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 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 | 5 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 :
2. Seahorses, sea dragons and pipefish of South Australia
3. Port Noarlunga, South Australia
4. Lady Bay to Wirrina Cove, South Australia
5. Temperate Marine Cleaners of South Australia
6. South Australian Conversation Research Divers
7. Marine Life Society of South Australia Administrator,
8. Kangaroo Island (North Coast), South Australia
9. Rapid Bay, South Australia
10. As well as 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

September 26, 2019

Member profile - Mark Rosenstein

Like most people, when I see an unfamiliar species of fish, I ask myself, “What fish is that?” Sometimes this question reminds me of once visiting a rural community hall and meeting a gentleman who’d recently retired. He told me his hobby was birdwatching. Interested in hobbies, I asked, “Do you keep a journal of observations”. “No” was the reply. “Do you have any bird books”. “No”. “Do you travel to other places to see different birds?” “No”. His hobby was to sit on the back porch, throw seeds and watch the birds eat.
While an inexpensive hobby, it seemed to be on the lower end of the scale for engagement with the natural environment. With Australasian Fishes we are fortunate to have many people who deeply engage the natural world. More importantly, their personal curiosity has led to active intellectual pursuits which has made the project, a strong, accurate database of Australian and New Zealand marine fish. These individuals not only ask themselves, “What fish is this?” but strive to answer that question, driven by their scientific curiosity.
Well known to our community is Sascha Schultz, a project leader, who frequently responds to our question, “What fish is that?” and finds the answer. Perhaps a less familiar name but another leader in the project is Mark Rosenstein, aka maractwin, ranked 146 in observations for Australasian Fishes, recording 44 photos of 38 species of fish. While this may seem a bit far down the league tables of observations, his contributions are remarkable for two reasons. 1. Mark lives 16,259 kilometres from Australia, in the New England region of the United States. 2. Mark also is ranked at #2 position in fish identification for Australasian Fishes, supplying, at the time of this writing, 16,595 identifications! This impressive record is only a small part of Mark’s passion for the natural environment. To date he has logged a total of 36,003 observations for iNaturalist, recording 4,829 species. Most impressive of all is that Mark has provided 259,745 identifications for iNaturalist. His travels are remarkably widespread, with observations recorded all over the globe. Clearly, on the other end of the spectrum from sitting in the back yard and feeding birds. Including Australasian Fishes, Mark participates in 90 iNaturalist projects covering extremely diverse flora and fauna across the globe, demonstrating a fascination for the natural environment, which has helped our project and many more across the globe. Marks answers our top questions.
Question: Your work in the natural environment is diverse, however, you participate in many fish related projects, tell us about your interest in fish?
Answer: “I’m not an ichthyology professional, this is just a hobby for me. I first became interested in coral reefs watching Jacques Cousteau on TV while growing up. After college I got into saltwater aquariums and had these for many years, including reef tanks with live coral. At some point I realized that I should get certified for scuba so that I could see the real thing, not just the poor copy on life support in my aquariums.
While on dive boats the other divers would sometimes comment on the boobies, terns, etc. that were flying around. They all just looked like seagulls to me, but at some point, I guess I started paying attention, and eventually became a birder. I liked bird watching because it used a lot of the same skills as fish watching, but I could do it every day from home, rather than just a couple of times a year during trips. Then after a decade of birding, I realized that if I switched my primary focus to butterflies and dragonflies, I could sleep in and just go on hikes at mid-day. In the mean time I was spending enough time in the tropics diving that I got rid of the aquariums at home because I preferred to see the real thing, and the aquariums only ever had mechanical failures when I was away and a friend was watching them for me.
My professional work was in computers—specifically web programming of large database driven sites. When I heard about iNaturalist, it was a good fit. I quickly started spending way too much time there. I’ve learned a lot on the site by not just posting my own observations, but by looking at many observations of others, and identifying what I can.”
Question: Tell us about your diving, and how did you become interested in photography?
Answer: I pretty much always take my camera while scuba diving. On those rare dives when I don’t, it feels like I am missing an important piece of gear. On the typical dive I take 50-100 images. I try to get at least one photo of each species I see during a trip. I photograph the common species as well as the more unusual ones. About half the shots I take are useful as identification shots. Maybe 20% are really good pictures of fish, and I hope to get one or two pictures a day that are publishable shots that a non-fish geek would enjoy.
I’m nearly always on scuba, even when I’m exploring a very shallow bay or mangroves. It gives me more flexibility to get close to subjects. I actually started photographing fish in aquariums before I started diving. In 1993 I created what was probably the first web site about aquarium keeping, and started putting together a catalogue of all of the fish commonly found in the aquarium trade. Fiji is my favourite place to dive. I’m there about once a year. As an American, it is perhaps the easiest place to get to in the South Pacific. The people are friendly and speak English. There’s no malaria and little crime. And the reefs are healthy and very colourful. On my eighth or ninth trip there, my regular dive buddy commented that I had probably photographed every fish in Fiji. That, along with my propensity to try to name everything I see on the reef prompted her to suggest that I make a field guide. While it wasn’t a serious suggestion the first time, that eventually became a goal, and four years later I did publish Fiji Reef Fish.
Question: You are a veteran iNaturalist user, with an incredible record of observations and identifications. What advice would you offer the less experienced members of our project?
Answer: “Don’t be afraid to post your photos on iNaturalist even if they aren’t very good. Sometimes it is surprising what can be identified even in a poor photo. If there is something you really want identified that isn’t very distinctive (think drab damselfishes or silvery fish lurking in the gloom) be sure to write a description of the habitat (how deep were you? in a lagoon or on an outer reef?) and anything you remember from the sighting. And if you post a photo with more than one fish in it, be sure to mention in your description which fish you are asking to have identified.
If you want to learn fish identification, don’t just post your own photos and see what gets identified. Look through other people’s observations. When I’m not too busy with other things, I try to review every fish that gets posted to iNaturalist. Some fish that I haven’t seen in real life, but have seen dozens of posted observations, I begin to feel I know well enough to start identifying for other people. But I try to read about new species in a trusted source, such as a printed field guide or Fishbase. Google is not a trusted source, as there are a great many misidentified pictures on the net. And if you do start identifying observations, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Even the leading taxonomists who are on the site sometimes make mistakes; if you don’t then you’re either not doing many identifications or are incredibly lucky. But I do pay attention to site notifications and fix my mistakes when they are pointed out. And learn from that, so you don’t make the same mistakes again.”
Question: Tell us how you've developed your skills in nature ID and could you give some advice to those of us who probably guess a little too much.
Answer: “Part of my skill at identification is having a good memory for these things. I can’t remember the name of a person I just met or what I had for lunch, but tell me a number or the scientific name of a creature, and I’ll probably remember that. And I remember patterns really well, so quickly figure out the subtle differences among similar species.
Figuring out a tricky ID has several parts. First, know approximately what it is: a terminal phase wrasse, a trevally, etc. Second, either know or have a reference that can tell you what the local choices are for that sort of creature. I think a lot of people fail by not having a decent field guide; they do a net search and pick the first thing that looks similar. But if you have a field guide, and find the right section, you can look and discover that there are a few very similar choices Then read about those, to learn what the differences are between them. You might be lucky and have a photo that shows the necessary field marks to tell which of several similar species it is. Or you might have to leave an observation at the family or genus level. But if you remember those field marks, next time you can try to get them in the photo.
I’m also not afraid to write in books. My field guides are all full of annotations. I correct mistakes. I put in hints for separating similar species. I write in additional species to beware of. These days I have some of my most used guides in electronic form on my laptop and I make annotations in those too.”
Listening to Mark, I feel inspired to locate that retired birdwatcher, and encourage him to buy a field guide. Perhaps with a little more effort, he can move his hobby up to a level where people like Mark, residing on the other side of the planet, will assist in identification and understanding of these backyard visitors. Mark firmly believes that the greatest strength of iNaturalist, is the willingness of those with specialist knowledge to share with others. Mark sees this as a two-way street, where project participants learn of the species they encounter and professional researchers gain access to information and data on fish they are currently studying or describing. It is a large marketplace of scientific information, where thousands go to share, for both the advancement of scientific knowledge to just to learn, “What fish is that?”
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal. Thank you Harry! :)
Posted on September 26, 2019 02:13 by markmcg markmcg | 8 comments | Leave a comment

September 05, 2019

Fish out of Water

It gives me great pleasure to announce to you all that Mark McGrouther last week won the 2019 Australian Museum Research Institute Medal at the Eureka awards for his contribution to the Australian Museum, Ichthyology and citizen science.
In his 31 years as Australian Museum Ichthyology Collection Manager, Mark has overseen and built the collection to what it is today, the largest in the southern hemisphere and the fourth largest type collection in the world. He is widely considered as one of the leading fish collection managers globally due to his substantial contributions to ichthyology over the past three decades. He is the brains behind Australasian Fishes, and has been working towards building this amazing fish community for the past 10 years, its success is a testament to his passion and commitment.
His love of fishes is highly infectious and he has inspired countless people to appreciate the world of fish. Mark is a minor internet celebrity with over 1 million views of his Goblin Shark YouTube clip. He has three species of fishes named after him, an indication of the high esteem he is held in by his peers.
Mark wanted to sincerely thank all the members of Australasian Fishes for making the project a success. He often says that one of the great strengths of the project is the community and believes that without you he would not have received this honour. Please join me in congratulating Mark on this fabulous recognition of his achievements, he was truly surprised, humbled and looked like a fish out of water accepting his award.
Posted on September 05, 2019 03:47 by amandahay amandahay | 15 comments | Leave a comment

August 30, 2019

Nigel Marsh - Member profile

If you regularly read the Bio Blurbs in the Journal section you will see that many project participants say they were first attracted to the underwater world through television shows and documentaries. Classic shows like Sea Hunt and The Amazing World of Jacques Cousteau probably set the fires of interest in the marine environment to many impressionable young people, however what stoked these fires over time were other resources such as fish identification books and diving magazines. While documentaries introduced us to the wonders of the ocean, it was the dive magazines which taught us the logistics of the adventure. Not having the crew of the Calypso at our disposal was no setback because we could learn about places we could actually go on holidays and dive trips. The magazines told us what to expect when we got there. Finally, at the end of most episodes of Sea Hunt, Lloyd advised us, “Don’t take any chances and know the sport well”. Dive magazines, journals and articles are where we went to continue our basic certification education, learn about developments in equipment and encounter stories of when things go wrong as well as when things go right. They were an essential aspect of our education and our identity as divers.
Even today, when flying on a commercial jet, 36,000 feet above the planet, we gravitate to the articles of in-flight magazines which highlight our underwater world. It is not unusual to see breathtaking and artistic images of fish accompanying stories of diving trips to places like the Great Barrier Reef or the South Pacific. These images and stories were created by talented people and this Bio Blurb is about Nigel Marsh, one of the people who has taken their early diving passion and developed it into dive photo journalism and underwater reference books, helping us retain the wonder of the marine environment, even when we are on land.
Like many in the project, Nigel has always loved the ocean and all the creatures in it. You could always find him underwater on holidays, from an early age. He finally learnt to dive in 1983, at 18 years old, three years after he began his passion for taking underwater photos. While working as a full-time draftsman, he worked part-time as a photojournalist since 1985, documenting his dive trips and marine encounters for numerous dive magazines and other publications in Australia and overseas. Over the years he has produced over a dozen books, including dive guide books, marine life guide books, children’s books and special location guide books. He has contributed regularly to diving magazines. To get a view of the wide range of publications Nigel has produced and to learn more about him and his wife, please visit his website – . He has worked with his wife, Helen, on many of the publications, photographs and articles and even a brief visit to his website will illustrate how interesting and widespread this collaboration has been.
For those of us in the project, we feel very fortunate for Nigel’s contributions. He is currently ranked 12th in Australasian Fishes with 1,376 observations encompassing a massive 662 species. More impressive has been his generosity by going in to his expansive personal archives and posting observations from the 1990’s, which helps our database in terms of reporting history, making it a more useful scientific research tool. Of course, this is accompanied by the artistic beauty of his submissions, which show fish in great detail with realistic colours and texture. It is a pleasure to see Nigel’s submissions, and it should inspire those both new and experienced to the project, with an interest in underwater photography.
From his work, it is clear fish, especially sharks and rays, have been a passion for Nigel for a very long time. They were one of the reasons he first entered the water. It would not surprise project participants to know his work has won a number of photographic competitions in the past, however, for scientific purposes, he likes to capture marine creatures in their natural setting, showing their habitat and if possible and their behaviour. He tells us that he feels very fortunate to have worked closely with one of Australia’s greatest marine authors and naturalists, the late Neville Coleman, who was a wonderful mentor to Nigel and a great inspiration for his underwater photography. This has resulted in collaboration in several books, found on his website.
Nigel captures images mainly on scuba, finding snorkelling too much hard work with a camera. Living in Brisbane he dives as much as he can (but not as much as he would like), diving locally off Brisbane and southern Queensland on weekends, and around Australia and overseas on holidays. He and Helen often pick a dive destination just to see one animal and his rule of thumb is to photograph almost anything that he encounters including fish, molluscs, echinoderms, crustaceans, corals, mammals, worms, etc just to document the species that are found in an area.
Nigel now uses Nikon DSLR cameras in Ikelite housings, his two favourite lenses being the Nikkor 60mm for closeups and fish portraits and the Tokina 10-17mm for wide angle. Surprisingly he only uses a single strobe (shock horror) providing him greater control of lighting, plus a far more natural look. He does very limited post production, just cropping and maybe slight adjustments to the exposure. This experience comes from shooting with film for over twenty years, so he quickly learned to get the exposure and settings right. For those us, myself probably leading the list, who use a lot of post-production, Nigel offers a supportive scolding, “Today I see too many people spending more time playing with their images on a computer than spending time in the water and learning how to get the image they want in-camera. I also see many images with over-saturated colours that are just not real, they may look great, but they are not real, sharks don’t have pink bellies! The best advice I can give to anyone is learn from your mistakes and fix them next time you dive and not on a computer.” Good advice!
Nigel’s photographs reflect not only technical camera skills but an understanding of his place in the marine environment. He offers advice on how to get those award winning shots. “Photographing fish is not an easy thing to do, as most fish see us as potential predators. You have to learn how to slow your breathing and appear as non-threatening as possible. Often the best way to start a dive is to just settle on the bottom and let the fish become accustomed to you. Don’t go chasing the fish around, wait for them to come to you. You are never going to be able to shoot every fish species on a reef, but if you managed a few each time, you are doing well. Also fish have different personalities, so don’t give up on a species just because everyone you have tried to photograph has previously swam away, as there will come a day when you meet the one fish of that species that is bold and quite happy to have its photo taken dozens of times.”
Nigel’s travels have allowed him to see some amazing marine animals, from tiny gobies to whales, resulting in hundreds of memorable encounters. One he fondly recalls, was seeing a bowmouth guitarfish off Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. He says, “This was a rare ray I had always wanted to encounter, and when I finally saw it gliding along the reef wall I almost cried, as I had a macro lens on my camera. I still shot a number of images, but would love to see another one with my wide-angle lens on.” Another favourite encounter was with the Colclough’s Shark, a member of the blind shark family only found off southern Queensland and northern New South Wales after searching high and low for many years, he finally found one off Brisbane.
Nigel’s support for Australasia Fishes helps the work of the project in expanding the knowledge of what fish species are found in Australia and over what range. He noted, “It has also been great fun going through my back catalogue of images from around Australia just to see what I have recorded over the years, I was surprised at how many species I had photographed. I think the project has a great deal of potential, allowing scientist to better understand the range of some fish species, and it gives us a great data base for feature fish studies, especially with the predicted impacts of climate change. “
Having devoted himself to diving, photography and photo-journalism, Nigel is in a unique position to note the changes to the world of diving in Australia. He says, “Not just diving related photojournalism, but the entire dive industry has changed a great deal over the last 30 years. When I started to write for dive magazines the dive industry in Australia was booming in the 1980s and 1990s, and there were three dive magazines in the country. But over the last ten to twenty years the dive industry in Australia has sadly declined by up to 75% in some areas. There are many factors for this decline - high wages, too many backyard dive instructors offering cheap courses, high insurance costs, people buying gear online, the cost of dive courses not reflecting the true cost and especially the growth of dive travel. According to PADI figures the same number of Australians are learning to dive, but they are doing their course in Asia and then never dive at home. This decline has also affected the dive magazines, with only one left in Australia.”
Let’s hope that things don’t change too much so talented and motivate people like Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose can continue to do what they do best, bring us on their explorations through their books, articles, stories and photographs of the marine environment. While we cannot be underwater all the time, or learn everything about each fish we see, photojournalism is an important aspect of the underwater experience, and having Nigel and Helen as participants to Australasian Fishes has greatly benefited the project and its scientific value. It is also very nice to see a husband and wife, as best dive buddies and best friends, as they follow their passion, taking us along for the ride.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on August 30, 2019 05:14 by markmcg markmcg | 5 comments | Leave a comment

July 26, 2019

Mark McGrouther- Member profile

Some in the Australian Fishes Project grew up in a pre-digital era, when the vast storehouses of knowledge of the natural world, were locked up and held by specialists. To see firsthand the wonders of wildlife or have any questions (beyond the scope of a library’s field guide or a picture book) answered, we had to access the traditional resource: a natural history museum. For today’s amateur naturalists whose phones can search all global databases, this must seem pre-historic. Museums were temples of knowledge, hallowed halls, storing the riches of the natural world which existed beyond our cities. In those days, “to Google” something, meant physically walking in to a museum and looking at racks, displays and rows of preserved creatures, until you found the one you were looking for. As youngsters, such places were almost over whelming, in the breadth and size of their collections. Everyone realised that for each fossil, preserved animal or mineral on the shelf, there were dozens more stored in the museum’s backrooms.
Times have changed, access to knowledge has changed and thus, the perception of museums, in the minds of the general population, is also changing. Museums will always have their less publicly visible role to the scientific community, in terms of both maintaining samples of unique species and conducting research, expanding our knowledge of Australia and the region.
Furthermore, as a setting for the public display of the wonders of nature, museums will always have a role for public presentation of significant collections, and as venues for unique, travelling, professionally staged, and theatrically designed exhibitions. It is clear however, that to maintain the interest of the public who financially support public institutions such as museums, they’ve needed to evolve, redesigning the front-end of the business to include the technology of the day. Some museums responded to this by replacing dusty static displays of stones and bones with high-tech, interactive displays of touch screens and computers, leveraging the strength of ambient technology and global communications.
There are some museum staff who envision other models of mixing museums, the public, science and available technology, creating something which still fulfils the traditional roles of the institutions (such as establishing collections and providing scientific data for research). Australasian Fishes, founded by this bio-blurb’s subject, Mark McGrouther, is an example of such a 21st Century blending of the traditional museum’s role, enabled by technology and fuelled by harnessing the energy of the scientific and general population. This is also a new role for a museum – creating communities of laypeople people with a similar interest in nature, through the citizen-science process. The new age of museums with a different way to engage the general population while keeping true to the mission of an institution, going back 200 years.
Even as a young child, Mark was interested in nature and enthralled by TV documentaries, especially those of Jacques Cousteau. Years spent in the Scouting movement meant he spent much time outdoors. His interest in fishes, however, came later, after an honours thesis on amphipods followed by jobs at Sydney University and the Australian Museum where he worked on bryozoans, crustacea, spiders and reptiles before a technical officer position was advertised at the museum in ichthyology. He became ichthyology collection manager three years later.
While working for the museum over time, Mark participated in numerous expeditions for the Museum, diving in remote places, inaccessible to the average person. It started with Sydney University’s Dive Club in the mid-70’s for which he eventually became club President. During his tenure he boosted membership enormously either through his leadership skills or as a result of offering free wine and cheese at lunchtime meetings. Perhaps it was both.
Understandably it was his work at the Australian Museum which took him on fish surveying trips to many places, including the Great Barrier Reef, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, French Polynesia and the Kermadec Islands. He says, “I’ve had some fantastic diving at some of these locations but it is offset by many shocking ‘muck dives’. For the Sydney-siders, you’ll get the idea if I tell you that Glebe Island Container Terminal, the Fish Market at Pyrmont and under Gladesville Bridge are not dive sites that I would recommend. I’ve rested on the sandy bottom watching volcanic gas bubble up through the seabed, crawled up onto the sand of a coral atoll after being chased from the water by sharks, seen a Queensland Groper that was so big it reminded me of an underwater Volkswagen, had my guts vibrated by the deep territorial ‘booming’ of a Black Rockcod and am a little ashamed to say, enjoyed seeing White Sharks from the safety of a cage in the Neptune Islands. My longest dive was 6 and a half hours and my deepest dive on air was to 60m - I was so narked I couldn’t even read my watch. I’ve had someone shut off my air at 20m; yes, buddy breathing does work. In short I did some pretty dumb things underwater when I was young (picture the sound of your tank clanging against rocks as you tumble blindly around while trying to exit on rocks in surf and cave diving without a pressure gauge) but fortunately luck smiled on me.”
As a result, he does not dive or snorkel as often has he’s done in the past, but still has his favourite places on the NSW South Coast, where to returns frequently.
Mark was never badly bitten by the photography bug, as his career centred on tangible fish more than digital images, however, he enjoys his GoPro Hero 4 and Olympus Tough TG5. It is not unusual to see Mark using the extendable arm for his GoPro, inserting the camera in to compact, rocky crevices or seagrass beds, to record what lives in these environments. While topside, he’ll later closely examine the videos for the expected and the unexpected. Such an approach provides him a unique view of the diversity and heath of the marine environment, with a few surprising creatures as well. Mark reminds us that not all images for the project needs to be National Geographic quality and encourages project participants to upload everything as long as the fish is recognisable and the associated data is accurate.
Mark’s philosophy derives from 37 years of working with fish and the recognition that while there are nearly 5,000 described species of fish in Australian waters, no one is an expert on all of them. He believes there remains many more new species which have not been yet identified and described, and perhaps all project participants could discover a new species. In fact, Mark has four species named after him, three fish and one crustacean, a fish parasite.
He recognises how vexing fish identification can be as an uncountable number of fishes have crossed his desk, over time. He recalls being told to never rely on colour to identify fishes, as colours can be misleading but for our project it is often an excellent identification character when looking at photos of live fishes. In his world, specimens are commonly identified using taxonomic keys that often use meristic (counts) and morphometric (measurements) characters. These characters are difficult to examine in the field, but he reminds us that years of observing fishes helps to build up a ‘gestalt’ of many species. Body shape, fin shapes and placement and colouration are all identification characters that concord, or don’t, with your mental image of the species.
Mark has collected thousands of fishes during his career, but as an environmentalist, always felt a touch of discomfort killing his sample subjects. He recognised, however, that without collecting voucher specimens, which are registered and lodged in a museum (mostly) collections, new species cannot be described (given scientific names), so the sampling has improved the knowledge of our fish fauna. This vast experience with the art of collecting, however, helped in the transition from working on fishes in alcohol to the digital fishes of the project. For Mark it started with a trip to Tokyo in 2004, during which Dr Keiichi Matsuura (@kmfishes), showed him Fishpix, an excellent website that contains over 130,000 images of fishes taken by divers in Japan. While at that time Mark could not find much support for his proposals to create a similar site in Australia, after considerable, coffee-fuelled discussions with Harry Rosenthal (@harryrosenthal) we decided to develop our own system. This was a longer than anticipated process with Mark travelling to Canberra on several occasions to discuss the idea with the staff at the Atlas of Living Australia. While progress was slow, Mark investigated other options, beyond Australia, and after an exhaustive analysis of existing sites, iNaturalist appeared to have many of the features he wanted, but there are still important items on the wish list. After discussion with Paul Flemons (@snomelf) and Geoff Shuetrim (@shuetrim), they agreed that Mark should set up a trial project in iNaturalist. The ‘trial’ took off like a rocket and the rest, as they say, is history.
The DNA of museums still runs through his blood and Mark is now an Australian Museum Senior Fellow and goes into the museum 3 days a week. On site he gets his required ‘fix’ of preserved specimens, but spends the vast majority of his volunteer ‘work’ time on Australasian Fishes. Mark says, “One of the really satisfying aspects of my work on Australasian Fishes has been to build an enthusiastic community of people who are all interested in Australian and New Zealand fishes. Despite infrequent disagreements on an identification, the vast majority of interactions between users have been friendly and supportive, which is fantastic.”
Seeing the birth and development of Australasian Fishes has been very rewarding for Mark. While he sees his role as project as a facilitator, he is critical in fish identification, acting as a not only a fish expert, but also as a project concierge, matching hard to identify images with a local and global network of fish experts. He spends considerable time maintaining the consistency and integrity of the project and inviting users to join the project. He considers community building to be a really important part of his role.
Finally, he’s responsible for keeping a file that documents discoveries that have resulted from observations submitted to the project. More than 130 observations of fishes photographed outside their recognised ranges have been uploaded; perhaps an indication of warming waters. He notes that the project is increasingly being cited in scientific publications, with data and images requested for external use.
As the project speeds towards 60,000 observations, it is important to recall the firm scientific foundation which underlies Australasian Fishes and that it is a part of the evolution of museums and public they serve. This is an amazing outcome considering the project started in October 2016 with an 'empty slate'. Mark offers his thanks and gratitude to the many people who have contributed and continue to contribute to make Australasian Fishes such a success.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on July 26, 2019 09:57 by markmcg markmcg | 19 comments | Leave a comment

July 24, 2019

The iNaturalist World Tour focuses on Australia and New Zealand

INaturalist recently started a 'world tour' of 'top contributing' countries. Australia and New Zealand are both included.
The Australian profile was posted on June 28. You'll be pleased to read that Australasian Fishes was given a big pat on the back.
The New Zealand profile was posted two days later on June 30.
Australia is now number 4 in total number of observations, behind the USA, Canada and Mexico. New Zealand is number 6 with South Africa 'separating us'.
Well done troops! Keep up the great work. :)
Posted on July 24, 2019 04:30 by markmcg markmcg | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 26, 2019

Australasian Fishes findings: April - May 2019

Australasian Fishes is powering along with about 80 observations being added daily over April and May. Belatedly (yeah my bad 🙂), are some of the interesting observations that were uploaded during these months.

A selection of the recent discoveries:

Total observation summary:
Subject Number of observations
Range extension / first record 134
Diet / feeding 29
Parasite / fungus 26
New species / newly described     11
Colour pattern 27
Damage / injuries 24
Courtship / reproduction 30
Behavioural information 16
Posted on June 26, 2019 03:43 by markmcg markmcg | 5 comments | Leave a comment

Mark away

Hi again Australasian Fishes members,

I'll be away from my computer for the next 3 weeks. Feel free to message me as normal but I won't be able to reply for some time. I'm sure the Australasian Fishes community will carry on just fine in my absence, but if something earthshattering should occur, please contact @amandahay.

I'm already looking forward to catching up after I return.

Happy fishes,

Posted on June 26, 2019 03:01 by markmcg markmcg | 0 comments | Leave a comment