Member profile - Lucy Smiechura

Many participants in citizen science projects such as Australasia Fishes, personally value the project because it connects them with others who share their interests and passions in an area of science. It is a way like-minded people from all over the globe can meet and share ideas and views, knowing that many of these people would have not otherwise have ever made contact. Such is the power of citizen science projects as evidenced by the project’s growth.
There is an exponential benefit, however, to projects such as ours, when connections are made between groups and not only individuals. The example of Shelly Ocean Swimmers is a case in point to illustrate this power. For example, this group of swimmers, formed their own citizen science project called Shelly Ocean Swimmers: Biodiversity Project and in a very short period of time had amassed over 2000 observations, all accomplished by just 19 individuals. There has been a great deal of spill over into Australasian Fishes where Shelly Ocean Swimmer’s leading observers, @lucyinthesea is ranked as 16th overall, followed by @diana88jingfung at #22, @pamelaviolet at #31 and @pam_darook at #34.
The story of Shelly Ocean Swimmers: Marine Biodiversity Project is illustrated through their top observer, Lucy Smiechura, profiled below.
Lucy grew up at the seaside suburb of Maroubra, spending most weekends at the beach, swimming, snorkelling, body surfing or rock hoping to discover the life in tidal pools. As a school age child she received her first camera, a Polaroid instant camera, which started her lifelong dabbling in photography both land and sea.
Starting studies in pharmacy, she changed to biology focusing on becoming a marine biologist, but circumstances led her in different directions, but did not diminish her passion for the ocean. In the early 80’s she completed scuba training and was back in the water every weekend, including taking up ocean swimming at Coogee. Her connection with sea has always been more than something recreational for Lucy, and each time, before entering the ocean she offers a prayer honouring and blessing the ocean and it’s creatures she is about to encounter. As a result she feels a connectedness and an overwhelming appreciation and love for marine life, which perhaps is shared by many in our citizen science project, but for Lucy, she is able to easily put into words.
About 4 years ago she met @pamelaviolet and @diana88jingfung who’d started ocean swimming at Shelly Beach, Cronulla and the trio, who met each morning called themselves the Shelly Ocean Swimmers. At one point the group decided to buy $30 Aldi underwater cameras to take photos and videos of their exploits and over the years the group has gathered momentum with more enthusiastic swimmers and snorkelers joining with their cameras.
They each eventually upgraded to Olympus TG4 cameras, finding the features for both photos and videos were the best for any compact camera. Wanting to keep their hands free for swimming. They also created their own way of carrying the cameras using a lanyard, tool belt and small tool pouch from Bunnings. They were set for hands free swimming. This kicked off an entire new dimension for the group, overnight transforming an ocean swimming group into a marine exploration group. Photography allowed them to look at their familiar waters in a whole new way, a way they’d never previously imagined, featuring underwater photos and videos, and resulting in records of their activities, images of fishes and even the creation of their own YouTube channel, on which you can view nearly 700 videos. This group has no fear of technology, but uses it as a tool to enhance their experience and knowledge of marine life.
When Pam and Greg Melrose (@pam_darook, @greg_goatfish) joined the group, there was a strong injection of marine conservation and education in to the group. Other nature educators joined over time as well, and out of this, the swimming group turned in to underwater photography group and created their present project: The Marine Biodiversity Project. Pam and Greg understood that all pieces of the puzzle were coming together to create some excellent outcomes for the community and for marine science. With the introduction of the group to the iNaturalist citizen science platform, now both projects, one strictly local and other regional, have benefited from their mutual collaboration. The Australasian Fishes theme of contributing to scientific knowledge has been a natural marriage to their daily passion and excitement every time they set out in to the waters of Cronulla. Fuelled by their deep comradery, esprit de corps, sense of fun and adventure, and their desire for ongoing personal learning and contribution to the greater body of scientific knowledge, they wade out into the ocean every day excited and eager to discover a new species of fish and other marine life that they haven’t seen before to add to their projects’ observations.
As with many in Australasia Fishes, photography lessons were on the go in the ocean classroom in all kinds of conditions and weather. The group are now skilled in checking ocean conditions and picking locations that are most ideal for snorkelling and photography. They have so much fun exploring our local habitats, that you can literally hear their screams of excitement when any of them discovers something. In addition they’ve learned to converse very well with each other through snorkels amidst the screams of excitement and laughter.
The group is about more than underwater photography and fun. They are actively lobbying legislators to grant protected marine park status for critical areas in Cronulla, including Shark Island. Making these areas No Take Zones to preserve the rich biological environment in these areas for generations to come. Their growing database, is providing the observational data for local conservation groups who are developing a Marine National Park Proposal for the Sydney Bioregion. They feel they are part of something big, not only the scientific work of Australasian Fishes but also in the long term goal of creating Marine Sanctuary Zones to benefit future generations as well as adding to current scientific knowledge.
In summary, it is interesting to see the degree of leverage projects such as Australasian Fishes can receive from groups like Shelly Ocean Swimmers. They are recording, for posterity, a snapshot of a region at a point in time. They passionately contribute to the project through volumes of observations. In return the project offers them a platform for their own interests and passions. It has introduced them to a community of people who have helped feed their hunger for greater knowledge of the marine environment as well as introduced them to like-minded, motivated people who have supported their Marine Biodiversity Project and conservation aspirations. Prior to meeting this special group, I had no idea of the power of synergy such citizen science projects were capable of. The Shelly Ocean Swimmers is an example of such synergy, with mutually beneficial outcomes. To give you a feeling for the passion of the Shelly Group, I will quote Lucy’s own words,
“I enjoy my involvement in the iNaturalist projects immensely. I love being in the field, capturing life as it happens. Every day is filled with joyful expectation and camaraderie. As a snorkelling photography group we have bonded like a pod of dolphins with a deep connection with each other as well as with our underwater environment and its marine inhabitants. We love to explore and play in our special part of the ocean. Our motto is “We always find something new!” Being immersed and enveloped in the expansive ocean has brought me back to full circle to fulfil my earlier dream of being a marine biologist. Now I enjoy my life as a citizen marine scientist with a whole bunch of fun-loving crazy marine explorers!”
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Thank you Harry! :).
Posted by markmcg markmcg, June 14, 2018 07:12

Comments

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Great bio Harry ! You have really captured the enthusiasm and excitement of the group and especially of Lucy's passion for marine exploration and the quest to observe and record data with a conservation outcome in mind.

Posted by pam_darook over 2 years ago (Flag)
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It was a pleasure.

Posted by harryrosenthal over 2 years ago (Flag)
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Yes, Thanks Harry.
You always do a great job on bios.
Love reading them all!

Posted by lucyinthesea over 2 years ago (Flag)

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