2,736 observations to iNaturalist projects, making a remarkable 21,258 identifications for the benefit of citizen science.
This passion for the marine world, however, did not result in a career in science. He says, “Over the years, my future career as a Marine Biologist slipped out of reach (you have to work hard at school, who knew?), and I was only diving sporadically. I wasn’t really interested in joining a dive club, and my friends were starting to move away and get busy (so was I for that matter). A trip to the Cook Islands in 2016 changed all that. I didn’t (SCUBA) dive, but went snorkelling every day, mostly alone, with a GoPro to record what I saw. I realised again how much I enjoyed it, and living 10 mins away from Port Noarlunga Reef, a world-class diving location, I made the decision that I was going to make sure I was in the water as often as possible, even if it was alone with a snorkel (maybe that’s even preferable – not many people want to wait around for 10 mins while you get the perfect shot of a sponge). I usually get into the water about 20-30 times a year now, and mostly in warmer months. With a huge increase in local experience, my interests expanded to include local fish species, and with less fish diversity than in the tropics, I also started to pay more attention to the hugely diverse invertebrate populations of Southern Australia. Ascidians in particular are of interest, because there are so many unknowns, and of course many of them look spectacular. I don’t really have a favourite location for diving in SA, because there is such a great variety of environments, but I always come back to Port Noarlunga, an excellent reef and jetty dive. Myponga Beach is a mix of huge tidal pools and an underwater wall that quickly drops down to about 6m, and the seagrass meadows of Kingston Park are great for weed whiting and leatherjackets.”
Developing his interest in underwater photography was based on a need to feed his thirst for undersea creature identification. Like other leading project participants, he is driven by a desire to know and identify the creatures he sees while underwater. He recalls, “Being the first time I snorkelled with a camera, another thing that Cook Islands trip showed me is how much more you remember individual dives when you can identify what you are looking at, and how much value that knowledge adds to future dives. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a photographer, so for me a camera is really just a tool for identification. Recently though, I’ve realised that when you’re looking at something really small, a GoPro won’t cut it, so I’ve recently purchased a new underwater camera, an Olympus TG-6 with the flash diffuser attachment. While acknowledging my limited experience with it so far, I would definitely recommend the product if you don’t want to lug around a lot of equipment or are on a smaller budget. Its microscope mode is really handy, for observations like this little guy here: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/51192339.”
Looking back, he feels that using iNaturalist has been very rewarding, in a number of respects. “If you’re willing to put in the effort, it’s a great learning tool. Professionally, I haven’t seen a better resource for building a repository of images about particular species. The AI aspect of it is really coming along too, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes. I think in the medium-term, we’ll get to a point where a single model based on all life won’t cut it, and that these systems will start to think in a more hierarchical way like we do. Instead of one model, it will iterate through multiple models; first of all, to decide what type of organism it’s looking at, then a more specialised model based on its decision. It’s going to be a lot more accurate if the system first decides it’s a fish, then used its knowledge of fish to identify the observation, rather than just comparing to the 250K+ list of (current) species. Combine this with technologies that can analyse the description field to work out the submitters intent, and other similar functionality, and we could end up with a system that can do a lot of the heavy-lifting, and leave the experts freer to fine tune IDs rather than constantly fix mistakes. That’s not even talking about the ways that researchers could plug the data into reporting and/or machine learning solutions to make their own findings. This is where a project like Australasian Fishes could really come into its own, and the groundwork starts right here, where we all contribute to building that repository of knowledge.”
In conclusion, Matt wanted to use this bio blurb to express his appreciation to other project members. He says, “This is also an opportunity for me to reflect on the help I’ve received over the years, so in regard to Australasian Fishes specifically, I’d like to thank (in no particular order) - @maractwin, @sascha_schulz, @joe_fish, @davemmdave, @marinejanine, @kendallclements, @rfoster, @clinton and @markmcg… And everyone who contributes the observations that help so much in building my knowledge - and our collective knowledge.”
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on August 18, 2020 02:53 by markmcg markmcg | 6 comments | Leave a comment

July 26, 2020

Spring BioBlitz

Hi Australasian Fishes Project members.
I thought I would take a moment to direct you to a journal post by thebeachcomber.
The post, https://inaturalist.ala.org.au/posts/38711-spring-bioblitz, is an invitation to participate in the upcoming Spring Bioblitz which is being run from September 25th to 28th.
I encourage you to get involved in this worthy project. Mark it in your calendars!
Posted on July 26, 2020 06:43 by markmcg markmcg | 2 comments | Leave a comment

July 16, 2020

Scientist Member Profile - Jeff Johnson

The Australasian Fishes project is extremely fortunate to have the support of many professional scientists, who assist not only with fish identification, but also in maintaining the integrity of the rapidly growing database. This article is the second in our series of profiles of scientists who are kind enough to participate in and support Australasian Fishes. In this article we meet Jeff Johnson, Ichthyologist and fish collections manager at Queensland Museum (QM), Brisbane.
Jeff has been employed in Ichthyology at Queensland Museum since 1977, arriving under their cadetship system and then working as a museum technician. When the former Curator of Fishes retired in 1995, he took on the dual role of Senior Collection Manager and Research Ichthyologist. His aim was to maintain research output and promote Ichthyology at QM as best he could through individual and collaborative taxonomic research. Most will know Jeff from his project support, he had helped with over 4,000 identifications (see: https://www.inaturalist.org/people/jeffwj). At the time of writing this article, Jeff was mostly working from home because the QM was right in the middle of major renovations, and at the same time the entire collection of alcohol preserved specimens was being prepped for a move to a new facility 12 km away. He said, "This move involves lots of planning and meetings with architects, engineers and factoring in OH&S concerns with all that alcohol!"
Question: Our Members would be interested in the origins of your interest in nature, especially fish. Did your interest in science begin at a young age?
Jeff: Over many years my extended family maintained a long tradition of taking vacations to fish throughout northern Australia, often in far-away places. This often involved very long drives and rough roads, towing and launching boats to explore renowned marine and freshwaters hotspots, from Windorah in far western Qld to Princess Charlotte Bay on Cape York. I became more involved in underwater pursuits and in the 1970s, the Queensland government had a cadetship program whereby successful appointees worked in particular departments during the day, while attaining academic qualifications at university 3 or 4 nights per week. In 1977 I was shortlisted for such a vacancy. I was asked if I had any experience in camping in remote areas, had spent time at sea, in the maintenance and operation of boats, outboard motors and 4WD vehicles, or an interest in fishes. It seemed like the job was designed especially for me! My response must have been acceptable as the museum’s deputy director advised that I had the job that afternoon.
Question: Why the interest in the Australasian Fishes project? How did you get involved with our iNaturalist project?
Jeff: I have been very pleased to be involved in the Australasian Fishes Project. As the number and diversity of logged species escalate, they prove increasingly valuable for research, providing a variety of information such as locality records, colour variation within and between species, and basically what fish was where on temporal scales. On a personal level, the project also provides an excellent opportunity to give back to the community by sharing my expertise in either confirming or correcting IDs, and by adding comments or details that may assist others with future identifications.
Question: Could you tell us a little about your typical, fish identification process using photos?
Jeff: Only with experience can an observer instantly recognise the features that signal broad groups of fishes. The identification process is so much easier if you can say that’s a tropical snapper, a wrasse, a mullet, or a goby, without resorting to long involved taxonomic keys to families! For professionals or newcomers alike, The Fishes of Australia site (https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/) is an invaluable resource, with multiple images of many Australian species at your fingertips, should you need to check that you’re on track. Once I have resolved the identity of a photographed species to the best level, I can be confident with, I will look for the features known to distinguish it from its closest relatives.
Question: Do you go into the water much these days. Scuba, snorkel, etc.?
Jeff: I have no skill in underwater photography worth mentioning, but still snorkel at every available opportunity, especially in Moreton Bay near my home, to keep an eye on the fish populations. Most trips incorporate destinations that have diving opportunities, even if that is only a secondary objective of the trip. In the last decade I have snorkelled or dived in Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands (my favourite), Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands, as well as Western Australia, Tasmania and NSW. Over the last 20 years in Qld I have spent 3 to 6 weeks every year based at the same two locations investigating inner and outer reefs on the northern section of the GBR.

You always see more fish if you take it slowly, pause, and avoid jerky movements or splashing at the surface. I’d like a dollar for every spearfisherman that has relayed his frustration to me at seeing only a couple of decent fish during an hour or mores swim, when I have observed many times more in virtually the same time and area. To some extent fish are able to sense whether you present a serious threat, based on how you look and behave. I have a few favourite snorkelling spots only a few hundred metres away from home where I can take a breath, sit motionless on the bottom and have several large rockcod, a bunch of sweetlips, bream and other species gradually come closer and closer until they are milling around curiously within only a metre or so. Fish can be more intelligent than many people give them credit for. I like to recall my experience in 2015 with a large Spangled Emperor at Ned’s Beach on Lord Howe Island, easily recognised by a small scar on its flank and an imperfection to its lower caudal fin lobe. After a few days, this individual would recognise me, swim straight over, take food from my hand and follow me around, whereas the other half dozen or so of the same size and species would show little interest, keep their distance at all times and not follow me away from the shallow sandy area where tourists are permitted to feed the fish. Three years later in 2018 I returned to the island and was surprised to find the same individual (but no others) immediately swam over and followed me around, even in the absence of food.
Question: What was the most difficult fish you had to identify? Why was it difficult?
Jeff: At the museum we get a huge range of public enquiries about fishes from anglers, commercial fishers, beachcombers and naturalists. Many requests for ids are quite easy as they are species that simply look odd and hence repeatedly pique the interest of many people. The most difficult fish items to identify tend to be skeletal remains washed up on beaches. Many consist only of fragments, often eroded by wave action. The skulls, jaws and otoliths of many species gradually become familiar and we have a large reference collection to draw comparison, but there are always odd ones that take a lot of trial and error to determine. For some reason many members of the public imagine the skull of large snapper complete with swollen hyperostosis to be that of a cassowary, and the rotting cartilaginous skulls and vertebral columns of sharks and rays are of course bound to be the remains of mysterious deep sea creatures!

Several fish spring to mind when I think of those most difficult to identify. The first is a juvenile sweetlips that we collected in a large rockpool on Sweers Island, in the Gulf of Carpentaria. It was clearly among the group of Plectorhinchus that have striped juvenile phases, but some of the counts, or meristic data, did not quite match any of the likely suspects. I was very familiar with all the members of this group and the amazing transformation in colour pattern that they go through, having examined most available striped sweetlips specimens in Australian and many overseas collections, leading to a paper being published on the subject with Jack Randall some years earlier. For the purposes of a report Tony Gill and I published on the fishes of Sweers Island, we put it down as closest to P. albovittatus, and it remained on a museum shelf for a few years before things became clearer. A fly fisherman from Weipa later sent in great photos of two large fish that he had caught on the flats, one clearly a Painted Sweetlips, Diagramma pictum labiosum, and the other very similar in colour, but clearly an unidentified Plectorhinchus, based on the dorsal fin spine count. The second fish was known in the fly angling community in northern and north-western Australia as the Blue Bastard, due to it having a blue-grey sheen and being reluctant to take a fly, hence a bastard to catch. It had always been referred to as a northern colour form of the common Painted Sweetlips, but I was suspicious and had never had the opportunity to examine one or get an accurate dorsal spine count to validate whether that was true. The angler set about catching several more and arranged to have them sent to Brisbane for me. The search was then on for intermediate growth phases and in the ensuing year these were found variously misidentified as 3 other Plectorhinchus species in fish collections in Perth, Darwin and Hobart. Some of about 10 cm in length, misidentified as P. polytaenia, were collected during a fish survey from off the Kimberley in WA that I had been part of. The counts and proportional measurements were collated and the gradual changes in colouration from small juvenile through to large adult noted, but the clincher came with genetic samples of juveniles from Darwin, which turned out to be a perfect match to the adults from Weipa and distinct from all other sweetlips species. It was satisfying to finally get a positive id on that juvenile from Sweers Island, and to describe a new species that is quite common, is widespread, reaches a large size, and is of interest to anglers.
Question: What do you think about the project? Are we making a contribution, and if so, in what areas do you believe the data we are collecting will ultimately be useful, in a scientific context?
Jeff: I am impressed with the results and spirit of co-operation among the respondents of the project to date. As the number and variety of records increases, their value and significance grow exponentially. It is great to see many early and regular contributors maintaining their interest, as well as new people joining in and adding material when they get the chance. Detailed scientific surveys of fishes have not been conducted in all areas throughout the Australasian region, and of course those that have been are rarely repeated regularly to detect temporal changes. The project will help to fill in gaps, provide an ongoing record of occurrences over time and likely present good evidence to support expanding or contracting ranges due to climatic or other variables. I would like to see a continuation along similar lines. For each dive site, gradually accumulate all species that you can get, until it becomes increasingly hard to find anything new. In particular, try to capture the shot if you spot anything rare or out of the ordinary in your regular dive site. Photos of species do not have to be perfect, but in all cases, they should be of sufficient quality so that they have the potential to be identified. I will be pleased if I can help out with that task from time to time.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on July 16, 2020 02:05 by markmcg markmcg | 4 comments | Leave a comment

June 17, 2020

Member profile - John Turnbull

Perhaps one of the most famous stories used by motivational speakers is about a Persian farmer who’d heard of diamonds being discovered in remote parts of the land. They were so plentiful they could be picked up by anyone. The farmer wanted this instant wealth, so he sold his farm and used the money to travel the continent, looking for the elusive diamonds. His search was unsuccessful, and he died in misery and poverty, never having found his treasure. However, the person who’d bought his farm, one day was looking into the creek which watered his land and discovered, of course, it was filled with acres of diamonds. The story illustrates the wealth which is to be found in our own backyards.
In the not too distant past, much of the advanced science in Australia was a similar story. The idea that if you wanted to do real science, for example, study dinosaurs, you had to travel to another continent, as Australia did not have many dino fossils. Many did travel overseas for their study of palaeontology, believing all the diamonds were to be found elsewhere. Of course, today we realise this assumption was not true. In reality, there are acres of dino fossils in Australia, however, they are found in locations much different than in the rest of the world. We need not have travelled much further than our own backyards.
Our featured project leader, John Turnbull, who is ranked 15th in Australasian Fishes observations, often reminds us of treasures found in our own backyard, through his work for our project and other research endeavours. Looking at past Journal articles which feature his discoveries (see: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/australasian-fishes/journal/8560-new-species-record-for-sydney-harbour and https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/australasian-fishes/journal/11179-another-new-species-record-for-sydney-harbour ), illustrates his search to advance scientific knowledge of the Sydney Harbour area as well as find the hidden gems.
John developed his fascination with the ocean as young child exploring the rock pools of Sydney’s wonderful coastline, finding crabs and octopus, getting cut feet and sunburn, all with a grin on his face. His first diving experiences were typically away from home in the 1990s, as he thought (like many people) that you had to travel north or overseas to see anything interesting underwater. However, after taking a decade or so off to focus on family, he discovered the diversity and colour of Sydney’s marine life through joining a local dive club.
Even today, John has retained his boyish fascination with nature, and now regards Sydney Harbour as an entire new world to uncover, in his own backyard. Taking his nature photography passion underwater, he made it a personal goal to show others what he was discovering every week. This was the beginning of his web site, Marine Explorer (http://www.marineexplorer.org/ ) to share his photos, videos and stories, and when he found iNaturalist and the Australian Fishes project, he recognised a kindred spirit, so he made all his photos available to this citizen science platform.
To get an idea of the frequency of John’s observations he dives nearly every week, often more than once, and always take pictures, between 100 and 200 on every dive. He says, “We are so lucky in Sydney as the complex topography and intricate waterways mean there is nearly always somewhere sheltered enough for a dive. I’m certified as Self Reliant so I can do a solo dive for a couple of hours at places like Bare Island, Clifton Gardens in the Harbour or the sanctuary zone at Shelly Beach, and I’m never bored. Even if I just find my usual suspects, they are always doing something new or interesting, or the light is different. Then there’s the new arrivals, tropical species coming down on the East Australian Current. I do regular surveys too as part of the Reef Life Survey program, and these make you focus closely on a 50 m transect. This often means you’re poking around more closely than usual, and so you find new things.”
As you can tell, John’s contributions run beyond his personal website and he is engaged in several significant marine projects. They include:
1. Underwater Research Group (www.urgdiveclub.org.au ) - founded in the late 1950s by a group of pioneering SCUBA divers with a passion for citizen science. John is currently the President of the club and has been involved in sourcing a number of projects for club members over the years, bringing scientists and volunteers together for mutual benefit. They currently have two main projects; doing underwater clean-ups in the harbour and categorising debris to inform preventative strategies (UNSW research) and monitoring Weedy Seadragon populations on the east coast (UTS project). The group has their own dive boat and dive pretty much weekly in the Sydney region, and have some element of citizen science on most dives.
2. Reef Life Survey (www.reeflifesurvey.com) – John is also involved in Reef Life Survey as the East Coast coordinator. He regards this as the gold standard of citizen science programs as it requires you to train to a level equivalent to a marine scientist and conduct full scale underwater biodiversity surveys. This training can be very rewarding and incredibly important to large scale ecological studies. He encourages interested divers willing to offer the required time and commitment to register interest on the RLS web site.
3. As mentioned, Marine Explorer is his site which he developed around 2012 to bring pictures and stories of marine life to a wider audience. This is in addition to his personal projects John publishes in social media, which include Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and sometimes Instagram. He also operates a large library of photos on Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnwturnbull/ ) and videos on Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/marineexplorer ). All of his content is creative commons non-commercial with attribution, to encourage people to share and use it. As you can imagine his images are used regularly in scientific articles, popular science articles, books and video programs and have been published in the book Underwater Sydney.
He says, “Although the Harbour and wider Sydney coastline have incredible diversity, we have settled for much less marine life than (we) would have after decades, centuries of overexploitation. You can see it when you dive Shelly and get twice the species richness and 4 or 5 times the fish biomass in this small sanctuary zone compared to other places. What we have now is incredible for Australia’s biggest city, but it could be so much more with better protection in place.”
“On land, you can see when a forest is deteriorating or animals are disappearing, but underwater this is often hidden. Scientists just don’t have the resources - time or money - to do enough monitoring to know what’s going on in any real depth in our marine ecosystems. Without citizen science, this “out of sight, out of mind” problem would continue. I think people taking pictures of underwater fish, invertebrates and plants and putting these online is incredibly important to us being able to manage and conserve our marine life. This was the impetus for me starting Marine Explorer, and after 8 years I still do a daily post on social media of an interesting animal or plant, with a sentence or two. When I last looked, Marine Explorer had over 5 million views on Flickr - so I think there is interest there. Every time someone takes a pic, shares it online and maybe influences another person to think about marine life, you’re adding to our collective consciousness.”
John has vast experience in marine photography and shares advice for those interested in capturing the marine environment. He says, “You can get some nice shots with a simple setup like the Olympus TG series, particularly close-ups in shallow water, however, on land most of my shots are aperture or shutter priority, sometimes manual, but underwater they’re nearly all on manual. I took most of my online library of 10,000 plus images on the Sony RX-100, a compact camera with good sensor and excellent manual controls. These days I use an A6500 so I can swap out the lenses, to get macro and fisheye, but honestly this has some upside and some downside. I have to sacrifice some depth of field and flexibility with the bigger setup.”
“In my view the camera is the second most important thing, though. Photography is all about light, so to me, unless you’re in a rockpool or on snorkel, I wouldn’t bother to take pics with any camera unless I had one strobe, preferably two. Get the lighting right, and just about any camera can capture the image. So for a beginner setup that you won’t outgrow, I’d go for the RX-100 (any model) in a good aluminium housing like Nautical with a TTL strobe like the YS-01.”
Perhaps the best thing about having diamonds in your own back yard is that they are so easy to find and are accessible to everyone. It might be a river, harbour or patch of ocean, all of which are accessible to most, and John believes that everyone can make a contribution. He says, “If you take a pic of something that’s not uncommon and ID it, then you’re adding to your knowledge and next time around you’ll notice something more interesting. Every time you share your data - in the form of pictures, videos, whatever, you’re adding to our global database of species, where they live, their habitat, etc. iNaturalist is a great tool because you hook up with others, who might help you do IDs and in return can appreciate you sharing your pictures, so it really is a community of like-minded people. I’m not much good at identifying insects, for example, but in recent weeks I’ve been photographing birds and insects in my local area due to coronavirus and iNaturalist people have helped me to identify most of them.”
So we don’t have to be like the Persian farmer, and seek success in our citizen science endeavours far from home. There are acres of diamonds close by, and with a simple camera, face mask and fins, and using Australasian Fishes, you can make lasting contributions to science, like John.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on June 17, 2020 05:56 by markmcg markmcg | 12 comments | Leave a comment