Member profile - Luke Colmer

I suspect everyone has their own technique for searching for marine life to photograph. Some divers prefer to cover as much of the underwater area as possible, swimming hard, covering a wide range in the allotted time. I tend to be the opposite, where I select a piece of underwater real estate and slowly lurk around the area, watching the fish life, and waiting for opportunities to photograph. I look for fish-friendly habitat or obvious cleaning stations and wait for the fish to come to me.
This may sound boring, however, sometimes while sitting on the bottom, I find myself thinking of past songs, trying to recall lyrics, without the aid of GOOGLE. Most are songs from the 1960’s (I like a challenge). On occasion, some songs stick with me, impossible to dislodge. One recent earworm to infect my limited underwater attention span, has been The Straight Life, covered by Bobby Goldsboro, released in 1968. WARNING: Whatever you do, don’t listen to it. Bobby was attracted to sickeningly sweet songs about everyday life. While I have nothing against music, Bobby’s songs will raise your blood sugar levels to dizzying heights, possibly inducing nausea. Don’t risk it. Stick with Grand Funk Railroad. Anyway, to spare you the risks listening to the song, it is about a person who daydreams about living alternative lifestyles which included travel, adventure and romance in remote corners of the world. It was a life far different from what we called in the 1960’s, the straight life.
Thinking about this song, I am reminded of the current subject of this bio blurb, Luke Colmer (@lcolmer), ranked 16th in our project with 1,840 observations covering 113 different species. Luke has recorded over 4,000 observations for iNaturalist. He dedicates a great deal of time to community citizen science projects in New Zealand, as an experienced dive instructor, however, all of this is not what makes me think of him when I try to recall the obscure pop lyrics of a 1960’s high school heart throb. It is more the journey which his diving has taken him over the years.
He tells us, “I was born and grew up in an Outback town (Broken Hill) and was 8 years old before I even saw the ocean for the first time. At age 25, I moved to Northern Western Australia and fortunately had some friends who were right into spearfishing. Whilst I wasn’t at all into spearing, I used to go out and just snorkel with them. It was always thrilling because there were always heaps of reef sharks around and that would blow me away. I bought a compact camera and underwater housing and started trying to snap shots of the reef. Eventually some friends and I travelled down to Exmouth and did our SCUBA ticket at the Ningaloo Reef in 2008.”
Luke was infected not only with diving but the travel bug as well, where he travelled frequently between 2003 and 2019. During that time, he always kept a camera with him, photographing nature, following the example of his mother, an equally keen photographer. He tells us, “I dived sporadically over the next few years but I kept snorkeling. It was whilst travelling Central America in 2015 when I started diving much more frequently. I was diving the cenotes in Mexico, and I did my Advanced Open Water there. Then I went down to the Bay Islands of Honduras and did my Rescue and Divemaster courses. It was here, on Utila, that my love of finding critters started. One particular dive site was great for finding seahorses and pygmy pipehorses. This really sparked my curiosity for finding critters. I eventually did my instructor’s course in The Philippines and worked on Malapascua Island for a while. “
Sounds pretty exotic. The story is not over yet. When discussing photography, he tells us about his first serious underwater camera. “It wasn’t until I was working in Timor Leste that I finally invested in a decent camera setup. I got myself a Sony RX-100v in a Nauticam Housing with a Sola focus light and Sea&Sea strobe. It’s a really good compact camera. The focus is good and low light is quite reasonable. With the two strobes, if I get my positioning right – it can take pretty decent pics. Also, I don’t have to choose – wide or macro. I can do a bit of both. I also usually have a wet macro lens that I can add or remove but it has been out of action for a few months. Also, it is still of manageable size that I can do a relatively long walks to a secluded spot to snorkel while carrying the camera. The cons are, I can’t use the zoom because the focus struggles. Meaning that many of my pics need to be cropped and the pixel size is not amazing. Also, obviously I can’t get the crispness across the whole pic that mirrorless and DSLR can get.
With my camera in hand, my partner and I went on a 5-week dive holiday around Indonesia and Philippines and my love of Muck diving started. Then back in Timor, whilst I was working as a dive instructor. Conservation International studied some reefs in Timor and found them to be the most biodiverse reefs on the planet and I was hooked.”
Like many others in our project, his acquaintance with iNat and the Australasian Fishes Project was a matter of word of mouth. He says, “I first heard about iNat in 2019 when I was briefly living in Whanganui. I was volunteering for a community group who maintained a pest-free forest sanctuary. I took my camera one day and took a few photos of the many incredible fungi that thrived in the park. The volunteer coordinator asked me if I would mind uploading them to iNat, so I signed up and loaded the images. It wasn’t until early 2020 that I took a couple of shots of some underwater critters that I knew were not common that I decided to upload them as well. Since then, I have tried to upload every underwater shot I’ve taken. I came across Australasian fishes when I posted an obs of Gymnothorax berndti and @clinton tagged @markmcg who then invited me to the project. Now I always include all my fish obs to the project. I guess on average I would load a group of obs weekly. I am still not super confident of my ids all the time so usually wait until I am quite confident before adding an ID. I am always trying to learn, so try to ask questions where I think I could learn something.”
As Bobby Goldsboro tells us in song, eventually most of us adjust to “The Straight Life” at some point. Luke has settled down to a role at a local council, using his engineering degree. He also supports several community projects aimed at the preservation of nature, using his diving skills to assist others. That does not mean he has left diving behind. He tells us, “Here in New Zealand, it was the middle of winter last year. I had changed careers and was working an office job. It was a Saturday, and I was desperate for a dive. However, the weather wasn’t great, and I couldn’t find a dive buddy. So, I thought, I’ll go and snorkel an estuary. I got out to Pataua estuary, and the coast was quite rough by then. I jumped in the visibility was awful. Barely half a metre. I thought, well this won’t go for long. As I drifted along thinking I’d jump out, having not really seen anything, I looked back and had just drifted over something that looked unusual. Then I saw it was two eyes and a mouth. I have been looking for a stargazer for ages and hadn’t yet seen one – I thought I was finally seeing one. But soon I realised it wasn’t a stargazer at all. I took a set of photos, disturbed it out of its sandy hideaway and took some more pics. I got out soon after that, went home and looked straight in “The Fishes of New Zealand.” The only thing I could find that was similar was Torquigener altipinnis. Turns out – it was, and it was the first time it had been seen around mainland New Zealand (previously only known from the Kermadec Islands). To me it just reinforced that cool findings aren’t limited to offshore islands and coral reefs. Anywhere fish are, there are cool observations waiting to be found.”
Another advantage of knocking about in tropical locations, is that you end up with interesting stories to discuss over “crackers and beer”. NOTE: If you understand that reference, then you’ve disregarded the above warnings, and actually listened to the song. I do apologize. Luke tells us about one memorable experience. “Diving in Timor Leste, I was doing an Advanced Open Water, Deep Adventure dive with a single student on the walls of Atauro Island. We descended down to almost 30m to do the skills. Suddenly my students’ eyes opened super wide, and he just froze. I turned around to see a whale shark swimming straight at us. We followed the shark for as long as we could, during which time I looked up to signal my colleague who was actually trying to signal us to come look at something. My colleague then saw the whale shark and brought his students down to swim with the shark. He then grabbed me and my student and took us up to a gorgonian where he had found a number of pygmy seahorses. One of the largest and smallest incredible creatures in the ocean – all within a few minutes.”
We in the project are grateful for Luke’s support and ongoing contributions. I’m currently over Bobby Goldsboro for the time being and will have to pick a new tune to recall the lyrics, while waiting for interesting fish to swim by. I wonder how many rap lyrics I can recall.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted by markmcg markmcg, March 31, 2022 11:13


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