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

May 25, 2020

Scientist Member Profile - Dr Emma Kennedy

Members are aware that several of our project participants are themselves, professional scientists, who generously share their knowledge and expertise with our community. In addition, as highlighted in the previous journal entry, the professional scientific community is now accessing our growing database, to assist in their areas of research. Australasian Fishes participants are furthering research and our knowledge of our marine environment.
This bio blurb is about Dr Emma Kennedy, a research scientist based at the University of Queensland. Known in the project as reef_scientist, Emma grew up in the UK where she learned to dive in a gravel pit outside London. After completing a PhD in Caribbean coral reef ecology at University of Exeter, she moved to Australia where she worked with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation to determine whether coralline algae can be used to track the impacts of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef.
She now works in the Remote Sensing Research Group, creating reef habitat maps that will be key in supporting coral reef science and conservation efforts more broadly. She is a strong advocate of citizen science, teaches diving regularly and sits on the science advisory committee for Reef Check Australia. Here she responds to our series of questions:
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?
Dr Kennedy: I grew up in central London, where there are not many tropical fish, but I used to visit the Natural History museum and see all the cabinets full of stuffed wildlife collected from all over the world. I loved looking at all the exotic animals. They had a coelacanth - a deep sea fish believed to be extinct for over 66 million years until one got dragged up in a net off the coast of Africa the 1930s - in a glass case. Seven-year old me just thought it was both the most terrifying and amazing thing ever!
Question: Why the interest in the Australasian Fishes project? How did you get involved with our iNaturalist project?
Dr Kennedy: Until recently most of my research was been based in the Caribbean, where I spent over ten years diving and working with coral reef species. When I moved to Australia, I needed to familiarise myself quickly with a very different system of reefs - the Great Barrier Reef - so I could continue to conduct field research. There are more species of fish on the Great Barrier Reef than in the whole Caribbean Sea - and there's no natural overlap so there were whole new families for me to learn like Siganids - so I needed to learn a lot and it was quite overwhelming! I use photos to help me with my ID as we're often too busy working underwater to be able to spend a lot of time looking around. Later I can look at the details in the photo to try and work out what I'd seen. iNaturalist was a great community for me to test my knowledge with a community of helpful experts to help check my ID for me!
Question: Could you tell us a little about your typical, fish identification process using photos?
Dr Kennedy: Tropical reef fish are often colourful, which can sometimes be a distraction! Many people's first thought is to use colour and markings, which are useful as a secondary method of identification but are not always reliable as some species can vary, and colour will appear different with depth changes (what looks red in a book will look brown or black at 10 m). Colours change throughout life, or in periods of stress or mating, as can patterns. I always begin by looking carefully at two things: the body shape of the fish, and how its moving in the water. The body shape can give you a really good indication of which family the fish belongs to - and what they do for a living! For example, predatory fish living in the open water (like a barracuda) tend to be more streamlined, with powerful tail fins and a thick caudal peduncle to provide rapid acceleration when hunting. Obviously, a set of sharp teeth is also a giveaway! Then there are heaps of smaller features related to body shape: how big is the eye? Does it have "eyebrows"? (cirri?). Look at the head shape and the mouth - parrotfish have amazing beaks! How many fins can you count? Check out the dorsal fin - is there one or two? And don't forget the caudal (tail) fin - is it forked, indicating a faster swimming fish like a tuna, does it have a curved (lunate) or flat (truncate) end? These things should be enough to get you to the family - then you can use patterns (angled "stripes", vertical "bars" or horizontal "bands", blotches, dots and spots) and finally colours to help refine your fish down to species. Another primary tool for identification is to observe how the fish is behaving. For example, the way they swim (which fins they use for propulsion), where on the reef they are (whether they are associated with a particular food source, are they hiding, are they on the ground). Is it "flapping" wing-like pectoral fins, or walking on "hands"? A photo can be a great tool, but it’s never a match for spending time underwater with an animal - which is why it can be hard to learn straight from a book.
Question: Do you go into the water much these days. Scuba, snorkel, etc.?
Dr Kennedy: You can't keep me out of the water! I'm lucky that for my main job, as a research scientist at University of Queensland I typically spend 3-4 months of the year on fieldwork, which means a lot of time living and diving in some very remote locations on the Great Barrier Reef. But it’s also my dream to get as many people onto a reef as possible - the Great Barrier Reef is something that everybody should get to experience - which is why I have a second job as a scuba instructor at Brisbane Dive Academy: introducing new divers to the wonderful underwater world is my favourite thing to do! I really enjoy underwater photography but I'm still learning. A recent project that I worked on, we used "Google Street View" style underwater camera-scooters to photograph kilometres of reef at a time. Using advanced Artificial Intelligence - like facial recognition technology - allowed us to identify the corals in 1000s of images in record-breaking time. I love how iNaturalist is making these kinds of technology available to help people ID species in their own backyards.
Question: What was the most difficult fish you had to identify? Why was it difficult?
Dr Kennedy: There are 5000 species of coral reef fishes in the Indo-Pacific: I still struggle every day! It can definitely be confusing the first time you see a fish you're very unfamiliar with. I was working at Heron Island Research Station once when I saw a very large shark-like fish, lying flat on the sand in the deep-water below the boat as I was returning from a dive. It was the strangest shape I'd ever seen - with two huge dorsal fins - and was black as night with white speckles that looked a star-filled sky. I was carrying a lot of equipment and needed to get back to the boat, so we didn't have time to get close and have a look. It took me and my buddy over a week to work out what it is we'd seen was Rhina ancylostoma, a rare type of Rhino Ray called a "Shark Ray". Even though it’s incredibly distinctive, it's very strange looking fish - our descriptions just confused everybody at the research station - and we didn't even know where to start looking in the identification guides!
Question: What are your personal, current areas of research? How long have you been engaged in these areas?
Dr Kennedy: I'm a benthic marine ecologist. This means I specialise in the communities of animals and plants found living on tropical coral reefs, how different species interact with each other and with the environment. In particular my research has focused on climate change - specifically ocean warming and ocean acidification - and how it affects these communities both in space and time. Sometimes it means my work is quite sad, as coral reefs are changing fast and it’s my job to go and see how things like coral bleaching are changing large areas of the Great Barrier Reef. But I've dipped into some really fun research areas too - including using underwater microphones to "listen" to noisy fish, Google Street View style data collection and I even worked in a seaweed lab. Currently I'm working on a project to create the first ever detailed map of the whole planet's coral reefs habitats from outer space! I completed my PhD in Caribbean reef ecology 7 years ago and moved to Australia where I've lived and worked ever since.
Question: What do you think about the project? Are we making a contribution?
Dr Kennedy: INaturalist gets me really excited as a spatial ecologist. I'm really interested in how animals use the environment, and crowd-sourced observations uploaded to the app could be invaluable data source for helping us understand more about species distributions and behaviour. The marine environment in particular can be challenging to work in, and often scientists like me don't have the resources to be able to visit lots of reefs to collect data on fish - but by working together as a community we can help share our data and improve our understanding of these fragile ecosystems! It’s also a lot of fun. There is a porcupine ray that I always see hiding under the jetty at Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Now, when I log into iNaturalist I can see she's been spotted in lots of other places by other divers - even as far as the next coral reef along! And a pink anemonefish I found in Indonesia turned out to be a new record for that area! Finally, it's a fun way to test your knowledge, connect with experts and contribute to citizen science.
Australasian Fishes would like to thank Dr Kennedy for supporting our project with observations, identifications and for participating in the Question and Answer session. We are grateful for both her enthusiasm for marine research and for her willingness to support the citizen science community.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on May 25, 2020 06:14 by markmcg markmcg | 4 comments | Leave a comment

May 08, 2020

Clingfish image requested for publication

I love it when an image on Australasian Fishes is requested for use in a scientific paper. Recently Dr Kevin Conway, Associate Professor/Curator of Fishes at Texas A&M University, requested the use of one of Daan Hoffmann’s images.
The image (above left) shows an Orange Clingfish, Diplocrepis puniceus, a New Zealand endemic species that occurs in shallow temperate marine waters often in rockpools. It is usually observed under rocks or boulders in sheltered areas where it feeds on small crustaceans, molluscs and fishes.
Kevin requested the photo for use on a multi-species plate in a paper about the evolution and relationships of clingfishes of the world. View a video of Kevin collecting clingfishes.
Daan works as the Collections Photographer at the Auckland Museum (view an image of Daan at work). The photograph on the right, above, shows Daan diving with his camera setup. Daan now lives in New Zealand but was born in the Netherlands. He’s lived in a number of places, including Malaysia and Australia before landing in New Zealand.
Daan has been diving since 2013, when he undertook a marine studies course at the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic in an effort to inform/combine his photography with a fascination for underwater life. The course included a diving component, and before long Daan had acquired an underwater camera setup. Most of his diving since has been around Tauranga.
Daan has been working for Auckland Museum since October 2017, initially as Documentary Heritage Photographer digitizing the library's collections then into his current role in the main photography team which sees him working across all of the museum's collections.
As I said, I'm delighted to see Australasian Fishes Project members contributing to the advancement of science. I'm sure we'll see more if this in the future.
Posted on May 08, 2020 03:27 by markmcg markmcg | 7 comments | Leave a comment

April 23, 2020

Member profile - John Sear

Recently, while on a trip to the US, I noticed an unusual approach to rural road maintenance that was underway in several States. Called, “Adopt-a-Highway” it was common in those States to see a stretch of road, apparently sponsored by a corporation, church group etc. While this program is actually a marketing exercise, where companies pay to have their logo posted on a stretch of road, it did make me wonder about taking personal ownership over sections of the natural environment. While Australasian Fishes operates Australia and New Zealand-wide, it is clear that some participants have decided to implement “Adopt-a-Piece-of-Ocean”, as their approach to documenting the local fauna. This subject of this Member Profile, John Sear, has explored Australia and has adopted his own patch of the Pacific.
John grew up in a rural area of the Midlands in the UK, spending much of his spare time, as a youth, close to nature. Like many of us he recalls, watching broadcast nature shows, such as those of David Attenborough, however, he says, “The lure of the ocean was a seed sown by Jacques Cousteau. My piscine interest started with a freshwater aquarium and translated to a couple of marine tanks at one stage in Sydney.”
He graduated from Imperial College, London with a Biochemistry degree. Today John is working as a Program Manager delivering business transformation initiatives to large organisations. It is clear that diving and love of nature are his escape from the insanity of corporate life, and over the years he’s nurtured a continued interest in many aspects of life sciences. This is very fortunate for our project.
This early interest in the ocean grew for John, especially after taking a break after five years in the corporate world to travel. His journey eventually led him to Australia, while along the way he snorkelled in Tahiti and the Cook Islands. However, by the time he’d arrived in Fiji, he decided it was time to learn to dive, using SCUBA. He recounts that his sixth dive was on the Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand back in 1991. He was hooked!
He says, “Manly soon became my new home in Sydney and Shelly Beach the local dive spot. In the early 90’s it was quite polluted, and overfished, but since the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve was introduced in 2002 things have changed dramatically. An increase in fish biomass has attracted larger predator species, and the reserve has become a popular snorkelling tourist attraction for juvenile Dusky Whaler sharks between Feb and June. One of the benefits of long-term observations is that with enough citizen contributions any changes in distributions of species can be identified. Fish species being found beyond their normal distribution range can also support scientific hypotheses such as climate change models. Increased numbers of tropical species from year to year is something we are noticing in Cabbage Tree Bay. Observations along the coast will also help validate the models, as temperate species themselves may be displaced farther south. Ultimately, it might provide an insight as to how quickly ecosystems can adapt, or do more sensitive, less mobile species disappear forever?”
Such insight comes from visiting an area often and helping to create records of the changes he observed. As a result, John has contributed 2,392 observations to iNaturalist, documenting an amazing 1,117 different species. For the Australasian Fishes project, he has contributed (coincidentally) 1,117 observations, which illustrate 501 different species. He is currently ranked in 17th place on the Australasia Fishes Leader board for project observations.
It is not surprising that many of his observations are from his Adopt-a-Piece-of-Ocean area of Cabbage Tree Bay. He is a Manly local who dives most weekends and over the years, participated in species surveys of the area. This sparked his interest in photography, which started with a Nikonos V. Like many of us, he reports, “Several camera floods later, I dive now with a Canon EOS 5D Mk 4, in a Subal Housing. I usually use a 100mm macro lens most of the year and wide angle if the visibility improves in the cooler months. Recently I bought an Olympus TG-6 camera, as a backup for those times when you just can’t pack all the gear. There are so many cameras and underwater setups available now, but a beginner just needs to start with a simple set-up.”
Having developed his own underwater photography skills he says, “Mastering the challenges that present themselves underwater can be frustrating at first but with practice you can improve results quickly. Lighting underwater is important, as fish often require faster shutter speeds, and there usually is less natural light available underwater to perfect an exposure unless you are in very shallow water.”
His images are used to help others interested in his patch of the ocean. He set up the “Fish of Cabbage Tree Bay” website to help people identify what they see underwater whilst swimming, diving, or snorkelling. He reports, “At the time I relied heavily on Mark McGrouther and all his fish expert contacts for identification of the fish I couldn’t find in my books. When Mark introduced me to iNaturalist and the Australasian Fishes project, it provided a fantastic opportunity to put all my images to good use and make them more accessible to a wider audience. The expertise available on this site exceeds that of most diver’s home libraries.”
His Adopt-a-Piece-of-Ocean philosophy has resulted in regularly diving in Cabbage Tree Bay and recording sightings since 2012. This insight has allowed him to observe many changes, new species arriving more regularly, and seeing some now capable of surviving winter months. He has recorded and photographed approximately 350 fish species in Cabbage Tree Bay and says that there are still many that he hasn’t captured yet that other divers have. He advises others who may want to “adopt a piece of local ocean” to realise that, “Sometimes you need a bit of luck with timing but many fish prefer specific habitats, so you can target specific species in typical habitats, many of which occur throughout the reserve. In particular the juvenile tropicals love rubble piles in shallow water, where you will find butterflyfish, and surgeonfish grazing on algae covered rocks. In recent years colonies of hard coral (Pocillopora aliciae) have moved into residence within Cabbage Tree Bay aquatic reserve. As well as providing habitat for many fish and invertebrates that never used to be seen in the reserve, the proliferation of the coral across barren rock platforms has now provided a climate change survey site for a team from the University of Technology, Sydney.”
While John mostly uses SCUBA, he sometimes will survey new areas with mask and snorkel. He recalls, “I enjoy my travelling and always take a camera, but in 2015 I took the family around Australia on a 13-month epic road trip. With limited space in our camper trailer I did manage to squirrel my housing, fins, snorkel and mask into a “secret” compartment in the trailer. That trip provided an excellent opportunity to capture some fish species in lots of different areas, usually snorkelling and freediving, though I did manage to dive Busselton Jetty and the SS Yongala, both magnificent dive locations.”
His” Adopt-a-Piece-of-Ocean” approach has yielded significant insight into not only his understanding of his local area of Cabbage Tree Bay, but has resulted in him supporting research projects and the benefit of intensively collecting data in a single area. For example, he says, “I think recent attempts to introduce crayweed arose from the fact it used to flourish in the area before sewage outfalls were introduced. In the years before the aquatic reserve was established the reef areas were thick with urchins and with higher pollution levels in the water meant the plant life in the bay was less diverse. Cleaner waters these days allow diversity of seaweed to rapidly flourish. Larger storms have stripped areas of vegetation on the reef as documented by David Booth in a recent paper, but they recover rapidly.
Cabbage Tree Bay supports many niche habitats for different species. The combination of reduced pollution and removal of fishing from the area, has resulted in significant increases in the biomass of vegetation and fish species within the aquatic reserve. The presence of large schools of yellowtail scad now attract larger predatory fish, and schools of tailor, bonito, and kingfish are common. Even regular sightings of the Grey Nurse Shark are a clear indication of the improvement of conditions. They were very rarely seen in Cabbage Tree Bay 30 years ago.”
“The species surveys commenced for me when discussing the diversity with other divers. Individuals always have a different eye and often follow habitual dive patterns. Consequently, the more people recording the more complete a picture you will capture. Surveys written on slates, led to debates over similar looking fish, and this could only be resolved with photos. Fortunately, the arrival of commonly available underwater cameras solved many debates. Diving with other divers too, teaches you to look in different ways, and as you find more you start looking for smaller things. It is only limited by your eyesight which is becoming an issue for me!”
John summarised this philosophy by saying, “There are some remarkable contributors to iNaturalist who I have been very privileged to dive with and learn from. Finding a new species, you haven’t encountered before can also reinvigorate your enthusiasm for a dive site. This can be done by diving with a new buddy, or breaking out from that regular dive pattern, or just picking a small area of habitat and looking more closely. I have recently started contributing data and observations to Chris Robert's (University of New South Wales) current survey, and provided some assistance to David Booth's team now surveying the Pocillopora corals, but would be keen to have a more active role, which is why I keep contributing to iNaturalist. I suspect in the near future scientists will find the available data can be effectively mined to support their studies.”
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on April 23, 2020 05:59 by markmcg markmcg | 3 comments | Leave a comment

April 12, 2020

Wow! 1000 members!

Australasian Fishes went online on 4 Oct 2016. Little did we know that in under 4 years, the project would grow to nearly 80,000 observations with contributions by more than 2,400 people.
I'm delighted to announce that we recently welcomed the 1000th member to the project. @kytes is an Australian zoologist with an interest in natural history and enjoys spending time in nature looking for and identifying animals. Kytes stated, "[I am] happy to contribute my observations to science". Kytes has uploaded observations of fishes from Burleigh Heads, Queensland and Port Phillip Bay, Victoria (Smooth Toadfish in the image above). Thank you kytes, we are delighted to welcome you to our community.
As you can see from the graph above (click it for a larger version), the growth in membership is encouraging. In fact, in the few weeks it has taken me to get my act into gear and write this short piece, another 17 iNaturalist users have joined Australasian Fishes.
"Why don't all contributors join?" I hear you ask. The reasons are many. Often observations are made by holidaymakers who only have an image or two of fishes to contribute. Sometimes the person has an interest in another group of animals and a fish happened to be photographed along with 'the animal of interest'. These observations can provide interesting information about the prey items of birds. I suspect that there are also quite a few people who upload an observation to 'test the water', but for one reason or another don't follow up.
So, to all of you 1000 people who have 'followed up', thank you. Together we have created a hugely valuable resource that continues to grow. :)
Posted on April 12, 2020 01:55 by markmcg markmcg | 6 comments | Leave a comment

April 03, 2020

New clingfish record for Sydney Harbour

This stunning little fish was observed by Kim Dinh. It's currently being referred to as Genus A, the undescribed Brownspotted Spiny Clingfish. This observation is probably the first time this undescribed species has been recorded from Sydney Harbour.
Kim told me that she, "found it at Clifton Gardens, amongst the kelp on the net. The depth was about 3-4m. It attracted my attention because I have never seen a yellow clingfish before and thought it was just a normal clingfish with a bit of colour variation. Afterwards I showed the photo to John Sear who was impressed and suggested I post it on iNaturalist.
Clingfish experts Dr Kevin Conway and Dr Glenn Moore are working on this and other Australian clingfishes.
To capture this image Kim used an Olympus TG5 camera with an Olympus housing and Inon 2000 strobe.
Posted on April 03, 2020 04:11 by markmcg markmcg | 3 comments | Leave a comment

March 20, 2020

Member profile - Martin Crossley

During a recent visit to the Big Island of Hawaii, my wife and I made a pilgrimage, hiking along a narrow tropical path, across a lava field, to the water’s edge to arrive at the location where Captain James Cook, a Yorkshireman, met his demise at the hands of the locals in 1779. In the jungle there is an isolated monument built in 1874, by some of his fellow countrymen and nearby, is a plaque, surprising similar to the one at Kurnell, also mounted in the shallows, marking the place where he fell. The Hawaiian and the Australian plaques illustrate how a native son of York had travelled a great distance from home, as did the subject of this bio blurb, Martin Crossley.
Martin grew up in the Wuthering Heights region of West Yorkshire, a long way from the sea. He spent many hours as a child wandering the moors with a pair of binoculars and a camera, loving everything wild and natural. Like many in the project, the undersea world was first delivered to him via television, starting with Jacque Cousteau’s documentaries on BBC and films about the Great Barrier Reef which he viewed with his family as they gathered around the TV on Sunday evenings in the 1970s.
He recalls one family holiday in Cornwall in 1972 where he saw fishermen showing off Blue Sharks on the quayside. This motivated him to buy a cheap mask and snorkel, starting him on a search of rock pools in the chilly British summer waters. He recalls his Dad dissecting a mackerel as his introduction to fish biology which, 14 years later contributed to him ending up with an honours degree in Physiology. During his post grad backpacking tour of the planet in 1986, he visited the coral reefs of Hawaii and Fiji, exploring the backroads and small coastal villages and unlike his countryman, Capt. Cook, however, he avoided being killed by the locals.
These travels started a chain reaction of events, beginning with his PADI Open Water course in Cairns in 1987, and more backpacking in tropical climes. Upon returning to the UK he worked in Scottish salmon farms and began a career in laboratory science. As part of his rehabilitation following a serious motorcycle accident, he earned his PADI Advanced Diver rating and worked in environmental and hazardous waste management in Saudi Arabia. He says, “With evenings free and none of the usual western distractions i.e. no pubs, I went through Rescue Diver and Dive Master in 12 months and onto my Instructors course in Hurghada, Egypt by 1998.” His time in Saudi Arabia was well spent diving across the kingdom, visiting sites which were extremely remote. It was during this time he got his hands on a Sealife underwater camera with a housing that deformed and stopped operating past 15m. It contained a cheap, self-winding, fixed focus 35mm film camera, however, it took him on his first steps along the challenging path of marine photography. This led to an interest in remembering fish species he saw and a lifelong passion for underwater images.
He offers the following advice to aspiring underwater photographers, to capture that perfect fish image:
1. How to get the best angle: “I employ two basic approaches; i) the patient, sit and wait approach, and ii) the ambush. There is a third, iii) called “I had no idea that was going to happen”, and includes such occasions like when a 14m Humpback Whale unexpectedly swims into view followed by 6 sharks and three species of turtle...yes it did happen…and yes my batteries were flat, but I don’t care if you don’t believe me! Don’t chase a fish, you will only get tail shots, it is pointless. However, with sharks it might be all the chance you get. If the subject it heading away around a pylon, get your buddy to swim round the other side and shepherd it back. Seahorses generally turn away from light at night, so it's best to sneakily illuminate them with the fringe of the light cone, then ambush them in rapid shutter burst mode! Flash is not going to work so a video light is essential. Most octopus can’t resist a wriggling finger and can be tempted out of a hole with a couple of minutes patient coaxing.”
2. How to get the best lighting: “A torch is essential even on a reef in broad daylight, and your 1000 lumen primary torch is an essential tool for illuminating dark crevices where we would otherwise have to move in close and let our eyes adjust. For video you definitely need a good powerful lamp to bring out the reds beyond 10m depth. Accept that in order to get great shots, you are going to have to get good at post photo editing. The Windows photo editor is a very useful (and usually FREE) option, performing good JPEG manipulation and may be your only practicable option if using a laptop unless you have a great processor. With a decent PC you can step up to RAW editing and then you are into Adobe Photoshop and “Lightroom” territory. You cannot beat the hand held torch for creating those moody shadows across the subject or for direct on-subject spotlighting, similar to snooking, to eliminate all that back scatter. It’s the second biggest consideration I’m still learning to master now that I’m doing a lot more night photography, the first being that ‘lighting is everything’. And of course, the adage “get closer, then get closer again” still applies to everything.”
3. Using the right camera gear for you: “I presently own an Olympus TG5 and Olympus housing in a generic cradle, with Sea &Sea YS01 strobe (because of the TTL and flash brightness override) a 3800 lumen BigBlue video light, along with a Hyperion 1000 lumen hand torch. I’ve arrived at this combination through a number of careful considerations – but mostly because I have children and a mortgage. I miss not having the truly manual full control camera, but see a time when these will be affordable as the inevitable demise of the big camera/housings combo occurs. The macro results in particular from the TG5 are amazing, as is the 4K video. Results even without a fisheye have been fantastic with the strobe during daylight. I’ve twice been approached with requests to use my photos seen on iNaturalist, one from the US Geographic Survey organisation and one by a private publisher for a book, so I must be doing something right.”
4. How get the best photography experience: “I now teach UW Photography, including teaching students how to not only look after their kit and improve their chances of getting that great picture, but also about being respectful of the marine environment and other divers and seeing marine creatures for the beautiful and wondrous creatures that they all are. When teaching I often draw a parallel with a typical walk through your local park. How many different species of animal can you count? A few birds, maybe a rabbit if you are lucky. How many animals course their way over to have a look at you then saunter off, going about their own business? Apart from maybe someone's dog, none. The underwater environment is truly awesome, and you get to fly weightless in 3D into the bargain!”
Like our other famous Yorkshiremen, Martin has travelled a great deal for work. He worked across the United Arab Emirates, diving whenever possible and on the odd occasion being able to combine his scuba skills with marine contamination sampling work, spending 11 years in the Middle East. His passion for the natural environment drove him to continue his studies in environmental management gaining a Masters Degree with merit from the Imperial College UOL in 2008, which opened career doors and a move into consultancy. He worked as an environmental advisor to the Coal Seam Gas industry and his tenure at the BP/Shell owned Queensland Gas Company, setting up a turtle triage centre in the GAWB Barramundi hatchery amongst other chances to protect fauna and flora across the CSG/LNG projects. He eventually moved to Queensland, where he dived extensively and has settled in Perth.
Martin is strong believer in citizen science and feels that contributing to such projects, “...not only gives you something to brag about to friend and work colleagues but creates a great sense of worth. When someone comments about your observation being the first sighting in that area, or an increase in known maximum length, or simply someone says ‘great observation’, the feeling is priceless." He continues, “Witnessing the pressures of man’s so-called development in the name of economics at the expense of the natural environment was a tough pill to swallow. I was determined to formally qualify my experience and be better informed and capable of defending the natural world.”
He concludes reflecting on the social aspects of diving, “Since scaling back my career ego, and moving to Perth, my dive life has taken a major change of gear and I am experiencing a diving fraternity more heart-warming than I’ve experienced anywhere before. Having spent 9 months alone in Perth before the family removed from Brisbane, diving became my lifeline, forming friends through the Perth Scuba shop club and other Facebook groups. As a regular I came to know the local dive sites and flora and fauna well and through evidence of my photographic abilities gained the confidence of local peers and earned a regular spot as the club night dive guy. And then I discovered iNaturalist! It arrived at an opportune when I needed to stay in and save money and so served a very useful purpose, keeping me occupied nightly with identifications, photo processing and uploading, but it grew to become a far greater sense of feeling like I was making a worthwhile contribution. I sometimes stop and remind myself that there aren’t the hordes of people taking photos underwater like on land and, as well as the huge financial commitment that each of us bear, as contributors to citizen science projects, we are kind of special.”
Martin, known as jmartincrossley, is ranked 15th on the project leader board, supplying 1,339 observations to Australasian Fishes, documenting 375 species for us. His brief bio on the site, https://www.inaturalist.org/people/jmartincrossley, records some of his travels in his 32 years of diving and shows how far this Yorkshireman was willing to journey from home.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on March 20, 2020 06:28 by markmcg markmcg | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 18, 2020

New Fusilier for Lord Howe Island

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