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 | 7 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 – www.nigelmarshphotography.com . 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,
Mark

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

June 24, 2019

Article in DiveLog Australasia magazine

Hi Australasian Fishes members,
Just a quick message to let you all know that the project has been featured in an article in the latest DiveLog Australasia magazine.
The article, written by Andrew Trevor-Jones and me, is titled "Fish Identifications made easy". It can be viewed on pages 56 and 57 of DiveLog Australasia, number 371, June 2019.
Happy reading. :)
Posted on June 24, 2019 04:43 by markmcg markmcg | 5 comments | Leave a comment

May 30, 2019

Andrew Trevor-Jones - Member profile

To many of us in the Australasian Fishes project, underwater photography has been a great personal challenge. As a hobby it can be both a provider of immense frustration and personal satisfaction, often at the same time. While the core business of the Australasian Fishes project is the capturing, identifying and geolocation of various fish species inhabiting Australia and New Zealand, it is more than simply a collection of fish snaps. Readers need only look at the Journal section for the regular reports of discoveries and unique observations the project produces each month so see some of the contributions the project is making.
A brief examination of observations further reveals that some participants are using their digital photography tools to create images which are underwater “art”. Several members take underwater photography seriously, and from their work, we gain both enjoyment and insight into the marine environment. In their work we not only see the fish, but also gaze the underwater environment in its enchanting and amazing best.
One project participant whose images reflect the unique world of macro-size fish is Andrew Trevor-Jones. His macro images, not only capture the region’s strangest fish but also gives us a view into a unique world which most of us rarely recognise. Andrew is ranked at #16 in the project, submitting almost 800 images so far. Through his lens, he allows you to enter a world of colour and sharp detail. Andrew gives us a window to the universe of the tiny, intricate and beautiful.
Like many in the project, Andrew’s interest in fish began at a very young age. His Dad was an avid freshwater aquarist but Andrew became interested in marine fishes by catching juvenile tropical marine fishes around Sydney and keeping them in his own aquaria. This sparked his interest, in particular, of tropical species. He recalls being a young member of the Marine Aquarium Research Institute of Australia for a number of years and was mentored by the likes of Rudie Kuiter. His interest in fishes and most things marine led to studies in Marine Biology at UNSW. He followed this interest to learn to SCUBA through the UNSW dive club. Once he experienced SCUBA he rarely snorkelled, except on holidays to pass the time between dives preferring to stay down with the fish and other organisms rather than just taking brief visits.
Andrew currently works in the Herpetology department at the Australian Museum validating frog calls for the FrogID app (another citizen science project). Before that he was working in the Museum’s Search & Discover area interacting with visitors and answering questions about wildlife, following a career in IT for 30 years.
Andrew has owned many cameras and now uses a Nikon D500. He shoots exclusively with Nikon cameras and lenses, both above and below the water, and is very pleased with the results. For housings, he has also been a loyal Ikelite customer, as he found them inexpensive and he needs to upgrade his housings each time he upgrades his camera.
An important driver of his upgrades has been to reduce shutter lag. With an SLR, there is almost no lag between the times you press the shutter button until the photograph is taken. Andrew notes early P & S cameras had terrible shutter lag telling us, “I used to joke that I’d press the shutter button and the fish would find a mate, they’d spawn and the eggs would hatch before the camera took the photograph.” Andrew admits that many of today’s P&S cameras have almost no shutter lag and the quality of the photographs is equal to that of an SLR.
Another driver for upgrading regards eyesight. In his world of the micro, eyesight is critical. Like many of us, Andrew first needed reading glasses in his early 40s and P&S cameras often require the photographer to frame the photograph by looking at the LCD on the back of the camera. He noted with an SLR you look through the viewfinder and see what the lens sees, and most SLR viewfinders have a diopter adjustment so he could adjust for his eyes.
Andrew has tried various eyesight magnification solutions, such as a “gauge reader” facemask, a bifocal type of mask, inexpensive hydrostatic lenses that were “stuck” on to the inside of the mask, at the lower part of the mask so vision straight head was not affected. These were good but if water got into the mask, they’d fall off. He next discovered that Mares made a mask you could order with lenses at the bottom in any diopter you wanted settling on +2.5 which worked best. He later learned about Oz Bob, an optometrist in Dee Why (Sydney) specialising in adding custom lenses to masks. He is currently using an Oz Bob mask with +2.5 magnification. His work demonstrate its effectiveness.
Today Andrew almost always shoots macro and uses a 60mm lens in a flat port. He shoots with dual strobes as he likes being in control of the lighting, especially the colour of the light. Shooting macro with strobes means that he not only has a small distance between the subject and the lens, so less water to absorb light, but there is also a short distance between the strobes and the subject so the light is barely changed by the water. Andrew advises that it is critical to get close to your tiny subjects, which means not only having the right equipment, and properly corrected vision, but also requires you to develop an understanding of the organisms you seek, and how they interact with their habitat.
Many years of hunting for newly settled tropical marine fish uniquely prepared Andrew for finding small and often cryptic subjects for photography. He thoroughly enjoys locating difficult to spot animals, in particular species of his favourite fish family, the Syngnathidae (seahorses, pipefishes and their relatives). His favourites include Leafy Seadragons and Pygmy Pipehorse, Idiotropiscis lumnitzeri. These fish are small (up to 55mm total length) and are rarely seen by divers because they can be quite cryptic. In fact, they were only first found in the late 1990s and described in 2004. Andrew's skill has allowed him to see as many as 25 on a single dive!
Andrew warns us that finding pygmy pipehorses, and pretty much any cryptic animal, takes practice and experience. He advises, “If you I have never seen one before, it is unlikely you will find one without assistance. The best way to learn how to find them is to dive with someone that can show them to you. The more you see, the better your eyes (and brain) become at spotting them. A lot of it comes down to non-conscious pattern recognition in your brain. I’m to the point now where I can spot one just by seeing its tail wrapped around an alga or just an eye looking out at me.
Another skill Andrew possess is recognising individual fish, over long periods of time. He says, “The more often you see a particular species the more familiar it becomes to your brain and the easier it is to spot. It works in much the same way as recognising people. The more often you see them, the more familiar they become to the point you don’t even have to think about who they are.” As a result, he develops long term relationships with his subjects, for example he has photographed an individual female Bigbelly Seahorse, who has occupied the same rock at Kurnell for the past seven years.
The project has benefited from Andrew’s focus on the small and unique. For example he has amassed a collection of long term photos of individual Weedy Seadragons. When he sees an individual he takes head shots from both sides to determine which individual he’s seen, due to the dot patterns on the snout. He also takes flank shots from both sides, as the flank pattern can be used for identification using software. Identifying individuals allows him to track them over time and especially following males with eggs, including length and number of broods.
This skill has importance to marine science as another favourite fish of Andrew’s is the Red-fingered Anglerfish, Porophryne erythrodactylus. This is another species that was only recently described (2014) and is rarely seen because its camouflage (shape and colour) resembles sponges. Like pygmy pipehorses, there is the thrill of finding them but an equal thrill of finding the same individual on subsequent dives. While an individual can sit it the same spot for weeks and even months they can move overnight to a spot 10s of metres away.
Andrew never dives without his camera and it is very rare that he takes no photographs. As a result he has accumulated many photographs. While time is an issue he tries to identify all images at least genus level. He uses Lightroom and uses the scientific name as a keyword. While he recognises most species, he has numerous reference books with the most commonly used book is “Coastal Fishes of South-Eastern Australia” by Rudie Kuiter. For unusual syngnathids he likes “Seahorses and Their Relatives” by Rudie Kuiter. Recognising that both books are a little old so he is careful to check for taxonomic changes using World Register of Marine Species, Australian Faunal Directory or even iNaturalist.
We encourage all participants to examine the current body of work Andrew has contributed to the project, as you will see creatures which you have never seen, but who have probably seen you. To really appreciate challenge, art and science of Andrew’s work, try to find images which also includes Andrew’s finger in the frame. From that you will gain some insight in to the degree of difficulty which had to be surmounted to deliver these images to Australasia Fishes.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on May 30, 2019 04:36 by markmcg markmcg | 3 comments | Leave a comment

May 15, 2019

How you can contribute to World Oceans Week

Last year, a group in Halifax, Nova Scotia set up an iNaturalist project, World Oceans Week 2018, and is issuing a challenge once again to divers and others to contribute to the count for 2019.
This year, World Oceans Week runs from June 1-9. A new iNaturalist project, World Oceans Week 2019, has been set up to document a snapshot of the world’s ocean life during the days surrounding the U.N. Oceans Day (June 8).
The Australasian Fishes community can play our part to make this initiative a success. I strongly encourage you all to make a big effort to record new observations during the first week of June. As always, please upload your observations to Australasian Fishes but in addition, add them to the World Oceans Week 2019 project. Your observations will then be included in the World Oceans Week 2019 count. We can provide excellent information on our part of the world and showcase the strength of our Australasian Fishes community. The information below has been copied from the World Oceans Week 2019 project page.
Thanks everyone,
Mark 🙂

World Oceans Week project overview

In recognition of Oceans Week, a group from Halifax, Nova Scotia would like to once again challenge the global iNaturalist community to make this an opportunity to explore our coastal areas, our oceans, seas, rivers, and lakes. Observations of marine flora and fauna shared through iNaturalist will help fill gaps in temporal, spatial and taxonomic coverage around the world.
The objective of the World Oceans Week 2019 iNaturalist project is simple – we wish to encourage people to accept the challenge to record and share their own personal observations. From June 1-9 set aside time to explore our coastal areas, oceans and seas. If you don’t have an opportunity to visit these areas perhaps explore a local river or lake or use this opportunity to go through old photos and select images of plants and animals taken when on vacation at the beach.
On June 8th each year, we celebrate the ocean, its importance in our lives, and how we can protect it - World Oceans Day helps raise the profile of the ocean and inspire more involvement in helping to conserve this amazing resource we all depend on. During Oceans Week all around the globe events and activities are organized and all are encouraged to participate as it is up to each one of us to help ensure that our ocean is healthy for future generations.
For those of us who are lucky to live/play along the coast or work at sea or have opportunities to partake in ecotourism on the high seas we would like to encourage getting out and exploring nature. Recording and sharing our observations will help create research grade data for scientists working to better understand and protect nature. This is the vision of iNaturalist.
It is fitting that this Oceans Week challenge to share coastal and marine observations originates from Atlantic Canada as it was a group located in Nova Scotia, the Oceans Institute of Canada (OIC), located at Dalhousie University and led by its Director, Dr. Judith Swan, and supported and counseled by Haligonian, Elisabeth Mann Borgese, the founder of the International Ocean Institute, who first introduced at the United Nations (UN) Earth Summit in 1992, the concept of World Oceans Day (WOD) on behalf of the Government of Canada.
Oceans Week this year is June 1-9th.
For more information on the history of WOD see http://www.worldoceansday.org/history
Posted on May 15, 2019 02:53 by markmcg markmcg | 0 comments | Leave a comment